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

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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More