The bloody events of spring 2002 in the Aksyiski district of the Jelal-Abad region once again aggravated the conflict between Kyrgyzstan’s south and north. The arrest of Legislative Assembly Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov became the formal ground for the conflict. The deputy is accused of a crime he allegedly committed seven years ago, as an investigator at the Toktogul regional prosecutor’s office. However, majority of the southern protesters think that the arrest is an attempt to stop the mouth of the people’s protector, who opposed the dictatorial center. People from the south are sure that proteges of the northern clans make up the majority in the central authority, which restrains the activity of southern representatives.
The north-south conflict started long ago in Kyrgyzstan. It is historically accounted that these two parts of the country are characterized with extremely different production methods and religious and cultural ways of living. The north is mostly populated with stock-breeders and slightly religious nomads. Ethnically, they are similar to the Kazakh people. The southern parts are concentrated to the east from the Fergana valley. Farming is the main business there. The high religiousness of the southern people is the specific feature. Recent polls revealed that almost 100% of the male population in the Osh and Jelal-Abad regions claimed to be Muslims. In this respect, they are similar to the Uzbek people, their neighbors.
These differences between the two main population groups practically split Kyrgyzstan into two parts that are almost equally populated. A geographical factor makes the split more intensified. To get to the southern regions, a high mountain ridge through the middle of the country must be overpassed. The only link between the two parts of the country is a really dangerous mountainous road from Bishkek to Osh.
Manpower politics and investment distribution managed to keep up the balance between the two parts of the country throughout the Soviet era. For example, the regions were represented proportionally to the populations. As for the leaders of the country, a southerner followed a northerner on the post always.
As soon as Kyrgyzstan became independent, the systems of balance were broken. The coming of scientist Askar Akayev to power without a political team of his own was rather accidental. The people whom he knew from the Academy and his compatriots received governmental posts. Thus, the interests of Kyrgyzstan’s southern population were ignored. Mostly people from the north are appointed governors to the southern regions of the country. These people treat their gubernatorial posts as a jumping-off place to the top-level of power. Each of the northerners was on the gubernatorial posts for a year or two. It is quite natural that nothing significant was done to overcome the economic crisis in the country over such short periods. As a result, the south is far behind the north regarding many aspects, and the differences are especially strong in the social sphere. For example, unemployment in some northern regions is gradually reducing; at the time, three-fourths of the southern population still fail to find jobs. The majority of investment remains in the capital, Bishkek, or in the Chuiskaya valley. People from the south also think they were cheated out of their rightful share during privatization. It is the northern part of the country that owns the shares of almost all profitable enterprises of the republic.
At the same time, what is left for the southern part is drug trafficing, which is increasing every year. Money obtained this criminal way hardly makes for economic development of the south. On the contrary, it aggravates the social tension and stimulates the development of criminal enterprises. According to some sources, the local elite plans to use the illegal money obtained through drug trafficing in the elections.
It should be mentioned that Askar Akayev lost previous presidential elections in the southern part of the country. His followers in the Central Election Committee forged election documents; as a result, the candidate received a bit more than 50% of the votes. Communist candidate Absamat Masaliyev won the election then in the cities of Osh and Jelal-Abad.
Over the past years, the incumbent president’s authority has considerably reduced in the southern regions of the country.
The majority of the most ardent opponents to the president come from the south. Officially, Askar Akayev is not claiming to run for a third presidential period. He told western journalists that he would not nominate himself for the presidential elections in 2005. However, people in Kyrgyzstan do not believe that his words are true. Askar Akayev had already changed his intentions several times “on the people’s request” or “under pressing conditions.” It is not ruled out that, this time, the situation will be the same. In any case, the southerners are getting ready for a serious struggle with Askar Akayev. Therefore, the incumbent president will surely face strict resistance from the south during the next elections. If the political situation remains the same as today, he is very likely to lose the struggle. On the other hand, if his followers try to preserve the habitual superiority of the north, it may entail the breakup of the country or more bloody conflicts.
Yury Razgulyayev PRAVDA.Ru Bishkek Kyrgyzstan
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/25/40280.html