The most bizarre aspect about Kyrgyz ex-presidential chief-of-staff Medet Sadyrkulov’s death is that nobody in government seems willing to allow the fact to be officially confirmed.

Piecing together the facts from official pronouncements and often contradictory media reports, it is not easy to divine specifically what happened that fateful Friday morning.

Medet Sadyrkulov

Medet Sadyrkulov

According to the most credible scenario, Sadyrkulov was returning from Almaty, Kazakhstan, together with political analyst Sergei Slepchenko and a driver. At 2 a.m., Slepchenko is reported to have called his wife to tell her that he was on his way back from Almaty. Half an hour later, their car, a Toyota Lexus 470 sports utility vehicle, crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan. Anywhere between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. the Lexus was involved in a collision with an Audi 100 somewhere in the “Tyopliye Klyuchi” spa resort area situated around 40 kilometers outside Bishkek, where Sadyrkulov is purported to own a dacha.

The exact dynamics of the accident are far from clear, but it appear the driver of the Audi lost control of his vehicle, veered away from his lane, and collided with the Lexus. There are contradictory accounts about whether the Lexus was stationary or in movement at the time, a key detail given the varying age and size of the respective vehicles. According to police accounts, the crash appears to have provoked a furious fire in which the three passengers in the Lexus died.

The driver of the Audi, named by Interior Ministry officials only as O. Osmonov, born in 1985, survived the accident, although his current status and whereabouts are also unclear.

It transpired that the Lexus belonged to parliament deputy Erik Arsaliyev, who had lent the car to Sadyrkulov for the trip.

The Interior Ministry and the Health Ministry are both declining to make any definitive statement on the identity of the dead individuals found on the site of the crash. Oddly, even an examination of the remains by Sadyrkulov’s dentist was seemingly insufficient to allow for a definitive verdict. The Health Ministry says it will only know for sure after it receives the results of DNA tests from a laboratory in Kazakhstan, which could more than two weeks.

Every beyond and including the chronology above is now grounds for speculation, and has been feverishly seized upon by the opposition.

To start in proper order, however, it is worth wondering why naming the victims is so evidently being dragged out. In the primitive mentality of the Kyrgyz authorities, it must be believed that the furore around this death will die down in an information vacuum. Also, since the opposition is planning their major nationwide protests for the end of March, final verification may be delayed until after that, thereby preventing Sadyrkulov from being used a fallen martyr. If that is the case, it is misguided, since the opposition will only be able to make more capital out of the fact the authorities are seemingly trying to cover something up.

At this stage, it is important to ascertain a number of points: Was Sadyrkulov, as his colleagues and opposition representatives have been saying, indeed murdered? What was his current relationship with President Kurmanbek Bakiyev? Could he truly have been described as a government opponent? Who stands to benefit from Sadyrkulov’s death?

Once again, addressing these questions requires in first order a dispassionate assembly of the hard facts at our disposal _ the “known knowns” as celebrated philosopher Donald Rumsfeld once described them.

Sadyrkulov served as the head of Bakiyev’s presidential administration until January, when he tendered his surprise resignation amid a flurry of speculation. Sadyrkulov insisted that his departure from government was taken voluntarily, and Bakiyev pledged at the time that he would offer him a new position.

Most of the hypotheses surrounding Sadyrkulov’s decision to step down revolve around his perceived lack of loyalty to the current ruling establishment. Depending on who you believe, Sadyrkulov was either a key player among the northern clans traditionally opposed to people of Bakiyev’s background _ who comes from the south. Alternatively, he allied himself with no particular grouping and simply acted as a broker between rival camps.

But what is certain is that for as long as Sadyrkulov was at Bakiyev’s side, he served him well and rigorously, playing an instrumental role in strengthening presidential powers in ways that caused much consternation among the opposition.

Less two weeks after resigning, Sadyrkulov met again with Bakiyev, at which time he said he turned down an offer to take up a new job as Foreign Minister.

From there onwards, we must rely on opposition conjectures and claims for the nature of Sadyrkulov’s activities.

Opposition leaders Omurbek Tekebayev and Almazbek Atambayev, of the Ata-Meken and Social Democratic parties respectively, have both claimed that Sadyrkulov has been holding talks with government opponents about backing them against the current leadership. In addition to lending the opposition his political support, Sadyrkulov was also purportedly on a money-raising drive.

Since Sadyrkulov was hardly the model democrat, however, we can only surmise the motivations were predicated on a jostle for power and influence rather than any specific political grievances.

One issue that has been somewhat overlooked is Sadyrkulov’s party political role as the chairman of the Moya Strana (My Country) party, which was rolled into the pro-government Ak Zhol party some time ago. If those deputies with connections to that previous political grouping have been mulling where they stand within the increasingly fissiparous Ak Zhol, the murky circumstances of Sadyrkulov’s demise may help them to make up their minds either way.

Again though, it is imperative to stress that Sadyrkulov was not an opposition politician by any stretch of the imagination, and it is far from evident whether he would ever truly have become one. The danger he posed to the government, however, was that he was instrumentally capable of undermining its authority by drawing away significant support in his capacity as a political actor. In that respect, his departure from the scene could guarantee Bakiyev’s regime some breathing space ahead of further crackdowns and consolidation of power.

For anyone that has not been paying attention, this is a very select highlight of some of the government’s apparent attempts to clamp down on dissenting voices:

March, 2009: Ex-foreign minister and leader of the For Justice opposition movement Alikbek Dzhekshenkulov is arrested on suspicion of murder. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

March, 2009: Reporter-Bishkek newspaper journalist Syrgak Abdyldayev is stabbed repeatedly and beaten severely by four assailants after leaving his office in an attack that opposition parties described as an attempt to stamp out freedom of expression.

January, 2009: Tekebaev is detained in the Talas region on an illegal weapons charge. He is unable to travel to a Moscow conference on the future development of Kyrgyz politics. The charges are later dropped.

December, 2008: The state radio station takes BBC programming off the airwaves, only days after withdrawing broadcasting rights from U.S.-funded Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service. Both broadcaster feature critical content and give a platform to opposition politicians.

October, 2008: A leading Social Democratic party member, Ruslan Shabotoyev, goes missing. Shabotoyev left his house late at night after being called out to an unexpected meeting. His cell phone was disconnected shortly after and he has not been heard from since.

September, 2008: The former head of the state election-monitoring body, Klara Kabilova, resigns her post and flee the country claiming she has been on the receiving end of threats from Bakiyev’s son.

September, 2008: Police arrest the editor of the Alibi opposition newspaper, Babyrbek Dzheenbekov, for failing to pay court-ordered libel damages Bakiyev’s nephew.

On and on it goes.

This speculation is all very well, but at the heart of it are deaths that remain mysterious and unexplained. As indicated above, the cause of the fire that is reputed to have incinerated the passengers of the Lexus SUV was caused by a collision with an Audi 100, a car considerably older and smaller than that the people-carrier in which Sadyrkulov was travelling.

Scene of the Crash

Scene of the Crash

According to some initial reports, passengers in the Lexus appeared to have made no attempt to escape the vehicle, indicating that at the very least they must have been rendered unconscious on impact. Studying a picture of the wreckage featured on the Radio Free Europe site, it defies belief how this could have been the case.

The Lexus looks as though it was left virtually intact from any collision. If the driver of the Audi, a common second-hand feature on Kyrgyz roads that was last issued in the mid-1990s, could have survived, he would presumably have left the car and made some distance between distance between himself and the flames soon after impact, since his vehicle is also shown to have been completely burnt out. In which case, one would have to ask why he would have done nothing to attempt to assist the passengers in the Lexus.

Even the position of the two cars looks odd. The Lexus looks as though it was parked in the spot, while the Audi appear to have come in from a very odd angle.

If Osmonov is able to regain normal health and is ever able to talk about what precisely happened that morning, it will be interesting to hear what he has to say.

And where now for Kyrgyz politics?

Opposition parties will attempt to follow through with threats to hold protests later this month, but with the alleged loss of a political and potential financial supporter, it is easy to imagine that the momentum may be too weak for anything significant. If the allegations about “political murder” have any grounds in truth, it is also easy to conclude that some will be genuinely rattled by the latest developments and decide to tone down their criticism.

Make Music Not Revolution

Make Music Not Revolution

Even if protests do proceed, the authorities are already mobilizing to thwart them logistically; in Bishkek at least. As a reader at Registan.net pointed out recently, city government has announced that it plans to begin renovating Ala-Too Square _ the scene of the dramatic climax to the revolutionary uprising in May 2005 _ just a matter of days before the opposition are due to hold their protests. As if Bishkek didn’t need more important things, the mayor’s office says that it plans to build a 20-meter high musical fountain on the square and that much of the main thoroughfare will be shut off until June.

The upshot of this is that Bakiyev looks to have won the day again, but at what cost does not bear thinking about. Diplomatically isolated in the wake of the U.S. base closure decision, Bakiyev now has free rein to turn his rule into a brutalized and despotic banana republic to all intents and purpose; without the bananas, that is.

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