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« Reform Thursday: Chart Eight. | WILLisms.com | Timeline of the Kyrgyz Revolution »

Kyrgyzstan: Freedom Ahoy.


They're calling it the lemon revolution.

And it did not take long to reach its denouement. In fact, the climax of this story happened so soon, the ending still has yet to be written.

But the story goes on, carefully, cautiously, but with only a skeletal outline of a script.

Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim-major country in Central Asia, with a population of about five million people in an area roughly the size of South Dakota. Freedom House rates the country as NOT FREE; that lack of political and civil rights has sparked the most recent outburst of anti-regime sentiment. The Beeb notes why Kyrgyzstan matters, and why Americans ought to train a hopeful-but-cautious eye to the region as unrest continues.

Kyrgyzstan shares with neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan the Ferdana Valley,

"the most densely populated and poor part of Central Asia, which is also known as the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in the region."

However, there is also no reason to believe Islamist radicals are behind the coup, or that they will benefit from a power vacuum.



Kyrgyzstan is exceedingly land-locked, but it also sits in a strategic location, bordering four unfree (at varying levels) nations. The advance of democracy in Kyrgyzstan is part of a greater wave (a 4th wave, perhaps?) of democratization sweeping the globe in recent years. Kyrgyzstan's opposition forces are motivated by many reasons, primarily the urge to actualize its independence from the remnants of Soviet rule.

Dr. Ariel Cohen of The Heritage Foundation notes that, following the fall of the U.S.S.R, Kyrgyzstan unfortunately did not completely and successfully make its transition to a free and independent nation the same way many countries in Eastern Europe did:

Kyrgyzstan today is a quintessence of everything that is wrong with post-communist Central Asian regimes. It did not have a "velvet revolution." Instead Mr. Akayev took over when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the elite remained Soviet in essence. Even the opposition leaders come from this elite, instead of being dissident figures like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel.

Dr. Cohen explains the regional politics at play:

The leaders of neighboring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are nervously watching these developments. As in Kyrgyzstan, both countries’ ruling regimes are prone to cut down opposition, mostly secular, as quickly as it appears. But a greater menace may be lurking in the wings: Islamic radicals who are amassing power and, for now, have been holding back from the political square. By cutting the secular opposition out of the picture, the region’s leaders may be pursuing a counterproductive—and ultimately destructive—strategy.

Thus, Cohen notes, the lemon revolution may or may not end up as lemonade. There is good reason to be cautious in declaring victory for freedom, given the geopolitical stakes. But there is also significant reason for hope.

With the resignation of President Ashkar Akayev, the possibility of free and fair elections taking place in Kyrgyzstan---and avoiding civil war--- has risen substantially.


Akayev's resignation left even his opposition stunned; few believed he would resign so easily. This remark from Novosti, a Russian news agency covering the opposition in Kyrgyzstan, seems appropriate:

What next? The opposition appears to be amazed no less than the others with the turn the developments have taken, so it is hardly able to offer an explicit answer.

Exactly. The pace of events has been so stunningly rapid that there is no obvious choice to fill President Akayev's shoes. The Guardian has the short list of potential contenders:

1. Felix Kulov, a former vice president, jailed by Akayev.

2. Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, a communist leader.

3. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, former prime minister.

4. Roza Otunbayeva, female, once ambassador to both the U.S. and U.K.

The Russians, meanwhile, have serious and legitimate concerns over stability in the region. The Russians also have not-as-legitimate concerns. Under Putin's Russia, there have been several other relatively peaceful assertions of sovereignty and freedom, most notably in Ukraine. The Russian regime has not been happy about such developments, as they merely serve as reminders of the former Soviet empire's expansiveness (one source of its superpower status).

The United States also has a keen interest in what is happening in Kyrgyzstan, as a key American military base used in the Afghan campaign is located within the Kyrgyz borders.

Secretary of State Rice explained that events in Kyrgyzstan have great promise if the transition remains free of violence.

STRATEGYPAGE (via Instapundit) asserts:

The unrest in Kyrgyzstan shows that mass opposition to dictatorship can work in the "Stans" (the former provinces of the Soviet Union that became five independent nations; Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan). The Stans had never been democracies. When the Russians conquered them in the 19th century, the local governments were monarchies or tribal forms. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, former Soviet officials held elections and manipulated the vote to get themselves elected "president for life." But many people in the Stans want clean government and democracy. It appears that the same kind of mass, and generally peaceful, protests that liberated Eastern Europe from tyranny in 1989, could work in Central Asia as well.

Incidentally, as Gateway Pundit blog notes, Kyrgyzstan marginally passes the Babe Theory test, although clearly the moderate levels of violence could be attributed to not enough attractive female Kyrgyzstanis among the protesters:


Publius Pundit also notes that some Kyrgyzstanis are indeed following the Babe Theory blueprint, right down to the handing out of flowers to the onlooking soldiers.

Stay tuned to WILLisms.com for more coverage of this emerging story.


Winds of Change blog has more in "A Kyrgyz Revolution... if we can keep it":

...the main thing I would watch for now that Akayev appears to be out of the way is what Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) and the remnants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan/Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMU/IMT) do now that he is gone.

While there is not a great chance of the fundamentalists seizing power outright in Kyrgyzstan, their existence ought to concern U.S. policy makers. Democracy is more than a one day event. It is grueling long-term process that will require continued follow-up (for perhaps even decades) on the part of free nations around the world. The United States ought to devote the necessary attention to helping Kyrgyzstan's civil society flourish, because it is in America's moral and strategic interests to see a free and democratic Kyrgyzstan.


Gateway Pundit has this great roundup of global reaction (or conspicuous lack thereof) the day after, including the U.K., Israel, Taiwan, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, South Africa, Australia, the Arab world, Pakistan, New Zealand, and the United Nations.

Posted by Will Franklin · 24 March 2005 06:20 PM


The name of the revolution is killing me. The most publicized is the Tulip Revolution, but some people call it the lemon revolution, and the pink-wearers in the south call it the Pink Revolution.

I just don't think its feasible to use up all the good names on one country when there are so many to go!

Posted by: Robert Mayer at March 24, 2005 07:07 PM

Thanks for the excellent coverage!

I prefer "The Tulip Revolution."

Posted by: Brendan Steinhauser at March 25, 2005 10:58 AM