The December 6, 2006, killing of Kyrgyz truck driver Alexander Ivanov by U.S. soldier Zachary Hatfield continues to fuel Kyrgyz public anger toward the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan. Hatfield left Kyrgyzstan on March 22 despite the Kyrgyz government’s appeal to keep the soldier on Kyrgyz territory until the legal investigation into the shooting is completed (See EDM, May 4). Although the Kyrgyz prosecutor-general closed Ivanov’s case on May 7, local civil society groups continue to loudly call for evaluating the incident within the broader framework of Kyrgyz-U.S. military cooperation.
The Kyrgyz prosecutor-general convicted Hatfield of deliberate homicide, but there was no opportunity for Kyrgyz law-enforcement agencies to prosecute the U.S. soldier, as he was protected by diplomatic status. However, some civil rights activists argued that U.S. military personnel should not have any form of diplomatic status, and the Kyrgyz government ignored the immunity claim and prosecuted the U.S. soldier anyway. One Kyrgyz civil rights activist told Jamestown that he believes that Hatfield, knowing he was protected by diplomatic status, intentionally hunted down Ivanov out of anger and low personal character.
The Kyrgyz public’s anger against the U.S. military base at Manas, near Bishkek, has steadily increased due to the accumulating number of incidents in which Kyrgyz citizens have been seriously injured by the U.S. Marines, but were compensated with only a few hundred U.S. dollars.
Ivanov’s widow, Marina Ivanova, has been actively pressing the Kyrgyz government and parliament to pay more attention to her husband’s tragic death. In a recent letter by her legal representative, Galina Skripkina, Ivanova asks the Kyrgyz parliament to review the status of the U.S. base, located at the Manas airport since 2001, claiming that the United States is abusing its presence on the territory of Kyrgyzstan (24.kg, May 16).
According to Skripkina’s thorough investigation of Ivanov’s case, the U.S. soldier exaggerated the threat posed by Ivanov and shot him twice without a valid reason. Skripkina argues that although U.S. soldiers are allowed to shoot twice in cases of an impending attack against them, at the time of the shooting Ivanov was about 5-6 meters away from Hatfield. Since Ivanov’s knife was found 20 meters away from the site of the incident, his widow questions whether he was, in fact, threatening Hatfield with it (24.kg, May 16).
One Kyrgyz civil rights activist argues that in order to gain forgiveness from Marina Ivanova as well as the Kyrgyz public, Washington could provide better financial support to Ivanov’s wife. She received roughly $1,000 as a moral compensation, whereas, according to Skripkina, the U.S. Air Force’s regulations recommend $100,000 for cases similar to Ivanov’s (tazar.kg, March 12).
The U.S. side could have paid more attention to Ivanov’s case by either offering greater financial condolence compensation to Mrs. Ivanova or by expressing its apology more explicitly.
The Ivanov case indicates two main developments in the Kyrgyz society. First, Kyrgyz civil society has reached the point where it is able to challenge the state over perceived injustices toward individuals. Second, Kyrgyz public opinion against the United States will continue to deteriorate if Washington does not pay better attention to its political image in Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek’s response is typical of its timid approach to the U.S. base. In summer 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expelled two U.S. diplomats for their alleged involvement in Kyrgyz domestic issues. This act was possibly the Kyrgyz government’s attempt to please Russia before the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in August 2006 (see EDM, June 13, 2006). The U.S. base is also criticized for paying high rents to the current corrupt government. Therefore part of the Kyrgyz public’s concern with the Ivanov case is directed against its own government, which has failed to undertake any meaningful actions other than criticizing the United States. Indeed, the Kyrgyz public’s attitude toward the U.S. military base is related to a growing concern about the U.S. international role in general.
This is not the first case of foreign representatives killing Kyrgyz citizens. Previously Russian official representatives were implicated in fatal accidents on Kyrgyz territory; however, neither victims’ relatives nor the government made any visible attempts to investigate these cases. Furthermore, Kyrgyz citizens’ rights are abused regularly in Russia and Kazakhstan, where hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz labor migrants work illegally. Finally, Kyrgyz citizens’ rights are constantly abused in border areas in the Ferghana Valley by Tajik, Uzbek, and fellow Kyrgyz border guards. Compared to Ivanov’s case, Kyrgyz civil society groups are much more ignorant about their fellow citizens’ rights residing abroad.