News / Asia

Kyrgyzstan Unrest Reveals Influence of Drug Money, Organized Crime

Kyrgyzstan’s recent unrest has not only exposed deep divisions between the country’s ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities, it has shed light on a web of criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, extortion and politics. Analysts say the gangs do not appear to have started the unrest, but they are taking advantage of it.

Organized crime

If you want to pick a fight in southern Kyrgyzstan, a good place to start is with the criminals. Not the ones in jail, but the criminals hanging out in the bazaar, coffee shop or even the town office.

United Nations officials say this was the way the deadly unrest that scorched the cities of Osh and Jalalabad began in early June – with five orchestrated attacks on targets sure to fight back, including a gym frequented by a criminal gang.

Alisher Khamidov, an independent journalist in southern Kyrgyzstan, says there are plenty of targets.

“There are some groups that specialize in trafficking drugs. And then there are some groups that control the bazaars,” Khamidov says, adding that other mafias make money by raiding homes and robbing people.

The criminals often have legitimate day jobs – they run businesses, fight fires and hold public office. But their real power comes from dirty money, largely earned by trafficking heroin from Afghanistan to Russia.

Corruption

Hakan Demirbuken, with the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, says Kyrgyzstan is an ideal trafficking hub because of its poorly controlled borders and institutionalized corruption.

“We are talking about the government officials. Possibly the people involved in organizing the law enforcement in the country,” Demirbuken says. “Without having some support from the officials, it is impossible to traffic all that amount of heroin from one country to another one.”

Drug trafficking

Osh, the southern city at the center of Kyrgyzstan’s recent unrest, is also the center of the country’s drug trade. Afghan heroin is carried through the mountains bordering Tajikistan, entering Osh in truck beds stacked with fruits and vegetables.

The drugs are then diluted and moved on to Kazakhstan before reaching Russia, the world’s largest consumer of heroin. This route is also favored by human traffickers headed to European destinations.

Demirbuken says the country’s high unemployment and low salaries mean organized crime provides cash that the state cannot. He says the money reaches almost every sector of society.

“In Central Asia, if you want to have a power, then you need to have money. So the easiest way to earn money, maybe some cases is drugs. Drug trafficking,” Demirbuken explains. “And they need to also launder the money and the next step is making a business. So business people, politicians and drug traffickers, they are all mixed together.”

Dirty money and politics

Former President Askar Akayev has accused his successor, the recently ousted leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, of using drug money and criminal gangs to seize power during the Tulip Revolution of 2005. Mr. Akayev points to a series of political assassinations as evidence of Mr. Bakiyev consolidating his power through criminal means.

Kevin Jones, a Kyrgyzstan expert at Georgetown University in Washington, says drugs and politics were also enmeshed during the Akayev administration. But he says the political instability in 2005 created an opportunity for new criminal gangs to assert their power.

“It wasn’t widespread violence like there is now by any means. It was very targeted,” Jones says. “But it was definitely an inner battle for control for parts of the drug trade and relationship to the government.”

Power vacuum

Jones says the April overthrow of the Bakiyev government and the ethnic clashes in Osh have created yet another opportunity for the criminal powers to shift.

“They’re all very much taking advantage of the continuant instability,” says Jones. “And for many of them, it’s in their interest to continue that until they gain whatever specific objective they have.”

For some, that is a trade route for greater control of the border. For others, according to journalist Alisher Khamidov, that means a seat in power. He says when the ethnic clashes began in Osh in early June, an influential former local politician in his hometown, Aravan, took advantage of the instability.

“He came him with his bodyguards – about 50 people all armed to teeth - and he installed his own man in the position of power in this town. And so we have a new mayor,” Khamidov reports.

Fractured trade

Unlike in Colombia, where a single cartel controls the entire cocaine trade, Central Asia’s drug market is made up of many small mafias all competing, and fighting, for a share of the trade.

Jones says that while organized crime will always be violent, the instability in Kyrgyzstan should ease.

“It’s in their interest to actually have it settle down and have one person that they’re regularly paying. You can think of it as the efficiency of corruption,” says Jones.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim government has pledged to reinstate the country’s anti-drug agency, and Russia is considering setting up a second base in Kyrgyzstan to tackle the narcotics trade. But analysts question whether these measures will help, or just add new forces to the country’s underground economic engine.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs