Articles - May 2017


represents her country on the world stage seeks sustainable development while preserving traditional identity
By James A. Winship, Ph.D.

H.E. Ms. Mirgul Moldoisaeva
is not only among the roughly three dozen women who serve as the Permanent Representatives of their country to the United Nations in New York, she is also among the youngest. So, too, her country – the Kyrgyz Republic or Kyrgyzstan - was among a group of former Soviet Republics that joined the United Nations only in 1992 following the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and their emergence as sovereign states in their own right.

Earlier this year Kyrgyzstan along with four other Central Asian States – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – marked the 25th anniversary of their joining the United Nations, a critical acknowledgment of their newly gained sovereignty and their acceptance into the community of nation-states. Acknowledging this anniversary, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted that the Kyrgyz Republic had become a "reliable partner" with the United Nations. "We managed," the Secretary General observed, "to create strong cooperation in various fields, including the promotion of the electoral process, peace-building, conflict prevention and sustainable development."

Geography is destiny for Kyrgyzstan. The country is landlocked and mountainous with an Alpine appearance. It has a long border with China to the East, Kazakhstan to the North and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the Southwest.
The Kyrgyz people, like many peoples of Central Asia, are historically nomadic moving through the mountain passes to follow the grazing lands. Those same mountain passes became crucial trading routes making up part of the Silk Road that moved from western China through Central Asia and on toward the Middle East and Europe.

Asserting their unique identity, the Kyrgyz people have a national epic story cycle that tells a generational trilogy of tales about Manas, a chieftain of the Kyrgyz people, and his son (Semetei) and grandson (Seytek) who struggled to build a homeland and to fight off neighboring hordes threatening his people. The Manas story cycle has become a core part of the collective memory of their people; it has become a living tradition that has not only shaped the identity of the Kyrgyz nation but insistently supported great uniqueness and undergirded their claims to sovereignty in the post-Soviet era. When the statue of Lenin was removed from the central square in Bishek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, it was replaced with a statue of the legendary Manas, and a statue of Manas was gifted to the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

This oral tradition has informed Kyrgyzstan's struggle to build and sustain a modern state, to end political corruption, and to develop a growing economy during a quarter century of independence. Moving from sovereignty toward what is described as a "social-oriented state with liberal values" has not been easy. The first two decades of Kyrgyz independence saw instability, corruption, economic stagnation, election fraud, and popular resistance met with repression. The result was revolutionary changes in government in 2005 and again in 2010.

Kyrgyzstan survived, but opportunities for political stability and economic development were squandered. Following the 2010 upheaval, a Provisional Government under the leadership of Rosa Otunbaeva came to power with a mandate to reestablish the institutions of government and hold democratic elections. Despite sometimes severe flare-ups of interethnic violence this interim government was able to restore the rule of law, establish a new constitution and hold "free and transparent" elections under the supervision of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

On December 1, 2011, Almazbek Atambaev became President of the Kyrgyz Republic winning over fifteen challengers and gaining 62.5% of the vote. This competitive election, unusual for the Central Asian region, marked a milestone on Kyrgyzstan's path toward
democracy. Under the Kyrgyz Constitution, presidents serve a six-year term and are barred from running for reelection. The 2017 presidential campaign is already underway with when Atambaev's successor will be chosen and the transition of power will begin.

In the midst of this energetic and contentious political mix, Ambassador Moldoisaeva has emerged as a leading diplomatic voice shaping Kyrgyzstan's foreign policy and representing it on the international stage. She is trained as a lawyer receiving her bachelor's degree in international law from the International University of Kyrgyzstan in 2000 and a master's degree in civil law from the Kyrgyz State National University in 2003.

From 2005-2011 Moldoisaeva served as a desk officer for Kyrgyz foreign policy and relations with the Western countries and the United Nations in several government offices. From 2011-2014, she served as Expert and Chief of the Situational and Analytical Unit of the Foreign Policy Department in the President's Office. Before being named to her present position, Ambassador Moldoisaeva served as Head of the International Cooperation Department of the Government Office of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Despite her demanding schedule of UN meetings and the presence of a high-level Kyrgyz delegation in New York at the time, Ambassador Moldoisaeva was generous enough to answer our questions and offer insights into Kyrgyzstan's role at the United Nations.

Diplomatic Connections: Kyrgyzstan recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of joining the United Nations. What is the significance of that occasion? What is the importance of the United Nations to Kyrgyzstan's diplomacy?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: Over the past quarter century, the United Nations has made a significant contribution to the social economic development of Kyrgyzstan and reforms in key areas. In particular, joint economic projects are being implemented, reforms are being carried out in the law enforcement and judicial branches of the country, and the electoral system is being substantially improved.

Earlier this year the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, H.E. Mr. Almazbek Atambaev, and the UN Secretary- General, H.E. Mr. Antonio Guterres, met on the margins of the Munich Security Conference to discuss current issues. Together they expressed a readiness to develop multifaceted cooperation. Our cooperation with the United Nations system is developing dynamically, bringing visible results, and promoting full integration of Kyrgyzstan into the world political and economic system.

Diplomatic Connections: How has Kyrgyzstan involved itself in the work of the United Nations?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: The Kyrgyz Republic has been repeatedly elected to various bodies of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. We became a member of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development for 2009- 2012 and have twice been elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the periods 2009-2012 and 2016-2018. Kyrgyzstan has also served as Vice-President of the UN General Assembly and Deputy Chair of the UN Council on Human Rights.

The Kyrgyz Republic's role in the UN is also visible in its contributions to UN peacekeeping activities. Beginning in 1998, we were the first country in Central Asia to take part in the UN peacekeeping missions making a practical contribution to maintenance of international peace and safety. At present, our individual military observers and police officers are participating in three UN peacekeeping missions in South Sudan, Darfur and Abyei (Sudan/South Sudan).

Diplomatic Connections: What do you consider to be some of Kyrgyzstan's most important diplomatic accomplishments at the United Nations?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: Kyrgyzstan has put forward a number of initiatives through which the community of nations knows and better understands our country, our history and cultural heritage. The UN General Assembly has recognized the 1000th anniversary of the great epic «Manas», the 3000th anniversary of the city of Osh and the 2200th anniversary of the Kyrgyz statehood.

The sacred mountain Suleiman-Too in Kyrgyzstan is listed as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. On the initiative of the Kyrgyz Republic, December 11 was proclaimed the International Day of the Mountains, and February 20 - World Day of Social Justice. Last year, we entered the "Group of Friends" of the Alliance of Civilizations. Promotion of such national symbols and ideas at the international level reinforces awareness of Kyrgyzstan's cultural tradition and underscores our historic role in the world.

Diplomatic Connections: The geographic location of Kyrgyzstan is notable. You are a land locked country and share a long border with China as well as borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. How do these geographic facts of life impact Kyrgyzstan's diplomacy?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: The ancient routes of the Great Silk Road passed through our territory. Therefore, our transit position is a great resource. The government is making great efforts to develop logistics and transport services in the field of infrastructure, aviation and the railway.

We are both a geographical and a political bridge between Europe and Asia, the East and the West, the North and the South. The location of our country allows us to promote an atmosphere of cooperation on a huge continent. This dictates the development of multi-vector and multi-level cooperation in diplomacy, but it also forces us to conduct a balanced foreign policy.

Diplomatic Connections: In the course of its young life, the Kyrgyz Republic has experienced two substantial revolutions against the government in power, in 2005 and again in 2010. What are the lessons of these internal upheavals?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: The most important lesson is that power in the country should not be completely owned by one person and his family. Unfortunately, the events of the "Tulip Revolution" in 2005 did not become a lesson for the subsequent government. That is why our people were forced to overthrow another family-clan regime in April 2010. These wrenching events have become unfortunate memories, but they are also important stages in the complex process of democratic development and building a new Kyrgyz society and institutions of government.

Diplomatic Connections: How were the government and the political system of Kyrgyzstan restructured in the aftermath of these revolutionary events?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva:In order to avoid the risk of a return to totalitarian family-clan rule, Kyrgyzstan was the first in Central Asian country to develop parliamentary democracy. The powers of the president are limited to one 6-year term. A system of "checks and balances" has been established. The Parliament (Supreme Council) is elected by party lists in a multiple party system with seats awarded proportionately. Parties collectively holding a majority of seats in the parliament must form a coalition government. The opposition heads the work of the key committees of the Parliament responsible for budget and finance, public order and security.

In 2015, parliamentary elections were held in Kyrgyzstan using biometric voting data to identify voters, clear ballot boxes to prevent ballot stuffing and electronic reading machines to protect the counting process. Thanks to these procedures the election results were widely accepted as legitimate and a new national government was put in place. The political situation has been stabilized, and, as a result, the economy is developing, new investments are being made, large-scale projects are being implemented, the security of the state is being strengthened and civil society is expanding.

Diplomatic Connections: Kyrgyzstan is part of two important Russian-led regional organizations: (1) CSTO – the Collective Security Treaty Organization; and (2) EAEU – the Eurasian Economic Union. What is the importance of each of these organizations to Kyrgyzstan's security and economy?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: Strong allied relations have developed between Kyrgyzstan and Russia. There is a wide interaction between us because we have a common history and share common cultural and societal space. Since we were so long a part of the Soviet Union, there are substantial pre-existing trade and economic relationships. Russia provides us financial, humanitarian, technical and military-technical assistance.

The Kyrgyz Republic is co-founder of the CSTO and our activities are aimed at jointly countering the threats of international terrorism, religious extremism, drug trafficking, weapons, and illegal migration. This is a necessary condition for ensuring security and stability in Central Asia, especially when seen through the prism of the continuing Afghan problem.

Diplomatic Connections: And the Eurasian Economic Union?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: No country can be isolated from global and regional realities. Therefore, Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Union, which is designed to facilitate the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labor within a single market uniting 180 million people.

This year, Kyrgyzstan is chairing the EAEU. We intend to focus on improving the rules of trade and removing barriers, exemptions and restrictions across the integrated market. At the same time, the EAEU brings together the economies of Europe and Asia, which coordinates with China's goal of developing a "Silk Road Economic Belt."

Diplomatic Connections: What is the role of China in Kyrgyzstan's security and economy?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: We have established a solid strategic partnership with our neighbor, China. A series of treaties defines common goals and directions for long-term and stable development of Kyrgyz-Chinese relations. There is bilateral support for issues of critical importance to each partner. Kyrgyzstan maintains its unwavering support of the People's Republic of China on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the fight against "three evil forces" – terrorism, extremism and separatism. China supports Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty, independence and security and offers assistance to develop our national economy.

The concept "Silk Road Economic Belt" is attractive not only from the geographical point of view, but also from the potential of economic partnership. We have advantages in the form of a favorable geographical location and huge energy potential.

Diplomatic Connections: Has Kyrgyzstan had to deal with the emergence of extremist movements within your predominantly Muslim population? How has your country dealt with the growing presence of outside Islamic movements among the Kyrgyz population?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: Since its independence, the Kyrgyz Republic has supported freedom of conscience and religion, but we have experienced international terrorist incidents. Inevitably, extremist and terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Africa extend their ideological influence to the countries of Central Asia and pose a threat to us.

There is an understanding in Kyrgyzstan that religion must not be turned into an ideological tool to spur extremism and justify violent acts. At the same time, we recognize the danger that attempts to prevent extremist violence and bans against certain groups may unfairly stigmatize religion and encourage further radicalization in society. Democratic development is the best alternative to the lure of religious extremism.

Diplomatic Connections: Please tell us about the work of the United Nations Center for Regional Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia (UNRCCA), which is now ten years old. What is Kyrgyzstan's role in this regional center?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: UNRCCA was created not as a reaction to the presence of immediate conflict, but as a measure to prevent possible threats. Conflict resolution before the outbreak of violence is one of the most reasonable types of investment that we can make. Prevention is an investment in peace.

The member states of UNRCCA have identified priority areas of concern to regional security in Central Asia. These include transnational threats such as terrorism, extremism, organized crime and illicit drug trafficking; environmental degradation and management of cross-border hydro-electric resources; and, regional security in the context of the situation in Afghanistan.

Diplomatic Connections: Kyrgyzstan is the organizer of the World Nomad Games, first held in 2014 and again in 2016. Why was it thought to be a good idea to create these games?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: In search of ways to preserve cultural diversity and humanize sports, in 2012 the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Almazbek Atambaev proposed holding the first ever "World Nomad Games". The project focuses on reviving and preserving the traditions of nomadic civilizations and their spiritual heritage.

The second "World Nomad Games" took place on the shores of Issyk-Kul Lake in September 2016. More than 1200 athletes from 62 countries took part and competed in 23 national sports. Euronews, NHK, Al Jazeera, China TV, Deutsche Welle, Russia Today, Reuters, National Geographic, Associated Press, Xinhua covered World Nomadic Games-2. The opening ceremony was seen by about 800 million viewers around the world.

I am proud to note that on December 22, 2016, during the 67th plenary session, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on "Promotion of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Cooperation for Peace", in which the "World Nomad Games" received international recognition as an instrument of intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation for the benefit of peace and development.

Diplomatic Connections: Kyrgyzstan has been instrumental in establishing the International Day of the Snow Leopard. Could you tell us something about this species in Kyrgyzstan and the international efforts being made to protect it?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: The snow leopard is not only a sacred symbol for many peoples, representing the transcendent "spirit" of the majestic mountains, but it is also one of the most important indicators of the health of high mountain ecosystems. In order to draw attention to the declining population, fragmented habitat and threatened disappearance of the snow leopard, Kyrgyz President Atambaev convened the "World Forum on the Preservation of the Snow Leopard" in 2013. This year (2017) the International Forum on the Conservation of the Snow Leopard and Its Ecosystems will be held in our capital city, Bishek. Efforts to stop illegal trade and poaching, protect habitat, respond to climate change and reduce human-leopard conflict are all crucial to protecting the snow leopard population.

Diplomatic Connections: Your government presented a statue of Manas as a gift to the United Nations. That gift now has an honored place in the entrance lobby of the General Assembly building in New York. What is the importance of the epic tradition of Manas in Kyrgyz lore and Kyrgyz identity?

Ambassador Moldoisaeva: The epic "Manas" is a cultural encyclopedia of our people's experience. It encompasses all aspects of the social consciousness and life of Kyrgyz people: mythology and religion, customs, philosophy and aesthetics, folk games and entertainment, morality and norms of behavior. To this day the Kyrgyz people draw important lessons of morality and human values from it.

The greatness of Manas, expressed in this epic tradition, is that he was dedicated to the ideal of cultural identity and the unification of his people. These are the same ideas that lead to the idea of the nation-state, sovereignty, security and collaborative internationalism.

Diplomatic Connections: May this Kyrgyz gift to the United Nations serve as a constant reminder that the work of the United Nations is always to protect the cultural identity and rights of peoples, the security of states, pursue the goal of
peace making when conflicts arise and sustain the determination expressed in the United Nations Charter "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."

Ambassador Moldoisaeva, thank you for your insights.

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