Within the past three years, over a thousand different protests have taken place in Kyrgyzstan. What is the difference between them?
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It is no secret that rallies, and protest actions take place in Kyrgyzstan much more often than in neighbouring countries of the region. This is confirmed by the statistics – where the number of protests is growing every year. However, all the rallies differ from one another. Thus, in this material we will try to find out how the protests vary from each other, in which part of the country they take place more often and at what time of the year there are the most protests.
The right of citizens to freedom of peaceful assembly in Kyrgyzstan is a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic. This constitutional right gives the citizens of Kyrgyzstan the freedom to gather and hold various public events, and most importantly, with the help of this right, people get the opportunity to exercise other equally important constitutional rights, such as free receipt of information, free expression of opinion, and criticism.
The laws governing peaceful assembly are more liberal in Kyrgyzstan than in other Central Asian countries. The Law on Assembly, passed in 2012, protects the right to hold assemblies without prior authorization from the authorities and obliges the authorities to protect both planned and spontaneous peaceful assemblies. Authorities can only prohibit assemblies if their purpose is to promote certain illegal goals, such as propaganda for war and violence, and they can restrict the time or place of assemblies to ensure the safety of participants or other citizens. Authorities must seek judicial review of the legality of any decision to ban or restrict assemblies within 24 hours.
In this material, the ACLED database is used – a project for the collection, analysis and mapping of crisis situations and riots. The information is tracked around the world in real time, collecting data on dates, characters, locations, fatalities, and types of events. The ACLED project methodology covers a range of types of events, including battles, explosions, violence against civilians, protests, and riots. These types of events are further broken down into sub-events for more detailed analysis.
ACLED monitoring in Central Asia began in early 2018 and as of the end of 2020 includes 2,874 events reflecting demonstrations, political violence, and strategic events, including 1,589 in Kazakhstan, 814 in Kyrgyzstan, 336 in Uzbekistan, 97 in Tajikistan and 38 in Turkmenistan. This information comes from over 130 unique sources. The data is updated weekly by experienced researchers who study traditional media in Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Russian and English languages.
Analysis of protests
In the period from January 1, 2018 to February 9, 2021, according to the ACLED database, 1,064 protests took place in Kyrgyzstan. Among them, the lion’s share is made up of peaceful rallies. Citizen-organized protests of this kind were carried out on a wide range of economic, social, and political issues. During this period of time, 700 peaceful rallies were held in the republic, which is 65% of all entries in the database.
In second place on the chart are riots, which includes all sorts of street riots and violent demonstrations. If we analyse this type of events, then they, like peaceful protests, can take place for various reasons, be it a local specific problem, dissatisfaction with the work of local or central government, a dispute between residents and a private (foreign) company. In general, 165 such events took place in the country, or 16% of the total number of protests.
In third place with a total of 118 events or 11% is the type of event as violence against civilians, which includes violent attacks on unarmed civilians. For the most part, these are acts of cruelty and torture by representatives of law enforcement agencies.
The rating is further rounded out by actions such as strategic events, armed conflicts, and explosions. Strategic events include cases of robbery, peace negotiations, high-profile arrests, non-violent transfers of territory, recruiting into non-state groups, etc., and constitutes a small part of the total dataset.
Geography of protests
According to the table, most of the protests took place in Bishkek. For the period from 2018 to 2021, 473 events took place in the capital of the country, accounting for 44% of the total number of records. Bishkek is the largest city in the country, and it is not surprising that the development of most significant events in Kyrgyzstan takes place in it.
If we look at the type of events, then in the capital most of all there were peaceful protests on various issues. Next, in terms of the number of cases, there are: violence against citizens and massive violations of public order, street riots.
In second place in terms of the number of protests is the most distant from the centre, Batken region, which borders Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. On the territory of this region there are enclaves of neighbouring countries, as well as uncoordinated sections of the border. As a result, this leads to constant clashes between residents of different countries, as well as to periodic battles with the use of firearms. As the statistics show, it was in the Batken region that the maximum number of battles was recorded – 14 cases of skirmishes with the participation of the military from different countries, mainly with Tajikistan.
Osh and Jalalabad regions are in third and fourth places. In both provinces, a roughly similar type of events – peaceful protests, street or mass riots, violence against civilians. Most of the protests, including violent ones, are of a socio-economic nature and are often associated with the mining industry. Despite the fact that these regions, like Batken, are located in the south of the country – in the Fergana Valley and have a common border with Uzbekistan, since 2018 there have not been a single case of skirmishes or battles between the military of the two countries. Although before the arrival of the new government in Uzbekistan represented by Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the border situation in these areas was rather difficult, with a great potential for conflicts.
Chui and Issyk-Kul regions are next in terms of the density of protest events. In these areas, peaceful protests are also at the top of the line in terms of event type. A number of riots and riots are also taking place. Interestingly, there were also several military clashes in these parts, for example, in the Chui region, this is due to the detention of ex-President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev in August 2019.
The list is closed by the Naryn and Talas regions, where the smallest number and types of protests took place from 2018-2021. In Naryn, for example, over three years there have been 47 protests, where 37 of them are peaceful protests, and 10 are street riots and upheavals.
Seasonality of protests
As the modern history of coups and political upheavals in Kyrgyzstan shows, spring in the country is not always calm. Usually, this time of year has various elections, and politicians gather people to rallies on various sensitive issues. The same applies to autumn, when politicians return to work after the summer holidays, elections are held. The last change of power in the country took place just after the parliamentary elections on October 5, 2020.
The ACLED database also confirms the trend of the autumn protests – 327 different events took place in the fall over the last three years. The “richest” month for rallies is October (possibly the impact of the latest coup), which is followed by November. Autumn passed 30% of all protests in the given period of time.
Surprisingly, instead of spring, in second place was taken by winter. In winter, there were 297 protests – most of which took place in December (118) and in January (108). There were much fewer protests in February – 72 cases, nevertheless this is more than the number of protests in March.
Spring occupies the third place in terms of the frequency of protests, where the largest number of events took place in May (91), April (85) and March (64). This rating logically ends the summer season, when politicians and the general population are not particularly active in protest actions.
As it was described above, most often skirmishes and various clashes take place in the Batken region. Border conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have occurred frequently in recent years, as almost half of the 971-kilometer border area remains disputed, which creates problems for the local population.
If we take a look at the map, over the past three years, most of the clashes have occurred between residents of the Kyrgyz border villages of Ak-Sai and Kok-Tash and Tajik residents of the Vorukh enclave. It is very unfortunate that, shootings with the use of firearms, mass riots with throwing stones have already become commonplace for the inhabitants of these regions.
Border guards of both countries are often involved in clashes with the use of weapons (including mortars), which leads to casualties. It also leads to diplomatic friction between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – the agencies send each other periodic notes of protest and promise to resolve the conflict.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, violence continues in Batken region. Over the past year, there have been at least three incidents involving the use of firearms, with casualties on both sides.
Today there is a request from both sides for the peaceful resolution of border disputes. However, as practice urges, the issue of borders cannot be resolved urgently and here, first of all, a compromise must be reached, which is not yet particularly visible.
This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.