Djumabek Asankulov

February 20th, 2014 Sections: Independent Kyrgyzstan, Soviet Union, Who's Who

Today would have marked the birthday of an interesting character in Kyrgyzstan’s history: Djumabekov Asankulovovich Asankulov, who served two terms as the head of the KGB in Kyrgyzstan, (from 1967-78 and 1989-1991).

The KGB, (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti – Committee for State Security), was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 – when it was created as the direct successor of a number of other agencies such as the CHEKA (the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage), the State Political Administration (GPU) of the NKVD and SMERSH (Spetsyalnye MEtody Razoblacheniya SHpyonov – Special Methods of Spy Detection, but also referred to as SMERt’ SHpionam; “Death to spies”) counterintelligence – until its collapse in 1991, and directly responsible to the Council of Ministers as the chief government agency for security, operating both within and outside the country.

Similar agencies were instated in each of the republics including the Kyrgyz SSR.

Born in the Karl Marx kolhoz, (Collective Farm) in the village of Keper Aryk, in the Moscow region of the Chui oblast of Northern Kyrgyzstan, Asankulov spent his entire career in the service of the KGB, joiing the service in 1946.  After graduating from the organization’s regional school in Tashkent in 1948.  Later he was to study Military Jurisprudence in Moscow and for a time teaching in the school.

From 1955 until 1961 served as Deputy Head of Counter Intelligence in the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic.

In 1961 he was transferred to become the Head of the KGB in the Osh oblast – at that time basically the whole of Southern Kyrgyzstan where he served for five years.  From there he was promoted to be the Head of the Administratiove Affairs Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Kyrgyz SSR, and then took up the post of Chairman of the KGB in the Republic for his first term.

His eleven years in the post made him the longest serving head of the KGB in the country.

In 1978 he went to Moscow and for the next eleven years served in various capacities there in the headquarters of the organization.  In 1989 he was once more took up the reigns as the head of the KGB in Kyrgyzstan … and was in post in August 1991 when the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev took place and he was to play a controversial role as the events unfolded here in Bishkek.

 

The day before the attempted coup, Nasirdinov Isanov, the Prime Minister had flown to Moscow and the newly elected President Askar Akaev and Medekan Sherimkulov, the Speaker of the Xogorku Kenesh, (the Supreme Soviet of the Republic – or Parliament), were to follow the next day to attend the signing of the new treaty of Alliance.  Events were, however, to take an unforeseen turn.

Not everyone in the leadership of the USSR, however, agreed with Gorbachev’s policy of Perestroika, (reconstruction), and a group of top officials (including Kryuchkov – the head of the KGB in the USSR) attempted to conduct a coup, ousting Gorbachev and seizing power in the name of an Emergency Committee.

Back in Bishkek, Akaev gathered in his office Sherimkulon, Asankulov, and a number of other officials.  Apparently, according to some eyewitnesses, Akaev wasn’t sure how to react to the news from Moscow and asked for opinions.  Asankulov was one of the first to speak … and proposed to do nothing but wait for events to unfold.

He was considered to be a close associate of Kryuchov, on of the plotters, and it is not clear if he had prior knowledge of what was to happen.

When it was the turn of Feliks Kulov to speak, he apparently argued that Akaev should not necessarily follow the dictates of the Emergency Committee but speak as President of the Republic.  Others spoke and the general feeling of the meeting was to reject the coup.

It is said that the meeting ended with Akaev inviting everyone to “do their own thing” and the participants dispersed.  The same day he dismissed Asankulov, (saying that he was “meeting the Generals request to resign with a pension”), and replaced the KGB officers that served as his personal guard with policemen and also charged the police with securing all strategic objects under their protection.    He then appeared on television and announced what was going to the people, calling for “the triumph of reason and democracy”.

 

Akaev later said that Kryuchkov had telephoned him to protest against dismissal of his Asankulov … and “giving him the choice” of either reinstating Asankulov or waiting ten days before taking action. Perhaps he thought that in 10 days Akaev himself would have gone … but Akaev is said to have replied: “We can’t wait ten minutes.”

He then established contact with Boris Yeltsin’s headquarters and sent personal representatives to the leaders of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belorussia in an attempt to organize a united front of resistance to the junta, contacted the United Nations and other countries seeking assistance should the republic be the subject of military intervention.

 

Following his dismissal as Chairman of the KGB, Asankulov continued working – although took little role in the politics of the republic.  Indeed, like most “spies” he rarely ever spoke in public.  As one account put it, he preferred to give advice in the form of memos to the head of state marked “Confidential”.

Asankulov’s advice may have been rejected and he may been dismissed, but he wasn’t exactly “banished to the wilderness”.   He was to be appointed as an advisor to President Akaev and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General and was appointed as Deputy Head of the General Staff in the newly formed Ministry of Defence and, as such, played an important role in the creation and shaping of the defence and security forces in the new republic.

Apparently, he gave Askar Akaev another piece of controversial advice in 1998, when he is said to have recommended that the potential contender for the upcoming Presidential elections, Feliks Kulov, should be removed from the race by bringing criminal charges against him and having him incarcerated … which is indeed what happened.

In 2000 he made one of his few public pronouncments holding a press conference where he backed the candidacy of Askar Akev for a further term in office against that of the contender Kulov.  Apparently he is reported to have said that Kulov was “not able to be a good president”, adding that some of the Kyrgyz media had exaggerated role of Kulov in defending Kyrgyz independence during the August Putsch of 1991.  According to the reports of the press conference he said that if Akaev had made some mistakes, they were linked with his personnel policy; for example, he had appointed the “incapable” Kulov as vice president, as a governor, and as a minister in the past.

Interestingly he added that in 1990, in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev (the then Head of State of the USSR), Kryuchkov, (the head of the KGB in the USSR at the time) and the Kyrgyz writer Chinghiz Aitmatov had discussed  the leadership of the Kyrgyz SSR … and decided to make Askar Akayev president, but that’s not exactly how some commentators interpret the events around Akaev’s election.   At least one takes the view that the “old guard” were intent on removing him.

 

To add to the two awards of the Order of the Red Banner that he had received under the Soviet Union, he was also granted the Order of Manas from the new country that may not have existed if his advice in 1991 had been heeded.

He died in Moscow on April 22nd, 2007, at the age of 81.

 

 

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