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Voices of Doubt: Unraveling the Ambiguities Surrounding Kolbaev’s Killing

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Voices of Doubt: Unraveling the Ambiguities Surrounding Kolbaev’s Killing

The Kyrgyz public’s doubts and questions about the Kolbaev killing are the expression of what they cannot see for lack of a transparent legal system amid the state’s apparent fight against criminality. 

Voices of Doubt: Unraveling the Ambiguities Surrounding Kolbaev’s Killing
Credit: Depositphotos

The sudden killing of criminal leader Kamchybek Kolbaev by Kyrgyzstan’s security service has given rise to considerable doubts and rumors among the public. The whole situation sent shockwaves through Kyrgyzstan, leaving many people deeply stunned and leading some to question the nature of the current Kyrgyz legal system. Several different layers of doubts have been articulated surrounding Kolbaev’s death, touching on state authorities, businessmen, and criminal groups. 

While investigating the uncertainties surrounding this case, I felt it necessary to treat these doubts seriously, by following Mathijs Pelkmans’ argument that “doubt has an agentive force,” and represents an “active state of mind” that “pushes for a resolution.” Based on different sources (interviews with informants, social media, online newspapers), I aim to uncover the detailed complexities of the doubts that surround the Kolbaev killing and open a window into different anxieties around public order and disorder, which have together produced a powerful effect on the Kyrgyz public.

Shrouded in Doubt: A Mysterious Liquidation Operation

There is a sense of unease among the public regarding the “liquidation” of Kolbaev. While there is widespread public support for initiatives aimed at eradicating criminal networks and drug dealers, there is a significant “but” that keeps coming in through various narratives. The ambiguous assassination of Kolbaev underscores potential flaws within state structure and authorities. 

Let us start from the head of the security service, Chairman of the State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev. Tashiev gave a speech shortly after the Kolbaev killing in which he emphasized the need to keep fighting corruption among government officials and to stop organized crime groups from operating freely. He further stated that criminal should not break the law: “From now on, there will be no thieves-in-law, no leaders of organized crime groups.  Those who are going to create new thieves, leaders, they will be punished severely.”

There are considerable transparency questions related to the operation to eliminate Kolbaev, a known criminal leader. The state’s violation of legal standards is apparent when considering the circumstances of Kolbaev’s death. Kolbaev’s lawyer says his client was likely not holding a weapon, as the security services have claimed as justification for their shooting. What stands out is Kolbaev’s consistent willingness to talk to law enforcement and collaborate with authorities, a behavior noted in past interactions.

The uncertainty surrounding Tashiev’s statement is directly linked to the public’s doubts about his ability to tackle corruption effectively and the lack of a transparent legal system in Kyrgyzstan. If Tashiev truly wants to dismantle criminal networks, the authorities should start with a more transparent legal framework and a functioning law and justice system. Legal transparency should not be just a preference, but a fundamental necessity. The ambitious goal of eliminating criminality can be achieved only through a transparent legal system. Without such transparency, efforts to curb criminal activities are bound to falter, given the deep-rooted corruption embedded within the existing legal structures.

Doubtful Deals: Examining Business Conflicts Amid State and Criminal Dynamics

In an article I wrote in 2021 capturing Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov’s embodiment of injustice, I noted that “intimate cultural knowledge of the utility and necessity of corruption, criminal networks, and violence in exercising power is another crucial aspect of Japarov’s success.” Japarov’s ascent to power was facilitated by the support of criminal networks. Without their backing, he wouldn’t hold the reins of power today. This revelation sheds light on the intricate web of business-criminal-state alliances shaping the political landscape in Kyrgyzstan.

Rumors have swirled about Tashiev’s and Japarov’s sons emerging as key players in this web, which excels at squeezing businesses. Allegedly, state and criminal leaders are competitors, vying to tighten their grip on various sectors through practices like otmetka (demanding hefty payments) and the “dolya” system (sharing business profits with state authorities). These whispers shed light on the shadowy power struggles within the business realm, raising concerns about the fairness and integrity of economic practices. 

Altyn, 35, and a resident of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, told me, “Currently, the Tashiev-Japarov team (including their sons) is involved in squeezing out existing businesses. Many businessmen (especially among Uyghur and Uzbek representatives) used to ignore Tashiev’s team by not paying [otmetka] and claiming that it is Kolya [a nickname of Kolbaev] who decides, Kolya who provides the roof [kryshovat]. It seems that tension emerged here, between state authorities and Kolbaev.”

Altyn also expounded on the fallout from Kolbaev’s killing: “Kamchy Kolbaev used to be the boss of criminal networks in Kyrgyzstan. His death would lead to the emergence of various small criminal groups, including thieves, killers, and human traffickers. Each criminal group would operate independently, leading to conflicts over influence.”

Another informant, Jenish, 45, from Bishkek said that “criminals would be lawless, [but] thieves-in-law keep the chaos under control. Kolbaev used control over criminal groups, ensuring their containment, or alternatively, channeling the financial gains toward the betterment of prisoners’ living conditions, thereby facilitating access to essential provisions such as food and hygiene products. Yet, Kolbaev’s rise to power has given him unprecedented power over some [members of parliament], ministers and other influential figures, positioning him as a key force capable of both maintaining balance and challenging existing power dynamics.”

Doubts and fears are gripping the Kyrgyz population as anxiety grows about the state’s ability to counter a rapid increase in criminal activity, particularly theft, which many anticipate and fear could lead to mass chaos. Skeptical sentiments prevail, with people doubting the ability of the state to effectively counter growing criminal threats. As a consequence, the very structure of public order is under threat. Currently, the state is unable to provide the certainty and stability necessary to maintain social order, which makes citizens anxious about the future.

The public’s doubts are the expression of what they cannot see for lack of a transparent legal system amid the state’s apparent fight against criminality. People lack evidence of tangible realistic change with visible results. So people keep raising questions and opening new doubts. These doubts have produced a great variety of creative voices in social media from different audiences.

Yet, this constant doubt makes Kolbaev’s case more appealing and produces more powerful effects for speculation and questioning. Under these circumstances, this discussion produces a space to challenge the current state and allow for new ideas and responses to emerge in an effort to make sense of a deeply uncertain situation.