Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
An Akaev Back on the Scene
Just when Kyrgyzstan thought it had seen the last of ex-president Askar Akaev and his family, his daughter walked into parliament to take up her seat as an elected deputy.
The reappearance of a member of a family which has just plummeted from celebrity status to being virtually persona non grata in the wake of the March 24 revolution caused no little consternation, with some analysts warning it could make the political situation even more unstable than it is now.
Bermet Akaeva arrived at parliament early on April 14, accompanied by a team of bodyguards. When she walked into the main assembly hall, the deputies and journalists who had come for the day’s session were thrown into confusion. Some deputies started congratulating her, while others sat dumbfounded as she looked for a seat with her name on it.
For many of those present, the embarrassment was due to the fact that they too had been elected on a pro-Akaev ticket in the recent election, which proved so rife with accusations of ballot rigging that it led to mounting protests that eventually coalesced into a national protest movement, and eventually revolution.
Yet since Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders decided, after some hesitation, that the new parliament rather than the outgoing body should count as legitimate, these same deputies are now acting as the agents of change – on April 11 they formally voted to accepted Akaev’s resignation as president.
Afterwards, the president’s daughter told journalists that she had returned to Bishkek because she wanted to help restore stability to a worrying situation.
“I am a deputy and I came to fulfil my obligations,” she said. Asked whether she felt under threat in Bishkek, she said she had already met some voters who had raised no objections to her being there.
She added that her brother Aidar, who like her was elected as a member of parliament in the ballot, also intends to return to Kyrgyzstan. After an initial period when his whereabouts were unknown, Akaev has been in Moscow with his wife and children since the revolution, and it was there that he formally resigned.
Olga Bezborodova, of Alga Kyrgyzstan, a party that was set up to support the former president, was among those who was pleased to see the daughter return. “I can’t say I wasn’t shocked,” she said. “A young women looking very much like Bermet came in. I couldn’t believe my eyes…. It was showed exemplary courage.”
Bezborodova concluded, “She behaved like a proud Kyrgyz woman, she is the upstanding daughter of her father, and thirdly she is an excellent politician.”
Another Alga Kyrgyzstan member, Oleg Zhuravlev, said, “I think it was a courageous act. She is a deputy under current legislation. She has the right to be present, to speak at sessions, and to remain a member of parliament.”
Zhuravlev insisted that “many people have shaken her by the hand behind the scenes”.
Many, perhaps, but not all. Some of the deputies were so angered that they demanded the immediate removal of their fellow-parliamentarian.
“She had no moral right to return to parliament,” said deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbaev. “When we told the speaker, Omurbek Tekebaev, that we were going to get up and leave, he had a talk with her and she left…. If she is to remain in parliament, we will not be there. Let her sit alone and hold sessions by herself.”
Sadyrbaev said Akaeva’s reappearance was “a scandalous act… a desperate attempt to destabilise the situation”.
His fellow-politicians from the former opposition were equally horrified, as were members of the public who had supported the ousting of Akaev.
"If Bermet Akaeva really wants and cares about stability in Kyrgyzstan, she should not show her face in the country,” said deputy Marat Sultanov.
Another former opposition member, Adakhan Madumarov, suggested that “she could have refrained from such an action, given that Kyrgyzstan is going through a tough enough political crisis as it is, and considering that she is in fact one of those responsible for what has gone on in this country, and that people are aware of that”.
A group of people describing themselves as “the revolutionary forces” attempted to get into the parliament building to express their outrage, but were ejected after scuffles with police. As their numbers swelled to about 50, they promised to demonstrate outside the legislature until Bermet Akaeva leaves the country.
A group of non-government organisations called on citizens to attend a demonstration at parliament on April 15.
Kyrgyzstan’s new leaders remained studiedly po-faced.
“The Kyrgyz government has not obstructed the return of the Akaev family, nor will it. I understand Bermet is already taking part in parliament’s work,” said acting president and prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, adding that he saw “no impediments” to Akaeva’s husband, leading businessman Adil Toigonbaev, returning to resume his commercial activities.
As to the bigger question of alleged wrongdoings by members of the Akaev clan, Bakiev was similarly unforthcoming, saying merely that “if privatisation and property issues relating to the Akaev family give rise to disputes, then they should be dealt with by the courts”.
And the deputy speaker Bolot Sherniyazov confined himself to the facts when he spoke to IWPR, “Akaeva came to parliament, she wanted to be sworn in as a deputy, but other deputies did not allow her to. She left. We don’t have a right to prevent her entering parliament. The deputies have no right to withdraw her mandate.”
Apart from Bermet Akaeva’s stated desire to work as a member of parliament, it is hard to see why she would volunteer to return to such a hostile environment.
Political scientists Asel Naskeeva suggested that the former president’s entourage were simply in denial, “I think the reason why Bermet Akaeva returned is a reluctance to admit that Akaev’s regime has fallen, and a desire to reassert one’s position in the structures of authority.”
She added, “I fear the consequences for Kyrgyzstan could be tragic - political destabilisation, a wave of demonstrations, and more storms of the White House and parliament.”
Deputy Madumarov saw a more sinister motive at work. “Nothing in this country happens by chance,” he explained. “There were certain forces at work which persuaded her to come, just like they previously influenced her father and urged him to act, or not act.”
Whatever lies behind it, the reappearance of a key actor from Akaev’s inner circle at a time when the situation remains in flux has rung alarm-bells.
“Her appearance in parliament will provoke new actions of protest and deepen the conflict in society,” predicted Oksana Malevannaya, a member of the Moya Strana party. “The new authorities have been slow to react, and have remained silent. The new parliament still lacks strong support among the population. A fresh revolution awaits us.”
Another deputy, Kubatbek Baibolov, said, “The revolution is not over yet, so in that sense the arrival of Bermet Akaeva proved untimely and could serve as cause for public discontent and new outbursts of protest.”
Tynchtyk Ametov, leader of the People’s Hope Society, saw the as just a first step in reversing the revolution.
“Why was Bermet Akaeva allowed inside parliament? Why are you damaging the people’s nerves with such actions? Today it’s just here, but tomorrow she’ll bring Mairam [Askar Akaev’s wife] and then Aidar and Askar.
“It wasn’t for this that we had a revolution.”
Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is IWPR’s programme coordinator in Bishkek.
Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC correspondent in Bishkek.
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight