Revolution in Kyrgyzstan: who is in control?


Protestors in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, occupied and set fire to the White House, the building that houses both the president’s office and parliamentary chamber. The headquarters of the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), which oversees the secret police, was also taken over. Opposition politicians imprisoned there were liberated. The Oct. 6 uprising followed a day of demonstrations that filled the city’s central Ala-Too Square, finally escalating to clashes with police, who fired rubber bullets into the crowd. The demonstrations were called to demand that parliamentary elections held one day earlier be annulled. The victory for the ruling party was marred by claims of fraud and vote-buying.

Amid the protests, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov accused “certain political forces” of trying to “illegally seize power.” As the situation exploded into violence, he summoned all parties for emergency talks, but this failed to stem the crisis. Jeenbekov then went into hiding.

Among the prisoners freed at the GKNB headquarters was former president Almazbek Atambayev—who was serving an 11-year sentence for complicity in the unlawful release of a convicted mobster, and still faced trial on multiple other charges. These include charges related to a bloody armed confrontation with government troops at his country home in August 2019. Also freed was former parliamentarian Sadyr Japarov, who was serving time on charges related to the kidnapping of a regional governor in 2013.

With the White House and GKNB headquarters still under occupation, the Central Electoral Commission officially annulled the election results, which had given the biggest bloc to the ruling Birimdik (Unity) party, at 24.5%, just ahead of the major opposition formation, Mekenim (My Homeland). With annulment of the results, Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov resigned, to be replaced by Sadyr Japarov—just released from his prison cell by protesters.

In a video from an undisclosed location, Jeenbekov called for calm, and in a separate statement claimed to be “in control of the situation.” Jeenbekov’s opposition is also claiming to be in charge, and protests are ongoing. (EurasiaNet, EurasiaNet, CGTN, Jurist, AP)

Russia’s military airbase at Kant, just east of Bishkek, has been placed on high alert amid the crisis. “In order to prevent any provocations related to the escalation in the Kyrgyz Republic, the enhanced anti-terror regime was introduced on the territory of Russia’s 999th Kant airbase. All the planned combat training measures and every-day activities are being carried out in full,” the Russian Central Military District said in a statement. (TASS)

Kyrgyzstan has for the past 15 years experienced a cycle of revolutions, with opposition forces spurred on by the US under regimes tilting to Moscow, and (of course) vice versa. This began with the Tulip Revolution of 2005, which diminished Russian influence in the republic. Russia sought to recoup its loses by supporting a regime change of its own in 2010. The new president, Atambayev, promptly booted the US from its military base at Manas, which had been an important staging ground for the war in Afghanistan.

Jeenbekov was elected in 2017 as an ally of Atambayev, in what was hailed as Kyrgyzstan’s first democratic transfer of power. But after Atambayev’s arrest in 2019, Jeenbekov broke with his former backer, and had a very public falling-out with Vladimir Putin. (Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, The Diplomat)

Both Moscow and Washington have viewed Kyrgyzstan as a pawn in the Great Game. We’ve observed this dynamic over the past 15 years, hoping that indigenous pro-democracy forces will be able to decouple their own struggles and aspirations from those of the contending military empires. With the current chaos in Washington, however, Moscow certainly seems well-positioned to exploit the new upheaval in Kyrgyzstan.

Photo via Twitter

  1. Coup consolidated in Kyrgyzstan

    The president of Kyrgyzstan resigned Oct. 15, after 10 days of unrest sparked by disputed parliamentary elections. As protesters closed in on his residence, Sooronbay Jeenbekov abruptly stepped down. “I’m not clinging to power. I don’t want to go down in Kyrgyzstan’s history as the president who spilled blood and shot at his own citizens,” Jeenbekov said in a statement posted on the presidential website. Ex-lawmaker Sadyr Japarov, recently released from prison by protesters, has now apparently succeeded Jeenbekov as president. After Jeenbekov resigned, the speaker of parliament, next in line for the presidency, reportedly declined to take office. Japarov told supporters in Bishkek that he was assuming the powers of the presidency, according to the order of succession. (NPR)

  2. Kyrgyzstan delays parliamentary elections

    The Supreme Council of Kyrgyzstan voted Oct. 22 to postpone new parliamentary elections until a constitutional reform supported by acting president Sadyr Japarov can be enacted. The current constitution currently bars Japarov from running in the election while he is serving as acting president. (Jurist)