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№24 June 2014
Your spasmodically published guide to what’s happening in and around Bishkek
Restaurant Guide Tourist Map Latest News
Animal rights in
Kyrgyz Fast Food
The Spektator is now online at www.thespektator.co.uk
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.
News and Views
We look at the changing face of Osh’s
ancient bazaar, US military spending in
Central Asia, the problems of policing
Kyrgyzstan’s child labour legislation, and
the sentencing of one of Maxim Bakiev’s
old mates in New York City. All this in ad-
dition to our editorial.
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ON THE COVER: Hitchin’ a ride to the border (Paul Rideout)
The Spektator Magazine
Founder: Tom Wellings
Editor: Tom Wellings
Special Correspondent: Michael
Staf writers: Dresden Murphy, Ben
Rich, Robert Marks, Thomas Olsen,
Dennis Keen, Palmer Keen, Holly
Myers, James Maddison, Adeline Bell,
Patrick Barrow, Sergei Vysotsky, Tom
Guest Contributor: Adriane Lochner
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
Out & About
A World of Woe
A terrible movie looms on the cinematic
horizon, the Wolves of Canary Wharf are
stalking the Spektator, and Detroit is basi-
Former Newcastle United central defender
Darren Peacock fnds only emptiness in Alek-
sandr Dugin’s neo-Eurasianist philosophy.
Whopperstan and a Crock of Fries
Special correspondent Wotherspoon is
hot on the trail of a plague of plagiarised
fast food in Bishkek. And some of it is
Don’t get lost.
Courtyards of the Mind
This week the Spektator was loitering in a
milk queue, and this is what it heard.
Overheard in Bishkek
The Kordai Visa Shuttle
Want to renew your visa? Hop out and
hop back in again. But which authoritarian
neighbour provides the best visa vacation
Bishkek in the Springtime
Nowruz is long over - but the Spektator
likes sumolok so much we have decided
to relive the excitement all over again.
And then watch some goat polo.
Murder in Moscow
It’s 1998 and out intrepid reporter is hot on
the heels of Moscow’s answer to Colombo.
Saving Animals in Uzbekistan
It’s a dog’s life for cats and dogs in Tashkent.
But one young woman is determined to do
somethign about it.
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
4 This Month
OSH, June 20 (Eurasianet) - It was a local Uzbek re-
porter and friend who accompanied me to the fa-
mous Osh bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s southwest during
my frst visit in June 2006. The sprawling shopping
complex – centuries ago a key stop on the ancient
Silk Road through Central Asia – straddles the Ak-
Buura River north of the city center.
The smells of spices and rich hues of powdered
dyes, the crowds squeezing through narrow walk-
ways, the banging by smiths of hammers on red-
hot metal destined to become knives, and the hag-
gling of smiling vendors and shoppers underscored
the multicultural intensity of the market.
Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Chinese, Lyuli,
and many other ethnic and religious groups bought
and sold goods – brought to market from Osh farm-
yards, Chinese factories and points in-between.
During an afternoon of documenting the sights, I
planned to purchase a traditional Uzbek hat, called
a doppa, to add to the traditional Kyrgyz hat, called
a kalpak, I had acquired several days earlier in the
capital Bishkek. The fat doppa (also called duppi,
kalpoq, or tubeteika) is worn by ethnic Uzbeks and
others throughout Central Asia, but seen much
less frequently now in southwestern Kyrgyzstan
four years after the ethnic unrest hit the country in
2010. The real ones are typically made of black satin
or velvet fabric and embroidered with white silk or
cotton threads often in the shape of four chili pep-
per pods (kalampir).
But by the time I left Osh in the summer of
2006, I had forgotten to buy my doppa.
Four years and four months later, I was back in
Kyrgyzstan’s largest southern city, reporting stories
on the recovery of Osh following the clashes be-
tween Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the summer of 2010.
Osh’s once grand bazaar was now a torched and
desolate landscape. Heaps of garbage littered the
concrete paths between the scorched stalls, where
torn fabric coverings and plastic sheets fapped in
a light breeze. There was almost absolute silence in
the middle of a market that once reverberated with
the loud rumble of commerce, with sputtering cars
and trucks, and with cackling chickens. Solitary men
and women, empty-handed, now found ample
room to navigate the market of shattered stands.
In one small corner, near the mini bus station
and taxi stand on the main road on the southern
edge of the bazaar, about 20 stalls sold eggs, bread,
some meat, and a few varieties of vegetables. What
seemed to have recovered the quickest were a
dozen metal shipping containers flled with tourist
souvenirs of brightly-colored handmade satin table
cloths, carved wooden trinkets, and Kyrgyz kalpak
hats – but no Uzbek doppas.
I left dejected at seeing how this once fourish-
ing multicultural and multi-ethnic market had been
plundered, ripped apart, and burned to the ground.
It was also disappointing to once again leave the
market without an Uzbek doppa.
During my most recent visit to Osh in August
2013 on a trek across Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,
I visited the market again – this time with several
friends on a London-to-Mongolia car rally in need
of stocking up on food and buying souvenirs.
I had a very personal, and what I thought would
be a simple, quest – return to the bazaar to buy that
hand-stitched doppa I had neglected to purchase
during my frst visit seven years earlier and could
not fnd in late 2010. Instantly I saw that the bustle
from 2006 had returned. Sellers hawked fuzzy duck-
lings, melons the size of basketballs, fresh-cut beef
and lamb, an endless supply of candies and sweets,
thousands of crates of ripe multi-colored fruits, trol-
leys stacked with fat breads, imported household
goods, bright headscarves, and almost everything
While the ancient market apparently had re-
turned as the main shopping destination for Osh
residents, the number of stalls had not yet reached
pre-2010 levels. The spread of the bazaar seemed
half the size of before. The most noticeable difer-
ence from before the destruction was the lack of
cultural diversity. When once I had seen dozens of
men wearing the Uzbek doppa hat and women
donning traditional Uzbek rainbow-colored dresses
called kuilak, the market seemed noticeably absent
of the Uzbek infuence it once had.
I fnally asked a man where I could fnd an Uz-
bek hat – a doppa. He paused, stared at me incredu-
lously and muttered before walking away, “This is a
Kyrgyz market. You will not fnd those here.”
Leafng through the pages of the Spekta-
tor you are probably regularly struck by two
thoughts. Firstly, “who writes this rubbish?”
and secondly, “who reads this rubbish?” The
answer to the frst of those two questions is
easy: the Spektator is written by Kyrgyzstan-
based expats and interested locals as well
as an overseas contingent of ex-Kyrgyzstan-
based-expats and ex-Kyrgyzstani locals now
living abroad. Occasionally, and completely
illogically, former professional footballers that
used to play for either Everton or Newcastle
United help out as well.
In answer to the second question, our stats
team, using an admittedly questionable
methodology, has worked out that the Spek-
tator’s global reach has expanded signifcantly
since our frst issue in October 2008. They cal-
culate that for every one Spektator reader in
the United States there are now only 19,234
people that do not have the foggiest idea
who the hell we are, slightly more than in the
United Kingdom, where for every man, wom-
an or child with at least a faint knowledge of
the best independent tourist magazine in the
world there are ofcially 18,382 cretins. Curi-
ously, beyond the contested borders of the
Kyrgyz Republic, Finland has more Spektator
readers per capita – 0.0033 – than any other
country in the world. Presumably we are best
consumed in a sauna with plenty of alcohol.
Naturally, however, Kyrgyzstan is our home,
our cause, our “backyard” (sorry, Putin) and ac-
cording to our nerds, roughly one in 450 resi-
dents of this fair country has familiarity with
our website alone. If you multiply that fgure
by a completely random number such as four
to account for all the readers of the paper ver-
sion of the magazine, you will fnd that there
are more Spektator readers in or associated
with Kyrgyzstan than there are Dungans living
in the republic. In September, we plan to get
ourselves registered as a national minority.
In the meantime we will attempt to keep
on pumping out fairly high quality copy on
a vaguely seasonal basis, with even vaguer
plans to expand into both the lucrative Kazakh
market and the impoverished Tajik market. To
do this and even to keep the paper going in
its current format, we will need FUNDING, as
we can’t keep bashing out these articles on
a shoestring. Currently we are open to ofers
from wealthy contractors, Christian missionar-
ies, Islamic radicals, USAID, G*Z, the Kremlin,
the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz gov-
ernment, the Kyrgyz opposition and anyone
else that feels the urge. We will love you long
time etc., etc.
But to cut a long ramble short, issue 24 of the
Spektator contains the following ingredients:
news, views (and a bit of Nowruz), a pinch of ani-
mal rights, a dash of visa troubles, a large help-
ing of murder, some satire, the haunting spectre
of Eurasianism and an up-to-dateish restaurant
guide. For zero Kyrgyz soms, we think that is a
pretty good deal.
Time Not Healing Wounds at Osh Bazaar
Big in Finland
DEAN C. K. COX
Above Kyrgyz hats on sale at the ancient bazaar in Osh, 2014 (Dean C. K. Cox)
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
5 This Month
BISHKEK, June 28 (Eurasianet) - The U.S. has
substantially cut its aid for Central Asian secu-
rity forces, according to newly released Penta-
The report details spending under Section
1004 of the National Defense Authorization Act,
which allows the U.S. Department of Defense to
train and equip foreign security forces involved
in counternarcotics missions. In 2012, the Pen-
tagon seemed to make Central Asia, in particu-
lar Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, a major focus. But
according to the new data, that efort may have
The new data covers the frst half of Fiscal
Year 2014, from October 2013 through March
2014. Compared to the last full data (pdf ), from
2012, there are big cuts across the board (even
taking into account that the new numbers are for
half a year, and the 2012 numbers for a full year):
Kazakhstan: $187,000 - from $8.7 million
Kyrgyzstan: $1.2 million - from $21.3 million
Tajikistan: $1.1 million - from $15.4 million
Uzbekistan: $156.000 - from $5.7 million
The training that took place under this pro-
gram was directed less at the military and more
at the security services like the GKNB; in 2012
the U.S. trained at least 350 GKNB ofcers from
Tajikistan and 100 from Kyrgyzstan. (It was Ta-
jikistan’s GKNB, recall, which arrested political
scientist Alexander Sodiqov and accused him
Given that every country in the region
seems to be getting its funding slashed, this
would seem to be the result of a decision that
Central Asia should no longer be a priority. (The
invaluable Security Assistance Monitor, which
published the new data, has an overview of the
trends in 1004 funding around the world.)
Looking at the record of U.S. aid over the
past few years on SAM (for Kyrgyzstan and Tajik-
istan, for example) shows that 1. Section 1004
money made up a substantial portion of the
total U.S. military aid package to Central Asian
countries, often the largest single funding
source; and 2. that the amount tended to fuc-
tuate over the years. For Tajikistan, for example,
the U.S. gave over $17 million in Section 1004
money in 2008, $1.3 million in 2009, and then
$15.6 million in 2010. So this could just be one
of those fuctuations.
But given that the aid was so clearly a quid
pro quo in exchange for access to Afghani-
stan, it’s not surprising that as that mission
winds down, the aid is dropping. Meanwhile,
of course, Russia is substantially increasing its
military aid to the region -- again, focused on
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Military Aid to
NEW YORK, June 21 (RFE/RL) - A former business
partner of the son of ousted Kyrgyz President Kur-
manbek Bakiev has been sentenced to more than
fve years in prison for fraud.
Bloomberg reports that Eugene Gourevitch,
aka Yevgeny Gurevich, was sentenced to 63
months in jail on June 16 in a federal court in
Brooklyn, New York, for his role in a $6 million
fraud case in 2012 involving a plan to buy shares
Gurevich, a Soviet-born U.S. citizen, worked
as the CEO of fnancial group MGN Capital in
Bishkek and was a close associate of then-Presi-
dent Kurmanbek Bakiev's son -- Maksim Bakiev.
He fed Kyrgyzstan in the wake of mass antig-
overnment protests in April 2010, which toppled
In 2011, a court in Bishkek sentenced Gurev-
ich in absentia to 15 years in jail for corruption.
Maksim Bakiev's Busi-
ness Partner Sentenced
In New York
AKSY, June 21 (RFE/RL) - More than 100 local resi-
dents rallied in front of the Aksy district's adminis-
tration building in Kyrgyzstan's southern Jalal-Abad
region on June 20, demanding the local governor's
The protesters allege Governor Medetbek
Aidaraliev is corrupt and divides local residents by
tribes and clans.
The protesters also demanded a meeting with
President Almazbek Atambaev, who was touring
the region on June 20. After they were not allowed
to meet with Atambaev, the protesters tried to seize
the administration building.
The Kyrgyz cabinet's envoy in the region, Jusup-
jan Jeenbekov, met with the protesters and promised
that their demand regarding resignation of the local
governor would be studied by a special commission.
The protesters remain at the site, insisting
that Aidaraliev resign. They say if he doesn't leave
ofce they will occupy the district administration
Protesters Demand Local
BISHKEK, June 12 (RFE/RL) - Prosecutors in Kyr-
gyzstan have asked a court in Bishkek to sentence
a former mayor of the city, Isa Omurkulov, to eight
years in jail for abuse of ofce.
The prosecutors on June 12 also asked the
court to sentence four former associates of
Omurkulov to prison terms of between fve and
Omurkulov resigned as mayor of the Kyrgyz
capital in December after the prosecutor-gener-
al's ofce launched a probe against him and his
They were accused of redrawing the borders
of a park in the center of Bishkek to accommo-
date the existence of illegal construction there
from 2002 to 2010 and to allow new buildings on
A court then barred Omurkulov from leaving
the country pending his trial that started in April.
Omurkulov denies any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors Seek Eight
Years In Jail For Ex-Mayor
BISHKEK, June 18 (RFE/RL) - Kyrgyzstan's Kylym
Shamy (Torch of the Century) human rights center
has urged law-enforcement authorities to pay atten-
tion to the recurring issue of attacks against lawyers
in the country’s courtrooms.
The Bishkek-based nongovernmental organiza-
tion expressed its concerns in a statement issued on
June 18, saying violent attacks against lawyers dur-
ing trials have occurred many times in the past but
the perpetrators are never held responsible.
The statement came the same day as reports
that lawyer Kumushbek Ybykeev had been severely
beaten by relatives and supporters of the victims of a
deadly trafc accident during hearings into the case
at the Osh Regional Court in the country’s south.
Ybykeev, who was representing a defendant in
the case, was hospitalized.
According to Kyrgyz media reports, Ybykeev
was threatened by several people who visited him
later in the hospital.
Kyrgyz Rights Center
Concerned Over Attacks
DUSHANBE, June 20 (RFE/RL) A Tajik man living
in Canada who was detained by Tajik security
authorities in the city of Khorugh has reportedly
been charged with high treason and spying.
Aleksandr Sodikov was detained in Khorugh
on June 16 shortly after speaking with civil soci-
ety activists, including Alim Sherzamonov.
Sherzamonov was one of the leaders of
deadly May protests against police actions that
targeted suspected criminals in Khorugh.
Sodikov, 31, is a Tajik national residing in
Canada. He said he has been touring Central Asia
as part of his doctoral research at the University
of Toronto and the University of Exeter in Britain.
Sodikov was shown on local television in
Khorugh on June 18, speaking about his research
work and his meeting with Sherzamonov.
Amnesty International, Freedom House, and
Human Rights Watch have issued statements ex-
pressing concern over Sodikov's detention and
urging Tajik authorities to provide detailed and
timely information about his situation.
Tajik Researcher Held on Spying Charge
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
6 This Month
Dordoi: Kyrgyz Child Workers Harassed, Not Helped by Police
BISHKEK, June 18 (IWPR) - At the sprawling Dor-
doi market outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, 14-
year old Jenish looked nervously over his shoul-
der as he collected discarded cardboard boxes to
sell for a few dollars.
He was looking out for the police, since he
has already been locked up twice at the Juvenile
Crime Prevention Centre, last year and again this
“They grabbed me without any warning or
any explanation when I was picking up boxes,”
Jenish (not his real name) told IWPR. ‘There were
fve or six boys like me in the van they took me
to. They drove us to a building with metal bars on
the windows and kept us there for two days. They
forced me to sweep and mop the foors and fetch
Jenish’s mother Venera said that when she
came to the detention centre last February, she
was asked for the equivalent of ten US dollars as a
bribe to secure his release. After she brought Jen-
ish home, she said, he was ill for a week and was
left traumatised by the experience. He used to
draw the mountains outside Bishkek in his spare
time, but now he paints fgures of policemen.
Venera, a single mother, works at the market
herself but does not earn enough as a trader to
support Jenish and his two sisters. So after school
each day, her son goes to the Dordoi market to
collect boxes and sell them to a recycling centre,
earning about four dollars for fve hours work.
Jenish told IWPR that he stayed at home for a
while after his most recent detention but eventu-
ally returned to the market, although he remains
constantly on the lookout.
“Whenever we see policemen, we run away,”
Kyrgyzstan has ratifed the key international
documents concerning child labour, and under
national law, employers are banned from taking
on anyone under the age of 16.
Nevertheless, children commonly work in
markets as sweepers, porters or rubbish collec-
tors. Most accompany a parent who works there
as a trader.
A comprehensive study into child labour was
jointly conducted by the Kyrgyz National Com-
mittee for Statistics and the International Labour
Organisation in 2007. According to this study,
more than 40 per cent of children in Kyrgyzstan
were in some kind of employment.
According to the rules, police are only al-
lowed to place youngsters in a juvenile deten-
tion centre for anti-social behaviour or if they are
runaway or street children.
According to Kyrgyzstan’s child labour leg-
islation, the parent or guardian rather than the
child faces punishment for breaching the rules, A
frst ofence brings a warning, subsequent ones
fnes of up to 50 dollars.
Rights activists say police ofcers exploit the
legislation to make parents pay bribes for the re-
lease of their children so as to avoid prosecution.
A social worker with the Centre for the Protec-
tion of Children, Akyl Muradylov, told IWPR that
this practice was common at markets across the
country. Although the situation had improved
since rights groups began campaigning against
the detentions, they were continuing.
“They catch them, keep them in detention
and release them when money has been paid.
The practice is still going on,” Muradylov said.
According to human rights activists and the
child workers at Dordoi interviewed by IWPR,
many have been detained at least once.
Guljamal Sultanalieva, head of the Door Eli
foundation which runs projects that address
child labour, told IWPR that the bribes averaged
between fve and 15 dollars.
But she added, “There have been cases in-
volving bigger sums, as we found out when we
spoke to many children and their parents while
looking into the issue.”
Market trader Kairgul Tentishova said, “We all
know that this is the daily routine for policemen
who have turned it into an income source to top
up their wages. You can ask all the traders whose
children work at the market. All of them have en-
Tentisheva recalled the frst time she went to
the Juvenile Crime Prevention Centre to arrange
the release of her son. The authorities there re-
fused to let him go, even after she promised not
to bring him to the market to work again.
Another woman there told her that she would
need to pay a bribe, so Tentishova gave the ofcials
the four dollars she had for her fare back home.
The interior ministry acknowledges that po-
lice apprehend teenagers they fnd working in
markets, but insists that they operate within the
law and only detain children who are living on
the street or who have run away from home.
“We have inspectors who work with minors
and local policemen who monitor the streets,”
ministry spokesman Ernis Osmonbaev told IWPR.
“It isn’t only the markets that they check. They
don’t just grab them – they approach someone
if they notice something [suspicious] and enquire
what the teenager is doing there.”
Osmonbaev fatly denied allegations of po-
lice corruption. “We are doing it with the chil-
dren’s welfare in mind, yet they [parents] turn
round and say we release them in exchange for
money,” he said.
He added that social workers and civil society
activists accompanied police ofcers when large
sweeps were conducted.
The deputy head of the Juvenile Crime Pre-
vention Centre, Ryspay Asanakunov, also denied
that his subordinates took bribes to release de-
“If these parents come and tell us and prove
everything, I will take harsh measures against my
staf members. At the moment I can guarantee
you that I don’t have staf members involved in
that. No one takes bribes,” Asanakunov said.
Child rights workers face with a dilemma
about how best to help working minors, whose
lives are disrupted and can face health problems.
Three years ago the Family Health Centre,
whose staf members regularly visit markets to
check on the welfare of underage workers, an-
nounced that in four locations including Dordoi,
they had identifed some 300 children who need-
ed medical treatment for respiratory and muscu-
Often, these children come from single-par-
ent families or are “internal migrants” from other
parts of Kyrgyzstan. If they lack residence rights in
Bishkek, they cannot access schools, state nurser-
ies or health services.
“Many children who work come from fami-
lies where a mother is bringing up several chil-
dren on her own,” said Gladis Temirshieva, from
the Centre for Protection of Children. “In cases
like this, when she is struggling to provide for her
family, the eldest child takes on the responsibility
for helping her support the family.
“Very often this child works alongside with the
mother. But there are also families where the bur-
den of providing for them rests solely on shoulders
of the eldest child – where the mother is ill, or there
is no one to look after small children at home.”
Temirchieva said that as well as rooting out
police corruption, the authorities should focus on
addressing the social problems that force minors
to go out to work. Those ofcial measures that
had been put in place “are not being implement-
ed properly”, she said.
Sultanalieva agreed that more needed to be
done. “Our law enforcement bodies are very well
aware of the problem… but they try to close their
eyes to issues like that,” she said.
She recalled how her NGO helped one moth-
er, Nasip Shopokova, after her 13-year old son was
repeatedly detained by police.She and Shopoko-
va reported the boy’s multiple detentions to the
Juvenile Crime Prevention Centre and talked to
an investigator, but did not get a response.
Shopokova said that during the most recent
incident, she was so desperate that she grabbed
the door of the police car when it drove of and
ran after it for several metres before the police
stopped and let her son go.
“They are our children,” Shopokova said.
“They are not criminals, street children or home-
less. They are just helping us by working in their
spare time. What’s so bad about that?”
Reproduced with permission from IWPR
Police ofcers accused of exploiting under-
age labour ban to extract bribes.
“Tentisheva recalled the frst time
she went to the Juvenile Crime
Prevention Centre to arrange the
release of her son. The authorities
there refused to let him go, even
after she promised not to bring him
to the market to work again.“
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
8 Out & About
If it hits the spot, who cares that Bishkek’s
Burger King is the fast food equivalent of
a False Dimitry. Michael Wotherspoon is
on the case.
Stretching back to the times of the Silk
Road, Kyrgyzstan has always been a
country that has mixed East and West.
This legacy continues to manifest itself,
albeit in odd form, even today where
the trademark-infringing practices of the East,
meets the diabetes-inducing cuisine of the West.
In no city can this phenomenon be better ob-
served than in Bishkek, which enjoys a shockingly
vibrant counterfeit fast-food industry.
Burger King & Burger Kiиg
Yes, unbeknownst to the American chain, Bishkek
has both a Burger King as well as a Burger Kiиg.
If you see a verbatim copy of Burger King’s
Whopper logo on a small shack just outside of the
Alamadin Bazaar, then you have found Bishkek’s ver-
sion of this American classic. To be honest, the menu
is lacking (they actually just stole the menu from
Begemot, making this a trademark violation within
a trademark violation). But, it is cheap and, unlike
everywhere else at the Alamadin Bazaar, Burger King
probably will not give you food poisoning.
Burger Kiиg, on the other hand, shouldn’t even
fall into the category of fast food. Located on the
north side of Akhunbaeva west of Manas, it is the
size of a regular café and has burgers that look (and
taste) like they have real ingredients. The free Wi-Fi
is a plus, and we would rank them above both the
American and the Kyrgyz Burger Kings.
nless you have spent time in the Middle East or the
Southern United States, you probably will not have
heard of Hardee’s. It’s actually just a subsidiary of Carl’s
Jr., but it is likely that neither of these fast-food chains
realize they have a presence in Kyrgyzstan (the clos-
est ofcial chain being in neighboring Kazakhstan).
The menu is pretty standard for Kyrgyzstan.
You’ll fnd burgers, fries, samsa, and shawarma at
this modestly sized stall. Unfortunately, they do
not have milkshakes (which, really, is the only rea-
son to go to the American Hardee’s).
To get here, you will need to head east on Chui
into the Vostok-5 micro-district. Once you get to
the massive trafc circle of death, head north on
Kurmanjan Datka Street (also known as Shabdan
Battyra Street). Hardee’s will be on the west side of
the street right before Ogunbaeva.
KFC: Kyrgyz Fried Chicken
Without a doubt, KFC takes the cake for the most
shameless trademark violation in the history of
Kyrgyz fast food. But, it also happens to be the
best fried chicken you will fnd in Bishkek. Locat-
ed on Chui in front of the Beta Stores, you can’t
miss the red on white ‘KFC’ that wraps around this
little stall. While they lack the variety of American
KFC, Kyrgyz Fried Chicken still hits on all the es-
sentials. Chicken wraps, sandwiches, family buck-
ets, and individual combos will satisfy all of your
fried chicken-related needs.
It takes them about ten minutes to prepare
your food because they fry it fresh, and if you want,
you can order your chicken spicy (just say ‘ostraya
kuritsa’). It isn’t mind-blowingly spicy, but it gives
the chicken a good favor. We recommend the zinger,
easily the best chicken sandwich in Bishkek.
So, if you fnd yourself in Bishkek craving
Big Macs, Beef and Cheddar Melts, and Double
Downs… well, you won’t fnd them here. But, you
can certainly get the next best thing!
Top Right Get your fx of Comrade Sanders’
fnest across the road from Beta Stores on Isa-
nova/Chui (Michael Wotherspoon)
Below Alternatively, sample a Mexican burrito
unsullied by any potential copyright infringe-
ment. Find the Burrito Kiosk at Sovietskaya/
Jantoshev - 100m down the hill from Soviets-
kaya/Akhunbayeva (Sindy Cuan-Men Reyes)
Mexican Approves of Bishkek Burrito Kiosk
From Chihuahua to Bishkek, the Spektator’s resi-
dent Meksikanka had travelled a long way from
her desert home. Constantly irritated by locals’
amusement at her city’s association with Paris Hil-
ton’s dog, the Meksikanka craved a taste of home.
A taste of home in the shape of a burrito.
The ‘burrito’ she explained, hails from Chihua-
hua State, and means ‘little donkey’. In the past it was
a simple snack enjoyed by miners, and was often
delivered to the men by donkey - hence the name.
Now, thanks to the Burrito Kiosk on Sovietska-
ya (just down the hill from the Akhunbayeva cross-
ing) Biskekers can also enjoy this age old Mexican
snack - and all for only 80 to100 som a pop.
At the kiosk, owned by a Kyrgyz couple who
used to work in Texas, we order one chicken and
one beef burrito (vegetarian options are avail-
able). We opt for spicy sauce, but the guacamole
has sadly sold out.
I observe the Meksikanka intently as she dex-
terously unwraps the foil packaging. Upon sam-
pling both burritos her mood visably imroves. “I’m
not too sure about the tortilla,” she asserts, eying
the substituted lavash suspiciously. “They’re tasty
though - I’d say the beef is best. And it’s much bet-
ter (and cheaper) than the one I had in London.”
Marks out of ten? “I’ll give it a solid 9/10 - ar-
riba arriba,” she concluded.
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
10 Out & About
OWRUZ IS ONE OF Central Asia’s most
anticipated celebrations, and if you fnd
yourself in one of the ‘Stans (or any other
country that celebrates it, for that mat-
ter) it is an experience that you would be
wise not to miss.
Nowruz is an ancient holiday that seems to
have its origins over 2000 years ago in ancient Iran
but is now celebrated across the huge swathe of
Eurasia that experienced historical Persian infuence
- including the Caucuses, Central Asia, Afghanistan
and parts of India and Pakistan. Now or no ruz - new
day - was a celebration of the spring equinox and
signifed the frst day of the new year. The holiday
is particularly asociated with Zoroastrianism - the
frst monotheistic religion - and some scholars as-
sert that the celebration was likely founded by Zo-
roaster himself in the 6th century BC.
Of course, the passage of two and a half mil-
lenia has lent the modern version of the holiday
a certain ambiguity and when I asked people in
Bishkek why they celebrate it, their answers ranged
from bafed shrugs to “It’s Kyrgyz New Year!” As far
as most people now are concerned, Nowruz is an
excuse to eat, drink, and enjoy good company.
Despite a dreary, overcast Friday morning, the
sharp increase in kolpaks per capita made the
Nowruz atmosphere unmistakable. Street vend-
ers lined Kievskaya and Chui streets selling sam-
sa, manty, and Kyrgyzstan’s special Nowruz treat,
In Kyrgyzstan, sumolok is a Nowruz institution.
It is a thick pudding that elderly babushkas slave
over for hours the night before, paying careful at-
tention to every minute detail in order to ensure
perfection. The Kyrgyz take it seriously, and when
I asked people what they normally did on Nowruz,
by far and away the most common answer was “Eat
sumolok!”It is difcult to describe, but it is similar to
what I imagine pureed Raisin Bran would taste like
As we weaved through street vendors and kol-
pak-clad bystanders, we eventually made our way
to Ala-Too Square, the centre of Bishkek’s Nowruz-
related festivities. Positioned in front of the con-
crete behemoth that is the Soviet-era State History
Museum, dancers dressed in traditional garb stood
fanked by hastily erected yurts.
By noon, Ala-Too square came to life as the
dancers twirled and jumped to the crowd’s ap-
plause. On an elevated stage in the middle of the
spectacle,the crowd cheered as a woman began to
sing in Kyrgyz.
“That is the Kyrgyz Madonna!”said Kutman, our
friend who was showing us around the festivities. I
couldn’t see the likeness, but I didn’t bother men-
After we got tired of the odd choice of tradi-
tional Kyrgyz music mixed with electronica, we fol-
lowed Kutman back to his car and headed down
Tolstoy Street towards the hippodrome to check
out what other Nowruz festivities Bishkek had to
Takin’ Care of Business
On the way there I couldn’t help but notice that, de-
spite the Nowruz magic, Tolstoy Street looked the
same as it did everyday: dotted with groups of day-
labourers huddled in circles playing cards as they
waited for someone to ofer them work.
“What are these people doing? Who is going
to be out looking for day-labourers on Nowruz?” I
asked rather judgingly.
“Not all people celebrate it. I’d say it is about
“Really? Who doesn’t celebrate Nowruz?” I
asked somewhat shocked.
“Most Russians, some Kyrgyz. Besides, it is hard
for day-labourers to fnd work, so they don’t take
the day of.”
Eventually, Kutman pulled of Tolstoy and
turned down a bumpy dirt-road, scanning the
street for an open parking spot. Up ahead, an en-
terprising young Russian girl, who couldn’t have
been more than ten, pointed to the side of the road,
kicked a rock out of the way and motioned for us
As Kutman opened his door, she stuck out an
open hand, demanding payment. They exchanged
a few words in Russian, and eventually Kutman
parted ways with a 50 som note. “Steep price for
kicking a rock,”he complained.
“In the end, Talas scored in the
fnal minutes to beat Issyk-Kul 3-2,
bringing the Kok-Boru cup, ftting-
ly, back to the birthplace of the
legendary horseman Manas.”
As we followed Kutman towards the hippo-
drome I remember thinking, “At least someone
could fnd work on Nowruz.”
After paying a modest “entrance fee” to a gate
guard, my companions and I found ourselves with
front row seats to one of the world’s oldest (and
most bizarre) team-sporting events. It goes by
many names: kok-boru in Kyrgyzstan, buzkashi in
Afghanistan, or goat polo, as it is colloquially known
among Bishkek’s expat community.
It is something of a mix of hockey and polo, ex-
cept that it’s played with a headless goat. One lucky
goat gets the pleasure of being beheaded in front of
thousands of spectators before becoming the play
thing of two teams as they punch, kick, whip, and
claw at each other in an attempt to deposit its car-
cass into the other team’s goal.
This Nowruz, Bishkek’s hippodrome hosted the
championship game between Issyk Kul, the Jewel
of Kyrgyzstan, and Talas, the Birthplace of Manas. A
match-up like that was bound to be exciting.
As the announcer called out the rosters of each
team I couldn’t help but notice the names of two
players in particular: Messi and Achilles.
“Are those really their names?”I asked Kutman.
“Nicknames,” he said laughing, “but yeah, they
Taking Messi as a nickname made some sense.
Kyrgyz youth do, after all, love La Liga. But the logic
behind likening an athlete to a Greek hero whose
career was ended by a debilitating tendon injury
escaped me. Fortunately for Achilles, the only thing
that was severed that day was the goat’s head.
As Talas and Issyk Kul fought the battle of the
goat, no spectator was spared any excitement.
At one point a crowd of onlookers (my compan-
ions and me included) were forced to fee for our
lives as an out-of-control mob of horses narrowly
missed crashing through the modest, four-foot
tall picket fence intended to protect us. Surpris-
ingly, only one rider was trampled during the
match. In the end, Talas scored in the fnal min-
utes to beat Issyk-Kul 3-2, bringing the Kok-Boru
Cup, fttingly, back to the birthplace of the leg-
endary horseman Manas.
After a day flled with copious consumption of
sumolok, traditional dancing, and watching a head-
less goat being used as a ball in a horseback-based
sport it was clear that, as far as any Kyrgyz would be
consider, it had been a very merry Nowruz.
Spring may be over and the Nowruz bird may
have fown, but your favourite semioccasion-
ally published Kyrgyz magazine did have a re-
porter on the ground to celebrate the spring
equinox, and this article proves it.
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
12 Out & About
O YOU WANT THE ROOM for the whole
night?” The Russian hotel keeper asked.
“Um, yes?” I replied.
She smiled, and hiccoughed a
chuckle, as if to say “Are your sure? You
do know what goes on here, don’t you?”
Slightly embarrassed that I just
wanted to sleep, all night, by myself, I took my
key and was shufed down to the end of an ag-
ing corridor to a lacklustre room with a large bed.
Once upon a time Diana was probably a nice
place: new, clean, with toilet paper and no body
hair in the shower. But times have changed: her
carpets have been burned by cigarettes, her
linen has been defled with stains, and an aura
of stale body odour pervades her passageways –
the ol’ gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.
For sure, Diana has nothing princess about her.
I’d crossed from Kyrgyzstan into Kordai at 10pm,
and went straight to bed, trying as little of the mat-
tress as possible. The moaning began a few hours
later. A couple in the next room were full swing into
Oedipus Rex. She was considerably more vocal than
he, suggesting, I thought, performance.
The Visa Blues
This one horse border town, 30km north of Bish-
kek on the Kazakh side of the border, through no
fault of its own, and probably unbeknownst to
itself, has recently gained a pivotal role in a grand
Central Asian paper chase.
A new visa-free travel regime introduced in
Kyrgyzstan in 2012 provides 60 days of Kyrgyz livin’
free of bribe or encumbrance for nationals of 44
lucky countries that made the magic list. Before
2012, the damage was $US70 for a one-month
tourist visa on arrival at Manas Airport (if you
weren’t caboodled into paying more). Although
your visa was, in theory, extendable again and
again, the palm grease and documentation re-
quired could be inordinately vexing.
So for many, the new 60-day scheme is a Ma-
nas-send. It’s easier for tourists to travel, and to stay
and spend longer, and possibly even encourages
foreign business to invest in Kyrgyzstan. But what
happens when your 60 days is up? You can’t extend
your visa from within Kyrgyzstan, because techni-
cally you don’t have one. The only option is to leave
the warm embrace of freedom-loving Kyrgyzstan
and dip into the authoritarian outer-sphere...
Top Stop, and welcome to Kordai (archive)
Top right Passport stamps: gotta catch ‘em all
Dipping in the Authoritarian
Option 1: Uzbekistan
A visa invitation is required and unless you live
in the south, borders are further than a day trip.
They do however have an efcient system, once
managed by a handsome moustachioed wom-
an, whereby you ring in advance, arrive at a set
time and are summoned into the embassy in or-
der – thus avoiding the standard bickering and
knife fghting that comes with queues. Visas are
occasionally given there and then.
Option 2: Tajikistan
A one-month Tajik tourist visa is easy and re-
quires minimal documentation. The standard
service is $55, but for $75 you can get it done on
the spot – assuming the embassy staf haven’t
gone out shopping. The embassy is run out the
back of the consulate’s house, and the Spektator
was once denied a visa at the time of request
because ofce staf were out buying dresses at
Bishkek Park. The Tajik border, like the Uzbek
border, is further than a day trip.
Option 3: China
Visa regulations are changed like underpants
– at least once a week. Sometimes you need a
three-month Kyrgyz visa, an invitation letter,
accommodation confrmation, travel tickets
and local guide to qualify – and sometimes you
don’t. Check with visa agents – the embassy can
be unhelpful. By road the return trip from Bish-
kek to Kashgar can take four days.
Option 4: Kazakhstan
A tourist visa costs $35 (about $160 for Team
America) and takes around three days to get
– no hotels or travel tickets required. Multiple
border crossings are close – Kordai is only 30km
from Bishkek and costs 400 som in a taxi or 20
som on the marshrutka. The train to Taraz or
Shymkent could also be a fun, easy option if
you haven’t taken Central Asian/Russian trains
If, like us, you are eking out a tenuous ex-
istence in Kyrgyzstan on 60-day passport
stamps you are no doubt familiar with the
bi-monthly visa vacation. After a restless year
of seeking renewal in the borderlands, Benny
Elias feels he has fnally found contentment in
the Kazakh town of Kordai, as well as a loyal
friend called Diana.
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
Out & About
Oh, Please, Diana...
If you have time to travel you have plenty of choice,
but for cost efectiveness and speed Kordai wins
hands down. So I caught the marshrutka to the
Kordai border, walked over the Chui River bridge
and through customs, slept the night at Diana and
walked back to Kyrgyzstan in the morning. Easy.
I did this again 60 days later, and again, and then
again. Each time staying at the same, romantic, sex-
stained hotel, Diana. The same Russian hotel keeper
and I both pretending that we didn’t know what
goes on there. We would make small talk, stand to-
gether in the doorway and watch the snow falling on
the street. Over time, despite the grit, we grew fond
of each other, Diana, the hotel keeper and I. I came to
look forward to my visits, knowing that each time I
crossed the border my phone wouldn’t work, drivers
would follow trafc rules, and Diana would always
have time for me and my $20 for the whole night.
But why spend the night? Why not punch your
way through the queues in the morning and come
back in the afternoon? Or why not straight away?
Well, actually no one seemed to know the rules, so
to avoid complication, harassment and latex, I made
a habit of lodging in Kordai.
But I started hearing of people crossing back the
same day or even immediately after a 3 in 1 cofee
from the petrol station next to customs. These ru-
mours set me wondering.
On my next trip the Kyrgyz border guard
stamped me out whilst playing a video game.
“Can I come straight back?”I asked.
“Go to Kazakhstan.”
“Yes I understand I need to go to Kazakhstan,
but can I then come straight back to Kyrgyzstan?”
“Go to Kazakhstan.”
So I went to Kazakhstan. The Kazakh guards
stamped me in, “Where are you going?”
After asking scores of people I’d received much
conficting advice and decided that I needed to fnd
out the rules for myself. Instead of going to Almaty
I went through the gates into Kazakhstan and with-
out skipping a beat walked straight across the road
and back towards Kyrgyzstan. I shufed through the
crowd, quietly, innocently, and at the window hand-
ed over my passport. “Did you go to Almaty today?”
asked the guard.
“Yes.”I lied brazenly.
“Yes?......Really?…..You went to Almaty today?”
“Yes….”Awkward pause, heavy eye contact…
“Are you sure?”
“Um, um……..no. No, I didn’t go to Almaty.”
“No you didn’t. You just went though, didn’t you.
Seven minutes ago!”
“So... can I? Can I go straight back through?”
The customs ofcer, a young Kazakh guy, a couple
of years into his career-long commitment to border
sovereignty, had my documents and, I think for ef-
fect, decided that we were on frst name terms.
“Ben…” he began, “you came through the bor-
der on…”He then proceeded to recite the dates and
exact times of every crossing I’d made in the previ-
ous months. Everything was on the system. I’d been
“The idea is that you have to stay 24 hours.”
“But people have come through in under 24
hours – I’ve come through in under 24 hours”
“Well probably someone didn’t see or didn’t pay
He sighed with disappointment and shook his
head, as if I’d let him down, “But seven minutes Ben,
seven minutes?”The older guard next to him chimed
in, “Big problem Ben, big problem. It’s not good, not
good at all.”It was too cheeky and they were ofend-
ed. And fair enough, Kazakhstan is beautiful and
prosperous, and Nazarbayev is a shining light on the
steppe. Why not spend some time there? Plus Diana
is nice. So I was sent back, sentenced to 24 hours in
Kazakhstan, which by default meant Kordai.
So although technically illegal, it seems you can
cross back into Kyrgyzstan from Kordai within the
same day, as long as you don’t push your luck. They
know what you’re doing but seem happy to bend
the rules within reason. I had been more worried
about the Kyrgyz red tape, but it seems that if there
is some kind of limit or restriction it might be the Ka-
zakhs not the Kyrgyz who end up enforcing it.
Exiled, I walked back into Kazakhstan and to-
wards the center of Kordai. New circumstances dic-
tated a change. I hung my head low and hid my face,
and, hoping she wouldn’t see me, I walked straight
past Diana. I wanted something new. I found the
centre of town and one of two other hotels in Kor-
dai. Barely marked, this one occupied a single foor
above some shops on the main road opposite Geo
Burger. At reception I was met by a young Russian
girl who’d been watching TV and drinking beers with
her boyfriend in a spare room.
“Do you want the room for the whole night?”
What!? Had Diana put her up to this? Had I made
the wrong choice? All I wanted was something dif-
ferent. Am I cheating on Diana? I agreed to the whole
night and waited while she kicked her boyfriend out
of the room for me. The new hotel was no better, no
worse – except it was in the centre, Diana lay closer
to the border, just out of town.
I tucked in and made plans for my 24 hours. It
takes about 30 minutes to walk from the border to
the centre of town, so including the return hike that
was one hour accounted for, 23 to go. What the hell
else was there to do?
Live and Kordai
There are about three internet game cafés, so if you’re
into World of Warcraft, you’re set. Following the main
road to the centre, at the only set of trafc lights turn
right and about 200 metres down on your right side,
opposite Victory Square, you’ll fnd the post ofce.
You could send postcards, but it’s better used as a
landmark. The only internet café is in a courtyard a
little further on from the post ofce. They have Skype
and email which is blocked in the game cafes. If you
hit the nightclub on the same street, Troika, you’ve
gone too far. Troika looks like the Promzona of Kor-
dai. Predominantly Russian, with a mega D-foor for
cutting shapes and striking poses, surrounded by
two levels of seating, a bar, Soviet flm posters, a coat
room, security and even, possibly, a door charge. If
you hit Kordai on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, you
could probably go straight to Troika from the border
then get a half night rate at Diana’s before heading
back to Kyrgyzstan in the morning.
There are fve or six places to eat, including
Troika, and on the main road Geo Burger and Time
Out. Cuisine is an all Kazakh-Russian afair. During
the day you can stroll the bazaar, a slightly priced-up
outpost of Dordoi Bazaar in Bishkek. From the traf-
fc lights go left and it’s down before the bridge on
your left. If you feel like a wash after a night in one of
the hotels, there are three options of varying quality.
The cheapest banya is opposite the main entrance
to the bazaar. Closed on some weekdays, it’s small
and could be a little cleaner, but it’s authentic and if
you’re a banya afcionado, a tightarse or already have
dermatitis then it’s a good choice. The most up-mar-
ket option is a collection of three new, private ban-
yas. Walking towards the post ofce from the trafc
lights on the right hand side you’ll see an alley with
pictures of a new gym (which could also be a good
way to spend time) – the banyas, which could ac-
commodate all your new friends from Troika, stand
opposite the gym. The third, small, older and again
‘authentic’banya is under my new hotel. Like the ho-
tel, it charges by the hour.
For hotels, the only other choice is a new and
more expensive option in the place of the former,
Soviet-era Kordai Hotel. It’s no Diana, but it’ll do. It’s
on the same road as Troika, further down, through
one crossing, on the left. It’s a big establishment,
slightly overdone, and the plastic is probably still on
the mattresses. A single room is priced at $US30-40.
With summer and the tourist season coming
up, there will no doubt be more people wanting to
extend their stay in Kyrgyzstan. Ideally you’ll want to
go somewhere you haven’t been, and make a trip out
of it. Cross into Kashgar, Fergana or the Pamir. Check
out Almaty, walk through the Tien Shan north of Issyk
Kul or take a train to Astana. But if cost and speed are
an issue – as long as we don’t get too cheeky - we’ll
always have Kordai. And we’ll always have Diana.
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Overheard in Bishkek
HERE WAS A MAD WOMAN in the milk
queue. I had been sure she was mad
since the frst time I saw her softly am-
bling around the courtyard of my Soviet
apartment block in the early morning
sunlight, gingerly clutching at rainbow
coloured monkey bars before stalking a rusting
roundabout and a children’s sandpit as if searching
for a missing earring. But if I hadn’t intruded on this
bizarre scene I would have thought her perfectly
sane when I saw her again a few weeks later, mak-
ing small talk with the assistant in our local corner
shop as she packed her daily shopping into a plas-
tic bag and striding purposefully back across the
same courtyard. She was pale, Slavic, ffty plus. Her
bun of henna-dyed hair was held neatly in place by
two pins and her clothes were fner than average.
The dairy man doesn’t come quietly. His
shouts fll the sleepy courtyard: “Milk, cheese,
sour cream, curd!” It is a family business run from
the boot of a hatchback. Milk costs 35 soms per
litre: fve soms cheaper and a whole lot fresher
than the milk sold at the corner shop. The people
of the block descend on the dairy man like a lost
son as he and his wife apportion hunks of curd
and empty 50 litre vats of milk into the waiting
This time, the mad woman was among them.
Politely, she asked who was last in the queue be-
fore discussing the splendid April weather with an
older Kyrgyz, who carried an aura of refnement
and education as well as a cloth bag that bore
the logo of the National Council for Research on
Women. Proceedings were largely unremarkable
until another middle-aged lady wearing a grey
trouser suit joined the queue.
She was the trigger.
“That’s you, you bitch! You are the whore that
ransacked my drying room,” the mad woman sud-
denly seethed at the newcomer.
The woman looked aghast: “Woman, I have
never met you in my life, let alone been to your
drying room. I have just arrived from a diferent
“That’s right, you slut! Lie your face of! You
bought your fat for $5,000 dollars and sold it for
$60,000. But it’s still not enough, is it? You had to
ransack my drying room. I had over 100 glass jars
The dairy man grimaced knowingly, ignored
the kerfufe and carried on pouring milk. But one
of his customers, a well-built Russian with a crew-
cut, tried to play the peacemaker.
“What glass jars, lady? When were they sto-
len? What did they have in them?”
“Raisins mostly, some apricots, some pick-
led vegetables,” she said distantly after a pause,
before ratcheting up again. “I pickled them in
autumn. They were supposed to last me through
the year but that daughter of scum ransacked my
“Can’t you see that she is mentally ill?” asked
the alleged ransacker. “I have never seen this
woman in my life!”
Tension engulfed the merry milk queue as
the scene continued.
“Just wait until I tell my husband about you.
You’ll be sorry. A hundred glass jars. That thiev-
ing shit! This is the bitch that ransacked my drying
Then a fourth woman intervened: “Maria, you
don’t have a husband. He died in 1991. Now let us
buy our milk in peace, please.”
1991. The year of Kyrgyzstan’s birth was an
apocalyptic one. I had heard from many that as
the union fell apart at the seams, as each efort to
preserve it met with failure, heart attacks occurred
in waves. People whose futures had always been
planned for them were suddenly confronted by a
tornado of political, economic and social chaos.
Survivors of the horror recall collapsing pensions
and hyperinfation in the hushed, solemn tones
normally reserved for recounting a war. Good
people went in the night, just as they had dur-
ing the Stalin era repressions, but this time it was
the state’s rapid and unforeseen withdrawal from
their lives rather than the sinister encroachment
of the KGB that consigned them to their deaths.
Perhaps this woman’s husband had left her
like this. How old would she have been? 29? 35?
Did she have children? There is only so much of a
person’s biography you can compile in a ten min-
ute queue for dairy products.
And yet there she stood, bereft once more,
her loss spelled out to her through the fog of
confusion as the dairy man’s customers moved
around her, remembering their orders.
“200 grams of cheese, you said?”; “Yes, just 200
grams this time. Is it salty?”; “Yes, it is salty but tasty.
You’ll be wanting a kilogram next time. And it is
three litres of milk for you is it? Can you give me it
without change? We are out of small notes…”
Above The milkman cometh (archive)
In honour of the wholly unproven theory that
you can learn more from loitering in public
places than you can from sitting in a library
reading books we have launched a new sec-
tion of our magazine, Overheard in Bishkek.
This month Philippe Albert fnds insanity in
the mundanity of a line for dairy products.
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
BISHKEK, June 10 (Spektator) - The Spektator, Bish-
kek’s favourite English language society and culture
magazine, was recently dragged into an unsavoury
spat and a potential international libel scandal with
one of London’s fastest growing fnancial frms, JA
Wealth (www.jawealth.co.uk), last week.
Objecting to a Spektator-led investigation that
branded JA Wealth “a rogue company run by a dodgy
bunch of second-rate, lying shysters, which claims
to be a private equity frm but instead hawks sham
Forex trading courses to vulnerable teenagers” the
management team at JA Wealth launched a wilfully
ungrammatical campaigh of mean tweets, alleging
that various well-respected members of the Spekta-
tor’s staf were “racist haters” who “enjoyed watching
African child porn”.
Following the Spektator’s strongly expressed
indiference to the allegations, the tweets were
promptly deleted, although several further tweets
accusing key fgures at the Spektator of “not having
lives”currently remain in the twittersphere.
The Spektator responds to accustions of be-
ing a shit magazine stafed by paedophiles
Detroit to join EEU?
DETROIT, May 25 (Spektator) - The mood on the
streets in Detroit, Michigan, is tense. After pitch bat-
tles waged in industrial scrap yards between pro-
Union and pro-Eurasian Union paramilitary forces,
interim Mayor Dave Bing announced today that
Motor City will be holding a referendum on joining
the Moscow-inspired trade bloc comprising Russia,
Kazakhstan and Belarus in the coming weeks. Presi-
dent Barack Obama’s administration in Washington
has registered its “relative concern”at the news.
The announced referendum, which most
agree will see Detroit secede from the United States
and become a puppet state of the Russian Federa-
tion, is being portrayed by international media as
yet another victory for Kremlin strongman Vladimir
Putin over his foes on Capitol Hill. Municipal of-
cials in Bufalo and Allentown were rumored to be
considering their options as the Spektator went to
press, while William Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh,
caused waves on Thursday after telling journalists
he wanted his city “to be the next Donetsk”. Peduto
denies the comment showed “separatist intent”.
With Russia accused of parachuting Slavic
grandmas into Detroit in order to vote ‘yes’ in the
upcoming vote, the White House released a weak-
ly-worded statement today, reminding Vladimir
Putin that “Detroit is not the Crimea. This is a city
located fairly close to cities we consider under our
protection, such as Chicago. The United States gov-
ernment is committed to resolving the political cri-
sis in its former industrial heartlands through wishy
washy diplomacy and empty bluster.”
Meanwhile, the benefts of annexation/integra-
tion for Detroit’s struggling economy are question-
able. Following the referendum announcement,
Russia’s state-owned manufacturing giant Rust-
Belt pledged to spend “several thousand rubles”
revamping Detroit’s steelworks, while President of
KrapKar, Vladislav Aragonov, has promised similar
sums to revive the city’s decrepit auto industry. In
comments reminiscent of Henry Ford, Aragonov
told citizens of Detroit they would be able to have
“any car they want, as long as it’s a Zhiguli Classic.”
But despite the Eurasian Union’s seeming lack
of appeal, Dave Bing, an NBA Hall of Famer now
serving as the city’s mayor for the second time since
retiring from professional basketball in 1978, has
emerged as an unexpected Kremlin ally. “President
Putin is a judo black belt. I want to get Detroit’s kids
of the streets and back onto the basketball courts,”
Bing told the Spektator today. “President Putin tells
me Russia doesn’t have a drug problem. That is why
I am urging citizens to vote ‘yes’ in this referendum.”
As worried Americans issued calls for the US
army to do something about the situation, Eurasian
Afairs commentator Frederick Upstarrt moaned
to the Spektator that the lack of response to the
Detroit crisis was “yet another sign that President
Obama is prepared to abandon parts of the world
he doesn’t care about to Moscow’s aggression.”
In what has been claimed by as a leaked
phone call between Assistant Secretary of
State Victoria Nuland and Michigan’s governor
Jack Snideman, Nuland is alleged to have said:
“This is a city the UN should be helping glue
back together, and, you know, f**k Detroit.”
TASHKENT, June 11 (Spektator) - Gulnara Kari-
mova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Ka-
rimov has been complaining of a tough life of late,
portraying herself as a victim of her father’s police
state on Twitter and sufering under house arrest
while the powers that be conduct raids on what
remains of her business empire and her little sister
calls her a bitch. But apparently it has all been an
act – literally – the proceedings have all been part
of elaborate preparations for Guli: The Movie, ex-
pected to be released early next year.
“Gulnara came to us with a huge budget and in-
formed us she wanted to play the lead role in an au-
tobiographical flm called Guli: The Movie. The prob-
lem was the flm didn’t have a storyline,”explained a
Hollywood source familiar with the screen play.
“We told her that every character worthy of
a flm has to have an arc. Take Frodo in Lord of the
Rings, for instance. No-one would want to make a
flm about a hobbit that just went around routinely
extorting bribes from mobile phone companies and
stealing restaurants from other hobbits,” the source
continued. “A strong lead needs to go from rags to
riches or vice-versa. At the time the idea of the flm
came about Gulnara’s arc was just a fat line of slight-
ly controversial fashion shows, hostile takeovers in
the Uzbek economy and oriental-kitsch music vid-
eos that no-one seemed to be watching. We needed
something to actually happen in her life, so we got in
touch with Gulnara’s father, Islam.”
Calling Gulnara, 41, “a great method actress”,
the source refused to divulge the plot of Guli: The
Film but confrmed that Karimova’s mother, Tatiana,
had kindly agreed to play the role of a wicked witch
that plans Karimova’s downfall, while Karimova’s
personal friend, Gerard Depardieu, is set to play
Rustam Inoyatov, the grizzly head of Uzbekistan’s
SNB security service. Curiously, the source also con-
frmed that Adam Sandler had auditioned for a role
as a foreigner “who gets lost in Tashkent and meets
a beautiful Uzbekistani princess”.
The source admited there had been “some crea-
tive diferences” between Karimova and the makers
of the flm. “Gulnara views the story as a high drama
but we view it very much as a comedy. We are trying
to win her over,”the Hollywood insider disclosed.
Hollywood insider on ‘Gulnara: The Movie’
From Left Successful entrepreneurs Toby “Crackers” Cracknell (@tobycracknell), Jem Berry-
Gordon (@JemTheSocialite), Joshante Amihyia (@IAmJoshante) and Tre McKenzie
In a carefully orchestrated damage limitation
exercise held outside Dolls, a spokesperson act-
ing on behalf of the beleagured Bishkek publica-
tion read a short statement in Kyrgyz and Russian
stressing that whilst the Spektator’s taste in por-
nography was “ecclectic” it was “probably legal”.
When asked by the FT’s Asia editor, Samuel
Britten, if the Spektator’s editorial team was
“going to stop hating and get a f***ing life” the
spokesperson stated simply that the magazine’s
resolve to continue striving for the truth “shall
ne’er be dimmed.”
Laughing of the scandal, Jermain Berry Gor-
don, 23, head of marketing at JA Wealth and son
of Patrick Berry, founder of Choice FM, stated: “It’s
bait, innit, fam?” but would neither confrm nor
deny claims that business partner Toby Cracknell
had grown boobs owing to continuing stress.
The Spektator telephoned the Spektator for
comment but they were engaged when we rang
and failed to return our calls.
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
HE THOUGHT OF MAKING money from
murder never crossed my mind until I
moved to Moscow in the mid-nineties.
I was a freelance crime correspond-
ent and within two years of working
there for German television I had made
a series of documentaries and reportages cover-
ing most of the usual suspects: prostitutes, pris-
ons, casinos, strip clubs, morgues, special forces
and secret military installations.
Sooner or later I knew I would have to have a
stab at doing a story on murder. If I could fgure
out how to flm it without just showing pools of
blood and dead bodies then I would be onto a
As a freelancer I knew I was only as good as
my last flm and couldn’t aford a fop. For the frst
Russian crime documentary I spent a month with
Moscow’s notoriously corrupt trafc police, the
GAI. I’d been mentored by my chief editor Dieter
that Germans love to watch anything to do with
cars, sex or excess. My flm focused on drunk driv-
ers and car crashes and was a huge hit with the
TV audience garnering 21% of the audience on a
I never got that audience rating again. With-
out knowing it I’d peaked with my portrayal of a
bunch of drunks and their mangled car wreckage.
The most poignant moment from that shoot
was when we flmed a Zhiguli wrapped around
a lamppost. The driver, who was drunk, stood
leaning against the car appearing to listen to the
radio which was still working and eerily playing
“killing me softly with his words”.
His passenger was ten meters down the road
lying dead in the snow after fying through the
windscreen. His shoes were still in front of the
passenger seat as he had literally fown out of
them on impact.
Nearly anything was possible in Russia in the
mid-nineties in terms of flming. The trick was
fguring out which key was needed to open the
door. Was it an ofcial request? Or was it a bribe
that could be anything from a Zippo lighter to
a brown envelope stufed with Deutschmarks.
Sometimes it was a bribe and a heavy duty
vodka session with some boss. Or it could be a
recommendation of a relative of a friend. Some-
times it was all of the above. I should point out,
by the way, that back then bribes paid by Ger-
man companies working abroad were tax de-
Filming the extreme was lucrative and there
seemed to be an insatiable desire for my stories
that shone a seedy light on a society in decline. It
crossed my mind on a number of occasions that
I was spoon feeding the German’s schadenfreude
at the break up of the Soviet Union.
The thought of making a flm about murder
in Moscow had crossed my mind on number of
occasions. I had stumbled on a number of murder
scenes while tracking the activities of various po-
lice departments and I became fascinated by the
way that Russian investigation techniques bore
little or no similarity to the methods I had seen on
the American crime dramas I had watched grow-
Another reason that I felt drawn to the sub-
ject was that Moscow had a burgeoning reputa-
tion as one of the world’s most dangerous capi-
tals with daily shootouts and marauding mafas.
This was part due to Russian TV reality crime
series such as Dorojny Patrol (Road Patrol) and
Petrovka 38, named after the headquarters of
Moscow Criminal Police that churned out a daily
menu of murder and mayhem and car crashes
across the capital. The Western press, of which I
was a member, also contributed to hysteria.
For sure there were a lot of murders going
on but I wasn’t convinced that the ordinary citi-
zen or visiting tourist was getting caught in the
crossfre. Nor, for that matter, did I buy that the so
Our specialist in 1990s post-Soviet grit, Dres-
den Murphy, is back with a reminiscence of
a springtime flming murder investigations in
the Russian capital. But with a documentary
to complete for a demanding and humour-
less German boss, will the Muscovites die fast
Above Moonlight and Vodka - Chris de Burgh
was not murdered in Moscow (archive)
Top and top right Scenes from Dresden’s doc-
umentary (Dresden Murphy)
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
called ‘Russian Mafa’ was organized in the same
manner as the Costa Nostra and had usurped the
state power. Some crime groups were organized
but most were not.
A demotivated and under-resourced police
force had resulted in a law enforcement vacuum
that a lot of groups had flled but it was becom-
ing increasingly clear that in many cases it was
the very same law enforcement groups that were
exploiting that vacuum.
They did this quite often by running protec-
tion rackets that in Russian criminal jargon was
known as providing a krisha (a ‘roof’). The former
KGB were known to provide the best krisha.
That did not mean that the traditional Rus-
sian crime groups, better known as ‘Thieves in
Law, did not wield considerable power. It was just
that their power was waning when up against an
increasingly corrupt state.
It was a state ofcial working in the up-
per echelons of the Interior Ministry to whom I
turned to get permission to make a flm about
murder. He had gone to school with a friend of
mine so was willing to do me a favour for a price.
We’d done business before. But he was pretty
clear about the limits of his infuence.
When we met in a late night bar to discuss
the situation he said that he could write a letter
of introduction to the head of Petrovka 38 that
housed the emergency call center through which
all reports of murder were channelled.
“This letter only gets you a shoe in the door
and then you are on your own,” he said before
stamping the paper with an Interior Ministry
press department stamp.
“You can probably flm at the call center and
they will tell you when and where a murder has
taken place. But you will have to make your own
way to the crime scene and then convince the lo-
cal cops to let you flm. You can show them my
letter but cops are not too fond of journalists or
publicity these days as you well know”, he said
Then perking up somewhat, he added with a
grin, “Actually, quite a few murderers are not big
into publicity for obvious reasons, so you better
watch you back.”
I usually tried to tell my stories through the eyes
of a strong protagonist. I knew it would be tricky
enough getting ofcial permission for a Western
TV crew to flm with the police department that in-
vestigated murders. Trickier still would be fnding a
hero or villain to build the story around.
As luck would have it during the frst week
we flmed at the call center, which looked like a
Soviet version of the bridge on the Star Ship En-
terprise, there were hardly any murders except
for a couple of domestics.
Man kills wife in drunken dispute or wife kills
husband’s lover in drunken dispute. The kitchen
knife was usually the weapon of choice and the
crime scenes were usually covered not only in fn-
gerprints but also in bloody palm and footprints
with the murder weapon near by.
The culprit was usually found within a few
hours. In fact, the detection rate for these un-
premeditated and emotional murders was over
95%. The killers usually had nowhere to go and
anyway were still too drunk to get very far. We
flmed one of these but it was not what I was
It was the contract killings and gangland
shootings that I was really interested in and for
some reason their prevalence had gone from two
or three a day to zero.
I remember having a rather tense conversa-
tion with my chief editor, Dieter, on the phone to
“Hi Dieter, the bad news is that we have only
managed to flm one domestic over the past
week. But there haven’t been any contract kill-
ings. It seems that people have stopped being
killed for some reason - which is kind of good
news in a way, I suppose,” I said, hoping he
would appreciate my irony.
“Not good news,” he shot back in a slightly ir-
ritated voice and then continued “When do you
think the killing will begin again? What do the po-
licemen say? Remember you are on a budget and
you have used up a quarter with little to show for
it,” he said.
“Well, one of the cops said that if nothing
happens in the next couple of days he could or-
ganize something if the price was right,” I replied
Dieter never got my humour and without
skipping a beat proceeded to ask me how much
such a service would cost.
I explained to him that the police were conf-
dent that murders would resume shortly and that
the lull was probably down to just bad luck.
“Or good luck,” I thought to myself.
“Let’s hope so. Remember, you promised a lot
of dead bodies,” he said.
And then he asked with a hint of hope in his
voice: “I don’t suppose there was a German in-
volved in the domestic you flmed.”
It was another one of his commandments.
Find a German in a mess and the German audi-
ence lap it up.
“Sorry Dieter, it was a Russian on Russian do-
mestic. No Germans involved.”
“I found myself in the strange
situation of hoping my luck would
change for the better and some-
body else’s would change for the
worse. My team and I sat around
waiting for somebody to die. “
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
“If a target was hard to get then
the next best thing was to kill
somebody close to him. As the
mourners and the target gathered
around the grave of the deceased,
explosives buried nearby would
explode wiping everyone out.
After we hung up, I found myself in the
strange situation of hoping my luck would
change for the better and somebody else’s
would change for the worse. My team and I sat
around waiting for somebody to die.
As it turned out, the next day we got a phone
call from Petrovka. A body had been found in a
drain in one of Moscow’s suburbs and it looked
We raced across the city in our cameraman’s
Lada managing to get there as the forensic sci-
entist arrived on the scene.
She was a slim woman in her mid-thirties
or so with shoulder length hair and an air of
confdence. The crowd parted and she strolled
through with a black briefcase in one hand. The
other hand clasped the fake fur collar on her pur-
ple coat tighter to her neck to ward of the cold.
I thought to myself that if I could get her to
cooperate then I would have the protagonist I
desperately needed. At that point all I had was a
bunch of police receptionists and a man lying in
a pool of blood on his kitchen foor after being
stabbed by his wife during a drunken argument.
Workmen had been fxing hot water pipes
down a manhole when they made the gruesome
discovery of a decomposed corpse. In fact, there
was little left but the bones and the clothes that
surrounded them. They ended up bringing the
body to the surface in instalments and laying it
out on the thawing snow.
While the police formed a cordon I intro-
duced myself to the forensic scientist whose
name turned out to be Ludmilla. I told her we
were making a flm about murder and, showing
her the letter from my friend, asked her if she
wouldn’t mind us flming her investigation.
Without looking at the letter she agreed with
a nod and then set about examining the bones
and cloth that were laid out on the ground while
dictating to an assistant who took notes.
She noted that wire had bound the wrists and
ankles and said that this was evidence that the per-
son had been tortured before being killed. She esti-
mated it had been lying down there for two months
and that rats and the hot water from the broken
pipe had accelerated the decomposition.
She then told us there were lots of cases like
this - of people who were made to disappear - and
that the chances of identifying the corpse were
slim. She pulled of her rubber gloves and threw
them on the ground before lighting a cigarette.
“Who knows why he ended up down there.
Maybe somebody wanted his apartment and af-
ter they forced him to sign over ownership they
killed him. That happens,” she said wearily.
As soon as she fnished her investigation, one
of the local detectives tried to do the right thing
by placing newspaper sheets on the remains as
that was all that was a hand. The van from the
morgue was still on the way. Within seconds the
paper had been blown away by the wind.
Before Ludmila left the scene I told her about
our bad luck, about Dieter and about my theory
that all the killing didn’t really afect most of the
population despite the hype in the media.
I said that if we could follow her around for
the next few weeks we would be able to show our
viewers how murder looked through the eyes of
an experienced forensic scientist and that she of-
fered the best perspective.
She lit another cigarette and thought about
what I had said before speaking.
“It’s a good time of year. It’s springtime. We
discover a lot of bodies around now. Buried un-
der the snow. Stuck beneath the ice in the ponds
and lakes. And then it all melts and there they are,
perfectly preserved and waiting for examination,”
she said before looking down at the bones on the
ground and adding, “Well, except in this case.”
Maybe she felt the story was worth telling or
she felt sorry for me as for sure there had been
a hint of desperation in my voice. My dwindling
budget and Dieter whining that the dead were
not dying quickly enough was never far from my
mind. For one reason or another she agreed.
“If you see me at a murder scene tell the cops
you are with me. I’ll wave you through,” she said.
And then she gave us the phone number of
her ofce and told us to ring every few hours on
the days she was working and we could fnd out if
she was being called out to an investigation.”
“Don’t rely on Petrovka 38 to tell you what
is going on. Remember you are foreigners, they
don’t trust you and they don’t want you to know
what is going on,” she added.
Ludmila worked 24 hour shifts. One day on,
three of. Like most law-enforcement employees
Work, drinking and smoking had taken their
toll over the years so she gave up the drinking as
she claimed she had started to look older than she
was. She’d seen too many colleagues destroy their
marriages and their careers with the assistance of
drink. Her marriage had already been wrecked so
all she had left was her career, her looks, her sanity
and those three days of in between shifts.
Over the next few weeks we followed Ludmi-
la around and flmed around 25 murder scenes.
There was the driver of a green Citroen who
had been shot dead in the front seat of his car. His
wife was hit by two bullets but survived The car
had been riddled with bullets by a Kalashnikov.
The driver had a gun as it was the second attempt
on his life but never had a chance to pull it from
The newspapers the next day said that he
had been a businessman working in the oil indus-
try and that the police were looking into whether
the murder was connected to his business activi-
ties. This was standard police jargon for the fact
that a contract hit had been carried out and they
were unlikely to fnd the killer and probably had
little inclination to do so.
Then there was the business man who was
shot 14 times and whose girlfriend had been shot
eight while they came into the entrance to their
apartment building. Two killers were alleged to
have been waiting for them and, given the number
Right Ludmila keeps her head together by
playing Chopin (Dresden Murphy)
Far right Ludmila at the scene of a recent mur-
der (Dresden Murphy)
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
of shell casings, it was clear that they had reloaded
their guns, one of which was a Makarov, the ofcial
weapon of the police and gun of choice for close
While Ludmila was examining the body and
counting the bullet wounds a mobile phone began
ringing from the jacket of the dead man.
The onlookers, policemen and detectives
went quiet. It was ’98 and pagers were the most
common communication device. The last thing
anyone expected to hear was the ringtone of one
of those newfangled and expensive brick-sized
A detective fshed the phone out of the pock-
et of the deceased and after gingerly pushing
two or three buttons he put the phone to his ear
and said with a little apprehension “Allo?”
He then listened for a few seconds, looked
down at the corpse and said, “Sergei is a bit busy
right now, who is asking?”
The caller hung up.
The next day the newspapers reported that
the man had worked in the gas industry and the
police were looking into whether the murder was
connected to his business activities.
Over the next few weeks I learnt a lot about
the murder from Ludmilla who turned out to be a
specialist in investigating contract killings.
The killing of the business man from the
gas industry was a classic podezd murder. Most
contract killings happened in and around the
entrance to people’s apartments. Killers relied
on the fact that everyone had to go to work and
come home at some point so all they had to do
was lie in wait.
She was fascinated by the creativity of some
of the killings she had investigated. There was
the apparently untouchable businessman who
had so many bodyguards that it was impossible
to get him going into the building. So the killer
placed explosive behind the button in the eleva-
tor for the foor that led to his penthouse suite.
When his bodyguard pushed the button it blew
him and his boss to pieces.
Then there were the cemetery killings. If a
target was hard to get then the next best thing
was to kill somebody close to him. As the mourn-
ers and the target gathered around the grave of
the deceased, explosives buried nearby would
explode wiping everyone out.
Ludmilla told me that the going rate for a
contract killing ranged from $200 to $10,000 de-
pending on how professional you wanted it to be.
She added that quite often the killer was killed
after the job not so much to save money but to
“That’s why we solve so few of these contract
killings. The murderers disappear and we never
fnd out who really gave the order,” she explains.
She watched plenty of American crime dra-
mas. She told me she never understood the chalk
outlines of the corpses that seemed the hallmark
of American coroners.
“What’s the point of drawing an outline of the
corpse which just frightens people after the body
is removed?” She asked.
I explained to her that the chalk outline was
for the beneft of the press after the coroner had
fnished their business. That way the press could
show a murder scene without upsetting their
We were having this conversation while Lud-
mila was investigating the death of a dentist from
Dagestan. He had been shot during a dispute
over a parking place.
The man was lying on his stomach and while
we were flming Ludmila pulled his trousers
down, took a thermometer from her briefcase
and stuck it in his rectum. I had no idea what she
She explained it was to determine the time
One of her colleagues who had just arrived
scolded her. “Ludmila, why aren’t you wearing
“The blood is fresh and anyway you know we
are short of gloves as it is,” she answered.
They were short of everything as it hap-
pened: gloves, body bags, fuel for the cars, leads
and the inclination to follow them if the murder
may have been connected to the business inter-
ests of the deceased.
It was easy to see how the life of a detective
or coroner could grind you down.
But Ludmila had it fgured and she treasured
those three days of between the 24 hour shifts.
At some point she told herself she would go
mad investigating murder if she didn’t have a
distraction. A few years earlier she rented a one
room apartment just for those days of and away
from the one she shared with her son who had
recently joined the army.
She bought a piano, an easel and some paint
brushes. She then taught herself how to play the
piano and to paint. She said it kept her sane.
She said that the images of the dead and their
wounds swirled around in her head. She had learnt
to look at a crime scene and piece together what she
saw and then tell the investigators what had hap-
pened. She called this the ‘Forensic Scientist’s Song’.
She smiled and then began playing the pi-
ano. She played Chopin’s Nocturne Op.9 No.2.
Before leaving we discussed my original the-
sis that while murder was widespread, civilians
were not in the crossfre.
“In the old days there was nothing like this.
From time to time family squabbles led to mur-
der. Now murder is on the rise due to the gang-
sters. Now it is gangsters and old people who die.
But you know, normal people live like normal
people,” she said with a faintly reassuring smile.
Our fnal murder was on one of Ludmila’s
A man had been found killed in his kitchen
along with his wife. The murder weapon, a kitchen
knife, was found in the hallway as were the shoes
of the murderer who was so drunk he had put on
the deceased’s shoes when leaving the apartment.
He had been drinking with the man and got
into an argument.
When we arrived at the scene the police
proudly told us they had apprehended the killer
and we could interview him down the station if
The murderer, whose name was Sasha, was
sleeping of the booze when the guard opened
the door and told him to stand up.
He claimed he could not remember killing
It didn’t matter. He was looking at 15 years to
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
HILST PERUSING THE EXHIBITS at the
Amir Timur Museum in Tashkent I
am suddenly accosted by a teenage
student. “What was your frst impres-
sion of Uzbekistan?” he asks me with
a smile, carefully enunciating every syllable of his
unsolicited question. As one always tries to do in
such situations I search for something profound
yet diplomatic but manage only to mutter some-
thing about the rigorous nature of passport con-
Nevertheless, my answer is evidently deemed
of satisfactory interest and within seconds an
enthusiastic semicircle of his classmates has con-
fgured itself infront of me, peppering me with
more questions about life abroad and about my
views on all things Uzbek. I am saved from their
insatiable yet good natured curiosity only by my
local friend, Madina Saidkarimova, who makes my
apologies and whisks me of to the sanctuary of
the next exhibition room. Madina, only 23-years
old, is the director of Uzbekistan’s frst and only an-
imal rights organization, Mehr va Oqibat (Kindness
and Mercy), and I had come to Tashkent to learn
about her work. However, upon my arrival she
insisted upon showing me the cultural highlights
of Uzbekistan’s capital as well - and this is how I
found myself running from the attention of class
2B through the ornate interiors of a museum dedi-
cated to one of history’s more brutal personalities.
President Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s current
despot, has been ruling the country since 1991
and has invested millions of dollars into display-
ing the country’s cultural assets. Impressive archi-
tecture and modern museums testify to this. He is
the only president young Uzbeks have known, and
many are proud of how he has advanced their cul-
ture. As one twenty-something told me, “Look at
Kyrgyzstan, we have so much culture, all they have
When I frst came to Tashkent, I was invited to
the Ministry of Justice to explain what I had come
to write about. The answers that I gave had the
government ofcials scratching their heads.
“Why animal welfare and not art?” asked the
executive. I explained to him that animal welfare is
also a sign of a society’s progress. He nodded and
wished me a good stay.
If you look around in Uzbekistan, like many
Central Asian countries, animals are treated like
inanimate objects. Stray animals live en masse on
the streets and are viewed as nothing but a nui-
sance. Children in the suburbs throw stones at
homeless cats and dogs, or even kill them for fun;
adults do not interfere. State dog catchers gather
stray animals to bludgeon them to death with iron
bars. Because of their eforts you don’t see many
stray animals in the city, but the number of home-
less dogs and cats in the Tashkent area is estimated
to be 120,000.
Mehr va Oqibat works closely with animal
clinics to neuter dogs and cats at discount rates in
order to get the problem under control in a more
humane way than an iron bar to the skull. Usually,
this is done at the request of owners, but they also
neuter stray animals as well. So far, Mehr va Oqibat
has neutered more than 400 animals, but Madina
knows that more needs to be done.
“This is a drop in the ocean”, she says. She
isn’t kidding. With 120,000 local strays, this barely
scratches the surface.
While neutering helps to stop the number of
strays from growing, it doesn’t address the sizeable
population of street animals that Tashkent currently
has. For this problem, Mehr va Oqibat works hard to
fnd stray animals lving homes of the streets.
Unfortunately, their eforts aren’t always suc-
cessful. They don’t have a shelter, just a temporary
facility where animals can stay for a maximum of
two weeks. It is difcult to open a long-term shel-
ter in Uzbekistan. By law, no one may own more
than two pets at a time, and no special regulations
for animal shelters exist, for now that is. Mehr va
Oqibat would like to change this.
Although these young activists wish they had
more shelters, they know that better facilities alone
can’t resolve the problem. A crucial step is convinc-
ing the government to pass legislation requiring
the sterilization of pets. “The number of stray ani-
mals continues to rise because people let their pets
breed uncontrollably. The puppies or kittens are
then simply thrown on the street,”says Madina.
Above Kittens packed into a cage at the ani-
mal market (all photos Adriane Lochner)
Opposite page Madina raises awareness of
animal rights issues at a local school; one of
the broken dogs rescued by Mehr va Oqibat
The Spektator thought everybody, including
Islam Karimov, found puppies and kittens
adorable, but sadly it seems that this is far
from true in Central Asia. Adriane Lochner
meets a young Tashkent local who is hoping
to change attitudes through Uzbekistan’s frst
animal rights organisation.
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
Naegis Tashpulatova, an independent jour-
nalist based in Tashkent recognizes the problem
as well, “This cruel treatment of animals is normal
for the people here.” She has long been involved
with the issue and explains it this way: “Our origi-
nal religion, Islam, teaches us to be kind to all living
things. In Soviet times, there was never a scheme
for the protection of animals, and people have sim-
ply forgotten these principles.”
Familiarizing the public with such principles is
an important part of what Mehr va Oqibat does.
“The hardest part of our work is to change people’s
attitudes. We need to raise awreness, especially
in schools. The children need to understand that
animals are living beings that are able to feel pain,”
Madina tells me. But in a country that has no con-
cept of animal rights, this has proven to be a dif-
“Many people don’t know what an animal
protection organization does. They ask us for the
impossible,” says Madina, “For example, we get
calls from women with 20 cats who want us to fnd
them a new apartment!”
There are plenty of organisations that aim
to help humans, but when it comes to helping
animals Mehr va Oqibat stands alone. Madina’s
frequent dealings with a demanding public drain
her nerves, which undoubtedly is why so many
of her predecessors resigned from the organisa-
tion. Yet, despite the calls from crazy cat ladies
and children with mildly sociopathic tendencies,
Madina’s convictions have kept her going. Nine
months ago she quit her job in the tourism indus-
try in order to fully concentrate on charity work.
She is on the road every day organizing exhibi-
tions, talking to government ofcials, and coordi-
nating animal relief operations. She doesn’t earn
money with Mehr va Oqibat and must rely on the
support of her parents. But in this line of work,
she feels as if she is making a diference.
One of Medina’s cultural excursions for me
leads us to the Jongabod Bazaar, one of the larg-
est bazaars in the Tashkent area. At the animal
market there, puppies wrestle with each other
in playpens as potential buyers browse the se-
lection. There are two kinds: expensive pedigree
pups with pink ribbons around their neck, and
cheap mutts coated in fea powder. The dogs that
cannot be sold either end up hungry on the street
or dead in garbage bins (or on someone’s plate at
a Korean restaurant).
One evening, Madina brings me to Mehr va
Oqibat’s promotional exhibit at the Ilkhom The-
atre. Ilkhom takes a special position among the
cultural assets of Tashkent. It is very liberal and
shows plays that are forbidden everywhere else in
town. But Ilkhom is not a cultural attraction that all
Uzbeks are proud of. The theatre’s founder, Mark
Weil, was stabbed to death in 2007 for staging a
play that some thought ofensively depicted the
Madina’s promotional exhibit goes well and
closes with no murdered patrons. Afterwards, the
theatre staf invite us to watch that evening’s per-
formance, John Steinbeck’s Totilla Flat, for free. I
didn’t understand Ilkhom’s Russian adaptation,
so I wander out to the lobby for the second half of
the play to see if anything is going on out there.
I get to chatting with an American entrepre-
neur and listen as he shares his stories with me.
He had lived in Russia for many years during the
Soviet era and was constantly under surveillance
by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret service. The
agent who shadowed him (rather inefectively
seeing as he knew about him) wasn’t your typical
leather jacket-clad, stone-faced killing machine.
The two enjoyed each other’s company over
shots of vodka from time to time.
The day after our night at the Ilkhom Theatre,
Madina takes me to the Museum in Memory of
the Victims of Repression. Its exhibits make me
remember that hanging out with the KGB wasn’t
always vodka shots and smiles. During Stalin’s
reign, the KGB helped deport millions of people
to gulags where they were labelled enemies of the
people and often killed.
The notion of Uzbekistan having a museum
that commemorates victims of political repression
is more than enough to produce a wry smile. After
all, Islam Karimov has displayed a tendency to go
a little overboard when dealing with political dis-
sidents (although, it is probably best to keep that
thought to yourself when visiting Tashkent).
When you visit Uzbekistan, you can’t help but
notice the rather ironic contrast between the Mu-
seum in Memory of the Victims of Repression and
Tashkent’s massive police presence. People with
any inclinations toward self-preservation know
that there are some things safer left unsaid, even
within your own four walls. For instance, talking
about animal rights is permissible, but you should
probably shy away from mentioning Uzbekistan’s
human rights record.
It’s a sunny afternoon on my last day in Tash-
kent. We visit the Khazrati Imam Architectural Com-
plex, which consists of beautiful domed mosques
and tiled madrasahs built in the 16th century. You
can feel the atmosphere and can imagine groups
of young, poorly-bearded adolescents gathered
around their teachers. In the courtyard, dozens of
craftsmen sell their handmade wares. Their paint-
ings, fabrics, woodcarvings, and pottery feature
motifs of oriental bazaars and caravans moving
through the desert. Despite the modernity of
Tashkent today, this is a place where one can still
fnd the ancient Silk Road atmosphere.
As my stay in Tashkent comes to an end, I think
about its modern museums, bustling bazaars, and
ancient architecture. The amount of time and efort
that Islam Karimov has invested in displaying Uzbeki-
stan’s cultural assets is evident as soon as you step
foot in Tashkent. But, I also realize that the time and
efort Madina and her colleagues have invested into
protecting animals is beginning to show as well.
“ State dog catchers gather stray
animals to bludgeon them to
death with iron bars. Because of
their eforts you don’t see many
stray animals in the city, but the
number of homeless dogs and cats
in the Tashkent area is estimated
to be 120,000.”
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Bars and Restaurants
So, here is the latest version of the guide – updates
always welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be aware that NEW may mean new to the guide,
rather than the capital...
As ever, there’s a fne 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
As you would probably guess, decorated with
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popular
with a younger crowd and is usually packed
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a
few drinks before heading of 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 staf
compliment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide
selection of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for
catching sporting events on TV, although thanks
to the hideously late kickof times for Champions
League football matches, don’t count on the staf
waiting up unless it’s a big one. $$$
A homage to the historical one, Obama is as
good a place as any to debate healthcare bills
and the debt ceiling over decent, if slightly
over-priced “Chili’s”-type fare. We dislike the
management but don’t feel the same way
about the stufed crust pizza and faijitas. Sister
restaurant on Ibraimova has a saxophone night
Fridays and Saturdays. $$$
Smokie’s (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina)
Bishkek’s frst 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 Orto-Sai market in the cooler half of the
city. Enjoy a range of whisky and well-made
cocktails, too. $$
Fancy something a little diferent? If you can
tolerate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad
spot for a pork steak or some other Armenian
culinary goodies. Also, treat yourself to some
decent Armenian cognac whilst your here, you’ll
never go near Bishkek cognac again. Ever. $$
China Town NEW (Orozbekovа/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. We are
hoping that they fx up an English menu in time
for summer, when the outdoor deck will be yet
another sell. Straight to the top of the class! $$$
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui)
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you are
getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly
select a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies
to throw in. Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although
delicious, may leave delicate stomachs in some
distress several hours later - consider the ‘not-
spicy’ sauce as a suitable alternative $$
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. $$
12 Chimneys (Village Teplye kluchi)
Wooden cabin located by a rushing river thirty
minutes out of town. The overpriced food is more
than compensated for by the chilled atmosphere
and wild surroundings. Locally caught fsh is
a house special. Hotel accommodation also
available. To get to Teplikluchy village, head south
down Almatinskaya Street and keep going. $$$
ARTishock* (Gorkova, opposite Vefa)
Good live music and tasty homemade soup. If
that’s not a hit combination we don’t know what
is. Suitable for a pre-party drink as well. $$
Avenue 71 (Kiev, 71 on the corner of the square)
With its spacious, Ikea-like interior, Avenue 71 is
family-friendly by day and more dancey by night.
The gasto-restaurnt-type grub here certainly
passes muster but the ice cream here is some of
the best in town - walk it of with a stroll around
the square. $$$
Barashek NEW (Tokombaeva 78)
Sister restaurant of Tubeiteka but more lamb-
focussed and with a pretty water feature that
adds a measure of calm to outdoor dining.
Barashek is out in the micro region so you get a
dose of fresh air free with your mutton rack. $$$
Barclay’s Pub* NEW (Sovietskaya/Mederova)
Much as with Burger Kiиg on Akhunbaeva st, we
fear Barclay’s were not paid for the use of their
name. Nevertheless, this isn’t a place to quibble
intellectual property rights, it’s a place to wash
down fried onions with a jar of beer and watch
the people’s sport. (That’s not baseball, by the
Barsuk NEW (Tynystanova 122)
With its great location on the south side of the
Russian Drama Theatre, Barsuk is very much
Bishkek’s new hip place, graced by Russian
rappers and the capital’s free-spending youth.
The food feels overpriced, but its worth a look
later in the evening. $$$
Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova)
Blonder Pub is a brewery-restaurant worth
visiting. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent
music during the week, football, Eurogrub and a
good selection of ales. In regard to the latter we
recommend Irish Stout or Blonder Premium. $$$
Buddha Bar* (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
Buddha bar ofers a taste of the East inside a
tastefully constructed zen log cabin. The sushi
is excellent, and for those on a budget, the
stir-fry noodle dishes make an excellent lunch.
Cave NEW (Gorkova, close to Sovietskaya)
Wow. To be honest we aren’t sure what the
food is like here - we spent most of the evening
supping mulled wine and gazing at the hundreds
of wooden cranes poetically suspended from
the ceiling. The wine is decent, but the latter are
revolutionary by Bishkek’s base artistic standards.
Chicago* NEW (Gorkova 1)
Home to a young, denim-wearing demographic
that like to bukhat (get wasted), the best thing
Chicago has going for it is decent prices on an
array of whiskies, in addition to acceptable pub
food. Whatever you are ordering, order two of
them – the service is slow. $$
Cofee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Treat yourself to some of the fnest cofee and
cakes Bishkek has to ofer at one of three ‘Cofee
Houses’; cosy boutique cafés with a European
favour. Curl up and read a book, or just drop in
for a cafeine hit and a chocolate fx. $$
Democrat* NEW (Frunze/Gogol)
Democrat is the latest shashlyk and beer hub to go
viral among Bishkek’s fattening middle class. We like
the lulya kebab, the 200 som bufets, the free cola
reflls and the table football. The interior has a dash
of Manhattan to it – no complaints. $$
www.thespektator.co.uk June 2014 The Spektator
23 Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range
of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as
an impressive array of pivo. This is where the KGB
operatives take their girlfriends. $
Dragon’s Den * (Shevchenko/Frunze)
Bishkek’s English pub comes complete with
English barfy 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. $$
Dream Bar* (Kievskaya 137)
Pop into Dream Bar for an Alko Lunch, which at
350 soms including a wine or a beer is one of
the better priced lunch deals in town. A posh,
purplish lounge-type place patronized by the
sushi-loving business crowd, Dream Bar gets
smooth and smoochy in the evenings. $$
Elki-Palki (Yunusalieva 171a)
A constant in an era of restaurant fux, Elki-Palki
serves great steaks with 1A sauce, although
they may not be around forever, wink, wink. A
comfortable, cosy place and well worth a ride
out to the suburbs – every taxi driver knows it. $$
Fab Bar* (338a, Frunze)
One of our favourite places to drink in the
summertime, when we can aford it. Outdoor
balcony-cum-terrace high above the street with
slouch-couches and fne views of the circus -
which you can sometimes smell in hot weather.
Fat Cat (Razzakova/Bokonbaevo)
Perhaps the most experimental interior out of
all Bishkek’s cafes, Fat Cat do a good burger and
have both smoking and non-smoking seating.
Check out the real cat that isn’t fat and the fat
cats at the entrance that aren’t real. Very cool. $$$
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek.
Elegant, yet modern interior and polite service.
Great place to splash out on a special occasion or
just for the hell of it. $$$
GlavPivTrest* (Asanbai region, next to City Club)
We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play
here and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia
hanging on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance
outside the bogs and you can get Spektator
favourite Venskoye on tap. Good beer snacks and
the burgers aren’t bad either. Nice for a ‘theme’
night out. $$
Guinness Pub* NEW (338 Frunze,opposite the
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 dress-up
evenings have made it a key fxture on a Friday
evening. Starts to fll up around 8ish. $$$
Johnny Pub* NEW (Toktogul/Orozbekova)
A buzzing centrally-located cafe popular with a
mostly younger clientele, Johnny Pub is a good
place to load up on chips, steak and fresh beer
before moving on to a hukka pipe flled with
absinthe later in the evening. Last time we
checked, the pub had a resident cat, but since
this creature seems to rub some customers up
the wrong way by touting for scraps.... $$
Kvartira 148 NEW
(East Wing of the Circus on Frunze)
We love this place – and we are not alone. ‘The
fat’ has charmed Bishkek with its slippers, hair
rollers, homemade borsch and board games.
Flat parties – beginning from 20.00 and not for
kids – can feature anything from female and
male strippers to jazz quartets. Sister restaurant
in Almaty. $$
Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda)
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$
Navigator * (103, Moskovskaya)
A pricey, but pleasant place to while away an
afternoon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or
lounge in the airy non-smoking conservatory.
Attentive service and a refreshing selection of
salads, a good place for a light, healthy lunch
when fat and grease are getting you down. $$$
Pinta Pub* (Frunze/Manas)
Pinta Pub is a bright green lighthouse for the
Spektator on a hot day. With a host of well-kept
beers on tap, the best grub here is pub grub with
any pork or lamb dish recommended. $$
A lovely little ale garden in the 4th micro-district
which one of our readers stumbled on while trying
to fnd Orto-Sai market. Good pub food and a
range of brews on draught, surrounded by other
interesting-looking cafes too. $$
Prego Club NEW (Chui, 219)
Smack bang where Adriatico used to be before it
was pole-axed by a tree , Prego Club is like its sister
restaurant in Dostuk hotel but with a bit more of a
boudoir feel. Enjoy a break from meat with some
of the best vegetarian cooking around. $$
Rosso NEW (Shopokova/Ivanitzena)
Rosso means “red” in Italian, and this bistro’s
decor will make you feel like you’ve stepped
inside an artery. Once swamped in blood-
coloured velvet you can order some tasty fried
mozzarella cheese balls and half-decent goulash.
A bland alfredo pasta and the feckless waiting
staf are drawbacks, but given Rosso has only
opened recently it is probably worth a shot. $$$
Sierra Cafe (57, Manas)
An established expat favourite and with the
Starbucks-standard caramel macchiatos, the to-
die-for Belgian wafes and a mushroom soup
Spektator writer Thomas Olson describes as
“orgasmic”, it isn’t difcult to see why. Sit with a
group of mates, a laptop or the latest copy of The
Economist and imagine that you are in Seattle. $$
Sky Hall NEW (On top of the Ak-Keme, 93, Manas)
Set on the mountains side of town and 50 metres
above ground, Sky Hall (not to be confused with
the old Sky bar) is a lofty escape route from the
daily Bishkek grind. A steak will set you back 600
soms but we think it’s worth it. Engagement ring
Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panflova)
The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre
conceals one of Bishkek’s fnest attempts at a cosy
basement bar. Friendly staf, 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 romantic ambience on some
Sunday evenings. $$
People better in the know than us say that this
sleek little number has flled the culinary hole left
in the city’s dining scene by Dillinger – a top-notch
restaurant in its time . We’ve only had a light lunch
here, but the salads ofer something a bit diferent
and the tomato soup is a winner. $$$$
U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya near the
Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed
restaurant. Descend into this underground
warren and tuck in. Also check out both the
fairy-light adorned fagship U Mazaya in Asenbai
micro region, and the fairly new U Mazaya on
Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena)
Don your beer drinking trousers and head down
to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They
brew their own stuf - such a relief from the insipid
bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment
your pint with a plate of German sausage with
Vienna (Moscow/Soviet - tucked away slightly
of the main street on the southeast side of the
Actually an Austrian restaurant, but subsumed
into our German section in the name of the
Anschluss. Vienna is a cracking little place to
people watch on Mossoviet over some great
European dishes and a glass of fne Austrian
wine. If you didn’t know that Austria produced
fne wines, you can check out the adjoining shop
to begin your viticultural education. Vienna is
spelled BEHA in Russian. $$
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Chito Gvrito NEW
Georgian joint out in the micro regions. The
khadjapuri passes muster, although you get the
impression the place is still fnding its feet. $$
Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-
fulls of steaming, hearty Georgian fare with
pomegranate seeds a-plenty. Order a bottle of
chacha frewater and make it a night. $$$
The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt)
A varied and interesting menu including fne Indian
food make this place a real treat. We recommend
the Lamb Rogan Josh and the Palak Panir. A real
stand out and a Spektator favourite! $$$
At its best on a not-so-roasting summer day
when you can people-watch from the terrace on
Erkindik boulevard while enjoying some of the
best cuisine in Bishkek. Try the snails - the waiter
says they are Kazakh. $$$$
Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Run by Italian chef Walter and positioned behind
the October cinema, Bella Italia is quite simply the
only authentic Italian food in town. We tend to
order big - a litre of house white, a plate of tortellini
PPF and the four cheeses pizza, plus dessert.
Deceptively low cost. $$
Cyclone (136, Chui)
Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior,
efcient, polite serving staf and a warm
atmosphere to alleviate Bishkek’s winter chills.
Pasta dishes stand out among a menu of
traditional Italian favourites. $$$
Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses
serving excellent, good value pizza. Also serves
salads and European cuisine. Small terrace outside
for summertime dining, but be warned, it flls up
on weekends. $$
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
together enough soms. $$$
Watch your meat and vegetables fried in front of
you on an oval metal pan attached to your table.
Limited menu but a very cool experience. $$
Egao NEW (Chui 140)
Egao is an intimate Japanese afair on Bishkek’s
main drag and with only two tables inside we
wonder how it breaks even. But the chef is
Japanese, some of the Kyrgyz waiting staf there
speak Japanese and the ramen is very tasty to the
Spektator’s untrained tongue. Order a meal and
get an Arpa for 60 soms. $$
Furusato NEW (Bokonbaeva 132)
Excellent Japanese cuisine in this homely, lively,
charming little cafe that opened in summer 2013.
We shouldn’t say a bad word about the staf, who
ofer excellent service, but be prepared for the
way they all scream something at you in Japanese
and bow in unison as you leave the place. It can
be quite freaky. $$
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. $$
Chong Gi Won (115, Chui), Vostok 5
Across the street from Kyung Bok Kung, our
resident Korean tells us this place isn’t bad either.
Relocation has made Beirut more accessible
to Bishkek’s ‘southerners’ without afecting the
quality of the grub. Similar to L’Azzurro in both
price and mezze. $$$
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 fsh as
well. The grilled trout, in particular, is a winner. A
good place to take large parties. $$$
Bukhara NEW (Shopokova 126, behind circus)
Bukhara’s menu overfows with the best Uzbek
cuisine has to ofer but also boasts a plethora
of tasty salads, making it a magnet for both the
gourmand and the grease-lover. The Bukhara salad,
Kazanski kebab and Dim-la-ma get the Spektator’s
full endorsement. $$
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range
of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an
impressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football
nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $
Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Manas)
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 summer, when the shashlyk masters fanking
the entrance ofer their creations straight to guests
sitting at Eastern-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. Great
food, unless you keep kashrut. Closed in winter. $$$
Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well
beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with
nods to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the
Chinese chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$
Pirogof-Vodkin (Kievskaya, 107)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have
your tea in a giant samovar. $$$
(Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya)
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked
the potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious
soups and fresh salads. $$
Zaporyzhia (9, Manas)
Zaporyzhia is a cossack favoured restauraunt in
a varnish-scented log cabin. Hearty rustic dishes
and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is
Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya,
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’.
Beerier sister restaurant opposite the Ministry of
Foreign Afairs on Frunze. $
Usta (Opposite the main mosque, Moskovskaya)
A handy hop from the main city Mosque, ‘Usta
Kebab’ is perhaps unsurprisingly the standout
dish on the menu. $$
The lavash is outstanding here, as are the range of
sauces that compliment a wide array of vegetable
and meat dishes. $$
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
June 2014 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
26 The End
ASTING MY MIND BACK to 1998, I
remember myself as a small boy in
a sports shop in a provincial town in
northern England. I was there with my
best friend and his father, who was trying
to fnd out from a young, silver-tongued
sales assistant what exactly it was that made the
Nike Predator football boots his son was trying
on so special and expensive. Excitedly, the spiky-
haired salesman launched into a jargon-packed
explanation concerning the Nike Predator’s “sweet
spot”, which helped footballers generate increased
spin when they struck the ball. This, he added, was
how the Brazilian left-back, Roberto Carlos, had
managed to score a physics-defying free-kick in a
recent game against France. My best friend’s dad, a
self-made businessman raised in one of Liverpool’s
rougher suburbs, wasn’t having any of it.
“I’ve heard a bit of bullshit in me time,” he told
the sales assistant, “but that’s the best.”
The same could be said of the Neo-Eurasianist
ideology that is currently justifying Vladimir Putin’s
sense of entitlement to empire. A rehashed version
of an early 20th century theory, Neo-Eurasianism is a
ramshackle argument explaining Russia’s continued
uniqueness vis-a-vis other European countries, its
partiality to despotic, socially conservative rulers,
and its existential opposition to the soullessness
of a liberal Anglo-Saxon civilization that gave the
world John Stuart Mill, The Beatles, and free reflls at
Hooters. The ideology’s best-known contemporary
proponent, Russia’s Aleksandr Dugin, has frequently
been compared to Rasputin, partly because of his
haunted eyes and monkish beard, but mainly
because of his rumoured infuence over Putin,
Russia’s very own 21st Century Tsar.
Neither classical Eurasianism nor the more
right-wing take on it espoused by Dugin stop at
Russia. In fact, Dugin’s black fag-fying Eurasian
Youth Union has ofces in Kazakhstan and
Uzbekistan, as well as an underground presence in
Ukraine, where it has been banned.
There are also fans of the ideology in
Kyrgyzstan. I used to regularly enjoy boozy sessions
with a group of Kyrgyz intellectuals and flmmakers,
all of whom were adherents of Eurasianism, albeit a
less extreme form than Dugin’s. As the vodka would
fow, so would the conversation through the annals
of time, all the way back to Alexander the Great’s
achievement in uniting the Hellenes and the Asiatics
under one sword, to Peter the Great’s futile attempt
to westernize the Russian elite, to their admiration
for Ghengis Khan’s tolerance of religion in the name
of conquest. Throughout this tipsy, corner-cutting
tour of world history, Russia was ever-righteous, a
country born to lead but denied the opportunity
by fate, folly and the damned West. Kyrgyzstan, the
young, troubled democracy of which they were
citizens, was a non-starter in their eyes. To fnd its
place in the world it needed to be part of something
But where does Eurasia start and where
does it fnish? How would any ideology based
on this unquantifable mass of land (dominated,
conveniently by Russia’s own enormity) unite the
diverse peoples therein? Vladimir Putin’s answer to
this question so far has been the Customs Union,
which looks like nothing in particular apart from a
bad economic deal for any country press-ganged
into joining it. That is somewhat short of what Dugin
wants to achieve, namely Moscow as a “Third Rome”
capable of providing a civilizational counterpoint to
Washington-led “Atlanticism” by forming pacts of
resistance with other “natural” geopolitical power
centers like Tehran until the hegemony of liberalism
is destroyed and a fresh struggle can begin.
Confused? So is my friend’s father.
Yet that is the nature of Neo-Eurasianism: all
spin and no sweet spot: a theory based on things
it doesn’t like with little or no idea of what it does.
To be certain, from the plateaus of Mongolia to the
foothills of the Carpathian mountains no-one wakes
up feeling “Eurasian”, except maybe select groups of
intellectuals and flmmakers romantic for empire.
Put opposite radical Islam or globalization in the
battle for the world’s soul, it seems like a weak bet.
Nevertheless, thousands of miles away from
Aleksandr Dugin’s ivory tower in Moscow, on the
very frontiers of Eurasia itself in our fair Bishkek, the
Neo-Eurasianist wind is blowing.
Take the very recent and hugely hysterical
hysteria about homosexuality for instance. Two
Kyrgyz MPs, operating with the support of an
array of pop-up youth movements are trying
to push an “anti-gay propaganda” bill through
parliament that mirrors one passed by the Russian
state legislature last summer.
Then there is the sudden, uncontained hatred
of NGOs. A youth movement called Kalys wants
to shut them all down. That might be a sign that
MPs are preparing to discuss once more a law that
would label them as “foreign agents”, another piece
of legislation copied from Russia and rejected by
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament a few months back.
To be clear, the Spektator does not wish to
argue that NGOs are always useful occupants of
space or that the nomadic Kyrgyz had a time-
honored tradition of same sex marriages before
being absorbed into the Russian empire. It is
up to any society to beat its own path between
Amsterdam and Damascus. But it seems that there
are things that pose a graver threat to the future
of the Kyrgyz state than NGOs and LGBT. Neo-
Eurasianism, promoted via its “foreign agents”in the
Kyrgyz parliament, might just be one of them.
We’ll turn the lights out when we leave.
QUESTION: What is neo-Eurasianism?
ANSWER: Mostly incoherent crap, but be-
cause we live in Kyrgyzstan we are likely to be
hearing an awful lot more about it in the near
Below Aleksandr Dugin: I dreamed a dream (ar-
Above right The banners of neo-Eurasian-