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

Kyrgyzstan: People's Assembly Disappoints

Dissenting voices stifled at meeting of Kyrgyz minority groups.
By Taalaibek Amanov
The Bakiev government has been accused of ignoring the concerns of ethnic minorities and using the recent Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan as a propaganda tool.



The August 5 meeting in the capital Bishkek was the first assembly since former president Askar Akaev was overthrown in March 2005, but some analysts and attendees say nothing has changed - another disappointment for those who say Kurmanbek Bakiev has failed to deliver on the promises of the Tulip Revolution.



Akaev set up the assembly in 1994 ostensibly to give a voice to minorities, including the country’s large Uzbek and Russian populations. Instead, however, the meetings were used to promote the government’s own political agenda.



“Since Akaev’s time, the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan has been a political body where individual representatives showed their support of the current regime,” said Anvar Artykov, a former governor of the Osh region, who was dismissed in January. He didn’t attend the assembly. “It is a formal body under the president, which agrees unconditionally with his policy.”



Alexander Knyazev, a political analyst, agrees. “I don’t see any real difference between the [assembly] held during Akaev’s rule and the [assembly] held under the current president,” he said. “This is a show event, which attempts to demonstrate the people’s support of the president’s policy. The same thing was done under Akaev.”



In the case of this fifth annual assembly, attended by 750 delegates including officials, NGOs and journalists, that policy is the promotion of the Kyrgyz language. Though it is the official state language, in practice the use of Kyrgyz has always lagged behind Russian, a situation Bakiev hopes will change with the setting up of Kyrgyz-only nurseries and other schools.



“Kyrgyz must not be a language of division. It should unite the citizens of the country. So new approaches to its introduction are needed,” said Bakiev, but added he is against an artificial and forced development of the language.



Russians represent about 12 per cent of the population, well behind Kyrgyzstan’s largest ethnic minority group, the Uzbeks, at around 16-17 per cent.



Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks also want their language to be recognised as an official language and are demanding better political representation.



Prominent Uzbek community leader Kadyrjan Batyrov wanted to talk about these and other issues but was denied permission to speak by the secretary of state Adakhan Madumarov who chaired the meeting.



“The Assembly of Peoples was essentially pushed to the side,” said Batyrov, a member of parliament who also heads the Uzbek National Cultural Centre of Jalalabad. “They ignored us. The organisers did not want me to talk about all the inter-ethnic problems, so they did not give me the floor.”



He said only deputies whose speeches had been pre-approved were allowed to speak and none who did accurately reflected the current problems in Kyrgyzstan.



“The assembly did not reach its goal, the tension that exists in society has not been removed, on the contrary it has even been increased,” he said.



“For the Uzbek delegates, the assembly gave nothing. They want to stifle and suppress us. They don’t intend to sit down at the discussion table and remove the tension in a civilised manner.”



Kasym Chargynov, a member of the assembly’s council, a permanent body, had a rather different perspective. He declared the meeting a success, citing the passing of a strategy to encourage an open cultural exchange between Kyrgyzstan’s various ethnic groups.



“Inter-ethnic problems were studied from various points of view,” he said. He disagrees with those who suggest the assembly is little changed from the Akaev era body, saying, “Before we didn’t talk about our problems, and agreed with everyone. But now we have outlined the problems of ethnic minorities.”



Omurbek Tekebaev, parliamentary deputy and co-chairman of the opposition movement For Reform, isn’t convinced. He said recent incidents have given rise to distrust between ethnic minorities in the country - a situation the assembly did nothing to alleviate.



“The event was not held in a convincing manner,” he said. “A purposeful systematic policy is required in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations, but unfortunately no such attempts can be seen in the work of the current president and his team. Unfortunately, there were too many formal phrases spoken by formal people at this [assembly]. You can’t help remembering the times of Akaev.”



Taalaibek Amanov is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.