WILL FIGHTING RETURN TO BATKEN, KYRGYZSTAN THIS SPRING?
A soldier along the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan
border is not very positive about the prospects for war in the spring. He believes the
border is still a very dangerous area and would even take bets from anyone claiming that
it will be peaceful this year. Even normal infantry soldiers who participated in the war
last year can see that the local population of Batken is living like beggars. It is
fertile ground for the militant Islamic ideology known here as "wahabbism".
Nothing has changed since last year. The people still live in miserya beggars
Southern Kyrgyzstan traditionally has a more conservative Islamic orientation compared
with the rest of the country. Here in the Batken region, terrorists struck last year
creating havoc. Muslim terrorists declared their intention to create a new state that
would include the Ferghana, Andijan, and Namangan Oblasts of Uzbekistan and the Osh Oblast
of Kyrgyzstan. These regions make up the Ferghana Valley, the most volatile region of
Central Asia throughout its history.
In August 1999, people of Kyrgyzstan were shocked by when Muslim terrorists crossed
into Kyrgyzstan from war torn Tajikistan and kidnapped four Japanese geologists and their
Kyrgyz interpreter, holding them for ransom. Some time later, they kidnapped a Kyrgyz
general and several military officials. Kyrgyz forces, both the military and police, were
mobilized to deal with the terrorist situation. The forces concentrated in the Batken
region where the hostage crisis began. Two months later, as a result of military
operations, negotiations and a ransom pay off of anywhere from US $2-6 million dollars,
the hostages were set free and the terrorists were allowed to return into Tajikistan
The Kyrgyzstan parliament and government have taken measures to give the Batken region
the status of oblast in order to give the region more power, political representation, and
governmental subsidies. But locals are still faced with questions about how effective
these new measures will be to stem the tide of militant Islamic activities in the region.
The struggle against so-called "wahabbi" ideology is stronger throughout
Kyrgyzstan. But these measures might not be enough to guarantee peace for Central
Asias " island of democracy" as Kyrgyzstan is known. There are doubts that
Kyrgyzstan has enough financial, military, and ideological power to fight against
incursions from militants. Many people in the Batken region are expecting assistance from
the Russian military along with technical support. In the meantime, many Kyrgyz are voting
with their feet. Emigration from Kyrgyzstan jumped significantly because of the economic
crisis that has worsened since the Batken hostage crisis.
Gulnara Kasmali, Biskek artist and her husband Muratbek Jumali, Director,
Childrens Arts School, Bishkek