Tulip Revolution Reloaded

By Erica Marat

To understand what really happened in Kyrgyzstan on April 7th one must know details of the regime change in March 2005. At that time, a group of opposition leaders collected crowds across the country to challenge then-President Askar Akayev’s corruption and authoritarianism. The leader fled the country on the same day that opposition protests reached Bishkek. But Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to replace Akayev, turned out to be a leader with a much greater appetite for the country’s economy and political control.

This time around, April 7th protests were only loosely coordinated by opposition leaders. Most prominent leaders were arrested on the night of April 6th only to be released the night of April 7th, when chaotic protests turned violent and over 30 people died. In effect, these were leaderless riots in Kyrgyzstan and no one political leader can claim credit for toppling the Bakiyev regime. Given that the number of deaths reached 70, opposition leaders who formed a provisional government must first guarantee stability in the country ahead of exposing their own political ambition.

Most troubling at this point, however, is that at least 4-5 members of the provisional government envision themselves in the presidential seat. The head of the provisional government, Roza Otunbayev, has bright ideas and is a skillful politician. But she needs the crucial support of Temir Sariyev, Omurbek Tekebayev and Almazbek Atambayev. All of them at some point ran—unsuccessfully—for president.

The role of Russia at this point remains unclear. The Kremlin did collaborate with opposition leaders prior to the unraveling of the unrest. Some unconfirmed reports suggest that opposition leaders received extensive support from the Kremlin. Furthermore, Russian media was especially aggressive in attacking Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s leadership and the corrupt deals of his son Marksim. But to claim that the Kremlin directly supported the protests would be to say that the United States sponsored changes in March 2005 – a convenient explanation, but far from representing reality.

At this point things remain unclear for Bakiyev. He is not welcome in Russia; neither Europe nor the United States will welcome him as admitting him would mean supporting a dictator who deployed armed forces against civilians. The leader’s relations with neighboring Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are poor too. The United Arab Emirates and Iran remain Bakiyev’s only options thus far. But, as one Kyrgyz military official tells Jamestown, “Bakiyev’s personal airplane can only fly a limited distance and will need to land and refuel before reaching any safe place”.