A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 9, 2010

Some Thoughts on Kyrgyzstan after 48 Hours

I don't intend to rush to judgment on the Kyrgyz revolution/revolt/civil war/coup d'etat/whatever after only 48 hours, but I think a few conclusions can be drawn, tentatively and assuming the provisional government holds on to power:
  1. While the US keeps saying it doesn't see this as an anti-American change, Russia does seem to see it as a pro-Russian one. Russia was the first country to recognize the new government, whereas during the Tulip Revolution of 2005, it denounced the ouster of President Akayev as illegitimate. In fact, this is the first of the various color revolutions in the ex-Soviet space (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan 2005) that Russia has applauded rather than denounced.
  2. That may not augur well for the future of Manas. (Kyrgyzstan is unique I think in that it hosts both an American and a Russian air base.) Bakiyev was going to oust Manas last year after a major Russian loan to Kyrgyzstan, but then when the US tripled the rent, he kept both bases. Now there's talk of revisiting the agreements and possibly shortening the lease, though everything is still up in the air.
  3. Rome may not have been built in a day, but Bishkek fell in a day. From the outbreak of violence to the flight of Bakiyev from his capital was a sharp, violent day, though tensions had been building for a while. In fact, the Iranian opposition is already looking at the contrasts between their frustrated protests and Kyrgyzstan's remarkably successful ones.
  4. The lingering tensions between the north (where the provisional government is most popular) and the south (Bakiyev's home base) also emphasize the geopolitical oddity that results from Kyrgyzstan's odd shape. As the map shows, the Ferghana Valley, the rich river valley famous in classical Islamic history, is divided among three countries: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and the Uzbek and Tajik portions cut deep into western Kyrgyzstan, separating the north from the south. When tensions lead to border closings (and all three countries have had bouts of instability), communications between northern and southern Kyrgyzstan are disrupted. It's a relic of Soviet divide-and-rule gerrymandering combined with the fact that Uzbeks and Tajiks do live in the Ferghana valley as well as Kyrgyz. But when regional tensions are high, as they are right now, the geography is an exacerbating factor.
  5. Let's not rush to jump to conclusions. Shots were still being heard in Bishkek I understand, and who controls what is still far from clear. Folks who don't know the country — and I definitely include myself — shouldn't be too quick to assume they understand the narrative. After the weekend it may make more sense.
Oh, and discussing the Ferghana Valley reminded me that my post of Wednesday on Kyrgyzstan news resources neglected one important one: the English pages of the website ferghana.ru. (Also available in Russian and Uzbek if you're able.)

No comments: