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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
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.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
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 US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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