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№18 June 2011
Your monthly guide to what’s happening in and around Bishkek

Restaurant Guide Tourist Map What’s On
Plus: Minibus pain, festival fun, Bishkek culture
shocks and much, much more...
This Month
Out & About

The Spektator is now online at
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town.
City Map
Don’t get lost.
What’s On
The pick of the entertainment listings.
The Guide
Che Za H****a?
... translates from Russian as ‘what the
****?’ Following the lead of a gang of
ideological street artists, we think of all the
absurd things around us that bring us to
the cusp of profanity.
News and Views
We look at Kyrgyzstan a year on from the
Osh events, as efforts at reconciliation get
underway in the southern capital. In other
news, one of the alpinists captured by
militants in 2000 returns to Kyrgyzstan to
climb again.
TheSpektator Magazineis availableat 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.
ON THE COVER: A young boy stands amidst a crowd of
men at a meeting (
From the Top Down
Revolutions are all the rage these days,
but in whose name do they take place?
The Spektator asks Dr Scott Radnitz,
author of an impressive new book about
protests and collective action in Kyr-
gyzstan and Uzbekistan, about the coun-
try’s political past, present and future.
The Spektator Magazine
Founder: Tom Wellings
Managing Editor: Chris Rickleton
Staff writers: Robert Marks (rmarks@, Dennis Keen
Holly Myers, Evan Harris, Adeline Bell,
Patrick Barrow, Pavel Kropotkin, Alice
Janvrin, Sergey Vysotsky
Guest Contributor: Matt Kupfer
Design: Aleka Claire
Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
Marshrutka Mayhem!
Adeline Bell takes a researcher’s notebook
into the armpit-scented depths of public
transport this month, and returns with a
greater faith in humanity’s kindness.
(Hunting) Festival Fever
You are probably already resigned to the
fact that you are going to put aside views
about blood sports and watch eagles tear
into chained wolves at some point this
summer, but what else can you expect
from the average hunting festival? Dennis
Keen tells all.
June 2011 The Spektator
4 This Month
BISHKEK, June 8 ( - A year af-
ter ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan
claimed over 400 lives, authorities continue
a campaign of torture and injustice against
minority ethnic Uzbeks, say two international
watchdogs marking the one-year anniversary
of the bloodletting. Bishkek’s failure to address
the discrimination could rekindle violence,
warn Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Inter-
“The profoundly flawed investigations
and trials, mainly affecting the ethnic Uzbek
minority, undermine efforts to promote recon-
ciliation and fuel tensions that might one day
lead to renewed violence,” says Human Rights
Watch (HRW) in its report, Distorted Justice,
released June 8. The Kyrgyz authorities’ fail-
ure to investigate widespread allegations of
torture and abuse in the justice system is “as-
tonishing,” while “[p]erpetrators of torture and
ill-treatment have enjoyed virtual impunity for
their crimes.”
President Roza Otunbayeva has acknowl-
edged that Uzbeks have been subjected to
police harassment and unfair prosecution,
but most government officials reject claims of
anti-Uzbek bias. Authorities and law enforce-
ment officials in southern Kyrgyzstan are over-
whelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz, leading many to
perceive themselves as direct participants in
the conflict, rather than impartial arbitrators.
According to official figures, 105 of the dead
were ethnic Kyrgyz, including a number of po-
lice officials.
“While most victims of the June violence
were ethnic Uzbek, most detainees -- almost
85 percent -- were also ethnic Uzbek,” says
Both HRW and Amnesty found that torture
is routinely applied to Uzbek suspects and, giv-
en the rising Kyrgyz nationalist rhetoric ahead
of presidential elections this fall, officials are
unwilling to address the problem. Methods
include beatings, suffocation with plastic bags
and strangulations, being burned with ciga-
rettes or hot nails, and electric shocks to the
genitals. “
In most cases, the main purpose was to
obtain confessions to solve specific crimes, but
ethnic hatred seemed to have played a signifi-
cant role as well,” HRW found.
Kyrgyzstan is a signatory to multiple in-
ternational treaties banning torture, includ-
ing the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Yet the
Prosecutor General shows an unwillingness to
investigate the allegations, opening only one
probe into abuse charges, which was later sus-
pended, HRW alleges. In many cases, prosecu-
tors and police have “pressured defendants to
withdraw torture complaints.”
Many Uzbeks have been sentenced to
lengthy prison terms based on confessions
Authorities Subjecting Uzbeks to Widespread Abuse - Watchogs
extracted during torture. “The prosecutorial
authorities failed to investigate torture even in
the one case in which a judge acquitted a de-
fendant because his confession was extracted
under torture.”
The reports are unlikely to be warmly re-
ceived in Kyrgyzstan, where officials and inves-
tigators have repeatedly blamed ethnic Uzbeks
for inciting the violence, helping stoke the na-
tionalism. In response to Otunbayeva’s June
2 remark recognizing bias against Uzbeks in
the judicial system, Interior Minister Zarylbek
Rysaliev said 90 percent of such claims were
“It is difficult to avoid the impression that
throughout the investigations, prosecutions
and trials, appeasing the ethnic Kyrgyz major-
ity eclipsed the need for justice and account-
ability. It is also difficult to avoid the impression
that lack of effective investigations has made it
easier to paint the ethnic Uzbeks as solely re-
sponsible for the June violence, and has given
license to law enforcement and security bodies
to target them for arbitrary arrest and ill-treat-
ment,” HRW wrote.
Last month, an international investigation
concluded that the Kyrgyz military played a
role in the violence June 10-14, 2010, and, if
proven in a court of law, some attacks on civil-
ians could constitute crimes against humanity.
Parliament rejected the report, claimed the au-
thor was biased in favor of ethic Uzbeks, and
banned him from returning to the country.
Responding to accusations that Uzbeks have
been targeted disproportionately, the Prosecu-
tor General’s office wrote to HRW that “it was
mostly ethnic Uzbeks who destroyed and ran-
sacked government buildings, or attempted
murder, to the point where they killed a law
enforcement official,” and blamed Uzbeks for
“provoking the inter-ethnic conflict.”
That attitude, and officials’ failure to uphold
the rule of law, contributes to ongoing tensions
between ethnic groups, Amnesty International
Europe and Central Asia Director Nicola Duck-
worth said in a statement. Amnesty also found
widespread use of torture against Uzbek sus-
pects to extract confessions later used as evi-
dence in court. “The failure to bring to justice
those behind the violence could provide fertile
soil for the seeds of future turmoil and future
human rights violations,” Duckworth said.
Kyrgyzstan Must Strive to Avoid Serbia Syndrome
BISHKEK, June 15 (Spektator) - Around this
time last year, Osh mayor Melis Myrzakmatov
was busy gathering consensus against the
deployment of an OSCE police detachment
in his city, on the grounds that he didn’t want
“the Kosovo tragedy, replayed in the Fergana
Valley”. Myrzakmatov, a Bakiev appointee that
somehow survived the events of April 7, was
implying that the involvement of the ‘interna-
tional community’ in the Balkan conflicts had
effectively stripped a state – Serbia – of large
swathes of its sovereign territory.
While it may seem ironic that a Muslim
mayor chose to identify with Orthodox Serbs
rather than the embattled Albanian minority,
parallels between southern Kyrgyzstan and
Yugoslavia shouldn’t be too hastily overlooked.
After all, the ethnic violence in Osh and Jalal-
Abad saw Kyrgyz politics take on a suitably ‘Bal-
kan’ trajectory, with houses aflame, ‘sportsmen’
running amok, and a huge spike in nationalist
After the conclusion of the Kosovo conflict
in 1999, Serbia turned in on itself. A sense of
self-righteousness, nursed in the national con-
sciousness since the original battle of Kosovo
against the Ottoman Empire in 1389, became
dogma. Albanian sedition and the subsequent
betrayal of the ‘international community’ rep-
resented by NATO left Serbs humiliated and
clinging to a “Serbia versus the world” mental-
ity, promoted by the political elite.
There is a danger of Kyrgyz society becom-
ing similarly infected. Stung by the damning
verdict of the Kyrgyzstan International Com-
mission (KIC) report on the June events, the
country’s 120 member parliament is licking its
wounds, indulging in self-denial, while a new
type of proto-fascist politician is arriving on
the scene. Ata-Jurt MP Jyldyzkan Joldosheva, a
Dame Edna look-alike that froths at the mouth
when she talks of “Uzbek separatists” and a
“Fergana Valley Caliphate” (somehow “spon-
sored by the West”), has emerged from relative
obscurity into national celebrity. She may yet
run on a Presidential ticket in November.
But where will Joldosheva’s nationalism
take Kyrgyzstan? She has reliably prepared a re-
port into last year’s violence that “differs funda-
mentally” from the report prepared by her own
parliament - a “fundamentally different” report
to that of the KIC in its turn - but has her anti-
Uzbek rhetoric brought a som of investment
into the country? Has she suggested reforms
in the sphere of education policy? What will she
do for the doctors and nurses that strained un-
der the weight of last summer’s catastrophe?
Right-wing politics is still a force to be reck-
oned with in Serbia, and remains a major ob-
stacle to its accession into the European Union.
But more importantly than that, the country’s
immediate neighbours – people with whom
they share culture and history – want nothing
to do with them anymore. In addition to effec-
tively losing Kosovo in 1999, the Montenegrins,
identical to the Serbs in almost all respects,
declared independence from Belgrade in 2006,
taking their beautiful coastline with them,
(think Issyk-Kul seceding from Kyrgyzstan),
leaving Serbia a shrunken, angry, landlocked
statelet. Myrzakmatov had a point then: there
are lessons to be learnt from the Balkans. June 2011 The Spektator
5 This Month
OSH, June 10 (RFE/RL) - A performer with the
Uzbek Music and Drama Theater in Osh walks
slowly up the aisle of the theater, dragging
heavy chains behind her as she sings a refrain
from “Kanyshanym koz yashy,” a traditional Uz-
bek drama honoring the life of an ancient female
leader who saved the land that is now southern
Kyrgyzstan from ruin.
The drama is usually performed in Uzbek.
But this week the artists are using both Uzbek
and Kyrgyz in the staging, as part of efforts to
support reconciliation efforts as the country
marks the first anniversary of the deadly ethnic
clashes that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan last
To be sure, the anniversary of the so-called
“June events” -- four days of vicious clashes be-
tween Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that left 470 people
dead and hundreds of homes destroyed -- are
unfolding in an atmosphere that can best be de-
scribed as fraught. The Kyrgyz government has
roundly rejected international findings criticiz-
ing the authorities’ role in the events, and in the
south, many Kyrgyz and Uzbeks remain deeply
bitter about the experience.
But throughout Osh, there are small signs
emerging that the city, while still scarred, is in
some ways returning to normal. The local gov-
ernment recently unveiled new housing for
families of victims of last year’s violence, and
the performance of “Kanyshanym koz yashy” is a
tacit acknowledgment by the authorities of the
Uzbek community’s long and prestigious history
in the region.
Moving Forward
In ordinary life, too, there are growing signs of
harmony -- or, more accurately, signs that in
many ways the city did not lose all of its neigh-
borly ties in the wave of violence in 2010.
Kindergarten No. 30 is located on Osh’s cen-
tral Lenin Street, just a few kilometers away from
the Hotel Alai area where the June violence first
erupted. The children noisily enjoy a last few
minutes of playground time before being called
in for lunch and a nap.
As they run and jostle each other, you can
hear a mix of Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Russian. The
students at school No. 30 are a composite re-
flection of the city’s ethnic diversity - something
school officials say hasn’t changed since the
June events.
“The school never stopped working, even
during the June events,” says its director, Sala-
mat Oshenbaeva. “And we haven’t had any par-
ents drop out since then. We have 300 children
-- Kyrgyz, Russians, Uzbeks, even some Tatars
-- and they all like it here and feel comfortable
with each other here.”
It proves difficult to corral young students
in the throes of midday recess to ask them dry
questions about language and ethnicity. But
their teacher, Mamlakat Khalberdieva, says they
are comfortable speaking all languages, and
that they’re largely oblivious to the questions
A Year After Kyrgyz Clashes, Some Signs of Peace in Ordinary Life
of national identity that currently preoccupy so
many of the city’s adults.
‘We Try To Understand Each Other’
Khalberdieva, who is Uzbek, has spent 25 years as
a teacher - a profession she says keeps her young
and optimistic. She says in the days following
the June events, she noticed many of her stu-
dents steering clear of children from other ethnic
groups -- a tendency, she thinks, that they likely
picked up from their parents.
But with time, such boundaries have evapo-
rated, and the children play with abandon, oblivi-
ous to who is Uzbek or Kyrgyz or Tatar. “These are
little kids,” Khalberdieva says. “They simply like
each other. There’s no reason for them to care
who’s who.”
And the parents, she adds, have come around
as well. “We have good relations with all the par-
ents,” she says. “We have good parents, under-
standing parents. We have good ties with them,
and they with us. We try to understand each other.”
The school teaches most of its lessons in
Russian, although older children may take some
classes in Kyrgyz. There are, however, no lessons
in Uzbek, an issue that has become a sore subject
for many of the city’s Uzbeks, who saw several
of their native-language schools torched in the
clashes and now have just a single school pre-
pared to offer instruction in their mother tongue.
Speaking From The Heart
Still, some residents say the school question is
made less urgent by the reality that nearly eve-
ryone in the south speaks, or at the very least
understands, both languages. This is nowhere
more evident than in the affairs of the heart,
with interethnic couples continuing to marry
even after the clashes.
Newlywed Sabyr Umurzakov, 27, is a Kyr-
gyz living in the region of Aravan, a fertile ag-
ricultural center a half-hour drive from Osh. His
bride, Dilfuza Khashimova, an Uzbek, is a shy
21-year-old prone to pulling her headscarf over
her mouth to hide her nervous giggles.
Umurzakov laughs as he recalls the early
months of their courtship. “She gave me a re-
ally hard time,” he says with a broad grin. “She
yelled at me, she’d refuse to speak to me. Now
she doesn’t do that, at least not quite as much.”
Khashimova and Umurzakov grew up
within meters of each other in this area outside
Osh, which has the highest rate of interethnic
marriage in the region. The local marriage-
registration bureau, which keeps a special file
on interethnic marriages, says that last year, of
1,250 local marriages, 76 were between couples
of mixed ethnicities -- not only Kyrgyz and Uz-
beks, but Tajiks, Azeris, and Tatars as well. “We’ve
always had very open relations between the
groups, and the events last year didn’t change
anything,” says Mavluda Ismanova, an official at
the marriage bureau.
Umurzakov says his marriage to Khashimova
was careful to observe the traditions of both his
Kyrgyz and her Uzbek heritage, and that none of
their friends or family members objected to the
marriage. “We’re used to it here,” he says, as he
and his young bride joke and tease each other
as they pose for a photograph. “No one pays any
attention to it.”
Above A Kyrgyz-Uzbek couple building bridges between mutually suspicious relatives (RFE/RL)
June 2011 The Spektator
6 This Month
BISHKEK, June 18 ( - Eleven years after
being held hostage for several days by a mili-
tant group in Kyrgyzstan, a professional rock
climber is heading back to the Kyrgyz cliffs.
In August 2000, photographer John Dick-
ey embarked on a trek with three other avid
climbers. Using minimal equipment, they
planned to scale cliffs in the Kara-suu Valley of
southeastern Kyrgyzstan. They were assured
that aside from the several-thousand-foot free
falls, the region otherwise posed no threats to
their safety.
After spending the night on a portaledge (a
bed made for climbers that hangs suspended
on a cliff face), they awoke to sounds that they
couldn’t easily identify.
“At dawn the next morning, we heard a
ping ... The first thing you think is rockfall. But it
wasn’t,” Dickey tells Weekend All Things Consid-
ered guest host Laura Sullivan. “Another ping,
and that really sounded like a gunshot. You
look down, and there [are] guys on the ground
waving you down.”
For the young, adventurous group, it was
hard to fathom.
“When the first two shots were fired, we
thought, maybe there [were] hunters with bad
aim or something,’” fellow climber Beth Rod-
den said in 2000. “But then when the third one
came and sand landed on our sleeping bags,
we knew that it was for us.”
The climbers were forced down to the bot-
tom of the valley, where they and their Kyrgyz
escort were taken hostage by militant rebels.
Shortly after, their escort was taken behind
a boulder and shot dead as a warning to the
For six days, the four 20-somethings were
hidden under brush and rocks during the day
and moved stealthily at night. They survived off
a few energy bars that were stashed into a jack-
et before the climb, and some yak butter and
yogurt balls that were brought back when their
two captors raided the climbers’ base camp.
While holding them hostage, the militants
engaged in a firefight with the Kyrgyz army.
“[It was] crazy, strange, wild, violent,” Dickey
says. “There wasn’t really any time to have any
emotional reaction to ‘Oh look, here’s a body
that’s been executed.’ All you could really think
to yourself is, it’s in these rebels’ best interest
that they keep us alive as hostages.”
On Day 6, while being forced up the rug-
ged cliffs, the group agreed that escape was
the only option. The climbers took their chance
when one of their captors went back to their
base camp to get batteries for the walkie-talk-
ies they had stolen.
“Here is this opportunity where we have
two rebels with us, and we’re going to be left
with the one very naive, inexperienced kid to
climb up this humungous ridgeline for what
the four of us is extremely easy terrain, but for
him was very dangerous and difficult terrain,”
Dickey recalls. “Instantaneously, Tommy [Cald-
well] handled the situation. [He] grabbed the
gentleman by the gun strap over his shoulder
and just threw him straight off the cliff.”
Memories of Captivity await Climber in Kyrgyzstan
They then ran toward a Kyrgyz military out-
post — unsure of what, or who, they would find
On the way, several other rebels jumped
out of the brush and began shooting at them,
but they made it to the outpost, where the Kyr-
gyz soldiers took them in. They were later taken
to another military base and eventually made it
back to the U.S., relatively unscathed.
Now Dickey is returning to Kyrgyzstan to
attempt another climb. He’ll be in the same
province as when he was captured, but this
time he’ll be scaling cliffs in the Aksu Valley.
“That whole region holds some of the great
prizes in climbing,” he says. “There’s a reason
we went in the first place. And we didn’t get
to have our trip, and I’ve always wanted to go
back. I want to go have this climbing trip.”
Dickey admits being scared. “I can’t predict
how I’m going to react.”
But he says he doesn’t plan to do anything
differently this time around.
“You can build a house and put in the great-
est sprinkler system ever,” he says, “but that
does not guarantee that your house could not
burn down someday.”
Above A panorama of the Kara-suu valley in southeastern Kyrgyzstan (archive)
Supporters rally in Jalal-Abad town centre for a
Kyrgyz MP charged with Assault
gyzstan - Hundreds of people gathered in
southern Kyrgyzstan on June 20 in support of
a member of parliament charged with assault-
ing a fellow deputy, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service
The protesters gathered in front of the
building of Jalal-Abad Oblast’s Interior Af-
fairs Department demanding charges against
Kamchybek Tashiev be dropped,
Interior Affairs Department chief Stanbek
Bakirov told RFE/RL that about 1,000 demon-
strators are taking part in the protest. Tash-
iev’s supporters set up two yurts on a square
in front of the Interior Affairs Department, say-
ing that the protest will last till Tashiev’s case
is closed.
Tashiev, the head of the Ata-Jurt (Homeland)
party in parliament, was interrogated by the
Prosecutor-General’s investigative directorate
on June 20 regarding his alleged beating of
fellow deputy Bakhadyr Suleimanov.
On June 17, Tashiev surrendered his im-
munity from prosecution as a member of
parliament, saying that he took this action to
avoid the need to create a parliamentary com-
mission to strip him of his immunity.
Suleimanov filed a lawsuit against Tashiev
on April 1, accusing him of assault and battery.
Suleimanov spent several days at the cardiol-
ogy center in Bishkek after the alleged fight.
Tashiev says he never physically assaulted
Suleimanov, but admits they had a heated
conversation and verbally insulted each other
on April 1. He has not said what they argued
Tashiev told RFE/RL on June 15 that hoo-
liganism charges brought against him are an
attempt “to prevent my participation in the
presidential elections” scheduled for the fall.
Many experts and politicians think Tashiev
plans to run for president.
June 2011 The Spektator
8 Out & About
hate them, the fat, but nimble,
and inevitably bad-tempered
marshrutka is a quintessential part
of Bishkek. Bishkek without the
marshrutka is Sydney without the
harbour, Hendrix without the guitar, and Lenin
without the winds of change. Hear a honk and
see a road-accident-in-waiting? Forget the snow
leopard: Bishkek’s real mascot is the marshrutka.
In the process of researching this article,
marshrutki were ridden, trolleybuses tamed, toes
trod on, and foreign sweat sweated on foreign
soil. This was done so that you know you’re not
suffering alone – and indeed, my research in-
forms me that in the marshrutka, humanity suf-
fers as a collective entity.
The dumpy little minibus that we see expel-
ling copious amounts of green-house gas from its
posterior was, in its former life, a flower, cheese,
or electrics delivery van in the far flung realm of
Europe. Around twenty years after it set out on
its first job (in London, Dusseldorf, Budapest, or
Riga perhaps), it was retired (read stolen), before
making the long trip across the continents, hav-
ing seats nailed into it, then ripped out again (to
allow more standing room), and is now living out
its second incarnation as a marshrutnoye taxi, or
routed taxi. You may be standing where Parisian
poodles were once washed.
Each marshrutka route is licensed out to pri-
vate ‘companies’ by the Bishkek city council. Of-
ten, there is only one license per route, and the
prices are likewise determined by the state. After
this, free market principles step in, with the pri-
vate company deciding how many marshrutki
will operate along a specific route, how often and
when. This is the reason you’ll find yourself wait-
ing in vain on Sundays for the 196 – a bus that
probably won’t come. The drivers, usually not
the owners of the marshrutki themselves, kick
up 12,000 soms to their managers each month
and then get to keep the change. So, while they
may growl at you when they confuse your nob-
bly knee with the gear stick, know that it’s in their
best interest to cram people in like sardines. And
the timer on the dashboard? Don’t be fooled,
there are no marshrutka schedules: the driver is
timing himself to work out his people cramming:
route completion ratio – marshrutka driving is a
science, not an art.
“There were no marshrutki in the Soviet Un-
ion,” says Sasha, a Bishkek resident. “Instead, there
was more regular public transport, such as trol-
leybuses, and they actually followed a timetable.
We did have similar minibuses, but they were
slightly different; you weren’t allowed to stand,
and they certainly weren’t ever über full,” Sasha
sighs. “Marshrutki nowadays – terrible!”
Marshrutka pain can be measured according
to the following mathematic equation:
Marshrutka Pain = (Time o
Day x Route)
Driver’s Mood
Time of Day
In the mornings at 8:30, the afternoons at around
4 and the evenings after 6pm, one has a short and
horrifying glimpse into the sufferings of cattle on
cattle trucks. Or post-Soviet citizens on cattle
trucks. Between thirty and forty people may par-
take in a game of socially inappropriate human
Tetris during rush hours. The heat is sweltering
and opportunities for aerosol infections optimal,
with only a little pop-up sun roof providing the
illusion of ventilation. At least two people end
up with backsides wedged onto the dashboard,
a pool of community sweat emerges, the bus
heaves and splutters, and, by some miracle, dog-
gedly completes the route.
No Recorded Fatalities = Success!
Do you know your 185s from your 208s? Can
you say which minibus gets to Osh market
fastest, the 214 or the 195? No, neither can
we, but we reckon on having accumulated
enough painful experiences to guide you
through the basics of life on a marshrutka.


Above Bishkek’s marshrutki are as much a part
of the city view as black cabs are in London
(Brooke versus the World)
Above right Zhigits on the back row of a mini-
bus (archive)
Far right The mundanity of marshrutka life
holds no novelty for locals (Bektour Iskender) June 2011 The Spektator
9 Out & About
If, for example, you are on the 212, you will have an
uncomfortable journey, while the said bus vainly
attempts to maneuver itself around four lanes of
oncoming traffic, pot holes and stray dogs. The
122, however, likes to think of itself as a sort of ex-
press courier service. It enjoys the open road and,
in particular, the 90 degree turn from Karla Marx
onto Gorkovo, which it completes with joyous
gusto at 35 km/hour, much to the mortal fear of
the palpitating human mass inside.
Driver’s mood
Suddenly everyone’s lives become dependent
on the current state of the driver’s feelings for his
manager, wife, manager’s wife, mother-in-law, pet
cat and other passengers who got on and off the
vehicle within the last two hours. Enough said.
Yet inside a marshrutka, contempt for the hu-
man condition is momentarily forgotten, and a se-
rene set of rules are meticulously obeyed. Give up
your seat for the babushka who toddles on board
(Age Rule). Give up your seat for the lady with
the child (Inconvenience Rule). And importantly,
the Gender Rule: women, being weak and pe-
tite, should sit, while men, strong and manly, can
stand. (I’m solely paraphrasing a local colleague).
Once those mature, inconvenienced, and feminine
personages are seated, they then become subject
to Sitter Rules. Offer to take the bag of someone
standing (Polite Bag Rule). If the stander does not
comply, Obligatory Bag Rule comes into play:
forcefully remove the bag of a stander and guard
it on your privileged lap.
“What about taxis, buses and trolleybuses?” I
ask Katja, another local and regular marshrutka-
“Taxis are much too expensive to take all the
time,” Katja explains. “For each marshrutka ride you
pay eight som during the day and 10 som after 9
pm, as opposed to 100 to 150 som in a taxi.”
Buses and trolleybuses are cheaper than
marshrutki, costing six and five som respectively
per ride.
“Buses are more comfortable, sure, but they
drive so slowly. As for trolleybuses, you can wait 30
to 40 minutes, and they often stop running before
9 pm,” says Katja.
Sasha agrees: “In the time that ten marshrutkas
come, you might only get half a trolleybus!”
Language nuances aside, I hot-footed it to the
bus stop to wait for trusty trolleybus Number 4.
Number 4 huffed and puffed and grinded its way
through the pavement, screeching to a halt, sur-
rounded by a swarm of angry marshrutki, honking
madly. Once on board, my advice is to grab hold
of something stable as soon as possible; the trol-
leybus is a capricious beast that runs on electricity,
and, unlike the marshrutka, doesn’t sound off any
petrol-dependent snorts to warn you of imminent
departure. Riding a trolleybus is like being inside
a spacecraft dodging geological elements in an
asteroid field … plus gravity. Exiting passengers,
intending to depart unobtrusively, elegantly, are
thrown to the front: I saw a diminutive babushka fly
through the air and land – thump! – on the driver’s
cage. At least in the human crush of a marshrutka,
one is prevented from serious internal injuries in
non-accident scenarios.
“On one hand, marshrutki are awful,” Katja tells
me. “But on the other, they’re very convenient, you
can get on and get off anywhere. They go every-
where, and come very often. Even friends of mine
who have cars often take marshrutki. Despite the
discomfort, it’s a great system!”
Plus, let’s face it, the history of human trans-
portation in Central Asia is dismal at best and
peppered with human atrocities at worst. The
marshrutka is here to stay: maybe we should simply
be grateful that we can arrive directly at our desti-
nation, depart freely, and even slam the door hard
behind ourselves with a revengeful CHUNK!
Driver: See Driver’s Mood in our formulaic equa-
tion. Every so often you’ll get a cheery soul, or
maybe even a singer. They have either just started
their shift or are otherwise completely deranged.
Marshrutka moralist: The driver is a party to
the marshrutka social contract, but not its enforcer
– that job falls on the marshrutka moralist. When
chewing-gum-chewing youth are too busy listen-
ing to MP3s on their mobiles to observe the Age,
Inconvenience or Gender rules, the marshrutka
moralist begins to yell: “Why aren’t you stand-
ing youngsters?” Usually the moralist is a man in
his late 30s, of conservative mindset, and strong
enough to force an elderly lady through a mass of
people onto a seat with his bare hands.
Perennial drunk: Downing a bottle of cognac
in the morning is the best way to get some breath-
ing space on a marshrutka - people will throw their
bodies into all sorts of shapes to avoid the alcohol
fumes. If you are lucky enough to have gotten a
seat, this is the guy falling asleep on your shoulder.
Bazaar trader: No-one likes these. Sometimes
drivers will whizz past these people, mindful that
the approximately 18 kilos of vegetables they are
carrying in a sack will cost as much in benzene as a
small, fare-paying child would. If one of them gets
on, expect arguments.
Swine-flu sufferers: Transitional characters in
Marshrutkastan, their migration onto minibuses
caused panic on a level with terror threats during
swine flu season in Autumn ‘09. Frequently over
the course of that period, a mother with a posse of
children would board public transport wearing a
surgical mask, but worryingly, only one of her kids
would be wearing one. So, who has swine flu and
who doesn’t? Astanoveetye, pazhaulsta!
People of Marshrutkastan
June 2011 The Spektator
10 Out & About
strolling down Bishkek’s tree-lined av-
enues is unlikely to have missed a rather
rude phrase repeating itself with increas-
ing frequency throughout the city. In-
deed, ‘Che Za H****a’, rendered roughly from Rus-
sian as “What the f***”, rivals “Mirbek loves Jyldyz
4Eva [approximate translation]” as one of the most
popular ‘tags’ in the capital’s street art scene. Yet
rather than being a profession of undying romance,
this Russian blasphemy is employed in all the plac-
es where something seems out of sorts, off-kilter
or just plain weird. So, while the CZH gang get to
work indicating bizarre adverts, weird announce-
ments and architectural oddities, we thought we’d
contribute to their cause by listing just a few of the
things that have made us scratch our heads and
ask: “What the ****?!”
When is it a pelican crossing?
We’ve all been there. You step gingerly off the pave-
ment onto a set of faded white lines that should
technically denote safe passage for pedestrians
crossing Bishkek’s busy thoroughfares. A law-abid-
ing motorist breaks and waves you across. You nod
at him gratefully, despite the fact that it is your right
of way and he is only observing the rules.
Then, the less law-abiding motorist, who has
been tailgating him for the last six intersections,
suddenly sees an opportunity to overtake on the
outside, blindly speeding over the pedestrian walk-
way and forcing you to dive out of his path and frog
splash in front of the law-abider’s bonnet.
Sprawled out on the concrete, you quickly re-
alize that the first motorist is losing his temper. He
feels you took advantage of his kindness and that
now you are just wasting his time. He joins other
cars in beeping his horn as you pick yourself up,
dazed and disorientated, hobbling across the street
to a soundtrack of revving engines and curse words.
CZH?!: The answer to this riddle seems obvious.
If the crossing is faintly marked, located on a street
other than Chui or Kievskaya, or badly policed, then
you are taking your life in your hands. Even if none
of the above applies, we strongly recommend you
wait for someone elderly or a mother with a pram
to cross over with. While taking out a stray tourist
might not ruin a Bishkek driver’s day, the prospect
of multiple homicides will surely force him to think
twice. (For a guide to attitudes towards road safety
in the capital see Spektator issue 1; Are you a Bishkek
Cheapskate smokers
A man walks down the street wearing a lost expres-
sion, flicking the wrist of one hand against the out-
stretched palm of another, a question in his eyes. It
was to become a familiar sight during my first few
weeks in Bishkek, revealing itself on street corners
and in nightclubs, outside malls and by the lift in my
block of flats. When I stared back at them, uncom-
prehending, they would get frustrated and march
past me before repeating the gesture to someone
“Who are these people?” I wondered out loud.
What insight are they trying to proclaim? I imagined
them as an obscure Christian sect warding off evil
spirits, then as suffers of an acute compulsive disor-
der sweeping Bishkek. At other times, I romanticized
them. They are an underground, anti-government
political movement, I convinced myself, building
support for their cause with this weird, two-handed
Then, on a dark, deserted night I got to the
heart of the mystery. One of the group’s members
was walking behind me, flicking away furiously. He
was persistent and looked a little deranged, an unlit
fag hanging from his lips. The street was poorly lit
Any visitor to Kyrgyzstan is likely to be con-
fronted by a series of culture shocks during
the period it takes him or her to adjust to
new surroundings. Inspired by the philo-
sophical message of a group of local street
artists, we teamed up with up-and-coming
Jewish-American comedian Matt Kupfer to
guide you through some of the immediate
challenges life in the country’s largest city
can place on your sanity.
Above Kyrgyzstan’s next coup will probably be
sponsored by this British supermarket chain
Opposite page (L-R) Bishkek needs lollipop la-
dies to ensure pedestrian safety; you’ve seen
the tag, now buy the t-shirt; Matt Kupfer is
not a Turk, really!
Next page (L-R) Naryn airport hasn’t seen any
action for some time; Askar Akaev contem-
plates life behind a turkey cage; Bishkek has
too many of these places
za June 2011 The Spektator
11 Out & About
and we were alone. I decided to cross over to avoid
“Look I don’t want to be a member of your
movement!” I cried, as he followed me dutifully, his
wrist in overdrive now. He didn’t listen, and instead
began mumbling a word, over and over, to back up
the weird hand movement. “Spichki, spichki, spichki,
spichki, spichki yest?”
He wanted a match to light his cigarette.
CZH?!: In Kyrgyzstan, rampant inflation prices
ordinary citizens out of many household goods and
foodstuffs. However, priced at one som per pack,
matches are very much in the ‘affordables’ bracket.
We therefore humbly petition Bishkek smokers to
go the extra hog and splash out on a box of match-
es for every second pack of fags they buy, or even
make a longer-term investment with a lighter at 15
soms. It doesn’t do to frighten foreigners with the
shaky hand gesture. Spasibo, rakhmat!
Morrisons bags in Kyrgyzstan
Morrisons might be the third or fourth largest su-
permarket in the UK - somewhere behind Tesco
and in front of Poundsavers – but in Kyrgyzstan,
their plastic bags are king. While this doesn’t make
an ounce of sense to us, locals seem to accept it at
face value.
“They are the best carrier bags,” says Gulbara, a
vendor working at Bishkek’s Orto-Sai market. “I try
to hold onto them if I can,” she continued. “One
day they could run out and be replaced by weaker
But that day looks a long way from now. Mor-
risons bags have an apparent stranglehold over
Bishkek’s formal and informal sector, with local su-
permarkets even using them in place of their own,
branded carriers at times. Conventional wisdom
suggests that the bags are manufactured in cheap-
as-chips China and that what we are witnessing in
neighbouring Kyrgyzstan is the phenomenon of
over-supply. But we suspect something much more
CZH?!: Despite having not yet conquered the
British market, Morrisons are clearly bent on world
domination, and have figured that they will need a
lot of plastic bags to carry out their evil plans. Will
supermarkets selling cut-price, microwaveable
ready meals follow the carrier bags to the Middle
Kingdom? When can we expect to see a Morrisons
convenience store in central Bishkek? Only time will
tell, but rest assured that the Spektator is working
day and night to get a handle on this polythene
The Local Football Scene
We’ve said it before, but we really can’t empha-
size enough: the Kyrgyz football league is strange.
Teams appear to change their names every other
season, depending on which local firm/politician is
funding them. The one we support, Kant-based FC
Abdysh Ata, is built on beer money, financed as it
is by the same folks that keep the country stocked
with tasty Zhivoi pivo.
Their rivals for the domestic title, FC Dordoi
Dynamo, are an extension of the same firm that
own Central Asia’s largest wholesale market. Over
the past few years, Dordoi have demonstrated con-
siderable pulling power – their line-up teems with
imports from the lower Russian leagues, while their
prize centre back is a tribal prince from Ghana.
But at the bottom of division, life is less exotic.
Sher, a team funded by a local sausage factory, are
the whipping boys of the league, pummelled week
in, week out by their better financed rivals. Other
struggling teams take a breather from the league
for a season, citing financial difficulties, while many
have disappeared altogether. An example of the lat-
ter was a team from a few years ago called
How big is Naryn?
While working at the conference last summer, I
had a chance to talk with a girl from Naryn. In try-
ing to determine how big or small a town Naryn
was, I decided to ask her if the town had an air-
port. Let me clarify, I was not really interested in
the “physical” size of the town, as much as the
“philosophical” size - was it considered a big town
by Kyrgyzstan’s standards, was it of some kind of
central importance in Kyrgyzstan, how “central”
or how “remote” was it? Naively, I thought much
about this could be discerned by whether or not
the town had an airport. But the question turned
out to be more complex than I thought.
At first the girl immediately answered “no.” But
then, she caught herself and said, “Wait, I’m wrong.
We do have an airport.”
Here she paused for a moment.
“But we have no planes.”
I’m not Turkish
When I was in Bishkek, I learned that I had two
main skills - making people laugh by saying “My
name is Matt, I am a good zhigit” in Kyrgyz, and
looking Turkish. Because, wherever I went, people
would ask me if I was Turkish. When I was volun-
teering at a conference, held at the Issyk-Kul Hotel
in Bishkek, everyone ate lunch together in the ho-
tel restaurant. One day I was sitting at a table and
conversing with a few of the conference partici-
pants and an English teacher from Kyzyl-Kiya [Bat-
ken Oblast] over lunch, when someone decided
to try to ascertain information about my ethnicity.
“You’re from America, but you’re not one of the
real Americans, right?”a girl asked.
Matt Kupfer’s
June 2011 The Spektator
12 Out & About
“Well, there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ Ameri-
can. America is a country of immigrants. Everyone
can be a ‘real’ American,”I explained .
“But you’re not a British American, right?” she
“No,”I said. “I’m not.”
“Where are your grandparents from?” a second
girl asked.
Giving a shortened version of my family history,
I told them that, on my father’s side, my ancestors
were from Poland and, on my mother’s side, from
“But they weren’t originally from there, right?”
the girl asked, perplexed. I decided it was time to
end their confusion.
“I’m not Turkish,” I said, which immediately set
the girls to nodding as if we were now getting to
the heart of the question. “I’m Jewish.”
Unlike in America, where Jewish is seen for the
most part as a religion, in Kyrgyzstan and the for-
mer Soviet Union it is considered an ethnicity.
The revelation that I was Jewish seemed to pro-
voke a bit of a stir in the group. After some rapid
and quiet discussion, the English teacher now
posed a question: “What is your religion? Are you
“Judaism,” I said, but nobody seemed to un-
derstand. Thinking that I had mispronounced the
name of the religion in Russian, I repeated it slower:
“Buddhism?”one of the girls asked.
“No,”I said. “Ju-dai-ism.”
Finally, the teacher seemed to understand, while
the girls continued to look puzzled. She began to
explain it to them. After a minute of discussion
back and forth, one of the girls turned to me.
“We understand,” she said. “One of my friends in
Kyzyl-Kiya has some Jewish ancestry.”
And yet she had never heard of the Jewish faith.
No matter, I knew that Jewish ethnicity and the
Jewish religion were different things in Russia, and
presumably also in Kyrgyzstan.
“And what is the rest of her ancestry?” I asked,
out of curiosity.
“Turkish,”the girl said.
What happens to presidential portraits?
While visiting my friend’s step-grandmother
in a neighborhood located 30 minutes outside
Bishkek, I happened to stumble upon one of the
weirdest sights of my two months in Kyrgyzstan.
My friend’s step-grandmother kept animals at her
house including a cow, some chickens in a coop, a
dog, and a turkey in a large cage.
When the grandmother went to show me the
turkey cage, I noticed something funny: Someone
was peeking out from behind the cage. It was not
just anyone. It was the bald dome and bushy eye-
brows of former president Askar Akaev in a very
presidential portrait.
Immediately, the story was clear.
In the hopeful early days of independence,
my friend’s step-grandmother, an ethnic Russian
whose extended family gatherings look like a con-
ference of all nationalities represented in Kyrgyz-
stan, hung a portrait of Kyrgyzstan’s pro-democ-
racy president in her house. But when Akaev was
ousted in March 2005, after nearly fifteen years in
power had turned him corrupt and self-serving, it
was time to put the portrait out of sight.
Though the place behind the turkey cage was
not chosen for any particular reason, it seemed an
appropriate visual explanation of the vicissitudes
of fortune. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Osh Police – not an outfit you would want to
play after nightfall!
CZH?!: Sounds a bit like the Scottish Premier
League? Well, yes it does. In fact, football is a pretty
weird game throughout the world, so we are happy
to let the Kyrgyz game retain its own eccentricities -
as long as it doesn’t affect our beer.
Which way to the pharmacy?
How many pharmacies does this place have? It’s out
of control. In fact, if you touched down in Bishkek
with zero language skills we are willing to bet that
before you learned how to greet people in either
language, the Russian word apteka and the Kyrgyz
equivalent darikana were engraved on your brain.
While your guide book will probably tell you
that Bishkek is “well supplied with pharmacies”, be
aware that this is a wild understatement. Edging
out casinos and currency exchanges as the most
popular business in town, the visitor to the Kyrgyz
capital is bombarded by green signs at every turn.
If only there were as many post offices, you think to
The phenomenon reaches its peak at the Mos-
kovskaya/Logvinenko intersection, a belief-defying
aptekaworld which must host more than thirty
pharmacies. What’s more, they stay open until late,
so if you feel like a shot of cough mixture to round
off a night out on the tiles, you need only knock po-
litely on the shutters of one of these outlets, and a
weary attendant will serve you your tipple through
a set of metal bars.
CZH?!: Are they all licensed? How do they stay
in business? These are questions the Spektator can’t
answer. However, we can confirm that there is a
dark side to readily available drugs. Possibly due
to the intensity of the competition, local pharma-
cies dispense antibiotics as if they were two-penny
sweets. As a direct result, Bishkek boasts one of the
highest frequencies of drug-resistant disease strains
among cities in the former Soviet Union.
Che Za H****a Moments!
June 2011 The Spektator
In addition to the tragic events of April
and June 2010, the last year or so in
Kyrgyzstan has seen citizens out on the
streets getting vocal for a variety of
causes, leading some analysts to argue
that contentious ‘meetings’ are now a
regular feature of political life in the
country. This month, the Spektator talks
to Dr. Scott Radnitz, Assistant Professor
of International Studies at the Univer-
sity of Washington, about rallies, rent-a-
mobs and “revolutions”.
INCE PRESUMED dictators-for-life in
North Africa and the Middle East were
unseated earlier this year, the study of
popular uprisings has attracted an un-
precedented volume of interest. No
surprise then, that Dr. Scott Radnitz’s acclaimed
work, Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Regimes
and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia, has seen
more than the usual Central Asia-watchers flock-
ing to and other online bookstores
to purchase a copy.
Your research for Weapons of the Wealthy took
you well off the tourist trail in both Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan. What drew you to do fieldwork
in these remote places?
To me, Central Asia always seemed so obscure that
it had to be important some day. When I went into
the field, I was initially interested in how commu-
nities tried to solve problems on their own when
the state had failed them. For example, I noticed
occasions when locals banded together to gather
money from people in their neighbourhood to
buy a new electrical transformer or pay to have
a road paved. People everywhere in Central Asia
were confronted with these challenges stemming
from the difficult years of transition, and I wanted
to understand how they responded collectively. So
I lived in some of these communities in Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan and simply observed. Among oth-
er things, I noticed that local wealthy benefactors
often stepped in to help, and then worked hard to
claim credit for their efforts. This opened a new can
of worms for me.
So, is there a distant corner of Central Asia you
got particularly attached to?
I like border zones. I find them intriguing because
they are the places where the state puts on the
greatest spectacle of asserting its sovereignty,
and young conscripts do their best to play the
role of stalwart defenders of their homeland (al-
though in remote posts they are often bored to
the point of madness). This fascination got me
into trouble on one occasion when I was dumb
enough to get caught taking a picture of a border
post. I won’t say where...
Weapons of the Wealthy is a cracking title, what
was the intention of the book?
My book explains how a country (Kyrgyzstan, in
this case) can experience an accidental revolution
and regime change. My main case study is the
2005 overthrow of Akaev, for which I offer an ex-
planation that runs counter to the conventional
narrative of the event, and of “grassroots” rebel-
lions in general. My analysis of how that event
unfolded lends insight into the Bakiev years and
the turmoil of 2010 and beyond. Akaev was the
most democratic president Central Asia had seen
(and one of the most democratic leaders in the
whole former Soviet Union), but his reforms and
later attempts to reconsolidate power caused a
backlash that sparked his downfall. In some ways,
Kyrgyzstan has not recovered from those events.
It came out at a good time then....
Indeed, “revolutions” are in vogue these days,
after having been out of the news for a couple
of decades. Not all superficially similar events
unfold the same way - Kyrgyzstan is an exam-
ple of that - but the societies in transition in the
Middle East can learn a lot from their predeces-
sors, and would be wise to identify the obstacles
their post-revolutionary counterparts confronted
when their moment of euphoria ended.
Your book shows how opening up post-com-
munist economies to market reforms weakens
the state and leads to increased political com-
petition. If that’s the case, then why did Akaev
go down that route?
Akaev was unique by virtue of his background -
he was a scientist, not a Communist Party bigwig.
Above Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov turns Osh
into the Fourth Reich (archive)
Above right Police attempt to break up an op-
position protest in Talas, April 6 (archive)
Final page Kurmanbek Bakiev rallies a group
of supporters in his native village of Teyit,
Jalal-Abad region (Reuters)
Focus June 2011 The Spektator
17 Focus
He bought into the neoliberal model of reform
and truly believed it was the best path for Kyr-
gyzstan. Whether it was actually the right choice
has been hotly debated. But one important, al-
beit indirect, consequence was to create a system
in which ambitious people unconnected with the
regime could acquire assets and build a political
career around them. As a result, a relatively large
number of elites were able to compete for a share
of the spoils, leading to the political jockeying
that continues up to this day.
Do you have any sympathy for Akaev? He
seemed benign by comparison to Bakiev......
No one would have said this in 2005 or before,
but opinions do change in hindsight. Be careful
what you wish for.
About those “revolutions” then. What role did
popular will actually play in the Tulip revolution
and the April 7 coup?
My argument about the Tulip Revolution was that
losing parliamentary candidates initiated, organ-
ized, and unified the protests that toppled Akaev.
People who took part were primarily interested
in aiding their local elites. Whether their will was
respected in the end is hard to say, but the lead-
ership and organization was elite-led and not
grassroots. The 2010 events were more compli-
cated because they were more spontaneous and
the government collapsed so quickly. I think the
research on how those events actually unfolded
remains to be done. For me, the most striking as-
pect was how easy it was for the crowd to break
into the White House, despite being shot at from
the roof. All it took was a dozen men to comman-
deer a large truck and drive it through the front
gates. Governments usually have a few layers of
security prior to that stage. Bakiev turned out to
be a khan with no clothes, to adapt a metaphor.
The run-up to both events featured a series
of kurultais, both state-sanctioned and oppo-
sition-sponsored. What is a kurultai and how
does it work in Kyrgyz politics?
The kurultai is a traditional institution originat-
ing with the Mongols, used to select leaders and
collectively make important decisions - a kind of
pre-industrial parliament. In the past, both Bak-
iev and Akaev convened kurultais as a form of PR,
to lay a veneer of traditional legitimacy on their
troubled presidencies. In Bakiev’s case last year,
this backfired, starting a chain of events that led
to his overthrow. I think most people today are
too cynical to buy into such an institution, as long
as it is endorsed by the same politicians who seek
to manipulate the public on a daily basis.
Some of the opposition leaders you looked at
in your book are now in government. Is Kyr-
gyzstan destined to see the same elites “recy-
cled” again and again in the near future?
There are certainly lots of people who would like
to get into the game, but nobody wants to get
out. So unless they expand the size of parliament
or cabinet, upward political mobility appears to
be blocked for the foreseeable future. Kyrgyzstan
now has an impressive stock of veteran politi-
cians. I use the word “impressive” to mean “strik-
ing”, rather than as a comment about the quality
of their service.
Your other case study was Uzbekistan. Which of
the other Central Asian countries do you see as
being vulnerable to potential uprisings in the
Political change will come to Central Asia, but
not necessarily in the same form as it did in Kyr-
gyzstan. I worry that Libya or Bahrain might be
more instructive models for the region’s future.
Why does Kyrgyzstan’s political culture differ
from that of its neighbours?
Kyrgyzstan has been different from its
A fascinating section of Dr Radnitz’s book deals
with the Aksy events of 2002. Almost unknown
to the outside world, the Aksy events represented
the most notable of a series of destabilizing re-
gional protests that would eventually culminate
in Kyrgyzstan’s 2005 Tulip Revolution.
Protests began in Aksy region, Jalal-Abad oblast,
when Azimbek Beknazarov, a local benefactor, MP
and critic of the Akaev regime, fell victim to politi-
cally motivated charges initiated by national Prose-
cutor General. In a show of support for a son of the
region, locals came out in massive numbers. Presi-
dent Akaev ordered police to prevent protesters
converging on the regional administrative build-
ing. When this failed, shots were fired. Five people
died. News of the events and the subsequent cov-
er-up – one local outlet reported that the regime
suggested protesters had bludgeoned each other
to death with metal poles – consolidated opposi-
tion to Akaev. Prime minister of the day Kurman-
bek Bakiev resigned and joined the rebel camp,
while kurultais rippled across the country for the
next three years, setting the stage for the Akayevs’
infamous helicopter exit in March 2005.
The clash demonstrated how support for re-
gional elites could pose a major threat to the
central authority in Bishkek. While feeling for Be-
knazarov had appeared genuine, with one pro-
tester dying during a hunger strike on his behalf,
the gates were now open for elites in opposition
to use mass mobilization as a strategy to defend
themselves against state encroachment.
Later on in 2008, Beknazarov would state that
“the blood of the Aksy victims toppled the Akaev
regime, and the same waits for the [Bakiev] re-
gime.” A professional ‘revolutionary’, he came to
the fore again as part of Rosa Otunbayeva’s care-
taker government in April 2010, and is currently
the president’s representative in parliament.
Aksy Flashpoint
June 2011 The Spektator
neighbours for a long time. I don’t think there’s
anything culturally different about the Kyrgyz.
Kyrgyzstan’s main difference from other Central
Asian countries is that it has enjoyed a greater de-
gree of political openness since independence. It
has long been a so-called hybrid regime, which
involves a more contentious kind of politics than
seen in stultifying authoritarian systems like Uz-
bekistan’s. However, protests in Kyrgyzstan were
not especially common before about 2000. It was
only when people - usually politically influential
or wealthy ones - realized they could win conces-
sions from the government by mounting dem-
onstrations, that it became a popular tactic. After
the 2005 “revolution”, protesting proliferated,
arguably becoming the predominant means of
political struggle in the country, rather than the
“ordinary politics” of voting, representative gov-
ernment, and public opinion polls. Thanks to gov-
ernment infighting and the inability of the state
to provide security since Bakiev’s ouster, anyone
who can organize large numbers of people to
make demands - peacefully or violently - has a
good chance of getting his way.
Isn’t an elite-led protest just another word for a
This [the rent-a-mob phenomenon] is actually
fairly new. In my research prior to 2005, I found
that people joined protests because they genu-
inely supported the demands of the candidate/
benefactor who was leading protests. Many of
them were under-employed and enjoyed spend-
ing a few days out in the sun (it was spring, af-
ter all), socializing, and feeling empowered for a
short while. It was only after Akaev exited, and it
became evident how effectively protest worked
as a political tactic, that new “protest entrepre-
neurs” entered the scene and used the shortcut
of simply paying people and bussing them to the
site of interest.
How much can “spring fever” explain in terms of
It’s true that the country’s two “revolutions” hap-
pened during spring months. However, I see
nothing special about that time of year. In fact,
people are likely to be at their angriest during
cold winter months when heating gas is in short
supply or too expensive. The events in Egypt and
Tunisia happened in winter—despite the popular
“spring” moniker.
So we’ve no reason to expect more instability
here now the weather is warming up?
If anything, to the extent that ordinary people
have a voice, I think there’s a strong argument
that most would prefer to avoid another sudden
change of government. They are not especially
enamoured with the current leadership, but they
also have no reason to expect a better govern-
ment to replace it. However, for the foreseeable
future, while the state remains weak and the
economy extremely fragile, there will still be op-
portunities for political “entrepreneurs” to benefit
by mobilizing people on the streets.
How can Kyrgyzstan strengthen its political in-
stitutions and consolidate order in the country?
This is difficult. As a minimum, it would require
concerted, far-sighted leadership by people who
in the past have been quite self-serving and fo-
cused on the short-term. It would also help if the
world economy improved, allowing Kyrgyzstan
to avoid running a deficit and to begin invest-
ing more in infrastructure, education, and public
services. International actors should do their ut-
most to encourage Kyrgyzstan to make impor-
tant investments and provide resources to pre-
vent further setbacks, rather than pay attention
only after a calamity. The country faces a long,
steep climb toward stability.
Not every protester in Kyrgyzstan is in it for
the love – for some, kicking off and chanting
slogans is simply a way of earning a living. After
a recent spate of demonstrations about noth-
ing in particular, the Spektator considers a few
of the necessary ingredients required to con-
struct an effective crowd-for-hire.
People: No people, no mob – that’s obvious
- but which ones to go for? We recommend a
chorus of traditional-looking mothers to win
sympathy and ‘back up’ in the form of muscu-
lar young men ready to seize a government
building if push comes to shove –ten should be
enough. A couple of elders are essential, provid-
ing a veneer of respectability to proceedings.
Wages: Research by IWPR suggests that in-
dividual protesters command anything from
100-500 soms upfront for a hard day’s holler-
ing. Any more than that and you’re inflating the
market for political discord.
Megaphone: Whatever you want them to say,
make sure they say it loudly.
Food and Yurts: A set-to is also an opportunity
for a picnic, so don’t spare on the samsi. A well-fed
mob is in a better condition to help you achieve
your demands than a hungry one. Traditional
housing is essential if it starts pouring down.
Vodka: Rent-a-Mob theorists are divided on this
one – boozy protests often have unpredictable
and undesired outcomes. Introduce as a last re-
sort on day two if day one didn’t go to plan.
T-Shirts: A useful accessory in case the said
mob is likely to forget who or what they are
protesting for. A pioneer of this tactic was
Issyk-Kul businessman, convicted criminal
and presidential hopeful, Urmat Baryktaba-
sov. Nevertheless, some of Urmat’s crowd still
couldn’t remember his name when asked by
local TV journalists. You pay peanuts...
Rent Mob
- a -
June 2011 The Spektator
other predatory animals are generally
in better shape in the winter than in
the summer, the Kyrgyz Ministry for
Tourism inevitably uses the warmer
months of the year to showcase traditional
nomadic pastimes to crowds of baseball cap-
wearing Westerners and snap-happy Japanese
tour groups. So, before you head to the hills to
lose your hunting festival virginity, check out my
guide to what should and shouldn’t be expected
at a typical all-day event.
The mysterious oracle
A woman reads a speech from a stage, but she’s
not standing on it – she’s standing behind it. Her
disembodied voice floats over the audience,
pronouncing, “We are reviving the traditions of
our ancestors!” After the couple hundred people
who are there clap and cheer in agreement, she
repeats the entire speech again for the four who
have just arrived. Once more, with feeling!
The primordial ancestor
A teenage boy dressed in a caveman outfit
thumps his feet on the ground. He circles a pyre
of juniper branches, then lights it on fire. He fans
his arms at the sacred smoke and passes out. The
audience hopes it is a metaphor.
Schoolchildren are a prerequisite for any revital-
ization effort. “We are the future!” they say. In an
ideal world, they would all have eagles on their
arms, but these ones carry only meaningless lit-
tle flags. They wiggle them in the wind and then
As Kyrgyzstan aims to improve on 2010’s
tourist vacuum, hunting festivals are likely
to be at the heart of the Ministry for Tour-
ism’s effort to draw visitors from foreign
lands. This month, Dennis Keen compiles a
sort of order of ceremonies for those still in
the dark about what goes on at these rural
hold hands, spinning in circles. It is absolutely
adorable. “Long live the Kyrgyz people!” they
shout. Adorable and nationalistic! The caveman
comes back from the dead. Good. It was a meta-
Lip-sync theatrics
A middle-aged man wearing a fake wizard beard
steps forward from a group of old men wearing
real ones. A woman wearing a turban steps to his
side. “Hello my sacred nation!” they shout over
the speakers. “You did not forget the traditions of
our ancestors!” Something is off. Their voices are
amplified across the fairgrounds, but they have
no microphones. Look closely. Their mouths
aren’t even moving in time – they’re moving
their jaws up and down, but nothing’s coming
out. Pre-recorded proclamations play on the P.A.
The effect is uncanny.
Powerful people make speeches
The provincial governor reads from a paper he
probably saved from last year. “Today is a holi-
day, and holidays are for relaxation!” He goes on
to say exactly nothing meaningful for two min-
utes. “And in conclusion I want to wish you all
peace and prosperity.” How thoughtful! Later, the
governor invites me into his yurt. “Don’t translate
this,” his police chief says to my translator in a
language he doesn’t know I understand, “but this
kid is too young.” I tell them about Fulbright and
they all joke I’m a spy. They are only half-joking.
They look uneasy. Powerful people are paranoid.
A collective prayer
Everybody cups their hands in Islamic prayer and
Above An elder hands over the torch of the
ancestors to a teenager dressed as a caveman
(all photos Dennis Keen)
Right Kyrgyz men stand poised with their
taigans - special hunting dogs
Far right An eagle is let loose (partially) in or-
der to attack a wolf
More Info: Hunting festivals tend to be ad-hoc
in terms of preparation and planning. Con-
tact Almas Akunov ( of the
Salburan eagle hunting federation for future
dates June 2011 The Spektator
a well-wishing old man sings out similes: “May
your problems stay in one place, like a mountain;
may you be as flexible as a river; may you swim
like a salmon into the stream of success…”
An epic tale
A man sits in front of a microphone and reads
a tale from heart. It’s about a historic hunt. He
sings it in a familiar rhythm, every line seven
syllables long. “BUM dum DUM dum DUM dum
DUM.” It’s in archaic Kyrgyz, Shakespearian you
could say, and my translator understands none
of it. We get bored and go off to eat ashlan fu, a
Dungan dish with noodles made out of fat. The
man keeps chanting. Eventually he stops, but he
could go on. The story he’s reading from, the Ma-
nas epic, is half a million lines long.
The spinning pigeon
The first event of the afternoon begins. Falconers
line up with their birds. A boy ties a rope to a pi-
geon and throws it in circles around his head like
it’s a bullroarer. One by one the falcons fly at their
spinning target. Half the time they slam it to the
ground and start plucking out its feathers. The oth-
er half of the time they get bored and fly off into
the sky, chasing crows.
Bows and arrows
The next event is an archery competition. Instead
of a bullseye, there’s a wooden board with a moun-
tain goat painted on it. Nobody seems to know
quite what they’re doing and most of the arrows
fly over the goat and kick up dust. The ones that
do hit their mark get him in his goat-beard. “Good
job!” the announcer says anyways. The top prize is
a television and he ends up giving it to his brother.
Nobody acknowledges the resemblance.
Hunters stand crammed in a truck bed like they’re
being shipped to market. Across a field a wolf is tied
to an anchor. The hunters throw their giant eagles
into the air with a shout and hope that the birds
have some guts. Most land on the ground and look
peeved. The unusually brave fly onto the wolf’s
back and they tussle in the dirt like schoolchildren.
The men jump from the truck bed and run up to
the brawling predators, trying to pull the eagle’s
talons out of the canine’s front leg. The wolf is de-
moralized. The same poor animal is recycled for
every festival.
The (dead) fox chase
For hundreds of years, Kyrgyz have bred hunting
dogs called taigans that are streamlined like grey-
hounds, built for speed. The truth is that most hunt-
ers here adore them more than their birds. To see
how fast they can run, some guys tie a dead fox to
a rope and drag it behind a minivan. The taigans fly
through the air. Their feet hit the ground only as an
afterthought. The sputtering van can hardly outrun
the dogs. Catching up with the fox, the taigans tear
into it like it’s been calling them names.
The dogfight
The final event. Another wolf is brought to the
arena, this one even bigger. There’s no anchor this
time, just a long, long leash. The taigans go after
their canine cousin in pairs. One nips from behind
while the other growls from the front. Like the
eagles, some aren’t as courageous as they’re made
out to be. They sniff the wolf’s butt and trot off with
their tails between their legs. When the competi-
tion is over, men take their dogs to the fairground
margins and set them on each other for amuse-
ment. The dogs lunge at each other’s throats and
the men whistle.
The concert
A woman plays on a Kazakh dombra, two men
strum komuz, and a small, tan man squeezes an ac-
cordion. An old woman sings folk songs, holding
notes for uncomfortable periods of time. All the
young people who ran away during the folk tunes
run back as a boy dressed up in a Michael Jackson
suit and fedora flails his arms to Jacko singing “All I
wanna say is they don’t really care about us.”A teen-
age girl belly-dances as middle-aged men record
her on their camera phones.
The awards ceremony
While the girl was hypnotizing the audience with
foreign choreography, the masters of ceremony
were tallying up points. The scoring system is a
mystery – ten points for a talon to the eye, two for
a nip to the bum? It’s probably irrelevant, since the
awards go to friends and relatives. Tired hunters sit
with pride on top of their prizes - boxes of Chinese
vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens.
The end
The yurts come down and the wolves are put in
their cages and the eagles are loaded into the
trunks of cars and the place is emptied. The mys-
terious oracle sings out to the departing crowd.
“Don’t forget your ancestors! Don’t forget your tra-
ditions! See you next time!”
June 2011 The Spektator
Bishkek life
$ - Expect change from 150 som
$$ - A little over 250 should do the trick
$$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350
$$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint
Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova)
This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes
as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and
waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy,
but in a nice way. $
As you would probably guess, decorated with
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu-
lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few
drinks before heading off to the clubs. $$$
Metro* (133, Chui)
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro
remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli-
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch-
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the
hideously late kickoff times for Champions League
football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up
unless it’s a big one. $$$
Mexican Canteena (Chui 158, near Beta Stores)
At its best in the summer as sombrero classics ser-
enade pedestrians down Chui and a mixed crowd
sits on the porch washing down tacos with strong
marguirita. Burritos and fajitas are mouth-watering
here, and long-haired gringo types will be glad to
have their beer served with a lemon, not a straw.
Smokie’s (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina)
Bishkek’s first and only traditional American
barbecue restaurant serves pit-smoked spicy
beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, lamb legs and
chicken quarters. Well worth the trek out to Or-
to-Sai market in the cooler half of the city. Enjoy
a range of cocktails and spirits, too. $$$
Landau (Manas/Gorky)
Fancy something a little different? If you can tol-
erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme-
nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$
Hui Min (Relocated to the Hotel Dostuk)
A former favourite, we have been told that Hui Min
has now relocated to the Hotel Dostuk. Apparently
the menu has been revamped and the prices in-
creased. The Spektator will be checking it out soon.
We hope they still serve the special Dungan tea, as
it’s rather good.
There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in
Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions
are marked with a star *
Price Guide (main course and a garnish)
(5, Gerzena)
Don your beer drinking trousers and head down
to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They
brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid
bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your
pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut.
Actually an Austrian, but subsumed into our German
section in the name of Anschluss. Vena is a cracking lit-
tle place to people-watch over some great European
dishes and a glass of fine Austrian wine. If you didn’t
know Austria had fine wines, you can check into the
adjoining shop to begin your viticultural education.
Vienna is spelled ВЕНА in Russian. Free Wi-Fi. $$$
(TeplIkluchy village)
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
surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available.
Head south on Almatinskaya and keep going. $$$$
Bacardi* (Togolok Moldo 17/1)
Elite lounge bar affair with separate rooms for din-
ing, dancing and whiling the night away smoking
hukkah pipes. Urban grooves played at a reason-
able volume and a full menu that includes a range
of tasty platters. $$$$
Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside ‘Moto’)
A hip, clean interior, fast wi-fi and an affordable
business lunch have made Barcode something of
a hotspot since it opened in early 2010. The place
comes to life at night when 3 DJs compete for your
affections with an array of banging tunes. $$
Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try
out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues
every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub
and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter
we recommend ‘Datski Schnaffer’. $$$$
Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully
constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and
for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make
an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$$
Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo)
Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection
of evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the
ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’.
Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows
create an underwater log cabin experience. Spirits,
cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$
Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and cakes
Bishkek has to offer at one of three ‘Coffee Houses’;
cosy boutique cafés with a European flavour. Curl
up and read a book, or just drop in for a caffeine hit
and a chocolate fix. $$$
City Movie Bar (By Ala Too Square on Kievskaya)
Movie’s outdoor patio is well positioned to peo-
ple-watch on Bishkek’s equivalent of the Champs-
Elysees. Order veal in a puff-pastry casing with-
creamy mushroom sauce - you won’t regret it. $$$
Cosmo Bar* (Sovietska/Moskovskaya)
Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the
top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your
fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior,
plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses.
Huzzah! $$$$
Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar
and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiar-
ly endearing homage to the notorious bank robber
- we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$
Mimino (27, Kievskaya)
Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steam-
ing, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds
a-plenty. We recommend the kjadjapuri, khinkali and
anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe
at the door. $$$$
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui)
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you
are getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select
a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in.
Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although delicious, may
leave delicate stomachs in some distress several
hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a suit-
able alternative $$
Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch
and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
terms of scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered,
just point to something tasty-looking on a neigh-
bouring table like we did. $$
Peking Duck I & II
(Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.)
Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut-
tons and an English language menu that provides
plenty of amusing translations. $$
Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir)
This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer
range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables
that make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$ June 2011 The Spektator
Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town
and a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot
for conversation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini-
library to peruse (although literary classics are thin
on the ground). Check out the American pancakes
for breakfast, top marks. $$$
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El-
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for
the hell of it. $$$$
Foyer (27, Erkindik )
Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening
cocktail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee.
Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$
Griffon (Microregion 7)
A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting
central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the
waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch
of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase.
Minibuses 195 and 110 take you right past it as you
head out to the mountains. $$$
(Asenbai region, next to City Club)
We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play here
and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia hanging
on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance outside
the bogs and you can get Spektator favourite Ven-
skoye on tap. Good beer snacks and the burgers
aren’t bad either. Nice for a ‘theme’ night out. $$$
(179, Toktogula)
An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a
full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar
atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$
Jumanji (Behind the circus)
It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle
foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort
of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice
before you order for the chance to win a special se-
cret prize - we like this. $$$
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$
(338a, Frunze)
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer-
time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum-
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches
and fine views of the circus - which you can some-
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$
(103, Moskovskaya)
A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after-
noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the
airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service
and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place
for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs

Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and
Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv-
ing excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European
cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime din-
ing. $$
Cyclone (136, Chui)
Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient,
polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to al-
leviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to-
gether enough soms. $$$$
Fusion (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
Takeout is free on orders over 450 soms (0312 510
707). Teriaki chicken, Miso soup, sushi rolls and pork
in ginger sauce are all well worth a phone call. $$$
Santa Maria (217, Chui)
Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites,
including exciting Korean barbecues where you get
to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive Euro-
pean menu. $$$
This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe)
bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks
of the bath in the toilets, may still be under devel-
opment. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty.
Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze)
Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve en-
ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus,
and tasty little meat pie things. $$$
Regional/Central Asian
Adriatico (219, Chui)
Reportedly suffering following the departure of
its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told
that the soup is still excellent. $$$$
Moldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova)
If it’s been a while since you last went out for a
Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled ea-
tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the
Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care
to learn more about the world’s favourite budget-
wine exporting country. $$$
(Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt)
A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian
food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
there are also several excellent business lunch deals
offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for
250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa-
vourite! $$$$
(Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
It’s on the third floor (if you count ground floor as
the first). A cheaper version of The Host, if you can
bear the fake-fontaine, soul sucking environs of this
Turkish-built mall. The vegetable biryani is good for
days when you are feeling off meat, while the milky
chai tea is authentic, if a little sweet. $$
getting you down. $$$$
(15, Panfilova)
The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con-
ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base-
ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection
of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s
an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés.
A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro-
mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$
Pinta Pub* (133, Chui)
Brought to you by the same folks that own the best
draught beer shops in the city, Pinta Pub is a bright
green signed lighthouse for the Spektator on a hot
day. With a host of well-kept ales on tap, food-wise
we recommend complementing a nice ‘Greek’ salad
with any of the dishes from the pork page on the
menu, all of which are excellent. Recommended! $$$
U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya)
Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant.
Descend into this underground warren and tuck in.
Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sister-
rabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$
(Microregion 7)
Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60
som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live
music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth
the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn
left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai
for about 1.5km) $$$
(26, Logvinenko)
This place is a new free wi-fi honey pot for ex pats.
Steak is always advisable when eating at an appendix
to a butcher’s, and the sirloin here is exceptional. Also,
enjoy English breakfasts, chips that aren’t cold and lo-
cal dark ale Chuiski on tap. Recommended! $$$
Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved
homes and is now serving a practically identical
range of dishes at this spot just behind October cin-
ema. Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other
typical Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from
200 soms. $$$$
June 2011 The Spektator
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that
things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to
nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights of
carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that con-
temporary Bishkek struggles to offer.
Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below and
we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit and
debauchery in town to keep everyone happy.
Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya)
Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi
ride or a long walk home are in order at the end
of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music
venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an exten-
sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring,
strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the
best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night.
Rock or blues bands normally play at the week-
ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)
Esco-bar (Gorkova, 200 m East of Tash Rabat)
Named after the infamous Colombian cocaine
baron, staff are unlikely to bash a line out for you
on arrival. What you will get is decent tunes most
nights in a ‘pre-party’ spot brought to you by the
creators of the Vefa centre’s Veranda. $$$
Zeppelin (43, Chui)
Zeppelin is in the same vein as the old Tequila
Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the
nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young
rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier
beats seem to go down best with the young Rus-
sian crowd. Full restaurant menu.
(Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Arbat (9, Karl Marks)
Tel. 512094; 512087
Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older
crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building.
(Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450
som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)
City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina)
Tel. 511513; 510581
So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like
cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh-
est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly
people beware) and spend your evening with gang-
ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business-
men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to
have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/
boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500
Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo)
Tel. 620131
A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists liter-
ally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff,
cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge
[girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘For-
eigners’ free.)
Retro Metro (24, Mira)
Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his rec-
ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One
of the most popular places for post-2am partying.
(Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450
som Fri/Sat. Reserve for 200 som)
Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your
tea in a giant samovar. $$$
Khutoryanka (Bokonbaeva/Isanova)
Unassuming, to put it mildly, on the outside, this
place is a revelation on the inside. Delicious food,
reasonable service, Ukrainian brass band music
on the cd player. We love it! $$$
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya)
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the
potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups
and fresh salads. $$$
(Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge)
Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those
who get cravings for lagman or manti at four in
the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed,
sometimes it is, however the food and prices are
constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to
dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$
Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium)
Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European
dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a
great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa
on draught. $$
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights,
when the locals are rather rowdy. $
Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira)
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in
town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that
they have often run out by supper-time. Save an
appetite and go early. Slightly more upmarket sister
restauraunt on Mederova/Tynastanova. $
Forel (Vorentsovka village)
Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fish-
based ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling
streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish
your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried
for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are
sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze
or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ.
To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if
your taxi driver doesn’t know the exact location, ask a
friendly villager. Trout is 800som/kilo $$$
Excellent little stolyva (canteen) full of the timeless
regional favourites. Being an Uighur restaurant its gero
lagman or lagman pa Uighurski particularly stand out.
No smoking, sit, eat and leave. $
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya)
Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut
rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out for
its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes overlooked.
Probably at its best in summer, when the shashlyk
masters flanking the entrance offer their creations
straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross
your legs and see how long before cramp sets in. $
Tubeiteika (Moskovskaya/Turusbekova)
Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well
beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with nods
to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the Chinese
chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$$
Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s, Beatles
Bar, Foyer and Blonder Pub (see ‘restaurants’)
Live Music
Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk)
As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly
unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of
the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty
jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of
place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by
the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up
to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som)
Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik)
A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, for-
eigners can often get in for free. Popular throughout
the week. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)
Gvozd (Western side of the Philharmonia)
Foreigners for free, urban grooves and acceptable
prices at the bar. ‘Gvozd’ means ‘nail’ in Russian, but
you’ve probably got a better chance at the Golden
Bull. Its almost like the crowd from Pharaoh have mi-
grated. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)
Platinum (East side of the Philharmonia)
Take a seat at the snazzy 360 degree bar and do
battle with some of Kyrgyzstan’s most convivial
‘elite’ for gold-digging temptresses.. Look out for
‘special nights’ advertized on a billboard near you.
(Entrance charge 400-500 som)
Sweet Sixties (Molodaya Gvardia/Kievskaya)
Live cover bands most nights. Full menu, popular
with a younger crowd. $$
(166, Sovietskaya)
A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but
the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening
entertainment are an acquired taste. $$
Huzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,)
Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger-
rard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool
shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lepyosh-
ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$
Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula)
Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact
ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is
limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and
something cheap and tasty will arrive. $
Yusa (Logvinenko/Bokonbayeva)
The lavash is outstanding here, as are the range of
sauces that compliment a wide array of vegetable
and meat dishes. We recommend their assorti kebab,
which unlike other variations on the dish, won’t
leave you glued to the toilet seat the next day. $$
Apple (28, Manas)
Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this
place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars,
large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday
usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)
Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira)
Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack fla-
voured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cab-
in. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere.
The medovukha is recommended! $$$ June 2011 The Spektator
25 Map

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June 2011 The Spektator
June 20
Concert of honoured artists of Kyrgyzstan
Philharmonic (Chui, 253)
Begins at 18.30. Classical and traditional solo
artists strut their stuff.
June 21-26
Wrestling and Ju-Jitsu Championship
Dvorets Sporta (Frunze/Toglolok Moldo)
No entrance fee that we know of and a great
chance to find out who Kyrgyzstan’s hardest
thug is. It’s a week long event, so just pop
down and introduce yourself to the fighters at
some point. Don’t call them ugly to their face.
June 30
Beer King Final
Blonder Pub
This sounds like a drink-off. Fancy your chanc-
es? Not, too sure what the winner takes home
- a keg of Blonder Pub’s best? At any rate, we
rather like this place, so we’re heading along.
July 2
Neformal Party at the Metro
Bands hitting up your favourite ex-pat
drinking hole include Faust, AnnaParadise,
Far End Gate, TeddyBeer, Thunderstick and
others. Entry is 150 soms. Tel 0550422281 or
0709422281 for more details.
Until July 5
Exhibition at Kyrgyz National Museum
Osh-born Maratbek Sharafidinov displays his
works in an exhibition called ‘World. Scene.
Theatre’. Entry at this museum, opposite the
Opera Ballet, usually costs about fifty soms.
July 8
Written Ancient Heritage of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz State Historical Museum
The KSHM isn’t usually known for having
interesting exhibits - or even exhibits at all -
but this promises to be a treat. The museum
will open its best collection - a series of runes,
scrawled-on-rocks and medieval literature - for
public consumption. As the Spektator will be
out of the country at the time, reports will be
June Dates TUK Dates for July Entertainment Directory
Map: Location guide
1. Bella Italia
2. Metro Bar (American Pub)
3. Mexican Canteena
4. Zaporyzhian Nights
5. Coffe House (I)
6. Vis-a-Vis
21. Stary Edgars
22. TSUM Department Store
23. Jam
24. Mimino
25. Arabica
26. Blonder Pub
27. VEFA shopping Centre
14. New York Pizza
15. Pinta Pub
16. National Museum
17. Navigator
18. Sky Bar
19. Foyer
20. Fatboy’s
7. Beta Stores Supermarket
8. Derevyashka
9. Cyclone
10. Coffee House (II)
11. Adriatico
12. Santa Maria
13. Faiza
The Puppet Theatre
Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
Russian Drama Theatre
Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park)
Tel.: 662032, 621571
Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00
Tickets 30-100 som
Local and international plays in Russian.
The Conservatory
Jantosheva, 115
Tel: 479542
Concerts by students and professors.
Kyrgyz State Philharmonic
Chui Prospect, 253
Tel: 212262, 212235
Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer
Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for
special performances)
There are two concert halls featuring classical,
traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety
of shows.
Opera Ballet Theatre
Tel: 66 15 48
Hours: 17:00-19:00
Tickets: 150-600 som
Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and
it is necessary to book a seat in advance.
For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings,
check our frequently updated What’s On listings at:
Live updates
July 1-3
Three day trip in Issyk-Kul region
1st day (Friday) Bishkek – Semenkova (northern
shore), stay in a Trekking guest house; 2nd day -
Hike in the Ak-Suu valley and climb a gentle incline
for panoramic views of Lake Issyk Kul before hike to
Sutta-Bulak; 3rd day head to Boom gorge and visit
the red sandstone Aeolian Castles. Return to Bishkek.
Trip for walkers of all ages and abilities. Transport and
organization including consultation and guide for a
group of 15 costs 1000 soms, accomodation at the
lodge costs 400 som (250 soms for TUK members).
July 2
Day trip to Dzhamlysh gorge
Hike to a local waterfull then back to the bus and
Bishkek. Cost for transport and organization is 300
soms for non-members, 250 soms for TUK members.
July 7-10
Four day trip to Son-Kul
Get to the lake over the 2664 m Kyzl Art pass. Exam-
ine ancient nomad sites. Camp at Son-Kul (3016m)
and hike towards Baaty-Aral. Cost of transport is
1700 soms or 1500 soms for TUK members. Tent and
sleeping bag hire (required) amounts to 360 som per
person. No children under 12. One aspect of the trip
requires climbing skills.
July 7
Day trip to Kegeti Gorge
Depart from Bishkek at 7 am. Head for Kegeti gorge.
Hike and pick strawberries. Transportation cost: 360
soms/280 soms.
July 13-17
Five day trip to Sary Chelek
Hike around the Sary Chelek biosphere reserve., vis-
iting the five major lakes in the region. Cost of trans-
port 2100 soms. Sleep in tents. Return to Bishkek on
July 17.
July 16
Ala-Archa trip (Upper Karagai)
Head up to the Ala-Archa alpinist camps. Distance:
16 km, time 7 hours. Medium intensity hike. Depart
at 7.30 am from Bishkek. Picnic at the mountain lake
Kol-Tor (2725m), return to Bishkek in the evening.
Groups meet the Thursday before the weekend of
departure. Call (0312) 906 115 or email us at trek@ Web site:
It is time. By early July, the Eye of the Tien-Shan will have
warmed over sufficiently for you to dip your body into it
and dry off on the shores of Kyrgyzstan’s premier tourist
attraction. If you’re heading to Cholpon-Ata, why not
drop in at the Castle Hotel (see inside cover)? Nigel and
Elmira cater for all tastes and even operate a special flag-
flying service to make your visit feel diplomatic.
Spektral Travel
What’s On
Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4
Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39
Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan
Into July