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Restless Valley

Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia

Philip Shishkin
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bm8s
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  • Book Info
    Restless Valley
    Book Description:

    It sounds like the stuff of a fiction thriller: two revolutions, a massacre of unarmed civilians, a civil war, a drug-smuggling highway, brazen corruption schemes, contract hits, and larger-than-life characters who may be villains . . . or heroes . . . or possibly both. Yet this book is not a work of fiction. It is instead a gripping, firsthand account of Central Asia's unfolding history from 2005 to the present.

    Philip Shishkin, a prize-winning journalist with extensive on-the-ground experience in the tumultuous region above Afghanistan's northern border, focuses mainly on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Both nations have struggled with the enormous challenges of post-Soviet independent statehood; both became entangled in America's Afghan campaign when U.S. military bases were established within their borders. At the same time, the region was developing into a key smuggling hub for Afghanistan's booming heroin trade. Through the eyes of local participants-the powerful and the powerless-Shishkin reconstructs how Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have ricocheted between extreme repression and democratic strivings, how alliances with the United States and Russia have brought mixed blessings, and how Stalin's legacy of ethnic gerrymandering incites conflict even now.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18598-0
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction (pp. ix-xi)

    Imagine a region so rife with tensions and intrigue that in less than a decade it managed to produce two revolutions in the same country, murders straight out of a thriller, a massacre of unarmed civilians, a civil war, a drug-smuggling superhighway, and corruption schemes so brazen and lucrative they would be hard to invent. On top of all that, the region has served as a staging ground for the American war in Afghanistan.

    The subject of this book is the wild recent history of post-Soviet Central Asia, mostly of two countries sitting above Afghanistan’s northern border: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan....

  4. [Map] (pp. xii-xii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Tulip Revolution (pp. 1-43)

    When the end came, all that was left to do was swig the president’s wine straight from the bottle and plunder his collection of neckties.

    The president, soon to be former, was already gone, and his spacious wood-paneled office on the seventh floor of a labyrinthine slab of government headquarters was now a scene of chaotic celebration. The foot soldiers of the revolution, many of them young and covered with grime and a little banged up but delirious with joy and adrenaline, swarmed around the president’s desk and took turns sitting in his chair. Until a few hours earlier, this...

  6. CHAPTER 2 On the Heroin Highway (pp. 44-67)

    One April morning a few days after the Tulip Revolution, I drove up a mountain just outside the Kyrgyz capital. On the otherwise deserted woodsy plateau near the top, someone had pitched an ornately embroidered tent. Its sole occupant, a gaunt young man in faded blue jeans, was sitting on a wooden bench right next to the tent. He had the world-weary bearing of a hermit, lost in thought and oblivious to the scenery around him. Down below, under the gauzy cover of low-hanging clouds, the city of Bishkek was recovering from the shocks of the uprising. From this height,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Anatomy of a Massacre (pp. 68-91)

    The site of the massacre lay just beyond the mountains, but getting there wouldn’t be easy. The already narrow highway narrowed even more until it was blocked by a gaggle of cops bundled up against the late-night chill. One of them shone a flashlight into my taxi. This was Uzbekistan, a big Central Asian dictatorship with a key role in America’s war in the neighboring Afghanistan. Out on the desolate road, I sat in the car squinting and grinning into the beam of light, trying to project a nonthreatening demeanor to the cops, but probably managing nothing more than a...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Dark Years in Kyrgyzstan (pp. 92-159)

    It was well past midnight when a luxury Lexus SUV joined the line of cars waiting to cross the border from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan. Sheltered under blue archways, the Korday border checkpoint sits next to a bridge over a meandering river called Chu. At any hour of day or night, scores of cars, trucks, minibuses, and pedestrians laden with heavy bags clog the approaches to the border crossing between the two Central Asian countries. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s placid capital, and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s glittering commercial hub, are only 140 miles apart, an easy drive if it weren’t for the wildcards of the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Land of Perpetual Revolution (pp. 160-197)

    The reign of President Bakiyev ended the same way it began, with a revolution and an exile. He fled, first to a large ceremonial tent in his home village in southern Kyrgyzstan, and then out of the country. Facing an irate populace, his brothers, sons, and cronies ran for the exits too, not all of them successfully. Bakiyev eventually settled in Belarus, at the personal invitation of the local dictator. The only two presidents Kyrgyzstan had known in its twenty years of independence ended up as outcasts and fugitives: one in Moscow teaching physics, the other in Minsk living in...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Financier Vanishes, and Other Riddles (pp. 198-233)

    Of all the days he could get sick, this was the worst possible day. Eugene Gourevitch, once Kyrgyzstan’s premier financier and confidant of the ruling family, was now a wanted man. In the days after the revolution, he needed to stay alert and think quickly to evade capture. Instead, on this warm April afternoon, Gourevitch was delirious with a fever that seemed to come out of nowhere. His head swayed from side to side as he struggled to stay awake in the backseat of a car smuggling him out of Kyrgyzstan. Gourevitch was so ill that he didn’t even notice...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Restless Valley (pp. 234-267)

    The policeman should have listened to his wife that evening. Instead, Maktybek Suleimanov brushed off her pleas that he stay home and sit out the commotion on the streets. Suleimanov wanted to be a cop ever since he was a kid growing up in a turbulent corner of Central Asia. He’d ask his mother to pin strips of fabric to his T-shirt so they’d resemble rank insignia. Sometimes he’d go so sleep that way. Now Suleimanov was forty-one years old, had four kids of his own, and wore real epaulets of a police captain. A broad-faced ethnic Kyrgyz with a...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Our Son of a Bitch? (pp. 268-295)

    Tashkent Regional Courthouse is a gray box of a building set off from the sidewalk by a tall metal fence. The courthouse overlooks a busy thoroughfare populated by tiny, locally made cars that look as if their drivers are wearing them like oversized raincoats instead of driving them. On a steamy morning in July of 2010, a group of women in brightly colored traditional clothes waited in front of the court. They fanned themselves with sheaves of papers, whispered to one another, and watched the padlocked gate guarded by a skinny cop in a teal uniform and the kind of...

  13. Epilogue: Family Connections (pp. 296-302)

    One evening in Tashkent, I searched for a tiny apartment hidden inside a maze of squat gray buildings that all looked identical. To confuse matters further, the numbering of the houses bore no relation to any known brand of logic. The numbers seemed to ascend, then descend; then they performed a curious circular dance, retreated, surged forward, and abruptly stopped cold. And just when you thought you’d managed to crack the code, you realized the numbers weren’t the whole story. There was a mysterious subset of letters and fractions that rescrambled whatever pattern you thought you’d just divined.

    I was...

  14. Notes (pp. 303-306)
  15. Acknowledgments (pp. 307-308)
  16. Index (pp. 309-316)