The unsung role of Kung Fu in the Kyrgyz revolution
Mon Mar 28, 2:43 PM ET
KARA SUU, Kyrgyzstan (AFP) - Many say people power
brought down the regime in Kyrgyzstan last week. But
Bayaman Erkinbayev, a lawmaker, martial arts champ and
one of the Central Asian nation's richest men, says it
was his small army of Kung Fu-style fighters.
In southern Kyrgyzstan, where the protests that
brought down the Askar Akayev's 15-year regime first
flared, the name of 37-year-old Erkinbayev seems to be
on everyone's lips.
Erkinbayev is the wealthy playboy head of the Palvan
Corporation, who led 2,000 fighters trained in Alysh,
Kyrgyzstan's answer to Kung Fu, to protests launched
after the first round of a parliamentary election on
A hero in his hometown Osh, he is generally considered
to have financed the protests and sent his martial
arts trainees to the front lines of the
demonstrations, including in the capital Bishkek.
"When our old men were beaten and thrown out of the
regional administration building, my fighters were on
the front line. And during the siege in Bishkek, my
fighters went in first," Erkinbayev told AFP in his
gymnasium in Osh.
The demonstrations led to the toppling of Kyrgyzstan's
veteran leader Askar Akayev, the third such
"revolution" in an ex-Soviet nation in less than two
years, after Georgia's "rose revolution" in 2003 and
Ukraine's "orange revolution" late last year.
People in Kyrgyzstan's south say Erkinbayev threw his
men and money behind the opposition to prepare voters
for his candidacy in an upcoming presidential
Whether or not he was the driving force behind the
toppling of the government, he is certainly regarded
as such in his hometown.
When some 20,000 people gathered in Osh's main square
over the weekend to celebrate the regime's fall, the
crowd cheered Erkinbayev who had just returned from
the capital Bishkek, and locals jostled to get a
closer look at him and shake his hand.
Erkinbayev is not shy about taking credit for the
tumult that led to Akayev's overthrow.
"I went out and rallied the people," he said, cracking
his knuckles as he struggled to compose sentences in
Russian, his muscled build showing through his
"The city of Osh, the capital of the south, played the
most important role in the destruction of Akayev's
Erkinbayev said he invested "an impressive amount" of
money in keeping protesters in Jalal-Abad and Bishkek
well fed and warm as they picketed and eventually
stormed government buildings in this poor, mountainous
state on China's western border.
He said the Kyrgyz revolution started in the small
town of Kara Suu, where Erkinbayev's former boss and
mentor Arap Tolonov was shut out of a parliamentary
seat after a candidate loyal to president Akayev
allegedly armed busloads of high school students with
absentee ballots to stuff boxes.
Pupils from Erkinbayev's Alysh martial arts school in
Osh were sent to protect demonstrators protesting the
contested ballot in the Kara Suu bazaar.
Afterwards demonstrations with the participation of
Erkinbayev's trainees spread to the southern cities of
Jalal-Abad, Osh, and Batken. They captured government
sites, burnt down police stations and blocked key
highways in the lead-up to the chaos that deposed
Akayev in Bishkek.
Erkinbayev won't say how much he is worth, but he is
generally regarded as one of Kyrgyzstan's wealthiest
people, especially in the impoverished south of the
A decade ago he was an underling at a tobacco factory,
but today he owns the Kara Suu bazaar, a cotton
processing business, a shoe factory, entertainment
complexes and several other businesses.
He said his prowess in Alysh helped him progress.
"I have always been a champion, so the people love me.
This helped me get involved in politics personally,"
said the three-time champion of Central Asia.
Erkinbayev is no stranger to election scandals.
In the parliamentary elections of 2000 he is said to
have spent two weeks on the run from the police after
allegedly beating a judge who ordered him to drop out
of the race for failing to disclose some of his wife's
property in his registration form.
The ruling was later overturned under unclear
circumstances and Erkinbayev described it as an
"When I met the judge later he retracted his
accusations," he said.