Kyrgyz Revolution (?): Lessons of the past, perspectives for the future, by Anjelika Mamytova

22. Apr 2010


When something happens once it is an accident, twice a coincidence, and a third time a pattern (Scott Radnitz[1])



5 years ago Kyrgyzstan was in the spotlight of international media with similar images of distractions in Bishkek as it was in April this year. 5 years ago, on the wake of Georgian and Ukrainian “peoples’ revolutions”, the Kyrgyz events when reflected in international media were called the Tulip revolution. That time 5 years ago it was said that Akaev’s authoritarian regime gave way to the Kyrgyz peoples’ will and Kurmanbeck Bakiev with Roza Otunbayeva and the other members of the Peoples’ Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PMK) were the heroes of the Kyrgyz Tulip Revolution. In 2005 after Akaev fled to Russia, Kurmanbeck Bakiev was nominated by  PMK as the interim president and in the presidential elections held in Kyrgyzstan under summer 2005, he was elected as president with 89,5 % of the vote[2]. The events and developments in Kyrgyzstan 5 years ago were compared to the regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine and further Kyrgyzstan’s transition towards democracy was predicted.

Since Kyrgyzstan’s independence the country has been identified as the country with the most potential for democratic development in the Central Asian region. As a matter of fact, compared to its neighbouring countries in the Central Asian region, Kyrgyzstan has had the most liberal development and until 1996 it was labeled an island of democracy in Central Asia[3]. However between 1996 and 2005 Akaev’s political regime revealed more authoritarian features, which led to the events of the Tulip revolution. After the Tulip revolution both international and local academics expressed positive expectations for a democratic transition in Kyrgyzstan. However, expected or unexpected, exactly 5 years after the celebration of the Tulip revolution, a new “people’s revolution” (?) happened in the country, with the same scenario and the same people who were allies in 2005 appearing on opposite sides of the barricades in 2010.          


The revolutions in 2005 and 2010: similarities.  

There are similar patterns between the events in Kyrgyzstan 2005 and 2010 as civic protests initiated in Kyrgyzstan’s southern provinces, distractions in Bishkek with cars and shops burning, robberies of the presidents’ palaces, land seizures around Bishkek, blocking of the country’s main traffic highway between North and South Bishkek-Osh, the presidents’ disappearances. The similarity of events in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 to events in 2005 is that same old soviet political elites are on the barricades. Similarly as in 2005 today, though these political elites claim to be the leaders of the events,  they hardly control the situation. Thus, as Bakiev expressed in an interview for the Russian newspaper/Rossiskaia gazeta “during the events 2005 the political opposition did not expect that the events would end  with the fall of Akaev’s regime”[4]. In 2005 the situation got stabilized by Feliks Kulov, released from prison, and popular in the Kyrgyz popular opinion with his former internal-affairs minister background. Similarly in 2010 despite the interim government’s calming messages about the control of the situation in Kyrgyzstan, the revolts are still going on in varying parts of the country. These revolts in varying parts of the country are, as a matter of fact, revolts of the people against those newly appointed by the interim government representatives to varying positions in the country. So though the unpopular Bakiev’s regime got overthrown,  population revolts still continue, despite the calming messages of the interim government.

Similarly to year 2005, in 2010 the civic protests are initiated mostly by unemployed young men or older men and women, rather than by student movements as was the case during the revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. After the Kyrgyz Tulip revolution in 2005 an initiating role of the student movements Kel Kel and Bereket in Kyrgyz revolution 2005 has been mistakenly argued for. As a matter of fact, the student movement Kel Kel in 2005 was initiated as a reaction to disturbances and robberies in Bishkek. Similarly the media sources reflect that the student movement Bekbeevtsy in 2010 was mobilized as a reaction to mass disturbances in Bishkek[5]

Reasons for the civic protests during the events in 2005 and 2010 are also similar. In 2005 corruption, poverty in rural areas and mass unemployment diminished Akaev’s popularity among the people. A survey that local scientists conducted during the protests in 2005 revealed that 60% of the protesters responded that they were tired of socio-economic problems and only 20% were critical to the political regime that robbed and lied to the Kyrgyz population[6]. For the political elites and NGO representatives in 2005 the major reason was about falsifications during the parliamentary elections in 2005, in which the two children of Akayev won (the daughter Bermet and the son Aidar). The dominance of Akaev’s family/clan/relatives within the political and economic key positions was also among the indicated reasons. Similarly now in 2010 the events reveal economic developments and Bakiev’s family/clan/relatives dominance as the major reasons for protests of the political elites.  Thus among the officially announced demands of the opposition leaders were to cancelling of the high fares for electricity  and heating, cancelling of the illegal privatization of state companies KyrgyzTelekom and Nordelektro, the release of prisoned political opponents. Meanwhile, according to surveys of local scientists, among the population’s concerns were  expected higher customs fees to Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as concerns about withdrawal of Russia’s military from the country and the risk for implementation of visa requirements for Kyrgyz citizens to Russia. These last concerns of the Kyrgyz population have again more socio-economic grounds, since most of the goods from China through Kyrgyzstan are further transported to Kazakhstan and Russia, and while around 800 000 Kyrgyz citizens legally migrated to these countries to work, the number of illegal migrants from Kyrgyzstan is of course much higher[7]. So during the events in both 2005 and 2010 the  population had reasons for their civic protests which were different from the reasons of the political elites.


The revolution in 2005 and 2010: differences.

However there are evident differences between the events in 2005 and 2010. Now unlike with the events in 2005 there are victims of the civic protests (revolution?). According to media sources only in Bishkek there were 76 dead and 1520 injured from the civic protests[8]. The continued protests in the provinces increase the total number of victims of the events in 2010. Although in 2005 there were disturbances on the streets of Bishkek, cars and shops being burned, the violence did not escalate to such levels nor to shootings from the state side towards the population. Unlike in 2005 the Kyrgyz media sources have provided reports about 3 bombs placed in public places in Bishkek[9]. Though the validity of the source of the last needs controlling, this together with other indications of the escalations of the violence is an alarming sign of the security situation in the country. These changes can be the direct results of remaining problems, which escalated after and even caused the events in 2005. Already a few days after the Tulip revolution in 2005 Kyrgyzstan, instea
d of liberalization processes, witnessed a  rise of criminalization, with still unsolved murders of political leaders[10].

Today unlike in 2005 the reaction of the overthrown state is also different. In 2005 Akaev simply fled the country, accepted the resignation and ‘left in his wake the first peaceful-albeit initially extraconstitutional-transfer of power that the five countries of what used to be Soviet Central Asia have seen in a decade and a half of independence’[11]. Similarly Akaev on commenting on events in 2010 claimed that he would not come back to Kyrgyzstan’s political arena. However his follower Bakiev who fled from the capital Bishkek in 2010, was not that fast on accepting the resignation, if not expressing direct threats of bloody conflict escalation. So the most evident difference that has happened in the 5 year period between the two events 2005 and 2010, is the changed nature of the state.

Last but not the least, is the difference of the changed aspirations of the civil society producing civil protests (revolutions?). The change is in the civil society and the Kyrgyz population that once in 2005 witnessed that with escalated violence the unpopular state regime can be made to flee and a new interim government can be chosen. It has been reconfirmed by the repeation of events now in 2010. Today, according to the expressions of the Kyrgyz civil society, people are tired of promises and changing political leaders. Today people are no longer after justice, but after positive changes in their daily lives. Today it is the civil society that has experienced that it can influence and contradict the authoritarian state with violence. What is obvious is that today there is a civil society in Kyrgyzstan that once again in the future could contradict an unpopular authoritarian state with violence. Whether such civil society is democratic and liberal itself and can contribute to a democratic transition, is rather questionable and doubtful.


What happens now? Lessons of the past to the international community and Kyrgyzstan’s new leadership.  

In 2005 the political leaders of the opposition had simply the goal of overthrowing the unpopular Akaev regime but no exact plan for further actions and development of the country, for improvement of the population’s conditions and socio-economic development, which the population most of all expected from the new regime. The political leaders were too diverse, too ambitious, and too scandal-prone. Various groups inside the political establishment are fighting among themselves for their own different interests, while the people have become hostages of these manipulations[12]. Power changes within the political elite in the country had happened prior to the events in 2005 and 2010. Most of the heroes of the revolutions today have been active within these power changes before. The pattern that is typical for Kyrgyzstan’s 19 year old history is that the same old nomenclature political elites, despite the regional and clan divisions, join together for power overthrow, but in a later stage, due to regional and clan differentiations, end up in internal conflicts with each other. Thus in the beginning of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, by joined approval of those political elites, Akayev was promoted to the leading position.  In 2005 the same political elite, among them Bakiev, Otunbayeva, Atambayev, Tekembaev, Tyrgynaliev, Beknazarov etc, protested against the Akaev regime. With the exception of Otunbayeva, 4 of the above mentioned received high positions within the Bakiev’s regime, until internal conflicts between them and Bakiev appeared. Now in 2010 all of the above mentioned together with Roza Otunbayeva oppose Bakiev’s regime.

Another pattern typical for the country is that as a result of the civic protests/revolutions or power changes it was mostly so called ‘jokers’,who ended up as leaders of the country, i.e. individuals without a well established political base and support. Akaev with his academic background in physics, before he got nominated as head of the state in 1991, was not politically evident or active. Similarly Bakiev, when he got nominated in 2005 by the opposition, was also not a long time oppositional leader. Before 2005 Bakiev held a high position within Akaev’s regime. According to Kyrgyz media sources in 2005 Bakiev, after he ended up in disagreement with Akaev, simply turned into the opposition[13]. Roza Otunbayeva, despite her merits as representative of Kyrgyzstan  on the international arena, had not even been living in the country until 2004. Nor was she politically active in Kyrgyzstan. Such a ‘joker’ position, without strong political base and support, does not make it easy for those  who end up in a position of leader of the country to succeed in forwarding political and socio-economic transition, since in search for political support these ‘jokers’ must balance rival political elites. As time goes and Kyrgyzstan’s conditions also change, leading the country becomes more difficult for these ‘jokers’. For Akaev during his time in 1991, such a ‘joker’ position made him balance the political elites’ rival interests, until he became strong a president. For Bakiev in 2005, besides getting support and balancing between rival political elites, the new challenge included also balancing the geo-political interests of international actors (USA/Russia), actors which within their decade of presence in the country have developed their own political interest agendas. Now in 2010 for Roza Otunbayeva, as the head of the interim government, to all those above mentioned challenges is also added the challenge of dealing with the Kyrgyz population, which is no longer willing to continue living according the old way (with continued socio-economic problems) and that has experienced its power to get rid of unpopular regimes by the expression of violence. The situation is very sensitive, in the light of civic revolts continuing daily in different parts of the country, revolts which are due to localized identity. This problem of localism was reported during the events in 2005 by Scott Radnitz, i.e. protesters protest for “their candidate” (identified along regional or clan criteria) and are efficiently mobilized because of the strong “‘top-down” ties between certain elites and rank-and-file members[14]. That is why it is particularly important that contemporary political elites do not end up once again in internal conflicts, but rather find a solution for socio-economic development in the country. It is also the duty of the international community and international actors (USA/Russia) to prioritize assisting the stabilization process in the country and for the time putting aside their direct political interests in the country. The necessity of stabilizing the situation in the country and of further socio-economic development in Kyrgyzstan must become the primary interest of local political elites and the international community, in order to escape the problem of escalation of regional clan hostility in the country, which in the beginning of 1990s led to civil war in neighboring Tajikistan. 

[1] Radnitz, S., 2006. What Really Happened in Kyrgyzstan? Journal of Democracy – Vol 17, No 2, pp 132-164.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Andersson, J., 1999. Kyrgyzstan Central Asia’s island of Democracy?, Netherlands: OPA Overseas Publishers Association p23

[4] Leshenko, V 2005, ????? ????????. ?????? ?????????????/ Akaev overthrown. The Strrugle Cont
inues in
???????? ?????? / Narodnaya Gazeta [online].  Available from: [Accessed 08 April 2010]

[5] Kabar, 2010, ? ??????? ??????? ??????????? ?????? ??????/Protestors of different types fight in Bishkek, [online].  Available from: [Accessed 08 April 2010]

[6] Begimkulova, A,  (ed) 2005 About Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, Acta Eurasica 2005 #3  [online].  Available from: [Accessed 09 April 2010]

[7] Yanovskaya, M., 2010, ????????????? ????????? ??????: ? ???????? ???????? ?????????????? ? ??????? ????, ? ????????, ? ?????????????/International Crisis Group: In labor migration there are interested ordinary people, and radicals, and governments  [online].  Available from: [Accessed 09 April 2010]


[9] Ria News, 2010, ? ?????? ????? ??????? ??????? ????/ Bombs found on the territory of Bishkek City Hall, ??????/Pravda Newspaper [online].  Available from [Accessed 10 April 2010]

[10] Marat, E., 2008. March and after: what has changed? What has stayed the same? Central Asian Survey Vol. 27, Nos. 3-4, [online].  Available from: [Accessed 09 April 2010]

[11] Radnitz, S., 2006. What Really Happened in Kyrgyzstan? Journal of Democracy – Vol 17, No 2, pp 132-164

[12] Omarov, N., 2005. Politics, Central Eurasia 2005 Analytical Annual [online].  Available from [Accessed 09 April 2010]

[13] Refrence to Respubica Newspaper # 6 from 27 August 2002, Information accessed in Centrasia information portal, Who is Who section. [online].  Available [Accessed 09 April 2010]

[14] Radnitz, S., 2006. What Really Happened in Kyrgyzstan? Journal of Democracy – Vol17, No 2 , pp 132-164.


About the author:

Anjelika Mamytova is a PhD student at Kyrgyz National University. As part of her doctorate she conducted in cooperation with Stockholm University research on effect of market economy on formation of civil society in Kyrgyzstan (OSI/HESP CARTI Junior fellowship) and she is at the moment placed in Sweden. She is an expert on civil society, democratization and market in Central Asia and former CIS. Anjelika Mamytova conducted research on base of Uppsala University, Swedish Institute of Foreign Affairs and Women’s Foundation in Sweden. She is a fellow of NIAS Oresund Visiting scholarship, Institute of Humane Studies and OSCE CAYN program. She holds a BA and MA in Political Science from Stockholm University. 
Contact email [email protected]