U.S. military chaplain and Kyrgyz Baptist pastor and family tour the Manas air base
Christian chaplains at the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan are starting a "religious exchange program" with a Christian church in Bishkek, the base's press service reports:
One of the four mission pillars of the Transit Center is to build relationships, and after contemplating how he could do this, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steven Thompson decided to reach out to his Kyrgyz Republic brethren.
He asked a few of the translators at the Transit Center if there was a Baptist church in town. They did some research and found one. So one Sunday, Thompson, Master Sgt. James Iaun, the superintendent of chapel operations, and a translator showed up for a service.
Thompson later went back and preached a sermon at the church in Bishkek, and now the relationship will continue:
The exchange will continue when the Transit Center Gospel Choir performs at the Bishkek church. Tech. Sgt. Shuana Flowers, the choir director and an 376th Expeditionary Medical Group emergency medical technician, is coordinating the upcoming performance.
"I'm excited about this experience; it is different than anything I have done here," Flowers said. "I'm looking forward to meeting people at the service and seeing how they worship."
Celebratory artillery boomed from the White House lawn this morning in downtown Bishkek as Roza Otunbayeva handed power to new President Almazbek Atambayev.
The ceremony, which lasted roughly an hour, was conducted almost entirely in Kyrgyz, the “state language” of this multiethnic republic that is rarely spoken by the minorities who make up 30 percent of the population. Many Kyrgyz, moreover, particularly in Bishkek, do not speak the language at all or only with difficulty.
Atambayev’s inaugural speech opened with the obligatory reference to Kyrgyz epic hero Manas, who has become a symbol fraught with nationalist implications, even as relative moderates like Atambayev present him as a hero for all ethnicities in the country.
In the brief part of the speech delivered in Russian, Kyrgyzstan’s “official language,” Atambayev made an effort to reach out to ethnic minorities.
First he described how many Russians and Uzbeks had left the country, only to find that they missed their homeland.
“This is because we can only be happy where we were born, where we grew up, where our ancestors are buried. Only together are we Kyrgyzstan!” he said, following with the kind of dog-whistle phrasing often used to slander Uzbeks after the June 2010 ethnic violence: “And those who try to divide people by nation or by region are enemies of the country!”
With banners flying and policemen guarding the city’s main avenues, Bishkek is getting ready to inaugurate its first democratically elected president, Almazbek Atambayev, on December 1. But hopes for democratic justice are fading for one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prominent human rights defenders.
On November 29, the Supreme Court appeal of Azimjan Askarov and his co-defendants was delayed until December 20 when several lawyers for the accused failed to appear in court. The lawyers say the court purposefully informed them of the hearing too late.
Askarov, once a brave critic of police brutality, was convicted in September 2010 and sentenced to life imprisonment for organizing other ethnic Uzbeks in attacks that killed a police officer in Bazar-Korgon, just outside Jalal-Abad, during the June 2010 ethnic violence.
The proceedings were punctuated by physical and verbal attacks by family members of the slain police officer on Askarov, the other defendants, and his lawyer. Throughout the extended appeals process the family has kept up the pressure, often with the overt support of local authorities. After one appeal in November 2010, local police officers reportedly joined family members in beating the defendants in a courthouse corridor.
It’s been another dispiriting week for foreign investors in Kyrgyzstan.
On November 25, the auction of the government’s 49 percent stake in Alfa Telecom failed when only one buyer came forward. The auction is the latest stumble for a privatization program that has done little but draw attention to the lack of investor confidence in Kyrgyzstan’s political and legal stability.
As anticipated, investors balked at a nearly $100 million purchase that would come encumbered with heavy political baggage – the government owns Alfa shares because the company was closely tied to the son of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev – and a host of pending lawsuits over Alfa’s ownership. (Alfa is the parent company of Megacom, the country's largest mobile provider.)
Another recent event demonstrates why investors may be hesitant. After months of limbo, the Iranian investors who bought 90.9 percent of FinansKreditBank in May on the open market announced that they would seek to sell their shares.
The Iranians say they have been under pressure from the Kyrgyz government from the moment they bought the bank. Supposedly concerned about potential ties to the Iranian nuclear program, Bishkek first demanded additional information about the investors and their sources of capital.
The Tokmok City court has dropped a criminal case against the son of Bishkek Mayor Isa Omurkulov for his role in a fatal August car accident. Omurkulov is a close ally of outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva and her successor, President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev.
Azamat Omurkulov was on trial for killing three young people in a late night head-on collision while speeding back from a resort at Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul. The mayor’s son was reportedly driving in the wrong lane in excess of 200km (125 miles) per hour when he struck the oncoming car with his Toyota Land Cruiser.
The case, which has appeared vulnerable to political pressures from the start, was halted November 24 when the last of the victims’ families declined to press charges.
First, local media reported suspicious inconsistencies in the accident report, in particular with the younger Omurkulov’s license-plate number. Originally listed as having a number associated with the mayor’s office, the car’s plates somehow changed to a private number in the course of the investigation.
Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s “southern capital,” has been angling for the trappings of a true, national capital. Last month, the city’s mayor unveiled his own anthem and flag. Now he wants his own police force.
Melisbek Myrzakmatov said on November 10 that his municipal police plans are in the drafting stages, but could come to fruition in the near future. According to AKIpress, the new force, including a special forces unit, would be independent of Bishkek’s Interior Ministry. The mayor complained that police currently carry out political orders, not legal ones, on behalf of Bishkek. The Interior Ministry called the move illegal.
Myrzakmatov’s latest show of nonalignment with Bishkek will pose a big test for President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev. Among Western investigators, the meaty-armed mayor, perhaps more than any other official, has been linked to the ethnic violence last year between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which killed over 400, and is often described as part of the reason his city remains divided. The central government, almost 700 kilometers away, beyond a twisting mountain road, has been powerless to remove him. Appointed by ousted ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in January 2009, Myrzakmatov won’t budge. When Bishkek tried to fire him in August 2010, shortly after the ethnic bloodletting, he brought his supporters into the streets and declared the central government has “no legal force in the south.”
A 2008 event in which U.S. special operations soldiers trained their Kyrgyzstan counterparts was a "success" -- except for the part when the Americans were relieved of their money and their weapons by the Kyrgyz. That's the unlikely assessment given by a U.S. embassy official in a Wikileaked cable.The cable was written in January 2009 for General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. Central Command, ahead of his visit to the country.
Check out this extraordinary paragraph:
We assess Kyrgyz Special Forces to be among the best in the region and very receptive to SOF [special operations forces] engagement. In August 2008, we conducted training with the Alphas, the operational arm of the State Security Committee. While the training was a success, it was marred by the seizure by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, of the team's equipment, to include personal items, money and all the team's weapons kits. The Embassy has engaged the Kyrgyz Government up to the Presidential level to secure the release of the equipment but, to date, they have returned only a small portion of the weapons. The incident has also highlighted the need for increased coordination between the U.S. and Kyrgyz authorities to ensure smooth, successful future training engagements. Your visit can help move us closer to resolution of this issue.
Ever since Almazbek Atambayev won last month's presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan and promptly announced that he would close the U.S.'s Manas air base, there has been a lot of handwringing about Manas's future. Those inclined to armchair geopoliticking saw it as a victory for Russia, while others dismissed it as a bargaining ploy, an attempt to squeeze more money out of the Pentagon next time the terms of the base came up for negotiations. After all, that's what happened in the past when Kyrgyzstan's government threatened to close the base. But Lincoln Mitchell, writing in The Faster Times, has a different interpretation:
The situation today is different. Atanbaev’s position does not appear to be a case of simply trying to line his pockets with more American money, but has expressed his view based on his country’s geographical and strategic proximity to Russia and a fear that having a U.S. air force base just outside of his country’s capital could create security concerns for Kyrgyzstan. While this position is not what the U.S. wants to hear, it is also reasonable and can plausibly said to be representing the interests of the Kyrgyz people.
Atambayev in fact campaigned on a promise to close the base, calculating -- apparently correctly -- that that was a winning position. Mitchell continues:
Bishkek has breathed a sigh of relief. After a few nerve-wracking days, post-election protests in the country’s restive south have come to a halt. Hundreds of voters, disenchanted with last week’s results, held rallies in Jalal-Abad and Osh—a stark reminder of Kyrgyzstan’s treacherous north-south divide and the capital’s weak hold over the country’s more densely populated half.
Publicly, President-Elect Almazbek Atambayev, a northerner, had little to offer his disgruntled citizens, lying low during the protests. Perhaps, he was negotiating behind closed doors with southern strongman Kamchybek Tashiev, who placed third in the October 30 ballot and personally called off the protests by his supporters, on November 4, just in time for a long holiday weekend. Tashiev denied rumors of a deal, but said he would not endorse violence, or the seizure of government buildings—a tactic used by southern protesters in support of native son and ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, following his bloody ouster last year.
Traffic in Kyrgyzstan is always dangerous for pedestrians. Even sidewalks are perilous places.
Police in the impoverished southern province of Batken have detained a 16-year-old suspected of crushing to death two 9-year-olds and injuring four more children in a hit-and-run accident involving a stolen Mercedes.
Local press reports cited police as saying the young man worked at a car wash and filched a set of extra keys from the car’s owner. Around midday on October 20, the car rammed into a group of second- and third-graders walking down the side of the road in the town of Kyzyl-Kiya, then slid up a pole and fell over; the driver disappeared. Two of the children died on the spot, while the others were hospitalized with various injuries. Strangely, the only criminal charges mentioned in the news reports are traffic safety violations and “leaving [someone] endangered,” not manslaughter.
The devastating collision fits Kyrgyzstan’s troubling pattern in road safety: According to World Health Organization statistics from 2007, 43 percent of fatalities resulting from traffic accidents were among pedestrians. (In neighboring Kazakhstan, a much larger and wealthier country where drivers often stop for pedestrians at zebra crossings, the proportion was only 16 percent.)