Friday, December 22, 2006

Interesting developments in Central Asia

It doesn’t seem right to be writing at 5:20 a.m., especially when I’ve been up for most of the night. I’m at the airport, on my way home for the holidays. If anything below doesn’t make sense, you’ll know why.

This afternoon I heard a squeal come from my Maria’s, my boss’s office. She soon came out. “The President of Turkmenistan has died!” she said, with a smile. She is Kyrgyz. A former Turkmen colleague of hers SMSed her the news.

“What do you expect will happen?” I asked.

“Hopefully some positive changes.”

A Turkmen friend of mine recently got married in a hurry to a Georgian, for fear that her government was soon going to pass a law banning marriages to foreigners. From what I’ve read about Turkmenistan, Turkmenbashi’s portrait was everywhere. I wonder how they are going to dispose of, or memorialize, his face.

In Kyrgyzstan, the entire cabinet has resigned. The government is without an executive branch, except for the President. Even Kulov, Bakiyev’s duo, has put in his resignation.

What I told Maria I didn’t understand what is going on, she said they are playing. “According to the new Constitution, the Parliament has the responsibility to form a government. But the rules are very complicated. The President and the Executive want to show that the parliament isn’t capable of forming a government. If they fail two times, then the President can dissolve Parliament.”

“And Bakiyev will remain alone in the government?”


“He is hitri,” I said, a Russian word that means clever, somehow weasel-like. It doesn’t have a good direct translation.

“Yes, he’s not very smart, but he’s very hitri.”

The Kyrgyz government just goes from one crisis to the next. It’s only just over a month since the almost November revolution. Clearly, the President is still bitter over the threat to his rule. And he’s determined to discredit Parliament wherever possible.

In other news, the irresponsibility of Americans is getting play in Parliament. An American employee of the Manas military base shot and killed a Kyrgyz truck driver at 3 p.m. one afternoon. He claimed the man was behaving aggressively. At 3 a.m. I’d understand. But at 3 p.m., it’s harder to argue. The government claims the shooter had just been transferred from Iraq two weeks earlier and was still in a state of excitement. General opinion seems to be there was no evident reason to shoot this man.

And at the same time, the case of an American who hit and killed a Kyrgyz with a car in July, but was protected by immunity, is being brought up by parliamentaries. They want to remove immunity from employees of the military base and hold people responsible for their actions.

The three-day disappearance of Jill Metzger, also an employee of the U.S. military base, still remains a mystery. A parliamentarian says she just went for a walk. The situation is fishy – a video surveillance camera shows her leaving the Tsum department store by herself and she apparently had hair dye stains on her hands when she was found. But she claims she was held by force and beaten. No one knows for sure what happened except her, and both she and the U.S. government are being strangely silent. If there was a risk to U.S. citizens, one would think they’d tell those of us living here what happened. This is only conjecture, but one theory I came across on the web is that she was kidnapped by someone from the nearby Russian military base (which is located in the town where she reappeared). The diplomatic discomfort that would cause could explain the silence.

Though Kyrgyzstan has a well-developed network of radio-called taxis, as well as plenty of on-street competition, it can still be hard to reliably order a taxi.

Recently, I called a company at 7 and asked for a taxi to pick me up at 8:30.

“Call a bit later,” I was told.


“There are no cars available now.”

“I don’t need one now. I need one at 8:30. And I’m going to be on the phone until then. I’d like the taxi to be here when I get off.”

I could hear the dispatcher talking to her manager. “We can’t do that,” she said.

I said I’d call another company. Which I did. They took my order OK, but at 8:30, there was no taxi. I called again and they sent one out after the second call.

This evening I called at 10:15 and asked for a taxi at 10:45. At 10:45 there was no taxi. I called again.

“It’s already left,” the dispatcher told me. “It will be there in five minutes.”

So much for timeliness.

I’m very happy to be on my way home for the holidays. It’s too bad that I’ll miss my work holiday party, as well as the holiday celebrations I’m sure I could have experienced with my local friends. But it’s been too long since I’ve seen my loved ones and I’m really looking forward to the time with family and friends.

It should also be a productive trip. After two months of cross-oceanic wedding planning, we’re finally going to visit potential reception sites ourselves. Within a few days, we should have a definite date and location.

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