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S p e k tator №22 September 2013 Your rarely published guide to what’s happening


№22 September 2013

Your rarely published guide to what’s happening in and around Bishkek

Vorkuta: Grim up North Plus: Kyrgyzstan’s roaring 90s, climbing Peak Uchitel, backchat the police, and
Plus: Kyrgyzstan’s roaring 90s, climbing Peak
Uchitel, backchat the police, and much more


The Spektator Magazine

Founder: Tom Wellings

Editor: Tom Wellings (

Staff writers: Ben Rich, Robert Marks, Thomas Olsen, Dennis Keen, Palmer Keen, Holly Myers, Matthew Stowbridge, Jika T, Adeline Bell, Paul Dummett, Patrick Barrow, Dina Tokbaeva, Alice Janvrin, S. Vysotsky, Tom Tweedy

Guest Contributor: Dresden Murphy

Design: Hvare Firouzeh

Want to contribute as a freelance writer? Please contact:

writer? Please contact: This Month News and Views 4 Our resentful editorial,

This Month

News and Views


Our resentful editorial, a bisexual remi- niscence over a passionate affair with a married woman, a moan about queues


Kyrgyzstan and the opposition’s latest

video-taped scandals.


Out & About

City Map


Don’t get lost.

Ala-Archa: Beyond Picnics


Ala-Archa, a 30 minute drive from Bishkek, offers some of the world’s greatest walks.

Grim up North


Our cover article looks at life in Vorkuta, a Russian town north of the Arctic Circle fa- mous for its hostile climate, a gulag mutiny

in 1963, alcoholism and krokodil addiction.

A nice place, then.


Thugs, Drugs and Cattleprods


Kyrgyzstan is not perfect but it has come


long way since 1997 when security

forces were enmeshed in the drug trade, the eternal flame at the great patriotic war memorial was cut due to non-pay- ment of gas bills and prostitutes worked out of the Dostuk Hotel. Oh, wait


On the Box

Dorm: Not Babushka’s Favorite Serial


Emily Canning looks at Obshaga, or Dorm, a socially attuned drama set in a student dormitory in Bishkek.


Spektator Satire


The dictator of some little-known island had a birthday do in Bishkek earlier this summer and Turkmenistan’s president just gave birth to a whale. Remember, none of this is really happening

Book Review

Philip Shiskin’s Restless Valley


Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia is a rip-roaring journey through the modern histories of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan penned by Philip Shishkin. Tom Tweedy reviews it.

The Guide

Restaurants, Bars, Clubs


All the best bars and clubs in town. Some well-known spots have been taken out of this month’s edition with new spots added. Full listings available on the website.

The End

Beating the Boys in Blue


Paul Dummett considers strategies for foreigners looking to evade police shake- downs while out and about in Bishkek.

to evade police shake- downs while out and about in Bishkek. ON THE COVER: Vorkuta -

ON THE COVER: Vorkuta - mighty cold (Sylvain Distin)

ON THE COVER: Vorkuta - mighty cold (Sylvain Distin) The Spektator Magazine is available at locations

The Spektator Magazine is available at locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Ecotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept, Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Coffeehouse, Doka, Fatboy’s, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar, Meri, Navigator, Stary Edgar’s Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Bella Italia (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpinist (Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.

CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society. S p e k tator The
CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society. S p e k tator The


The Spektator is now online at


This Month

Whose Queue is this Anyway?

4 This Month Whose Queue is this Anyway? BISHKEK, September 5, (The Spektator) - Might this

BISHKEK, September 5, (The Spektator) - Might this be a vision of the end of humankind? I asked myself:

shaven-headed heavies managing what remains of the world’s precious resources, an angry mob turning in on itself, shortages of everything except insults, ill-will and violent rage, a Malthusian tipping point, the gateway to undignified extinction? It could have been, but in more tangible terms

it was a queue stretching out of a ski rental shack at the Nowruz ski resort not far from Bishkek, mainly composed of well-to-do city types who had all been possessed by the same inclination to hit the slopes on January 5, the last day of the winter holidays. The shaven headed Slavs were no hell beasts either, but young Russian snowboarders working part-time behind the rental shack desk, loaning out ski boots, skis, poles, helmets and sleds. Yet there was a fright- ful absence of anything available for hire – the gear had all been snapped up earlier the same morn- ing - and now the hapless crew were waiting for it to come back in drips and drabs as they fended off

a frustrated crowd of would-be-skiers. “For the fifth

time we don’t have any size 42 boots. We have just received boots in 31 and 28,” one of them cried in desperation. The winners in such situations are few. But if a victor emerges it is usually a well-built woman with

kids in tow: “well-built” because forcing your way through a throng to claim a scarce resource requires

a level of physical strength that waifs simply cannot

muster, “woman” because doing the same as a man will land you in intensive care, and “with kids in tow” because in angry queue-type situations children can be deployed as tools to manipulate the people you

are pushing past, a kind of retroactive justification for the sins of the parent. Such a woman emerged on that fateful Janu- ary day. With the gusto of a bingo addict whose lucky numbers have just been called, she pushed herself into the shack – quite an achievement con- sidering the volume of people already inside and the size of the shack door relative to her own colos- sal frame – palmed off a burly man like he wasn’t there, and beelined through a scrum of skinnier mums to collapse herself over the front desk and claim the two pairs of boots. She would have to wait for the skis but f*** it, she was halfway there. “Woman you have no shame,” remonstrated

an angry dad, who had wanted the 28s for his daughter but was wedged into a corner of the shack. “Stick your shame,” replied the woman. The gossamer-like social fabric that held the queue concept in place had just been ripped apart at the seams: “I don’t give a shit”.

A lifetime of queues Queues, and in particular, insanely long queues, were

a cornerstone of life in the Soviet Union. This was

the result of a command economy that allocated consumer goods in fits and bursts, suffering regular deficits as well as irrational gluts. In these strange economic times, the lines outside state department stores in Moscow became the stuff of legends.“Hero- ine Mothers” (Mums with nine or more children) and

veterans of World War Two were shuffled to the front

of queues. Less honoured but more resourceful types

could engineer a presence in several queues at the

same time by getting the person in front of them to hold their position as they dashed between lines. The

all conquering currency in a communist queue, how-

ever, was blat - the power of a personal connection.

With blat in mind, a shopkeeper selling some prized ware recently dumped on the Moscow market would often wave a famous local doctor or an “honoured

artist” towards the till, as the mortal rank and file drowned the lucky queue-jumper in silent ire. A former Soviet state, Kyrgyzstan is part of that same queuing culture, although there are signs that the vulnerable sense of order that held Soviet era queues together has more or less unravelled: “Kto posledni?” ( “who is last?”) has become an ongoing joke in Kyrgyz lines for anything from mandatory blood samples to pensions, because you can guar- antee the person who is last will be the last person

to admit it. On a recent trip to the Chinese embassy,

a friend witnessed another large local woman pose

this dreaded question. When no-one replied she said: “Well if none of you know who is last – I am

first!” A German, fearing for his place in the scheme

of things, caught the bug.“I am with an international

organization!” he exclaimed, unaware that this lent him less blat, not more. Impatience, it would seem, is a feature of our modern age. Lawlessness is a feature of modern Kyr- gyzstan. Combined they sound a death knell for an old-fashioned idea: the orderly queue.


a Strip off us

And there it is, the Spektator magazine limps on for the sake of your amusement – a worthy enough cause, we suppose. Our loins have now issued twenty-two sires, not counting the bas- tards, and another summer issue that missed the majority of summer is now ready for your coffee table or the space behind your lavatory, depending on how you view us. Famous peo- ple that have heard of the Spektator include the British Ambassador to Kazakhstan and his wife, American comedy writer Kevin Bleyher and Sary, an eagle hunter from Issyk-Kul province. Because of this, we are not about to develop an inferior- ity complex or a chip on our shoulder any time soon. Honestly Our Valentine’s Day issue certainly caused a stir, mostly due to our guide to Bishkek’s strip bars, which aroused praise and criticism almost in equal measure (criticism slightly outweighed the praise, to be fair). Really, we don’t offer any apologies for this, since after nearly five years in which we have covered everything from banyas and the Basmachi rebellion to snow leopards and Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, you take whatever people offer you. The other day a friend of ours offered to sleep a night in the supposedly haunt- ed National History Museum in Bishkek on our behalf. We promptly pledged to print the article whether she died or not. Email title lines addressing our delve into the seedier side of Kyrgyz tourism included “sex- ist shames” ( to “I used to read the Spektator but” (mollysinstinct@ A couple of disreputable types asked for more of the same, while just wanted better directions to the said institu- tions. Sorry Steve, we would hook you up with the author but he wanted to remain anonymous. Something about him working in international development Anyhow, that was then, this is now. Issue 22 has some cracking reads, even by the high standards the Spektator has tried to set itself over the years. Our main features are on Vorkuta, the ex-gulag-hosting town north of the Russian arctic circle that our intrepid reporter Ben Rich had the fortune of visiting earlier this year, and THAT article about Bishkek in the naughty nine- ties. Alongside these jewels in the crown we have our review of Philip Shishkin’s book Restless Val- ley: Revolution Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, a rant about queues, a romantic reminiscence, a spot of satire, a trek through Ala Archa, advice for avoiding police shakedowns, an updated guide with some of the more obvious places taken out, and posts from our partners (a euphemism for people whose articles we steal and re-print). Finally we would like to thank contractor Dennis Connely, without whose generous gift this episode would not have been possible. Con- nely was pissed as a fart when he parted with his ill-gotten cash and while he may be regretting it now we are mighty grateful he did. After all, we would never expect anyone to give money to the Spektator when sober. Cheers Denny boy!

September 2013 The Spektator

This Month


Purported Extortion Video a Bid to Boost Foreign Investor Confidence?

BISHKEK, August 29 ( - For years industry observers have asserted that environ- mental protests outside the Canadian-run Kum- tor Gold Mine in Kyrgyzstan’s eastern mountains were part of an elaborate shakedown scheme. Now a video has emerged that appears to sub- stantiate this view. Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee on National Security (GKNB) announced the opening of a criminal investigation after the video appeared on state television August 28, purporting to show two men who had previously voiced envi- ronmental concerns demanding $3 million from

a Kumtor representative in exchange for an ap-

parent guarantee not to orchestrate protests. The

video purportedly has a time stamp of July 31. The video’s appearance on state television suggests that central government officials in Bishkek are intent not only on solidifying their hold on power, but want to forge a stronger working relationship with Kumtor’s operators, and, more broadly, boost foreign-investor con- fidence shaken by regular mining-related riots. GKNB representatives declined to address the video’s provenance. Speaking in broken Russian in the video, the two men, identified as Bakhtiar Kurmanov and Er- mek Dzhunushbaev, tell Douglas Grier, Kumtor’s director of sustainable development, that if their demands were not met, the mine would suffer dire consequences. “We will close Kumtor,” one claims. They go on to threaten they are ready to “declare war, there will be a civil war, there will be

a revolution,” if Kumtor does not give them what

they want. The two claim in the video to have the sup- port of nationalist politicians Kamchybek Tashiev and Sadyr Japarov. Those two recently lost their seats in parliament when the Supreme Court found them, along with another Ata-Jurt MP, guilty of attempting to seize power in connection with an October 2012 incident, in which an anti-

Kumtor demonstration erupted into a riot.

In late May of this year, another riot and road- block outside Kumtor -- related to the then-pend- ing case against Tashiev and Japarov -- caused a shutdown at the mine. Disturbances also resulted

in at least 55 injuries before police restored order.

Dzhunushbaev and Kurmanov, the two men appearing in the video, contend it is fake. Adding muscle to their claim, several hundred supporters

blocked the road near the mine overnight on Au- gust 28, local news agencies reported. Through- out August 29 there have been scattered reports

of other attempts to block the road near the mine.

Grier confirmed to that the demands, and the meeting seen in the video, are genuine. In an August 29 statement, Kumtor Operating Company, which is owned by Toronto- listed Centerra Gold, said the company has been “constantly receiving threats of possible road blocks in the event of non-compliance with vari- ous kinds of demands.”The statement added that Kumtor representatives are cooperating with the official investigation. Kumtor executives have regularly com- plained about shakedowns and threats from locals purporting to represent villagers’ en- vironmental concerns. The men in the video,

villagers’ en- vironmental concerns. The men in the video, one Kumtor executive told, had continued

one Kumtor executive told, had continued to threaten the company throughout August. The video scandal follows on the heels of reports that Bishkek and Centerra are close to agreeing on a new operating arrangement af- ter months of wrangling. Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev said on August 22 that the two sides had agreed to operate Kumtor through a joint venture, and that he hoped to submit the deal for parliamentary approval in September. Centerra announced on August 23 that, un- der the terms of the proposal, the state-run Kyr- gyzaltyn gold company “would exchange its 32.7 percent equity interest in Centerra for an interest of equivalent value in a joint venture company that would own the Kumtor project.” Company representatives went on to stress that “while Centerra believes that progress has been made in those discussions, no final agreement has yet been reached.” As news of progress trickled out this month, many industry insiders expected that opposition leaders would again use environmental concerns and local protests in an attempt to thwart the deal – and undermine the fragile ruling coalition – when parliament convened next month. In this context, the video is such a boon to the government that some are calling it a blatant setup:“This is PR to discredit these guys … so that the protests that were planned for autumn will be discredited. These guys fell for the bait,” said Turat Akimov, editor of Dengi i Vlast (“Money and Power”), a magazine in Bishkek.

Kumtor is Kyrgyzstan’s most significant eco- nomic asset. In a good year, it accounts for about 12 percent of the country’s GDP. Authorities in Bishkek have been engaged in a tussle for con- trol over the mine all year, claiming that the pre- vious operating deal, signed in 2009, was invalid because it was negotiated with former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown the fol- lowing year amid widespread corruption allega- tions. Opposition figures such as Tashiev and Jap- arov had latched onto the Kumtor negotiations in what many observers felt was a populist attempt to discredit the government using unsubstanti- ated claims of environmental damage caused by mining operations. Raising environmental con- cerns has traditionally been an effective way to mobilize protesters in Kyrgyzstan. While almost no one doubts the mine has a detrimental environmental impact, several re- cent, independent audits have determined that the company’s operations are not breaking any Kyrgyz or European regulations. Some industry observers contend the video exposes a problem related to good governance. Orozbek Duisheev, chairman of the Association of Miners and Geologists, said the video shows that Kyrgyzstan’s mining industry operates in a state of “anarchy.” He continued that the government, with its “absence of clear policy,” isn’t addressing problems. “These men are just looking to benefit them- selves,” Duisheev told, adding that the video undermines the regular environmental charges leveled against Kumtor.

Kyrgyz Opposition Summoned Over Video

BISHKEK, September 3, (RFE/RL) - Several opposition leaders have been summoned to Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) following the broadcast of a controversial video on state television. The chairman of the opposition Akyikat (Truth) party, Alikbek Jekshenkulov, told RFE/RL that the opposition leaders must appear at the UKMK on the afternoon of September 3 after their names were men- tioned in the video, which was aired by the

main state television channel the previous evening. In the video, youth activist Erlanbek Omu- raliev claims knowledge of an alleged plot in which opposition politicians planned to poi- son the Naryn River and blame the Kumtor gold-mining corporation for the contamina- tion. He says they also planned to recruit activists of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic group to incite mass antigovernment pro- tests.

September 2013

The Spektator


This Month

From the Heart: A Bishkek Affair

I It was never hard to strike up a conversation with Kyrgyz taxi drivers. I heard about life in the Red Army, discussed revolutions, and on a slow day listened to the driver talk about how his kids were studying English and wanted to see Amer-

ica. One day a friend and I got into a random taxi and started chatting with the driver when he cava- lierly told us about the two women he had outside his marriage. My only outward response was “oh wow” while on the inside I thought about how we would probably not be so open about such a thing to strangers in America. But in Kyrgyzstan, I’ve been told, it is common for men, whether they are Kyrgyz, Russian, or Uzbek, to have mistresses on the side, some considered second wives while others merely lovers. I thought to myself I would never do some- thing like that while I was in a relationship. I would stay faithful to my boyfriend in America, and no mat- ter how randy I was I would never cheat on him or be involved with someone who is cheating on his or her spouse or significant other. How wrong I was. Without fail three questions seemed to almost always come up in conversation in Kyrgyzstan. First:

“Where are you from?”Second:“What are you doing here?” Third: “Do you have a girlfriend or wife?” As a young man it would not have been advisable to say that I had a boyfriend, so I would just say no to the last question, which would be followed by an inter- rogation about why I did not. I would say I had not found the right girl, or some other lie. A common view in Kyrgyzstan, it seems, is that if you aren’t mar- ried before you’re thirty there is either something wrong with you or you aren’t trying hard enough. Regardless of the prodding of strangers and the views of Kyrgyz society, I quietly maintained my long distance relationship. Well, for a while at least. In ret- rospect it seemed doomed from the start, but I didn’t realize this until several months of living abroad. By May the relationship was over in my heart, but con- tinuing officially. Whether it was carnal temptation or the desire to get drunk and dance, I went to Bishkek’s only gay club for a night of what I assumed would be like most spent there, absent of come-ons, free drinks, and sensual dancing with random strangers. The night went generally as expected but something different happened this time. A woman came up to me and started dancing with me. She was beau- tiful and clearly drunk. I found out later that she only danced when drunk. We danced and spoke in Russian, prompting her to ask where I was from, to which I replied America. The night went on and we moved from the dance floor to the entryway couch where we chatted and kissed. It grew from gentle and sweet to passionate and sensual. I had not felt this in some time. We stayed until the music stopped and the club closed. I walked with her until our ways home parted and we shared a final kiss. I then reflect- ed alone on the one thing that she had told me in the club. She was married. Her husband had cheated on her, and she was done with him, although he was not done with her. I thought to myself how we were both in relationships, hers more serious than mine, that we were both done with. I wasn’t sure if I would see her again. I didn’t know if I could handle it. I saw her once more to help her with a paper in English, and afterwards we walked and talked about life and our relationships. Whether it was this conversation or a sense of guilt

that made me break up with my boyfriend before my return home is still a bit unclear. Maybe a week or two had passed before I saw her again on a whim. We strolled through Panfilov Park and sat down to eat when a woman with a bird came up to us. She was a fortuneteller. I didn’t know what the fortune- teller told her until recently. The fortune teller told the woman that she was in a relationship but she wasn’t happy. This was true. She told her that she liked someone else. When she questioned the for- tuneteller about who this other person was she re- plied: “The man sitting with you.” I was oblivious to all of this since my Russian was and still is poor. It was later on in the day and in some park when we finally kissed again. It seemed like I could kiss her lips for eternity. I didn’t care if she was married, I would be the other man, all we wanted was to enjoy our time together and that was all. As mentioned before it is not uncommon for men in Kyrgyzstan to have one or more mistresses, but for a woman to have another man is neither common nor acceptable. As she would put it later to me, a husband can go out and have an affair and the wife is still expected to cook and clean for this a**hole - it is the wife’s job to make the marriage work. When she finally made it clear that she was getting a divorce there was little sympathy for her. It was her fault that the marriage failed, it didn’t matter that he had cheated first and that he was a jerk, it was still her fault. Her husband would later be told about me, by her I believe. This led to crazy behavior and a fantasy to murder us for a time, but the Kyrgyz police force had already desensitized me to empty threats. Our friends knew that we were seeing each other as well, but we always insisted that we were keeping things light and fun. Our friends seemed to know us better than we knew ourselves, though. Friends would tell me that they could tell by the way we looked at each other that we cared more than we would dare say. I remember one night on the shore of Issyk-Kul tell- ing her I was afraid of getting too close. I had been in love before and there was no greater hurt for me then knowing it would end. I didn’t tell her my other fear that I had gained from painful experience that

I would love her and she would not love me in the

same way. Weeks had passed and we had grown closer, thanks to time spent together, and our common interests in Nirvana, Quentin Tarantino movies, sha- manism and Winston cigarettes. But like all things

our time together had come to an end. In a rever- sal of roles for me it would be her to actually leave the country first. We saw each other one final time.

I cried more than I had in a long time. I was left in

the place where I had unexpectedly fallen in love, surrounded by small reminders of her and a feeling of sadness that lingered with me for months. The random taxi driver may have had his mistresses, but could he possibly have felt as attached to them the way I did to her? It has been over a year now since we parted ways. We still talk about life, less about Nirvana and Tarantino. She is now living the life she wants to lead; she still has my shirt unwashed that she liked so much, and we still hold a beautiful place for each other in our hearts. To this day I still love her, and while we may never meet in Bishkek again, I know one day we will see each other again. Anon

Kyrgyzstan in Brief

BISHKEK, September 4, (OSCE) - On 4 Sep- tember 2013 the OSCE Centre in Bishkek provided Kyrgyzstan’s Defence Ministry with an obstacle course for training anti-terrorism unit officers and donated equipment for mountain patrolling in Osh, Southern Kyrgyzstan. Practical obstacle training will be provided for members of the ‘Ilbirs’ (‘Snow Leopards’) Special Forces brigade. The course aims to improve par- ticipants’ ability to quickly and effectively respond to terrorist groups active in mountainous regions and will include instruction in running, climbing, jumping, crawling, swimming, and balancing. The donated equipment will be used for conducting mountain patrolling and anti-terrorism operations exercises. “The Ilbirs are the first responders to any cross- border incursions from armed groups in Southern Kyrgyzstan,” said Ross Brown, Head of the Politico- Military Unit at the OSCE Centre in Bishkek. “Train- ing and supporting them is crucial in assisting Kyrgyzstan to effectively combat transnational terrorism threats.” The installation of the obstacle course and the donation of equipment are part of the OSCE Cen- tre in Bishkek`s ongoing efforts to support Kyrgyz government in combatting terrorism. -

BISHKEK, September 6, ( - The Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs has moved to prevent Russia’s nationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovky from conducting official business in the Central Asian state. An official at the ministry stressed that Zhirinovsky’s status was different from that of “persona non-grata”, and that while Zhirinovsky will be considered an “undesirable” he will not be officially prevented from entering the country. Parliament’s original resolution to declare him “persona non-grata” came after Zhirinovsky sug- gested Kyrgyzstan hand Lake Issyk-Kul over to Rus- sia in exchange for debt forgiveness. The sugges- tion provoked an angry reaction in the republic.

BISHKEK, September 6, (Global Voices) - The story of a 15-year-old boy called Temirbek Isaku- nov, who died in the eastern part of Kyrgyzstan after contracting the plague caused weeks of ex- cited news coverage both inside and outside Kyr- gyzstan. But with the tragic case proving isolated, people in the Central Asian republic are now call- ing for much-needed perspective. According to sanitary experts at the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health there is no chance of an epidem- ic, even among the marmots that carry the disease and reportedly infected the boy. Kyrgyz policymakers have now refused to comment further on the plague case and MPs have told their colleagues to stop bringing up the topic. A number of Russian media outlets have come under fire for sensationalizing the story with titles such as “Russia May be Threatened by Bu- bonic Plague from Kyrgyzstan” (Russia Today) and “Kyrgyzstan is Threatened by a Bubonic Plague Epidemic” ( State TV channel Russia 1 was perhaps the worse offender, using the news piece to slander shelf-stacking migrants from Cen- tral Asia.

September 2013 The Spektator



Molodaya Gvardia

Molodaya Gvardia

Jibek Jolu







Manas ave.



Manas ave.

Manas ave.




T. Abdymomunov






Togolok Moldo


Michael Frunze










Lva Tolstogo








Michael Frunze












A. Usenbaeva

Toktogula Moskov

Lva Tolstogo







Nor th



September 2013

The Spektator


Out & About

8 Out & About Ala-Archa: Beyond Picnics Ala-Archa is a lovely place, but it’s best appreciated




Ala-Archa is a lovely place, but it’s best appreciated away from the drunken- picnic-crowd who populate the lower slopes. Theo Wait offers two suggestions for weekend hikes that showcase the best of what the famous national park has to offer.

Top The second bridge. To avoid a tricky river crossing, we recommend staying on the west bank of the river from this point onwards - the main path eventually crosses back onto the west side, and navigation is easy (All pho- tos Tom Hanson)


T HE GROWING NUMBERS of foreigners working and studying in the Kyrgyz capi- tal is surely testament to the attractions of the Bishkek lifestyle. Some foreigners de- light in living in a melting pot of ancient

cultures where East meets West in a riotous spice- infused collision of modernity and tradition. Oth- ers revel in the magical effect of becoming fifteen years younger, three stone lighter, and able to spout bigotry and misogyny in this fair land of unshackled liberty where political correctness is nothing but a geologist’s bad dream. Furthermore, there is fantas- tic mountain scenery practically on your doorstep. Anyone who has spent more than an hour in Bishkek has heard of the Ala-Archa national park, and this is not without good reason, for the region is not only spectacularly beautiful but also offers some of the best climbing and hiking opportunities to be found anywhere in the world. At only thirty kil- ometres away from the centre of Bishkek, and with

easy to follow trails, it is also unnecessary to enlist the expensive services of a tour company or guide. With even mediocre negotiation skills you should be able to get a taxi driver to take you to the red- roofed Alplager Hotel for 1000 som plus park entry

– but more of that in the grey box to come. For now,

I present two suggestions for weekend hikes that could also be combined into a three or four night adventure if your busy work schedule allows.

To The End of Ala-Archa Valley This hike is an excellent idea for the feeble-lunged who wish to better acclimatise before heading up to higher altitudes, but also serves as an enjoy- able and leisurely overnight trek in itself. Start at the car park in front of the Alplager Hotel (2200m) and march boldly onwards down the tarmacked

lane that weaves between thickets of pine trees and (during summer weekends) drunken picnick- ers, discarded bottles of beer, empty packets of

cigarettes, etc. After about a kilometre and a half the road ends and the woodland opens out onto

a wide boulder-strewn clearing where the Ak-

Sai tributary on your left joins with the Ala Archa River, churning its way through the valley from the south. Cross the tributary, which is shallow and

calm at this point, and keep to the left of the Ala -Archa River along the obvious path. Once upon

a time Soviet off-road trucks used to drive up this

track all the way to the top of the valley, but look- ing at its present condition, this now seems an un- likely proposition. After a kilometre’s walk the path rises up an incline to a copse of trees – here you

need to find the small path to the right which will lead you down a steep bank and across a make- shift wooden bridge to the west bank of the river. The main track continues on the east bank for a short while but soon dips through the river and joins you on the other side. From here, you should find no problems in following the trail onwards. About five kilometres down the trail there is

a second, even more makeshift bridge across the

river (2550m) – incidentally there are some level ar- eas here and the site makes quite a nice camping area. The main path crosses the bridge and contin-

ues on the east bank, however we have found that this route requires the crossing of a further tributary (with no bridge) which during rainy periods can be rather wild. Therefore we recommend ignoring the bridge and continuing down the west bank where a less obvious but easily navigable trail will allow you

to avoid getting your feet wet. After a couple of kilo-

meters it is possible to rejoin the established path as

it crosses back to the west bank once more.

September 2013 The Spektator

Out & About

Out & About 9 Continuing up the trail you will come to an abandoned weather station

Continuing up the trail you will come to an abandoned weather station (2800m) on a level and grassy plain providing a practical if eerie camp- site, an incongruous collection of semi-obliterated meteorological equipment creaking nearby in the wind. The crumbling weather station building can provide some shelter in emergencies, but the piles of rubbish, human waste and goat skulls lend it an insalubrious air. From here the trail leads more steeply upwards and to the right, into a field of scree and rocks, and past a half buried Soviet bulldozer (3000m) which has seen better days. Finally, at the head of the valley is a cauldron of peaks and gla- ciers, one of which was home to a ski station (now disused) where the Soviets trained their ski teams. Like most things up here these days the old ski lift is being ground into dust by the elements, and in grey weather and a cold wind it is hard not to detect something melancholic in the rarified air. On the descent it is up to you to decide which camp site is best, but whereever you decide to pitch, we recom- mend drinking vodka and telling ghost stories.

Pik uchitel: The Teacher Peak Pik Uchitel (4520m) is a non-technical climb which can be attempted as a two-day hike by anyone with good fitness. However, at four and a half thousand metres high the mountain should not be underes- timated: altitude can take its toll, a clear blue sky can quickly turn an ominous shade of grey, and if you break your leg on a boulder on the way down, you’re screwed. With this in mind it is wise to go in a small group, and dress appropriately. Crampons are not necessary, but a pair of sturdy boots is a must, and walking poles can be very helpful. The easiest time to attempt an ascent is between May and early October.

The Summit!
The Summit!

Day one: From the car park, walk towards the Alplager hotel (2200m) and take the marked trail to Ratsek (3300m) which veers left off the tarmacked lane and into the trees. A series of serpentines winds up to a meadow (2550m) which affords great views of the Ala-Archa Valley. From here, continue along the obvious trail, past the waterfall (2800m) up into the high reaches of the valley, keeping the river to your right, and the cliffs to your left. The hike can be tough and can occasionally involve some scram- bling but in good conditions it should take no longer than five hours with a decent sized rucksack. Ratsek hut is open all year round and is staffed by a warden. You can pitch a tent for free nearby or pay around 1000 som (foreigner rate) for a bunk space. Basic meals can be bought in the ‘bar’ for 15 USD, or a full board of breakfast lunch and dinner for 35 USD, but it is best not to rely on this. Day two: Allow five hours up and three hours down in good conditions. From the hut carry on a further 100m into the valley until you see a huge boulder (pictured above). A trail leads up a scree slope, past some sport climbing pitches on the left and eventually up to a gentle ridge. Follow the ridge up to the right, negotiating three rocky outcrops, and on a clear day you should see the summit of Uchitel ahead to your right. The ridge eventually in- tersects two peaks at about 4350m - a rockier one to the left, and Uchitel to the right. Follow the ridge to the right, avoiding the cornice of snow and admiring the views of Bishkek and the Kazakh steppe. One last slog of about 150 metres height gain, and you will make the summit - the Ak-Sai Glacier winds beneath you, the Ratsek camp glimmers in the sunlight (if you are lucky), and even the red roof of the Alplager Ho- tel can be picked out from amongst the trees, more

than two kilometres below.

out from amongst the trees, more than two kilometres below. Top Left The view from the

Top Left The view from the upper slopes of Pik Uchitel, looking towards the Ak-Sai Gla- cier and Pik Boks

Top Right Uchitel route: From the Ratsek hut walk 100m further into the valley and hit the Uchitel trail which heads left at the large boulder

Getting There

Transport: Getting to Ala-Archa by marshrutka bus is basically a pain in the arse, and a taxi is definitely worth the extra expense. Expect to pay in the region of 1000 som (21 USD) for a one way taxi, plus 80 som per person and 250 som for a car for entry to the park itself. You need to explain to your taxi driver that you want to go all the way to the Alplager Hotel (it has a distinctive red roof), which is a further 12km down the road from the park gates. The carpark at the front of the hotel is the start point for both these hikes. If you are unable to organise a taxi to pick you up, the Alplager can organise one for you for 1500 som per car. Alternatively it is often possible to hitchhike back to Bishkek - sometimes even for free. Navigation: A decent hiking map of the region can be bought from the Geoid map shop on Ki- evskaya 107 (at the back of the DHL building), Tel. (0312) 61 38 69. Equipment: Sandals are great for river crossings. Other gear can be hired from the friendly Trek- king Union of Kyrgyzstan located at 168 Kievs- kaya (Turusbekova intersection), Tel: (0312) 90 91 15, email:

September 2013

The Spektator


Out & About

10 Out & About BEN RICH Grim Up North After a recent trip to Russia’s arctic





After a recent trip to Russia’s arctic north, Ben Rich provides an antidote to the Kyrgyz summer heat with tales of love, tragedy, and drugs in a cold climate.

Top left Vorkuta street scene (All photos Ben Rich)

Top right The matinee performance of The Hangover 3 proved unpopular at the Vorkuta Odeon

I LOOKED OUT OF THE WINDOW of my hotel room on the fifth floor. The scene below was not an inviting one; a windswept central square overlooked on the far side by Soviet-era apart- ment buildings. Sullen looking people wrapped up in thick winter coats and fur hats waited at

a bus stop in silence. Pedestrians walked briskly,

buffeted by a wind that blew off the tundra and whistled along the city’s thoroughfares finding its way onto any exposed skin, up sleeves and down

collars. In the distance across the low rise cityscape

a factory smokestack emitted a black smear across

the light blue sky. It was a forbeboding scene, even brutal, as uninviting as anywhere I had ever been. The genesis of my unlikely visit could be traced back twenty-five years. In my teens I had a map

of the Soviet Union on my bedroom wall. A black

line running out of Moscow depicted a railway line

heading north east. The railway line went on past the point where the towns stopped, past the point where the roads ended, and finally terminated

at a city marked Vorkuta. An island in the tundra,

hundreds of miles from anywhere. Of all the places marked on the map this was the one that fasci- nated me the most. The map was eventually taken down and put away, and the city all but forgotten about until many years later when I was walking the streets of Moscow, walking off a severe hango- ver. My brain felt as though it was dribbling out of my ears and I hated myself for such self inflicted abuse. I was looking for a place to escape to, escape myself as much as anything. I headed to Moscow’s Yaroslavskaya station looking for a ride out of the city. Looking up at the departure board I saw in illuminated yellow letters the name ‘Vorkuta’. A childhood memory returned like a long lost friend and on a whim I bought a ticket for the evening’s departure.

It was no surprise of course that the city looked so foreboding - it was not made for the benefit of the inhabitants, but rather for the state.Vorkuta and the cities my train had passed on the journey north were built for one reason; to be exploited by the toil of prisoners. Beneath the hard soil of the north lies the full breadth of Mendeleev’s table. Prisons and infrastructure were built for the sole purpose of ex- ploiting the minerals that lay beneath them. Before the 1930s when construction on the railway began there was nothing in the area except the native Komi people following the migration paths of the reindeer. When Soviet geologists found huge coal reserves on the upper reaches of the river Vorkuta central planners deemed it as a place to build the first camps of a sprawling archipelago that would come to be known under the acronym GULAG.

Train in Vain Train number 42 left Moscow and spent the next forty hours rolling north past halts and stations whose names are synonymous with the camps: Pe- chora, Inta, Ukhta, Vorkuta. The path for the railway was hacked out of the forest by prisoners torn from diverse locations across the empire and for per- ceived crimes as equally diverse. Dumped in the area often in the middle of winter and with no real clothing or shelter to protect them from the harsh- est of climates thousand died where they worked, leading the prisoners to dub the route ‘The Rail- way Of Bones’. As the train trundles north wood- en crosses of those who died guide the way. My wagon was full of miners heading north for stints below ground. Tough men from tough towns such as Tambov and Nizhnhy Tagil. With alcohol prohib- ited in the mining camps they use the journey as a final chance to drink their share for a month. On the first evening of the journey and with the in-

September 2013 The Spektator

Out & About

Out & About 11 evitable drunkenness getting out of hand the local police had boarded the

evitable drunkenness getting out of hand the local police had boarded the train in Yaroslavl and deliv- ered a choice to the miners: turn in for the night or be given a free tour of the town in the back of their wagon. Nobody was foolish enough to accept the offer. On the second day of the journey the forest be- came thinner and the villages poorer. The train was a lifeline to these communities in the forest and was for some the only connection to the wider world they had. It also brought problems, however. One village we passed had a large painted sign advertis- ing that it was a ‘village without narcotics’. It made you wonder what happened in the other villages. The further north we pushed the further the tem- perature dropped. At Pechora it was minus twenty centigrade, at Inta minus twenty-five, and when eventually we rolled into Vorkuta on the third day of the trip the thermometer showed minus thirty. Stepping out of the wagon at our destination was akin to walking into a large freezer. It was physi- cally painful to breathe. Vorkutan taxi drivers on the platform however touted for customers with bare heads and hands. My kupe companion, a lo- cal businessman who was returning from a skiing holiday in Andorra promised me I would get used to it, eventually. Gazing out of my window on that first morn- ing in the city it seemed inconceivable that I would ever acclimatise. The temperature was a balmy mi- nus twenty-four centigrade but opening my win- dow, even briefly, reminded me of how ill adjusted and poorly prepared I was for such weather. With no plan of coming this far north until an hour be- fore departure I had with me clothes suitable for a Moscow spring - temperatures around zero but not much below. But by now I could no longer supress my instinct to explore.

Should I stay or Should I Go The wind struck me viciously as I exited the building and headed along icy streets towards the centre of town. It takes you a while to get your sea legs in the winter. Whist locals walked along pavements with confident steps I slipped, skidded and contorted my body into different shapes, trying to keep my balance and avoid the ignominy of a fall on the ice. Russia isn’t a place where you expect a hand back up. If you go down, however hard, you will usually receive nothing more than looks of contempt. The only contact I had in the city was my carriage companion from the train ride. Sergei had spent the

‘On hearing the news the prison- ers at Pit 14 downed tools in sup- port, then Pit 16 did likewise, and then further out at Pit 29. The first mass protest since the 1921 Kron- standt mutiny had begun’

majority of the journey checking his phone for a sig- nal and then frantically texting as soon as one briefly became available near a town. I called him and ar- ranged to meet in a city centre café. We sat at a table and he leaned in consiprationally, “Ben, have you ever been married?” he asked as the unsmiling wait- ress brought us our coffees. “Then maybe you will understand me. I have been married for eight years but recently I have been seeing a girl.”He showed me a photo on his phone of himself and an attractive brunette sitting together in a restaurant. “This girl is nothing like my Sveta, doesn’t take care of me like she does, doesn’t even look as good but something about her drives me crazy. Can you understand this?”


The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn’s master work, is surely the most famous of first hand accounts of life inside the Gulag. It describes a vast canvas of camps, prisons, transit centres and secret police, of informers and spies and in- terrogators and also of heroism - a Stalinist anti- world at the heart of the Soviet Union. Likewise, Solzhenitsyn’s novella A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich is a definitive meditation on the in- mate’s struggle for human dignity, the outrage of unjust punishment and the importance of hope. A World Apart by Gustav Herling is a much less well known work, but one that Bertrand Rus- sell described as the most impressive account of life in the Soviet camps that he had read. In spite of this testimony from one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th Century, the book is little known outside Herling’s native Poland. Finally, Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A Histo- ry that has been recognised as a landmark work of 20th century history offers the first fully docu- mented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the broader history of the Soviet Union.

It was a common topic of conversation in a country where people usually married young and then had years to regret having done so.

I attempted to steer Sergei towards other top- ics, of life in the far north. “It’s not as bad as people think it is. Polar bears don’t walk the streets, you have seen that we have electricity. I don’t know. At times

I want to leave but then when I visit Moscow or St.

Petersburg I realise that I never could. It’s good here

if you have money.” Quite how Sergei made money

he did not say, however I could not help but notice that he’d arrived at the café in a new imported 4x4 and he had just been skiing in Europe, things that were beyond the reach of most Russians living in the provinces. Sergei’s phone beeped, it was his mistress Irina, he had to go. “What can I do?” he said spread-

ing his hands. “You know how it is.” And I did.

White Riot Stretching around the city of Vorkuta over the tun- dra is a road that was built to link the numerous prison camps of the region. On this frozen river ba- sin a Soviet holocaust took place. I hailed a cab and negotiated a fare to Pit 29. It is a name we should all know. On July 19, 1953, something happened that caught the camp administration and local NKVD officers completely off guard. The wheel at Pit 7 stopped turning. The prisoners and guards in nearby camps who noticed this were confused. The wheels never stopped, plans had to be fulfilled. Ru- mours began. Then coal trains were seen returning from Pit 7, empty. Soon news was smuggled out of the camp. Pit 7 was on strike. On hearing the news the prisoners at Pit 14 downed tools in support, then Pit 16 did likewise, and then further out at Pit 29. The first mass protest since the 1921 Kronstandt mutiny was underway.

mass protest since the 1921 Kronstandt mutiny was underway. w w w . t h e
mass protest since the 1921 Kronstandt mutiny was underway. w w w . t h e

September 2013

The Spektator


Out & About

Left Vorkuta in it’s Stalin era days

Opposite page right Lenin wears his overcoat to ward off the north arctic chill

Lenin wears his overcoat to ward off the north arctic chill The wheels stopped turning and
Lenin wears his overcoat to ward off the north arctic chill The wheels stopped turning and

The wheels stopped turning and 15,000 slave workers had spoken. Stunned at the unimaginable challenge to their authority the camp administra- tion were unsure how to proceed. The prison- ers had varied demands throughout the striking camps but focused on two main points: the reduc- tion of sentences and a normalisation of condi- tions. They were asking for humanity. We drove over the featureless tundra until an abandoned pit wheel came into view a half a kilo- metre off the road. With it being March it was im- possible to get to, the snow would be waist deep in the region until June. Vladimir, who had come from Odessa to work the mines and later moved into the taxi business to supplement a meagre pension, handed me his fur hat. I tried to find a path of shal- low snow that would allow me to approach the pit but I sank in up to my thighs as soon as I stepped off the road. Through the windscreen I could see Vladimir giving me an ‘I told you so’ look. The aban- doned camps of Vorkuta are not a place to walk blind, surrounded as they are by prisoner cemeter- ies and communal graves - you don’t know what buried secrets you might be stepping on. Moscow was informed of the strike immediate- ly. The government sent a commission headed by the formidable General Derevianko (the same gen- eral who, along with General Douglas McArthur, accepted the surrender of the Japanese in 1945) with the aim of getting the prisoners to return to the pits. On the fifth day of the strike and with the prisoners holding firm, the authorities offered a se- ries of concessions: bars were to be removed from camp windows, number patches could be removed from jackets, prisoners were not to be locked in their huts at night, prisoners could now write to their families once a month instead of once a year, and with permission of the camp commander fam- ily members would be allowed an annual visit. The notice was taken around the camps by messenger and the prisoners immediately set about ripping

by messenger and the prisoners immediately set about ripping number patches off their work gear and

number patches off their work gear and hacking bars off the windows of their huts. However the message from the authorities remained firm: pris- oners had to work. As the intimidation was stepped up over the weeks the mines succumbed one by one, prisoners returned to work and the pit wheels began turn- ing. Eventually only one pit held out - Pit 29, the remains of which I could see in the distance. The prisoners held firm in the face of coercion, bribery and threats, refusing orders from camp authorities to call off the strike. After weeks of stalemate the NKVD was ordered to act. They surrounded Pit 29 with troops and tanks delivering a final ultimatum and leaving the striking prisoners in no doubt as to what would await them should they refuse. Still they stood firm. The following day the tanks en- tered the camp, crashing through the main gates. In front of them stood the prisoners, arms linked and singing. One by one they fell under the volley of small and heavy arms fire. When it was over the dead lay on the ground, arms still linked to their comrades. The bodies were thrown into a commu- nal grave that had been dug outside the perimeter fence in anticipation of the massacre. It would be another ten years until the barbed wire and watch- towers were finally taken down and the last of the prisoners freed. I wanted to feel something, some deep stirring of visceral emotion but images of those fearless victims were not forthcoming.

Lost In The Supermarket We drove on to Vorgashor, a half abandoned town battered by polar winds. I entered the central shop- ping centre which is a grandiose name for what was a dusty hall in a semi-disused building lined with glass kiosks. There was a power cut which meant people walked the dark alleyways shop- ping by the light of their mobile phones. I entered a cafe and ate a slice of stale cake watching the few remaining citizens of the town hurrying between

buildings clutching their hats and collars close to them. There were no men on the streets, all of them below ground hacking at the rock face that gave the town its reason for being. I entered an- other building looking to purchase a pair of sturdy

boots. Two middle aged women running a kiosk that sold imitation sports clothing ushered me in, seemingly happy for the distraction of talking to an outsider. Business didn’t seem good; I was the only customer in the shopping centre. Ludmila and Lilia were both married to miners and had opened the shop together to support their husbands’ wages and, I suspected, each other. I could not imagine what else there was to do in the town to keep themselves occupied. “So tell us about your travels in Russia,” Lud- mila, a native of Kazan, asked me as she retrieved

a large chocolate cake form under the counter. I

recounted my recent trip to the North Caucasus as she cut the cake into large slices.“The people there

are good,” she offered. “We have many Dagestanis

in the city, they came here for work in the mines

and never left. Honest types.” It was the first time I had heard a Russian have something positive to say about people from the south, but in a city where most people were from somewhere else there was seemingly less of a ‘them and us’ attitude. “So are you married?” Lilia asked. It was the

question I was asked most often in Russia, usu- ally by middle aged women looking to match make. Being late 30s and unmarried perplexed most who asked. “Well if you return we will find you a wife, you must have seen how beautiful the

women of the north are.” What I had noticed was how few young people there seemed to be, eve- ryone seemed to be in the latter years of middle age. I asked if they had children. “I have a son and

a daughter but they live in Moscow. They left for

university and never returned. They visit but after a day or two they become restless and want to leave”

Ludmila said. I wasn’t surprised. The town was half-

September 2013 The Spektator

Out & About

Out & About 13 derelict and seemed to offer nothing in the way of entertainment. For

derelict and seemed to offer nothing in the way of entertainment. For people used to the bright lights of Moscow, such as Lilia’s children, it must have been particularly hard to readjust to. I walked the streets of Vorgashor.The skies were blue and clear but the cold was unlike anything I had experienced before. I was wearing as many layers as I had brought north but still the cold pen- etrated. The streets were lined by half-empty apart- ment buildings that were built in a curved shape so as to allow the Arctic winds to roll off them. None had balconies, such things being an unnecessary luxury in a city where temperatures only peaked above zero for two months of the year. These north- ern towns were expensive for Moscow to run and hence in the late 1990s a programme of relocation was begun, helping people who wished to leave move south. Russia’s wealth lies in oil and gas, ren- dering coal mining towns so far north uneconomi- cal. Most of the mines in the area had been closed. Moscow would dearly like to close the rest, but as there is no other work in the region this would lead to a host of social problems that the centre could do without. As with most such schemes in the post- Soviet world, however, emigration subsidies dried up and people who did not get out in the first wave remain stranded in bleak half-empty towns such as Vorgashor, no more able to leave now than the original habitants of the pit towns. Beaten by the elements I caught a minibus back to the city on which the passengers had hands ingrained with coal dust from a life spent below ground.

Junkie Slip That night I found myself in a run down apart- ment building on the edge of the city standing on

a dimly-lit landing that stank of urine. I was drunk.

A guy I had met earlier in the evening had gone to

speak to a dealer he knew that cooked up krokodil in his mother’s kitchen. Krokodil is a cheap heroin

substitute that was ravaging the disenfranchised

of Russia’s provincial cities. Simple to make with over the counter medicines it had become popular first in cities along the Kazakh border where ad- dicts were looking for cheaper alternatives to Cen- tral Asian heroin. Inevitably, however, the recipe spread along railway lines and backroads to other towns. I was interested in taking a glimpse into that world. Thу world of krokodil, however, is one rife with danger. You don’t find krokodil dealers

‘A guy I had met earlier in the evening had gone to speak to a dealer he knew that cooked up krokodile in his mother’s kitchen’

and addicts in city centre restaurants or hotel bars, you find them in vicious night clubs and poor sub- urban housing estates like the one I was standing in. I would meet Nikita earlier in the evening at a club in the suburbs called‘Penguin’. The title was an ironic joke since we were high up in the Arctic, as far from penguins as one could be. Vorkutans were propagaters of irony - the other club in the city was called ‘Tropicana’ and the main supermarket was called ‘Flamingo’. A kind of gallows humour. The taxi driver who took me to the club warned me to be careful. It was good advice, the club was seemingly full of types I would usually do my best to avoid - addicts, thugs and whores. I got talking to the barman and asked over the deep thud of the bass if anyone dealt the drug in the club. He point- ed out a guy in a nylon Adidas tracksuit who was sitting alone in the corner smoking a cigarette. I walked across the half empty dance floor past ano- rexic looking girls with bruised legs and explained what I wanted to see and photograph. He knew someone but was suspicious of my interest. Two light green notes from my wallet were offered and

his suspicions evaporated. To seal the deal we or- dered shots of Absinthe warmed up with a lighter.

I was then handed a straw and instructed to inhale

the fumes. It was a stupid thing to do. By the time we had reached the suburban apartment building where the cook lived I was far drunker than I should have been in such unfamil- iar surroundings. We took the lift to the third floor where I waited by the radiator whilst Nikita went to see the cook and ask if I could enter and photo- graph him at work, or rather to ask how many more

light green notes I needed to provide in order to do so. On the landing above I heard two male voic- es. One of the voices descended and asked me in

an unfriendly manner if I had a cigarette for him.

I didn’t, and he stood there looking at me longer

than was necessary before going back upstairs and talking to another voice in hushed tones. Nikita returned with a bottle of beer and said we would have to wait. The cook was out on a delivery but would be back. Then everything went into slow motion. The lift door opened on the floor below and suddenly they were on us. One guy, young and powerfully built, ran up from the lift past me and smashed his fist into Nikita’s face, the young fixer’s skull bouncing off a green-painted wall before his body sank into an unconscious slump against it. I stood there too drunk to register fully what I had just seen. Another guy, the one who had asked for the cigarette, ran down the stairs from the upper landing and grabbed me, strangely I thought I saw fear in his eyes. We fell down the stairs together and landed on the cement floor below followed by the other guy. Punches and kicks rained down on me but I felt nothing at all. I had never been attacked on my travels before and all I could think as I was being kicked was that I hoped my face would not be hit. I smiled inwardly at my vanity. There was no fear, just a strange acceptance of what was hap- pening. Eventually they prized my camera bag out of my hands, the punches and kicks ceased and my

attackers ran down the stairs and out of the build- ing into the night. I was in no fit state to give chase.

I stood up and realised that somehow I was com-

pletely unmarked. Nikita staggered down clutch- ing the bottle of beer in one hand and his jaw in the other. He sat down next to me, took a swig and passed me the bottle. “Do I still get paid?” he asked.

London Calling

I stood on the platform with the other passengers

who were leaving the north and returning to the ‘mainland’ as the inhabitants of the city described

the region where the road begins. Sergei arrived

at the railway station to say goodbye. His wife and

a small child he had not mentioned to me earlier

stayed in the warmth of the car. “Irina and me, it’s over, Ben.” He was upset but trying not to show it. “I made my choice long ago and I should accept it,”he said, nodding in the direction of his family. “That’s

it for me and women. From now on I’ll be a good

husband.”He handed me a bottle of vodka.“Drink it

in London and remember us.” An attractive blonde

girl in a short skirt and large suitcase boarded my wagon. His eyes followed her up the steps. “I wish

I was coming with you,” he said distantly before turning and walking back along the platform to

the choice he made long ago.

back along the platform to the choice he made long ago. Ben Rich is a freelance

Ben Rich is a freelance writer whose blog can be found at

September 2013

The Spektator



14 Focus DRESDEN MURPHY T h u g s Drugs & Cattleprods What were you doing






What were you doing in 1997? Dresden Murphy’s answer to this question is by no means run-of-the-mill.

Above, Right and Next Page Thankfully Kyr- gyzstan’s KGB was unable to confiscate all of Dresden’s footage (all photos stills taken from original video footage)

I TRAVELLED TO KYRGYSTAN three times in 1997 as a journalist. But there is no official re- cord that I ever set foot on Kyrgyz soil. Each time the plane from Moscow touched down a Mercedes would pull up to the stairway and my travel companions and I would leave

through the back gate of Manas airport without so much as a flash of our passports.

I would depart for Moscow in the same fash-

ion, except on the last occasion when I had no

choice but to go to departures at the airport. I will come back to how that worked out later. The idea of going to Kyrgyzstan came from Igor, a former KGB officer I was introduced to in a casino in Moscow. He had bit of a roulette prob- lem and a bit of a drink problem but had a repu- tation among some of the expat correspondents for being able to get them into tricky places and, more importantly, back out. He was a fixer.

I was a crime correspondent and had just

completed a documentary about the infamous Moscow OMON riot police that had proved a hit for the German TV station I worked for. It had bad cops, prostitutes, mafia and gratuitous violence, the right ingredients for German primetime. Igor was offering the opportunity to spend a week or two filming the Kyrgyz Ministry of Interi-

or’s Anti-Narcotic Division in their valiant struggle against the drug lords in the south of the country. While I liked the idea it was well-documented who was winning the struggle, so apart from the filming being potentially dangerous there was the real prospect of spending two weeks patrol- ling the mountains south of Osh and coming back empty handed.

I told Igor I was interested but we would need

a Plan B in case the drug story didn’t work out.

I told him we had a deal if he could guarantee

me filming access to a women’s prison. As far as

I knew nobody had filmed inside one in Kyrgyz-

stan and felt sure that German viewers (read: voy- eurs) would take to something of that ilk even if nothing special happened during filming. Igor said he had a friend in Bishkek with whom he had gone to KGB school, who would be critical to us getting access. Five minutes later he got off the phone with his friend and told me that

he could guarantee the full cooperation of the Anti-Narcotics Unit, access to the female prison-

ers’ colony outside Bishkek and was confident he could organize a beauty competition in the pris- on for us to ensure we got good pictures. Igor and I consummated the deal over what was to be the first of many bottles of vodka we would share together. We agreed to fly to Bishkek the following week to hammer out details with his friend and then return later to do the filming. Bishkek in 1997 was waking from its Soviet slumber to a new nightmare of lawlessness and poverty. We stayed in the Dostuk Hotel which was as grim then as it is now. Prostitutes haunted the hallways with their pimps and the bar on the sec- ond floor featured a striptease with graduates of the Bishkek Ballet School who had fallen on hard times. The war memorial across the road commem- orating the Great Motherland War was symbolic of the economic decay that blighted the country.

The eternal flame had long since petered out as the gas was cut due to non-payment. All of the brass lettering ingrained in the granite had been torn out by scavengers to be sold as scrap metal to the Chinese. Most of Bishkek’s manhole covers had been swiped for the same purpose. On the first evening of our reconnaissance trip Igor and I wandered over to the casino across the road to meet his contact to discuss our itiner- ary for the next two weeks. We chugged down a couple of complementary drinks while waiting and Igor tried his luck at roulette. At the pontoon table next to us a punter wearing a traditional Kyrgyz hat began shouting at the croupier that the casino was cheating him. He pounded the table with his fists and threated

to kill him unless he got his money back. Two security guards quickly appeared from behind him, one of the burly pair producing an electric cattle prod from under his jacket that he proceeded to zap the protesting client with. The unhappy gambler roared in chorus with the sound of thousands of volts coursing through his body before falling to the ground in what looked like an epileptic fit. Hardly anybody threw the man a glance as the security guards placed his hat on his stom- ach, grabbed a leg each and then dragged him towards the main entrance before turfing him out into the dark.

September 2013 The Spektator


Focus 15 Igor’s friend, who I will refer to as Kaarman- bek, turned up shortly afterwards

Igor’s friend, who I will refer to as Kaarman- bek, turned up shortly afterwards wearing a sharp suit and carrying the air of someone accus- tomed to commanding respect. They embraced before we all retired to a private room to discuss the filming over a bottle of vodka and plates of appetizers. He was clear from the outset that the anti- narcotics unit was underfunded, badly trained and up against an adversary with far better re- sources. But he was adamant that two weeks in Osh and in the mountains south of the city would involve raids, arrests and drugs. To test how good his contacts were I asked him to let me know if a murder took place in Bish- kek within the next 48 hours, so that he could take me to the scene of the crime and let me in- terview the murderer if they were apprehended. He said it would be no problem, took out a police radio from his bag and barked some orders into it. He then filled our glasses and said with a macabre smile: “Now we wait for somebody to die.” Two hours later a uniformed policeman came to the room and whispered to Kaarmanbek who then turned to us and told us there had been a murder on the other side of Bishkek. A man had been killed and then robbed in a drunken dispute with a friend who had been apprehended shortly afterwards lying unconscious in a park with a mi- crowave, a record player and a bag of jewelry laid out beside him. We headed over to the crime scene in a cop car with the siren on and blue lights flashing at my request. It was a miserable picture. The wife of the deceased was kneeling by his side sobbing and the kitchen knife that had been used to kill him was still protruding from his chest. Empty vodka bottles lay strewn on the floor of the kitchen along with pools of blood. The culprit was being held in solitary confine- ment at a nearby police station, which we were invited to visit. When we arrived we were told he was still passed out but we were welcome to look in on him. We were taken down to cells located in a narrow damp corridor of the basement. The stink of piss and sweat only added to the sense of desolation.

When we stood outside his cell I moved for- ward to peer through the Judas hole, not notic- ing there was no glass in it. Kaarmanbek grabbed my arm and pulled me back. He explained one had to be careful as it was not unknown for pris- oners to wait until a guard looked through the hole and then stick a pencil or some other sharp object into their eye. A guard unlocked the door wide enough for us to see through the darkness that a man was lying on a wooden platform in the corner of the cell. He shouted at him to stand up but the man

‘He then filled our glasses and said with a macabre smile: “Now we wait for somebody to die”

could only manage to get on his knees. He then asked him why he had killed his friend. He replied that he couldn’t remember do- ing it and then curled up in a fetal position, mum- bling to himself. I was told he would probably get 15 years but would have difficulty surviving the term without the help of his relatives. Poor nutri- tion, disease and corrupt guards would take their toll long before the sentence was served. Kaarmanbek then turned to me and asked rather sinisterly if there was anything else I would like him to organize. If not, when could he expect me back to start filming? A month later I came back with Igor, a cam- eraman and a sound man. It was the same routine as before; when the plane landed all the passen- gers were told to remain in their seats while my team and I were told to disembark first. Below the stairs the black Mercedes with an Interior Minis- try number plate waited to whisk us away via the back exit. We spent two weeks filming in Osh and in the surrounding mountains with the anti-narcot- ics unit. We had access to the prison and pretrial detention center where we could film convicted drug smugglers. On patrol or at checkpoints we managed to uncover small bags of opium hidden in people’s clothing or in their luggage. We even got one guy who came by foot over the moun- tains carrying two kilos of opium. I was told he was probably a decoy to distract law enforce-

ment from a bigger operation – a few crumbs to make the cops look like they were doing their job. None of it would make good viewing. There were plenty of offers to ‘set something up and make it look real’ but I wasn’t interested. I had come to the conclusion that in the game of cat and mouse between the drug barons and the police it was the drug barons who were the cats with big claws. On our last day in the mountains we were filming at a routine checkpoint. To pass the time I had asked permission to be the one who decided which vehicles we stopped. A Kamaz truck came into view towing another one with Tajik number plates and I told the cop standing beside me with the Kalashnikov to pull them over. The usual perfunctory search began. The dog handler and his dog circled the truck while the driver had his documents checked. Altogether there were about ten cops at the check point along with Kaarmanbek, Igor and my film crew. Hardly any of the cops took any notice of the search as they smoked and exchanged jokes. But then suddenly the dog handler became animated as his dog began pulling at his leash, sniffing feverishly beneath the driver’s cab. Soon it was whining and it had caught all of our atten- tion. The driver began to look decidedly uncom- fortable. That’s when the bad cop/bad cop routine of interrogation began. Two cops began shouting at the driver and poking their fingers in his chest while pointing to the cab. The cop in charge of the operation decided to have the trucks driven to a local police station as he felt we were too exposed on the mountain top. Once there a guy with a wire hanger and an- other with a hammer began probing and thump- ing to see if they could find a false compartment. Five minutes later 17 kilograms of black tar opi- um lay in plastic bags on the ground. The driver looked terrified as he was handcuffed and man- handled into a car. We filmed everything, even getting an inter- view with the driver who claimed he had run into financial difficulties in Tajikistan and had been forced to smuggle the opium in order to settle a debt of 50 dollars. The opium itself had a street value of $320,000 in Europe before being

itself had a street value of $320,000 in Europe before being w w w . t
itself had a street value of $320,000 in Europe before being w w w . t

September 2013

The Spektator



16 Focus converted into heroin. We drove jubilantly in a convoy back to Osh to get
16 Focus converted into heroin. We drove jubilantly in a convoy back to Osh to get

converted into heroin. We drove jubilantly in a convoy back to Osh to get the driver booked and hand over the drugs. As we entered the warehouse in the back of police headquarters the smell of opium satu- rated the air. The room was about 20 square me- ters and was stacked waist high with confiscated bags of drugs. Within minutes I was beginning

to feel a bit lightheaded and the officer in charge was clearly stoned. Later in the evening as we celebrated our fortuitous day at the Intourist a waiter asked Igor to go meet some men who were waiting at the entrance. When he returned I asked him if there was a problem.

He said that every-

thing was OK but that

it might not be a bad

idea if we headed to the airport earlier than planned the following

morning. On the plane he would tell me that the men who had approached

him had told him that the drugs bust had been

a big mistake and should never have happened.

They said that they had got their drugs back and

if Igor would give them the cassettes they would

pretend nothing had happened. He promised to meet them at 07.00 the next morning with the cassettes. We left for the airport at 06.00. We decided that it was best for us to leave the country straight away and return when we got a signal from Kaarmanbek that there would be no repercussions. A month later we returned to film the wom- en’s prison colony. My German editor had been seduced by the promise of the prison authorities

holding a beauty contest during our visit. Thirty or so women participated with the winner being

a young blonde with a mouth full of gold teeth.

She was serving seven years for murdering her husband. After filming was over I decided to hang out

a few extra days in Bishkek while the rest of the team flew back to Moscow. However, on the day before my departure Kaarmanbek’s father died and he had to go to the funeral in Naryn. His assistant Almaz picked me up at the

funeral in Naryn. His assistant Almaz picked me up at the hotel in an ancient Zhiguli
funeral in Naryn. His assistant Almaz picked me up at the hotel in an ancient Zhiguli

hotel in an ancient Zhiguli with the standard darkened windows. I had a slight sense of fore- boding as we approached the airport and he dropped me at the departure lounge. Checking in was the easy part but when I got

to passport control they told me that I couldn’t leave the country as there was no evidence of me having ever been there. It took a while but

I was able to convince them to let me through

arrivals in order to get an entry stamp and then go back to them. This created a new problem when arrivals asked me which plane I had come in on. When

told them I had flown in from Moscow they replied with astonish-

ment that there was no flight from Moscow that day. It was then that I saw Almaz with his

head sticking out from the curtains hanging over the baggage con- veyor belt. He beckoned me over and we pro- ceeded to walk down the belt to where a small luggage tractor was waiting for us. We mounted the luggage tractor and drove onto the tarmac where I could see my Kyrgyz- stan Airways flight taxiing for takeoff. Almaz urged the tractor driver to head the

plane off but while we drove into its takeoff path

a cop car came hurtling towards us with the

loudspeaker, shouting at us to change course.

The plane, the tractor and the cop car came

to a halt. Hands were shook as is seemingly cus-

tomary even when trying to block the departure of a plane. Almaz explained to the cops that I was a guest of Kaarmanbek who was unable to make it to the airport. The tension lifted immedi-

ately. Backs were slapped, cigarettes were lit and

a stairway appeared for me to board the plane. Almaz accompanied me up and explained to the surprised hostesses that I was an important

guest of the Interior Ministry. The plane was so full that there were about ten people standing

at the back. The man in my seat was ordered to

vacate it. I took his place and flew back to Mos-

cow without there having ever been a record of

my stay in Kyrgyzstan.


‘The wife of the deceased was kneeling by his side sobbing and

the kitchen knife that had been

used to kill him was still protrud-

ing from his chest’

used to kill him was still protrud- ing from his chest’ KyrgyzTimewarp Whilst the Spice Girls


Whilst the Spice Girls were spicing up our lives over in the UK, What was going on in Kyrgyzstan in 1997? Dinamo Bishkek won the Kyrgyz Football

League, the team’s first in a consecutive hatrick of league titles between 1997 and 1999. In an uncertain decade Dinamo changed their name to FC Dinamo-Oil Bishkek, to FC CAG-Dinamo- MVD Bishkek, to FC Erkin Farm Bishkek, to FC Dinamo-Erkin Farm Bishkek, to FC Dinamo- Polyot Bishkek, until they were dissolved in 2003. The team was recently refounded in 2012, reborn as Dinamo MVD Bishkek. The Kumtor gold mine started produc- tion. A year later in 1998 a Kumtor lorry spilled cyanide into the river Barskoon, which caused

a fair ammount of aggro. Nowadays the mine

contributes 10-12% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP but people still aren’t happy with it. In May this year the villages surrounding the mine burst into ri- ots, with a group of restless young men burn- ing a Spec Ops vehicle in a pitch battle with the government. Kumtor is likely to be central to any political controversies in the country for the next few years at least. Apas Jumagalov was Prime-Minister of

Kyrgyzstan. Actually, Apas, a northerner, had

a shot at being the republic’s first president,

but neither him nor southerner Absamat Masaliyev could achieve a majority in the vote, paving the way for Askar Akayev to emerge as a compromise candidate. Jumugalov would take up a plum position at the state energy company KyrgyzNeftGas after his premiership, but he never hit the political heights Akayev did. His- tory, as they say, is a different country. On April 29, Chinese, Kyrgyz and Uzbek del- egations met in Tashkent to talk about a railway link that would connect Andijan, in Uzbekistan to Kashgar, in China. reported that there were problems with the negotiations given that Russia was opposed to the link in principle and a big technical hitch existed re- garding the width of the proposed track. Fast forward sixteen years and little has changed. This project is a slow burner.

September 2013 The Spektator


On the Box







W HILE THE US government cuts fund- ing for research and education in Central Asia, J Lo’s surprise birthday serenade in Turkmenistan reminds us of what Americans truly do best:

entertainment. Although satiating the whims of an appallingly repressive regime is perhaps not the most productive form of exerting influence, enter- tainment does have the capacity to effect social and political change. Thus in Kyrgyzstan, blessed with the region’s least stringent media controls, we can explore the fruits of a productive form of influence:

the new television series Dorm. At first Dorm, or Obshaga in Russian, seems like a typical youth-oriented sitcom. Like the long-running American series Friends, the show centers around three male and three female characters that share intimate friendships and re- lationships. Like the Russian comedy Univer, the protagonists are all college students who share a dormitory. Then the similarities fade, for Ameri- can and Russian sitcoms tend to have clearer boundaries between genres. Friends and Univer are unambiguous comedies with a hefty dose of slapstick and few soul-wrenching soliloquies. Ob- shaga likewise offers genuine hilarity, but before you hit the floor laughing, out pours unexpected pathos. The series unabashedly confronts Kyrgyz- stan’s most pressing social problems. The central issue tackled by Dorm is the ten- sion surrounding nationality. Although the early Soviet period helped entrench aspects of ethnic identity in Central Asia that were previously non- existent, during the majority of its history the state worked to subsume ethnic differences in favor of a shared Soviet citizenship. Since Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991, the narrative pro- moted by its first president Akayev of “Kyrgyzstan – our common home” has become steadily unrav- eled in favor of practices that exclusively promote the titular nation. The breaking point of increas- ing tension in the wake of April 2010 revolution occurred two months later in Osh, where several hundred people were killed largely along ethnic lines. Since this “war” as many in Osh referred to it at the time was perceived of as between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, Dorm promotes an alternative vision for interethnic relations: make love, not war.

vision for interethnic relations: make love, not war. Thus enter our dormitory heroine: a strikingly beautiful

Thus enter our dormitory heroine: a strikingly beautiful Uzbek girl from Osh named Tahmina. The object of her affections? A handsome Kyrgyz lad who in his spare time practices Judo and strums his guitar; that is when he’s not busy saving dam- sels in distress. Yet it’s not just their love story that gets your heart racing. The other characters are equally intriguing. There’s Drei – the cool, rich city boy who has fallen out of his father’s good graces – and bankroll. Drei is the perfect foil to naïve coun- try bumpkin, Azamat, who is constantly falling prey to the shenanigans of his shaardyk (urban) peers. For instance, there is an episode where Drei explains to Azamat that thongs are all the rage in fashion and convinces him to wear one . However, this faux pas does not prevent Tahmina’s sweet Russian roommate, Nadya, from finding Azamat adorable and feeding him borsch. The show tempts tolerance in the same way that all great works of fiction do: through empathy. As we follow the characters through their trials and tribulations as they attend university in Bishkek, we see beyond their labels and relate to them as indi- viduals. As such, I noticed some incredible changes in people’s comments on the website, where you can watch the show’s 25 episodes. At first there were lots of nationalist statements like, “what, you couldn’t find any Kyrgyz girls for this show?” This alludes to the fact that in addition to Tahmina and her Russian roommate Nadya, who are played by Uzbek and Russian actresses respec- tively, the third female roommate (Meerim) is also an Uzbek actress playing the part a Kyrgyz girl. Yet comments like “it’s such a shame what happened to Meerim!” or “Poor Tahmina!” far outnumber the occasional racist troll. The empathy was spreading. In addition to fostering empathy toward those with diverse ethnic backgrounds, the show con- fronts other pressing social issues. From corruption among the police to the bribing of professors, the young characters strive for fairness in a political system that is weighted against them. Yet corrup- tion is an uncontroversial problem compared to the much heavier issues that arise. For instance, it seems like no soap opera would be complete with- out a surprise pregnancy—and viewers will not be disappointed there. But the fact that sex happens in the dorms of Bishkek—before marriage—is not

at all sugarcoated. There is desire. There is danger. Characters change; they become disillusioned. But not all hope is lost. One hopeful sign for the future is the show’s linguistic medium of choice. Seeing each charac- ter as an individual rather than as an ethnic ste- reotype is abetted by the fact that they speak in Russian – a more politically neutral choice given the region’s diversity. Yet the show’s characters still pepper their Russian with words and phrases from their mother tongue. Azamat switches languages most often; he is first introduced rambling in Kyr- gyz about how he lost his only T-shirt while getting mugged just moments after arriving in Bishkek. An even more startling language choice oc- curs in the opening scene of the first episode: a conversation between Tahmina and her mother is shot entirely in Uzbek. Although Russian subtitles are included in such instances, the show’s humor will be especially appreciated by those who speak Russian and Kyrgyz. Azamat valiantly speaks in Russian even though his accent betrays his rural origins, while Nadya speaks softly to Azamat’s mother in Kyrgyz. The characters put forth the ef- fort to speak in each other’s languages, and this symbolic choice demonstrates a level of mutual respect that makes a world of difference. At the end of the show when the credits roll, the seal of the US Department of State presents a telling sign. It appears that the American embassy in Bishkek lent some assistance toward getting this show off the ground. While I lament the cuts to programs that assist Central Asia and even more so the use of funds for destructive rather than con- structive purposes, this time I applaud American assistance. The local creators of this show are hip and worldly. They are able see their compatriots not as Kyrgyz, Uzbek, or Russian, but as fellow Kyr- gyzstanis. They understand the most serious prob- lems of the day, but are frustrated by a political system that excludes their generation. This is how they can reach out to their peers—through doing the hard work of getting people to swallow sensi- tive issues by wrapping it in a savory coat of senti- mentality. Surrender to Obshaga’s charms, and you

won’t regret it.

to Obshaga ’s charms, and you won’t regret it. Post originally appeared on 9/7/13 September

Post originally appeared on 9/7/13

September 2013 The Spektator




Left Burly Baz managed to keep his clothes on this time
Left Burly Baz managed to keep his clothes on this time

Left Burly Baz managed to keep his clothes on this time round - just

Right Corgi No. 526 is rumored to have a hidden 20% stake in British Telecom

BISHKEK, August 12, (The Spektator) – Back in June, hordes of migrant workers from the water- locked autocracy of Nether Brittle descended on unsuspecting staff at Bishkek’s Motel H to celebrate the birthday of their iron-fisted dictator, Lizzie Piz- zie. The June 5 bash is the main annual gathering for the Brittleish, a fractious, clannish expat community who come to Kyrgyzstan in search of apartments they can afford to rent and women they could never find at home. As the congregated toasted Lizzie Pizzie’s health, led by their informal leader, a large, raucous cardiovascular miracle called Red-faced-Reg, a Kyr- gyz official from the Ministry of Emergency Situa- tions was on hand to provide a diplomatic veneer to proceedings. Noting that Kyrgyzstan and Nether Brittle were going through a period of strained rela- tions due to the latter’s refusal to extradite known Kyrgyz terrorist Max Bax, Janybek Profanov re- minded the Brittleish that Buckfast, a cheap fortified wine popular in Nether Brittle’s Autonomous Tribal Regions was still illegal in Kyrgyzstan, and that any- thing made out of glass was strictly prohibited at Brittleish gatherings. “We continue to hope in vain that you will f*** off and stop trying to marry our females, but if you must stay, then at least try not to kill each other like last year,” said Profanov, who promptly left the event.

“Getting Rat-Arsed”

The nominal reason for Brittleish celebrations on June 5 is the “official” birthday of Lizzie Pizzie, their authoritarian ruler, who has maintained a vice-like grip over the island for more than six de- cades, changing Prime-Ministers as often as she changes her infamous handbags. Human Rights organizations such as Freedom For Something (FFS) have accused Lizzie Pizzie of ignoring for- mal political institutions and ruling through her Corgis, an elite, unelected group of canines who are said to control whole swathes of the stagnant Brittleish economy. This situation has fostered a common Brittleish complaint that “the country is

going to the dogs.” Like her counterparts in Zim- babwe and North Korea, Pizzie has several birth- days, a ploy designed to keep people from know- ing how old she actually is. But really, June 5 is “just an excuse to get rat- arsed,” explained Red-faced-Reg, who assumed the mantle of leading the Brittleish community in Kyr- gyzstan when he won a shouting competition with his rival Burly Baz that lasted for “five f***ing days and five f***ing nights”. Reg later explained to con- fused local journalists that “rat-arsed” was Brittleish slang for drunk, and did not imply shoving rodents up anyone’s rectum. He added that the Waleish, a clan that lives on a particularly rainy, agrarian out- crop of Nether Brittle, sometimes experiments with sheep, but that on the whole the Brittleish popula- tion copulated in the same manner the rest of the world does. Brittleish drinking excesses in Kyrgyzstan may be explained by the totalitarian nature of the regime back home. By decree of Lizzie Pizzie, smoking has been banned in public places on the island while drinking houses close before midnight. CCTV sur-

veillance - introduced under the guise of prevent- ing crime - is ubiquitous even in far- flung villages, and bride kidnapping has been illegal for centuries. On June 6 officials in the Kyrgyz Health Ministry were pleased to announce that there had only been one hospitalization at the Motel H knees-up, com- pared to last year’s six. Clansmen of Red-faced-Reg and Burley Baz reportedly clashed violently over the party’s last can of Guinness, another popular drink on the island that some Brittleish believe has mysti- cal qualities. While Lizzie Pizzie continues to harbour crim- inal elements from the former Soviet Union, the gracious republic of Kyrgyzstan will continue to refuse aid to Nether Brittle, confirmed a Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry spokesman. Yet there are no plans to reintroduce visa requirements for Brittle- ish nationals living in Kyrgyzstan. “So far we don’t judge the Brittleish to be a security threat,” said Kanybek Kanyladov, a colonel in Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Interior. “In fact, if this community is a threat to anybody, then it is only a threat to itself,”

he told journalists on June 6.

only a threat to itself,” he told journalists on June 6. Turkmen President Gives Birth to

Turkmen President Gives Birth to a Whale

ASHGABAT, August 6, (The Spektator) - Not wishing to be outshined by the recent fishing ex- ploits of President Putin of Russia and President Lukashenko of Belarus, Gurbanguly B, leader of Turkmenistan, has spawned a 25 metre whale, Turkmen TV reported on August 4. Both the whale and its father are said to be completely delirious. The whale birth will represent a huge PR coup for the dictator of the isolated Central Asian state, forever living in the shadow of “Turkmenbashy”, the country’s previous ruler, whose sperm created the universe back in 1992. “This whale birth is just the first of many miracles we expect from our beloved ruler,” said Porky, the world’s first flying pig, who also plies his trade in Turkmenistan.

Russia’s ambassador to Turkmenistan ,Sergei Mozgov, congratulated Gurbanguly B on “an inconceivable feat”, but cautioned against the “one-upmanship” that is strain- ing ties between leaders in the former Soviet Union. “This first started when Vladimir Putin drove to Siberia in a Volga. Now his Central Asian counterparts are lapping the cosmos on bicycles and winning wrestling bouts with seven ton dinosaurs. Even megalomania must be realistic,” Mozgov warned. Turkmenistan’s only official opposition party, the Gurbanguly B Fan Club, promptly announced it would be changing its name to “Whale” in honour of the event. “We are so glad that a succession plan has been established,” a spokesman said earnestly on August 4.

September 2013 The Spektator


Book Review

22 Book Review A Restless Read This month Thomas Tweedy reviews Philip Shishkin’s Restless Valley: Revolution,




This month Thomas Tweedy reviews Philip Shishkin’s Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia, pub- lished in May by Yale University Press.


G OOD BOOKS on Central Asia tend to come around with about the same frequency as Ded Moroz, so when we heard about the buzz surround- ing Philip Shishkin’s debut Restless

Valley: Revolution, Murder, and In- trigue in the Heart of Central Asia, we quickly succumbed to the instant, one click gratifica- tion of the Kindle purchase and devoured it greedily over the course of a few days. To say Shishkin’s title has added to the well-disguised canon of English-language reading material on the region is an understatement: Restless Valley is a breathless, relentlessly informative journey through post-Soviet malaise and machinations,

a testimony to the author’s journalistic due dili-

gence and a worthy addition to the Central Asia geek’s mini mini-library. Restless Valley centres on two states, Kyr- gyzstan and Uzbekistan, both of which Shish- kin covered regularly as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. While the two republics

share a Soviet history, a “stan” suffix and a “rest- less” geographic lowland – the Fergana Valley

– they pursued very different paths following

the breakup of the Union. Shishkin traces these

separate post-independence trajectories via

a series of gripping chapters that address key

events in both countries, making allowance for an insightful, whistle-stop tour of the Central Asian heroin trail as he goes. Shishkin is not alone in seizing on Kyrgyz- stan and Uzbekistan as subjects for a book. American professor and erstwhile Spektator interviewee Scott Radnitz also chose the two countries as case studies for his excellent 2011 release Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Re-

gimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia. But as the title of the latter book would suggest, Radnitz’s work is academic in its aims, while the journalistic style

of Shishkin’s book makes Restless Valley more broadly acces- sible to non-scholars and those unfamiliar with the Central Asian region’s dynamics.

Despite their dif- ferent approaches, both Radnitz and Shishkin identify key distinctions between the highly authoritarian Uzbekistan and the cha- otic, would-be-democracy of Kyrgyzstan. For Radnitz, Kyrgyzstan’s patronage-based plural- ism is its undoing, a structural phenomenon enabled by first President Askar Akayev’s po- litical reforms, and something both the former physicist and his successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev found impossible to reverse when marginal- ized politicians began mobilizing large crowds against their rule. The regime nurtured by Uz- bekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, in contrast, nips opposition in the bud. If Kyrgyzstan’s 2010 Osh ethnic violence was the result of a melee of actors stirring the pot in a power vacuum, then Karimov’s calling card, the 2005 massa- cre in Andijan, was a brutal show of force by a government determined to squeeze all signs of political life out of its citizenry. Shishkin addresses both of these tragedies – seminal moments in the young lives of the two republics - with the meticulousness and insight one would expect of a regional correspondent, but for those already familiar with the anatomy of these events chapters like the “The Rise and Fall of the Grey Cardinal” may prove more com- pelling. This particular chapter reflects on the complex existence and gory death of Medet Sadyrkulov, a former Chief of Staff to both Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was found incinerated in the remains of a Lexus after fall- ing foul of the Bakiyev regime in 2009. The life of the apparatchik, who received a severed ear in the post after going into opposition, remains

“a dramatic thread through modern Kyrgyz his-

tory” according to Shishkin. Proud, self-regard- ing and Machiavellian, Sadyrkulov’s webs of

intrigue were legendary, embodying a political culture where ideology counts for little and al- legiances shift at frightening speeds. While the assassination was already the subject of a “po- litical novella” written by an oppositionist during the Bakiyev era, Shishkin’s talent is in examining the stories behind the Sadyrkulov story – he in- terviews his daughter, his school friends, and an investigative journalist that worked with the for- mer Chief of Staff. Another character that leaps from the pages of Restless Valley is Eugene Gourevitch,

a Jewish émigré from the Soviet Union-turned

international investment mastermind, who made a rare old nest egg for himself in Kyr-

gyzstan during the financial chicanery of the Maxim Bakiyev days. When protesters pitched

a banner outside the White House on April 7

reading “Dirty Jews and those like Maxim Ba- kiyev have no place in Kyrgyzstan”, they were

referring to men like Gourevitch and Maxim’s

other Jewish business partner, Mikhail Nadal. Gourevitch’s story

challenges belief. He

went from being a regular financial inter- mediary in New York to Maxim Bakiyev’s most trusted econom-

ic advisor, overseeing

a series of dubious

transactions which at any one time might involve London-based shell companies, tax re-

funds swindled from the Italian treasury, and, nearly always, an obscure financial institution

in Kyrgyzstan called Asia Universal Bank.

But Gourevitch’s fortunes turned on April 7 as frustrations with the kleptocratic Bakiyev

regime reached boiling point. Shortly after

a coup which left over eighty people dead,

Gourevitch was smuggled delirious with fever across the Kazakh border by a pair of murky Chechen brokers who charged him the best part of half a million dollars for their “services”. After Maxim helped him escape Kazakhstan on a Belarus-bound chartered flight contain- ing other Bakiyevs, Gourevitch repaid his for- mer patron by “flipping” and becoming an FBI informant. Eventually he helped the American government build a case against Bakiyev for insider trading on Wall Street, conveniently brought up as Kyrgyzstan reaffirmed its inten- tions to get rid of Washington’s air base in the country. Shishkin notes in his introduction to Rest- less Valley that such plots could be “straight out of a thriller”, and it is indeed a conundrum as to why Central Asia has not spawned a fic- tional detective along the lines of Alexander McCall-Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, who solves mysteries in Botswana, or Inspector Chen, Qiu Xiaolong’s Shanghai-based protagonist. Per- haps the reason for this literary anomaly is that for all its textbook villains and heinous crimes, the region is yet to put forward a conceivable,

incorruptible hero to uncover them.

‘Sadyrkulov’s webs of intrigue were legendary, embodying a political culture where ideology counts for little and allegiances shift at frightening speeds’

counts for little and allegiances shift at frightening speeds’ September 2013 The Spektator

September 2013 The Spektator


Bars and Restaurants

As the Spektatior is still dusting the cobwebs off its shoulders and rubbing the sleep from its eyes

after its year-long enforced hibernation, the guide

is yet to get up to full speed. In the meantime, this

abridged guide should keep you going until spring. Be aware that NEW may mean new to the guide, rather than the capital As ever, there’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions are marked with a star *

Price Guide (main course, garnish, beer)

$ - Expect change from 300 som

$$ - In the region of 300-500 som

$$$ - Expect to pay more than 500


Hollywood* (Druzhba/Sovietskaya) As you would probably guess, decorated with movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu- lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few drinks before heading off to the clubs. $

Metro* (133, Chui)

In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro

remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the hideously late kickoff times for Champions League football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up unless it’s a big one. $$$

Smokie’s (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina) Bishkek’s first and only traditional American barbecue restaurant serves pit-smoked spicy beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, lamb legs and chicken quarters. Well worth the trek out to Or-

to-Sai market in the cooler half of the city. Enjoy

a range of cocktails and spirits, too. $$


Landau (Manas/Gorky) Fancy something a little different? If you can tol- erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme- nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$


China Town NEW (Orozbekov/Toktogul) Open since last December, this joint is the real deal - two metre terracota warriors even feature in the decor. Pricier than the other Bishkek Chinese spots but overwhelmingly better. Go for the spin- ach and mushroom side, fried chicken with garlic and Chinese dumplings. $$$

Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui) With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you are

getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in. Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although delicious, may leave delicate stomachs in some distress several hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a suitable alternative. $$

Frunze (Chui/Pravda) Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, just point to something tasty-looking on a neighbouring table like we did. $$

European / International

12 Chimneys (TeplIkluchy village) Wooden cabin located by a rushing stream thirty minutes out of town. The overpriced food is more than compensated for by the chilled atmosphere and wild surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available. Head south on Almatinskaya and keep go- ing. $$$

Barashka (Tokombaeva 78) Sister restaurant of Tubeiteka but more lamb-fo- cussed and with a pretty water feature that adds a measure of calm to outdoor dining. Barashek is out in the micro regions so you get a dose of fresh air free with your mutton rack. $$$

Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova) Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter we recommend ‘Datski Schnaffer’. $$$

Buddha Bar* (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva) Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$

Cave NEW (Gorkova, close to Sovietskaya) Wow. To be honest we aren’t sure what the food is like here - we spent most of the evening supping mulled wine and gazing at the hundreds of wooden cranes poetically suspended from the ceiling. The wine is decent, but the latter are revolutionary by Bishkek’s base artistic standards. $$

Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova) Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and cakes Bishkek has to offer at one of three ‘Coffee Houses’; cosy boutique cafés with a European fla- vour. Curl up and read a book, or just drop in for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$

Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im- pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $

Dragon’s Den * (Shevchenko/Frunze) Bishkek’s English pub comes complete with English barfly regulars, English publican, and English pub quiz (wednesdays at 8pm). Kyrgyz weather allows for a summer terrace. Both English and regional dishes, and a well stocked bar. $$

Fab Bar* (338a, Frunze) One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer- time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum- terrace high above the street with slouch-couches and fine views of the circus - which you can some- times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$

Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great place to splash out on a special occasion or just for the hell of it. $$$

Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im- pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $

Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great place to splash out on a special occasion or just for the hell of it. $$$

Foyer (27, Erkindik) Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening cocktail or check your inbox with

a cup of coffee. Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$

GlavPivTrest* (Asenbai region, next to City Club) We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play here and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia hanging on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance outside the bogs and you can get Spektator favourite Ven- skoye on tap. Good beer snacks and the burgers aren’t bad either. Nice for a ‘theme’ night out. $$

Griffon (Microregion 7)

A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting

central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. Minibuses 195 and 110 take you right past it as you head out to the mountains. $$$

Guiness Pub* (338 Frunze,opposite the circus) You can get a Guinness here, when it isn’t held up at the border with Kazakhstan, and the other beers are decent too. We haven’t ordered, but our Irish chums say the nosh is grand and the themed nights have made it a key fixture on a Friday even- ing. Starts to fill up around 8ish. $$$

Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda) Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the Champions league at three in the morning. $$$

September 2013 The Spektator

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs


Pinta Pub* (Lenin/Manas) Pinta Pub is a bright green lighthouse for the Spekta- tor on a hot day. With a host of well-kept ales on tap, the best grub here is pub grub with any pork or lamb dish recommended. $$

Pivnoff* NEW (Karalayeva/Koibogarova)

A lovely little ale garden in the 4th micro-district

which one of our readers stumble on while trying to find Orto-Sai market. Good pub food and a range of brews on draught, surrounded by other interesting-

looking cafes too. $$

Johnny Pub * NEW (Toktogul/Orozbaeva)

A buzzing centrally-located cafe popular with a

mostly younger clientele, Jonny Pub is a good place to load up on onion rings and fresh beer be- fore moving on to a hukka pipe filled with absinthe later in the evening. Last time we checked, the pub

had a resident cat, but since this creature seems to rub some customers up the wrong way by touting

for scraps


Rosso NEW (Shopokova/Ivanitsova)

Rosso means “red” in Italian, and this bistro’s decor

is likely to make you feel like you’ve stepped inside

an artery. Once swamped in blood-coloured vel- vet, however, you can order some tasty fried moz- zarella cheese balls and a half-decent goulash. A bland alfredo pasta and the feckless waiting staff are drawbacks, but given Rosso has only opened recently it is probably worth a shot. $$$

Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova)

The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con- ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base-

ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection

of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s

an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés.

A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro-

mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$

Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena)

Don your beer drinking trousers and head down

to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They

brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. $$$


Mimino (Kievskaya Shopokova) Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steaming, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds a-plenty. $$$


The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt)

A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian

food make this place a real treat. On midweek days there are also several excellent business lunch deals offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for 250- 350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator favourite! $$$


Adriatico (219, Chui) Reportedly suffering following the departure of

its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told

that the soup is still excellent. $$$

Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev) Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, moved homes and started serving a practically identical range of dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typical Ital- ian numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 soms. Recommendations? Tortellini PPF or anything with mushrooms. Where does he get them from? $$

Cyclone (136, Chui) Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient, polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to alle- viate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$

Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva) Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serving excellent, good value pizza. Also serves salads and Eu- ropean cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime dining, but be warned, it fills up on weekends. $$


Aoyama (93, Toktogula) Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals. The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to- gether enough soms. $$$

Beliaist NEW (Moskovskaya/Turuzbekova) Watch your meat and vegetables fried in front of you on an oval metal pan attached to your table. Limited menu but a very cool experience. $$

Egao NEW (Chui 140) Egao is an intimate Japanese affair on Bishkek’s main drag and with only two tables inside we won- der how it breaks even. But the chef is Japanese, some of the Kyrgyz waiting staff there speak Japa- nese and the ramen is very tasty to the Spektator’s untrained tongue. Order a meal and get an Arpa for 60 soms. $$

Fusion (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova) Takeout is free on orders over 450 soms (0312 510 707). Teriaki chicken, Miso soup, sushi rolls and pork in ginger sauce are all well worth a phone call. $$


Kyung Bok Kung NEW (30, Chui), Vostok 5) Family-run and extremely popular among a small circle of ex-pats, who begged us not to put it in here for fear of ruining ‘the secret’ - sorry guys, the game is up. A seat at the doll’s house table is a strictly shoeless experience and can be awkward for the long-legged. $$

Chong Gi Won (115, Chui), Vostok 5 Across the street from Kyung Bok Kung, our resident Korean tells us this place isn’t bad either. $$


L’Azzurro (105, Ibraimova) This is a delight, albeit a pricy one. If the plan is to stick to Levantine treats then L’Azzurro has the full range, but we recommend dabbling in the fish as well. The grilled trout, in particular, is a winner. A good place to take large parties. $$$

Beirut NEW (Sovietskaya/Mederova) Relocation has made Beirut more accessible to Bishkek’s ‘southerners’ without affecting the quality of the grub. Similar to L’Azzurro in both price and mezze, but service a tad shoddier. $$$

Regional/Central Asian

Bukhara NEW (Shopokova 126, behind circus) Bukhara’s menu overflows with the best Uzbek cuisine has to offer but also boasts a plethora of tasty salads, making it a magnet for both the gourmand and the grease-lover. The Bukhara salad, Kazanski kebab and Dim-la-ma get the Spektator’s full endorsement. $$

Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im- pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $

Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that they have often run out by supper-time. Save an appetite and go early. Slightly more upmarket sister restauraunt on Mederova/Tynastanova. $

Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut rot) in the centre of town. Probably at its best in sum- mer, when the shashlyk masters flanking the entrance offer their creations straight to guests sitting at East- ern-style tables – cross your legs and see how long before cramp sets in. $

Sauporo (Kok-Jar Village)

A veritable Kyrgyz disneyland. Manas greets you at a

dung-scented entrance, old men catch their supper

in a lake and waitresses in national dress bring out

things like beshbarmak po-Talaski. Not kosher. $$$

Tubeiteika (Moskovskaya/Turusbekova) Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with nods to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the Chinese chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$


Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kiev, 107) Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your tea in a giant samovar. $$$

Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya) Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups and fresh salads. $$ Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) Zaporyzhia is a cossack flavoured restauraunt in

a varnish-scented log cabin. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is rec- ommended! $$$


Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’. $

Usta (Opposite the main mosque, Moscow street) Probably the best of the lot, with the ‘Usta Kebab’ perhaps unsurprisingly the standout dish on the menu. $$

Yusa (Logvinenko/Bokonbayeva) The lavash is outstanding here, as are the range of sauces that compliment a wide array of vegetable and meat dishes. $$

September 2013

The Spektator


The End






The city militsia have gotten a lot better since Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ejected from power, but they still have their mo- ments. The Spektator’s crime and punish- ment correspondent Paul Dummett runs through a list of a strategies to help our readers resist thier advances.

Below and Right Bishkek police are an amiable bunch once you scratch the surface (archive)

are an amiable bunch once you scratch the surface (archive) PAUL DUMMETT Y OU KNOW THE
are an amiable bunch once you scratch the surface (archive) PAUL DUMMETT Y OU KNOW THE


Y OU KNOW THE DRILL: “Salam Aleykum!” a voice from behind you calls out. But the man bearing this greeting does not wish for “peace to be upon you”. Instead he hopes that a few thousand units of

a hard-fought victory, since from the police perspec-

tive a shakedown must be executed anonymously. In the event that you get bored of this banal back- and-forth you can always reach for your mobile

phone and threaten to dial an advokat – lawyer. This

the local currency are upon you, and that your passport has been left at home. Shortly after


known as the rights-based approach.

the friendly salutation an inquisition begins: “What


Play dumb


your nationality? Where are you going? Are you

We consider this a slightly overrated line of defence


Bring other people into the conversation

drunk?”Usually your interlocutor is a waif in his early 20s, often working in tandem with another skinny git, while their older, heftier boss, plump from the proceeds of a thousand shakedowns just like this one, sits behind a desk in downtown Bishkek, ploughing through the Kyrgyz equivalent of donuts

but many of our friends attest to its effectiveness. The idea of this approach is that you just pretend not to understand anything the policeman says until they get bored and leave you alone. Our prob- lem with this approach is that if you get stopped by a law enforcement officer with an IQ of over 80


he waits for his cut.

(they do exist, apparently), who actually knows

“Don’t you think this looks like you?”one of your questioners asks, flashing a photograph of the latest Hizbut-ut-Tahrir member to appear on the Ministry of Interior’s Most Wanted List. The man in the pic- ture has darker skin than you do, a narrower face,

1. Get on the front foot

that words like “passport” are in the universal, you might find yourself booked for obstructing the course of bribery.

and a longer, more straggly beard. He also has a


your Russian isn’t so good and there are people

prominent scar above his left eyebrow.”No resem- blance at all, really”, you reply. But the bent cop disa- grees: “Let’s go down to the station!” And so begins the haggling. There is scarcely a foreigner in Bishkek that has not come into contact with the city police. Burglary victims report that the force is broadly useless at doing its official job – investigating crime - but in keeping with a trend for cops across the former Soviet Union, Kyrgyz PCs have developed a special talent for earning shabashka – a glorious Russian

milling around where you are stopped, you can always opt to make a noise and introduce other actors into the play. This will likely embarrass the police, although they shake down locals as well so they are not afraid of them in manageable num- bers. If this approach isn’t bearing any fruit, add a layer of drama to proceedings by reaching for your cash and waving it in front of the bemused cop’s face – the shadow economy does not like being thrown into the light.

word for off-the-books income - in order to comple-


Work the networks

ment their meagre salaries. In its years on the mean streets of Bishkek, the Spektator has accumulated enough “encounters” to fill a small book, but rather than boring you with the details of these narratives we decided to compile a short list of strategies to help readers of our hallowed magazine beat the boys in blue.

While foreigners are supposed to carry a passport or an officially endorsed form off ID around them

Kyrgyzstan is a patronage-based society rather than a law-and-order-based society, and this ap- plies particularly to the bodies that should be en- suring, ahem, law and order. For this reason, who you know - or who you pretend you know - may be more important than some abstract conception of your entitlement as a foreign citizen. We have had excellent results, for instance, by reciting the names and patronymics of current and former heads of the Ministry of the Interior, while a local filmmaker friend used to flip off unscrupulous policemen by


all times, bobbies on the beat are also obliged

flashing a business card belonging to a nephew of


do the same, and show it to you whenever they

then President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. If you have the

stop you. You are also allowed to write their name down. Heading along this route is likely to lead to

means of keeping up to date with who is an“in”and who is an “out” (tip: Bakiyev is very much an “out”

a protracted “I’ll show you mine if you show me

yours”type dialogue, but it should ultimately end in

these days), this approach is probably the fastest

for making a crooked cop disappear.

approach is probably the fastest for making a crooked cop disappear. September 2013 The Spektator

September 2013 The Spektator