Antisemitism in Kyrgyzstan

A UCSJ-report

Kyrgyzstan's total population of approximately 4.5 million people comprises 80 ethnic groups, including about 2,500 Jews, most of whom live in the capital city Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan has been working to institute reform under its relatively progressive, democratically-minded president Askar Akayev. However, Akayev has found it a challenge to create a harmonious society among the region's myriad ethnic groups. Prior to and during Akayev's presidency, ethnic strife erupted in a number of areas; Many people have been killed in conflicts between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the Osh region and in border clashes with Tajiks.
The government's plans to turn a largely agricultural economy into an industrial-based one have not yet been successful; efforts to implement a privatization policy failed and heavy industrial production collapsed. A new currency has only increased the economic crises through hyper-inflation-20 percent a month-and a continued drop in the standard of living. In May 1993, a new constitution was adopted. However, governmental institutions remain in a transitional state, as some provisions in the constitution have yet to take effect. In addition, Kyrgyz legal and judicial systems continue to operate as they did during the Soviet period, despite a process of legal reform launched at the end of 1993. UCSJ opened the Kyrgyzstan-American Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law in 1992, directed by Natalya Ablova. The bureau has played an important role in observing the elections, monitoring press freedoms and protecting prisoners.

Jewish Life

The Kyrgyz Jewish population, divided almost evenly between Bukharan Jews and Ashkenazic Jews, maintains a relatively viable religious and cultural community. The Bukharan Jews, who have lived in the region for several centuries, and the Ashkenazic Jews, who fled to Kyrgyzstan during World War II from Russia, Ukraine and Poland, tend to remain separate from one another. Ashkenazic Jews, typically more secular, have become more and more involved in celebrating religious holidays and performing Jewish rituals in the past few years. In Bishkek there is a small synagogue (which has no rabbi) and a cultural/educational center called "Menorah." This center directs a Sunday school program and classes for those wishing to immigrate to Israel. There is also a Jewish library, a choir and two dance groups. There is a semi-private Jewish school that has been open since 1992, when a "Kyrgyz-Israel Friendship Society" was established.


There is no clear-cut tradition of antisemitism in Kyrgyzstan, and evidence of governmental antisemitism has not been establis- hed, according to Natalya Ablova, Director, Kyrgyzstan-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ). There have been some incidents of "household" antisemitism, but not on a mass scale. No fascist or extremist demonstrations were held during the period of 1995-- 1996, and relations between representatives of different religions have been friendly. No discrimination was found on the part of the government against ethnic minorities. In fact, in January 1997, President Akayev met with the leaders of ethnic cultural centers and gave a sizable financial budget, 100,000 som (about $6,000 based on March 1997 exchange rates) to the Assembly of Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, which unites all ethnic, national and cultural centers. While Akayev's move may be lauded, official representation does not facilitate independent leadership. Nonetheless, Jews are leaving Kyrgyzstan in small but steady numbers (nearly 4,000 left between 1989 and 1992), mostly due to the animosity of the Kyrgyz against the Russian speaking community, which includes most Jews. There are no known refuse- niks, but Jews and Germans must pay large fees to receive exit documents at OVIR.

Antisemitic Incidents and Government Response

In the beginning of March 1995, the Jewish section of the Chon-Aryk cemetery in Kyrgyzstan was vandalized. Among the desecrated graves was that of Victor Niksdorf, a journalist who was murdered on February 24, 1995 under unknown circumstances. It is unclear if the vandalism was an act of revenge against the journalist, an antisemitic act, or a random act. Menorah, the Jewish Cultural Committee, appealed successfully to President Akayev to condemn the crime. Akayev also promised that a criminal investigation would take place and that the Ministry of the Interior would henceforth be responsible for the protection of public cemeteries. The newspaper Evening Bishkek published an article about the incident. The press also published Akayev's condemnation of the act.-Natalya Ablova, Kyrgyzstan-American Bureau on Human Rights,UCSJ (KBHR), Bishkek, January 21, 1997 In the beginning of 1996, one of the bookstores in Bishkek was found to be selling Mein Kampf. After a protest by Boris Shapiro, chairman of the Menorah society, the books were confiscated and the seller severely reprimanded.- Natalya Ablova, KBHR, Bishkek, January 21, 1997 Starting in February 1994, the Russian language newspaper Svobodniye Gory published a series of xenophobic articles. The paper called Jews emigrating to Israel "traitors" to their motherland, blamed them for the country's problems, and repeatedly wrote of "Zionist plots." Ludmila Zholmukhamedova, the newspaper's editor, wrote an editorial claiming that she and the paper were victims of "Zionists." The editor writes that her reading of German history suggests that the only time Jews were subjected to real discrimination was during the Nazi period. Complaints were made by the Kyrgyz-Israel Friendship Society, but the procurator general took no action.-Natalya Ablova, KBHR, Bishkek, June 29, 1994

Other Issues Facing the Jewish Community Law on Religion

On November 18, 1996, Kyrgyz President Akayev increased the government's control over the region's religious groups by ordering unregistered organizations to register with the proper authorities within a month. According to a source in the Justice Ministry, only 47 of the over 200 religious organizations in the country are registered. The registration of the groups would allow the State Commission on Religious Affairs to "compare the tasks and aims of the religious organizations not yet registered with Kyrgyz laws as well as the principles of state security," said Commission Head Emil Kaptagayev.-OMRI Publications November 21, 1997 "State authorities give advantages to Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church, whose holidays have more often become official Kyrgyzstan holidays. These two main religious groups were supported by the State in their struggle against other believers, on the premise that numerous religious groups could lead to social instability. The Ministry of Justice in the Naryn region refused to register a local Baptist sect, claiming that it does not support the social-psychological influences on the Kyrgyz people of this unusual religion. "Two documents appeared recently. A governmental edict, #345 of August 10, 1995, "Religious Situation in Kyrgyzstan," appeared which prohibits the transfer of state property to religious organizations without payment, and which suggested the formation of the Public Consulting Religious Council under government supervision. In addition, a draft law was presented by Mr. Zhorobekov, deputy of the Kyrgyzstan Parliament, in the summer of 1996, which states that citizens can practice every "historical traditional religion." A religious community may not be registered if its activity puts conflicts between people or if most of the citizens of the country have never professed this religion before. "The State Religious Commission has begun to interfere in local religious community life. Many letters have been sent to the government about the illegal activity of the head of this Commission, Emil Captagaev. UCSJ, along with other human rights groups, criticized this draft law and will try to prevent its adoption- Trip Report, December 15-18, 1996, of Leonid Stonov, International Director of UCSJ Human Rights Bureaus Employment Issues for Russian Speakers, including Jews and Other non-Kyrgyz President Akayev's government, on paper, has been strong on defending human rights, promising to respect all citizens' ethnic rights and to support criticism of the government from opposition groups. However, in practice, Akayev's good intentions are facing challenges: a rise in dominance in the government and other sectors of ethnic Kyrgyz and their resentment against the Russian speaking population. Due to a language policy favoring the Kyrgyz, non-Kyrgyz have had trouble finding and holding onto jobs or have been forced out of employment because they can't speak Kyrgyz. Many Jews, Germans, Russians and others have been leaving the country as a result.

Human Rights

While President Akayev's commitment to democratic reform looks relatively strong compared to the rest of Central Asia, many serious problems continue to occur. The major human rights issues existing in Kyrgyzstan are executive domination of the judiciary system, ethnic discrimination, and restriction of freedom of speech and the press. There have also been problems within the electoral process. In 1995, two days before the Presidential elections, an opposition candidate's campaign head was arrested and charged with libel for insulting the president by handing out defamatory leaflets. On December 24, 1995, the date of the first nearly open multi-candidate presidential election in Central Asia, the parliament refused a petition to extend Akayev's term through a referendum. When the parliament declared such a move unconstitutional, Akayev declared that the elections should be held just four months later, even though his term wouldn't expire until October 1996. Some critics assert that Akayev called for early elections so as to guarantee his victory over opposition candidates not given sufficient time to prepare. Of the six opposition candidates, three were disqualified by the Kyrgyz High Court ten days before the elections. The court ruled that because the number of signatures these candidates collected in some regions surpassed the number of eligible voters in that area, the signatures had to have been forged. The following are examples illustrating the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan: The Kyrgyzstan-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ) monitors the violation of mass media rights in the region. The bureau protested the illegal detention of Molodsalidin Ibraimov, a journalist in the Djalal-Abad region in September 1996. Ibraimov published an article in Res Publica critical of the corruption of the regional administration. Several other journalists from the newspaper were interrogated by the Bishkek prosecutor's office and were forced to sign an agreement not to leave the city since they published the critical articles.- Trip Report, December 15-18, 1996, of Leonid Stonov, International Director of UCSJ Bureaus on Human Rights. On February 6, 1997, the Pervomaisky District Court of Bishkek shut down the independent private newspaper Kriminal on the grounds of violations of registration procedures (article 135 of the Civic Procedural Code). The Judge, Maksuda Omorova, made the ruling outside of a court hearing and without the presence of the defendant, Kriminal Chief Editor Beken Nazaraliev, denying him a fair and public trial. Earlier, on January 17, 1997, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Cholponkul Isakov, banned the printing of the second issue of the paper. On January 30, 1997, the interference of the Ministry of Justice in the publication of Kriminal was discussed at the Parliament's hearing held by the Constitutional Legisla- tion Committee together with the Parliament Commission on Mass Media. Members of the Parliament then recommended that the Ministry of Justice withdraw the lawsuit against the newspaper.- Natalya Ablova, Kyrgyzstan-American Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law (UCSJ), February 12, 1997 The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed "grave concern about reports of increasing harassment of the independent press in Kyrgyzstan" in a letter to President Akayev on February 20, 1997. The letter condemned the Ministry of Justice's decision to shut down the newspaper Kriminal, as well as the legal action threatened against the reporter Ryspek Omurzakov for his coverage of the trial of opposition figure Topchubek Turgunaliev. Omurzakov was earlier given a suspended sentence for insulting the president.-OMRI Daily Digest, February 21, 1997 One political case particularly upset local human rights activists. Topchubek Turgunaliev, chairof the Erkin (Freedom) Kyrgyzstan Party and co-founder of the For Deliverance from Poverty Movement, was arrested on December 17, 1996 and charged with embezzlement, following a peaceful public rally he helped organize in Bishkek to demand better living conditions. The arrest also came soon after he had organized a new political movement which had publicly challenged the government's economic policies -OMRI Analytical Brief No. 534, January 28, 1997 and Dr. Leonid Stonov, International Director of UCSJ Human Rights Bureaus Though Turgunaliev was freed on February 25, 1997, after his 10-year prison sentence was turned town by the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan, on March 6, 1997 he was again arrested by law enforcement officials and brought to a remote village in southern Kyrgyzstan. -Natalia Ablova, Kyrgyzstan-American Bureau on Human Rights (UCSJ), March 19, 1997 The Topchubek case also illustrates how, while the government of Kyrgyzstan has publicly recognized the necessity of reforming the legal system, little has actually been done to safeguard the real independence of lawyers and judges. The majority of people in Kyrgyzstan view the judiciary system as arbitrary, unfair and corrupt. In the country's judiciary system, the dominant role is played by the procurator. While the participation of a defense counsel is guaranteed by law at all stages in the process, in practice the interrogation organs (the procurator's offices and the police) have the ability to restrict the accused's access to a lawyer.


While the Jewish community has enjoyed a relative lack of constraints, serious human rights violations continue and non-Kyrgyz Russian speaking populations, including Jews, experience significant resentment form Kyrgyz society. Thus, the situation should continue to be closely monitored.