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Arms For Sale in Kyrgyzstan
The violence and looting that rocked Bishkek during the so-called tulip revolution in March has sent nervous citizens to their local gun shops in droves.
All major supermarkets and boutiques were looted on March 24 and 25, causing damage estimated at some 25 million US dollars. More than 1,500 businesses were affected by the violence, in which two people died and some 360 injured.
The violence and disorder – which resulted in over a hundred criminal charges - unnerved the Kyrgyz population, their sense of insecurity prompting many to buy firearms.
Ainura Ismanova, owner of the women’s clothing department in Bishkek’s Dordoi Plaza supermarket, told IWPR that she had bought a weapon after her property was attacked and looted on March 25.
“If it weren’t for this situation, I would never have such a thing [gun],” she said. “But I live in a wealthy neighbourhood and know that after looting shops, rioters will target expensive homes.
“I keep the weapon in a safe at my home. I’m scared of it myself, but if someone breaks in I will shoot.”
Diplomatic and polices sources suggest that several thousand weapons have been sold in the capital since the revolution. This is unprecedented as gun ownership Kyrgyzstan is traditionally very low, confined largely to hunters.
“The government was unable to protect its own people after the revolution, so the people began arming themselves,” Bishkek gun shop salesman Viktor Petrovich told IWPR.
In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, firearm sales were banned. When the prohibition was lifted there was a rush of purchases, the majority of customers businessmen and wholesale traders, say gun shop owners.
“After the revolution, the demand for guns for protection and self-defence increased greatly, and all our stock was bought up in the space of two weeks,” said one owner, who preferred not to be named.
A special licence is needed before a Kyrgyz citizen can buy a firearm from a gun shop, stating that the purchaser is not a drug user or suffering from a mental illness, and that they do not have any criminal convictions.
Kural Toibaev, the head of the licensing and permit section at the Bishkek police department, said that the number of permits issued by his department had increased by 25 per cent since the revolution – and was continuing to rise.
“People buy weapons for self-defence, as they want to protect their lives and those of their families and children, as well as their property,” he told IWPR. “Both men and women of all ages and ethnicities buy weapons if they are well-off and have something to lose.”
Acting prosecutor general Azimbek Beknazarov said he wasn’t concerned by the increase in gun ownership. “If people are arming themselves, it means they are scared for their safety and want to protect themselves, and this is a normal process,” he said. “They buy weapons legally through the interior ministry. I don’t see any problem, let alone a threat.”
Politicians fear that the rioting and looting that accompanied the March revolt may break out again after the presidential elections on July 10.
Parliamentary deputy Temir Sariev told IWPR that disorder might be triggered by leadership contenders challenging the outcome of the poll. “People are scared that when the preliminary results come in on July 10, [some] candidates will not be able to accept one result or the other, and this may have certain consequences,” he said.
His fellow deputy Melis Eshimkanov agreed. “Since March 24 [revolution] we have all been sitting on a powder keg which may blow up at any moment,” he said. ““Everyone is armed – even me.”
One Bishkek shop owner, who gave his name as Marat, said, “God knows what we can expect on July 10. They say that there may be a second wave of riots. The first time I was not able to protect my business, but now I have a weapon.”
Elena Skochilo is an IWPR correspondent in Bishkek. Leila Saralaeva is an independent journalist in Bishkek.
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