A generation after independence from the Soviet Union, most villages in Kyrgyzstan are ramshackle, broken places, scenes of hopelessness and despair. Able young people leave – for Bishkek, the capital, or for menial jobs in Russia. But thanks to a secret gold mine, one little mountain hamlet is different.
Anyone who has visited Kyrgyzstan won’t be surprised by this news: Kyrgyzstan, officially, has some of the best honey in the world.
The Kyrgyz Union of Beekeepers took home five medals – three gold and two silver – at the biannual International Apicultural Congress held this month in Kyiv. Representatives from over 100 countries participated in the event, dubbed Apimondia.
At the Union of Beekeepers in Bishkek, the phones were ringing off the hook this weekend as chairman Kazim Karaketov feasted his eyes on the awards.
“We had no idea what a diamond we held in our hands. Only the global community could evaluate the true worth of our honey,” Karaketov told EurasiaNet.org.
Among Kyrgyzstan’s gold medal winners was the creamy white honey from the high-altitude region of At-Bashi in Naryn Province. A wax figure of a beekeeper wearing a kalpak, the felt Kyrgyz national hat, won a gold in the “beeswax model” category, beating an Indian entry; Kyrgyzstan also beat Slovakia for a gold in a category that considered display cases for selling honey.
Dark honey from Issyk-Ata in Chui Province and beeswax candles took silver medals in their respective categories.
Karaketov said that while choosing what to present at Apimondia, the union looked for products that had won praise at local contests. His sole regret: Kyrgyzstan presented only five products because it costs 180 euros to enter each. “Everything comes down to finances. We took a risk, but we should have risked more!” Financing problems had kept the union from participating in the past.
Late at night, Aibek Baratov is driving around Kyrgyzstan’s poorly lit capital testing his latest project. Tired of hearing about pedestrian deaths, and frustrated with a lack of interest among Bishkek city officials to address the hazard, the activist took matters into his own hands and installed reflective signs marking crosswalks.
The lead author of a controversial bill that would label most of Kyrgyzstan’s non-profit organizations “foreign agents” says the country must protect itself from foreign “sabotage” and “sexual emancipation.”
In an interview with EurasiaNet.org this week, MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former human rights ombudsman, said he was inspired by almost identical legislation that came into effect in Russia last November, but that he’d been musing over the idea since 2006. The bill would require organizations that accept foreign funding and supposedly engage in “political activities” to identify as “foreign agents,” a term widely understood throughout the former Soviet Union to denote traitors and spies.
Though President Almazbek Atambayev said on September 19, during a visit to Brussels, that he would not support the bill, Bakir uulu says the president has made a “shallow statement to please the West” and would eventually fall into line.
Noting that the bill mirrors the Russian law, on September 27 a coalition of human rights groups led by the International Partnership for Human Rights, said the sweeping draft law “appears primarily aimed at the same category of groups that has been the main target in Russia, i.e. human rights NGOs and other groups that are inconvenient for those in power.”
Critics have also noted that foreign governments fund parts of Kyrgyzstan’s budget, in effect turning Bakir uulu himself, as a paid government employee, into a foreign agent.
When confronted with this irony, Bakir uulu said the questioning suggested EurasiaNet.org was a foreign agent.
The interview has been translated from Russian and edited for length.
Olga Gotovshikova stares out at Lake Issyk-Kul from her shore-front guesthouse. Last year she could only dream of a minute like this to rest; the place was packed with 60 tourists at a time, all summer long. But now she sits anxiously in the deserted guesthouse.
To reduce its vulnerability to being squeezed by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on energy supplies, Kyrgyzstan’s government is rushing into Russia’s embrace. Some experts, however, believe Bishkek is solving one problem by creating another.
Seven years ago Aijan was walking home from her waitressing job in central Bishkek with two girlfriends. They did not notice the three men following them. As two men tackled the other women, one dragged Aijan, 21 at the time, into a waiting car.
Baialy Turashev remembers vividly how the Chechens got to Kyrgyzstan.
On a spring weekend, like so many of his neighbors, the 75-year-old is weeding his fields outside Tokmok, in northern Kyrgyzstan’s fertile Chui Valley. But he is eager to drive his pitchfork into the ground and talk.
With all the attention this week about how the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings are ethnic Chechens from Kyrgyzstan, I wanted to find out more about their community’s history.
“I was six years old, but I remember everything. It’s impossible to forget. These memories are meant to be taken to the grave.” Despite his horrific tale, Turashev has a warm smile. There is not even a shadow of severity on his face; only broad wrinkles like a map of the old man’s life.
Turashev’s family lived in a village called Uluskert, 50 kilometers from Grozny, the Chechen capital, in southern Russia. High up in the Caucasus mountains, it was cut off from the general population. In the summer of 1943 Soviet troops arrived and started building a road.
“My father said that this was not a good sign,” Turashev recalls. Indeed, it later turned out, the road was being prepared to transport the people out of Uluskert. On February 23, 1944, soldiers armed with machine guns surrounded the village. The commander read a government decree that called for resettlement. The Chechens had run into Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s paranoia. He feared they could collaborate with invading Nazi soldiers.