Friday, March 25, 2005
More on the Kyrgz People...
I arrived in Kyrgyzstan in January 2003 for an assignment at Ganci Air Base, which was a U.S./European/Multi-national air base established months after Sept. 11 to support air operations over Afghanistan. Having researched Russian and Central Asian history for my graduate work a few years prior, I thought I was at least slightly prepared for what I was getting into. Of course I wasn't.
Since Kyrgyzstan sits in the middle of Asia, and was ruled by a quasi-European country for several generations, things look different there. The South is mostly nomadic and tribal, yet they still have medium sized cities. The North is more Western and developed, and is a main cog in the Asian trade system. The people are either Chinese-looking, or white-European looking. The national languages are Russian and Kyrgyz.
The Kyrgyz people were more Western, more modern, and more outgoing than I ever imagined they would be. The air base, which is located within the confines of the Manas International Airport, hired local Kyrgyz nationals for contract work and translation services. All of the translators I met quickly became my best friends over there... especially the Air Traffic Controllers. There's always time to chat while sitting in the control tower or airfield ops office at 1am.
These people were well educated, and most were younger than me (27 at the time). The oldest gentleman I worked with , Yuri, had been retired from the Soviet/Russian Air Force years prior, and baked pies and breads for a hobby. He would usually bring in fresh pies once or twice a week as a gift for everyone, but we managed to find ways to pay him back, either in money or opportunities. My favorite moments with him were the late nights sitting in the control tower, watching the snow fall as we all talked about the 'Good old days' of the Cold War and our distinct historical perspectives on it. Yes, it may sound boring to most, but to a history nerd like me, it was better than any class I had ever taken.
Many of the military personnel stationed there would frequent the shops and restaurants at the Airport when allowed. The coffee and cigar shops got the most business, but the barbershop was a close second. The ladies at the barbershop, as with all Kyrgyz citizens, either spoke English, Spanish, or French on top of their Russian and Kyrgyz languages. I actually spoke more Spanish in Kyrgyzstan than I ever did living in California, mainly because it was always a pleasure talking to these people and finding out about their lives.
A few of us had the ability to travel to Bishkek, the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic, located about 20Km from the base. I would typically meet some of my translator friends there and we would eat at various restaurants, such as the Russian Room, the German Hause, or my favorite, La Dolce Vita. It's an italian restaurant that rivaled some of the best in the states.
Bishkek is a very modern city, filled with the architecture of the Soviet regime that ruled it for half a century. The opera house, the parliament building, and the University complexes still had remnants of Soviet sculptures and icons. Matter of fact Bishkek is still one of only two places left where you can find a statue to Lenin. They kept it around for nostalgic reasons I presume.
When we weren't going to restaurants we frequented the mall called 'Zum'. They had everything you could think of at a multi-level mall. Teenie-boppers, nice stores, cheap items, and shop owners that loved to bargain. One observation about the young ladies in Kyrgyzstan. Whenever most of the younger girls walked around in public they walked in pairs and always held on to each other. I found it odd at first, but a friend informed me that it's for security reasons. Kyrgyzstan may be semi-western, but their Central-Asian traditions still remain.
One very bad tradition was the kidnapping and forced marriage of women. Basically a woman can be kidnapped and 'raped' by a man, and then she's forced to marry him because she is now pregnant with his child. To this day it's still a problem, but not nearly as frequent as it used to be thanks to an ongoing national campaign to stop it.
On the flip side, women seemed to be the trend setters in terms of the modernization of the country. They demand the latest fashions and accessories, they sit in government positions, and fill the universities. They have all of the rights and abilities as do most Eastern European women. Of course only if they can avoid the occasional moron looking for a wife who's still living in the past.
The point of sharing all of this with you is that on 23 March, 2005, these proud and hopeful people overthrew their not-so-democratic government. They did this because they wanted a government uncorrupted by the old Soviet ways. They want elections that are meaningful and just. Most of all, they want to progress. In 1993 Kyrgzstan became the first of the Central Asian republics to become a democracy. Since then they've stagnated under a leader who, similar to Putin, saw democracy as an impediment to his ambitions of power and wealth.
Days before the opposition toppled the government and kicked President Akeyev out, one of my best friends emailed me to fill me in on what was going on. She works for a sub-contractor to the USAID organization, and through her work has fought for Kyrgyz women's rights. She, like many Kyrgyz women, are proud, determined, and confident in their ability to change their nation. When I emailed her I was the one with fear and doubt for her and her nation. I was concerned for her and her family. When she responded, she was the one filled with confidence, determination, and the will to join the protesters because it was the right thing to do.
I guess this is why I have a soft spot for Kyrgzstan and it's people. Kyrgyzstan has always been referred to as the 'Alps of Central Asia'... full of beauty, strength and purity. The people truly reflect their nation.
Congratulations to my friend and her fellow Kyrgyz freedom fighters. They did what was right for their nation. They demanded freedom and democracy, and it looks as though they may just get it (as long as Russia and China stay out of course). Please pray for them. If their country becomes a strong democracy, it will be yet another beacon of hope for that region, further stabilizing the furnace of islamofascism, giving those people hope instead of hatred.
The Domino Effect continues. Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Kyrgyzstan. Let's keep it going.
posted by El Capitan at 9:38 AM
Fuggin' aye right Capitan!1:19 AM
Fuggin' aye right Capitan!1:20 AM
Nice reflection on Kyrgyzstan. I'm actually from there and you should've tried some of the Yugur restaurants while there, they're amazing! Did you try any Kyrgyz cousine there? And you're right the people are very friendly especially to foreigners. Glad you liked my home country!6:58 PM