News / Europe

Scenes from the Revolution - A VOA Diary from Bishkek

VOA Correspondents Steve Herman and Peter Fedynsky and Russian service reporter Erica Marat were this week in Bishkek covering the aftermath of the violent revolution that prompted a change of government in Kyrgyzstan. The trio spent hours over several days on the third floor of the Ministry of Defense, the nerve center of the provisional government which is promising to restore democracy to the Central Asian nation.

A demonstrator in Kyrgyzstan
A demonstrator in Kyrgyzstan
TEXT SIZE - +

Small cracks on the patina of Kyrgyzstan's hastily formed self-appointed coalition government are already apparent.

Former foreign minister Rosa Otunbayeva, the interim leader of the nascent government storms out of her temporary office, Room 308, in the Ministry of Defense.

A few minutes before, from the same floor, a similarly huffy exit was made by her deputy in charge of the country's depleted finances, Almazbek Atambayev. The former prime minister had, hours before, held a news conference to discuss his hastily arranged trip to Moscow, Kyrgyzstan's top aid donor and former patron when the country was a Soviet Socialist Republic. There Atambayev dropped a bombshell, revealing the provisional government was preparing to launch a "special operation" to grab the deposed but still defiant President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

Otunbayeva, in her public comments, took a softer tone initially. But she apparently grew increasingly impatient, later warning Kyrgyzstan was on the brink of civil war because of Bakiyev's threat to unleash a new wave of bloodshed should he be targeted.

It would turn out that no further loss of life would be needed to neutralize President Bakiyev. Two days later he would board a military aircraft for Kazakhstan where, according to the provisional leadership, he faxed his resignation to Ms. Otunbayeva.

The 59-year-old Russian-educated polyglot professor and diplomat turned politician is an anomaly as a powerful woman in this predominately Muslim nation best known for its nomads in Kalpaks, woolen and felt hats tall enough to contain their own microclimate.

Otunbayeva comes off as firm but motherly in encounters with correspondents conducted amid an incessant shuttling among meetings with colleagues and visiting diplomats.

Otunbayeva's time will likely be devoted to getting a severely looted capital functioning again while playing the role of chief mourner in wake of the more than 80 deaths during the upheaval.

Otunbayeva is partly distracted by possible usurpers among 13 other opposition figures from various parties who, individually and collectively, are trying to gain legitimacy both in the eyes of the Kyrgyz people and the international community.

But just beyond the reach of the gates of presidential palace looms an even more ominous threat.

At a side entrance to the Defense Ministry, a crowd of men and women have been whipped into a frenzy by a flag-waver who has partly scaled a tower. They demand the deposed president be brought to Bishkek for justice. The vocal group, obviously partly fueled by alcohol, is in no mood to discuss compromise and the nuances of conflict resolution under way by international diplomats who have flown to the capital.

Ms. Otunbayeva would, Friday morning, admit her concern that by permitting Bakiyev to leave the country she might seen as betraying the cause that just a week before had brought her to power.

TULIP REVOLUTION REDUX

The rumblings of discontent do not take long to surface along the city's main street, Prospekt Chui.

Shopkeepers grumble about how the characters composing the interim government are the same ones who helped Bakiyev chase out President Askar Akayev  five years ago in the Tulip Revolution when he appeared intent on turning the presidency into a family business --  the same charges that brought the end to Bakiyev's rule.

Now the merchants of the shops and restaurants that line the avenue wonder who will be the next corrupt autocrat to emerge.

Late one evening, after a futile search for an open restaurant serving Kyrgyz cuisine, colleague Peter Fedynsky and I step into a usually popular cosmopolitan Chui Street restaurant. We fail to notice the "Closed" sign on the door but the Russian proprietor takes pity on us and agrees to serve us spaghetti bolognese and a couple of beers.

The other late-night patrons begin to wobble out of the establishment, but spot the two obvious foreigners.

We reluctantly engage them in conversation as they precariously hover above and then, uninvited, plop down into our booth.

Peter, who is fluent in Russian -- the Bishkek lingua franca --  prudently sticks to English.

"I don't know who you are -- FBI or CIA perhaps -- but I don't hesitate to tell you how we feel," one of the group volunteers in English.

It turns out they are "undercover policemen" who claim allegiance with the people and express horror at having witnessed, the previous week, government forces firing bullets into innocent civilians.

I cannot resist telling one of the men that I have heard repeatedly that the snipers on the grounds of the presidential office building, or White House--  the former seat of the Kyrgyz government --  were foreigners.

"Yes," he replies in matter of fact voice. "They were Pakistanis and Indians."

Peter signals to me that further conversation might not be the best course to take,  so I do not pursue the potentially volatile line of questioning on the far-fetched possibility Bakiyev hired South Asian assassins to protect his assets.

As the presumed plainclothes cops finally exit, both Peter and I emit subtle sighs of relief.

I ponder all the conspiracy theories circulating in Bishkek. Some Kyrgyz, during the rioting, targeted establishments and businesses of quite disparate scapegoats: Chinese, Jews, Slovaks and Turks.

Kyrgyzstan is a small, young, impoverished and vulnerable state. And it is not unusual for some elements of any society to try to blame internal problems on outsiders.  But, hopefully, civil society and the government here will push for a transparent and sober accounting of who was really culpable for turning the sidewalks outside the White House red.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid