Anger Over Kyrgyz Detained in Kazakstan

Arrests seen as a way for Kazak authorities to justify their claim that the clashes were sparked by external forces.   

Anger Over Kyrgyz Detained in Kazakstan

Arrests seen as a way for Kazak authorities to justify their claim that the clashes were sparked by external forces.   

Vikram Ruzakhunov, a well-known jazz pianist on his return to Kyrgyzstan.
Vikram Ruzakhunov, a well-known jazz pianist on his return to Kyrgyzstan. © Ala-Too 24
Tuesday, 11 January, 2022


The Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting is a project of IWPR

The detention of dozens of Kyrgyz citizens accused of fuelling violent protests in Kazakstan has strained ties between Bishkek and Nur-Sultan, despite the countries’ strong bilateral relationship.

The Kyrgyz foreign ministry issued a note of protest after a video broadcast of a Kyrgyz citizen apparently confessing to fomenting violence turned out to be popular jazz pianist Vikram Ruzakhunov, who had been performing in Kazakstan.

Footage of Ruzakhunov was shown on January 9 in which the musician, his face cut and bruised, said he had been paid 200 US dollars to travel to Kazakstan to help fuel protests in its largest city of Almaty.

Ruzakhunov, who said later that he had been coerced to extract a false confession, was released the following day after widespread outrage.

Medet Tyulegenov, a political science lecturer at the American University of Central Asia, said that the detention of Kygyrz citizens was an attempt by the authorities to justify its harsh response to the protest. The official explanation for the unrest has been that it was fuelled by external forces and paid provocateurs, rather than a civil uprising. This has also enabled President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to call on the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to dispatch troops to Kazakstan to help enforce calm.

“Luckily [for him], Ruzakhunov turned out to be a famous person in Kazakstan and his case revealed how false the allegations against protesters in Kazakstan were,” Tyulegenov said.

During the peak of the clashes last week, state media repeatedly reported that well-trained militants had been brought from Central Asian countries and even Afghanistan to foment violence.

While no information has emerged about the detentions of citizens from other Central Asian states, dozens of Kyrgyzstanis were taken into custody in Almaty and Shymkent. According to the Kyrgyz ombudsman, one detainee, Baialy Torogeldiev, was beaten during interrogation by police officers in Shymkent.

Although most were subsequently released, the detentions led to protests outside the Kazak embassy in Bishkek, where Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the state committee for national security (GKNB), announced that “it was wrong to accuse our citizens of terrorism”.

Political analyst Emil Dzhuraev said that nearly 100,000 Kyrgyzstanis were currently living in neighbouring Kazakstan, a key location for labour migration.

“However, it is absolutely unacceptable to exploit this fact and suspect Kyrgyzstanis of participation in illegal actions,” he said. “In this situation, we can only keep on saying that all our citizens need to be considered not guilty or involved in any illegal actions until their guilt has been proved.”

Kyrgyz head of state Sadyr Zhaparov was notably absent from the January 10 CSTO meeting. The head of the cabinet of ministers, Akylbek Zhaparov, attended in his place and told the gathering that he hoped “every single case [of the detention of Kyrgyz citizens] would be investigated openly and fairly”.

Public concern over the detentions meant that the decision to send a 150-strong Kyrgyz contingent to join the CSTO framework caused great debate on social media in Kyrgyzstan.

Tyulegenov said that the detention of Kyrgyz citizens in Kazakstan was particularly damaging for Kyrgyzstan’s public image.

“This is a blow because Kyrgyzstan, according to media messages, now looks like a country that supplies so-called marauding elements to neighbouring countries for protests,” he said.

However, Kyrgyz political scientist Zainidin Kurmanov said that despite the negative publicity, the strong relationship between Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan would not be affected.

“We have common ties with the people of Kazakstan, we have common ancient history, culture, religion,” he said.

Dzhuraev agreed, adding that “both countries will always understand the importance of good relations”.

“Even if there are any immediate misunderstandings on both sides, I think they would not affect longer-term relations,” he concluded.

Tyulegenov warned that there was a more pressing lesson to learn from recent events in Kazakstan, noting that the protests had been fuelled by concerns shared in both countries.

“These were social and economic demands, namely price increase, living standards, and so on,” the expert said. There is almost the same social situation in Kyrgyzstan right now."

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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