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Kyrgyzstan: Trouble Down South

Has the Kyrgyz president gone too far by summarily sacking powerful southern governors?
By Jalil Saparov
The Jalalabad region of southern Kyrgyzstan is in turmoil after the summary dismissal of its governor, Jusup Jeenbekov.



Supporters are demanding his reinstatement – and warning they will mount mass protests if it does not happen.



Jeenbekov, who comes from Jalalabad himself, became governor shortly before the "tulip revolution" March 2005. The south of Kyrgyzstan is poorer than the north and has traditionally felt marginalised from power and influence. The region grew in political importance when it became the heartland of the wave of protests that eventually toppled President Askar Akaev.



It was thus significant that many of the key political figures in the south are local men who had supported the revolution, such as Jeenbekov in Jalalabad and Anvar Artykov in neighbouring Osh.



The removal of both these governors raises serious questions about what Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev plans to do with the south – from which he too hails – and whether his government can dissipate the growing anger at what's being seen as just another arbitrary decree issuing from the capital Bishkek.



In Jalalabad, no one had any inkling that Jeenbekov was on his way out. The announcement came when first deputy prime minister Medetbek Kerimkulov arrived on January 19 for what looked like a routine meeting on Jalalabad region's year-end performance. Kerimkulov used the meeting to announce that President Bakiev had ordered Jeenbekov's removal.



Bakiev's decree also named Iskender Aidaraliev, who until now was in charge of the Talas region in the northeast of the country, as the new governor of Jalalabad.



The officials at the meeting – mayors, local government chiefs and other officials – were infuriated. At least 30 said they were resigning in protest, throwing their official passes on the desk at which Kerimkulov was sitting.



Tagaibek Jarkynbaev, head of the Suzak district, told IWPR, “I threw my card down because I felt angry for Jeenbekov, who was a hero of the revolution and did a lot for the people as regional governor, and suddenly gets fired so unexpectedly and without justification. I don’t agree with this personnel policy, and I refuse to work in these conditions.”



Jeenbekov himself said that for him too the news was "unexpected”, but said he would obey the president and step down.



On the evening of the same day, around 100 people gathered outside the building of the Jalalabad regional administration, refusing to allow Kerimkulov to leave until he explained the reason for Jeenbekov’s dismissal. They also demanded that Aidaraliev, who had already arrived to take up his post, leave the premises.



Aidaraliev was clearly taken aback by the hostile reaction, and told protesters, “If you like your governor that much, I'm not going to work here.”



The protesters kept officials talking for over an hour – an action portrayed as "hostage-taking" in some of the media.



The next morning, the head of Bakiev's presidential office, Usen Sydykov arrived in Jalalabad to try to manage the growing crisis.



Sydykov had a hostile reception, facing a public meeting attended by over 500 local people as well as angry officials.



He explained that Jeenbekov had been removed from this post only to be given another, as part of a policy of rotation intended to prevent regional divisions growing. “To stop the north and south growing more separate, the president decided to appoint the northerner Aidaraliev to a post as a southern governor, and the southerner Jeenbekov to his position in the Talas region,” said Sydykov.



Jeenbekov told the audience, “I was surprised that the president did not warn me about my possible dismissal – he didn't say a word.



"On March 15 last year, nine days before the people’s revolution, I was elected to the governorship by 30,000 Jalalabad citizens. These people should gather once more and decide whether I should stay in post or go.”



After he made these comments, several young men ran onto the stage and to shouts of approval from the crowd, lifted up the smiling governor, carried him to his office and sat him down in his chair.



“First it was Anvar Artykov who was dismissed as governor of Osh region, a man who was also elected by the people. Now it’s Jeenbekov’s turn," Rapiya, a housewife attending the meeting, told IWPR. "The new regime is removing the real revolutionaries from politics in order to continue Akaev’s dirty business. But we, the people, will not allow them to do this - we are prepared to stand up in defence of our governor.”



Meder Usenov, the regional representative of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan party, said the president should not have acted in such a high-handed way, "Bakiev didn't have the right to dismiss the governor in this way. He could at least have given a reason for dismissing him; he should have behaved more diplomatically and at least consulted with the governor."



Artykov told IWPR that Jeenbekov's dismissal mirrored his own removal last month, "It's the same atmosphere of secrecy, lack of explanations, and complete surprise."



He too believes there is a hidden agenda behind these personnel changes, saying, "Bakiev is bringing back the people who served the previous regime, and dealing with the revolutionaries one by one.”



Artykov says that in his own case, he was able to reign in supporters who wanted to mount protests against his dismissal. But he believes Jalalabad may be one step too far.



“There may be civil disturbances, because this is turning into a pattern," he warned. "Bakiev tried his dictatorial ways with me, but I held the people back. I think that Jalalabad will be the last straw."



Azimbek Beknazarov, another of the "revolutionaries" who was first appointed to high office – in his case as Kyrgyzstan's chief prosecutor – only to be sacked later, agrees that the president is systematically purging his administration of the allies who helped him to power.



"This was the wrong move for the president to make…. Jeenbekov was elected governor by 30,000 people in the presence of Bakiev and many members of parliament, and the president should not forget it," he said.



"Essentially, Bakiev is continuing to rid himself of his former allies in the revolution. The scenario is always the same: suddenly, without warning, and without asking for opinions, he issues a decree.”



Parliamentary deputy Iskhak Masaliev agrees that Bakiev is behaving rashly and with excessive secrecy.



“Because it was Artykov and Jeenbekov who played an outstanding part in the revolutionary events, the process of dismissing them should have been conducted with more care, and it should have been decided… at least in consultation with them.



"I am alarmed that such decisions are being taken in secret, behind closed doors…. This will not lead to anything good. After what happened in Jalalabad, I can say for certain that the number of people who support the president and his team has dropped.”



But is this merely a local dispute or is it, as some believe, the latest sign that Kyrgyzstan is in deep crisis?



Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, takes the latter view. “This situation needs to be seen as unpredictable and unstable," he told IWPR. "Clearly, the political situation in Kyrgyzstan at the moment is much more dangerous than it was at the beginning of 2005.”



This view is disputed by members of Bakiev's administration.



“The situation in Jalalabad is calm. A group of people has simply expressed unhappiness with the president’s decision," said Miroslav Niyazov, secretary of the Security Council. "I don’t think this situation is going to affect stability in the country in any way. Perhaps some people really want destabilisation, but everything is under control.”



Jeenbekov announced on January 20 that he had spoken to Sydykov, and that President Bakiev had approved him staying in office until January 25, when the two may meet in person to discuss the options.



"Whatever position the leaders of this country offer me, I will consult with the people," he told IWPR. "I won't agree to take up any post if the people who elected me are against it."



Jalal Saparov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad. Leila Saralaeva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.