This paper examines a yet neglected topic in the literature on Central Asian issues despite its major impact on the lives of millions of Central Asians, viz. the economic role and the political conflicts around marketplaces (bazaars) in Kyrgyzstan. This article explores ownership conflicts in Kyrgyzstan by asking why some bazaars have remained stable and relatively secure in an environment characterised by weak rule of law and ongoing asset redistribution. Using data from field research conducted in 2006–2007, including interviews, newspaper articles, and government documents, the article identifies historical and political mechanisms that allow bazaar owners to secure their assets in this environment. The paper explains why the Bishkek central marketplace, because of its link to Akaev’s family, faced property disputes whereas Dordoi bazaar, which is the largest in Central Asia, has had a stable ownership because their founders, Askar Salymbekov and Kubatbek Baybolov, who had had positions during the Soviet era, in the Komsomol and in the KGB for the second, decided to remain out of Akaev’s circle and out of the opposition. A mixed case of stable and unstable property is the Karasuu bazaar (in the South of the country, at the Uzbek border, the largest in Southern Kyrgyzstan) because of stability until Bayaman Erkinbaev was assassinated in October 2005. The author demonstrates how the Parliament was captured by businessmen in Kyrgyzstan. She explains that businessmen decide to enter the Parliament for three main reasons: It provides them a guarantee of immunity from prosecution; it is a forum for networking and trading; and it gives them access to knowledge and business opportunities. This article demonstrates that current bazaar owners had ties to Soviet bureaucracy, party, and trade institutions, which allowed them to gain access to bazaar land and/or containers. These findings demystify “Central Asian” politics by highlighting the role of concrete Soviet bureaucracies in dictating who owns bazaars. It also could explain why, in this environment where the state has been captured by personal interests, disputes over businesses properties and unstable ownership could turn into violent conflicts.

 Gaël Raballand, Observatory of Post-Soviet States, Paris
CER: II-7.4.D-661