Protests in Kyrgyzstan


[heading style=”1″]Occupy Wall Street seems to be a constant story in my newsfeed these days, but it hasn’t made much of an impact on me or the people I know here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. [/heading] [frame align=”left”][/frame]Kyrgyzstan has a history of protests. In 2005, a popular uprising successfully ousted a leader with increasingly authoritarian qualities in what became known as the Tulip Revolution. The world congratulated Kyrgyzstan for taking part in their own fate and demanding a better government. The man that stepped in to fill the void was better at first, but eventually he became worse than the previous president. He was the ringleader of a corrupt group of political elites that seemed to have too much while the majority of the country had too little.

He was chased away as well in April 2010, in what is now referred to as the April Revolution, or, more subtly, the April events. The woman who became the next president had participated in the previous administrations and was a key figure in both revolutions to bring them down.

By this time, I had recently arrived back in Washington, DC from working in Iraq. The idea to move to Kyrgyzstan had been simmering in my mind for months already. I still remember my first thought when I read that my future home had erupted in protests that drove out the dictatorial leader;


[frame align=”center”][/frame] [pullquote align=”left”]Now, living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for over a year, I see that protests are everywhere.[/pullquote] This year alone, there have been over 1,000 demonstrations in Kyrgyzstan. Some of them for political reasons, such as the rally I saw in Osh, the largest city in southern Kyrgyzstan. It was filled with university students and local government workers who are required to attend and “support” a political party seen by many as the dregs of the previous leader’s cronies.

Some are for social reasons, like the protests against plans to evict the vendors who set up kiosks illegally around one of Bishkek’s biggest bazaars or the teachers and doctors who demanded livable wages or the women who opposed a ban on wearing a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in public schools.

Now that Kyrgyzstan is in the middle of presidential campaigns for their October 30 election, demonstrations in front of Bishkek’s White House, where the parliament meets, are becoming more common. Crowds of people gather to wave placards signaling their support of one candidate or their disdain for another. A man with a microphone and speaker attached to an aging generator shakes his fist in the air and says words I haven’t yet trained my ear to understand.

All the while, I’ve been receiving invitations to join Occupy Wall Street. Maybe it’s because I’ve only lived in the US for five months over the past two years or maybe it’s because I see protests all the time and I don’t see things improving, but when I hear about Occupy Wall Street, generally I just feel jaded.

[frame align=”left”][/frame]In Kyrgyzstan, I have a sustainable income through self-employment that affords me a decent standard of living for Bishkek. I can’t participate in Kyrgyz politics, so while I actively keep myself informed with Kyrgyzstan’s news and events, I will never see the purpose in joining a political rally. As some protests occasionally target foreigners and have turned violent in the past (about 90 protesters were killed during the April revolution), it would seem smart to stay away from them all together.

With Occupy Wall Street, I have a similar sense that I wouldn’t belong. I’m not part of the 1%, but I can’t relate to the 99% either. I paid off my student loans relatively quickly and never spent more than a month unemployed before finding some way to earn money, whether it was tutoring preschoolers or briefing the military. My current mindset is that I would probably not participate in Occupy Wall Street even if I still lived in the US. Then again, I wonder if I would feel differently had I not moved abroad.

I’m separated by nearly half the globe from Occupy Wall Street, but I’m only a few blocks from a crowd of protesters in Bishkek’s central square; nevertheless, I can’t relate to either one. As an expat, I’m an outsider in my current location and somewhat alienated from my home country as well. I can keep myself informed, but no matter where I am, it seems smarter to stay away from the protests.

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