Monday, March 31, 2008

#193: Best News

Today is one of the best days in my life. I am so happy. I received a letter from the University of Singapore saying that I was accepted to their 2-year Master in Public Policy program. Not only that, I also received a full scholarship. After I read the letter today in the morning, I could not stand in one place. I was literally hopping. I walked around in the office. I had bought two Russian pancakes with blueberry stuffing for breakfast, but I was too excited to eat. They are still on my desk. Anyways, I am so happy. Today I am going to meet scholarship people to discuss the details.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

#192: Garbage

Today I had an opportunity to see where all the waste from Bishkek ends up. It is not a pleasant scene. The waste dump is located 15 km outside Bishkek and covers an area of 22 hectares.
In addition, there are squatters who built small mud houses illegally across from the waste dump. The wind was blowing the smoke from burning plastic, food, and other unknown waste towards the neighborhood of squatters.
This lady was sorting and collecting wood .
Kyrgyzstan gotta do something about sorting and recycling garbage

Friday, March 28, 2008

#191: Non-Kyrgyz Blogs

I have Google Alert looking for the word "Kyrgyzstan" in news and blogs. I noticed that most non-Kyrgyz English-language blogs about Kyrgyzstan tend be from either missionaries or adoption agencies. Apparently, there are plenty of people here spreading the word of God or trying to adopt children in Kyrgyzstan. Occasionally, you get one or two posts from people traversing Central Asia from or to China. Then there are Peace Corps volunteers or US military officers writing about their "exotic experience" in a country you cannot pronounce...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

#190: Rumors

Yesterday we had a family dinner with parents and relatives. #1 topic of the discussion was Bakiev's absence and his health. Several uncles joined the dinner late and their first questions after joining the dinner was "So, where is Bakiev?" Because there is now clear answer from the government, although ex-Prime Minister Atambaev said he had visited Bakiev in Germany where he had a surgery on his hip, people are making all kinds of speculations.

There are zillions of theories about Bakiev's absence and why he is keeping silence. Theoretically, he could have had the state TV show a pre-recorded tape of him disproving all those rumors about his health or death. If he, in fact, looks really bad (bruises/scars on his face, or looks really pale), the state TV could have aired his voice over the phone. He did not do any of that.

Amazingly, an aunt who had arrived from Nookat, Osh, two days ago said that most people in the south did not know what President Bakiev was absent from the country for almost a month. Only here in Bishkek, she heard this story for the first time. As one journalist from Jalalabad said, there is an informational vacuum in the country. People in the south, for example, have no idea of what is happening here in the north. The government-owned TV stations heavily filters information.

Local news agencies are reporting that Bakiev is landing in Bishkek today in the evening.

#189: Bakiev and March 24

Rumors about Bakiev's death spread yesterday around Kyrgyzstan. Several friends and a relative called and asked if it was true. It is #1 story on the Kyrgyz blogosphere and forums. Everyone seemed to be talking about it, especially on the third anniversary of the March 24 "Revolution," when Bakiev replaced Akaev.

Russia's Vremya Novostey wrote yesterday that President is recovering from a surgery on his hip. President's press office made a big mistake. They should have just told on day one that Bakiev would be treated in Germany. The public would feel sorry about him. Instead, the public is now waiting for those rumors to be true.

As for the March 24, personally I've been referring to those events as simply the March 24 events. Not a revolution, not a coup d'etat. It was a revolt, but not a revolution. Revolutions result in fundamental changes of political, economic, or social systems. We did not have any of that. One family replaced another family. The whole system stayed the same. Here is a story from RFE/RL on this issue.

Monday, March 24, 2008

#188: Nooruz and Kök Börü

Nooruz (Nawruz in Persian), also known as the Kyrgyz New Year, is a big holiday in Kyrgyzstan. Many in Kyrgyzstan mistakenly think it is a Islamic holiday. However, Nooruz, celebrated every year on March 21 (equinox), was adopted by the Kyrgyz and many other people in Central Asia and the Caucasus under Persian cultural influence.

Anyways, on March 21 I grabbed my camera and went to the race track to watch the Kök Börü championship. Kök Börü is known in the West by the Afghan Buzkashi. Although, the game itself is called Ulak Tartysh (literally, pull the goat), it was modified as a game with standardized rules.

Although it was announced that there would be several teams from Kazakhstan, they apparently did not come because of the dispute over horseshoes. The Kyrgyz had decided to remove them, where as the Kazakh wanted them on.

Here are some pictures from the championship. The player from Naryn (orange) is races off after intercepting the goat carcass from the Talas team (blue).
A player from Talas falls off his horse as he fought for the carcass. He was not hurt as he curled up on the ground.
The Naryn team wins by scoring again.
The goat carcass was 32 kg.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

#187: MIA President

Everyone in Kyrgyzstan is talking about President Bakiev's wellbeing. He he has not returned from a vacation from Germany where he left on March 3. Silence and half-truths coming from President's press office and contradicting information coming from various top government officials on reason of his long absence became the cause of all kinds of rumors about President's health. Initially, his press office said that the president went on a vacation, not hospitalization or surgery, for two weeks to Germany, where his younger brother serves as the Kyrgyz Ambassador.

Now that the President has been missing in action for three weeks and his Chief of Staff said today that the President will return only at the end of next week, making him absent for four weeks - he will miss the March 21 Nooruz and March 24 Revolution Day celebrations with parades and fireworks - more or less everyone believes that he is seriously ill. Rumors have that he has problems with his kidneys or liver, while some ill-wishers believe he has been wounded in an armed argument within his family. This silence, fed by different rumors, is worrying.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

#186: Of Sheep and the Bull

Yesterday youth activists organized a flash-mob against the Kyrgyz government. They put on masks of sheep and one of them put a mask of a bull and wore boxing gloves.
Although they carried a "disclaimer" that said "all characters are work of fiction and any similarity if a coincident," it was pretty obvious who they were mocking. The sheep represent Ak Jol party, who are following the bull, which represents President Bakiev.
Bakiev once said he is born in the year of bull (Chinese calendar) and therefore has the strength of a bull. Like Putin and his judo credentials, Bakiev also wants to be seen as a boxer (he on several TV appearances trained in his gym and awarded medals to boxers).
And the police then arrested the organizers of the flash-mob.
Photo courtesy of Journal de Zigeunerin. There are more pictures from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

Monday, March 17, 2008

#185: Alternative Kyrgyzstan

The legitimacy of state institutions is taking another blow as the the people of Aksy, Jalalabad, are holding alternative court trials in relation to the killing of 6 people during the demonstration on March 17, 2002. It is a worrying tendency as people are losing trust in everything the state is doing lately.

Six years passed since the police opened fire at unarmed demonstrators, which triggered a chain of demonstrations and protest rallies leading to the March 2005 events when ex-President Akaev fled the country. Verdicts issued by official courts convicting several policemen of excessive use of force did not satisfy people of Aksy as they think that they officials sitting the White House, not the policemen, are the real culprits. The highest official charged and sentenced to 5 years of suspended imprisonment is the ex-Governor of Jalalabad Sultan Urmanaev.

The court with 21 judges, 3 from each of 7 provinces of Kyrgyzstan (I am not sure how they are elected), will hear the public prosecutors charging dozens of people, including the ex-President Akaev, the current president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, ex-Minister of Interior, ex-Chief of Staff, and many other former and current government officials.

The opposition already created an alternative parliament, because they do not recognize the legitimacy of current Parliament controlled by president's Ak Jol Party (71 out of 90 seats). And don't forget that the official election results have not been published since December 16, 2007. Very few people trust the judiciary and the police in general. To enforce their verdict, the Aksy people will have to start their own alternative law enforcement, a vigilante-style police, from locals and arming them. It is not too far from electing an alternative president.

I have a feeling that majority of people already live in an alternative Kyrgyzstan, a parallel country, where they do not want to have anything to do with the state. They don't pay taxes, don't use public transportation, receive miserable pensions, and live their own life.

Friday, March 14, 2008

#184: Kyrgyz Cafe in Mongolia

I highly recommend a very amusing post about Issyk-Kul cafe in Mongolia.

#183: Turkish Presence

The Economist had an article about the Gulen network around Kyrgyzstan. Very interesting piece. The articles says"'If you meet a polite Central Asian lad who speaks good English and Turkish, you know he went to a Gulen school,' says a Turkish observer. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the movement runs a university and a dozen high schools, which excel in international contests.'

I know from personal experience that this network is very strong in Kyrgyzstan. Graduates of Turkish lyceums (boarding schools) and the Manas Kyrgyz-Turkish University - I had a post about the university's 12 millions construction project - were able to build a very close-knit community through charity, business, religious, and other associations.

In fact, there educational institutions were able to compensate for the collapsing education system around Kyrgyzstan. Their high school students have on average higher scores in standardized tests and do better in various competitions than students from public schools. My younger brother went to all-boys boarding school in Kyzylkia. A cousin studies in another one in Osh. Another cousin graduated from the Manas University. One thing, as the Economist pointed out, is that they instill religiosity and certain level of nationalism in their students. My cousin, who graduated from the Manas University, came out praying at least twice a day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

#182: US Foreign Policy

Admiral William Fallon, the head of US Central Command, resigned reportedly for questioning possible military attack on Iran, although the Bush Administration denied change of policy. It will be a very big mistake if Bush decides in the last 10 months of his presidency to attack Iran, especially after all the lies and distortions of intelligence on Iraq' WMD, and leave the whole Middle East in turmoil. In addition, George Bush vetoed a bill prohibiting CIA from using techniques , such as waterboarding, while interrogating suspects.

Fueled by the anti-American rhetoric in the Russian media, sentiments in Kyrgyzstan have long turned against the U.S. policies around the world, especially we host an American airbase near Bishkek. Anti-Russian newspapers and groups could soon start rallying against the American presence.

Monday, March 10, 2008

#181: Manas Airbase

Last week the Pentagon banned Google from mapping street-level video maps - i assume these are like 3D images - of US bases. It turns out that the ban does not apply to the satellite images from Google Maps. This is what I was able zoom in. The bottom part of the image is the actual base. You can see USAF cargo planes (grey) parked on the tarmac along with the civilian airplanes (white) at the Manas International Airpot. This actually is not the limit of zoom.
This is one of their checkpoints

Friday, March 07, 2008

#180: Where the Tourists are

Not in Kyrgyzstan! Another bad news for us. We lag behind not only in education (see previous post), but also in attracting tourists. According to the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2008, Kyrgyzstan is on the 113th place. Only Tajikistan from CIS at 114th is behind us, while the rest are ahead: Kazakhstan 91st, Uzbekistan 90th, Armenia 89th, Azerbaijan 79th, Ukraine 77th, Georgia 72nd, and Russia 64th. This ranking is based on three categories: regulations, infrastructure, and human, cultural, and natural resources. Kyrgyzstan is 90th on regulations (KZ 61st, UZB 64th, TJ 102nd), 128th on infrastructure (KZ 96th, UZB 98th, TJ 126th) and 102nd on cultural, human, and natural resources (UZB 101st, TJ 111th, KZ 112th).

So, another disappointment for Kyrgyz government. Fortunately for them though, the Kyrgyz press has not picked up on the education and tourism rankings. But, I am sure coming, after everyone gets overs from the March 8th celebrations, the Kyrgyz media will throw these rankings at the government's face.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

#179: Where the Brains Are

Not in Kyrgyzstan! We have to be ashamed of this! Thanks to Azamat Akeleev, I came across a Wall Street Journal piece about an OECD report, according to which Kyrgyzstan's 15-year-old students are the last among those of 57 countries on math, science, and reading abilities. Scary! SOS!

Country Science Score Reading Score Math Score
Finland 563 547 548
Hong Kong 542 536 547
Canada 534 527 527
Taiwan 532 496 549
Estonia 531 501 515
Japan 531 498 523
New Zealand 530 521 522
Australia 527 513 520
Netherlands 525 507 531
Liechtenstein 522 510 525
S. Korea 522 556 547
Slovenia 519 494 504
Germany 516 495 504
United Kingdom 515 495 495
Czech Republic 513 483 510
Switzerland 512 499 530
Austria 511 490 505
Macao-China 511 492 525
Belgium 510 501 520
Ireland 508 517 501
Hungary 504 482 491
Sweden 503 507 502
Poland 498 508 495
Denmark 496 494 513
France 495 488 496
Croatia 493 477 467
Iceland 491 484 506
Latvia 490 479 486
United States 489 - 474
Lithuania 488 470 486
Spain 488 461 480
Slovak Republic 488 466 492
Norway 487 484 490
Luxembourg 486 479 490
Russian Federation 479 440 476
Italy 475 469 462
Portugal 474 472 466
Greece 473 460 459
Israel 454 439 442
Chile 438 442 411
Serbia 436 401 435
Bulgaria 434 402 413
Uruguay 428 413 427
Turkey 424 447 424
Jordan 422 401 384
Thailand 421 417 417
Romania 418 396 415
Montenegro 412 392 399
Mexico 410 410 406
Indonesia 393 393 391
Argentina 391 374 381
Brazil 390 393 370
Colombia 388 385 370
Tunisia 386 380 365
Azerbaijan 382 353 476
Qatar 349 312 318
Kyrgyzstan 322 285 311
Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; *U.S. Department of Education;
Note: U.S. reading scores were disqualified because of a printing error in the test books. Its previous score was 495.

Monday, March 03, 2008

#178: Medvedev in the Making

If you have seen the Soviet movie "Kavkazskaya Plennitsa" you will appreciate the excellent parody to this move. The original conversation from the movie is about a bride-kidnapping tradition in one of the countries in the Caucasus. However, a team of stand-up comedians in a competition (KVN) remade it into a conversation where Dmitriy Medvedev is being convinced to participate in an ancient tradition of "presidential election." I hope you enjoy it!

Viewers from Kyrgyzstan can watch the movie here.