OK, folks, my turn. Megan has not done anything since February, other than enter the one item that I sent her. Her reasoning: “ Kyrgyzstan and all of Central Asia are in such turmoil, why should I try to do anything from a distance?” Good reasoning, too. Several of the PCVs who have been keeping blogs have been warned by Peace Corps, Washington, to use greater care in what they write. Peace Corps is not a political arm!
However, since I am no longer a PCV, I think I’m a little freer to tell my story than those still in the field. And why don’t we start where it all began…with the Tulip Revolution. Askar Akayev was pretty much a favorite of the State Department; he was the least dictatorial of any of the Central Asia presidents. About a year ago, he began to slip from favor with his own people. The English language newspapers began to have a flavor of, “Look how good we are,” when reporting items from the government. And Parliament was not doing anything; Akayev was doing it all. But the natives were restless, and the Parliamentary elections in January, with runoff elections in February, really tipped the scale. Akayev had said he would not run for re-election as President, but it became apparent that he was working for a majority in Parliament that would do what he wanted. Both his son and daughter ran for Parliament seats from Chui; several other relatives in Issyk-Kul and Naryn also ran. The elections were bad enough; there was grumbling; the runoffs really did it: Does anyone really believe that his daughter got 95% of the vote?
So the problems started in the South. There are lots of people in Osh and Batken and Jalal-Abad looking for work and finding nothing; rigged elections did not help anything. Demonstrations became more and more noisy and violent; buildings were burned; airport runways were covered with rocks. Maybe in that part of the show, half a dozen people died. To Akayev’s credit, he refused to harm his people (unlike Karimov, next door in Uzbekistan, who can’t even present a plausible figure of the numbers of people who have been killed or who have fled the country!). Finally, on March 23, the action reached Bishkek, with about 300 people demonstrating, and Akayev saying that firm measures would be taken against future demonstrators.
Arabaev University is on the east edge of the government/Ala-Too square complex, and at the west edge of downtown Bishkek. I went downtown for my usual gamburger on the 24th, and then strolled back toward the University along Chui Street. There was a crowd gathering in front of the White House—the principal government building. Crowd? There was a literal river of people pouring down the street to the east of the White House! Three hundred people the day before had turned into at least 3,000 on the 24th. The police, vastly outnumbered, got out of the way! As people started in the front door of the White House, Akayev & Co got out the back door. Absolutely the fastest revolution in the history of the world! At that point I headed back to the University. Norilya, a secretary, was watching the whole show from a second floor window. As I walked in, she had an absolutely terrified look on her face and said, “Charlie! Go home!” So I did.
There was considerable rioting, pillaging/looting that evening, against property owned or thought to be owned by Akayev & Co. The PCVs were told to get inside and stay there; I had one other PCV in my apartment. About 9:00 pm on the 24th I had a telephone call from Megan: Akayev had resigned and left the country. (Any questions about this being a small world?!) From Thursday evening until Sunday afternoon we didn’t leave the apartment, getting what news we could from BBC, and from Sam Citron, the husband of a PCV in Osh who got to Bishkek from Los Angeles on Friday morning, the 25th! So for three days there were three of us in a one room apartment.
Osh Bazaar and the Mom and Pop convenience type stores and kiosks were the only places where we could get food. All the supermarket types had been pillaged. As of June 1, everything in Bishkek had re-opened except for a Turk owned furniture store and a Turk owned supermarket. Early in March the University said it could not pay my rent beyond April 22, so I had planned to leave. On March 25, a UN volunteer teaching at Arabaev decided she would really rather be in London and left. I was asked if I would take her classes…sure; it would keep me there for another six weeks—until the end of the semester, and the English department would take care of my rent. I really had fun those six weeks, and I was up to my neck in work, finishing things in International Relations and teaching two classes.
It was all over so quickly that for a couple of days no one knew just who was going to do what. Then Bakaiev, from Osh, was selected as interim president after Kulov, from Bishkek, had declined. The government was doing a petty decent job of functioning by the end of April. Presidential elections will be held July 26, but who will be president has already been determined. Bakaiev will be president; Kulov will be Prime Minister. There are about ten others running for the job, but all together they probably won’t pull more than 20% of the vote.
So everything is settled and Kyrgyzstan is on its way to a bright future? Not so fast! Akayev’s daughter came back to Bishkek and claimed her “rightful” Parliament seat. She stuck around for maybe a week, and decided Moscow was much more friendly. His son, a real thug, made loud noises about being elected, but never managed to get out of Moscow. (Had he made it to Bishkek, he would not have gotten out alive.)
As for the University…have you heard of “paying political debts?” Well…Bakaiev appointed a new Minister of Education. The Minister of Education appointed a new Rector for the University. All the 13 vice-rectors are in a holding pattern. The new Rector won’t be official until September; the vice-rectors are busily currying the Rector’s favor or are hunting for a new job. That is no way to run a railroad; it certainly does nothing for running a University. At least the teaching faculty is reasonably safe from change.
What really concerns me is: By October 1, will there even be anyone around who knows what I have tried to accomplish in the past year? Will the education process of acquainting a new administration who basically know little about how a university functions have to start all over from ground zero? All I can do is hope.
I met some nice people, both students and adults. I know I have impacted on some lives; I know that I will do my best to stay in touch and stay current; my 21 months in Kyrgyzstan have left their mark on me. I hope to go back in September 2006; I have applied for a Fulbright Fellowship.
And I know that the developing revolution in Uzbekistan isn’t going to be pretty.
For now, though; it’s a wrap. Dasvadanya.
posted by Megan Harkness-Madole at 8:10 PM  |