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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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