The ongoing Political Struggle in Kyrgyzstan: Who is Responsible?
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Associate Fellow, VIF

Kyrgyzstan is a small Central Asian Republic which has perceived political turmoil since it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is the only Central Asian republic which has been practicing democracy; however, it has not been politically stable and has witnessed two popular revolutions which have toppled sitting Presidents at that time. The threat of instability has arisen from two prominent factors, first, growing ethnic divide among the political elites and local population and second regional divide between Northern and Southern Kyrgyzstan. Current President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov belongs to the Osh Province which is in Southern Kyrgyzstan while former president Atambayev hails from Chui district in Northern Kyrgyzstan. Although they were political allies till 2017 when Atambayev supported Jeeenbekov as the President of Kyrgyzstan. However, after assuming power, Jeenbekov turned against Atambayev. As a result, a divide between the two leaders flared up which led to the recent political chaos in Kyrgyzstan.

Recently, in a violent clash in Kyrgyz Republic, the supporters of former President of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev were unable to prevent the arrest of his leader. After two days of standoff between his supporters and Kyrgyz Special Forces, Almazbek Atambayev was finally arrested on 8 August 2019. In the ensuing impasse, a police officer was killed and almost 70 of the supporters of former President got injured.

It all started on 7 August 2019 when Atambayev greeted crowd outside his resident near Bishkek. Security forces attempted to arrest him but his supporters rushed for his defense. Shots have been fired by security forces and Atambayev’s supporters as well. After the failed arrest, Atambayev urged his supporters to protest in the capital city, Bishkek. He said, “We will start demonstrations. We are going to go to the White House (Kyrgyz Presidential House) and will launch an indefinite demonstration because the authorities need to stop this pandemonium”.1

Almazbek Atambayev held office of the President of Kyrgyz Republic from 2011 to 2017. After his tenure ended in 2017, his ally and former Prime Minister Sooronaby Jeenbekov was elected as new President of Kyrgyzstan. However, Atambayev was under this impression that the new President being an ally will provide political concessions to him and his loyalists within the Government. But for his surprise, it turned out to be totally unalike when President Jeenbekov started removing loyalist of former President from their positions. Moreover, The Kyrgyz parliament also voted to strip former President Almazbek Atambayev of immunity. The Kyrgyz legislators approved the resolution denoting the claims that Atambayev abused his powers while his tenure as Kyrgyz President. Approval of this resolution led to a rash of arrests of former officials close to Atambayev as his successor seeks to consolidate power.2

Soon after this, three Subpoena were issued by Kyrgyz Interior Ministry against former President but he rejected all of them and did not turned out for investigation or questioning by the Kyrgyz authorities. He was wanted as a witness in a criminal case. He also fled to Moscow on his private jet amid tight surveillance by the Kyrgyz security forces by using Russian Kant airbase in order to gain support of Russian President Putin.3 His refusal to the questioning three times have subsequently led to his arrest. Atambayev rejected all the allegations against him and has also labeled actions taken by the current government as illegal by striping him of ex-presidential immunity.

Some Human Rights Activists in Kyrgyzstan are in support of Former President. One such activist, Toktayyam Umetaliyeva, told a news channel that police did not need to be so heavy handed while dealing with a former Kyrgyz President. However, Atambayev did not get support in Kyrgyz Parliament. The current President of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, condemned his use of violence against the police and security forces. During his address to the Parliament, Jeenbekov said that “Former President Atambayev and his supporters have committed serious crimes against Kyrgyz state. He has violated the law by putting resistance and using arms during the legitimate action taken by Kyrgyz security forces who came to arrest him”.4 This political rivalry between the current Kyrgyz Government and Former President and his supporters is being escalated as after the arrest of the latter, his supporters are still having large number of protests in Capital city Bishkek. However, after the arrest of Atambayev, the head of the Kyrgyzstan’s security services (GKNB) stated that Former Kyrgyzstan President was seeking to overthrow the current Kyrgyz government by organizing a coup.5

Russia’s role in this political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan is still ambiguous. The statement that Russian President, Vladimir Putin made after meeting with Atambayev in Moscow in July 2019 is unclear. According to the official statement, Putin cleared his position on this issue by saying that “My position is well known, and I conveyed my position to him as well. I believe that Kyrgyzstan is our ally, a state close to us; that Kyrgyzstan has already experienced several serious internal political upheavals, specifically, there were two upheavals at least. And this should stop, to my mind, for the sake of Kyrgyz people. The country is in need of political stability and everyone should unite around the sitting President and help him in developing the state. We have many plans for cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, and there is no doubt that we will implement these plans as we work with the current leaders. The political rivalry in Kyrgyzstan, the only sustaining democracy in Central Asia has been a norm since its inception.”6

Since Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991, two Presidents, Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev have been deposed by uprisings (Tulip Revolution and April Revolution respectively). Ethnic tensions and high poverty levels are continuing to challenge the country. Therefore, it is feared that Kyrgyzstan will be once again thrown towards political chaos with protesters now turning their anger on the current President. The Government needs reconciliation with the opposition; otherwise, it could lead to another uprising in this Central Asian Country.

  1. Kyrgyzstan's former President Atambayev detained, 9 August 2019.
  2. “Kyrgyz Lawmakers Vote To Strip Ex-President Atambaev Of Immunity”, RFE/RL, 20 June 2019,
  3. Catherine Putz, “Under Pressure in Kyrgzystan, Atambayev Flies to Russia”, The Diplomat, 24 July 2019,
  4. Kyrgyzstan's former President Atambayev detained, 9 August 2019.
  5. “Kyrgyz ex-President Atambayev was plotting coup: Security chief”, Aljajeera,
  6. Statement following meeting with Almazbek Atambayev, 24 July 2019,

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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