TTU Professor witnesses overthrow of government in Kyrgyzstan

Violence and looting disrupted the usually peaceful streets of former Soviet republic Kyrgyzstan last week as an unexpected coup overthrew the government in the capital city, Bishkek, where English Professor William McRae is teaching this year on a Fulbright assignment.

Trouble had been brewing since earlier in March as opposition to the deeply unpopular president, Askar Akayev, came to a head and citizens took to the streets to protest fraudulent parliamentary elections. Akayev was ousted, and the interim prime minister has since pledged support for newly elected legislators, asking for Akayev's official resignation.

McRae, who is teaching at American University and returns home next month, is the recipient of two Fulbright Scholar Awards. He has been e-mailing his colleagues here at home to assure them of his safety and to describe the situation from an American's perspective. Here are his personal accounts of life in Bishkek.


There is growing political unrest in the country. In the southern cities of Osh (where 11 years ago there was bloody outbreak of ethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz) and Jalalabad, an Islamic center, government buildings have been occupied for several days by the opposition. (read more)

The situation is becoming more fluid. It is clear that the government has collapsed, but no one seems to know who will take charge. Various names are being floated, ranging from a former vice president to a prime minister to an ambassador. The hand-wringing in the U.S. media about an Islamic revolt or takeover here is absolutely nuts. That will not happen, though it probably will be the case that they will make a bid for a greater voice. (read more)

Bishkek staggers under the cleanup from last night's looting. In ways the city hasn't been before, the difference between the haves and the have-nots in this country is now painfully clear. I spent about 30 minutes walking around my neighborhood, in the heart of the city, and storefront after storefront is now shattered debris. City workers are out trying their best to clean up, but the looting still goes on. (read more)

Here's how the political situation is shaking down. [Opposition leader Felix] Kulov is out of prison and running security. [Former foreign minister Roza] Otunbayeva is emerging as a sort of spokesperson. [Former prime minister Kurmanbek] Bakiyev is stepping in as temporary president and has been elected prime minister. [Ousted president Askar] Akayev sends e-mail threatening to return, but there is very little support for him now, if there ever was. (read more)

Perhaps because the collapse of the government took less than an hour, the return to normal has been just as quick. Bakiyev, Otunbayeva, and Kulov are firmly in control now. Akayev sends threatening e-mails, but his fantasies of being a latter-day Manas [the nation's mythical hero] are exactly that. (read more)

And so life returns to normal. Yesterday, the Osh Bazaar was open, a good thing since I am scraping the barrel now that the Beta Store is trashed. The money changers all opened their doors, with good capitalist energy, buying dollars at 39 som and selling dollars at 41.6, when the usual spread is around 0.2. (read more)