Kyrgyzstan’s President Warns of Swift Crackdown If Unrest Flares Again

Hospitals in Bishkek treat those wounded in the unrest; image: TCA, A.Chipegin

President Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan on Monday has addressed the nation about recent unrest and anti-foreigner sentiment, saying “our hot-blooded youth” were led astray by inflammatory internet posts and warning of a crackdown if it happens again.

Japarov spoke after a week of tension in Bishkek that began with a fight between local and foreign people at a hostel on May 13 and culminated with large crowds of angry Kyrgyz youths roaming intersections on the night of May 17-18. There were scattered attacks on foreigners, whose population includes students and workers from Egypt, Pakistan and other countries. Some people were hospitalized. Riot police were on standby as officials negotiated with the crowds and persuaded them to disperse peacefully.

“Now, if such an event happens again, then the law enforcement agencies will switch to the method of dispersal by force from the first minutes. Thank God, now the power structures are not as weak as they used to be,” Japarov said. “Anyone, whether he is our citizen or a foreign citizen, who threatens the integrity of our state, organizes chaos, will be punished mercilessly.”

Japarov said the demands of Kyrgyz youth for tough action against illegal migration were “certainly correct” and that the government had taken steps to address the problem. But he chastised those who were “led by the temptations of provocateurs” seeking to spread chaos. The president referred to “bloggers” trying to foment a “large-scale uprising in the crowd,” though he did not offer more details on the alleged agitators.

Kyrgyzstan has experienced periodic unrest on a much bigger scale over the years, and three presidents have been ousted by uprisings since 2005. Japarov, who had been in exile and in prison, came to power in 2021 after being freed by supporters whose protests against a disputed election toppled the previous government.

The Central Asian country had been known for a lively media scene and other relative freedoms in a region with authoritarian traditions. Japarov has rolled back some of those rights, tightening control over foreign funded non-governmental organizations despite international concerns and increasing pressure on some media critical of the government.

Japarov said law enforcement officials arrested “the perpetrators” of the May 13 brawl and appealed to the country to consider the damage that the unrest of the last week can do to tourism and the economy, as well as the nation’s interaction with the world. He noted that more than one million Kyrgyz citizens live abroad (the total population is about seven million), and that the number of working migrants in Kyrgyzstan is 5,322 people and foreign students number 42,620.

“We should be happy about that,” he said.

Stephen M. Bland

Stephen M. Bland

 Stephen M. Bland is a journalist, author, editor, commentator and researcher specialising in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Prior to joining The Times of Central Asia, he has worked for NGOs, think tanks, as the Central Asia expert on a forthcoming documentary series, for the BBC, The Diplomat, EurasiaNet, and numerous other publications.
Published in 2016, his book on Central Asia was the winner of the Golden Laureate of Eurasian Literature. He is currently putting the finishing touches to a book about the Caucasus.

View more articles fromStephen M. Bland