Kyrgyzstan: Murder Investigation Exacerbates Regional Divisions
Conditions are such in Kyrgyzstan that a supposed break in a high-profile murder case is reinforcing an impression that the central government is weak, while stoking regional tension.
Interior Ministry officials are identifying prime suspects in the 2009 death of Medet Sadyrkulov, once a top aide to former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. As of October 4, the Interior Ministry has fingered 30 former top officials who were allegedly involved in Sadyrkulov’s killing. Back in 2009, authorities portrayed Sadyrkulov’s death as an unfortunate, late-night road accident. But now, investigators are saying it was a grisly, politically-motivated hit.
Government critics are questioning the integrity of the murder investigation, saying the recent movement in the case appears tied to politicking surrounding the October 30 presidential vote. Those implicated in recent days include a viable presidential candidate Adahan Madumarov, the erstwhile chief of Bakiyev’s Security Council, and Rasul Raimberdiev, a deputy interior minister under Bakiyev. More names are expected in the coming days and weeks. Already identified suspects say they are innocent.
“The question is why are officials releasing their investigation findings now? It looks like the elections are a major part of their calculations,” said Timur Shaikhutdinov, a former Sadyrkulov aide who is now coordinator of the Young Human Rights Movement, a non-governmental organization.
How the Sadyrkulov case unfolds could potentially influence the upcoming election. An August survey by Bishkek’s M-Vector Consulting Agency suggests none of the leading candidates has enough support to win an absolute majority in a first round. The poll found an estimated 31 percent of voters call Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev the most trusted candidate. Kamchybek Tashiev, the leader of the ultranationalist, southern-based Ata-Jurt Party, garnered 11 percent. Madumarov, another southerner, ranked third with 9 percent. If these numbers hold, a required second round of voting would pit a northerner against a southerner, a scenario that political analysts fear will deepen regional divisions and spark protests.
Some believe Atambayev is trying to use his current position to give himself a leg up in the presidential race. His ally and appointee, Interior Minister Zarylbek Rysaliev, has characterized the recent developments as a major breakthrough in the government’s ongoing campaign to uncover Bakiyev-era crimes. There are plenty of Kyrgyz, including some in prominent official positions, who question Rysaliev’s assertion.
“A widespread perception is that the direct perpetrators [of Sadyrkulov’s murder] have long ago escaped, and that officials who were not directly involved are being targeted,” a lawyer at the General Prosecutor’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The lawyer added that some in the Prosecutor’s Office are frustrated with the Interior Ministry for taking over and politicizing the Sadyrkulov investigation.
A few prominent Atambayev-allies have also criticized the investigation. But regional affiliation seems to play a role in who is voicing criticism. For example, Ismail Isakov, a deputy from Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party and a prominent southerner, told the 24.kg news agency on September 19 that the arrest of Zamir Moldoshev, former deputy head of the Border Guards Service, in connection with the murder was a mistake because Moldoshev “simply executed orders as a military officer.”
Even Sadyrkulov’s relatives and friends have voiced criticism of the Interior Ministry’s approach. Human rights activist Shaikhutdinov said that “authorities have turned Sadyrkulov’s case into a political show,” rather than a proper investigation.
Because most of the suspected officials are from the south, the investigation is exacerbating regional tensions. A day after his September 19 arrest, more than 300 Raimberdiev supporters staged a rally in Osh. Melis Myrzakmatov, the Osh mayor who has openly defied Bishkek on several occasions, publicly backed Raimberdiev.
Kursan Asanov, deputy interior minister for the southern provinces, also criticized Raimberdiev’s arrest and the ministry’s handling of the case. Under pressure from protesters, stoked by these officials, authorities set Raimberdiev free. “Raimberdiev’s release signals that Bishkek is very weak. It also demonstrates that whoever can muster the support of crowds can avoid justice,” said Akramjon, a witness to the protests.
Ravshan Gapirov, an Osh-based human rights activist, says that most southern politicians feel northerners have an unfair advantage because northerners are said to control the government bureaucracy, including the Central Election Commission and its branches across the country.
“Southerners would prefer a scenario in which political power is shared between the president and prime minister. They believe that if the president is from the north, the prime minister position should be given to a southerner. Even if they come second in the vote, both Tashiev and Madumarov will be in the position to demand the prime minister position,” Gapirov said.
The election is shaping up as a pivotal point in north-south relations. If southerners feel unfairly sidelined by the vote, or if they perceive the poll to be rigged in favor of northerners, they may start agitating for autonomy, a term that in the post-Soviet sense is loaded with the potential for violent clashes. A vote that is tainted in any way “is likely to lead to regional confrontation and demands of autonomy by southern politicians, a scenario that Bishkek dreads,” Gapirov said.