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

Kyrgyzstan: Aksy Women Fight On

A year on from the Aksy shootings, relatives are still demanding to see justice done.
By Sultan Jumagulov

A hunger strike by mothers and wives of six protestors shot dead by police last year highlights the continuing dissatisfaction in southern Kyrgyzstan with the impunity granted to the officers responsible.


The 18 women began their hunger strike on May 17 after police broke up a demonstration they staged outside the government building in the capital, Bishkek. They had been demanding to see President Askar Akaev to discuss the previous day’s court decision to overturn prison sentences handed down on four officials in December for their part in the Aksy violence. After police detained them for ten hours, the women said they would starve until Akaev agreed to meet them.


They ended the hunger strike on May 22 after pleas from human rights organisations and political parties, which asked them to hold off until July when opposition groups are due to convene their assembly, the National Kurultai.


“Stopping the hunger strike does not mean the fight for justice is over,” said their leader Dilbar Momunkulova, who heads the Committee of Mothers and Wives of the Aksy Victims.


Emil Aliev, a leading figure in the opposition Ar Namys party, which is led by jailed dissident Felix Kulov, says the women are dead serious, “The Aksy mothers have already let the authorities know that they will never accept the fact that those guilty of the tragic bloodshed in Aksy have not received just punishment.”


During their hunger strike, the women met Kyrgyzstan’s ombudsman, Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, who offered to act as an intermediary with the authorities. Late on May 20, he got five of them in to see presidential chief of staff Misir Ashyrkulov, first deputy prime minister Kurmanbek Osmonov, and presidential security adviser Bolot Januzakov.


Momunkulova said that she and her fellow protesters asked the officials to arrange a personal meeting with Akaev, and received promises that their requests would go to the president, who is currently out of town.


“All our previous demands to offices subordinate to the president have produced no results, and we want to hear the final word from the president himself,” she added.


The authorities were clearly nervous about the protest, although there were just 18 women involved. They held the hunger strike in the apartment of their local parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose detention sparked the original Aksy demonstration last year. The apartment block was ringed by uniformed and plain clothes police, and by May 20 these were joined by special police units armed with submachine guns.


This high level of concern stems from the importance of the cause the women represent. Six protesters died in March 2002 after police opened fire on a crowd demanding the release of Beknazarov, a popular local deputy imprisoned after criticising the president. The killings sparked months of demonstrations which shook the authorities enough to release him, make a few personnel changes in government and put senior law enforcement officers on trial.


In December last year, a military court in Osh gave sentences of two to three years imprisonment to former Jalalabad regional prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov, regional police chief Kubanychbek Tokobaev, his deputy Abdimital Kalbaev and Aksy prosecutor Abdylkalyk Kaldarov. They were convicted not of involvement in the killings but “with exceeding their official powers by hindering an unsanctioned protest”.


On May 16, a military court fully acquitted Kudaibergenov, Tokobaev and Kalbaev (Kaldarov has since died). It also upheld not guilty sentences passed in December on former Aksy district administration head Shermamat Osmonov, and senior police officers Daniar Kuluev and Alibek Rakishev.


The authorities’ readiness to meet with the hunger strikers contrasts with the way the women had been treated earlier. When around 30 women from Aksy came to Bishkek to appeal directly to the president for justice, there were scuffles as police forced them away from the government building and bundled them into buses on May 16. One woman is still in hospital after fainting during the police action. They were then detained for 10 hours until parliamentary deputies and human rights activists intervened.


Deputy Alevtina Pronenko, who helped to get the women released from the police station, told journalists that officers had humiliated and insulted them.


“It was painful to look at these elderly and bedraggled mothers, some of whom were old enough to be the policemen’s grandmothers, and see how they had been tormented at the police station,” she said with tears in her eyes.


Deputy interior minister Keneshbek Duishebaev, who is chief of police in Bishkek, was unrepentant. The women had “organised an unsanctioned march and resisted police”, he told state television


“Policemen were injured by participants in this unsanctioned march, and a criminal case has been opened,” he said, adding that two women had been charged.


Akaev has so far distanced himself from direct involvement in handling the protests by Aksy residents, and it remains to be seen whether he will agree to meet them. But a year on, the women remain determined to pursue their quest for justice, by protesting directly in the capital rather than at home in the south of the country.


“This is our last chance. Only in the capital, in the presence of the authorities, human rights activists, the media and international organisations, can we obtain justice,” Momunkulova told IWPR.


Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek.