Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kyrgyz Leader “Guilty” of Aksy Killings

Past and present heads of state blamed for 2002 bloodshed which refuses to go away as a political issue.
By Abdumomun Mamaraimov
A self-styled “people’s court”, acting in the name of the people of the Aksy district of southern Kyrgyzstan, has pronounced the country’s current and previous presidents guilty of a massacre that occurred six years ago.



Discontented with the scant results of official probes into the events of March 2002, when six people died after troops opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators, Aksy residents convened their own unofficial tribunal, which declared that President Kurmanbek Bakiev and his predecessor Askar Akaev were both to blame.



The open-air “trial” took place on March 17 – six years to the day from the shootings - in Karajygach, a mountain village in the Aksy district of the southern Jalalabad region.



The village lies not far from the place where police opened fire on a crowd of about 10,000 people, who were protesting against the arrest of their local member of parliament, Azimbek Beknazarov.



After armed police moved in to stop the protest, protesters threw stones, and government forces responded with live fire. Four people died on the spot, a fifth died later of his injuries, and a sixth was killed the following day.



Kyrgyzstan was unused to this kind of bloodshed, and the fact that the violence was apparently authorised by government sparked a series of massive demonstrations throughout 2002.



The sense of anger was increased by the Akaev government’s unresponsiveness. No ministers stepped down, the investigation ground to a halt, and the only punishments meted out - two prosecutors and two senior policemen convicted by court martial in December 2002 – were quashed the following May.



Akaev was ousted by a wave of protests in March 2005, and the new administration led by President Bakiev promised to reopen the Aksy investigation.



Beknazarov was appointed chief prosecutor and launched formal investigations – but he was dismissed in September 2005. In June 2006, Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court effectively drew a line under the case by saying there was no need to review the cases of the four officials originally convicted.



For Aksy residents, however, the demand for justice has never gone away. About 500 of them selected a 16-member panel to serve as judges in the March 17 trial.



Organisers of the event included Topchubek Turgunaliev, leader of the opposition Erkindik party, and Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, the oldest member of parliament.



They said two-thirds of the judges had some legal background, and were chosen to represent various regions of Kyrgyzstan. Edil Kerimkulov, who runs a private law firm, was chosen to preside over the panel.



Before a circle of Aksy residents, three “prosecutors” brought evidence against serving and past government officials, including Bakiev. Before joining the opposition forces that toppled Akaev, he had served as Kyrgyz prime minister, a post he held at the time of the Aksy shootings.



Unsurprisingly, all but one of the individuals accused of masterminding or sanctioning the bloodshed failed to make an appearance.



After eyewitnesses and experts, including Beknazarov, had given evidence, the “people’s court” found a total of 41 officials guilty.



In addition to Akaev and Bakiev, they included officials from the prosecutor’s office, the police and the judiciary. The then heads of state radio and television and the editors of two government newspapers were deemed to have exacerbated the situation through biased coverage of events in Aksy.



The former governor of Jalalabad region, Sultan Urmanaev, was acquitted in recognition of the fact that he attended the tribunal in person and admitted “some responsibility”.



Relatives of the people killed six years ago came to give testimony on what happened that day.



Some claimed the protesters were shot dead by marksmen using sniper rifles, rather than rank-and-file policemen.



Lawyer Sartbay Jalchybekov, acting as one of the three prosecutors, said the local police had been issued with 29 firearms. “But the rifles shot mainly into the air, whereas the people were killed by sniper fire,” he said.



Local people are particularly disappointed with President Bakiev’s failure to live up to his pledges to find and punish those behind the killings.



Beknazarov told the tribunal that in his time as chief prosecutor, he uncovered evidence that in his capacity as prime minister, Bakiev authorised the use of weapons against the protesters.



“When I realised that Bakiev himself was implicated, I asked him to testify, Later, when I realised he wasn’t going to do that, I resigned.” he said. “I accept that I did not finish [the investigation] in the three months that I was prosecutor general. But Bakiev has not done that in three years as president.”



Government officials have dismissed the Aksy trial, with Justice Minister Marat Kayipov, for example, reminding the press that the forum enjoyed no legal standing whatsoever.



However, opposition politician Turganaliev justified holding the event on the grounds that obtaining justice through normal channels had proved impossible.



“Today, 99.9 per cent of the power resides with a president who is guilty of these events,” Turgunaliev told the tribunal. “Therefore, under the current government it is impossible to obtain justice on this matter.”



Ayjigit Beyshebaev, son of Satimbay Urkunbaev, one of the protesters who were shot dead, told IWPR he no longer placed any faith in official probes.



“Let this government leave the case alone,” he said. “It isn’t capable of conducting an objective investigation. We have to hope this will be done by a new government one day.”



Apart from the court hearings, the event also served as a focus for remembering the dead.



Before the trial got under way, a service of commemoration took place near a monument erected in memory of the dead demonstrators. Local officials including current Jalalabad governor Koshbay Masirov and senior police officers attended the prayers.



Abdumomun Mamaraimov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad.