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“Security and Defense Reform in Central Asia” - Articles (3)

Kyrgyzstan’s Fragmented Police and Armed Forces

Erica Marat


This article is a first attempt to analyze the underlying reasons behind the unprofessional behavior of the Kyrgyz military and police during ethnic conflict in Osh on June 10-14, 2010. It argues that the higher military leadership in Bishkek shares a common distrust of the Tashkent regime and overall uncertainly about power sharing two months after regime change, while lower level personnel may have provoked the Uzbek minority, because of their nationalist feelings (the majority of police and army personnel are ethnic Kyrgyz) and overall frustration with the fragmented political leadership. The situation was further exacerbated by the lack of political control over the security forces and their lack of adequate training to deal with civic unrest.

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  • 1  Special thanks to AnneLe Huérou and Amandine Regamey for their helpful comments on the article’s f (...)

1The June 10-14, 2010 bloodshed in Southern Kyrgyzstan demonstrated that the country’s military and police forces are not trained to deal with inter-ethnic violence. The police and armed forces became part of the conflict, rather than a solution1. They acted unprofessionally and reportedly provoked the Uzbek minority and protected the Kyrgyz majority. Facing such an extreme situation for the first time and uncertain of how domestic violence would impact her fragile government, then-Interim President Roza Otunbayev was appealed to Russia for military help.

  • 2  A number of reports have pointed at police and military forces’ unjust treatment of ethnic Uzbeks (...)

2At this point it is difficult to argue that the behavior of police and army personnel reflects the ethno-nationalist perceptions of the higher military and political leadership or are a byproduct of their inadequate understanding of the situation on the ground. However, the data available a few months after the conflict make it possible to identify two layers of threat perception: one directed against another state (Uzbekistan) and one against a different ethnicity (Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan). The article argues that the higher military leadership shares distrust of Tashkent regime, while lower level personnel may have provoked the Uzbek minority because of their own anti-Uzbeknationalist feelings2 (the majority of police and army personnel are ethnic Kyrgyz) and overall frustration with the fragmented political leadership. Their lack of adequate training to deal with ethnic-based civic unrest and the shortage of equipment and financing exacerbated the problem.  

  • 3  Kyrgyzstan is an upstream country, while Uzbekistan is a downstream county. Both face complex issu (...)

3The divided political leadership over the security forces in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the lack of capacity to gather intelligence data and plan strategically, also played a role. There is a shared opinion among members of the military brass that Uzbekistan is the most pressing security concern to Kyrgyzstan, mostly due to the country’s abundant water resources and historic political distrust between both countries’ political elites.3 At the same time two months after the April 7 regime change division of political power was ambiguous. The interim government lacked legitimacy and clear control over all power institutions, particularly over police forces. The Kyrgyz military’s distrust of the ruling regime in Uzbekistan intensified as the violence escalated. Furthermore, the absence of stable political institutions and the decentralized political power among the power ministries and individual actors increased the police and army’s inclination to disobey state orders.

4The police and army’s unprofessional conduct also reflected the provisional government’s fundamental dilemma in the first months after gaining power in April. That is, two months into the transition and lacking both domestic and international legitimacy, the provisional government—as a whole, as well each individual member and faction—was torn between retaining its tenuous grip on power, possibly by force, and the fear that any use of force would challenge their already ambiguous legitimacy both in Kyrgyzstan and internationally.

  • 4  Interview with Osh policeman, October 2010.

5Under the guidance of such an uncertain and hesitant national leadership, army and police personnel either overstepped their mandate or chose not to follow the commands of the political officials. At times police personnel chose to submit to local political leaders. For example, Osh mayor Melis Myrzakhmatov is very popular among local policemen and had a more stable power structure at the time of conflict4.

  • 5  Erica Marat, “Security Sector Reform in Kyrgyzstan” in Merijn Hartog, ed, Security Sector Reform i (...)

6The erosion of political leadership began under former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev5. He imposed personal control over the armed forces and police based on their loyalty to his regime. Bakiyev’s support system, however, was destroyed when his regime collapsed after April 7, leaving both the military and police ever more demoralized. They were uncertain about who in the new government had the authority to control the ministries of defense and internal affairs. This uncertainty intensified as the new government faced numerous challenges related to establishing own legitimacy.

7This article is organized as follows: it begins by providing background on former presidents Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev and how they led the police and armed forces. This section explains why the police and army continued to fragment after April 2010 regime change. The article concludes with a discussion of the challenges to the parliamentary system of governance posed by the fragmented police and armed forces and what military reform efforts might occur in Kyrgyzstan. Evidence to support the above arguments will be drawn from interviews and media reports about the actions of Kyrgyz security officials. Most of the interviews with policemen and military officials were informal and carried out between October 2010 and January 2011. This article represents a first attempt to address the underlying reasons behind the unprofessional behavior of the Kyrgyz military and police during ethnic conflict in June 2010.

Power Institutions under Akayev and Bakiyev

8After the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 Kyrgyzstan inherited a modest, but seemingly sufficient, military infrastructure. This inheritance partly explained why the Kyrgyz government paid limited attention to the military sector throughout the 1990s, instead prioritizing political and economic reforms. Only in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Kyrgyz national army failed to adequately respond to a group of armed guerrillas that crossed the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, did President Akayev see the military as vital for preserving national sovereignty. Akayev also realized that the inherited Soviet-style military structure failed to meet the requirements of the post-cold war period and needed to be reformed. He proposed significantly changing the military’s structure, revising national security documents, and increasing civilian oversight.

9These efforts, however, were largely undone after Akayev was overthrown on March 24, 2005. His replacement, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, politicized the defense sector to protect his regime against opposition forces. The new president disregarded the importance of a holistic approach to security, a strategy that would democratize control over security structures and involve a greater number of political and civic actors in security policy making.

10Bakiyev’s authoritarian regime allowed security officials to frequently intervene in political matters. This marked a shift from the Soviet model of civil-military relations, in which the military was strong, yet submissive to political control. Most other former Soviet states kept the military outside the political decision-making process. Bakiyev, however, increasingly relied on the support of the security services, which gradually asserted control over military structures as well.

11Bakiyev also lost control over his brother Zhanysh Bakiyev, which eventually led to unprecedented violence in the country. During 2008-2009, Bakiyev implemented swift changes in the security structures. He replaced all power ministers, appointing his most loyal supporters and relatives to key positions. Zhanysh headed the National Security Service. However, he de facto exercised direct control over most military institutions and security services and accumulated enormous political power. Under his command, the national army was allowed to intervene in domestic politics, the U.S.-funded Drugs Control Agency was dissolved, and a special armed unit was created to protect top government officials.

12As a result, government officials largely controlled lucrative drug trafficking, while opposition leaders and journalists were constantly threatened with physical attacks. Zhanysh was becoming more and more independent and there were signs that he would likely be designated to make political decisions during emergency situations such as mass demonstrations or natural disasters. Finally, Zhanysh was believed to have plotted the assassination of regime opponents, including the former head of the president’s administration, Medet Sadyrkulov, and Gennady Pavluk, a journalist.

  • 6  “Rol’ upravleniya spetsial’nyh operatsii ‘Al’fa’ v sobytiyah 6-7 aprelya 2010 goda v Bishkeke” [Th (...)

13The April 7 bloodbath in Bishkek, which took the lives of 86 people, serves as a powerful demonstration of the potential consequences of military intervention in politics. The vast majority of the victims were shot in the chest, head, and neck, reportedly by foreign snipers deployed on the rooftop of a government building in central Bishkek. They were allegedly hired by Zhanysh6. President Bakiyev also distorted the established military hierarchy, promoting personnel on the basis of their loyalty, not professionalism. As a result, experienced and respected military leaders were alienated from the state, while those who remained inside the state’s military institutions showed personal loyalty towards regime holders – the president and his family members – rather than the state itself. Because the Bakiyev brothers controlled the security apparatus, the president and, possibly, other state institutions served the interests of the security forces by covering up their rumored crimes.

14Importantly, unlike the police, Kyrgyzstan’s army never genuinely recognized Bakiyev’s authority. In part, this was due to the still powerful Soviet tradition that restricts the army from intervening in domestic affairs. The armed forces remained at their regular posts when the riots turned violent. This indicates that while Bakiyev had established control over higher police and military leaders, his authority was weaker among lower-level personnel.

15The armed forces abruptly abandoned Bakiyev when Ismail Isakov, a former Defense Minister, was released from prison. He had been arrested on Bakiyev’s order in early 2009 on fabricated corruption charges and now was reappointed to his post after April 7. The situation was somewhat more difficult in the Interior Ministry. For weeks Otunbayeva was not able to find a credible candidate to become Interior Minister, and political factions within the interim government competed with members of the ousted regime.

16Shortly after coming to power Otunbayeva’s government issued a warrant for Zhanysh’s arrest, along with former President Bakiyev’s sons Maksim and Marat. The new leadership in Bishkek also discussed the possibility of disbanding the National Security Service and the special agency to protect the national elite.

17However, Osh mayor Myrzakhmatov and other local leaders in southern Kyrgyzstan, a Bakiyev stronghold, refused to fully recognize the legitimacy of Otunbayeva’s government. While the mayor is hardly the only official with informal influence over the police, Myrzhakhmatov might have had a direct role in the June 2010 violence. Before the rioting Myrzakhmatov already enjoyed strong support among the police and the broader ethnic Kyrgyz population in Osh. The Osh police, in turn, supported Myrzakhmatov’s because he controlled major criminal networks in the Osh area. One-person rule protected the police from the multiple influences and pressures exerted by the criminal underworld, political leaders, and international organizations, each pulling in different directions. Yet, the greatest pressure on the behavior of local security forces comes from the conflicting commands given by local and national political leaders.

  • 7  “What Role Did Crime Kingpins Play in Southern Kyrgyzstan’s Violence?”, Eurasia Insight, June 23, (...)
  • 8  These accounts are based on media reports and author’s interviews, by no means they claim to repre (...)

18Myrzakhmatov reportedly controls most licit and illicit economic activity in Osh, including construction, bazaars, drugs trafficking and other types of smuggling7. In order to run such an economy, the mayor turned local armed forces into loyal bodyguards that would protect not only his business activities, but his political power base as well. Like some other officials in Kyrgyzstan, Myrzakhmatov is said to control an informal "army" of martial arts sportsmen as well as former military and law-enforcement personnel. This physical manpower is the basis of his strength, allowing him to mobilize supporters against government forces when needed. Myrzakhmatov’s control in Osh is so strong that the current government in Bishkek must create parallel state structures to be able to compete with his influence over the city's local government structures (including law-enforcement) 8.

  • 9  “Кыргызстан: слезы киргизов, горе узбеков. Интервью Кадыржана Батырова” [Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyztears(...)

19Following Bakiyev’s ouster in April 2010, central government control over the police fragmented. In particular, the interim government partially lost control over police and special forces in southern Kyrgyzstan. Since April and until the June conflict Only a handful of central officials visited southern Kyrgyzstan between April and June, possibly fearing for their own security. In one infamous incident, crowds in Jalalabad showed their disrespect to newly appointed Interior Minister Sher Bolot when he arrived there to arrest Bakiyev. They tried to interrupt his speech while he tried to address local security issues. Despite the heavy presence of security forces from Bishkek, pro-Bakiyev crowds tried to drive the minister from the city9.

Fragmentation of armies and growing importance of ethnicity

  • 10  No official figures are made available.
  • 11  Interview, Ismail Isakov, January, 2011.

20Although Kyrghyzstan’s armed forces are ethnically diverse, they do not exactly mirror ethnic composition of the country at large.10 Despite that ethnic cleavages within the army still persist and military service is still considered to be a form of “poverty tax”, the notion that the army accepts the most physically fit, educated young men irrespective of their ethnic background, is widely shared by the army higher ranked personnel.11 This perception survived Bakiyev’s five-year tenure despite his preference for military promotions based on personal loyalty, rather than professional background.

21Still, despite that army service is compulsory in Kyrgyzstan, ethnic composition does not reflect the country’s overall ethnic representation. Ethnic majority dominates across army institutions, including in areas where communities of ethnic minorities live dominate. This uneven ethnic representationraises question as to whether army service is particularly unpopular among ethnic minorities. And if so, how do ethnic minority groups escape compulsory army service? The leading explanation is that the distrust many ethnic minorities have regarding the ruling regime blocks political representation of all ethnic groups. Because these groups deliberately try to stay outside of the government, they cannot be adequately represented within in. This behavior is further reinforced by the fact that ethnic minorities often live in insular communities, making it difficult for the central state to penetrate.

  • 12  Interview, Osh policeman, October 2010.

22In contrast, Bakiyev encouraged the police to have personal loyalty to specific officials instead of protecting the population. As violence broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan these loyalties were further reinforced along ethnic lines. According to various estimates, ethnic minorities constitute roughly 2 percent of the police forces in southern Kyrgyzstan12. Given that roughly 13 percent of all ethnic Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan live in southern Kyrgyzstan, law-enforcement agencies are far from reflecting the ethnic composition of the local society. The share of ethnic minorities in the police forces in northern Kyrgyzstan is believed to be somewhat higher, although no statistics are available.

  • 13  This view of police is shared over and over in interviews, including interview with a policeman sp (...)

23Unlike army service, the police force is regarded as a prestigious occupation that may guarantee stable income, mostly through bribes and extortion. The vast shadow economy, including smuggling drugs and other goods as well as human trafficking comprise an informal source of income for police forces13. Bribes begin before joining the police, as candidates must pay bribes to be admitted to police academies. However, favors distributed along ethnic identity may play an important role as well.

  • 14  Interview, former conscript, July 2010.

24Although the largest ethnic minority groups (Russian, Uzbek, Tajik) have free access to education and mass media in their language, they have limited power to impact the political process in the country. Minorities find serving in a police and army controlled by political officials comprised of ethnic Kyrgyz to be deeply unpopular. In addition, the military is widely regarded as an institution of “the poor”; that is, for citizens unable to bribe their way out of compulsory service. According to some reports, ethnic minorities often escape army service by bribing medical committees during the medical check-up that accompany recruitment campaigns14. For most young men across Kyrgyzstan, regardless of ethnicity, traveling to Russia or Kazakhstan for work often represents a far better option to make living than gaining army education.

25Former president Akayev attempted to diversify ethnic representation at both local and national government institutions. He made the advancement of ethnic minorities a priority, granting land to the Uzbek community and building Uzbek-language universities under a policy known as "Kyrgyzstan - Our Common Home." Uzbeks were overwhelmingly supportive of Akayev, but their fortunes turned for the worse when Bakiyev overthrew him in 2005. While he never directly suppressed the Uzbek community, Bakiyev mostly ignored their grievances and allowed ethnic relations to revert to its previous state of animosity. Under Bakiyev, drug traffickers and organized criminal groups found a safe haven in Kyrgyzstan's south, further frustrating local residents. At the same time, the president's firm hand kept ethnic violence to a minimum.

26A direct consequence of police and army’s unprofessional handling of the Osh and Jalalabad violence was the increasing isolation of security and law-enforcement structures. Protecting its own status, the military became the major force to oppose international investigations of the June violence as well as the OSCE’s 52-member Police Advisory Group. Eventually only half of the proposed number of police personnel were dispatched to Osh. Felix Kulov, leader of Ar-Namys party and former Interior Minister, was among the first leaders to criticize the OSCE’s decision to deploy unarmed personnel. According to Kulov, Osh law-enforcement structures would be more concerned with guarding the “foreigners” than responding to the situation on the ground. Kulov’s views found support among other political observers.  

27Attention from international organizations such as Human Rights Group, special National Commission made of government employees, NGO experts and academics, as well as the OSCE increased in the aftermath of the June conflict, revealing the atrocities and unprofessionalism of Kyrgyzstan’s security structures. As more information became public about the involvement of state forces in violence against civilians, the more the military and police began to fear external intervention.

28Several Kyrgyz politicians and security officials spoke out against a possible deployment of OSCEpolice. They cited infringement of the country’s sovereignty, the limited capacity to improve the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan, and the potential for increased instability as grounds to oppose the OSCE mission. The OSCE’s presence instantly reminded other key figures of Kosovo, where an international presence is seen as the cause of, not solution to, instability. NGO activists support an OSCE police presence, claiming that only those interested in chaos and weak state control in southern Kyrgyzstan oppose the deployment of an external peacekeeping mission.

Osh Violence

29The April 7, 2010, regime change in Bishkek was followed by a series of violent outbreaks fueled by ethnic, economic and political disparities across the country. These clashes also underscored the new government’s weak control over local police forces. The first of these clashes broke out on April 19, in the outskirts of Bishkek. A group of villagers, reportedly ethnic Kyrgyz, attacked a Meshketian Turk community in Mayevka village, killing five Turks. Several houses occupied by local Turks were burned down. The police were nowhere to be seen, perhaps due to a slow response from national political leaders who were preoccupied with filling key security posts.

30On May 19 roughly 1,500 people marched towards Jalalabad’s private university, demanding that the provisional government terminate support for Kadyrzhan Batyrov, a prominent ethnic Uzbek and one of the school’s founders. Reportedly, the crowd was predominantly ethnic Kyrgyz. Local media reports also suggested that hundreds of local Uzbeks mobilized to resist the crowds. Two ethnic Kyrgyz were shot and killed, and over 60 were injured as a result of the clashes.

31The Jalalabad turmoil was the first indication of the complex political competition emerging in Kyrgyzstan. The southern town had been wracked with continuous tensions since Bakiyev left the country on April 15. According to Kyrgyz NGO leaders, the interim government failed to react to the growing concerns in the south swiftly enough, instead preferring to blame the Bakiyev supporters of instigating local unrest. While Bakiyev’s family likely played some role in causing chaos in Jalalabad, the provisional government had overused this rationale to the point that it was no longer convincing. As a result of ineffective political leadership, what initially seemed to be a political disagreement deteriorated into inter-ethnic conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

  • 15  Critical analysis on National Commission by Madeleine Reeves, “Osh report: quick conclusions, lost (...)

32Aside from journalistic accounts and investigative reports by Kyrgyzstan’s National Commission15, International Crisis Group, and Human Rights Watch, there is no official or even widely accepted explanation of what happened in June, who were the main stakeholders in the violence, and whether this was mostly grassroots mobilization or the result of political showdowns. Leading interpretations of events include the notion that a spat among young patrons of a local bar in Osh on the night of June 10 escalated into a massive fight. Ethnic Kyrgyz from neighboring villages then mobilized in groups against Uzbek communities. Violence continued for four days, resulting in 450 deaths and thousands injured. Roughly 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks had to flee their homes in search of a safer place.

33As violence spread across Osh on the morning of June 11, the Kyrgyz military and police acted chaotically, often reacting to rumors spread by provocateurs. A shortage of troops, equipment, fuel, and reliable communication devices made matters worse. Interim President Otunbayeva was forced to call up reserve officers to sustain a 24-hour curfew in Osh.

  • 16  Interview with NGO leader, Bishkek, October 2010.

34The police claim that the civilian population turned on them during the first 24 hours of conflict in Osh. The police were ordered to shoot-to-kill on Saturday (June 13) morning, although the police had already been randomly using loaded weapons against the population. Kyrgyzstan’s NGO leaders argue that the police and army began shooting at civilians, predominantly ethnic Uzbeks, without waiting for the political leadership’s command16.

  • 17  Interview, former member of Defense Ministry, June 2010.

35Military leaders, in turn, argued that they had only a limited ability to control the situation in the first two days of the violence. They complained of a lack of manpower, training, funding, and equipment to properly respond to emergency situations17.

  • 18  Interview, police official, Bishkek, October, 2010.

36Lower-ranking army and police personnel from both Bishkek and Osh share a similar understanding of how violence began and why there was such a high number of victims. They agree that the violence was triggered by ethnic Uzbeks. This narrative about what happened in Osh and Jalalabad justifies the violent behavior of the armed forces but at times contradicts the understanding of events shared by the higher military leadership. Policemen who were either directly involved in quelling the violence in Osh or who were ordered to deal with the aftermath of conflict justified their own coercive action by arguing that the Uzbek communities possessed vast weapons stockpiles and refused to obey police orders18.

  • 19  Interview, high-ranking official, Bishkek, October 2010.
  • 20  Interview, former interim government official.

37In contrast, senior political officials tend to blame each other for inaction or incorrect action during the violence. Some members of the provisional government with military backgrounds insisted on harsh actions, such as imposing curfews and ordering the troops to shoot-to-kill. However, political leaders with civilian backgrounds were reluctant to act until June 13th19. Because of the shared narrative among some government officials that the violence was pre-organized and did not represent a bottom-up movement, some military leaders argued that they were not authorized to order shooting of civilian population20.

  • 21  Interview, Kyrgyzstan military official, Bishkek, October 2010; also mentioned in the National Com (...)

38Overall, the violence in Osh and Jalalabad highlighted the weakness of Kyrgyzstan’s fragile provisional government and damaged civil-military relations in the country. The police and military grew even more detached from the national government after the violence. Reports about the possibility of inter-ethnic provocations were available weeks before the recent unrest, but little had been done to address them or prepare for a worst-case scenario21.

The Challenges of Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary system

39At the same time, Kyrgyzstan’s political system was evolving. In June 2010, Kyrgyzstan moved from presidential system to a parliamentary one. The change entailed considerable decentralization of power. For the first time in Central Asia’s post-Soviet history, parliamentary elections results were difficult to predict, with two major parties competing and a myriad of smaller parties emerging. The parliamentary system was designed to prevent any one political leader or political force from capturing state power. However, it also means that control over the armed forces is more decentralized. For months control over Kyrgyzstan’s police forces remained ambiguous. Newly-appointed security officials believed that they could exercise formal control over police across the country.

40But they were also aware that competing political forces, not represented in the government, were enjoying informal control over police personnel. Felix Kulov was believed to retain informal influence over police personnel in the north. In the south members of the Ata-Jurt party and Osh mayor Myrzakhmatov enjoyed informal control over police as well.

  • 22  “Камчыбек Ташиев обвинил ГСНБ в вооруженном нападении на себя” [Kamchybek Tashiyev blames NSS for (...)

41Violence in southern Kyrgyzstan showed that divides inside the police and military deepen during times of instability. With pro-Bakiyev politicians able to win parliamentary mandates, tensions within security structures are more accurately described as being between the legislative and executive branches. The first scandal inside Kyrgyzstan’s security services broke out weeks after the elections. The leader of the Ata-Jurt party, Kamchybek Tashiyev, claimed that the National Security Service (NSS) attempted to assassinate him in October front of his own house in Bishkek22. According to Tashiyev, NSS personnel deliberately provoked him in front of his house before a few armed NSS personnel began shooting at his house and his bodyguards. After Tashiyev’s guards captured the NSS attackers, Ata-Jurt’s official press release states, 15 more armed NSS personnel stormed the politician’s house. When the police and prosecutors arrived at the scene they also discovered that NSS members were involved in illegal activity, the memo states.

42The head of the NSS, Keneshbek Dushebayev, denied allegations and claims that members of his service were stationed in a car 200 meters away from Tashiyev’s house when Tashiyev’s guards dragged one of the NSS personnel from the car and beat him inside the politician’s house. The Ata-Jurt-NSS showdown revealed the infighting between former president Bakiev’s loyal regime followers and the current government, which is made up mostly of Bakiyev’s former opponents. Ata-Jurt has experienced pressure from the general prosecutor, Kubatbek Baibolov, who accused the party of instigating inter-ethnic hatred ahead of the October 10 parliamentary elections. Both Dushebayev and Baibolov, along with a number of other security officials, were once targeted by the Bakiyev regime.

43These showdowns inside the power institutions continue to negatively impact lower-ranking personnel. Without coherent political leadership over the military and police, human rights abuses will continue to be entrenched in the everyday lives of locals, particularly in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Consolidation as a long-term goal

44As Kyrgyzstan’s political system continues to change from presidential to parliamentary, the country’s power institutions have a unique possibility to transform as well. However, the transformation of the military and police force will have greater changes to proceed only under stable, popular state institutions. Given that the outcome of Kyrgyzstan’s experiments with democracy is still uncertain, successful transformation of the power institutions is hard to predict. If control continues to decentralize under a parliamentary system, the power institutions are likely to become ever more fragmented along regional and ethnic lines. State leaders may continue to demonize abstract external threats, while lower lever personnel continue to feel frustration with the political leadership.

45Under stable political leadership, the military and, to a lesser extent police, might increase internal cohesion over perceived threat over of renewed ethnic violence. The Osh and Jalalabad violence would serve as a model for the military and police of how to increase professionalism and loyalty to the state and the nation. Indeed, both the military and police might develop different reactions to the same experience, with one turning into more ethnicity-blind institution than the other.

46In the most pessimistic scenario, the military and police might grow ever more corrupt. Police forces might continue to mingle with criminal groups or corrupt political leaders. The interdependence would deepen between power institutions and politicians, on the one hand, and power institutions and the criminal underworld on the other. Informal means of coercion and extortion would spread. At the same time, state power institutions would be informally challenged by competing criminal groups or politicians. The level of violence inside the state and in the society would increase.

47Mobilization of informal armed groups supporting various political parties is another challenge brought by the decentralization of political power under a parliamentary system. It has been confirmed on numerous occasions that major political parties retain their own armed gangs that allow them to maintain the current balance of power against competing forces. For instance, on August 5, 2010, Urmat Barktabasov, an infamous businessman and political activist during the Akayev era, convened supporters from various parts of the country to demand that he be given the post of prime minister. This informal paramilitary force raises further frustration among the police and military personnel who struggle to dominate over non-state actors, often resorting to force and intimidation.

48Maintaining a balance between keeping a social order and controlling public demonstrations without use of violence against them is another major challenge the police face alongside the transition from a presidential to a parliamentary system. Riots organized by individual political leaders especially place the police in a difficult position. By following the orders of the national government and suppressing the riots, the police is compelled to engage in informal power struggle with armed wings of the local political force that is organizing the riots. With the parliamentary system in place, more political forces will be compelled to solve their political differences on the street, rather than within political institutions.

49Aside from stable political institutions, other steps necessary to consolidate police forces into coherent units include breaking the nexus with the criminal world, halting access to the drugs market, and preventing political factions and individual politicians from obtaining control over military and police institutions. Finally, along with a value-based approach to service, the police must become a prestigious, well-paying institution. Compared to army forces that are not directly involved in civilians’ everyday lives, reforming police forces constitutes a more urgent issue. Training and discipline are particularly low among police personnel, while control over the police is tailored to the needs of local power brokers.

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1  Special thanks to AnneLe Huérou and Amandine Regamey for their helpful comments on the article’s first draft.

2  A number of reports have pointed at police and military forces’ unjust treatment of ethnic Uzbeks Where is Justice? Interethnic Violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan and its Aftermath”, Human Rights Watch, August 16, 2010; “The Pogroms in Kyrgyzstan”, International Crisis Group, August 23, 2010. “Zakluchenie Natskomissii po rassledovaniyu sobytiy v iune 2010 g. na yuge Kyrgyzstana” [Conclusions of the National Commission’s investigation of events in June 2010 in southern Kyrgyzstan],, January 20, 2011.

3  Kyrgyzstan is an upstream country, while Uzbekistan is a downstream county. Both face complex issues over terms of water sharing.

4  Interview with Osh policeman, October 2010.

5  Erica Marat, “Security Sector Reform in Kyrgyzstan” in Merijn Hartog, ed, Security Sector Reform in Central Asia: Exploring Needs and Possibilities, The Centre of European Security Studies, 2010.

6  “Rol’ upravleniya spetsial’nyh operatsii ‘Al’fa’ v sobytiyah 6-7 aprelya 2010 goda v Bishkeke” [The Role of Management over ‘Alfa’s” Special Operations during April 6-7, 2010 in Bishkek], Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow, November 8, 2010. The report details military’s response of April, but more investigation is needed.

7  “What Role Did Crime Kingpins Play in Southern Kyrgyzstan’s Violence?”, Eurasia Insight, June 23, 2010.

8  These accounts are based on media reports and author’s interviews, by no means they claim to represent a comprehensive account of what happened in Osh and Jalalabad.

9  “Кыргызстан: слезы киргизов, горе узбеков. Интервью Кадыржана Батырова” [Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyztears, Uzbekstragedy. Interview with Kadyrzhan Batyrov],, September 18, 2011.

10  No official figures are made available.

11  Interview, Ismail Isakov, January, 2011.

12  Interview, Osh policeman, October 2010.

13  This view of police is shared over and over in interviews, including interview with a policeman specializing in drugs control in Karakol (who formerly served in southern Kyrgyzstan), August, 2008.

14  Interview, former conscript, July 2010.

15  Critical analysis on National Commission by Madeleine Reeves, “Osh report: quick conclusions, lost opportunities”, Open Democracy, January 24, 2011.  

16  Interview with NGO leader, Bishkek, October 2010.

17  Interview, former member of Defense Ministry, June 2010.

18  Interview, police official, Bishkek, October, 2010.

19  Interview, high-ranking official, Bishkek, October 2010.

20  Interview, former interim government official.

21  Interview, Kyrgyzstan military official, Bishkek, October 2010; also mentioned in the National Commission’s report.

22  “Камчыбек Ташиев обвинил ГСНБ в вооруженном нападении на себя” [Kamchybek Tashiyev blames NSS for armed attack],, October, 23, 2010.

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Electronic reference

Erica Marat, “Kyrgyzstan’s Fragmented Police and Armed Forces”The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 11 | 2010, Online since 03 March 2011, connection on 25 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Erica Marat

American University, Washington, DC

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