Arstan “Alai” Abdyldayev, an eccentric businessman and politician who attained internet celebrity in Kyrgyzstan in 2011 with a series of bizarre and amusing prophesies, died last week in jail, where he was being held on blasphemy charges. He was 55.
The State Penitentiary Service said in a statement that Abdyldayev hanged himself on January 5 in the canteen area of special medical and correctional institution No. 31 in the village of Moldovanovka, which lies close to Bishkek.
Abdyldayev’s lawyer, Kaysyn Abakirov, has said the Kyrgyz state bears ultimate responsibility for the death.
Abakirov wrote on Facebook that his client was transferred to the Moldovanovka facility without his knowledge.
“In short, the illegal actions of law enforcement agencies, investigators, the court, and the penitentiary service led to a person’s death,” the lawyer wrote.
The penitentiary service has said that Abdyldayev was moved to Moldovanovka on the recommendation of a psychiatrist on December 28 as he was deemed to be suffering from an “unspecified mental personality disorder and hallucinations,” in additional to a heart condition and high blood pressure. Officials said the prisoner had complained of “periodic heart pains, headaches, tinnitus, stomach ache,” as well as “frequent fatigue.”
The Justice Ministry says it has set up an inquiry to establish the exact circumstances that led to the death.
In an apparent early bid to head off allegations of wrongdoing, the authorities quickly released close-circuit video footage showing the purported final moments of Abdyldayev’s life, in which he can be seen smuggling a rope hidden inside a towel from his cell.
Relatives and friends paid tribute to Abdyldayev at his funeral, which took place on January 7 in the village of Orok, on the outskirts of Bishkek.
“Let me tell you about what he did. He built a mosque in the village of Dyikan, he erected a fence around the cemetery. He refurbished the school and kindergarten. He gifted fuel to people. What more can you say?” one villager, Kenzhebek, was quoted as saying by RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk.
Abdyldayev’s son, Toro, likewise recalled the philanthropic activities of his late father.
“He lent people money without interest — these debts remain to this day. My father donated a lot to charity. We renovated schools and kindergartens. My last wish, if I could ask him, [would be to know]: ‘Father, who hanged you?’” Toro Abdyldayev was quoted as saying by Azattyk.
Arstan Abdyldayev hit the headlines in mid-December, when he was reported missing by his family. Only after some days did it emerge that he had been detained by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, the successor agency to the KGB.
The GKNB stated that Abdyldayev had whipped up religiously-tinged discontent public statements in which he had declared himself to be a “new god” and said that other religions were “inferior, weak and invalid delusions.” It is unclear, however, what prompted the extreme and urgent measures adopted by the GKNB. Abdyldayev has been issuing declarations of the kind cited by the agency for at least half a decade.
Under Kyrgyz law, inciting religious hatred, the charge under which Abdyldayev was being held, is punishable by a fine of up to 200,000 soms ($2,245) or a five years in prison.
Abdyldayev, a self-described practitioner of Tengrianism, a broadly animistic set of beliefs prevalent in the Turkic world before the coming of Islam, rose to nationwide prominence in 2011, when he summoned a press conference to predict, on the basis of cosmic revelations, that there would be no winter that year. The phrase “zima ne budet” — “there will be no winter” — quickly entered the popular lexicon in Kyrgyzstan. Abdyldayev followed that up in 2012 with the claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “complex biorobot” who would save the world.
Such remarks have typically been treated by the broader public as the harmless crackpot ravings of an eccentric. The authorities have routinely failed to take the same view, however.
In 2019, Abdyldayev was investigated by the police after he told reporters that the “soul of God” had settled inside him and that he would come to reign over the universe in 2020. What seemed to particularly trouble the government at the time was that Abdyldayev’s supported later picketed the main seat of government to demand that then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov step down in his favor. A banner held up by a demonstrator at one rally warned that “the season of Jeenbekov has finished.”
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.