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Politics and government of
The Tulip Revolution or First Kyrgyz Revolution overthrew President Askar Akayev and his government in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan after the parliamentary elections of February 27 and of March 13, 2005. The revolution sought the end of rule by Akayev and by his family and associates, who in popular opinion had become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Following the revolution, Akayev fled to Kazakhstan and then Russia. On April 4 he signed his resignation statement in the presence of a Kyrgyz parliamentary delegation in his country's embassy in Moscow, and on April 11 the Kyrgyz Parliament ratified his resignation.
In the early stages of the revolution, the media variously referred to the unrest as the "Pink," "Lemon", "Silk", or "Daffodil" Revolution. But it was "Tulip Revolution," a term that Akayev himself used in a speech warning that no such Color Revolution should happen in Kyrgyzstan, that came to represent the movement. Such terms evoked similarities with the non-violent Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, whose names owe a debt to the 1989 Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution and the 1974 Portuguese Carnation Revolution.
Givi Targamadze, a former member of Liberty Institute and the chair of Georgian Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, consulted Ukrainian opposition leaders on the technique of nonviolent struggle, and later he advised leaders of Kyrgyz opposition during the Tulip Revolution.
The Tulip Revolution, despite being concurrent with other non-violent color revolutions, saw some violence in its initial days, most notably in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, where the first major signs of violence were noted, and at least three people died during widespread looting in the capital in the first 24 hours after the fall of the Kyrgyz government.
The results of the parliamentary elections revealed on February 27, 2005 show that the opposition trying to dismantle President Akayev’s reign lost to pro-presidential candidates in most voting districts. Protests started almost immediately over alleged election fraud, especially in the western and southern areas of Kyrgyzstan. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which is the world’s largest security-oriented organization mandating international issues like fair elections, were critical of Kyrgyzstan. They released a statement saying that the first round of voting was most likely illegitimate and would have not passed international standards. There were a number of protests ranging from just a few dozen to over 2,000 in Naryn as well as the southern cities of Jalalabad, Osh, and Uzgen. Protesters demanded President Akayev’s early resignation and the cancellation of the fraudulent election results.
On March 3, 2005, while waiting for runoff election results on March 13, a bomb went off in Roza Otunbayeva’s apartment. Otunbayeva is a key leader for the opposition. No one was hurt or killed in the attack. The government denied responsibility for the incident, claiming that opposition forces intentionally set off the bomb as an attempt to attract attention from the international community.
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, leader of the main oppositional group called the People’s Movement of Kyrgyzstan, gathered protestors outside of the Parliament building in Bishkek. Bakiyev and 22 other oppositional parliamentarians issued a symbolic vote of no confidence pertaining to the Akayev administration on March 10. Fury intensified throughout the country.
Protests intensify as 3,000 people gather in Bishkek and a record 50,000 gather in Jalalabad on March 19, 2005. On March 20, the Kyrgyz government deploys interior ministry troops to suppress civilian protests in Jalalabad and Osh because demonstrators took over government buildings. No one was hurt, but protestors fought aggressively against law enforcement. They refuse to leave the buildings or stop protesting.
The next day, the Kyrgyz government loses of all large cities in the southern part of the nation. Protestors demand Akayev’s resignation. There are reports of arson, beatings, mass arrests, and death. The international community reacts to the complicated situation in Kyrgyzstan through solidarity protests in Washington DC, Chicago, New York City, Moscow, London, and Brussels.
The KelKel movement, which is the organized youth crusade against President Akayev’s corruption, was particularly influential during the protests. Translated from the Kyrgyz language, kelkel means "renaissance and shining of the good.”
On March 22, 2005, the following day, President Akayev addresses Parliament. He refuses to engage in negotiations with the opposition. 10 of his 71 deputies who sit in Parliament refuse to appear at Akayev’s speech as an act of solidarity with the protestors.
The opposition to the Kyrgyz government claimed control of over 60% of the country’s territory and over 30% control of the nation’s population. According to historical evidence, these numbers are correct, but the opposition suffered from severe internal division. The Ukrainian and Georgian revolutions demonstrated united fronts against the state, but Kyrgyz forces existing both before and after the election never united. The opposition lacked an obvious leader who had the ability to inspire ordinary citizens to ignite the revolution.
Roza Otunbayeva is one of the most vocal leaders of the opposition. Her political career started in 1981 as the Communist Party’s second secretary of the Lenin raikom council. Otunbayeva’s political beliefs slowly westernized through the years leading up to 2005. During the Tulip Revolution, she served as Acting Foreign Minister (ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom) in the interim government. Otunbayeva ran for Parliament several times without success and played a key role in the November 2006 protests urging the Kyrgyz state to ratify a new democratic Constitution. She simply did not have the support to lead the opposition single-handedly.
Another vocal leader of the opposition is Kurmanbek Bakiyev, former Prime Minister to President Akayev. Bakiyev resigned after police shot and killed five peaceful demonstrators in the southern town of Asky in 2002. He widely rejected Akayev’s corruption and declared his support for democratic ideals. However, Bakiyev couldn’t harness the opposition’s force into a united front against the state.
The kurultai is a political and military council of ancient Mongol and Turkic chiefs and khans who represent an important faction of the opposition. The council acted as a tremendous barrier to a united force against the Kyrgyz state. Its most important leader was Anvar Artykov, ex-governor of the city of Osh. The people’s council directly challenged Akayev’s administration and the kurultai declared its status as a parallel government. Artykov announced, “"We will keep this authority until all of our demands and problems will be resolved. We are an interim power. We can talk about the fulfillment of our tasks when the current government will be replaced by a government that is trusted by the nation."
The opposition never united so completely as when over 50,000 protestors gathered in Jalalabad on March 21. According to Roza Otunbayeva, “"Policemen, including high-ranking officers, took off their uniforms, changed into civilian clothes and joined our ranks. So we have substantial support." The opposition’s integration continued when between 15,000 and 20,000 people gathered in Bishkek’s central square demanding President Akayev’s resignation.
The next day, opposition leaders met in Bishkek and formed an interim government. There was a breakdown in the rule of law, and the Supreme Court ruled that that old Parliament was legitimate and the rightful body. However, only 2 days later, the “old” Parliament dissolved itself and the “new” Parliament gained recognition as the official ruling body of the country. Kurmanbek Bakiyev was appointed acting Prime Minister and new elections were to take place in July.
After massive national and international protests on March 19 and 20, President Akbar Akayev ordered the Central Election Committee and the Kyrgyz Supreme Court to investigate election fraud claims and general deceit allegations. Specifically, Akayev said “to pay particular attention to those districts where election results provoked extreme public reaction . . . and tell people openly who is right and who is wrong.”
On March 22, Akayev angrily dismissed both his Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and General Prosecutor Myktybek Abdyldayev for not doing a good enough job suppressing protests in southern Kyrgyzstan. Both men urged law enforcement to use minimal violence and Akayev had previously stated he would not resort to violence to end the protests. The next day, after Akayev appointed a new Interior Minister and General Prosecutor, riot police used violence to break up a peaceful protest in Bishkek and 30 people were arrested.
Akayev fled the country with his family on March 24 due to heavy oppositional pressure. He first went to Kazakhstan and then to Russia. Russian president Vladimir Putin invited Akayev to stay in Russia. Akayev did not formally resign until April 3, and the new Kyrgyz Parliament accepted the resignation on April 11. The new Parliament stripped his family of various “special privileges” the old parliament had endorsed. Also, the new Parliament formally stripped Akayev of the title of the “First President of Kyrgyzstan.”
By March 23, the protest movement had become widespread, particularly in some of the majority Uzbek southern towns, having gained momentum in the wake of allegations of massive fraud and manipulations during the elections. The opposition appeared to unify to some extent around two main opposition leaders: former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev and former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva.
On Thursday, March 24, protests spread to Bishkek, where a large crowd of tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the main government building. When security forces and pro-government provocateurs began beating a number of youthful demonstrators in the front ranks, the main crowd behind them closed ranks and a large number of the young swept past the security forces and stormed into the government headquarters. They also occupied the building of the state television. A number of skirmishes took place between the opposition and police, before sheer force allowed a throng of protesters to overrun government offices—which crowds of young men then vandalized.
That same day, President Akayev fled with his family by helicopter to Kazakhstan, from where he subsequently flew to Moscow. At that point, he refused to resign. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev resigned as the opposition took control of key state organs including State Television, and the police melted away or joined the protesters. Imprisoned opposition leaders, including Felix Kulov, were released and the Kyrgyz Supreme Court declared the election results invalid.
The newly-elected parliament named Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a southerner, as acting Prime Minister and acting President. Felix Kulov, released a day earlier and at the time considered by many to be the one man capable of uniting the erstwhile opposition groupings, made a television appeal for calm. With the breakdown of law and order, mobs looted stores and ATMs in Bishkek during the night, and a number of buildings were set on fire. By March 25, reports emerged of many casualties, including three deaths, and some looting continued. Bakiyev appointed Kulov acting Interior Minister, with instructions to restore order in the capital. An interim cabinet was appointed, consisting of a varied collection of individuals representing different anti-Akayev groups and clans.
On March 26, armed supporters of former president Akayev reportedly tried to enter Bishkek in force, but turned back when it became apparent that they would not meet much support in the capital. They acted on the orders of Kenesh Dushebaev, former acting Interior Minister, and Temirbek Akmataliev, until then minister of emergency affairs and previously minister of the interior and responsible for the killing of five unarmed demonstrators in the southern town of Aksy in 2002. Akmataliev, a very close associate of Akayev, later (on March 29) announced that he would run in the planned new presidential elections.
By March 28, gradual stabilization of the political situation appeared to have taken place. The "old" parliament dissolved itself, and the "new" parliament gained recognition as legitimate (although a number of individual seats remained in dispute and subject to review by courts). This drew some protests from people who argued that the street outpourings justified more radical reform, but the power brokers in the country seemed to consider it preferable to have the forces represented in the new parliament on the inside rather than the outside.
On April 2, Akayev agreed to resign as President. A Kyrgyz delegation traveled to Moscow to obtain his signature on the necessary document, and on April 3 Akayev announced on Russian television that he would resign with effect from April 5. He signed a declaration to this effect in the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow on April 4. The Kyrgyz parliament debated for a week before finally accepting his resignation on April 11, but not without first stripping him and his family members of many privileges that the previous parliament had granted to them.
Aftermath of revolution
The Bakiyev interim government and its criticisms
After Akayev’s resignation as president, the Kyrgyz Parliament announced that elections for a new president would take place on July 10. In the meanhile, an interim government was established with president Kurmanbek Bakiyev at the head. After only a month of its inception, the government was facing harsh criticism at the hands of the media for Bakiyev’s lack of transparency and self-serving motives when new cabinet members were appointed, his inability to restore order following the recent revolution and the resignation of Akayev, and the alleged discrimination against Russian minorities in Kyrgyzstan. (Marat 2006)
Bakiyev’s appointment of Adakhan Madumarov as a fourth deputy prime minister caused great discontent amongst the Kyrgyz public. This is due to the fact that Madumarov was a potential presidential candidate, and the appointment was generally seen as a way to shield Madumarov from political rivals, as he was Bakiyev’s favored presidential candidate. However, due to the public protest that arose from this appointment, Bakiyev announced that he would not appoint any new cabinet members for the time being. (Marat 2006)
The interim government also came under fire for the questionable continuity with Akayev’s old government. Several of Akayev’s own cabinet members joined Bakiyev’s cabinet, despite the disparity in political orientations between the two presidents’ platforms. According to an engineer from Bishkek, “all those who were especially desperate to retain power stayed in the government despite the change of presidents.” (Marat 2005)
Bakiyev was also criticized for his inability to prevent general chaos following the seizure of several land plots in Bishkek by 50,000 peasants who demanded ownership rights over the land. These seizures happened spontaneously and thus could not be prevented by the local militia. The issue eventually escalated to violence that culminated in the murder of Usan Kudaibergenov, the leader of the Bishkek civilian patrols. Bakiyev was criticized heavily for the lack of speed at which his government attempted to take care of the problems. (Marat 2006)
Another issue that was raised was that of supposed discrimination against the Russian minority after Akayev’s resignation. These allegations were brought forth due to the tripling of Russian applications for immigration since the installation of the interim government, as these Russians wanted to leave Kyrgyzstan because they wanted to see former vice president Felix Kulov as president, rather than Bakiyev. (Marat 2006)
Exposure of Akayev’s corruption
Amongst all the criticisms, Bakiyev’s government continuously worked on exposing the extent corruption of the previous Akayev regime through diaries that were discovered on March 24. (Marat 2005) Revealing Akayev’s corruption was one of the first initiatives taken on by the interim government due to the previous difficulty of proving Akayev’s corruption while he was still in power, especially because his secret diaries were, obviously, not available to the public at the time. Bakiyev created a commission specifically for the purpose of investigating further instances of corruption that might have occurred during the Akayev regime. (Kimmage 2005) The commission consisted not only of ordinary citizens, but government workers, bankers, and NGO workers as well. On April 21, the commission published some of the contents of the secret diaries, which revealed information such as the names of the 42 enterprises that Akayev’s family controlled during his presidency. The list demonstrates the extent to which the Akayev family embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars every year. (Marat 2006)
Another instance of corruption discovered in the process of changing Kyrgyz regimes was the revelation that Akiyev’s government orchestrated wide-scale pogroms, looting, and general chaos in order to interrupt peaceful demonstrations protesting the old regime. (Marat 2006) One supposed example of this occurred on March 24 in Bishkek, when men dressed in civilian clothing began assaulting demonstrators. (Gutterman 2005) The result was a series of mass arrests following the ensuing clash between the demonstrators and the instigators, as well as the silencing of the demonstration due to the incarceration of most of its participants.
Kyrgyz political union
On May 13, Bakiyev and political rival Felix Kulov agreed to form a political union to tackle the soon-approaching presidential elections on July 10, under the condition that Kulov would be appointed prime minister of Kyrgyzstan should Bakiyev attain the presidency. This alliance would unite northern and southern Kyrgyzstan until January 2007. It also significantly decreased the chances of election for the 11 other presidential candidates. (Coffey) Despite the intense political rivalry between Bakiyev and Kulov since Kulov’s release from prison on March 24, the public expected the two to ally themselves with each other as a preventive measure to circumvent any potential uprisings. Not only was this alliance much desired by the Kyrgyz public, both leaders felt that political unity was necessary in order to unify Kyrgyz society as well as to quell unrest in nearby Uzebkistan. (Marat 2006)
Instability in Uzbekistan
The unrest in Uzbekistan raised concerns that an extreme influx of Uzbek immigrants might cause Kyrgyzstan’s infrastructure to suffer. This issue was a large part of the reason why Bakiyev and Kulov made the decision to unite, and one that was growing on a daily basis. Many Uzbeks were taking refuge in Kyrgyzstan because of the massacre that occurred in Andijan on May 13, where National Security Service troops fired shots into a crowd participating in a mass protest, resulting in the deaths of several hundred Uzbek citizens. (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2005)
An estimated 500-6,000 Uzbek refugees escaped from the Andijan massacre to southern Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyz officials feared that number could increase up to one million if the Uzbek conflict escalated further. A problem arose in the form of Uzbek insurgents quietly migrating to Kyrgyzstan together with unknowing civilians. Islam Karimov, president of Kyrgyzstan, admitted that Kyrgyz-Uzbek border guards may have relaxed security on incoming Uzbeks in order to ensure their utmost safety, resulting in the presence of insurgents in Kyrgyzstan. Militia records later revealed Andijan prison inmates entered Kyrgyzstan with weapons as an attempt to escape the conditions in Andijan. Many also did not survive the journey to the Kyrgyz border because they were murdered or incapacitated by the Uzbek military. As a result, refugees were afraid to return to Uzbekistan. (Marat 2006)
Despite this, the refugees’ sanctuary in Kyrgyzstan was tenuous at best. Karimov began calling those who participated in the Andijan protests terrorists, and accused Kyrgyzstan of aiding criminals. Kyrgyzstan might have been at risk of economic sanctions, had Bakiyev not made a statement that officially supported Karimov’s stance. While Karimov wanted the refugees returned to Uzbekistan, Bakiyev would have undergone severe backlash from human rights activists who wished the Uzbek citizens, especially those who were injured, to remain in Kyrgyzstan until the Andijan conflict was quelled. (Marat 2006)
Akayev regime’s legal retaliation
While the alliance between Bakiyev and Kulov gained legitimacy on both an international and a domestic level, the old Akayev regime attempted to attack the new regime through legal methods. Akayev sued the head of Bakiyev’s corruption committee and a Kyrgyz newspaper journalist for defamation, on the grounds that the accusations of corruption brought against Akayev were flawed. Bermet Akayeva, Akayev’s daughter, sued Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission for accusing her of alleged campaign fraud and canceling her ability to hold a seat in parliament. In addition, the interim government returned several of Akayev’s possessions that were seized upon his removal from office. This is said to have included personal items, archives, and the personal diaries that exposed Akayev’s corruption. (Marat 2006)
New instability in Kyrgyzstan
As the July 10 presidential elections quickly approached, several instances of violence started occurring in Kyrgyzstan. A month before the elections, on June 10, Jyrgalbek Surabaldiyev, a member of Kyrgyz parliament, was shot to death in Bishkek. An investigation was launched on his murder, and after his death, it was revealed that Surabaldiyev was allied with Akayev, was involved in the March 24 attacks on demonstrators rallying against Akayev’s regime.
The next day, on June 11, two of Bakiyev’s security guards were beaten severely and coerced for information about Bakiyev’s and Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov’s travel itineraries.
On June 13, violence between protesters and parliamentary security broke out in Osh, leaving six people hospitalized. The parliamentarian involved was Bayaman Erkinbayev, and the attack against the protesters that occurred on his behalf was said to be linked to the former president Askar Akayev. That morning, protesters petitioned Erkinbayev to surrender his parliamentary seat because he took illegal ownership of state property. They were subsequently attacked by over one hundred men with guns and Molotov cocktails. (Marat 2006)
Andijan refugee crisis
Movement was finally made on the issue of the refugees displaced by the Andijan conflict in Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz government made plans to give each refugee a legal status with assistance from the international community. The refugees also started receiving support from international organizations such as UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the United Nations with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The interim government received praise on the actions they took to support the refugees. However, on June 9, four Uzbek refugees were deported back to Uzbekistan at the request of President Karimov, much to the chagrin of Bishkek’s United Nations office, who said that the interim government had violated the Refugee Convention of 1951. However, Felix Kulov maintained that only those refugees that were accused or guilty of rape or murder were sent back to Uzbekistan. (Marat 2006)
At the same time, Andijan mass media attempted to stifle the flow of Uzbek refugees by reporting on the supposedly poor living conditions they would face in Kyrgyzstan, which was untrue because of the international support the refugees were given. Uzbek politicians also made promises that there would be no more persecution if the refugees returned home. The Uzbek government’s attempt at bringing back the refugees did little to alleviate their intense fear of returning to their homeland, and thus most of them preferred to wait for the official refugee statuses and remain in Kyrgyzstan. (Marat 2006)
On June 17, thousands of protesters gathered in Bishkek in support of Kyrgyz politician Urmat Baryktabasov, who had previously expressed an intent to run for the Kyrgyz presidency, but was denied the right to register as an official candidate because of his dual citizenship in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. (Wilensky-Lanford, 2005) Attempts were also made to infiltrate a government building in Bishkek square as a possible attempt to seize state power. However, Baryktabasov was a relatively unknown and unpopular politician, and he also allied himself with the old Akayev regime; it was seen as unnatural and improbable that he could gather immense physical support in a short timeframe. It was also a strange move to organize a violent uprising to challenge his inability to run for president, as opposed to simply using legal means. (Marat 2006)
When authorities broke up the crowd, they detained several protesters, many of whom admitted that they were paid off to gather in the Bishkek square. The official Kyrgyz statement that resulted from this revelation was that the Akayev family wanted the presidential elections postponed for several months in order to give them time to come up with their own presidential candidate. They organized the riots in an attempt to accomplish this goal. Indeed, shortly after the events in Bishkek, talks were underway in Kyrgyz parliament, which was a remnant of the old Akayev regime, to suspend the elections. However, the government advised strongly against this decision, with Kulov promising to keep control over the situation in Kyrgyzstan until the presidential elections were held. (Marat 2006)
Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections went underway on July 10, as originally planned. As expected, Kurmanbek Bakiyev won 90 percent of the popular vote in only the first round of voting. As promised, Felix Kulov was also appointed Prime Minister. (Gorst, 2005) The election was met with much praise from Western observers compared to previous elections in Kyrgyzstan’s democratic history. (Juraev 2010)
Bakiyev Comes to Power
Within hours of Akayev’s departure, the general mood of the country took a dramatic, optimistic turn. The former regime’s iron grip over its people was no longer felt, as cities were free of police and guards. Censorship was no longer enforced; televisions and radios now reported on any news, a huge difference since Akayev’s time in power. However, the initial freedom citizens felt was soon replaced with chaos and violence. Public protests occurred everyday for various reasons. For instance on June 13, 2005 security guards were forced to open fire on a swarm of protesters outside the Alay Hotel in the southern city of Osh. Reportedly, the demonstration was organized to display the public’s discontent with a local leader. Demonstrations such as this were common throughout the country following Akayev’s ousting.
Despite the ongoing chaos sweeping the country, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former opposition leader, was declared president on July 11, 2005. He won an overwhelming victory in the polls sweeping 88.7 percent of the vote, compared to his competitor who only gained 4 percent. Observers of the July election stated that considerable progress has been made in allowing free expression and assembly during the campaign. Although as vote-buying has been reduced, vote-count manipulation and ballot stuffing were still evident. At a news conference Bakiyev stated, "It was a persuasive victory of our people…The trust that people displayed in us is high, and obliges us to do many things." Ex-Soviet, Felix Kulov, was appointed as prime minister following an agreement made between the two. Bakiyev and Kulov were not known for possessing any democratic ideologies, however, the country was in desperate need of strong leadership due to its current instability. Likewise, the men promised to integrate extensive regional and clan factions. These two reasons not only convinced the country to elect them, but to keep them in power.
Upon stepping into office, Bakiyev was greeted with a cornucopia of post-Soviet domestic problems: an economic depression, rising unemployment, poverty, decaying infrastructure, and ongoing corruption. Hundreds of thousands Kygryz have already left the country as refugees of the revolution or in search of work. Bakiyev also faced working with a Parliament that came into power in the spring of 2005 following fraudulent elections. Despite, the new optimism instilled in Bakiyev, his authoritarian ways soon surfaced and the new “democracy” that was thought to have been achieved during the March revolts, quickly disintegrated. Since the last parliamentary elections in the spring of 2005 until the fall of 2007, Bakiyev aggressively strengthened his power. This period involved Bakiyev’s struggle with opposition leaders in Parliament. Within a year democrats like Otunbayeva and Almazbek Atambayev of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) were no longer supportive of the president. Opposition leaders and much of parliament formed a coalition by the end of 2006 to prevent Bakiyev from acquiring too much power. In November of that year, a massive demonstration occurred in Bishkek when people demanded reforms to the country’s constitution. Bakiyev was forced to sign the new Constitution, which considerably limited his presidential powers. In December 2006 Bakiyev presented an ultimatum for parliament: it would either adopt changes to the previous constitution or the parliamentary body would dissolve. Surprisingly, the parliament submitted to Bakiyev and reversed some of the earlier constitutional decisions. Most of his presidential powers were now restored again. In early 2007, Bakiyev dismissed Kulov as prime minister. This resulted in April being marked by many protests and hunger strikes occurring all over Kyrgyzstan. Kulov’s United Front and the For Reforms movement organized many rallies. Angry civilians participated in these strikes once again demanding for changes in the country’s constitution. On April 9, 2007 opposition powers gained some strength by holding demonstrations in several regions. The people demanded for the resignatiaon of Bakiyev and major changes to the constitution. Although, Bakiyev attempted to make some compromises, the United Front decided on an April 11 demonstration in Bishkek. The organizers vowed that they would rally until all of their demands were met. The protest came to a violent end on April 19 when protestors resorted to throwing bottles and stones at police and attempting to storm the government building. Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. 34 protestors were arrested and authorities stated that a criminal investigation was initiated. The opposition groups blamed the police for provoking the violence while the police said otherwise. Either way, people felt that their right to protest should be protected by the new constitution along with their list of other demands. No protests supporting the opposition occurred for a very long time after that.
The political atmosphere at this time in Kyrgyzstan reflected nothing more than bargaining between elite leaders. This ultimately resulted in three different constitutions officially enacted within two years. The last constitution was passed on October 22, 2007 in a national referendum. It established Bakiyev’s dominance over the other branches of government. Many domestic and international observers viewed that the voting for the constitution was falsified. Upon review, the Venice Commission concluded that the new constitution did not provide separation of powers, instead establishing an overconcentration of presidential authorities. The commission also stated that these newly enacted provisions could potentially lead to public grievances, leading to a possible second revolution.
Soon after the passing of the new constitution, on December 16, 2007 Bakiyev called for parliamentary elections. This sudden decision deprived the opposition of sufficient time to coordinate. Meanwhile, Bakiyev organized a mass party called Ak Jol (Bright Path), which was recognized as being very similar to the old Communist Party. Not surprisingly Ak Jol won the election by gaining four-fifths of seats with less than half of the vote. Meanwhile, the major opposition party received about 14 percent of the votes, however, it did not gain any seats. Ak Jol was described as being composed of unprofessional people who were willing to go along with anything the regime said. Bakiyev only surrounded himself with loyal politicians who were unwilling to disagree with him. This called to question the fairness of the vote counting. However, nonetheless, Bakiyev was guaranteed control of the legislature.
Now that Bakiyev had the Parliament under his control, he offered powerful political positions to his family members. He appointed his brothers: Zhanysh as the Chief of Service of the State Guards; Marat as the ambassador to Germany; and Akhmat as the informal head of Zhalalabad oblast. Bakiev also appointed his sons Marat as the deputy-director of the National Security Forces and Maksim as the head of the Central Agency of Development of Investments and Innovations. Likewise, Bakiyev assigned close allies to defense and intelligence ministries. This strategic placement was meant to protect him and intimidate his growing opposition.
Despite Bakiyev’s secure power, demonstrations continued to occur. In October 2008 in the southern Nookat district of Kyrgyzstan, people annually gathered in the central square to celebrate the religious holiday, Ait Namaz. Initially, authorities allowed the crowd to gather at a local stadium, however, local police blocked access to it. The people spontaneously organized a protest and began throwing stones at the district administration building. The police managed to arrest over 30 people and accused them of religious extremism. They were sentenced to 15 to 20 years of imprisonment. Human rights activists argued that the punishment was too strict. Bakiyev’s regime had become extremely oppressive, demonstrating the consequences if people chose to engage in a protest. On July 23, 2009 Kurmanbek Bakiev overwhelmingly won reelection for another five-year term. He won about 85 percent of the vote, however, the election was marred with ballot-box stuffing and irregularities in counting. Almazbek Atambayev, the main opposition candidate withdrew on the day of the election, saying that the election process was too fraudulent. The media was also blamed for contributing to this turnout. Since it was state-controlled, the information it provided was biased and did not provide voters with sufficient information. Also, the rivalries among the opposition leaders prevented them from being represented by a strong leader capable of overtaking Bakiyev in the polls.
Between 2005 and 2007 it became evident that Bakiyev was very corrupt. He would plot against his opponents and remove them from power only to replace them with officials of his choosing. By doing this, Bakiyev was able to centralize political and economic power, and officially become the dominant entity in the country. The epitome of this was Bakiyev breaking his ties with Prime Minister, Kulov, despite his high approval rating. This split also resulted in the worsening of the confrontation between the north and south of the country.
As Bakiyev gained ultimate control of the country, opposition leaders were persecuted and harassed. To ensure the compliance of all important public figures, Bakiyev used the Interior Ministry to set an example. In January 2008 a scandal occurred involving a high-ranking government official receiving a gift. The gift contained human fingers and an ear. This served as a warning indicating the official’s destiny if he continued disagreeing with Bakaiyev’s policies. Bakiyev’s brother, Zhanysh, was very much involved in intimidating Bakaiyev’s opposition leaders. In September 2006 he had someone plant heroin on Omurbek Tekebeyev, an opposition leader and former speaker of the parliament. He was arrested in Warsaw airport, but was later set free when authorities discovered that he had been framed. Bakaiyev’s elder brother, Akhmat was allegedly involved in organized crime and drug trafficking. These accusations of corruption soon began to emerge, as Bakiyev did not prove to be much different from his predecessor. His son Maksim was accused of using a Russian loan issued to the Kyrgyz government for personal enrichment. Maksim’s financial advisor and partner, Yevgeny Gurevich, was accused of embezzling US$2.7 billion. Gurevich’s MGN Group managed the entire economy of the country and controlled many key industries: telecommunications, coal mining, power generation, etc. This angered the masses, which later resulted in strikes.
Bakiyev’s family, his seven brothers and two sons, all received large shares of the country’s wealth. They exploited state institutions for improving their own financial situation, rather than focusing their efforts on governing the nation. The family allegedly stole half the profits from the Toktogul hydroelectric power plant. They also gained more income from multi-million dollar contracts with the United States in supplying fuel to a military transport center in Manas. Bakiyev’s son, Maksim, also used his high-ranking position to build an economic empire that encompassed both the state and private sectors. During Bakiyev’s regime many mysterious murders would take place. On October 20, 2005 Minister of Parliament Tynychbek Akmatbayevwent went on a visit to Moldavanovka prison, which is about 15 miles outside of Bishkek. During the visit he was taken hostage and killed, making him the third murdered Member of Parliament. His death was marked by five days of protests, led by Rysbek Akmatbayev, his brother and criminal underground ringleader. Rysbek along with many supporters claim that the murder was premeditated and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, laying the blame on him. Kulov denied any involvement in the murder and claimed that the protests reflected an underground criminal attempt to oust him from power and undermine the weak stability of the state that has only recently been achieved. Murders, protests, and corruption were all a part of Bakiyev’s rule. Bakiyev, himself, also had ties with Rysbek Akmatbayev. The criminal had committed several contract killings both before and after the Tulip Revolution. He had a profound effect on politics, intimidating even the most high-ranking security officials. Bakiyev met with him at the central square in Bishkek, indicating that the two were in close contact. A good number of officials also publicly supported him. Akmatbayev won a seat in parliament after he was acquitted of a number of charges including triple homicide. However, before he was able to take a seat in office, an unknown gunman murdered him on May 10, 2006. This sparked anger from many Akmatbayev supporters. Several hundred people blocked a road leading from Bishkek to Balykchi. The protestors demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and of Interior Minister Omurbek Suvanaliev, holding them responsible for the murder. The blockade was finally lifted when the president agreed to meet with the demonstrators.
Akmatbayev’s death also caused panic among political leaders that the position for a new criminal ringleader now became available. Two years later, Kamchy Kolbayev was “crowned” as the new leader in Moscow. Like his predecessor, Kolbayev held significant power over law-enforcement agencies and served as a heavy influence in politics and business. The law-enforcement found it pointless to try to prevent or investigate killings or kidnappings for political and business interests. Under Bakiyev, the criminal world became more centralized as many high-ranking officials were allegedly involved in organized crime. Approximately 10-12 officials in Bakiyev’s administration and ministerial cabinet had the power of determining the country’s economic policy and political climate. Bakiyev’s himself and his administration as a whole, were highly corrupt.
Yet more examples of a mysterious murders and persecutions of opposition members began to arise. In 2008 over fifty court cases were filed against independent journalists. Some like Maxim Kuleshov were confined to a mental hospital. Others like Gennady Pavluk, were killed by being thrown out of windows. In March 2009 Medet Sadyrkulov, the former head of the president’s administration, was found burned together with his driver and a political strategist. Ironically, Sadyrkulov resigned from his position a month earlier and joined an opposition movement. In 2009 the former Minister of Defense, Ismail Isakov, criticized the president and the regime. He resigned and joined the opposition movement. On January 2010 he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment after being charged for abusing his power. These persecutions resulted in the population not only mistrusting their government, but fearing it as well.
Bakiyev’s regime began losing its grip by 2010 when the population overwhelmingly participated in revolts, threatening to unravel the Tulip Revolution. Between 2008-2009 a world economic crisis affected Kyrgyzstan with the state being unable to minimize its consequences. The government finally decided to increase taxes for public services. By February 2010 heating costs rose by 400 percent and electricity by 170 percent. By that time, “as many as a million of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.4 million people were working in Kazakhstan and Russia as migrant laborers, and 30 to 40 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.” Finally, the people’s discontent soared, especially among the impoverished. The rising taxes were finally what pushed people over the edge. Signs of Bakiyev’s authoritarian rule were visible ever since he stepped into office in 2005. The increased levels of corruption, fraudulent elections, and mysterious murders of opposition leaders invoked fear in people. However, over the years many demonstrations have failed to result in significant change due to Bakiyev’s tight grip over society and protection from a government filled with his family members and allies.
After Bakiyev’s victory in the polls in 2009, repression increased, which only resulted in a stronger unity and sense of purpose among the population. By March 2010 the Popular Assembly, a democratic opposition, was formed. Otunbayeva was chosen to be the head of the assembly due to her background and being a compromising choice for rivaling opposition movements. Otunbayeva was once a foreign minister under Akayev, however, due to her deomocratic, pro-Western views, she was demoted. Otunbayeva later assisted in leading the people during the Tulip revolution. Once Bakiyev came to power, he appointed her as foreign minister to once again. However, after Bakiyev’s corruption emerged, she resigned and joined the SDPK opposition movement.
The opposition believed that their only way to succeed was to spark a new revolution that would result in Bakiyev’s overthrow and democratization of the county. The country was inspired by the color revolutions including the Orange Revolution and the Iranian democracy protests. After learning from the mistakes committed during the Tulip Revolution in 2005, the opposition movement was determined not to repeat the same mistakes. This time the opposition had to be united with the same goal in mind. Therefore, the opposition engaged in kurultai, or popular assembly. They have warranted some success in the 2005 revolution, and in 2010 the strategic institution was utilized once more. On March 17, 2010 civil society groups and key opposition parties met together for a national Kurultai to establish their common goals and demands. They came up with a seven-point ultimatum for the authorities. The demands included: “the freeing of political prisoner an end to the constitutional changes increasing presidential powers; the removal of Bakiyev’s relatives from their government posts; the abolition of the development agency run by the president’s son as a personal fiefdom; the restoration of free speech; reduced energy tariffs; and the reversal of the “insider privatization” process that had been used to sell off Kyrgyz Telecom and other companies to Bakiyev’s cronies.” Otherwise, the opposition threatened to establish a countryside Kurultai that would restore the people’s power.
In response, Bakiyev established his own kurultai during which he decided that democratizing the country was impossible. The democratic opposition agreed to take their fight abroad. At this time no independent media outlets existed in Kyrgyzstan as the government imposed strict censorship. Therefore, opposition leaders decided to visit Moskow. Though the Kremlin did not support the idea of democracy, he did dislike Bakiyev’s regime after he realized that the loan he provided for the government in 2009 was used by one of Bakiyev’s sons for personal enrichment. In response, Russia was willing to cooperate with the opposition. Russian media soon began revealing Bakiyev’s corrupt regime.
In 2005 the democratic opposition solely focused on demonstrations in Bishkek instead of also focusing its attention on provincial centers (where the protests were much more effective). In 2010, however, the opposition was adamant in not repeating the same mistakes. Therefore, opposition parties created strong ties with provincial elites. They coordinated together in holding provincial demonstrations that would lead up to a national protest on April 7 in Bishkek.
On April 6 the provincial demonstrations were initiated in Talas where about 3,000 protestors declared that they chose a new provincial governor. The police attempted to disperse the crowd, however, the people seized the regional administration building and took their current governor hostage. With this the crowd called for the resignation of Bakiyev. The opposition took control of the state radio and television. Protestors, armed with rocks, took control of a few government buildings. Special forces were sent into the area to pacify the protest. On April 7, several thousand protesters arrived in Bishkek’s central square. The Presidential Guard fired into the crowd after they tried to storm the main government building. 86 people were killed and 1,651 were injured. Bakiyev declared a state of emergency.
On April 7 Otunbayeva announced that she would be heading a provisional government with plans of creating a new constitution. She called for the resignation of Bakiyev. However, he refused to resign and fled to his hometown hoping to gather support. Eventually he ended up fleeing to Belarus where he still claims his presidency.
Possible involvement of organized crime
Under Akayev a number of alleged criminal figures including Bayaman Erkinbayev and Ryspek Akmatbayev were facing a variety of criminal charges including murder. Seeing an opportunity during the political instability, the mafia participated heavily in the Tulip Revolution and subsequently won positions in the post-revolutionary government. However, a power struggle emerged, and three politicians including Erkinbayev, Raatbek Sanatbayev and Ryspek's brother Tynychbek were assassinated in the following months, the latter having died during a prison riot orchestrated by Chechen thief in law Aziz Batukayev. Ryspek subsequently associated Batukayev with prime minister Felix Kulov, and held nationwide protests demanding his resignation. He was himself shot dead leaving a mosque in May 2006.
The OSCE had sent 60 observers to monitor the election runoffs. In its initial assessment the group said the second round of voting showed "some technical improvements over the first round", but stressed that there remained "significant shortcomings". (The OSCE had said the first round fell short of international standards in many areas.)
Election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) disagreed. They hailed the runoff elections as well-organized, free, and fair. CIS observers also praised local authorities for showing restraint and competence in dealing with political unrest in several regions. This contradiction in the findings between OSCE and CIS observation teams formed the latest in a series of such contradictory findings (see CIS election observation missions). Russia supported the CIS reports and rebuked the OSCE for its findings.
Following the initial violent incidents, appeals quickly issued from the international community for calm and for a peaceful settlement to the growing tensions. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said US officials had contacted "both" sides to urge them to resolve their differences through dialogue. The United States, which operates Manas Air Base, a strategic military installation at Bishkek's Manas International Airport, expressed mild criticism of the election abuses and rebuked the opposition for taking over government buildings. Various international news agencies, including the New York Times, have reported that American funding and support, from governmental and non-governmental sources, helped in part to pave the way for the pro-opposition demonstrations by providing means of printing materials and literature. US State Department statements have partly substantiated such claims.
The United Nations, meanwhile, offered the following statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on its website: "The secretary general is opposed to the use of violence and intimidation to resolve electoral and political disputes". Annan "calls on all parties to apply restraint".
The Russian Foreign Ministry on March 21 posted on its official website a statement about the recent unrest, in which it expressed concern about the actions of the opposition. The statement urged demonstrators to remain within the framework of the constitution and to maintain a "constructive dialogue" with the administration of President Akayev. The ministry also appealed to foreign observers in the country, including the OSCE, to exhibit responsibility in their statements and not to give "destructive elements" justification for unlawful acts.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued the following statement on March 23: "The people of Uzbekistan, which is a close neighbour of Kyrgyzstan, are concerned about the events happening in Kyrgyzstan, especially in its southern regions". The state-controlled media in Uzbekistan had previously not mentioned the crisis, fearing it could spark unrest within the border town of Andijan. Since 2004 the area has witnessed demonstrations by traders upset about new laws that restrict their commercial activity.
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- Kyrgyzstani presidential election, 2005
- Kyrgyzstani parliamentary election, 2005
- Politics of Kyrgyzstan
- Colour revolution
- Pink revolution rumbles on in blood and fury - The Guardian
- From west to east, rolling revolution gathers pace across the former USSR - The Times
- Moscow and multipolarity - The Hindu
- GEORGIAN ADVISORS STEPPING FORWARD IN BISHKEK
- Kommersant - Революция авторитетов (Russian)
- BBC News - Kyrgyz MP shot dead in Bishkek
- Protests force Kyrgyz poll review BBC News
- U.S. Helped to Prepare the Way for Kyrgyzstan's Uprising from the New York Times
- United States helped Kyrgyz pro-democracy programs
- Kyrgyzstan: Revolution Revisited - a look back on what has happened over the last eighteen months since the Tulip Revolution
- Photos from Elena Skochilo, blogger and photojournalist
- CONSTITUTION of the Kyrgyz Republic
- Q&A: Kyrgyzstan’s Rebellion from the Council on Foreign Relations
- Revolution Headlines Blog
- Audio Slideshow about the Tulip Revolution from The Common Language Project
- Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution wilts - Dilip Hiro, The Guardian
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