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

Official: S. Sudan President, Rebel Leader to Meet in Tanzania

Talks part of effort to end conflict in country that has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced more than 1.5 million others More

Dutch Deny Link to Mystery Submarine Off Sweden

Netherlands denies Russian claim that 'foreign vessel' photographed in waters off Sweden could be Dutch More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid