Earlier this week, Kyrgyzstan denounced a cooperation treaty with the United States in fury over the U.S. State Department’s choice of Azimjan Askarov as a recipient for the 2014 Human Rights Defender Award. While I covered the details of the treaty that is being denounced in a previous post, 24.kg, an independent Kyrgyz news site, recently asked several Kyrgyz experts for their views on the diplomatic row. Their responses provide a glimpse into the domestic reaction to – and perhaps the politics surrounding – the Kyrgyz decision to junk a treaty almost as old as the state itself.
Zamira Sydykova, who served as the Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States from 2005 to 2010, is fairly cutting with her responses. “Of course,” she says, “this is not an independent decision of the Prime Minister Temir Sariev. Decision was preceded by consultation with Russia. In addition, we do hereby worse for ourselves, because there won’t be any consequences for the other side, the US.”
Sydykova, it should be noted, was Ambassador under Kyrgyzstan’s previous president–Kurmanbek Bakiyev–who was ousted in the 2010 Kyrgyz revolution. He’d come into power after the first, in 2005. His ouster was seen by many as a victory for Russia. In 2009 he promised to close the U.S. airbase at Manas, accepted Russian aid, and then renegotiated the Manas lease with the United States anyway.
Sydykova’s comments highlight a concern I brought up in my previous article about the effects of scrapping the treaty hurting the Kyrgyz more and the United States, particularly employees of aid programs and suppliers. While the impacts will be economic, Sydykova notes that the decision to denounce the treaty “is a political decision.”:
In fact, we rejected the assistance provided by people of the United States at no cost. This move doesn’t grace the country in the global space. We have nothing special to boast of, but now we show ourselves as wild, ignorant and narrow-minded people. The government of Temir Sariev put all the Kyrgyz people in a very ugly situation.
The interviewees have a range of opinions on the award and the reaction of the Kyrgyz government. Some, like Sydykova, seem to implicate Russia, while others push back at the United States. A few swerve into conspiracy theories popular across Central Asia, but particularly in Kyrgyzstan, that the United States is deliberately undermining the governments there.
Kanatbek Murzakhalilov, listed by 24.kg only as an “expert” commented that Askarov was found guilty and that the State Department was not respecting the laws of “sovereign Kyrgyzstan” in granting the award. “Our republic wins absolutely nothing from rupture of relations with the United States, but on contrary, in political, economic plan we may suffer huge losses,” he said. He then continued:
Many global political solutions are also taken under their [the United States’] orders. Using its influence on NATO and the European Union, the United States can easily enter any sanctions against our country, to destabilize the situation on the eve of parliamentary elections or joining the Eurasian Economic Union. Scenario in this perspective is extremely undesirable for us.
Chinara Esengul, a political scientist, comments that if USAID closes down programs in Kyrgyzstan, China and Russia will benefit. “Authoritarian states will benefit from it. Of course,” she says, “civil society will suffer.” Kalicha Umuralieva, head of a Bishkek-based NGO Our Right said “I do not understand this decision and do not welcome it.”
However, Sheradil Baktygulov, another political scientist, says the the Kyrgyz decision was the correct one to make. His remarks veer into U.S.-related conspiracy theories. He comments that “warning shouts” from the West over the draft laws on “foreign agents” and “gay propaganda” and “the appointment of Richard Miles Charge d’Affaires in Kyrgyzstan should be treated with suspicion.” He goes on to question how much good U.S. investment has done, noting that the United States isn’t even in the top seven investors in Kyrgyzstan, “The lion’s share of the assistance provided, falls on support of non-profit organizations and various projects.”
Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, in a statement, said the United States was disappointed in the Kyrgyz decision to unilaterally renounce the 1993 treaty. “The United States was one of the first countries to recognize Kyrgyzstan’s independence and has provided nearly $2 billion in assistance since then in the spirit of partnership and to support and strengthen Kyrgyzstan’s democratic transition,” the statement continued. The Embassy says the decision may put a number of assistance programs in jeopardy, but that the U.S. “will continue to engage with and support the people of Kyrgyzstan.”
But one look at the list of press releases from the Embassy calls into question where that engagement will be. Many of the releases deal with USAID programs now in question.
Nurbek Toktakunov, identified as a lawyer, had perhaps the most philosophical response: “Well, the Kyrgyz story continues, if there is a life – there is hope.” He then questions the legitimacy of the government’s decision to scrap a treaty that was “a matter of national significance, and, therefore, required public debate”–a troubling line of questions in a country with two popular revolutions in the past decade.