The Tulip Revolution refers to the overthrow of President Askar Akayev and his government in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan after the parliamentary elections of February 27 and of March 13 2005. The revolution sought the end of the rule of Akayev and his family and associates, who in popular opinion had become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Following the revolution Akayev fled the country. On April 4 he signed his resignation statement in the presence of a Kyrgyz parliamentary delegation in his country's embassy in Moscow, and on April 11 the Kyrgyz Parliament ratified his resignation.
The media have variously referred to the revolution as the "Tulip," "Pink," "Lemon", "Silk", "Daffodil" or "Sandpaper" Revolution – terms meant to evoke similarities with the mostly non-violent Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, and possibly referencing the Velvet Revolution. The Kyrgyz revolution, however, saw some violence in its initial days and at least three people died during widespread looting in the capital in the first 24 hours after the government's fall.
Now, most news agencies agree the revolution name is the Tulip Revolution.
Protests began prior to the announcement of election results in many western and southern areas, and became more assertive as time passed. On March 18, thousands of demonstrators occupied the governor's office in the southern city of Jalal-Abad and another government building in Osh. Protesters in the southern town of Toktogul took captive a district governor and chief district prosecutor, both of them accused of colluding with Akayev's government in rigging the elections.
In the early hours of March 20, 2005 police attempted to recapture the buildings by force. Reports circulated of injuries to several demonstrators and to a police officer, while authorities temporarily detained hundreds of civilians in these areas. In the following hours, crowds surged to re-take the building in Jalal-Abad. The nearby police station quickly became a focal point for confrontations. Stone-throwing protesters stormed the station, causing some officers to take to the roof and fire warning shots in the air. The crowds forced open the doors of the building and witnesses observed people throwing Molotov cocktails into the windows.
By the following day, March 21, around 1,000 demonstrators in Osh occupied the regional administration building, a police station and a television station, as well as the airport. Most security forces escaped unhurt, but rioters caught and assaulted two, before parading them on horseback in the city square.
On March 22 activists seized another administrative building, in the southern town of Pulgon. A day later, the capital Bishkek saw its first demonstrations. A few hundred people gathered in the city's main square, but police broke up the rally before it could begin. Officers hit some of the crowd with sticks and arrested a number of organisers. Those detained allegedly included members of opposition newspapers, students, NGO leaders, writers and members of the KelKel youth movement. Protestors also took over Kadamjai in the south and the northern towns of Talas and Kochkor .
Prior to the election, opposition to the Kyrgyz government suffered from internal division. In the Georgian and Ukrainian revolutions, opposition groups united in removing their respective governments, but this did not occur in Kyrgyzstan. Various forces had joined together to contest the election as a coalition, however several of these groups existed prior to the polls. The opposition also lacked an obvious leader or a single candidate who could have inspired people to protest, thus leaving the field open for more spontaneous populist revolts. The more vocal critics of the allegedly rigged elections have included Roza Otunbaeva, a former Kyrgyz foreign minister and ambassador to the UK and the US; and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a former Prime Minister who resigned his post after police shot and killed five peaceful demonstrators in the southern town of Aksy in 2002.
Thousands of people attended a rally in Osh on March 19 as an opposition congress, called a kurultai, set up a "people's council" in a challenge to the local administration and proclaimed it as a parallel government. One of its leaders, Anvar Artykov , announced: "We will keep this authority until all of our demands and problems will be resolved. We are an interim power. We can talk about the fulfillment of our tasks when the current government will be replaced by a government that is trusted by the nation."
Otunbaeva said on March 21 that police officers in Jalal-Abad had switched sides in massive numbers. "Policemen, including high-ranking officers, took off their uniforms, changed into civilian clothes and joined our ranks. So we have substantial support." Journalists could not independently verify these reports.
Following the violence on March 21, Akayev ordered the Central Election Commission and Supreme Court to investigate alleged violations. He ordered the commission and court "to pay particular attention to those districts where election results provoked extreme public reaction ... and tell people openly who is right and who is wrong".
On March 23, Akayev announced the dismissal of Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and of the General Prosecutor Myktybek Abdyldayev for "poor work" in dealing with the growing protests against his government.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had sent 60 observers to monitor the election runoffs. In its initial assessment the group said the second round of voting showed "some technical improvements over the first round", but stressed that there remained "significant shortcomings". (The OSCE had said the first round fell short of international standards in many areas.)
Election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) disagreed. They hailed the runoff elections as well-organized, free, and fair. CIS observers also praised local authorities for showing restraint and competence in dealing with political unrest in several regions. This contradiction in the findings between OSCE and CIS observation teams formed the latest in a series of such contradictory findings (see CIS election observation missions). Russia supported the CIS reports and rebuked the OSCE for its findings.
 Though Russia has membership in both organizations, it has a much more dominant role in the CIS.
Following the initial violent incidents, appeals quickly issued from the international community for calm and for a peaceful settlement to the growing tensions. In Washington, a State Department spokesman said US officials had contacted "both" sides to urge them to resolve their differences through dialogue. The United States, which operates Ganci Air Base, a strategic military installation at Bishkek's Manas airport, expressed mild criticism of the election abuses and rebuked the opposition for taking over government buildings. (Ganci Air Base, set up initially in late 2001 to provide a station for an expanded air presence in US activities in Afghanistan, has remained and grown ever since - and houses, at current estimates, about 2000 American and European troops. The establishment of a Russian airbase at Kant, a few miles from Bishkek, two years later, and Kyrgyzstan's proximity to China, mark the country as an important strategic site. This situation may figure in any calculations regarding putative future intervention by external parties. Various international news agencies, including the New York Times, have reported that American funding and support, from governmental and non-governmental sources, helped in part to pave the way for the pro-opposition demonstrations by providing means of printing materials and literature. US State Department statements have partly substantiated such claims.
The United Nations, meanwhile, offered the following statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on its website: "The secretary general is opposed to the use of violence and intimidation to resolve electoral and political disputes". Annan "calls on all parties to apply restraint".
The Russian Foreign Ministry on March 21 posted on its official website a statement about the recent unrest, in which it expressed concern about the actions of the opposition. The statement urged demonstrators to remain within the framework of the constitution and to maintain a "constructive dialogue" with the administration of President Akayev. The ministry also appealed to foreign observers in the country, including the OSCE, to exhibit responsibility in their statements and not to give "destructive elements" justification for unlawful acts.
The Uzbek foreign ministry issued the following statement on March 23: "The people of Uzbekistan, which is a close neighbour of Kyrgyzstan, are concerned about the events happening in Kyrgyzstan, especially in its southern regions". The state-controlled media in Uzbekistan had previously not mentioned the crisis, fearing it could spark unrest within the border town of Andijan. Since 2004 the area has witnessed demonstrations by traders upset about new laws that restrict their commercial activity.
By March 23 the protest movement had become widespread, particularly in some of the majority Uzbek southern towns, having gained momentum in the wake of allegations of massive fraud and manipulations during the elections. The opposition appeared to unify to some extent around two main opposition leaders: former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev and former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva.
On March 24, protests spread to Bishkek, where a large crowd of tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the main government building. When security forces and pro-government provocateurs began beating a number of youthful demonstrators in the front ranks, the main crowd behind them closed ranks and a large number of the young swept past the security forces and stormed into the government headquarters. They also occupied the building of the state television. A number of skirmishes took place between the opposition and police, before sheer force allowed a throng of protestors to overrun government offices -- which crowds of young men then vandalized.
President Akayev left the country on Thursday 24 March, fleeing with his family by helicopter to Kazakhstan, from where he subsequently flew to Moscow. At that point, he refused to resign. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanayev resigned as the opposition took control of key state organs including State Television, and the police melted away or joined the protestors. Imprisoned opposition leaders, including Felix Kulov, were freed and the Kyrgyz Supreme Court declared the election results invalid.
The newly elected parliament named Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a southerner, as acting Prime Minister and acting President. Felix Kulov, freed only a day earlier and the one man many feel capable of uniting the erstwhile opposition groupings, made a television appeal for calm. With the breakdown of law and order, mobs looted stores and ATMs in Bishkek during the night, and a number of buildings were set on fire. By March 25 reports emerged of many casualties, including three deaths, and some looting continued. Bakiyev appointed Kulov acting Interior Minister, with instructions to restore order in the capital. An interim cabinet of appointeees but appears to consist of a varied collection of individuals representing different anti-Akayev groups and clans.
On March 26, armed supporters of former president Akayev reportedly tried to enter Bishkek in force, but turned back when it became apparent that they would not meet much support in the capital. They acted on the orders of Kenesh Dushebaev , former acting Interior Minister, and Temirbek Akmataliev , until then minister of emergency affairs and previously minister of the interior and responsible for the killing of five unarmed demonstrators in the southern town of Aksy in 2002. Akmataliev, a very close associate of Akayev, later (on March 29) announced that he would run in the planned new presidential elections.
By March 28, gradual stabilization of the political situation appeared to have taken place. The "old" parliament dissolved itself, and the "new" parliament gained recognition as legitimate (although a number of individual seats remained in dispute and subject to review by courts). This drew some protests from people who argued that the street outpourings justified more radical reform, but the power brokers in the country seemed to consider it preferable to have the forces represented in the new parliament on the inside rather than the outside.
On April 2, Akayev agreed to resign as President. A Kyrgyz delegation traveled to Moscow to obtain his signature on the necessary document, and on April 3 Akayev announced on Russian television that he would resign with effect from April 5. He signed a declaration to this effect in the Kyrgyz embassy in Moscow on April 4. The Kyrgyz parliament debated for a week before finally accepting his resignation on April 11, but not without first stripping him and his family members of many privileges that the previous parliament had granted to them.
New presidential elections have now been set for July 10, 2005.
Current causes of concern include:
- the potential for post-revolutionary violence triggered by fractionalism within the country
- the possibility of neighboring régimes with even worse records of mismanagement, corruption and suppression deciding to intervene in Kyrgyzstan under the pretext of helping to "restore order" or of "protecting their interests"
- the possibility that drug money will become a major force in Kyrgyzstan
- possible ethnic conflict in the South
Since allegations of rigged elections triggered the upheaval, it remains unclear whether the people will accept the new parliament, legitimized so suddenly by the current group of power brokers.
On March 31, Kulov relinquished his post as security co-ordinator, raising questions about his intentions as well as about the cohesion among the key figures of the early post-Akayev days. One day later he publicly criticized Bakiev and declared his intention to run in the presidential elections. Questionable appointments to administrative positions in parts of the south by local power brokers have caused concern, as has the increasing incidence of parallel administrations in various towns.
Beginning on April 11, increasing numbers of homeless citizens have begun to arrive in Bishkek and to occupy plots of land with the intent of establishing squatters' rights to ownership. Tensions have been rising, as rumors circulate that ethnic Russians and other minorities will be deprived of their legal rights to real estate.
The return of Bermet Akayeva, the ousted president's daughter, and her insistance on taking her seat in Parliament, is likely to prove another incendiary factor.