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1 июля 2024
Nurbek Bekmurzaev for Global Voices. Screenshot from Zhashoo YouTube (fair use)

In Kyrgyzstan the President’s Niece Undermines His Efforts to Remold National Traditions

His critics can now accuse him of hypocrisy

In Kyrgyzstan the President’s Niece Undermines His Efforts to Remold National Traditions

This article was written by Nurbek Bekmurzaev for Global Voices. An edited version is published here under a media partnership agreement.

On June 26, Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov issued a public apology for the lavish engagement ceremony involving his niece Lazzat Nurkojoeva and her fiancé, which drew a lot of criticism from the public. On June 24, Nurkojoeva posted a video and photos of the engagement ceremony on her Instagram page, in which the couple arrived at an undisclosed location in the mountains near the capital Bishkek on a helicopter owned by the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Here is a YouTube video of the engagement ceremony.

Commenting on the ceremony, Japarov admitted that its lavishness contradicted the authorities’ work “to stop the wastefulness” characteristic of life-cycle events, such as weddings and funerals, and noted that “relatives of the country's leadership should be an example for others.” He added that he “used to criticize others” for similar behaviour and now it was his turn to “apologize to the people” for his niece.

As for using the ministry’s helicopter, Japarov explained that anyone can rent it, and the money will go to buying more helicopters in the future. The ministry backed Japarov’s words with the receipt confirming that the president’s future son-in-law paid $1,800 to rent the helicopter for one hour.

The over-the-top engagement ceremony delivered a blow to the authorities ongoing work to remold local traditions surrounding the celebration of major life-cycle events. These efforts are initiated and led by the president himself, who has been the biggest critic of the lavish way people in Kyrgyzstan organize funerals and other events. In February 2022, Japarov signed a decree banning the slaughter of animals at funerals.

It is customary in Kyrgyzstan to slaughter multiple animals at funerals as a sign of respect for the deceased and distribute meat to those who attend funerals, whose numbers can sometimes reach thousands but usually hover around several hundred. While the rich can afford such expenses, those who do not have the means feel societal pressure and spend their last savings and sometimes incur debt to slaughter animals.

Japarov explained that the current traditions force “poor families” to compete with the rich and “slaughter their only cow and see off their loved ones on their last journey, while they themselves are left with nothing.” Thus, the traditions were labelled as “negative manifestations and vices” and “excessive waste” in need of eradication.

Japarov explained the rationale behind the decree in a post at his official Facebook page.

To enforce the decree, Japarov has called on the local authorities, religious figures, and media to conduct awareness raising work among the population to reduce expenses and instructed officials to hold funerals and other events without large expenses. Akylbek Japarov, head of the Cabinet of Minsters, has ordered officials not to attend weddings and other celebrations if they see “wastefulness.” In Bishkek, the municipal authorities are trying to convince restaurants owners to refuse to host the events of those clients who insist on organizing lavish ceremonies and slaughtering animals.

Here is a video about the authorities’ attempts to stop wastefulness at restaurants in Bishkek.

Since there are no punishments for not obeying the decree, the authorities are operating with limited leverage and failing to reach immediate results. The draft Law on weddings, family celebrations, funerals and memorials, which was initiated in 2022, has not moved past the parliament. The bill sets limits on the number of guests that can be invited to various events and fines to violating these norms.

Japarov’s plan to get rid of the perceived wastefulness surrounding national traditions has not gone smoothly thus far, and his niece’s lavish engagement is a perhaps the biggest sign of it.