Academic journal article Social Education

The Revolution in Kyrgyzstan: A Social Studies Educator's Eyewitness Account

Academic journal article Social Education

The Revolution in Kyrgyzstan: A Social Studies Educator's Eyewitness Account

Article excerpt

This is a story about the unfolding of the recent revolution in Kyrgyzstan told by an insider who was an unlikely "captive" of the events in the capital, Bishkek. Over a seven-day period this past March, protest demonstrations paralyzed the country, military and police protection evaporated, the government collapsed, the president fled, and lawlessness prevailed in the capital city.

Now that I have separated myself physically from the still continuing phases of the revolution, I can begin to reflect on my adventure and consider how I might use what my colleagues and I learned with my students.

I was one of two Kent State University professors selected to participate in a Partners in Education (PIE) program sponsored by the American Councils for International Education to visit Kyrgyzstan for two weeks. My colleague, Vernon Sykes, is an assistant professor of political science also from Kent State and a former state legislator with considerable experience. As part of a civic education program, seven Kyrgyz Republic secondary teachers and university faculty members visited Kent State for a month during the fall semester, 2004. We were selected to make a two-week reciprocal visit to schools and universities as guests of the teachers who had visited the USA, giving speeches on civic education, and learning about Kyrgyz culture. What follows is a journal summary of our experiences.

March 20 (Sunday). I met Vernon at the Akron-Canton Airport and we flew to Washington, D.C., for orientation meetings to be held at the American Councils for International Education office. Our many questions were answered, including if it was safe to make the visit, which it was at the time.

March 21 (Monday). Among the various topics of discussion at the orientation was the different definitions of democracy. It was emphasized that the U.S. has its own form and that there are other versions. The definition I thought was particularly appropriate for further discussion of democracy with teachers in Kyrgyzstan was: reasoning problems and disagreements peacefully and legally without violence. We also learned much about the social culture, which was essential since we were to live with host families.

Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan is a beautifully mountainous but poor, largely agricultural country bordered by China to the east and south, Tajikistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west and Kazakhstan in the north. The majority of its inhabitants are Muslim. The president at the time we planned our visit was Askar Akayev, who had ruled since 1990.

We were informed that demonstrations, riots, and killings had closed down Osh (which I was scheduled to visit) and Jalah-Abad, both of which were located to the south of Bishkek. Protesters were demanding Akayev's resignation over allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections. Four policemen were killed and demonstrators had taken over government buildings. Newspapers were making a connection with the mass protests that brought about the revolutions and "Western leaders" to power in Georgia and Ukraine. We found out a little later that demonstrators had taken over the airport in Osh and placed large rocks on the runway. The staff of the American Councils for International Education in Bishkek said that there were no problems or demonstrations at the moment. Our assignment was changed to only Bishkek. We were told that we would be pulled out at the hint of any trouble. We left for Kyrgyzstan on an evening flight.

March 23 (Wednesday). We arrived in Bishkek very early in the morning after spending most of Tuesday in transit, changing planes in Paris and Istanbul. After a few hours of sound sleep, we were taken to the American Councils' office downtown. A staff member briefed us on the latest: both Osh and Jalah-Abad were under control of the demonstrators and the police had pulled out. Essentially, the demonstrators had taken over 50 percent of the Country. …

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