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THE Spektator №17 May 2011

Your monthly guide to what’s happening in and around Bishkek

After the
Life in the Semipalatinsk Polygon

Stories from the
Mission to the
Saving Park

. .
Tourist Map What’s On Restaurant Guide

ContentsThe Spektator Magazine

Saving Park Ata-Turk
Bishkek was formerly among the top
twenty greenest cities in the USSR. Now,
city officials and business types have un-
scrupulous plans for the city’s parks and

trees. When Aftandil Jorobekov found out

about one attempt to ‘develop’ a stretch
Founder: Tom Wellings of Park Ata-Turk on Akhunbaeva st, he
began mobilizing the local community.
Managing Editor: Chris Rickleton
( After the Apocalypse 18
Tom Wellings interviews documentary-
maker Anthony Butts about a Kazakh
Staff writers: Robert Marks (rmarks@ community that lives near the disbanded, Dennis Keen Semipalatinsk Polygon - a once notorious
(, This Month Soviet atomic testing facility.
Holly Myers, Evan Harris,
Patrick Barrow, Pavel Kropotkin, Alice News and Views
We wanted to be a bit more upbeat with
Janvrin, Sergey Vysotsky
our round-up this month, so we’ve gone
for post-riot renumeration, the bride
kidnapping debate and problems in the
Guest Contributor: Calvin Preece local press.

Guest Artist: Pico Rickleton

Out & About
Design: Aleka Claire
Stories from the Sticks
The Spektator has been Out & About for
Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova over two and-a-half years now. We take
(email: a look at some of the interesting folk we
have met along the way.

The Call
Once heard, the Islamic call to prayer is
forever ingrained on the memory. Dennis
Keen swaps eagle hunters for muezzins as
he tries to find out more about the azan
and the guys who sing it.
This month’s issue is dedicated to our
good friends H and Elise

Married in Istanbul 23.05.11

The Guide
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town.
City Map
Don’t get lost. 25
What’s On
The pick of the entertainment listings. 26
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
ON THE COVER: The Semipalatinsk Polygon’s mysteries
are yet to be unlocked (archive)
The Spektator Magazine is available at locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Ecotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept,
Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Cowboy, Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Coffeehouse, Doka, Fatboy’s, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar,
Meri, Navigator, Stary Edgar’s Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Golden Bull (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpi-

nist (Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
The Spektator is now online at
4 This Month
Bride Kidnapping: a Tradition or a Crime?

BISHKEK, May 21 (RFE/RL) - Although bride kid-

napping is officially a crime in Kyrgyzstan, few
cases reach the courtroom Kyz Korgon Institute,
an Kyrgyz NGO that campaigns to eliminate the
Some 200 people took to the streets in a
northern Kyrgyz province earlier this week to
protest the longstanding practice of bride kid-
The custom -- in which single young men
kidnap their bride of choice and pressure them
to agree to marriage -- is not uncommon in Kyr-
But bride kidnapping has recently come un-
der sharp criticism in the Central Asian country
after two kidnapped brides committed suicide
in a matter of months.
The site of this week’s rally, the northern Is-
syk-Kul Province, is home to the two suicide vic-
tims -- Venera Kasymalieva and Nurzat Kalykova,
both 20-year-old students.
The rally, dubbed “Spring without Them,”
was organized by local women’s NGOs and other
activists and held in the town of Karakol. During
the protest participants called on authorities
and community leaders to put an end to the old
tradition. Above Bride kidnappings are commonplace in Kyrgyzstan’s regions (Kyz Korgon institute)
Bride kidnapping is officially a criminal of-
fence in Kyrgyzstan, where the criminal code and forcibly drive her to the captor’s family But under constant pressures from relatives, Ka-
stipulates a maximum three-year prison term for home. The rest is left to female relatives of the lykova and her parents eventually accepted the
bride-kidnapping. man, who try to persuade the kidnapped wom- marriage proposal.
In reality, however, few cases reach the an to marry her captor. The marriage didn’t last long - Kalykova
courtroom, and those who are tried for bride- The woman is put under enormous pres- committed suicide just four months later.
kidnapping usually walk away after paying a sure, including physical violence, but in the Despite the outcome, Ulan sees nothing
small fine. majority of cases, the captor refrains from rape, wrong in his approach to marriage.
“Once bride-kidnapping was character- Babayarova says. “We were friends with Nurzat for three years
istic mostly to rural areas, but it has become If the woman finally agrees to marriage, the before our marriage. I wanted to marry her, but
widespread everywhere, including the capital, family of her potential husband puts a white ker- she always postponed it. Perhaps she wasn’t
Bishkek,” says Gazbubu Babayarova, founder of chief on her head, and asks her to write a letter ready,” Ulan told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service.
Kyz Korgon Institute, a nongovernmental organ- to her parents. They take the letter to the bride’s Ulan doesn’t hold himself responsible for his
ization that campaigns to eliminate the tradition family to ask their daughter’s hand in marriage wife’s suicide.
of bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. and arrange a quick wedding ceremony. “We lived alright, we were friendly,” he says.
“Our researches indicate that between 68 While the groom’s relatives take part in “To this point, I don’t understand what possibly
and 75 percent of marriages in Kyrgyzstan take “choosing” and arranging the kidnapping of could have gone wrong.”
place with bride kidnapping.” their future daughter-in-law, the potential bride Authorities say they have launched a probe
Babayarova says economic hardship is one and her family do not usually know the captors into Kalykova’s case but it is unclear whether
of many reasons behind the recent rise of bride or their intentions until after the kidnapping Ulan will be charged with kidnapping.
kidnapping, as many families try to avoid paying takes place. Organizers of today’s rally in Karakol called
dowries and wedding expenses. But it is by no Many brides follow tradition and simply ac- on authorities to enforce existing laws to pun-
means the only motivation. cept their fate. But some of the marriages born ish men who opt for kidnapping as a means of
“It is encouraged by parents of the boys,” Ba- from bride-kidnapping fall apart and for some finding a wife.
bayarova says. “And sometimes, boys are afraid -- like the two young students in Issyk-Kul -- this In a tearful address to participants, Venera
of asking the girls’ permission. They think it’s can bring a tragic end. Kasymalieva’s father, Oken, said his daughter’s
easier just to kidnap her, because they are afraid “She Wasn’t Ready for Marriage So I Kid- kidnapping ruined his family’s life.
maybe she will refuse. napped Her” I call on young men to refrain from kidnap-
“Another reason is that even if there is a law, Kalykova’s acquaintance, Ulan, once asked ping, he said. “I don’t wish any young girl to com-
it’s not being implemented. Since the kidnap- her if she wanted to marry him. Kalykova and mit suicide in the future. My wife died suddenly
pers go unpunished, bride-kidnapping is hap- her parents refused the marriage proposal but five years ago, and that’s why my daughter [Ven-
pening again and again.” they didn’t predict Ulan would not take no for era] was like a mother to my younger kids.”
an answer. Abaz Jyrgalbekov, a 20-year-old man who
How It’s Done Late one evening in November 2010, Kalyk- also joined the rally, says not all Kyrgyz men sup-
According to the tradition, when a Kyrgyz man, ova ‘s parents came home from a dinner party port the kidnapping tradition.
usually in his twenties, wants to get married for to find their daughter had gone missing. Days It’s a way for insecure men to get girls, Jyr-
the first time, he picks a bride and starts to ar- later, they found out that Kalykova has been galbekov says. “Who usually kidnaps a woman?
range her kidnapping. kidnapped by Ulan, who was now asking their Guys with no self-confidence; who are afraid
The man and his friends seize the young permission to conduct a marriage ceremony. that a girl doesn’t like him.”
woman in streets, sometimes using violence, The parents brought Kalykova back home. “I want to marry in a normal way,” he adds.
May 2011 The Spektator
This Month 5
Kyrgyzstan: A Free Press Begets Hate Speech

BISHKEK, May 12 ( - Kyrgyz jour- the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, in Economics may be a big part of the problem.
nalists cover an anti-Bakiyev rally in March 2010. comments carried by the news agency on The prolonged bout of political instability that
Following the ouster of former Kyrgyz President May 3. began with Bakiyev’s ouster took a toll on many
Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the Otunbayeva govern- “The media can serve evil purposes,” Edil media outlets, causing a precipitous drop in ad
ment claims that the news media is now able to Baisalov, a Kyrgyz civil society activist and Otun- revenue. Media outlets in southern Kyrgyzstan
operate with greater freedom – a freedom some bayeva’s former chief of staff, told were especially hard hit, with most experienc-
observers say is spawning chauvinistic and racist “There are many examples when newspapers are ing approximately a 50-percent loss in income.
stories in the Kyrgyz-language press. exacerbating existing political tensions and cast- As they struggle to recover, newspapers are es-
Recent developments in Kyrgyzstan are ing ethnic minorities as enemies.” pecially vulnerable to deep-pocketed politicians
displaying the dark side of a free press. Since Some of the Kyrgyz-language newspapers and wealthy entrepreneurs, who can offer finan-
Kyrgyzstan embarked on its experiment in par- containing chauvinistic and xenophobic content cial relief in return for desired coverage.
liamentary-style democracy in 2010, a few jour- are being printed at a publishing house oper- “It is no secret that these days most media
nalists have made commendable efforts to fulfill ated by the Media Support Center Foundation outlets represent the interests of powerful politi-
the traditional watchdog function of a free press. (MSCF). The MSCF is a commercial entity that cians. I doubt that journalists will be neutral [dur-
But such bright spots are being marred by a rise was founded in 2003. Initial funding for the MSCF ing the election campaign]. They will defend the
in chauvinistic and racist rhetoric in the Kyrgyz- came from the US State Department. According interests of politicians who pay them,” said an Osh
language press, along with recent violent attacks to the foundation’s website, the MSCF’s Supervi- journalist speaking on condition of anonymity.
against journalists. sory Committee is headed by Martin Callanan, a Beyond the profusion of hate-speech and
Addressing journalists at a May 3 celebra- member of the European Parliament. calumny in the press, several suspicious attacks
tion of World Press Freedom Day, President Roza On April 29, the Prosecutor General’s office against journalists have occurred in recent weeks.
Otunbayeva praised her government’s media warned media outlets to stop publishing material For instance, On May 1, Jyldyz Bekbaeva, a cor-
record: “Freedom of the press is the main achieve- that incites inter-ethnic animosity. But the hate- respondent for Russia’s Interfax news agency, was
ment of the republic. No journalist has been filled articles continue to appear. Many observers assaulted in Osh. She is convinced she was not
forced to flee the country, no one has been put suspect that much of the controversial coverage the victim of a random criminal act, but was in-
to the administrative grindstone, and no one has is being encouraged and funded by politicians tentionally targeted because of her professional
been attacked,” Otunbayeva said, referring to the with an eye on this fall’s presidential election. activities.
period following the collapse of Kurmanbek Baki-
yev’s administration in April of 2010.
After assuming power, the new government Kyrgyzstan to Pay Osh Victims’ Families: Can It Be Done Fairly?
lifted most Bakiyev-era controls on broadcast NATASHA YEFIMOV
and print media outlets, launched investigations
into prior abuses, and pledged to introduce pub- BISHKEK, May 14 ( - Two months reported government estimate put the death
lic control over the main government radio and after passing a deficit-plagued budget, Kyr- toll at 427, an international study released May
television broadcasting company. Last month, gyzstan’s parliament has amended it, reallocat- 3 put it at 470.
moreover, parliament approved a resolution that ing about $12.9 million to compensate those Will ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks get
de-criminalized defamation and libel. Although who lost relatives in last June’s ethnic violence equal access to compensation? Atambayev’s ini-
the measure abolished jail terms for those found in Osh and Jalal-Abad. While the effort seems tial agreement to the payouts came after a small
guilty of libel, it did allow for a steep increase in commendable on its face, the political pressure but vociferous protest by ethnic Kyrgyz families
fines against journalists in civil actions. surrounding it and the implementation process brandishing anti-Uzbek slogans. The group got
Despite such improvements, observers say to come both raise doubts about how fair and high-profile support from his potential political
there are many reasons to remain concerned transparent the payouts will be. rival, Ata-Jurt party leader Kamchybek Tashiev, a
about Kyrgyzstan’s media environment. For one, Under a decree signed by Prime Minister parliament deputy known for his Kyrgyz-centric
journalists are “afraid to write on political issues Almazbek Atambayev, made public May 10, rhetoric and considerable clout in the country’s
and often employ self-censorship,” Аlmas Ysman families of Kyrgyzstani citizens killed in the ethnically divided south. With presidential elec-
Kalet, an Osh-based freelance journalist, told clashes will receive a one-time payment of 1 tions just months away, currying favor among Self-censorship became an acute million soms (about $21,500); families of the southerners is key to Atambayev’s political am-
issue after southern Kyrgyzstan was consumed missing will also collect a million soms; those bitions.
by violent ethnic clashes in June 2010, Kalet said. who sustained serious bodily injuries -- as de- More importantly, relations between ethnic
Hundreds of people, mostly Uzbeks, died in the termined by experts in forensic medicine -- will Uzbeks and local officials in the south remain
violence. get 100,000 soms; and those who received “less toxic. Various rights groups have said that, since
In recent weeks, many Kyrgyz-language news grievous bodily harm” - ditto the official diagno- June’s violence, Uzbeks have had limited access
outlets have explored the extreme limits of edito- sis - will get 50,000 soms. to social services and have been chronically
rial freedom, publishing articles expressing chau- Here are two of the biggest challenges to an mistreated by the justice system. A stark, recent
vinistic and xenophobic views. In one instance of equitable compensation process: example is cited in the international study men-
hate-speech, a May 11 commentary published by Official record keeping and forensic exper- tioned above, known as the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry
the Kyrgyz-language newspaper El Sozy -- trans- tise are notoriously weak. After the street riots of Commission (KIC) report: It found that Uzbeks
lated into Russian by the website April 2010, the death toll was about one-fifth the made up 74 percent of those killed in June but
-- blamed Jews for most of the country’s current number killed in June and still one person reg- 79 percent of those charged with crimes related
problems. istered as dead - by the state’s forensic experts to the violence. Will the same officials party to the
“Freedom of expression has revealed the - turned out to be alive and well and driving a miscarriage of justice be in charge of handing out
other side of the coin; it turned out that journal- cab in Russia. The man’s family received 1 mil- the paperwork needed for compensation?
ists are lacking responsibility and professional lion soms in compensation, which, by the time Ensuring the compensation process is fair
ethics. Due to increased competition for scandal- he was found, had already been spent. Who lies and impartial will be tough. And considering
ous materials, journalists are publishing unveri- buried under his name remains unknown. As for that the government pushed through the bill to
fied facts. Media outlets are teeming with anti- those killed in June, a few dozen bodies haven’t make payments in time for June’s one-year anni-
Semitic views, especially the Kyrgyz-language been identified conclusively. Moreover, discrep- versary, there’s reason to worry that this thorny
ones,” said Dinara Oshurahunova, the director of ancies in body counts persist. While the latest problem got short shrift May 2011 The Spektator

6 Out & About


Stories I
HAD FIRST SEEN the General gazing sternly ally corrupt”, but he didn’t care much for meetings
out of a billboard by a motorway near my and revolutions either. “We believe in giving people
house. Now I was sitting in his office, sipping their dignity back, in making laws mean something
tea. again, in stopping the rule of the mob,” he told me
It was autumn and Kyrgyzstan was prepar- firmly.
from the ing for parliamentary elections. Twenty-seven Meeting this former commando made me

parties were campaigning for the country’s atten- realize how radically my own political beliefs had
tion, plastering themselves shamelessly onto bus changed since moving to Bishkek. In adolescence,
stops, lampposts and, if especially flush, seven-story my heroes had been revolutionaries; utopians like
apartment blocs. Amidst a host of sound bites, one Mao Zedong and Robespierre, who plunged their
stuck in my mind for its sheer simplicity: “Strong au- nations into violent cataclysms, spouting slogans
thority - peaceful country.” as they went. But living in a country where violent
It was as if this party had missed a PR trick. cataclysms were regular facts of life, anarchy had
Living and writing in Kyrgyzstan ensures Where was the reference to “the people”, the verse lost all its romance. Kyrgyzstan, it seemed, needed
you meet a diverse range of thought- from a bygone bard, the horses, mountains and a firm hand - the general was the man to provide it.
provoking folks. While some of the world’s waterfalls? Replacing populist imagery were grim-
The Jailoo Nationalist
more unique characters have already looking military men, lapels ablaze with medals,
beady eyes scanning passersby. “What are you taking pictures of?”
brightened the Spektator’s two tone pages We were in a park in Byelovodskoye, a small
“Ah yes, the ex-KGB guys,” a journalist friend of
with their presence, others just missed the mine briefed me. “No-one knows much about them. provincial town two hours from the capital, where
cut. This month we look some of the peo- I don’t think they will get votes. They’re far too scary.” we had arrived to interview local officials. A statue
ple that have inspired, touched or scarred “We made the KGB piss in their pants,” the gen- of Lenin was covered in moss, benches dotting the
eral corrected me, when I turned up at his party HQ park were overgrown with weeds, and a narrow
us over the years.
to ask him about his campaign platform. He had concrete walkthrough had relented, dissolving into
been part of an elite Soviet special forces unit, he earth. All over the world human settlements were
told me, serving in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and fur- reaching out into nature, but in Byelovodskoye, the
ther afield. wilderness was fighting back. My friend was captur-
The habits of service died hard. The general ing the moment with his camera.
lounged in his office in camos and army boots, “I don’t know why you’re taking photos,” the
while subordinates sporting bullet proof vests pa- voice continued. “There’s nothing to see here. The
trolled the corridors outside his inner sanctum. park is wild, like the people that live near it.”
“I believe in order,” he said, “because the alterna- She was in her sixties, in national dress with
tive is chaos.” He had seen whole countries dissolve golden teeth. “Who lives by the park?” we asked.
before his eyes, he added - it wasn’t a pretty sight. She lowered her voice. “You know. Uzbeks, Uighurs,
Above How many eyes hath Kyrgyzstan? Now, after a summer of political turmoil which had Kyrgyz from Osh.” She gestured to a neighbourhood
(all illustrations by Pico Rickleton) left Kyrgyzstan teetering on the brink of dissolution, the other side of a concrete wall. The Osh Kyrgyz
he had decided to form a party with other like- were particularly painful for her.
This page and next Character sketches in order minded individuals; men of arms and honour. “They call themselves Kyrgyz,” she hissed bit-
of appearance. Characters are fictional Any The general had despised the ousted Bakiev terly, as two veiled women walked past us, chatting
similarity to real people is purely coincidental clan, whom he referred to as “politically and mor- away to one another. “But look at them!”
May 2011 The Spektator
Out & About 7

“A real Kyrgyz woman rides open-faced, to- smoked, played solitaire and talked football. Other ful than religion,” Max concluded. “I’ll eat it until the
wards the sun.” She imagined herself on a steed as Koreans they introduced me to were always lively day I die.”
she spoke. “Look at the way I dress,” she said jubi- and interesting. Grigi and Max were no exceptions.
The Rights Defender
lantly. “I’m from Talas, a pure Kyrgyz!” Each Korean boasted of the glories of the
She talked sentimentally of the landscapes of countries Stalin had deported their parents to. “Uz- “I’ve just walked out of a presidential round table,”
her homeland, where yurts smoked and real Kyrgyz bekistan is a difficult place now, but it was always she announced as she stormed into the room. “We
- the most hospitable nation in the world - always the greatest Central Asian republic,” argued Grigoriy. told them, if corrupt stooges from the former ad-
welcomed outsiders. But soon the tirade cranked Max said that Tajiks were a unique people, the best ministration are going to be present, then we won’t
up again. in the world, bar Koreans of course. “So why did you be.”
Modern Kyrgyz girls “dressed like women from both move to Kyrgyzstan in the end?” demanded The woman I was interviewing that afternoon
Moscow”, she said, young men from the South Vanya. It was all getting a bit confusing. was a veteran of Kyrgyz civil society, the scourge
wore “stinky beards”, and Issyk-Kul natives were also As a young night grew old, uncle Vanya was put of national governments from the Akayev era on-
scum, having insulted her during a recent holiday to bed, and Grigoriy passed out upright. I was left wards. Back when they were members of the oppo-
in the region. talking to Max, the Korean from Tajikistan. He had sition, she had put all her formidable energies into
The woman kept rambling, receding into cari- left the country when civil war began in the 1990s, defending big names such as Rosa Otunbayeva and
cature. An indecipherable world was closing in on he said, fingering a tattoo on his hand. Compared to Omurbek Tekebayev. Now they were in power, she
her, and she had nothing to fight it off with, except that, even the gulag was easy. was railing against them.
a vague idea of what a Kyrgyz should look like and He spoke Russian and Tajik, but no Korean. I “That’s just how it is in this country,” she contin-
what part of the country they should live in. She asked him if there was anything bar blood connect- ued. “The outs become the ins and start behaving
didn’t read the Quran, she confessed, and Lenin was ing him to his distant homeland. like the ones before them.” Stopping to take a rare
caked in bryophytes now. She looked towards the “I still eat dogs, if that’s what you mean,” he re- breath, she began an invective against the parlia-
statue with a mixture of longing and resentment. plied gruffly. Through the blur of vodka I saw Maria ment. “We NGOs had hoped for a more constructive
“Everyone else kicked the Russians out,” she wince. Many of Kyrgyzstan’s approximately 70,000 relationship with lawmakers this time round,” she
bleated. “And we let them stay. You’ll never find a Koreans had long ago severed this culinary link to said. “But seeing the type of things they’re discuss-
friendlier people than us.” But “us” was getting small- their ancestors. ing in there, we understand it’s going to be five
er all the time. “My best friend, Malik, was Muslim,” Max con- more years of us telling them: ‘You’re wrong, you’re
tinued. “One night he and his wife came round to wrong, you’re wrong!’”
Kyrgyzstan’s Koreans Government was a bully, and it was her job to
my house. I cooked them dog soup - they loved it.
There were three Koreans, one from Tajikistan, one But when Malik found out what it was, he flew into bully back. In fact, she was almost a government in
from Uzbekistan and one from Kyrgyzstan. They a rage. We didn’t speak for months.” He paused to herself, with interests ranging from education poli-
had met each other in a state gulag. drain his vodka glass. cy to conditions in mental health institutions, treat-
Uncle Max and uncle Grigoriy had arrived at “Then, one day, his wife phoned me up. She ment of minorities and prisoners’ rights.
uncle Vanya’s house for a surprise celebration – his begged me to make peace, invite them round and In 2007, during a protest against the Bakiev ad-
60th birthday party. Vanya’s wife, Maria, had invited cook up dog soup again. She said we’d all pretend ministration, she had chained herself to the gates of
them secretly. Vanya was overwhelmed with vodka we didn’t know what it was.” the White House, in horror at the former president’s
and emotion. The explanation, he said, was simple. Malik had clampdown on personal and political freedoms.
Maria and Vanya had been great friends from suffered from coughing fits his whole life. They had “The police didn’t know what to do with me –
the beginning of my time in Kyrgyzstan. Maria was tried everything; traditional remedies, prayers, sha- I was already in captivity,” she laughed. “Eventually
a fantastic cook and always had something deli- mans, the works. But the only thing that cured his they found a way of taking one pair of handcuffs off
cious for me to try when I came over. Vanya chain- cough was Max’s dog soup. “Dog soup is more use- me and putting another pair on.” May 2011 The Spektator
8 Out & About

“I spent twelve hours in a cell, talking to the jail- lord. “I used to **** this French woman...” But he panding landfill that was rapidly creeping towards
er, a good man. He told me he couldn’t understand had never met any French women either. “I used to the city. A local lake had already been destroyed by
why innocent citizens were being thrown in prison be able to score from the corner flag, every time,” ground seep from the site. Layers of plastic bags
and criminals were sitting in the White House.” he said. But a footballing skill like this would have and bottles created a mini-greenhouse effect by
“I asked him if he had ever taken a bribe,” she made him worth millions of pounds to a rich club, trapping heat from the sun, causing the dump’s
continued. “He said he had once, but that he had and having played with him, I knew he was useless. chemical bulk to smoke and smoulder. Fumes rose
been so disgusted with himself, he reported it to Yet he could drink. One day, home alone, Tur- up into the sky from its mass in toxic columns.
the duty officer - the duty officer didn’t even care!” dali got so wrecked that he bought a sheep’s head But the dump also fed vermin, birds of prey
“I understood then that the first barrier to from the bazaar, set it to boil, and promptly passed and even people. Elnur and his wife Nurjana, eco-
change is indifference,” the activist surmised. “That’s out. For the next five days the flat wreaked of burnt nomic migrants from the South, had been living
why I tell my colleagues: Fighting corruption and in- mutton. Silently, we sat eating sheep’s brain on and working there as scavengers for ten years, sell-
justice is like fighting a dinosaur. You have to kick it a toast washed back with vodka shots for breakfast. ing discarded plastic and clothes to the city’s ba-
few times before it even notices you!” But the fun had to end somewhere. My liver zaars for roughly $10 a day. They sent the money
was beginning to resent Turdali’s impositions. A back to their family every week, but had missed
The Drunken Housemate
diet consisting mostly of cured fish and smoked out on much of their offspring’s childhood.
“Won’t you have fifty more grams with me?” Turdali cheese – Soviet drinking accessories – was wreak- “Of course it’s hard being away. But they live
pleaded. ing havoc on my stomach. My life was beginning with their grandmother and grandfather. They go
Alcoholism is endemic in many parts of the to mirror his. to a nice school, they have money for food and
former Soviet Union, so I was always likely to try it at Luckily, the problem solved itself. One Friday, clothes,” Elnur said. “You get used to it.”
some point. Having a flatmate who literally forced Turdali went with a friend to the mosque. He re- A person could get used to almost anything
me to drink vodka at every opportunity didn’t help turned a different man. The following week, as if by working at the dump. It was an unforgiving, stark,
me in resisting its insipid lure. “The Russians f****d divine reward, he found a new job importing scrap Darwinian world. The young men who collected
everything up,” slurred Turdali in a familiar refrain, as metal from China. metal and electrics there defended territory with
we lined up vodka shots. It was ten ‘o’ clock in the A self-righteous worshipper replaced a war- brute force. Scavengers had been known to disap-
morning and I was running late for my language bling alcoholic overnight. He threw a sausage I pear after violent arguments – there was a trove of
lesson. had bought from the shop out of the window. refuse for them to disappear into.
“Before the Russians arrived, we Kyrgyz lived in “You know, you Westerners have got a nerve,” he “It’s not safe for young girls,” Elnur said, indicat-
harmony together. We drank kymyz and bozo and told me, post-rehabilitation. “Coming to our coun- ing a fifteen year-old scavenger they had adopted
were content just being tipsy. But they introduced try and making good Muslims drink vodka and eat for the week. “Her father has problems so we are
us to vodka. Vodka isn’t like those drinks. Vodka is pork. You should be ashamed of yourself.” It was looking after her. You see, something strange is
destructive.” time to find a new flat again. happening at the dump. The people are getting
I had witnessed its destruction first hand. Tur- more aggressive every day.”
dali, a hunter from the mountainous province of The Recyclers
Asked about the police, he laughed ruefully.
Naryn, was a monster after a few rounds of his fa- He sat on a makeshift bench with his wife and a “They don’t come down here – why would they?
vourite tipple. Recent unemployment had driven cigarette, atop a plateau of household waste. In a You admitted yourself; you could hardly find a taxi
him to the drink. I had less of an excuse, but his putrid foreground, a tail protruded from a box con- to take you!”
occasional charisma and more frequent tendency taining leftover cake. It belonged to a rat. “No,” the scavenger sighed, shaking his head
towards physical intimidation was motivation “Welcome to the city dump!” joked Elnur. The as he stubbed out his cigarette on the remnants of
enough. I liked his drunken stories, too. rats here got bigger every year, he added. So did a television. “Where the dump begins, the govern-
“Back when I used to work for Ryspek...” But he the dump itself. Bishkek’s gorodskaya svalka was ment ends.”
had never known Ryspek, a deceased Kyrgyz crime notorious as an environmental hazard – an ex- They were living in a state of nature.

May 2011 The Spektator

10 Out & About



The muezzin’s throaty invitation to prayer COULD HEAR IT from my apartment a few at funny angles. They were arranged in a smile.
can sometimes sound a tad out of place in times a day. It came to me in the darkness “Assalam Alleikum” he said in greeting. I did as I
of morning and the darkness of night. When had learned and replied backwards – “Alleikum
Bishkek, a post-Soviet capital with more ca-
I heard it, I would open my windows and Assalam!” The man was named Suleiman, and he
sinos than holy places. For many believers, the sounds would fill the room. A man was was a mullah. Ertabyldy began explaining my visit
however, the city’s central mosque is a veri- singing. It was strange and nasal, like a bagpipe, to him, but he was stopped abruptly in mid-sen-
table magnet, and the azan, the song of life and the notes would rarely stay in one place for tence. Suleiman turned to me and said something.
itself. The Spektator’s Dennis Keen heads long, shifting up and down the scale with a plain- “He wants you to recite a prayer for him,” my trans-
towards Bishkek’s noisiest minaret in search tive restlessness. Every day it was the same, and lator explained. Sure, I said, why not. So Suleiman
I learned its rhythms like a favorite poem. It fol- said a few words in Arabic and I repeated, feeling
of the man behind the call.
lowed me around town, pleading to me at the the strange sounds drip over my tongue. We went
bazaar and the corner café. It was in a language I through a few lines like this and then my initiation
couldn’t understand, but some words were famil- was complete. The mullah handed me a string of
iar. “Allahu Akbar,” the man sang, “Allahu Akbar.” prayer beads, used for reciting the ninety-nine
God is great, he wanted me to know. He was call- names of Allah. “A gift,” he said.
ing me to his mosque for prayer. Before I could ask him what I had just recited,
I didn’t think God was great – I thought he Suleiman launched into a sermon. “God is great!”
was a fairytale. The starkness of his theme song, he said. “God is everything. The apples, the leaves,
though, left me captivated, and my curiosity the trees. There is nothing but God.” It seemed
pushed me to learn more, if not about saving my beautiful to me that everything around him held
soul then about the singer and the song. such divine significance. I wished I felt it too. He
Above A minaret at Bishkek’s central mosque The central mosque of Bishkek was down the went on, and Ertabyldy did his best to translate.
(Moskovskaya/Gogol). In the era of powerful street from me, surrounded by sidewalk stalls and “Why does your hair grow long, but your eyelash-
speaker systems the azan is sung from the im- men wearing skullcaps. At their stalls, the men es don’t?” I looked at my translator and then the
am’s waiting room, but during the blackouts were hawking a panoply of Islamic paraphernalia: mullah, the mullah and then my translator. Ertab-
of the Bakiev era, the minaret saw quite a lot amulets for rear view mirrors, prayer pamphlets, yldy shrugged and the mullah didn’t elaborate -
of action (all photos Dennis Keen) holy water from Mecca, and plastic-wrapped there would be no answer to the riddle. Man him-
sticks – miswaks - used by some Muslims to clean self had mysteries, I suppose he was saying, that
Above Right Jisan on muezzin duty their teeth. At the front gates, women held out only God could explain. I imagined my eyelashes,
their hands in destitution, seeking charity. I of- overgrown, cascading down to my toes.
Far Right Genjebek the mullah takes azan fered one a coin and looked at my translator Ert- Suleiman directed us across the courtyard to
calling in his stride. “If you know how to say abyldy with hesitation. So do we just go in? Won’t the imam’s office, where we took off our shoes
a prayer, you know how to sing azan,” he said they notice the heathen? Just go, he said, every- and entered. Another man in a beard and skull-
thing will be fine. cap sat at a desk, guarding a heavy wooden door.
Next Page Custom made Italian heels line up From across the courtyard a small man in We would have to wait. Other people flowed in,
next to fake addidas sneakers. All feet are robes beckoned us forward. A full-grown beard asking for appointments, and Ertabyldy whis-
equal in the eyes of Allah. was draped across his jaw line and teeth shot out pered their requests to me to me. Mostly, people

May 2011 The Spektator

Out & About 11

come here for healing, he said, healing for afflic- Suleiman. “Islam is the religion of brotherhood,”
tions without cures. Alcoholism was the biggest he said, “the religion of Allah. The religion of kind-
problem. Conventional avenues provided little ness. The religion of pureness and harmony.” I
success – rehab clinics here would give you drugs would nod between revelations, and he would
and tie you to a bed. So people came and asked say “Ahhh” with understanding, before moving on
for prayer. A mullah would come to your house to his next point. He was charismatic, and would
seven days in a row and read the Quran to the use my name frequently like I was an old friend.
afflicted, my translator testified. “Islam is the religion of freedom, Dennis. You can
A lot of parents would take their children believe in it or not. It is up to you.”
here, too, if they were sick. There was a belief We asked him to tell us more about the call
amongst the Kyrgyz that a sick child may be af- to prayer. It was sung by a man called a mu’addin,
flicted with a curse - that his “name is too strong or muezzin. Five times a day he would sing out
for him.” Certain names in Arabic, for the first
had power, Ertabyldy
continued in a hushed
‘His voice rang out over blocks. man to make the call
called it this way. God
voice, and some kids Hundreds of ears would hear his is great, he would say,
were too weak to bear call. A true Muslim, he had told us, and I am the witness to
the burden. Few par- his greatness. Muham-
ents, for example, would would stop anything they were mad is the last mes-
name their kid Manas, doing and listen. Then they would senger of God. Come
after the widely-wor- come, and they would pray’ to prayer. Come to wor-
shipped national hero ship. “Why?” the imam
of Kyrgyzstan, because asked rhetorically. “In
it was too likely the kid would get sick and die. the Quran, it says praying keeps you away from
If a kid did get sick, the parents would take him sin. Come to happiness.”
here and ask the mullah for a name-change. He The imam could only lecture for so long. He
would say a prayer and grant him a new name. was a busy man, so he passed us onto another
They still might call the kid Manas, but before the mullah. Genjebek led us into a long hall coated in
eyes of god he was already somebody different. carpets, and we sat down with legs crossed to con-
After ten minutes of waiting-room whisper- tinue our dialogue. The call to prayer, he told us, is
ing, we were ushered in to the office of the imam. called azan. There are five prayers a day, and each
He shook my hand and offered me a seat, genu- one is set to a certain time, determined with preci-
inely pleased to see a foreigner. We told him my sion by a calendrical chart. The first one is before
story – how I lived down the street, how I heard dawn, the second one at midday, when the sun
the call, how I wanted to meet the singer. He reaches its highest point; the third in the evening,
nodded and told us it was possible. Then, with- when your shadow is twice your height, and the
out prompting, he went into a sermon, just like fourth call is at the redness of sunset. May 2011 The Spektator

12 Out & About

The fifth and final prayer, he said, is an hour and thing.” Something was inside him that gave him tles, while the mullah calmed her softly with prayer.
a half later, in the darkness of night. The morning the voice of Bilal, some sort of divine inspiration “Rakhmat,” she said, “Rakhmat.” Thank you. Later,
prayer is most favored by Allah, for only the fully that leant his voice beauty. There were nine other she ran uncontrollably around the courtyard with a
faithful wake for him from their sleeping. This early mullahs at the mosque who served as muezzins, frightening limp. Her mother was upset; the prayers
bird azan has a special addendum: “Prayer is better and they worked in shift patterns. They had all hadn’t worked. She grew impatient and whacked
than sleep.” learned the call at the madrassah, along with scrip- her demon-possessed daughter with a purse.
The first man ever to shout the azan, Genjebek ture and so forth. It was part of basic training. The time for prayer had come. I had imagined
told us, was an African man named Bilal, a com- us climbing the tall minaret and watching our mu-
panion of Muhammad’s. He sang it loudly and ‘Only after Bilal took to the ezzin sing out over the city, but the age of the man-
beautifully, but the others in the neighborhood minaret and sang the call himself powered call was history here. Genjebek had told
were jealous. If he could do it, why couldn’t they? me they only did that when there was no electric-
So one man rose early one day for the first azan would the sun come out of hiding. ity, for now they had loudspeakers. In the imams’
and shouted into the blackness of the dawn. He Bilal is since remembered as the waiting room, Jaisan, the muezzin for the day,
shouted and shouted, but the sun refused to rise. opened up a box on the wall and took out a micro-
Only after Bilal took to the minaret and sang the
godfather of all muezzins, the pa- phone. He turned towards Mecca, which meant he
call himself would the sun come out of hiding. tron saint of prayer calling’ faced a couch and a wall. Besides us, these unin-
Bilal is since remembered as the godfather of all spiring objects would be his immediate audience.
muezzins, the patron saint of prayer calling. Genjebek told us the azan for the afternoon When the azan started up though, his voice rang
The mullah continued, racking his brain for prayer would be called in an hour, so we took off out over blocks and blocks. Hundreds of ears would
more muezzin mythology. On Judgment Day, he for lunch and came back a bit early, eager to see hear his call. A true Muslim, he had told us, would
said, the necks of the world’s muezzins will grow it sung up close. While we waited, we watched as stop anything they were doing and listen. Then
long, so that they are taller than all the rest. It is the mullahs did their other duties, seeing visitors they would come, and they would pray.
their neck, he seemed to be saying, that symbol- and reading them prayers with a bizarre intensity. Jaisan had prison tattoos on his hands and he
izes their greatness, for it is from this neck that They would chant Arabic in a soulful drone and sang like a wounded soul. His eyes were closed
comes forth the highest praises of God. And on split up the verses with forceful whistles, blow- and he held a finger in his ear, so he could hear his
this day, he went on, anybody in the vicinity of ing the good grace of the Quran onto the faces of throat hum in his head. The call sounded more sin-
their call will be safe from marauding demons. their clients. It sounded like a Tourette’s tic, or like cere, more real, without the loudspeakers’ reverb.
The circumference of the song would provide a they were possessed. This is how it would sound when Bilal sang it. Just
safe haven, a blessed space in the hands of God. Another soul in the room seemed to be the man, and his voice, and his testament :
I asked Genjebek how he learned to sing the possessed by something more sinister. A pale- Allahu Akbar
call, but he shrugged off my question like I was faced girl ran in circles and screamed, screamed Ash-had an la ilaha illa llah/ Ash-hadu anna
asking how he learned to speak. If you know how that she was afraid of her mother. The mom had Muħammadan rasulullah/ Hayya ‘ala-salahh/ Hayya
to say a prayer, he said, you know how to sing azan. brought her here because the girl was sick, and ‘ala ‘l-falah /Allāhu akbar/ La ilaha illallah...
The call is melodically complex and the shifting she wouldn’t get better. It was clear the girl was God is great, he sang, come to prayer. Come
melisma would seem to make it technically diffi- mentally ill. She rocked back and forth and cried, to worship. He sang, and it was beautiful, and
cult. Yet our mullah disagreed: “It’s not a difficult coughing and spitting out the same forceful whis- they came.

May 2011 The Spektator

16 Focus


In addition to being one of the best T STARTED WITH A PHONE CALL. A friend western section of the park.
places in Bishkek to lose your lunch on rang Aftandil Jorobekov to brief him on According to a March article that appeared
a Ferris wheel, Park Ata-Turk is home to some unusual activity in a small section of on the website of local news agency,,
a surprisingly broad array of wildlife. Park Ata-Turk, located in the South Central “Kyrgyz moneybags put their eyes on the parks
So, when Bishkek locals found out that section of Bishkek, just off Akhunbayeva [...] in the city. Multi-year conifer and deciduous
the park’s trees were getting chopped street. Named after the founder of modern Tur- trees of Ata-Turk Park were cut. Restaurants,
down to make way for dubious concrete key, Kemal Ata-Turk, the park is a large wooded private residences and multi-story buildings to
developments, they sprang into action. expanse with shaded walkways, a section of appear in their place. Illegal construction issues
Calvin Preece reports on how activism, carnival-style rides, a statue of Ata-Turk, a monu- were raised many times, but always remained
social media and the Prosecutor General ment to the Kyrgyz military who died in the So- hanging in the air.”
saved the day. viet war in Afghanistan, and a notably undevel- These land deals in the western section also
oped territory stretching westwards. This slice turned out to have been done off the record
of wilderness within the park limits represents a and under the table. There are estimates that
small zone of wildlife where deer come to graze, out of 20,000 trees that existed in 2000, nearly
birds sing, and a host of traditionally non-urban 13,000 trees have been cut down.
Above A subbotnik (Soviet-style clean-up)
organized by Captain Planet-type, Aftandil creatures remain relatively undisturbed. Until On April 14, 2011, local media in Bishkek
Jorobekov (Calvin Preece) recently. reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office of
The phone call alerted Jorobekov to the fact Kyrgyzstan had launched an investigation into
Below A deer in central Bishkek, apparently that people had been burning and cutting down the illegal assignment of Park Ata-Turk’s west-
(Aftandil Jorobekov) trees in the western section. Jorobekov had been ern section to individuals and corporate groups
successful in challenging an earlier attempt at in violation of existing laws governing parkland
illegal building on some parkland set aside for use. The Prosecutor General was reported to
a children’s sports area elsewhere in Bishkek in have initiated criminal actions against officials
2009. His activism in that instance prevented a in the Bishkek Mayor’s Office for violation of two
high-rise apartment building from emerging in sections of the criminal code. The press release
a park area used by the neighborhood’s youth, from the Prosecutor General’s office indicated
and earned Jorobekov a reputation as someone that they had opened a case due to “alarms”
capable of saving green belt from the ruthless raised in the media about the situation in the
advance of concrete. (Details of that campaign western section of Park Ata-Turk.
are on Facebook, contact the Spektator for link). By use of Facebook and other sites, and by
Two years down the line, a more major park in alerting the local press and television, it seems
Bishkek was being threatened. that this 11.3 hectare area of parkland may have
Jorobekov began his organizational work. been saved from further damage. Nevertheless,
Using Facebook and other social media, he gath- work on rehabilitating the area continues with
ered a group of people who were concerned subbotniki (communal work days) announced
about the park and organized a clean-up effort in via the Save Park Ata-Turk discussion board on
the western section that included the replanting Facebook.
of trees wherever woodland had been destroyed. During a recent visit to the area the author
He raised money from individuals, foundations, of this piece can confirm signs of new growth
and other sources to buy saplings to plant. Then, of saplings planted in March. The SPA team’s
on March 18, 2011, while there was still snow on division of labour seemed to be effective, too.
the ground, a group of volunteers gathered to Whilst one band of volunteers planted more
clean up trash and debris and plant new trees. trees in the area, others picked up plastic bot-
All this activity earned the campaign attention tles, cups, old sports socks, and plastic bags. It
from the local press, who came and took photos, seems that a combination of a mobile phone,
reporting on the situation at the park. social media, and an alerted local press and ra-
Every weekend for about a month, Jorobe- dio can help mobilize strategic voluntary action
kov and volunteers have been meeting on Sat- in Bishkek. Not quite an “Arab Spring” then, but
urdays to try and bring attention to planners’ ef- a Bishkek spring with enough community spirit
forts to destroy the untrammeled beauty in the to preserve key endangered green space.
May 2011 The Spektator
18 Focus


The Spektator talks to Antony Butts about N AUGUST 29, 1949, the first nuclear ports and getting very worked up over the idea
his new film, After the Apocalypse, which test by the Soviet Union was conduct- that the radiation damage was passing through
ed at a facility on the remote north- the generations. I realised that this was a story
investigates life in a former Soviet Nuclear eastern steppe of the old Kazakh SSR. that needed to be told, so I threw myself into it.
testing facility - the Semipalatinsk Poly- The test site, known as the Semipalat-
gon. insk Polygon, would go on to witness Did you have any concerns for your own
456 explosions over its forty-year existence, total- health whilst you were working out there?
ling an estimated energy equivalent of 20,000 Hiro- On my first visit to the Polygon back in 2006, I was
shima bombs. The local people became unwitting rather nervous. I took with me a supply of surgi-
guinea pigs, exposed to radiation so that scientists cal facemasks from England. But, when It came
could observe its effects on the human body. Now, down to it, I felt rather rude filming in a mask so
THE twenty-two years after the Polygon fell silent, flocks I soon got rid of them. My key concern was that
of sheep graze in giant radioactive bomb craters on my first trip the Kazakh customs impounded
KAZAKHSTAN and in the worst effected areas almost one in twen- my Geiger counter and I had no way of knowing
ty children are born with birth defects. which places were radioactive and which were
The Spektator recently met filmmaker An- not. It was made worse by the fact that the most
tony Butts, director and producer of After the dangerous form of radiation there - the plutoni-
Apocalypse, a new documentary on the Semi- um - cannot be picked up by a standard Geiger
palatinsk test facility, to quiz him about his ex- counter at all. Not knowing where the radiation
periences in the Polygon and the consequences was and, of course, not being able to smell or
for those who still live in the fallout zone. feel it, I started to become increasingly paranoid
about the radiation. The local Kazakhs were keen
When did you first hear about the Semipal- to offer me the local cure-all, vodka. Many of the
atinsk Polygon, and what made you want to herders swear it is what has been keeping them
Above The largest of the bomb craters. In total make a film about it? alive and is good for anything from stomach
456 nuclear tests were carried out in the Poly- It was when I was teaching English in Volgograd bugs to radioactive meat.
gon (all photos courtesy of Antony Butts) back in 2000. I was interested in all the old Sovi- Kazakhs are a hospitable people so I was
et disasters - the Aral Sea, Chernobyl and so on. I often given the most prestigious (read: least ap-
Above right Dr. Nurmagambetov’s work deal- had just seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and was petising) bits of an animal to eat. I might have
ing with deformed children has led him to pro- really interested in going to one of these “zones” found brain and eyes difficult at the best of
pose the idea of a genetic passport, designed which, in my imagination, seemed like parallel times but knowing they were herded on a ra-
to prevent those at risk of passing on genetic universes. What would life be like there? When dioactive test-site made it even more tricky to
conditions from giving birth. After the Apoca- I finally did get to Semipalatinsk (also known as force down.
lypse explores the ethical conflict between a Semey), I knew nothing about the birth defects.
mother’s right to have children, and a child’s I expected a lot of radiation and a lot of cancers. Having seen the film, I get the impression it
right to a healthy, happy, fulfilled life What I found was no radiation and not that was often an uncomfortable shoot for you!
many cancers. Whilst I was there I met Dr. Num- Yes, amongst other difficulties, when I went
Above far right Bibigul with her husband and agambetov who became one of the film’s main back in 2009 to continue filming, snow was eve-
first child characters. He was talking about genetic pass- rywhere. In one way I was glad because it meant

May 2011 The Spektator

Focus 19

The riddle of
no more radioactive dust, but it also turned out by their parents and end up dumped in state or-

to be one of the coldest winters in recent years phanages that struggle to cope. His ‘genetic pass-
and the mercury was down to -42ºC at times. I port’ idea was designed to prevent those likely
spent about a month living in the village or on to pass on deformities from giving birth. It is this
the farms where the only toilets are outside, so I question of finding a balance between the right
have some vivid memories of watching the stars of a child to a healthy happy and fulfilled life, and
circle at night while slowly freezing to death! the right of a mother to have children which lies
Also, the outdoor part of the filming was at the heart of the film. Later, however, the doc-
pretty much a one-man show with no translator tor began talking about protecting the “health of
or crew, so this made for some interesting multi- the genetic pool of Kazakhs“, which is obviously a A passenger on a jumbo jet will be exposed to
tasking! When Serik [the shepherd] and I rode much more sinister attitude. levels of radiation greater than those found in
on horseback out to one of the craters, I was the bomb craters of Semipalatinsk, so how can
trying to hold the camera with one hand, and Was Bibigul’s condition actually affecting her we say with any conviction that radiation actu-
hold the reigns of the horse with the other. I was health? ally causes genetically inherited birth defects?
also trying to think of questions, and all the time No, but a lot of people thought she was retarded The simple answer is that we cannot. In the
fighting to keep my hands from going numb.  At because she wouldn’t speak, especially about following short article I will venture to outline
one point I fell off, but thankfully my camera sur- the subject of her appearance and her pregnan- briefly the three main arguments of this highly
vived the tumble. cy. But I later figured out that this was just her charged debate.
coping mechanism. And it’s perfectly reason-
The main narrative that runs throughout the able that if you are pestered about something Argument 1: Radiation does not cause inher-
film is that of Bibigul. Tell us a little about her. all your life you end up deciding to ignore it. But ited genetic damage
The film follows Bibigul’s pregnancy up until her silence had been misinterpreted. An extensive study found no evidence of any
the birth of her child. Bibigul was born with a increase in birth defects in Hiroshima and Naga-
stigma of the eyes, which means that they are saki. Therefore, radiation does not cause inher-
And what happened in the end, was the baby ited birth defects.
further apart than normal. Dr. Nurmagambetov
healthy? How then can we explain the elevated birth de-
called her a “frightful face” and advised her to
terminate her pregnancy. Bibigul, however, was Yes, in this case Dr. Nurmagambetov was proved fects in Semipalatinsk? Some scientists specu-
determined to resist this advice and went on to wrong. But there were, of course, many other cas- late that it could come from low levels of folic
give birth anyway. es where the mother and child were not so lucky. acid in the diet of pregnant women. Folic acid
deficiency is proven to cause elevated birth de-
Did Dr. Nurmagambetov advise her against How did it feel filming the birth? fects and the Kazakh diet is meat-intensive ow-
giving birth in case she passed on her condi- Actually, I was really worried that Bibigul ing to vegetables and greens growing poorly on
tion? wouldn’t let me film the birth! I traveled back to the dusty steppe in the Semipalatinsk region.
Yes. In his opinion there was a very high chance Semipalatinsk from England especially for that
the child would be born with Down syndrome, and got there three weeks early just in case. It Argument 2: Perhaps radiation causes inher-
and also with a similar eye defect. And this is per- turned out she was a week overdue and I was so ited damage in humans
fectly reasonable when you understand that he worried that she would just have the baby and Can folic acid deficiency really be causing such
sees children with horrific deformities every day. not tell me about it. I was financing the trip largely high levels of birth defects (up to one in twenty
And he also sees the way they are often rejected on my credit card and a few donors so births)? Are such results reflective of other May 2011 The Spektator

20 Focus
From left to right Bibigul’s mother, also af-
flicted with the same condition; Birsenbek
the shepherd downing another dose of ‘anti-
radiation’ vodka; Antony Butts shooting at
the largest crater in the Semipalatinsk Poly-

regions in Kazakhstan? Sadly, this is beyond find while on the ground and actually exceeds it was super risky. When Bibigul’s sister rang
the bounds of my research so I cannot say. But the radiation levels I measured on the big crater me at 1am I was really wired. I filmed from behind
what Is clear is that the presence of ionising in Semipalatinsk in winter. Bibigul’s head and when the baby was born, it
radiation in the villages and their environs is al- Whether this puts you off flying probably de- came out legs first. There was some real drama with
most nil, except for areas around the craters and pends on where you get your information from. the doctor telling Bibigul to push urgently as hard
certain water sources. This means there is far too The  Daily Mail  this April cited two Scandinavian as she could, because the half-born child couldn’t
little radiation around to cause birth defects. If studies claiming that air stewardesses are statisti- breathe. When the child came out it was like a grey
radiation is to blame, then it can’t come from the cally more likely to give birth to babies with Down doll. They took it to a table and started slapping it
present. It would have to come from the past, syndrome than women in other careers, and also on the back and using oxygen, but nothing was
with the memory of the blasts being carried twice as likely to develop breast cancer. However, happening. The nurses were saying that time was
through the generations by genetically inher- a 2006  BBC Horizons documentary  plays down running out for him. Then, amazingly, the child just
ited DNA damage. the dangers by citing different studies. burst into life and started screaming.
Can we learn anything from Chernobyl? While the epidemiological evidence on the
A recent study in the Lancet has found elevated ground and in the sky looks inconclusive, what What happens to the children born with abnor-
rates of birth defects in one area near Cherno- about lab tests? Nobody has shown that radia- malities or deformities?
byl where there had been significant radiation tion causes inherited damage in humans under Sometimes the mothers keep them. Sometimes
contamination. Critics say that a single study controlled conditions because of ethical consid- they feel that they don’t have the money, or they
highlighting only one region does not consti- erations. However, Prof. Yuri Dubrova has no such feel a sense of shame. Or sometimes children are
tute proof of a connection between radiation qualms with humble mice. At the University of just too horrifically deformed to look after. So they
and birth defects. However, as Ukraine does not Leicester where he is head of the genetics depart- end up in orphanages. One is called the House Of
suffer the agricultural privations of Kazakhstan’s ment, he explained to me that his results show that Children. They stay there until they are a few years
dusty steppe, the results do seem to cast doubt the mutation rate does increase in the offspring of old, then they go off to this other orphanage in Ay-
on the Semipalatinsk folic acid theory. irradiated mice. This suggests that somehow the aguz [a city to the south of Semipalatinsk]..
But how to explain the extensive study in memory of parental irradiation travels down to
Hiroshima and Nagasaki which found no link to later generations and makes them unstable. Prof. Did you visit the orphanages?
birth defects? One answer proposed is that the Dubrova’s results are mirrored by similar studies Yes, I visited both. When I went out to Ayaguz, it
Japanese victims were exposed to high levels conducted in the US, Canada and Japan. was quite early on in the filming, before my mind
of radiation from the bomb flash and immedi- If, as some suppose, the effects observed had adjusted to it, and everything was quite
ate aftermath but for a relatively short period of in mice are true in humans, then this inherited shocking and new. I was breaking down in tears
time. Semipalatinsk victims, and to a lesser ex- genetic instability caused by radiation could be during one interview with this girl who had Down
tent those at Chernobyl, have been exposed to behind the birth defects in Semipalatinsk. Prof. syndrome and a heart defect. They said they didn’t
much lower doses, but for far longer periods of Dubrova was, however, at pains to stress that sci- have enough money to get an operation for her. I
time. The different manners of irradiation, claim ence cannot yet explain these results: “We don’t later found out that they did get the money for the
some scientists, could mean the Hiroshima and know how it works. We’re working hard now try- operation, but that the girl died anyway. Many of
Nagasaki results do not prove anything in the ing to analyse the mechanisms underlying this the kids I interviewed then are now dead, which I
case of Semipalatinsk.  bizarre phenomenon.” find very upsetting.
Also, some people, air stewardesses for ex-
ample, are continually exposed to low doses of Argument 3: Radiation definitely causes inher- Another character the film follows is Birsenbek
radiation over many years as part of their job. ited genetic damage the shepherd. Tell us a little about him.
The radiation on airplanes around the latitude of At the moment only those powered by belief Birsenbek is just a normal Kazakh shepherd, who
Europe (it increases the further you fly towards and not scientific training can say that radia- happens to live right next to the largest bomb
the poles) is around 300 microRoentgens which tion conclusively causes birth defects down the crater in the Polygon. That’s where his farm is. The
is around twenty times what you can expect to generations in humans. meat is then sold in Semipalatinsk, and nobody
knows it’s been grazed on a radioactive crater!

May 2011 The Spektator

Focus 21
Unfortunately, many journalists and
opinion makers forget the science and quote
whatever fits their beliefs. They see radiation,
then a deformed child, and that’s it. Mind
made up. No science or looking at the nu-
ances. There are people born with Bibigul’s
eye stigma in England, where there has never
been any meaningful radiation exposure, for
instance. The simple fact is that no-one knows
the answer to the inherited genetic damage

Can the riddle be solved?

So, short of irradiating people in controlled
conditions, can we get to the bottom of ra-
diation mystery? Prof. Dubrova walked me
over to a cryogenic freezer and smiled. What
was in there, I asked. He opened it excitedly.
Vapour billowed out to the floor and amid the
mist were revealed row upon row of test tubes,
shining blood-red under the lab’s fluorescent
lighting. These were samples carefully col-
lected and logged from generations of citizens
living (and also now deceased) in the villages
around the Semipalatinsk test-site and trans-
ported here to be frozen until science could
make use of them.
What does he think about living so close to There is surely a great deal of anger and bitter- Yuri can barely contain his excitement.
such an ominous landmark? ness amongst the local people? The genetics technology is coming. Already,
To him it’s just part of the daily view out of the win- Local people do feel bitter, yes. It is like they have you can sequence someone’s DNA in less than
dow. He takes his sheep up there, just once a week been treated as guinea pigs twice now. First with twenty-four hours. Now the professor is wait-
though, because he says he gets a headache if he the nuclear bombs, to see what would happen. ing for the funding to come through to do a
goes up there too often. It’s worse in the summer And now people go over there to do their doctor- proper genetic analysis on all this blood. But
though. He says the wind whips up the dust and ates, or to do little journalistic pieces about their sadly, no-one is giving Yuri the money to do
blows it towards his cottage - and this dust is full of suffering. Despite all this, precious little money is this vital research.
dangerous radioactive isotopes. spent on the region by the government, and the Over in Kazakhstan where a certain multi-
foregin aid the journalists promise has never re- billionaire President and his kleptocratic fam-
But he stays there? ally materialised. ily have plenty of oil money to splash around,
Yeah. He says he’s perfectly fine. That seems to be In the hotel which I stayed in Semipalatinsk Dr Boris Galich who is deputy head of the
the thing - for us it’s shocking when we go there I met a filmmaking group who had decided that Semipalatinsk Institute of Radiation Medi-
and see it. And for the doctors who deal with it and Berik - a local man with huge flap-like tumours cines is busy booking a second class train tick-
its effects every day, it’s shocking. But for people on his face - should star in a short drama. It looks et for a twelve hour journey across the steppe
who grow up there, its just a background to their like the filmmakers have done a remake of Ed- to go to a conference in “nearby” Karaganda.
life. And I asked these questions: “Why do you ward Scissorhands - but with a real person who Tired of performing the same trick for visiting
stay?“, “Why aren’t you more worried?“ But they just is very vulnerable. I met Berik once. He’s a blind journalists, Dr Galich grumpily marched me
say “What’s the point in worrying more when we guy who’s so bored that he’d probably do most outside in the snow to show me his freezer
think the radiation is inside our blood, inside our things to alleviate the monotony of his life and full of blood samples similar to Yuri’s. But he
genes? We can’t escape from this curse anyway.” earn a bit of cash. Is it exploitation by a group of had forgotten the keys. The red temperature
film students out to build up their showreel, or LED on the front of the freezer read a steady
What do the older people remember about the a touching film that will bring real hope to this minus 140 degrees Celsius - “Nowhere near
tests? person’s life? After the apocalypse, I hope, is not cool enough to keep them unspoilt for much
It’s generally the same story: They’d see a big flash exploitative as we’re really trying to build up a longer,” says Dr Galich. While Prof. Dubrova
of light and they’d all run outside their houses to presence for it and push things politically. But to wants the money to run his blood through
watch the big mushroom. Sometimes the Soviet some extent or another it is exploitative. expensive genetic sequencers, all Dr Galich
soldiers would come over and tell them to stand wants is a decent freezer.
outside their houses and look at the mushrooms. Will you ever be able to show After the Apoca- In that freezer, Dr Galich said, were blood
I never really got to the bottom of whether this lypse in Kazakhstan? samples of children, parents, grandparents
was because the subsequent earthquakes would No. The people I met agreed to be filmed so long and great grandparents. The grandparents
knock their houses down, or, as was suggested in as it wouldn’t be broadcast in Kazakhstan. The received the big long term dose of radiation
the film, that it was part of a sinister experiment. last thing Bibigul wants is other villagers gawp- in the decades when the USSR exploded the
I’m inclined to believe it’s a bit of both. ing at her giving birth and the doctor calling her worst of the test-site’s 456 separate bombs,
genetically inferior. For this reason, the film must but the children being born now and their
How much did they know? never be shown publically in Kazakhstan. parents had not seen any radiation of signifi-
Oh, they knew very little. They knew that the gov- cance. Has the radiation damage been passed
ernment was doing something out there, but they After the Apocalypse has its theatrical premiere at down? We won’t know until these samples
didn’t know what. And they didn’t know that it had Leicester Square’s Prince Charles Cinema in London on are sequences and analysed. But if that one
any implications on their health . One woman who 11th May 2011. It will then be screened in various cin- freezer goes, then priceless genetic samples
had a very, very deformed child told me that it was emas around the UK, before being broadcast on UK tel- of long dead Kazakh citizens, in whose blood
only when she saw that every other child in the evision channel More4 in July. You can pre-order DVDs lies the key to the mystery, will be lost. If Prof.
area was born horrifically deformed, that she kind and get details of the latest screenings via the website Dubrova’s freezer goes as well, we might nev-
of put two and two together. er know the answer. May 2011 The Spektator


Bishkek life
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui) International
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you 12 Chimneys (TeplIkluchy village)

restaurants are getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select
Wooden cabin located by a rushing stream thirty min-
utes out of town. The overpriced food is more than
compensated for by the chilled atmosphere and wild
There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in.
surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available.
Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although delicious, may
leave delicate stomachs in some distress several Head south on Almatinskaya and keep going. $$$$
are marked with a star *
hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a suit-
Price Guide (main course and a garnish) able alternative $$ Bacardi* (Togolok Moldo 17/1)
$ - Expect change from 150 som Elite lounge bar affair with separate rooms for din-
$$ - A little over 250 should do the trick Frunze ing, dancing and whiling the night away smoking
$$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350 (Chui/Pravda) hukkah pipes. Urban grooves played at a reason-
$$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out able volume and a full menu that includes a range
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch of tasty platters. $$$$
and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
American/Mexican terms of scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside ‘Moto’)
Hollywood*(Druzhba/Sovietskaya) just point to something tasty-looking on a neigh- A hip, clean interior, fast wi-fi and an affordable
As you would probably guess, decorated with bouring table like we did. $$ business lunch have made Barcode something of
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a a hotspot since it opened in early 2010. The place
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu- Peking Duck I & II comes to life at night when 3 DJs compete for your
lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed (Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.) affections with an array of banging tunes. $$
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut-
drinks before heading off to the clubs. $$$ tons and an English language menu that provides Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova)
plenty of amusing translations. $$ Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try
Metro* (133, Chui) out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir) every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub
remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables we recommend ‘Datski Schnaffer’. $$$$
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection that make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the Dungan Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully
hideously late kickoff times for Champions League constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and
Hui Min (Relocated to the Hotel Dostuk) for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make
football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up
A former favourite, we have been told that Hui Min an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$$
unless it’s a big one. $$$
has now relocated to the Hotel Dostuk. Apparently
Mexican Canteena (Chui 158, near Beta Stores) the menu has been revamped and the prices in- Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo)
At its best in the summer as sombrero classics ser- creased. The Spektator will be checking it out soon. Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection
enade pedestrians down Chui and a mixed crowd We hope they still serve the special Dungan tea, as of evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the
sits on the porch washing down tacos with strong it’s rather good. ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’.
marguirita. Burritos and fajitas are mouth-watering Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows
here, and long-haired gringo types will be glad to create an underwater log cabin experience. Spirits,
have their beer served with a lemon, not a straw. Georgian cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$
$$$ Mimino (27, Kievskaya)
Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steam- Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Smokie’s (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina) Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and cakes
ing, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds
Bishkek’s first and only traditional American Bishkek has to offer at one of three ‘Coffee Houses’;
a-plenty. We recommend the kjadjapuri, khinkali and
barbecue restaurant serves pit-smoked spicy cosy boutique cafés with a European flavour. Curl
anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe
beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, lamb legs and up and read a book, or just drop in for a caffeine hit
at the door. $$$$
chicken quarters. Well worth the trek out to Or- and a chocolate fix. $$$
to-Sai market in the cooler half of the city. Enjoy German Cosmo Bar* (Sovietska/Moskovskaya)
a range of cocktails and spirits, too. $$$
Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena) Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the
Armenian Don your beer drinking trousers and head down top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your
Landau (Manas/Gorky) to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior,
Fancy something a little different? If you can tol- brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses.
erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your Huzzah! $$$$
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. Crostini (191, Abdrahmanova)
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme- $$$ Situated inside the Hyatt, this is a joint to be re-
nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near served for a business lunch or marriage proposal
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$ Vienna (Moscow/Soviet) only. Chef Taner Erdemir serves up mouth-water-
Actually an Austrian, but subsumed into our German ing international cusine, but at a price. $$$$$
Chinese section in the name of Anschluss. Vena is a cracking lit-
Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova) tle place to people-watch over some great European Dillinger* (Gorky/Tynystanova)
This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes dishes and a glass of fine Austrian wine. If you didn’t Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar
as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and know Austria had fine wines, you can check into the and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiar-
waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy, adjoining shop to begin your viticultural education. ly endearing homage to the notorious bank robber
but in a nice way. $ Vienna is spelled ВЕНА in Russian. Free Wi-Fi. $$$ - we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$

May 2011 The Spektator

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs 23
Fatboy’s* (Chui/Tynystanova) getting you down. $$$$ Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved
and a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova) homes and is now serving a practically identical
for conversation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini- The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con- range of dishes at this spot just behind October cin-
library to peruse (although literary classics are thinceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base- ema. Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other
on the ground). Check out the American pancakes ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection typical Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from
for breakfast, top marks. $$$ of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s 200 soms. $$$$
an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés. Cyclone (136, Chui)
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro- Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient,
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$ polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to al-
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for leviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
the hell of it. $$$$ Pinta Pub* (133, Chui) among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
Brought to you by the same folks that own the best
Foyer (27, Erkindik ) draught beer shops in the city, Pinta Pub is a bright Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening green signed lighthouse for the Spektator on a hot Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv-
cocktail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee. day. With a host of well-kept ales on tap, food-wise ing excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European
Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$ we recommend complementing a nice ‘Greek’ salad cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime din-
with any of the dishes from the pork page on the ing. $$
Griffon (Microregion 7) menu, all of which are excellent. Recommended! $$$
A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting Japanese
central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya) Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant. Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
Minibuses 195 and 110 take you right past it as you Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sister- The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to-
head out to the mountains. $$$ rabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$ gether enough soms. $$$$
GlavPivTrest* (Asenbai region, next to City Club) Vavilon (Microregion 7) Fusion (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play here Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60 Takeout is free on orders over 450 soms (0312 510
and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia hanging som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live 707). Teriaki chicken, Miso soup, sushi rolls and pork
on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance outside
music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth in ginger sauce are all well worth a phone call. $$$
the bogs and you can get Spektator favourite Ven-
the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn
skoye on tap. Good beer snacks and the burgers
left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai Korean
aren’t bad either. Nice for a ‘theme’ night out. $$$
for about 1.5km) $$$ Santa Maria (217, Chui)
Jam* (179, Toktogula) Vis-a-Vis (26, Logvinenko) Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites,
An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a including exciting Korean barbecues where you get
This place is a new free wi-fi honey pot for ex pats.
full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive Euro-
Steak is always advisable when eating at an appendix
atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$ pean menu. $$$
to a butcher’s, and the sirloin here is exceptional. Also,
Jumanji (Behind the circus) enjoy English breakfasts, chips that aren’t cold and lo-
It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle cal dark ale Chuiski on tap. Recommended! $$$
foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze)
of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice Indian Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve en-
before you order for the chance to win a special se- The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt) ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus,
cret prize - we like this. $$$ A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian and tasty little meat pie things. $$$
food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda) there are also several excellent business lunch deals
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for Moldovan
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the 250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa-
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the vourite! $$$$ Moldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova)
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$ If it’s been a while since you last went out for a
Indian Village (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova) Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled ea-
Lounge Bar* (338a, Frunze) tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the
It’s on the third floor (if you count ground floor as
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer- Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care
the first). A cheaper version of The Host, if you can
time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum- to learn more about the world’s favourite budget-
bear the fake-fontaine, soul sucking environs of this
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches wine exporting country. $$$
Turkish-built mall. The vegetable biryani is good for
and fine views of the circus - which you can some-
days when you are feeling off meat, while the milky
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$ chai tea is authentic, if a little sweet. $$ Regional/Central Asian
Navigator (103, Moskovskaya)
A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after-
Italian Arabica* (Mederova/Tynastanova)
This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe)
noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the Adriatico (219, Chui) bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks
airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service Reportedly suffering following the departure of of the bath in the toilets, may still be under devel-
and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told opment. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty.
for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are that the soup is still excellent. $$$$ $$$

Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and May 2011 The Spektator

24 Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) Apple (28, Manas)
Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack fla- Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this
who get cravings for lagman or manti at four in voured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cab- place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars,
the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed, in. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday
sometimes it is, however the food and prices are The medovukha is recommended! $$$ usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)
constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to
dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$ Turkish Arbat (9, Karl Marks)
Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) Tel. 512094; 512087
Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older
Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but
crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building.
dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450
great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa entertainment are an acquired taste. $$ som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)
on draught. $$ Huzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,)
Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger- City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina)
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Tel. 511513; 510581
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of rard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im- shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lepyosh- cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$ est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly
when the locals are rather rowdy. $ Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova) people beware) and spend your evening with gang-
Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business-
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to
town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/
they have often run out by supper-time. Save an the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500
appetite and go early. Slightly more upmarket sister and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended!
(And now open 24 hours a day) $$ Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo)
restauraunt on Mederova/Tynastanova. $ Tel. 620131
Forel (Vorentsovka village) Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists liter-
Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fish- Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact ally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff,
based ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge
streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘For-
your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried something cheap and tasty will arrive. $ eigners’ free.)
for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are
Retro Metro (24, Mira)
sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze
or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ. Night

Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his rec-
To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if
ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One
your taxi driver doesn’t know the exact location, ask a
of the most popular places for post-2am partying.
friendly villager. Trout is 800som/kilo $$$
(Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450
Karavan (Almatinkskoya/Chui) There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that som Fri/Sat. Reserve for 200 som)
Excellent little stolyva (canteen) full of the timeless things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to
regional favourites. Being an Uighur restaurant its gero nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights of Live Music
lagman or lagman pa Uighurski particularly stand out. carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that con-
No smoking, sit, eat and leave. $ temporary Bishkek struggles to offer. Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya)
Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below and
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit and Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi
Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut debauchery in town to keep everyone happy. ride or a long walk home are in order at the end
rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out for of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music
its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes overlooked. Diskoklubs venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an exten-
Probably at its best in summer, when the shashlyk sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring,
Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk) strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the
masters flanking the entrance offer their creations
As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night.
straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross
unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of Rock or blues bands normally play at the week-
your legs and see how long before cramp sets in. $
the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)
Tubeiteika (Moskovskaya/Turusbekova) jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of
Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by Esco-bar (Gorkova, 200 m East of Tash Rabat)
beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with nods the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up Named after the infamous Colombian cocaine
to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the Chinese to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som) baron, staff are unlikely to bash a line out for you
chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$$ on arrival. What you will get is decent tunes most
Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik) nights in a ‘pre-party’ spot brought to you by the
Russian/Ukrainian A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, for- creators of the Vefa centre’s Veranda. $$$
Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) eigners can often get in for free. Popular throughout
Sweet Sixties (Molodaya Gvardia/Kievskaya)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century the week. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)
Live cover bands most nights. Full menu, popular
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your with a younger crowd. $$
Gvozd (Western side of the Philharmonia)
tea in a giant samovar. $$$
Foreigners for free, urban grooves and acceptable
Zeppelin (43, Chui)
Khutoryanka (Bokonbaeva/Isanova) prices at the bar. ‘Gvozd’ means ‘nail’ in Russian, but
Zeppelin is in the same vein as the old Tequila
Unassuming, to put it mildly, on the outside, this you’ve probably got a better chance at the Golden
Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the
place is a revelation on the inside. Delicious food, Bull. Its almost like the crowd from Pharaoh have mi-
nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young
reasonable service, Ukrainian brass band music grated. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)
rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier
on the cd player. We love it! $$$
Platinum (East side of the Philharmonia) beats seem to go down best with the young Rus-
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya) sian crowd. Full restaurant menu.
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in Take a seat at the snazzy 360 degree bar and do (Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the battle with some of Kyrgyzstan’s most convivial
potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups ‘elite’ for gold-digging temptresses. (Entrance Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s, Beatles
and fresh salads. $$$ charge 400-500 som) Bar, Foyer and Blonder Pub (see ‘restaurants’)

May 2011 The Spektator

Map 25
vardia a Gvardia
Molo d aya G Moloday

Ji be k

Lva Tolstogo

23 ve.
Manas a
Manas a


ve. 4 5
Manas a



T. Abdymom
Isanova 11 8 Koenkozo
Isanova 7
12 Dvorets
9 10

unov stadium
Togolok M

Michael Frunze

k Jo

k o



Lva Tolstog

Orozbeko a


17 Erkind



l Frunze

a 19 ova
Fatianov Tynystan

ova 20
AYA 22



24 Shopoko
A. Usenb

25 Shopoko





va May 2011 The Spektator

26 What’s On
May 18th - 31st TUK Dates for May Entertainment Directory
May 18th May 20th-27th The Puppet Theatre
Education fair Trip to the lakes Kara-Suu and Kel-Bashy Sovietskaya/Michurina
Sports Palace (Frunze/Togoluk Moldo) Info: Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
Buy pencils, rulers and school uniforms at The Kara-Suu lake is situated at the zone of Takta-
discount prices lyk range, about 2000 m above sea level, in the lower Russian Drama Theatre
reaches of the Kapka-Tash river. The length of the lake Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park)
May 21st is about 6.5 km, the width is 1.5-2 km, average depth Tel.: 662032, 621571
Live Music Festival ‘Pulse’ about 90 m. The shores are densely overgrown by tien- Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00
Apple Club (Manas/Toktogula) shan spruce, archa, rowan, barberry and other different Tickets 30-100 som
Part of the Augusta initiative at the Apple club bushes. The lake’s climate is warm, dry & temperate. Local and international plays in Russian.
whuch has already brought top DJs from the The summer’s temperature is 22-24 degree above zero,
Ukraine and Russia. Bishkek’s trendsetters bump in night is 8-14 degrees above zero. Wind conditions are
The Conservatory
and grind to the funkiest grooves in town. moderate.
Jantosheva, 115
Entrance: 200 soms Tel: 479542
Concerts by students and professors.
May 22nd 1st day – Bishkek – Chichkan valley, overnight stay
The Longest Dance in Life at it; 2nd day – Kara-Suu lake, overnight stay; 3rd day
- Kara-Suu lake, a climb to the panoramic summit Kyrgyz State Philharmonic
Russian Drama Theatre
Alampasy 3752 m; 4th day – Kara-Suu lake transfer Chui Prospect, 253
International dance festival with a caucasus
to Kel-Bashy lake (Kapka-Tash), overnight stay; 5th Tel: 212262, 212235
(Armenian/Georgian) flavour peformed by
day – Trekking around the lake, overnight stay; 6th Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer
the Kazakh-Kyrgyz Creative Collective. Sounds
day – Return to Kara-Suu lake, overnight stay; 7th Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for
unusual, at any rate.
day – Departure to Bishkek. special performances)
Tel: 62-15-58
There are two concert halls featuring classical,
May 25 May 21st-22nd traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety
Knees up for Graduates Kek-Moynuk Gorge hiking expedition of shows.
On the square outside Kinoteatr Rossiya Two days hike around the Kek-Moynok gorge. Over-
Join Bishkek’s school graduation class of 2011 as night stay next by the spruce forest. Trek to Kek- Opera Ballet Theatre
they jive the evening away to live music on Chui Moynok lake. The length of the hike is about 20 km. Sovietskaya/Abdymununova
promenade. Starts at 19.00. Tel: 66 15 48
May 28th Hours: 17:00-19:00
Dates for Summer Day trip to Sokuluk gorge (Belagoka) Tickets: 150-600 som
Visit a local waterfall and return to Bishkek. Non cat- Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and
egorical trip suitable to all ages and abilities. it is necessary to book a seat in advance.
June 5th
Dance Festival
May 29th
Bishkek Humanities University (Manas 27)
Day trip to the Alamedin gorge
Programme will feature popdancing, belly
dancing and street dancing in the faux-Roman
Walk in the panorama of the Black Finger and Aman- Live updates
Too Peaks. Hike to local waterfall and open air pic-
colosseum environs of the BHU. Begins at 11.00,
nic. Visit local spring.Trip for walkers of all ages and For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings,
rounds off at 14.00. check our frequently updated What’s On listings at:
abilities. Distance 12 km. Transport and organization
email for details
including consultation and guide for a group of 15
costs 280 som (TUK members 220 som).
June 11th
The Great Hot Water Switch on!
A repeat of last year’s event which got rave
May 29th Spektral Travel
Rafting on the Chu river
reviews. Annually, Bishkek authorities cut hot
Rafting at the Boom gorge (category 2-3) along the With the recent release of the International Commission’s
water in the city to repair the ageing CHP investigation into last year’s June violence, city breaks in
Chu river, duration 2 – 2,5 hours, 25 km. 1400 soms
infrastructure, reducing non-boiler owners Osh and Jalal-Abad are not advisable. However, taking a
per person.
to showers with woks, saucepans, kettles and detour off the Osh road and heading towards the verdant
other kitchenware items. This year they cut it on Groups meet the Thursday before the weekend of Lake Sary Chelek certainly is. This gem of Kyrgyzstan takes
May 11th, and promised repairs would last no departure. Call (0312) 906 115 or email us at trek@ an age to get to but is certainly worth the haul. Contact
longer than a month. Lets see. Web site: local travel agency Novi Nomad for details (0559 554 558).

Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4
Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39
Map: Location guide 7. Beta Stores Supermarket 14. New York Pizza 21. Stary Edgars
1. Bella Italia 8. Derevyashka 15. Pinta Pub 22. TSUM Department Store
2. Metro Bar (American Pub) 9. Cyclone 16. National Museum 23. Jam
3. Mexican Canteena 10. Coffee House (II) 17. Navigator 24. Mimino
4. Zaporyzhian Nights 11. Adriatico 18. Sky Bar 25. Arabica
5. Coffe House (I) 12. Santa Maria 19. Foyer 26. Blonder Pub
6. Vis-a-Vis 13. Faiza 20. Fatboy’s 27. VEFA shopping Centre

May 2011 The Spektator

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