You are here:   Dispatches > Bishkek: Downfall of a Dictator

In the cramped cockpit of the first plane to Jalal-Abad, the southern stronghold of the ousted leader, the smartly-uniformed young pilot wants to talk. Does he support the revolution? "This has been a disaster for the country. They were not revolutionaries. They were boys on the square. The blame lies with their parents. Why did they let them go? My neighbour was shot. When I first heard this I started to feel very cold, then faint. I had to sit down. For five minutes I couldn't say anything. Then I got up and shouted. I think I waved my fist in the air." 

The second pilot says: "We flew Bakiyev's troops to the south. We felt so nervous when we were doing it. We were just doing our jobs. He is hiding in his native village outside Jalal-Abad."

We have dipped below the clouds. Rolling fields of green. This is the Fergana Valley, one of the most delicate ethnic puzzles in the world. Here an overlapping patchwork of Tadjik enclaves, Kyrgyz exiles and Uzbek diasporas are knotted into absurd borders drawn by Stalin's own hand to render autonomy unimaginable. 

President Medvedev of Russia is warning that Kyrgyzstan is on the brink of civil war. Bakiyev has placed makeshift roadblocks around the village of Teyyit. Peasant boys are manning checkpoints made of rocks and outdoor tables. 

Gormless-looking locals are milling around the gates of the Bakiyev family compound. The fugitive leader receives journalists in a yurt-like summer house. He and his brother are garbed in the finely-tailored silk suits of investment bankers, trappings of the luxury they enjoyed just a week earlier. "The president will now receive you." It seems to me that neither Bakiyev nor his family has quite understood what has happened. 

"How did you feel in the car speeding away from the White House?"

"Feelings? What feelings?" 

He seems a little thrown. "I felt...I felt...bitterness and a pain in my soul." 

"Earlier today I was in a morgue, Mr President. What is your message to those I met there?"

"The opposition fired on the crowds into their backs because they wanted blood."

Does he really believe this? 

"The president would never give the order to fire on the people." 

I spend the night in the crude home of an Uzbek farmer, amid barking dogs and braying herds. There are rumours of war. The Bakiyevs rally the following day in Jalal-Abad. Nervous vigilante teenagers cower in the municipal headquarters. They have little red cloths tied round their arms. "We will defend the building with clubs if necessary." Thousands of Uzbeks are marching towards their university. "We don't need a civil war. We can't have this," says an elderly Uzbek man, putting his head in his thick worker's hands. 

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
More Dispatches
Popular Standpoint topics