A soviet time building in the beginning of the winter in Bishkek.
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I remember seeing images of Kyrgyzstan for the first time on television, in March 2005. There were scenes of excited Asian-looking men rushing toward an imposing Soviet style administration building. They entered the building, vandalizing, even pillaging, all they found. Then, on the roof, a scene of men proudly brandishing a flag. This event was called the “Tulip Revolution”. One could read in the press that the Kyrgyz people, motivated by social injustice, had just overthrown the authoritarian and corrupt regime of President Askar Akayev and had replaced him with Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
It was a few years later, when the little country, no longer in the limelight, had been completely forgotten, that I visited Kyrgyzstan for the first time. Aided by a grant, I set out to discover what the Tulip “Revolution”, which was supposed to lead to a democratic transition in the country, had really accomplished. This so-called revolution seemed to have been no more than a power grab. The elections were rigged; the media censured, perhaps even more than previously; political opponents were arrested. Kyrgyzstan was considered one of the 15 most corrupt countries in the world. Even today 40% of the population live below the poverty line, and at least as many look back with nostalgia to the Soviet era. Today one speaks of the Tulip Revolution as a coup d’état disguised as a popular revolution.
Lev Tolstoy street in Bishkek, nicknamed “the street of the unemployed” since poor day labourers from the provinces, such as Kurman (right), come here to work for around 5 Euros a day. Today he hasn’t found any work and says he would be ready to work for 2 Euros. Sometimes police come and racket them.
Men try to repair an old coal plant dating back from the Soviet era in Tash Kumyr.
The day of the Parliamentary elections in a village around Bishkek. The elections contained many irregularities. The entire opposition got only seven seats out of 89, with the largest opposition party not winning any seats.
Alla is an internal migrant from Naryn. She now lives with her family in a small room situated in an old disused brick factory in Bishkek. She looks back with fondness at the Soviet era.
In Osh, south Kyrgyzstan, during an electricity cut some very poor homeless people are burning paperboard to warm themselves.
Jenish downs a glass of vodka. He works on the market on Lev Tolstoy Steet, nicknamed “the street of the unemployed” in Bishkek. In winter he lives underground close to the hot water pipelines.
On the day of a referendum on a new constitution, a woman stands inside a polling station situated in an Uzbek school in Osh. The buildings had been extensively damaged after being set alight by ethnic Kyrgyz two weeks earlier during fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan that left hundreds dead and up to 400,000 displaced.
Kyrgyz Men take part in a demonstration against President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek, on the 27th of march 2009.
Anti Bakiev gathering on the main square in Osh, south of Kyrgyzstran, a few days after Bakiev was overthrown by protestors and 86 of them killed.
I continued to visit the country in the course of several trips. I was confronted by the growing instability which would lead, eventually, to the bloody riots of April 2010. It was a new revolution, perhaps a bit more authentic this time. The nepotistic Bakyiev was overthrown in his turn and found asylum in Belorussia, as had Akayev five years earlier. There followed a period of great unrest during which Osh, the major city in South, was the scene of anti-Uzbek pogroms.
Some say that the young country has never really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and that what it is going through today is still the painful apprenticeship of independence.
Faded Tulips is a trip through a young country at the crossroads of different worlds, born out of the break-up of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
It is an immersion in the daily life of a disenchanted people living amidst the ruins of their past and whose present is undermined by poverty, clannishness, and chronic instability, a explosive mixture.
Overthrown President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s personal bodyguards shoot in the sky to calm down anti-Bakiyev supporters. This helped Bakiev to escape the city safely and fly to Kazakhstan.
Ethnic Uzbek women and children who fled their homes in Osh and are now staying in a house close to the Uzbekistan border, to protect themselves and in the hope of crossing. Fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan left, observers say, up to 2,000 people and 400,000 displaced.
Ethnic Meskhetians mourn the death of a relative killed during ethnic clashes in the suburbs of Bishkek a week after the 7th April 2010 uprising when the government was overthrown.
During Eid ul-Fitr, several thousand Muslims pray in front of the parliament building and a statue of Lenin in Bishkek.
Inside the white house (presidential palace) looted and burnt, several days after the uprising that overthrown president Bakiev and killed 86 Kirghizs. On the wall :”Bakiev, ass hole!”
Daniok (24, an ethnic Uzbek) lost 7 members of his family when their house was set on fire by ethnic Kyrgyz in Osh. His family members had been hiding in the basement because of ethnic clashes. Daniok tried to rescue them but received severe burns and was unable to reach them.Fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan left, observers say, up to 2,000 people and 400,000 displaced.
Coal mine in Min-Kush. During the 1960s and 70s, Min-Kush was a prosperous city living off the wealth of uranium mining. It is now an impoverished and semi-deserted village of 2,500 people (down from a population of 20,000) polluted by uranium waste.
Traffic jam in Osh, south Kyrgyzstan.
A drug addict just after he injected himself an heroin dose. In Osh, south Kyrgyzstan, an heroin dose costs less than 2?.
Uzbek vicinity in Osh several days after the ethnic clashes. SOS is written everywhere in Osh Uzbek districts.
William’s work revolves around social issues and humanitarian concerns mostly focusing on isolated or weakened communities. He has worked on many global issues such as the 3 main pandemics -Malaria, Aids and Tuberculosis- the Tsunami aftermaths in Asia, Haiti earthquake aftermaths, and he has been working on Kyrgyzstan since late 2007, among others issues. Recently he covered the Libyan conflict on assignment for Polka magazine.
His long-term work on malaria was exhibited in partnership with the Global Fund on the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, in London, at the European parliament in Brussels, and he published it in the book Mauvais Air. His images appear regularly in French and international press: Time, Newsweek, Le Monde, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Polka and he was Awarded once at world press photo, 3 times at Picture of the year and shortlisted in many international awards such as Anthropographia and Sony Awards.
He is represented by Panos Pictures.