Kazakhstan: State TV Doc on Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 Revolt Ruffles More Feathers
A state broadcaster in Kazakhstan has tweaked Kyrgyzstan with a documentary depicting that country’s 2010 revolution as a period of reckless mayhem and arguing that only Kazakhstan’s president was capable of restoring tranquillity.
The documentary that aired on Khabar TV station on the evening of November 29, titled “Mission Peacemaker: The Kyrgyz Rift,” is but another episode in the diplomatic row raging between the countries.
April 7, 2010, is a date revered by those now leading Kyrgyzstan and is represented in the official narrative as a brave spontaneous uprising against tyranny in the person of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Dozens died on Bishkek’s main square that day as special forces opened fire on protesters attempting to seize the country’s main government building.
In a line clearly intended to sting, the Khabar documentary referred instead to mobs “pumped up by adrenaline or something else.” The overall thrust of the film is to present the events not as a manifestation of people’s courage, but rather as a time of rampant criminality, violence and looting.
After the bloody revolt of that day, Bakiyev fled Bishkek and traveled to his political stronghold in the south of the country, where he rallied his supporters in a series of escalating demonstrations. Bakiyev told Khabar in an interview that he believed he could easily have mounted a challenge against the interim government that took power after his flight, but that he feared the prospect of an outright civil war.
The intervention of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is shown as pivotal in avoiding that descent into conflict. It was he, the documentary explains, that provided the plane that flew Bakiyev out of Kyrgyzstan into exile — first to the southern Kazakhstan city of Taraz and then to Belarus — thereby defusing the intensifying crisis.
Interviewing Bakiyev in his bolthole in Minsk will be perceived in Bishkek as the real blow below the belt. The deposed president is a wanted man back home, where he has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison for his role in the April 2010 bloodshed. In one especially provocative passage, Bakiyev vows that he will one day return to Kyrgyzstan.
The reaction inside Kyrgyzstan has been predictably incendiary.
“To broadcast images of a president responsible for people’s deaths is to demean oneself and not one’s opponent,” the chief editor of 24.kg news agency, Asel Otorbayeva, wrote in a Facebook post.
The editor of the local edition of Russian-owned newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, Zhyldyzbek Kerimbayev, said the program would only worsen the ongoing row.
“To give voice … to a thief and a killer. This is practically spitting in the face of the Kyrgyz people,” Kerimbayev wrote on Facebook.
A group of activists picketed the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Bishkek on November 30. More such actions may well follow.
Anticipating the blow coming from Khabar, somebody in Kyrgyzstan created and posted a short film attacking the documentary as an attempt by Kazakhstan’s state media to distract their population from the fact that they are ruled by a de facto president-for-life who is unwilling to accept the notion of transition of power. Kyrgyzstan has in the last few days seen the handover of the presidency from one elected leader to another in a historic event for the region.
This Kazakh-Kyrgyz row ostensibly began after the now-ex Kyrgyz president, Almazbek Atambayev, repeatedly insulted Nazarbayev and accused him of presiding over a government riddled with corruption. The rants were motivated by Atambayev’s belief that Astana was tacitly backing a presidential candidate running against the ruling party’s pick, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who went to handily win the October 15 vote.
What began as an exchange of insults how now escalated into a minor trade war, with Kazakhstan barring the passage of many Kyrgyz goods and intensifying checks at its border, thereby causing headaches for their neighbor’s exporters.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.