Around 300 people came onto the streets of Kyrgyzstan’s capital over the weekend in a public show of support for Palestine amid the ongoing aerial bombing campaign waged by Israel on the Gaza Strip.
By contrast, a similar rally planned in Uzbekistan for the same day, October 29, was prevented by law enforcement.
The differing approaches taken by the respective governments are signposting the divergent stances being taken toward the unfolding unrest in the Middle East.
Participants of the Bishkek demonstration assembled in the center of the city and held up posters bearing slogans “We stand with Palestine, “End the Israeli occupation,” and “This is not war, it is genocide.” Organizers of the event said that as of October 31 they had raisedaround $69,000 to fund humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
A rally held earlier in the month had drawn around 100 people.
The political class in Kyrgyzstan has unequivocally thrown its weight behind the Palestinian cause. On October 18, members of the Jogorku Kenesh adopted a resolution to provide financial assistance to Palestine. The following day, they announced that they would donate one day of their salaries to the cause.
While pro-Palestinian rallies have been given the blessing of the authorities, showing solidarity with Israel has been discouraged.
On October 20, police in Bishkek reportedly summoned well-known Russian blogger Vladimir Yemelyanov, who now lives in the city, for a “preventative conversation.” Yemelyanov had posted messages to his Instagram feed stating that “terrorists are attacking Israel from all sides” and “terrorists trying to shell Israel ended up hitting their own hospital.” That latter remarks was an allusion to the bombing of a hospital in Gaza City that is said to have claimed hundreds of lives. Israel and the Hamas militant group have traded accusations of being responsible for the incident.
Yemelyanov also drew unwanted attention from the public. Some have called for his deportation to Russia on the grounds that Kyrgyzstan is a “Muslim country.”
On October 19, Yemelyanov recorded an apology video stating that he had disseminated “unconfirmed” information about the hospital bombing and did so again after his conversation with the police.
Andrei Makarevich, the front-man of Russia rock band Mashina Vremeni, has also spoken of receiving threats. Speaking in a video message posted on Facebook on October 26, Makarevich said that the organizers of his band’s planned fall-winter tour at a number of Central Asian venues have been receiving malicious messages due his public support for Israel, where he lives.
Political scientist Emil Juraev told Eurasianet that support among Kyrgyz citizens for Palestine is primarily explicable by the fact that the vast majority of the public are Muslims.
“People who support Palestine in Kyrgyzstan are connected by religion. Most often, these are people of faith. For whom identification as Muslims is one of the most important,” he said.
Juraev further identified a geopolitical angle in the government’s tolerance for the vocal pro-Palestine rhetoric.
“In Kyrgyzstan, the position of the Russian authorities, which are in the current situation more critical of Israel’s actions, plays an important role,” he said. “In Kyrgyzstan, there is still a high level of commitment to the Russian line.”
While also maintain a generally pro-Palestine position, officials Uzbekistan have been wary of allowing the issue to gain too much exposure domestically.
News website Gazeta.uz has reported that around 100 people mustered in the central Amir Temur square in Tashkent despite being warned to refrain from doing so. The outlet said many were taken into police stations for questioning, but that they were later released. Some were subsequently charged under laws regulating the holding of public meetings, Gazeta.uz reported.
The government itself has sought to be even-handed by expressing its sympathy for causalities on both sides of the conflict.
But some public pronouncements are indicative of a partial position. The Foreign Ministry was quick to react to the explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on October 17, immediately describing it as the result of an airstrike, thereby implicitly pinning the blame on Israel forces.
“We strongly condemn this sinister act of violence and consider it a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” the ministry said.
The statement remains on the ministry’s website.