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Political Activation of Regional Identity in the Kyrgyz Society

Political Activation of Regional Identity in the Kyrgyz Society

Begimai Abishova

One of the aims of sociological and anthropological research is an attempt to delineation of collective experience. The modern Kyrgyz ethnic group in the Kyrgyz Republic is seemed to be divided into two main group - (so called) "southern” and "northern”; and this division is taken by many scholars (local, Russian, Western) as a matter of course [1]
I do not intend to prove this phenomenon by sociological survey, but I would try to find out the reasons of recent activation of the division. I would like to introduce to my researches of the Kyrgyz identity "categorically destabilizing dimensions” which suggested by Margaret Somers such as: time, space, relativity. I would like to draw attention to activation (relativity) of regional division of the Kyrgyz (north/south) after March uprising of 2005 (time) because of peculiar characteristics of political scene (space). I would like to emphasize that regional division of the Kyrgyz society mainly depends on these three dimensions too and plays one of the important roles in self identification of the Kyrgyz and in the process of identifying of one Kyrgyz by another one. I argue that in regional identification and grouping of the Kyrgyz society there are permanent (essentional) indicators originated in the Soviet times and inconstant, short term indicators connected to political situation and influence of internal and external factors such as mass-media, political actors, research centres which use the "division to north and south” in their own interests. Their feverish activities in such periods activate and regional division in inward identity building of the Kyrgyz society
I hope that researchers of the Kyrgyz society will take into consideration these dimensions when studying social and political processes in the Kyrgyz Republic
Methodology - historical sociology, ethnic sociology, political anthropology; method - "long run” sociology

Why Division is Regional? Not tribal, clan, oblast or rayon?

In my opinion, the Kyrgyz have levels of self identity and grouping according to the next categories: religion, citizenship, ethnic origin, geographic region (south/north), oblast, rayon, tribe (uruu), clan (uruq), and big family ("Bir atanyn baldary” - word for word "Children of one Father”, usually 3-4 generations) [2]. The group identification depends on situation of any individual: ethnic origin is more important for the Kyrgyz when he is abroad or when there is some representative of another ethnic group around. When there are only the Kyrgyz, inward identification plays more important role. By inward identification, I mean (in level of significance) regional (south/north), oblast, rayon, tribe, kin, and clan identifications of the Kyrgyz
There is often mentioned (by some researchers and by the Kyrgyz themselves) that regional division of the Kyrgyz is sub-cultural, they say, the northern and the southern Kyrgyz have different funeral and wedding rites, different traditions of meeting of guests and kinsfolk, different modes of meat distribution among guests etc. Meanwhile such differences are typical even among different oblast, rayons, among different tribes, kins within one oblast and even within one rayon [3]. There are some differences between, for example, the Chüy and Ysykköl Kyrgyz (my parents are from these oblasts); they have different funeral and wedding rites, different traditions of meeting of guests and kinsfolk, different modes of meat distribution among guests too, but there is no any emphasizing of this division as "sub-cultural”. Thus, in my opinion, so called "sub-cultural differences” between the southern and northern regions are not principal reason in inward identity of the northern and southern Kyrgyz, though, as I mentioned before, they consider these differences as the one of the main factor in regional division
There could be historical cause of the regional division. After establishment of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, collectivization and sovietization of the Kyrgyz society, traditional structure of them was advisedly destroyed by Bolsheviks who fought against so called "vestiges of the past”. The oblast and rayon divisions began to force out tribal and kin relations in inward identity of the Kyrgyz, especially in the problems of interrelations between society and ruling strata. Soviet system, based on centralized redistribution of sources, made society to be interested in the leader of republic who was preferable from their certain oblast and who would help to develop his/her "little homeland”. Thus, oblast division became politically and socially important for the Soviet masses in republics, including the Kyrgyz. The regional division of the Kyrgyz, in my opinion, began from that times when today’s "southern” region was united into one big Osh oblast to take under one effective centralized control the cotton production. The first president of the Kyrgyz Republic, Akaev (1990-2005) divided Osh oblast into three parts - Osh, Jalalabat (1992), Batken (1999), but still the "northern” Kyrgyz call the "southern” Kyrgyz as "Oshtuq” ("oshskiy”).In my opinion, the regional division of the Kyrgyz (northern/southern) is historical and bound to Soviet system of centralized redistribution of resources and cotton production in Fergana valley which entailed the establishment of one big Osh oblast. The "northern” region was divided into four oblasts as today, and their elites often united against comrades, Party members from Osh oblast bureau [4]. Gradually these two groups formed essentionalistic [5] representations of each other - the "northern” Kyrgyz consider that the "southern” ("Oshtuq”) Kyrgyz are "Uzbekified”, and the "southern” Kyrgyz think that the "northern” ("Arqalyq”) Kyrgyz are "Russianized”. Both groups consider themselves as "pure unadulterated Kyrgyz” and arrogate to other group many biased characteristics which influenced their everyday relations
After March uprising 2005, regional division harshly politicized because of some external and internal temporary factors. By "external factor” I mean the influence of foreign mass-media, "weighty” opinions of scholars from "prestige” research centres which made haste to prognosticate the "failure of state”, "struggle between northern and southern elites”, "imminent disintegration of the state on regional basis” etc [6]
I analyzed local mass-media by taking two newspapers - Agym - (at that time) oppositional and Vecherniy Bishkek (eternally official) and found that there are mainly discussed problems of tribalism and clannishness at pre-revolution Akaev period, but after the March events there are publications devoted to "problem of north and south”. Meanwhile the political and administrative system inherited from Soviet Union can produce elites based only on administrative division of the republic (oblast, rayon), there are no southern or northern elites in fact [7]

The dynamics of influence of external temporary factor is clearly evident from the Internet poll which made by me at our site at http://elbilge.ucoz.ru. Began in December 2007 when it was tense political struggle in the Kyrgyz Republic for new Constitution, the poll demonstrated that people (irrespective of nation or ethnic group) considered that regional division and grouping as important as tribal identity. But after president Bakiev suppressed opposition and concentrated the full power in his hands, visitors returned to "traditional” view about the Kyrgyz society and consider that tribal identity is more important for the Kyrgyz (See Apendix 1). For the period of December 2007 - September 2009, in question "What do you think, why the Kyrgyz ask about birth place of the other Kyrgyz?”, 27 visitors of the site have chosen: To find out geographic region (north/south) where they were born (Total voted for the first period of survey - 71)
After president Bakiev suppressed opposition only 5 visitors have chosen same answer (Total voted for the second period of survey - 62)

Same situation is observed in the Kyrgyz society according to another one "long run” survey. Little surveys among the Kyrgyz made in Bishkek by me (March/April, 2009 with cooperation of "Elbilge” research centre, when authorities set a term to presidential elections at July) shows that regional identification (north/south) in individual choice of business partner, life partner (fiancé(e), boy/girl friend) and political leader became lesser after president Bakiev suppressed opposition and political life in the winter Kyrgyz Republic became stagnant
But after Bakiev consolidated all power, this importance became lesser (See Apendix 2, 3)

What is the most important category in your opting of business partner, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz?
- same region (north/south) 15 > 12
first survey (March/April 2009) > second survey (December 2009)

What is the most important category in your opting of life partner of yours or your children’s, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz?
- same region (north/south) - 24 > 20
first survey (March/April 2009) > second survey (December 2009)

What is the most important category in your opting of president of the Kyrgyz Republic, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz?
- same region (north/south) - 23 > 13
first survey (March/April 2009) > second survey (December 2009)

Why regional division of the Kyrgyz society is activated in the period of stormy political process in the Kyrgyz Republic?
I agree with the opinion of the Western political scientists, that political process in post-communist countries "dominated as much by informal structures and practices as by formal institutions, which are used to varying degrees by both actors seeking to establish their authority and those seeking to resist this authority” [8]. Authors defined the processes of state formation, as elite competition over the authority to create the structural framework through which policies are made and enforced
"The voluntary organization of society into distinct and discernable groups before the start of the state-building process creates potential constituencies and thus increases the subsequent likelihood of representative competition. Voluntarily organized social groups offer a strong incentive for entrepreneurial elites to serve as their representatives because they can provide a ready-made basis for political support” [9]


Figure 1. A typology of state-building processes (Adopted from: Anna Grzymala-Busse, Pauline Jones Luong. Reconceptualizing the State: Lessons from Post-Communism Politics & Society, Vol. 30 No. 4, December 2002, p. 529-554; © 2002 Sage Publications)

In the Kyrgyz republic where party system is not developed, political elites use ready "voluntary organized” groups to use them in political competition in their struggle for state and power capture [10]. If use the typology of state-building process, suggested by Grzymala-Busse and Jones Luong, the political process in the Kyrgyz Republic could be characterized as fractious competition of representative elites which struggle for power using informal networks and "voluntary organized” groups of the ethnic Kyrgyz (north/south)

Another one theoretical article is useful for explanation of social processes in the Kyrgyz society. Author suggests that the political salience of a cultural cleavage depends not on the nature of the cleavage itself (since it is identical in both countries) but on the sizes of the groups it defines and whether or not they will be useful vehicles for political competition. The size of political scene is important to mobilize groups by political elites [11]

Statistical data shows that oblast division is not enough for attraction competitive number of "followers” at national level of political struggle.:
Batken: population – 382,400 = 7,9%; territory – 17,023 км²;
Jalalabat: population – 869,300 = 18,1%; territory – 33,647 км²;
Naryn: population – 249,100 = 5,1%; territory – 46,706 км²;
Osh: population – 1,176,300 = 24,3%; territory – 29,165 км²;
Talas: population – 199,900 = 4,1%; territory – 11,445 км²;
Chüy: population – 770,800 = 15,9%; territory – 18,684 км²;
Ysykköl: population – 413,100 = 8,5%; territory – 43,144 км²;
Bishkek: population – 762,300 = 15,8%


Table 1. Population ratio in the Kyrgyz Republic (north/south ~ 50%-50%)

When president is from "north” - "opposition” mobilizes "southern” Kyrgyz, when president is from "south”, - "opposition” mobilizes "northern” Kyrgyz. Only political activation of regional groups of the Kyrgyz allow to "opposition” to create real competitive group of their "followers”. Same situation with political activation of ready-made groups of the Kyrgyz could be traced in smaller levels of the Kyrgyz society

Size of political sceneSize of politically activated group
National levelEthnic groups, and for the Kyrgyz - regional (north/south) identification
Bishkek (capital)Ethnic groups, and for the Kyrgyz - regional (north/south) identification
Oblast levelEthnic groups, and for the Kyrgyz - rayon, and clan-tribal identification
Electoral district (majority, one-mandated)Ethnic groups, and for the Kyrgyz - clan-tribal identification(in the countryside)

Table 2. Size of political scene and size of politically activated group

Conclusion
Thus, I traced influence of political struggle of elites in the Kyrgyz Republic, which use ready voluntary organized groups of the ethnic Kyrgyz to be their "representatives” in political scene. The regional identity of the Kyrgyz (south/north) has "permanent” essentionalist characteristics, but it activates in periods of political competition of elites. The repeated usage the regional division by political elites almost every 5 years (presidential and parliamentarian elections) creates conflict in the social sphere of the Kyrgyz society and it reflects on everyday life of ordinary Kyrgyz - professional carrier, choice of the life or business partner, confidence between people, etc. The Kyrgyz society is increasingly dividing by regional characteristics

Notes
1. The Kyrgyz Republic as many other former Soviet republics inherited old communist administrative division; there are 7 oblasts and 40 rayons. Three oblasts - Osh, Jalalabat, Batken - are so called "southern region”, and four oblasts - Talas, Chüy, Ysykköl, and Naryn - are so called "northern region”
2. The Kyrgyz are traditionally divided into three wings, and ~ 40 tribes. For example, my mother is from Qoygeldi (big family), Qydyq (clan), Bugu (tribe), [right wing]
3. These differences fixed by ethnographers at the beginning of the XX century, for example, Ф. А. Фиельструп. Из обрядовой жизни киргизов начала ХХ века (Москва «Наука», 2002) (fragments of the book at the site of our organization: http://elbilge.ucoz.ru). The differences described in the book are still relevant in the most cases
4. We all know that oblast categorization played an important role in recent civil war in Tajikistan
5. Here I consider essentionalism as explicit evaluative 'natural' characterizations of Self and Other groups
6. For example, International Crisis Group writes about northern and southern political elites as reality and approved fact and called "Kyrgyzstan - a faltering state”, even after its president elected and government formed. See Asia report #109 - 16 December 2005
7. Nazikbek Kydyrmyshev, Begimai Abishova. "Politics in the Kyrgyz Republic - Struggle of Elites for State Capture” (in Russian)
8. Anna Grzymala-Busse, Pauline Jones Luong. "Reconceptualizing the State: Lessons from Post-Communism” (Politics & Society, Vol. 30 No. 4, December 2002)
9. Ibid. p. 539
10. Nazikbek Kydyrmyshev, Begimai Abishova. "Politics in the Kyrgyz Republic - Struggle of Elites for State Capture” (in Russian)
11. Daniel N. Posner. The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi (American Political Science Review, Vol. 98, No. 4 November 2004) 529-545

Appendix 1. The Internet poll (December 2007 - present)

What do you think, why the Kyrgyz ask about birth place of the other Kyrgyz?

• To find out settlement, where they were born
• To find out their clan and tribe
• To find out administrative oblast where they were born
• To find out geographic region (north/south) where they were born
• For no particular reason

First freezing. September, 30, 2009. Bakiev won presidential elections and opposition could not organize "traditional” autumn protests. Political life in the Kyrgyz Republic is stabilized

What do you think, why the Kyrgyz ask about birth place of the other Kyrgyz?

• To find out settlement, where they were born - 2
• To find out their clan and tribe - 32
• To find out administrative oblast where they were born - 7
• To find out geographic region (north/south) where they were born - 27
• For no particular reason - 3
Total - 71

For the period between two freezings, only 5 (five) visitors have chosen the point "To find out geographic region (north/south) where they were born”

Second freezing. January, 21, 2010. Political life in the winter Kyrgyz Republic is stagnant.

What do you think, why the Kyrgyz ask about birth place of the other Kyrgyz?

• To find out settlement, where they were born - 4 (3%)
• To find out their clan and tribe - 73 (54%)
• To find out administrative oblast where they were born - 12 (9%)
• To find out geographic region (north/south) where they were born - 32 (24%)
• For no particular reason - 12 (9%)
Total - 133

Appendix 2

March/April, 2009, when authorities set a term to presidential elections at July, shows that regional identification (north/south) of the Kyrgyz played one of the important role in individual choice of business partner, life partner (fiancé(e), boy/girl friend) and political leader.

What is the most important category in your opting of business partner, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz? (you can make multiple marking)

- individual characteristics - 30
- same tribe - 0
- same oblast - 5
- same region (north/south) - 15

What is the most important category in your opting of life partner of yours or your children’s, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz? (you can make multiple marking)

- individual characteristics - 27
- same tribe - 0
- same oblast - 12
- same region (north/south) - 24

What is the most important category in your opting of president of the Kyrgyz Republic, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz? (you can make multiple marking)
- individual characteristics - 30
- same tribe - 0
- same oblast - 0
- same region (north/south) - 23

Appendix 3

Second survey among the Kyrgyz made in Bishkek by me (December, 2009) shows that regional identification (north/south) of the Kyrgyz began to play lesser importance in individual choice of business partner, life partner (fiancé(e), boy/girl friend) and political leader

What is the most important category in your opting of business partner, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz? (you can make multiple marking)

- individual characteristics - 28
- same tribe - 0
- same oblast - 2
- same region (north/south) - 12

What is the most important category in your opting of life partner of yours or your children’s, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz? (you can make multiple marking)

- individual characteristics - 30
- same tribe - 0
- same oblast - 7
- same region (north/south) - 20

What is the most important category in your opting of president of the Kyrgyz Republic, if (s)he is the Kyrgyz? (you can make multiple marking)

- individual characteristics - 30
- same tribe - 0
- same oblast - 0
- same region (north/south) - 13

Category: My articles | Added by: elbilge (2010-02-07)
Views: 1511 | Rating: 5.0 |

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