Crossroads Asia

Atambayev Takes Aim at Jeenbekov in Weekend Rally

The former Kyrgyz president accused his successor of persecuting his political opponents under the guise of anti-corruption.

Catherine Putz
Atambayev Takes Aim at Jeenbekov in Weekend Rally
Credit: Pixabay

On June 8, former Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev hosted a rally in Bishkek. Surrounded by his supporters and ring of Kyrgyz and Social Democratic Party (SDPK) flags, Atambayev unloaded on current President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Central to his criticism was the allegation that in the so-called pursuit of corrupt officials, Jeenbekov was simply persecuting his political opponents.

The rally featured the lawyers and relatives of several politicians detained under the Jeenbekov administration for alleged corruption during their time as Atambayev administration officials. Most notable among the group of dismissed and detained former officials are former Prime Ministers Sapar Isakov and former Bishkek mayor Kubanychbek Kulmatov, though there are a number of others with charges pending. Atambayev categorized the arrests as politically motivated and took aim at the sitting president.

“Kyrgyzstan does not need such a president, who has a kolkhoz and the Kokand khanate in his head,” Atambayev reportedly said, using the term for a Soviet era collective farm and referencing an Uzbek state which existed in the Fergana Valley, including parts of what is southern Kyrgyzstan now, before becoming a vassal in 1868 to the Russian Empire and subsequently fading into the dust of history.

Atambayev laid out Jeenbekov’s resume, connections and stated that “I considered him as an honest person and nominated to the post at the presidential administration, post of the prime minister, the president.” Referring also the the current president’s brother, Asylbek Jeenbekov, a member of parliament (formerly of Atambayev’s party) and previously speaker of that body, Atambayev reportedly said, “The Jeenbekovs were the second after me. Moreover, all bad that was going on was done with their knowledge.”

While the rally participants stressed the innocence of the Atambayev-era officials charged under the  Jeenbekov administration, Atambayev’s own comments suggest that if there were “bad” things happening, the Jeenbekovs were in on it too.

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During Atambayev’s tenure, the Jeenbekov brothers did indeed hold important positions.

Another topic that came up during Atambayev’s rally last weekend was the issue of Aziz Batukayev, who Eurasianet characterizes as a “notorious crime boss.” Batukayev was released from jail in 2013, reportedly after a leukemia diagnosis which RFE/RL reports was later found to have been falsified. Kyrgyz authorities recently re-opened the case and have arrested a handful of individuals, including four doctors, but most prominently former Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Atakhanov and Aida Salyanova, who was in 2013 the prosecutor-general. Salyanova (who Franco Galdini interviewed for The Diplomat in 2017) later had a falling out with Atambayev.

As Eurasianet has suggested, people like Atakhanov could be critical informants in building a case against Atambayev. And that certainly seems to be within the realm of possibility.

Atambayev recently suspended his chairman role and membership in the SDPK, concurrent with a new law that effectively strips former presidents of immunity if they remain actively engaged in politics.

While the Jeenbekov administration hounds Atambayev-era officials and sets itself up to possibly take on the former president, Atambayev and his supporters are pushing back. The recent gathering included in a resolution stating, among other things, “We demand from the president to stop the political persecution of politicians and public figures who are disliked by his regime. Political prisoners must be released.” The SDPK threatened to demand Jeenbekov’s early resignation.

The split between Atambayev and Jeenbekov has only grown wider in the last year and a half. As the gulf between them widens and each side more polarized — accusing the other of corruption while claiming to be clean — the implications grow more serious.