Some people have expressed concern over my safety here, since the upheaval in Kyrgyzstan hit the news in the West (almost a full day after we started finding out about everything, I might add). Everything is okay. Shymkent, as you can see from the map below, is closer to Uzbekistan than it is to Kyrgyzstan. I was, however, in Almaty all of last week for our Peace Corps In-Service Training (IST) conference. Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and is close to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan; it has also witnessed some disturbing occurrences of its own, which may or may not be related to its neighbor’s recent events. Just days after I left Almaty, we received security texts from Peace Corps informing us that a (ostensibly related) protest was to be held in Almaty’s Old Square and instructing PCVs to stay away. There was also a freeze on U.S. citizen travel to Kyrgyzstan that to my knowledge is still in effect. The Kyrgyz borders to both neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were themselves closed for awhile, but have since normalized. There are actually 98 current PCVs serving in Kyrgyzstan itself, and while they are currently on “Stand Fast” (Stage 1 of the PC Emergency Action Plan), they have not been evacuated and are still waiting directions from the U.S. Embassy.
Some basic background on the situation: In 2005, Kyrgyzstan was home to the last of the post-Soviet “Colored Revolutions,” after the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution ousted President Askar Akayev from power on charges of corruption, and installed former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Though some violence was observed in the aftermath, the Tulip Revolution was largely seen as peaceful. Five years later however, things have come full circle – on April 7, 2010, thousands of protesters levied similar charges of corruption against Bakiyev and he fled office to the southern regions of the country where he is from. He has not yet formally relinquished power, but the new interim government in place already plans to rule for 6 months before holding new presidential elections. This new power shift has come at a high cost: 81 dead and over 1,600 injured at last count.
The upheaval in Kyrgyzstan definitely hits close to home. For one, the key U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan providing supplies to Afghanistan is potentially being affected by the unrest, and is in fact the same air base that swiftly and effectively evacuated our Kazakhstan PCV Jamie after her tragic car accident that occurred as she was leaving my very site for her village near Taraz.
As a PCV (even in a neighboring country) I am not actually allowed to say much more than just these facts, but if you want some more interesting commentary and potential implications for the future of Kyrgyzstan post-revolution, I highly recommend the Monkey Cage political science blog (to whom I owe credit for discovering that you can follow Kyrgyz interim government leader Roza Otunbayeva on Twitter. :P). I encourage you all to stay afloat of the news regarding this oft-overlooked region of the world — it is sure to have very interesting ramifications for international relations, including major effects on Russian, Chinese and U.S. interests.