September 01, 2010

Bishkek and the Great Game

The most widely reported news story to come out of Bishkek in the second half of 2009 was this: “Ice Skating Bear Kills Circus Director.”

Foreign aid and supply planes for Afghanistan went in, gold and felt handicrafts came out, and that was the extent of international interest in this remote Central Asian nation. Behind the curtain of obscurity, however, rather more challenging stories were simmering: the scramble for resources, territory and influence; ethnic violence and clan-based rivalries; endemic corruption and the abuse of power.

Then, this past spring, Kyrgyzstan was thrust into the limelight as revolution, civil unrest and ethnic conflict grabbed international headlines. As the political center and home to one-fifth of the country’s population (as well as Russian and U.S. air bases), Bishkek has been at the heart of recent troubles.

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