Anti-Semitism in Kyrgyzstan, 2009–2010
The situation with anti-Semitism in Kyrgyzstan has become noticeably worse against the backdrop of a destabilization in the political and social life of the republic in the previous year. Even though the number of Jews who live in the republic is relatively small, this country has the most serious anti-Semitic situation of all post-Soviet states.
In April 2010, during the riots which led to the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, anti-Semitic slogans were one of the effective methods to mobilize the supporters of the opposition (Maxim Bakiev, the son of the deposed president, was considered to be connected with allegedly thievish businessmen of Jewish origin).
Anti-presidential demonstrations were accompanied by anti-Semitic posters and anti-Semitic statements by activists. On April 7th, in the very midst of the bloody clashes, the fence of the “White House” on the central square of Bishkek was 'decorated' by a big poster with the text, “No place for dirty Jews and people like Maxim in Kyrgyzstan.”
That same day, unknown criminals threw three Molotov cocktails at the roof and court of the only synagogue in the country. The fire was swiftly put out with the aid of the residents of nearby houses.
The leaders of the Jewish community of Kyrgyzstan sent a letter to the Chairman of the provisional government R. Otunbayeva, in which they listed recent manifestations of anti-Semitism and requested “attention to cases of anti-Semitic manifestation, which have become more frequent recently, and to take measures to secure the Jewish community. “ The official response from the MIA of Kyrgyzstan notes that the aforementioned poster appeared during mass rioting, “which makes the discernment of the culprits difficult.” It also stated that “the slogan was not directed at the Jewish people.” The MIA letter does not even mention the arson attempt. Naturally, those who attacked the synagogue were never found.
It should be noted that the anti-Semitic incidents during the revolution were not only caused by a a general escalation of violence in connection with street clashes, but by systematic propaganda in Kyrgyzstan in the last year. For instance, the anti-Semitic book “The Asiatic Wild Orchid,” the author of which used the pseudonym Eva Ali, had been published a month before the Bishkek revolution.
Anti-Semitic incidents did not end after a new government came to power.
On the evening of September 9, 2010, on the eve of of the second day of Rosh-ha-Shana (the Jewish New Year), the synagogue was even more seriously attacked – unidentified criminals threw an explosive over the fence and into the synagogue court, where the tables were already laid out for the holiday. The explosion took place a half an hour before the expected beginning of the feast.
The shell-less homemade explosive device was filled with a destruction agent (bolts, nails, and other similar metal items). It was only due to a lucky coincidence that there was no one nearby and that no one was hurt. The consequences of the terroristic attack were minimal also because the bomb fell into a small pool, built for household needs. The synagogue building received some damage from the explosion, and the windows in the Rabbi's house were broken. A criminal case was opened on the “terrorism” article.
The leadership of the Jewish community send a new letter to R. Otunbayeva, which contained a strong request to meet with the community leaders, to give an official evaluation of the terroristic attack, and to take the investigation under personal control. After the letter, the head of the Presidential Administration E. Kaptagayev, who a little later gave an official written response to the Jewish community, visited the location of the terroristic attack. Kaptagayev's letter read that according to the analysis of data gathered on the explosion, “direct anti-Semitic attitudes, as well as motives of a possible interfaith conflict, are absent.” In the beginning of 2011, a group of suspects was apprehended. According to the law enforcement agencies, the terroristic attack was done by members of the extremist Islamist group Jamat Kyrgyzstan Jaish al-Mahdi (Kyrgyzstan Jamaat Mahdi Army). Members of this “army” are responsible for the explosions near the synagogue and in the Palace of Sports, as well as for several robberies and five murders (including the murders of four policemen). According to one of the arrested, the goal of the synagogue explosion was to “scare the Jews that kill Muslims and act lawlessly all over the world.”
The current trial on members of the Special Forces and SWAT teams that opened fire on demonstrants in April is not without anti-Semitic rhetoric. The cause for anti-Semitic slurs is the ethnicity of one of the lawyers defending the accused, M. Zauman.
The Jewish community remains in a difficult situation.
The level of political and interethnic violence is generally high in Kyrgyzstan. The April demonstrations of the opposition were fraught with collisions with law enforcement, as a result of which many participants from both sides were wounded and killed. Earlier, the authorities had been accused of attacks on journalists and activists from the opposition. And, finally, interethnic Kyrgyz-Uzbek collisions led to hundreds of victims in June 2010.