Analytical materials / Kyrgyzstan

Elmira Nogoibaeva “Kyrk Choro” as a symbol of the State’s weakness


“If we talk about the prospects, it is possible to assume that, given the upcoming parliamentary elections, the crisis of leadership and of public confidence in the existing policy proposals of parties and their representatives, the popularity of “Kyrk Choro” will anyhow increase, especially in the regions”, noted Elmira Nogoibaeva, a researcher of socio-political processes. (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan), in an article written exlusively for

PART I. BACKGROUND or why they still are and will be THERE
When the first information about this association of men appeared, no one took them seriously. It so happened that the political history of independent Kyrgyzstan is rich in a variety of spontaneous organizations and initiatives often using “voice of the people” as the starting point of their activities and the so-called legitimacy in society. No matter whether it is a product of a single political action or a formation that manifests itself from time to time, often before elections – something in between a party and a movement.
One way or another, but the peak of their activity occurs before or after the so-called revolutions, often associated with the heroism of a village or a town square. They are short-lived and pretentious. They appeal not to eternal values ​​but to special “traditions of their ancestors and their own mentality,” sometimes to religion, sometimes to the worldview associated with nature. But anyway, they set themselves up as a norm, i.e that they have the right form rules in this particular community. Their main tool is not even censure but punishment. The main enemies are the “other”. No matter who: foreigners, LGBT and others who are “different”, “wrong”. Their ideology is amorphous enough, but ideological calls to “morality and ethics” are heard everywhere. And they are popular; the demand for them is growing every day, especially before the elections. Officials and ministries, parties and movements openly and informally turn to them.
What is their phenomenon? Is it because of “Kyrk Choro” themselves, or have the government and society themselves formed such demand for informal leadership? Maybe, it’s not just a spontaneous mobilization but a result of events lining up in a certain logic. Or is it a compensation for inefficient institutions and standards that were supposed to generate social order and security? Let’s study the history of the issue.
“Kyrk Choro” as a symbol
Forty knights, forty soldiers. The number “forty” itself is a frequent epic numerator in characters of various peoples and times. Maybe, depending on the dominant of perception, the quantifiable “40” varied by gender and destination. Forty girls, tribes, heroes as the basis for the prototype of the ethnonym “Kyrgyz”, according to one of the hypotheses. Anyway, forty (Kyrk) is an ancient settled symbolism, found in myths and epics, carrying a catalytic function, fastening and unifying into a tribe, squad or community.
Forty heroes (Baatyrs) is a symbol of a troop or squad, a symbol of safety and care. But not only. It has also social and hierarchical connotations. Any of the representatives of the forty is literally an “atkaminer” (rider or Baatyr on horseback) with some significant social function in the community in his community. Kubanychbek Nurbekov described functions of atkaminer as follows: “Atakaminer persuaded, reminded customs and traditions, called for tribal solidarity, threatening by wrath of Allah, and argued the need to subordinate the local seigneur… Activities of atkaminer were very varied”. [1]
In short, the historical memory and mythical background of “Kyrk Choro” is quite rich and in some cases even underestimated. Perhaps, that is why its symbolic potential, rich in the sense of nobility and strength, justice and the right to a certain truth, which they win and defend, is becoming a more attractive marker for social organizations today.
Brief history of the issue in modern Kyrgyzstan
Modern social mobilizations, associations designed to influence society in Kyrgyzstan, were there even earlier than the actual current state.
For the first time, initially spontaneous social mobilizations of people’s guards appeared at the dawn of Kyrgyzstan, back in 1998-1999. They were first civil unions of the dissatisfied due to the unjust (in their view) redistribution of land around Bishkek – the so-called “squatters”, who in the future seized the land around Bishkek, which were later ironically named as “New settlements” that, in fact, for a long time, were infrastructurally not completed and  randomly built-up areas around the capital. Mostly, they were ethnic Kyrgyz, altough were representatives of other nationalities among them. They demanded justice, united in groups, then in unions, like the movement of “Ashar”.
Later, all these initial social impulses and discontent spilled over into the political mobilization and ambition. At the junction of the times and periods, many things converged in time and place. The era of the first spontaneous squads simultaneously stepped into politics and into another country, where, later turned into political parties, began to change the reality, at least, to influence by destroying the Soviet system and building its own system with characteristic optimism and maximalism of the first, then young leaders and associations.
Is it correct to compare the current sporadic associations of “Kyrk Choro” and those historic events and associations? Only from the point of view of social organizations and initiatives. Here it is necessary to take into account that protest groups which appeared in the sunset of a great empire and its periphery were still proper, barely perceptible, but still they carried some ambitious sense. Especially during the early years. They caused even more skepticism than “Kyrk Choro” or any other entity today. The monolith of party-ideological and administrative system was still strong. Despite its clay trunk, it was still a colossus, and only group associations with serious claims could encroach on it. The collapsed country and system allowed then to those groups – social associations – to take their niche in public life. But so far, they were only the pulses that united mostly well-educated young people who came from the village to the city, claiming their place in the state, at its center, directly and metaphorically. And it happened. And it was more a merit of that time and centrifugal processes, nonetheless the first precedent of social mobilization, claiming to change something in society, was there.
The second similar wave of the most striking example of social mobilization was the year of 2010. Then came the first “people’s militia”, different from the Soviet concept, saving from looters during the so-called second revolution. Later, on the background of the ethnic conflict in the south, at the beginning spontaneously and then organized, and even with the assistance of the Provisional Government, they began to form into “militias”. It should be noted that the forms of such militias were different.
Some mobilized under certain leaders, parties or sports clubs. Often people united by area, and gathered mainly in times of exacerbated threats coming from uncontrolled crime, including looting – for the protection of personal property and commercial facilities such as shops, showrooms and others.
Eurasianet reviewers Jonathan Lewis and Alexander Christie-Miller described those events as follows: “They put an end to looting, helped to save the new government and to calm down the frightened residents of conflict-torn Kyrgyzstan” [2]. Then: “in the midst of massive April riots, which overthrew the administration of the President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the youth of Bishkek and other cities began to create militias to patrol the streets and restore order. These squads were originally seen as a temporary solution to the unrest in the country. But in the course of ongoing civil unrest in the country since April, militias began to acquire more and more influence in Kyrgyz society”.
Later, the active participation of initially “voluntary squads and militias” began to change. Growing politicization of the process played its role, as well as the redistribution of including management resources in the country. Revolutions breed new heroes, leaders and the elite who subsequently wish to have a part of the conquered “pie”. It happened this time, too. “Now there is a danger that people’s squads become involved in the political process and can have a negative impact on the next phase of development of political life in this Central Asian state”, wrote then Lewis and Christie-Miller.
And so it happened: many of the leaders of the youth organizations were not only in demand in politics, but also they had claims to it. In their rhetoric, they “deserved” this right by risking their lives in 2010. The debate about the merits was not slow in coming. Some of the leaders of the youth movements have become activists, members of the parliament, a vivid example is the leader of the youth movement of “Patriot” of that period – Daniyar Terbishaliev, who entered the parliament in the ranks of SDPK.
In addition, on 26 April 2010, there was specially established the Ministry of Youth created “at the request of the young activists of the country”. [3] The Ministry was headed by another active participant in the events of April Aliyasbek Alymkulov whose poster showing him with a group of vigilantes during protest events hung on the main street of Bishkek during a long time.
Moreover, there was an attempt to normalize such official participation of youth associations in the country’s public life. For example, on August 16, 2012, the Interior Minister Zarylbek Rysaliev proposed a draft Law of the Kyrgyz Republic “On the participation of citizens in ensuring the rule of law” [4], which offered quite a wide range of powers:
1) protection of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen;
2) public order;
3) road safety;
4) public control over the observance of human rights in places of detention;
5) public control over the legality of actions made by law enforcement authorities;
6) protection of the state border of the Kyrgyz Republic;
7) legal advocacy and promotion of safe and lawful behavior;
8) formation of public consciousness in the spirit of rejection of antisocial or unlawful behavior;
9) the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse;
10) prevention of homelessness and child neglect;
11) protection of property;
12) environmental protection, subsoil and fauna, ecological safety;
13) elimination of the consequences of accidents, natural disasters and epidemics;
14) fire safety;
15) preservation of historic and cultural monuments.
Engaging citizens in operational and investigative activities is carried out in accordance with the Law “On operative-investigative activities”, etc.
However, a year later, this draft Law was withdrawn by the Prime Minister Dzhantoro Satybaldiev.
But the precedent took place, the precedent of not only the “good practice”, but also of the heroics legitimized by the State and society. Niche – the pedestal – was cleaned, and the foundation was prepared.
The third phenomenon of similar mobilization, in our opinion, has the best functionality and social stability. Our research team has discovered it in the Batken region, Leilek area, ayil okmotu of “Kulundu.” We remind that Kulundu rural council is bordered by two districts of Sughd region of Tajikistan, and the population of this aiyl okmotu is about 25 thousand people. It consists of 6 villages: Kulundu, International, Iskhak Razzakov, Ak-Aryk, Bulak-Bashi and Maksat. These are the most remote southern territories of Kyrgyzstan, characterized by many unresolved border issues, sometimes transfering to armed conflict. The territory is diverse, where it is difficult to delineate clear boundaries of neighboring states at first glance. The boundaries tend to slide, and not in the direction of Kyrgyzstan. The population of this region almost independently solves complex cross-border issues. The government is too far from here, in all respects.
During opinion polls about “how people solve their own problems, including those related to border issues”, there was found an interesting way to mobilize internally and solve problems when people on their own are trying to protect their borders, households and resources. This method is small community-based militia, called “Kyrk Choro” among people. Without any political or resource ambitions. Their function is quite simple and everyday – security and protection of their own territory. Sometimes they help the border guards, sometimes they help ayil okmotu, while fulfilling the function of the rule of law on the borders, and if necessary, the function of the local Emergency Situations Ministry to implement urgent collective works, such as sliding ditches, fires, mudslides and other.
In all three stories of social mobilization in the Kyrgyz Republic, there can be found common parallels:
When the State is not working.
They all, one way or another, were formed in the period of the weakening of the state. Either the State was falling apart, changing not only the form but also the content, as in the first case, or there was a change of government, and there was no order and control at all levels, as was the case with 2010, or it was a plot of land, located far from the control center with unresolved strategic issues of security, as in the case of Kulundu.
Perhaps, similar initiatives exist in other regions of Kyrgyzstan, but somehow the main criterion of their presence and motivation is the absence or partial absence of the State, or weakening of its key features.
The State, as an institution, on which relies the population, or rather the society in ensuring not only security functions, but also the order, including in economic matters, in matters related to value orientations – morality, law, private property, by means of functions of the State, its remaining management institutions.
When the common to all “rules of the game” are leveled off or transformed
The law is one law or set of laws. When it is devalued, the society initially cannot understand how to behave, what regulatory framework to follow. Then it, or rather those who dominate in this particular community always find a way out. There is a substitution / replacement of the rules by new “rules”. These may be traditions, adat, Sharia, criminal code … anything, but this is what forms the social norm, that is, it determines what and how this should be in a given society.
And there are always those who translate them. Remember K. Nurbekov and functions of Atkaminer described by him: “persuaded, reminded custom, called for tribal solidarity…”. There are new heroes. At the beginning, they are heroes, then they get engaged in politics, then they become the power that translates the values ​​and norms.
That’s why they, these variations of associations like “Kyrk Choro”, are in demand. This is a very effective tool.
In contrast to athletes or just the guys organized in “sports clubs” that are so popular all over the country, and who, after mosques and roads, take the third place in the organization and popularity, usually operating with the support of certain formal and informal leaders of all stripes. In contrast to them, well-organized and united, “Kyrk Choro” have or believe that they have a certain legitimacy – social significance.
That is, for the whole society, not for one particular leader or group, it’s not just the vigilantes or someone close environment. They have a mission illuminated by “tradition” and “mentality”, of course, its own Kyrgyz, which would ostensibly justify any of their activities aimed at cleansing the society of “evil.” In their understanding the evil includes: prostitution, LGBT, foreigners who use the sauna and local girls, or simply foreign business that does not meet in their understanding the objectives of the blessed development of Kyrgyzstan.
In this sense, they position themselves only as “Patriots”. This should conform not only to the idea of ​​”purification of society” and, accordingly, the actions – raids, checking, protest rallies, but also to equipment – they all wear kalpak, the sacred and symbolic for all Kyrgyz headdress, with their own tamga – a symbol originating neither more nor less from Manas, with whom, or rather with his troop, they often associate themselves.
In fact, they, “Kyrk Choro”, occur as a compensatory factor; when there is no state, its mobilizing ideas, procedures and rules.
Speaking about the prospects, it is possible to assume that, given the upcoming parliamentary elections, the crisis of leadership and of public confidence in the existing policy proposals of parties and their representatives, the popularity of “Kyrk Choro” one way or another will increase, especially in the regions.
And even if this factor will not be so widespread, the demand itself for such a force, as a tool in formal and informal institutions, will increase, despite their failures and non-attractiveness of the selected victims, and the latter are usually weaker and more vulnerable. The victims are not public officials or bureaucrats of various ranks, and not the corruption and the corrupt authorities. They are indirect «enemies» who fit their image of marginal «evil», and this, first of all, entails big prospects for manipulations.
In this first part, we discussed the reasons for emerging of a social phenomenon «Kyrk Choro». In the next article, it makes sense to analyze the activities of «Kyrk Choro»: from rhetoric to actions, from ambitions to real opportunities.
Elmira Nogoibaeva, researcher of social-political processes
The views of the author may not necessarily respresent those of CABAR
[1] K. Nurbekov. “History of State and Law of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic” Bishkek 1999 Page 40.
[2] Jonathan Lewis and Alexander Christie-Miller. Voluntary people’s guards of Kyrgyzstan may turn into a political actors. 
[3] The speaker recommends not to abolish the Ministry of Youth.
[4] The site of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Kyrgyz Republic. The draft law of the Kyrgyz Republic – “The participation of citizens in ensuring rule of law pravoporyadka.aspx