The bloody confrontations in Kyrgyzstan which led to the toppling of president Kurmanbek Bakiyev raise the spectre of a civil war sparked by north-south clan divisions in the Central Asian state.
While opposition forces took control Wednesday in the capital Bishkek and other northern towns such as Talas and Naryn in bloody riots that killed up to 100 people, the country’s remote south remains a stronghold for Bakiyev’s supporters.
Describing the situation as “complex,” the interim leader Roza Otunbayeva said Thursday that Bakiyev had fled to his home town of Dzhalal-Abad and was attempting to rally support in his native south.
Kyrgyzstan’s north is seen as the more prosperous and well-educated region inhabited by the country’s elite, while the south is poor and rural and its people stand out in their brightly coloured traditional clothing.
The social divisions in the country are defined by the country’s geography: the fertile, well-irrigated north is separated by massive peaks of the Tian Shan mountains from the rocky, dry south, which borders Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China.
“There is a real risk of civil war in Kyrgyzstan, which could just as easily be sparked by the people of the north or by the people of the south.
There are destructive forces on both sides,” said Sergei Masaulov of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis in Bishkek.
“The big problem would be if armed people started marching towards the north, towards Bishkek.”
Such a scenario would repeat Bakiyev’s rise to power in 2005, when he toppled Askar Akayev, a Soviet apparatchik from the north, after anger exploded in the southern regions over falsified election results.
Once installed as president, Bakiyev tried to quell fears that he would favour southerners, appointing a popular northern politician, Felix Kulov, as prime minister.
Kulov had spent many years in prison under Akayev after being found guilty of embezzlement, and his tandem with Bakiyev calmed budding regional tensions.
But Bakiyev rapidly ditched his revolutionary allies, including Kulov, and began appointing southern cronies to key posts, prompting protests in the north.
“The only solution is put in place an equal division of power between the north and south to end the rationale of confrontation and suspicion,” a Western diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Independent analyst Marat Kazakbayev however believes that Bakiyev has lost all his influence in the south after Wednesday’s blood-bath.
“Bakiyev’s authority is finished. He doesn’t have any more partisans in the south. He condemned himself by ordering the firing on protesters,” the Kyrgyz expert said.
If the ousted president attempted to mount a mission to reconquer power in the south, “in the north, his partisans would be crushed,” Kazakbayev said.