Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Getting out just in time

March 30, 2006

Looks like I’m again getting out of Kyrgyzstan, just before some potential trouble. The problems this time are caused by Rsypek Akmatbaev. Bayaman used to be the main bandit I heard about, now it’s Ryspek.

This guy really sounds like something else. He’s the one who created the giant memorial on the Issyk-Kul road. Locals claim the marble monument cost a million dollars.

Now he wants a seat in Parliament. That would be a great help to him since he has several criminal cases open against him and the government position would make him immune from prosecution.

One of my colleagues told me today that he was on a government wanted list. He officially explained his disappearance for a few years by saying he was out of the country – in Kazakhstan, Italy and elsewhere. Now he wants to run for Parliament, this document he submitted himself is being used against him. If someone has been out of Kyrgyzstan for the past five years, they aren’t allowed the right to run for office.

Accordingly, he was refused the right to register as a candidate. And now he’s causing a ruckus, in advance of the April 9th elections for an open Issyk-Kul region seat. Today, he and his supporters (or more likely, his paid minions) blocked the road in an Issyk-Kul village.

Tomorrow they are scheduled to come to Bishkek. I received the following email shortly before leaving the country for vacation, “Please be informed that according to I.Kochkarov, an official representative of Ryspek Akmatbaev, his supporters are planning to start demonstration in Bishkek tomorrow. The demonstrations are planned to be in three places at the same time: Parliament, White House and Mayor’s Office…. Please neither walk nor drive around the above mentioned locations and do not leave your homes during the dark hours except emergency cases.”

Coming home this evening, I was pleased to see a group of young boys and their mothers playing the animal bone game in front of my apartment building. It’s a traditional Kyrgyz game. I asked them which animal the bones were from. A young boy told me the larger bones were from cows, the smaller from sheep.

They stood, throwing the bones onto the black pavement, with an attentiveness and passion I respected.

A few days ago, I took a taxi with a driver who told me he was originally from Tyup. He moved to Bishkek 40 years ago, when his mother, who held a high position in the Communist administration, was moved there for work.

“I haven’t been to Tyup in about 15 years, since the Soviet Union fell apart. I’d hate to see what it looks like now. But in Soviet times, it was a beautiful place, with paved roads, nice buildings and centers for children.”

His mother was German, his father Russian. He considers himself German.

He told me that his brother was sent to Germany in 1978 on a trip for Komsomol youth and while he was there, he escaped.

“Right after that, my mother was removed from her work and I lost my job. It was really hard for us.”

His brother was able to communicate through a sibling in New York that he was OK. But besides that, they had no communication until the Soviet Union fell apart 13 years ago. Now this driver has another brother and sister living in Germany. They now support the family financially.

I asked if it was a good thing in the end that his brother escaped.

“Well, it ended up being good. But at the time, it was really difficult. We kept being called into the KGB to see if we knew anything, and that was really uncomfortable.”

He himself plans to emigrate to Germany soon. “I want to wait until my daughter finishes the university,” he said. “But after that, in two years, it’s auf weidershein!” He smiled, a grin filled with long, wide, yellowed teeth. Well into middle age, beaten about by the Communists and the change in regime, layed off after working ten years as a driver for an American tobacco company, he continued to dream and to hold on to hope.

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