By: iStockAnalyst   Wednesday, July 09, 2008 5:54 PM


Kyrgyzstan’s well-known political scientist, Mars Sariyev, says that Islam has increased in Kyrgyzstan with people from the country’s south coming to positions of power. In an interview with a journalist of the Kyrgyz newspaper Delo No…, he says that the opposition has discredited itself and that Islamic activists will likely fill the ideological gap left after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He also said that the local Kyrgyz elite may join “third forces” in order to oppose the present authorities. Speaking about rumours about the US air base’s possible expansion, Mars Sariyev said that these were a trial balloon designed to check the Kyrgyz establishment. The following is an excerpt from the interview, headlined “Kyrgyzstan: one step from destabilization to Islamization?”, published in the privately-owned Kyrgyz newspaper Delo No… website on 2 July 2008; subheadings inserted editorially:Food prices seem to have beaten all the records and are continuing to rise with every passing day. Middle class people, whose number is not so large as it is, are falling below the poverty line. In no way can all the government’s efforts to overcome the food crisis be described as appropriate. A social protest is also not far away from here. It is quite possible that people themselves will go to the streets in the autumn. In the meantime, in the opinion of a political scientist, Mars Sariyev, the Kyrgyz opposition has discredited itself and is no longer able to lead the masses. He fears that radical Islamic figures may take advantage of this situation. One can expect no good to come of this.

[Journalist Vitaliy Pozharskiy] Mars Osmonkulovich [Sariyev], in your opinion what is the Kyrgyz opposition today and why is it incapable of leading possible protest campaigns?

[Sariyev] Today’s opposition leaders are basically former representatives of the higher echelons of power, who held senior positions. In this sense, they are a reflection of this power. Our opposition’s methods are not different in terms of originality or philosophical or ideological reasoning. They propose only protests but no original ideas. A Chinese stratagem says: “Win hearts but not cities”. All the opposition’s recent activities have amounted to quarrels, rows, to a power struggle and to the distribution of resources. People have begun to realize that they are only a bargaining chip in this struggle. They are living their own lives and no longer believe politicians. On the whole, the Kyrgyz opposition has discredited itself. However, nature abhors a vacuum. Those people who are proponents of certain ideas, for example, Islamic activists, may take its place.

[Passage omitted: Kyrgyz people themselves admit that mostly they are not as religious as Uzbek or Tajik people, the journalist says].

[Sariyev] This [radical Islam] is a tool for third countries that have an interest in destabilizing the situation in Central Asia. The local elite may join them out of mercenary considerations in order to oppose the present authorities. You probably remember when sponsors from the Middle East proposed building a mosque in the Pobeda Square in Bishkek, this caused no serious disapproval in society. Many people were in favour of it.

Islam’s influence

[Pozharskiy] Why are ideas of radical Islam becoming popular among ordinary people?

[Sariyev] I am not saying that they are gaining popularity everywhere, but maybe this is happening only among the [ethnic] Uzbek population in Kyrgyzstan’s south for the time being. This is a response by remote areas’ traditional society to a market and to Westernization. People cannot live without ideals. In the past, we believed in communism. It was our ideology. It does not exist now. The ideology of the aggressive Wild West is coming, where the strongest people survive, and it is a tough neighbourhood. All this destroys families, the traditional society and outlook. And Islam sort of conserves everything and establishes strict moral principles. People are looking for leaders. Where are they? A village has a mosque where people can turn to a mullah with their problems, where free meat is donated on holidays, where holidays are marked and where mosque-goers feel warmth and collective support. Islam is gradually growing into society. Clerics at least fear God. The authorities apparently fear nothing. This is also a geopolitical issue. The component of public administration is weak in Kyrgyzstan. If even moderate Islam increases here, not to mention radical Islam, this will have a strong influence on the situation in the Middle East, Afghanistan and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR).

Kyrgyzstan is “a buffer” against possible Islamic state

[Pozharskiy] Really? How the situation in tiny Kyrgyzstan may affect our neighbours? Thousands of kilometres stand between us.

[Sariyev] Do you know why China is giving Kyrgyzstan economic assistance? It fears that the XUAR’s Muslim population may unite with the population of the Fergana Valley. Kyrgyzstan, as a buffer, has historically separated the two Islamic cultural centres. In that case, an entire Islamic region will appear, which will stretch from the Middle East to China. [Passage omitted: speculation that a clash of civilisations will be inevitable]

The situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate sharply. Do you remember that places were found in our country where Al-Qa’idah’s money was laundered? Our country will turn into a territory where they will be able to quietly launder their money and feel carefree. Although it may sound paradoxical, this will increase the role of the US air base [at Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Airport]. Then even Russia and China will be unlikely to say that it should be withdrawn.

[Pozharskiy] Are you saying that the strengthening of Islam’s positions in Kyrgyzstan is beneficial to the USA?

[Sariyev] This may be beneficial to US hawks, because it will create chaos – ground for the infiltration of radical Islam – here. Then our authorities will be compelled to beg the air base to stay here. The USA has geopolitical tasks in this region. With regard to China, it is the development of separatism in Tibet and in the XUAR, and with regard to Russia, the creation of a marginal space around that country and then breaking it up. This space exists already. It is Ukraine and Georgia. Do not forget that Tatarstan is in the heart of Russia. If the role of Islam increases what will prevent it [Tatarstan] from demanding autonomy like Kosovo?

Rumours of US air base’s expansion “trial balloon”

[Pozharskiy] Incidentally, in your opinion, were there grounds for the recent rumours about extra 300 hectares of land being allocated to the Manas air base [US air base at Kyrgyz Manas Airport]? Although a US official said that the USA had not raised this issue with the Kyrgyz government, it seems to me that there is no smoke without fire.

[Sariyev] I think that certain soundings were taken after all. The USA possibly needed to gauge public opinion, and maybe the issue of expanding the air base did not arise. This had also been worked out by security services in order to check the Kyrgyz political establishment. It showed that the pro-American lobby [in Kyrgyzstan] was only becoming strong, but that it had no serious influence on the situation as yet.

Islam increases in Kyrgyzstan as southerners come to power

[Pozharskiy] What is the likelihood of Islamic leaders leading the masses?

[Sariyev] Representatives of orthodox Islam will never opt to destabilize the situation in our country. Radical Islam in the person of Hezb-e Tahrir, which is a bargaining chip in a global game among third forces, is quite a different matter.

[Pozharskiy] It is true that Islam has increased its position in Kyrgyzstan with natives of the country’s south coming to power [President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and many other top Kyrgyz officials are natives of Kyrgyzstan’s southern part]?

[Sariyev] Well, yes. The active migration [of people to Bishkek] from the south is under way. Southern Kyrgyz people are more Islamized.

[Pozharskiy] Here is an example. Were you able to imagine during [ex-president Askar] Akayev’s term in office that the authorities “forgot” [quotation marks as published] to indicate in the constitution that Kyrgyzstan was a secular state or they allow women to wear headscarves in their passport photographs?

[Sariyev] The Oriental colour, so to speak, is clearly present.

[Pozharskiy] Then what should the authorities do in order for radical Islam to remain within certain limits in Kyrgyzstan?

[Pozharskiy] This is a task for the thinking elite and intelligentsia. They must influence the authorities.

[Passage omitted: A film is to be made about the Kyrgyz Batken events of 1999-2000 when armed groups entered Kyrgyzstan’s Batken Region from Tajikistan]

Originally published by Delo No website, Bishkek, in Russian 2 Jul 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Central Asia. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.tracking

Story Source: BBC Monitoring Central Asia

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