Donkey meat is back on the menu in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament – or not, as it were.
A lawmaker from a socially conservative party has spoken out to demand the closure of a Chinese-run donkey farm in a village in the southern Osh region, describing the enterprise as being in violation of Islamic mores. Tynchtyk Shaikhnazarov, a deputy with Onuguu-Progress, also condemned the unsanitary conditions at the farm, where around 3,000 donkeys are reportedly kept.
"There have been incidents of intestinal diseases and poisoning in the village," Shaikhnazarov claimed in an interview carried by news website 24.kg. His allegations could not immediately be verified.
What evidence is out there, however, does seem damning.
Disturbing video footage apparently produced by residents of the village of Mady, where the farm is situated, shows a pit piled with the uncovered bodies of dead donkeys. Pens holding live animals stand just a few feet away.
Residents say the farm has spawned a huge amount of flies and that the stench of rotting flesh is unbearable. The Chinese entrepreneurs in charge of the operation have been unresponsive to local concerns that the rot could seep into a canal from which residents draw water, Shaikhnazarov said.
The lawmaker, who is a native of Mady, said he intends to raise the issue with Prime Minister Mukhammedkaliy Abylgaziyev.
Shaikhnazarov also made an appeal for support from the relgious community, insisting that clerics should have some say over the farm's existence.
“As you know, the donkey is a forbidden animal in the Koran. How the Chinese received permission from local imams to set up a farm like this is unclear,” 24.kg quoted him as saying.
The acceptability of donkey meat in Islamic law is a matter of dispute.
Rancor over Kyrgyz donkey farms dates back to at least 2015, when some parliamentarians suggested the government could face a no-confidence vote if it did not shut down a similar operation in the north of the country.
The owner of that farm was a Kyrgyz national who claimed that his main client was a zoo in Hong Kong. Lawmakers claimed that some of the donkey produce was making its way to Bishkek restaurants disguised as beef or lamb.
The donkey debate offers plenty of space for China-bashing in a country where Beijing’s rising influence is viewed with suspicion. Chinese workers building roads in Kyrgyzstan have on occasion been accused of depleting the national donkey stock through theft or purchase from local farmers.
Some have speculated, however, that certain politicians may be exploiting popular distrust of the Chinese as a way of putting pressure on foreign investors and extorting for cash. While such theories circulate at street level, there is no clear way of knowing if there is any truth to them.
Chris Rickleton is a journalist based in Almaty.