EurasiaChat: The rough with the smooth in Kyrgyzstan
How a bike ride showed the depth of Kyrgyz hospitality, and the places where tensions persist nevertheless. This and more in the latest EurasiaChat podcast.
The latest edition of our EurasiaChat podcast kicked off with some thoughts from Eurasianet Central Asia editor, Peter Leonard, on his experience of doing the notoriously grueling Silk Road Mountain Race.
This annual bike race can last up to two weeks and takes participants through some of the most remote and challenging locations in Kyrgyzstan – from cold mountain passes to barren, searing valley floors. Perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of the event, though, is that it offers participants the chance to see the truest expression of Central Asian hospitality and kindness to strangers.
A rougher side of life in Kyrgyzstan was on display recently in the southern city of Osh, though, as podcast co-presenter Alisher Khamidov explained. On August 31, two teams from Osh and the northern city of Talas faced off in the famously rough horseback sport of kok-boru. The match was attended by President Sadyr Japarov, which made it all the more embarrassing that the spectacle eventually degenerated into mass unrest triggered by suspicions among the Osh crowd that the referee had put his thumb on the scale to hand victory to the Talas team.
While unrest is not unusual at such big sporting events, the rowdy scenes may have dealt a serious blow to the theme of national unity that apparently had served as a theme for the match, which saw players from different sides of the country pitted against one another.
In another story of tension, this time straddling the border, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have been mired in an ugly dispute over the past month or so.
On paper, this was how it went: Around mid-August, Kyrgyzstan diverted the course of river flows away from Kazakhstan, claiming that it had already provided enough water under earlier reached agreements. This had immediate and serious repercussions for arid, farming dependent areas of southern Kazakhstan, which in turn reacted by all but closing the border to Kyrgyz road freight.
Some have speculated that the real reason behind the impasse is that Kazakhstan incurred Kyrgyzstan’s ire by seeking to stem the flow of sanctioned goods going from there to Russia. Whatever the truth, the squabble looks bad for efforts to promote regional integration, which all governments in Central Asia claim to favor.
Finally, Alisher brought us the story of a man in Osh who uploaded a video appeal addressed to Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to intervene to protect ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan from alleged discrimination. The footage sparked alarm and furious conversations among the ethnic Uzbek community; some agree that discrimination is indeed taking place and that the issue should be addressed, others are alarmed that the video appeal could have served to destroy years of painstaking confidence-building dialogue.
In the event, there do not seem to have been serious repercussions from the video appeal, which perhaps signals that the public has grown more resistant to the explosive potential of provocative public pronouncements.
This podcast was produced by Aigerim Toleukhanova.
Aigerim Toleukhanova is a journalist and researcher from Kazakhstan.
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.
Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in Bishkek.