‘I made this revolution’|
In a white room in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a tattooed man from
Georgia is trembling violently. His eyes are rolled back to the
whites, his spine is arched, his arms flail in front of him as if he
is being electrocuted. Behind him stands another man, Asiatic,
completely bald, with dark piercing eyes. He shouts, almost raps,
into the convulsing Georgian’s ears, ‘Drive out the filth! You are a
strong man, charged with energy! Help yourself out of this!’ He
repeats this over and over until the Georgian has a spasm and
collapses in a trance. He is put on to a stretcher, carried out of
the room and laid in a bed with high metal sides.
The man with the dark piercing eyes is Jenishbek Nazaraliev, the
‘miracle worker’ of Bishkek, who claims to have cured more than
15,000 drug addicts from all over the world in his medical centre,
using his unique hypnotic method. He also claims to have caused the
revolution which last month swept President Askar Akayev and his
family from power in Kyrgyzstan. ‘I screwed Akayev, and I made this
revolution,’ the doctor told me proudly in Bishkek, a few days after
the fall of the government.
Roza Otunbayeva, one of the key strategists of the Kyrgyz
revolution and the new minister for foreign affairs, tells me,
‘Nazaraliev made a crucial contribution in the last few weeks.’
Ex-president Askar Akayev also says Nazaraliev played a key role in
his toppling. In a recent interview with the Russian media, Akayev
made the unusual claim that some 1,000 of the protesters who
occupied the White House — the government building — on 24 March
were addicts from Nazaraliev’s centre, sent out, he seemed to think,
like some army of zombies to bring him down.
Nazaraliev set up his four-storey medical centre in Bishkek in
1991; it is now famous throughout the drug-ridden former Soviet
Union. It relies on a combination of traditional and innovative
techniques to treat addiction. The patient is given a dose of
atropine, a drug derived from deadly nightshade that speeds up the
heart rate and can cause hallucinations. The patient is then put
through various disorientating measures until he begins to tremble
and convulse. At this point, when the patient is at his most
suggestive, Nazaraliev himself strides into the room. He circles the
patient, chanting rhythmically, urging the patient to abandon his
old bad habits and discover his inner strength. The patient falls
into a swoon, and when he wakes up a few hours later, he feels like
a new person.
Nazaraliev’s critics, who include former President Akayev, say
this is pseudo-shamanism masquerading as science. Nazaraliev himself
is comfortable with the shamanic connection. He sees himself as the
latest in the ancient Kyrgyz tradition of the ‘bakshi’ or shamanic
healer. His office seems to play on his reputation as a magus.
Strange symbols and slogans are scrawled over the walls. A large
poster of a swami with staring eyes hangs next to the desk, which is
littered with Buddhas, Hindu gods and psychedelic paintings.
Nazaraliev stands in the middle of the room, beaming. He seems to
like giving interviews — he is probably the biggest celebrity in
Kyrgyzstan and sees himself as something of a national trendsetter.
In addition to his medical centre, he owns two radio stations, a
sushi restaurant and an overpriced steak house. He has also written
a book on the global drugs trade called Fatal Poppies. He likes
handing out copies of the book. I’m given one as soon as I arrive;
President Putin was presented with no fewer than 500 copies when
Nazaraliev visited Russia a few years ago.
Nazaraliev is not shy about publicising his powers. ‘Just my
touch is worth one month in a clinic,’ he says. I ask him if his
centre is a personality cult. ‘Yes, it is!’ he beams. ‘All people
gather here to my name. The main factor in the cure is the
personality of the teacher.’ He pauses and reflects. ‘I am not like
Hitler or Napoleon, who aggressively created their own cults.
Nazaraliev just seems to be quite an interesting person for patients
and their relatives.’ So interesting that patients are prepared to
pay $4,500 for the 30-day treatment, which includes only a few
critical minutes in the presence of the master himself. ‘The key to
creating a myth is inaccessibility,’ he tells me.
Many patients and their families are so pleased with the success
of the treatment that they donate large gifts to the master — a
sports car, even a flat in Moscow. Others make donations to
Nazaraliev’s latest project to build four temples on the slope of
The doctor abruptly entered the political arena in February, on
the week of the country’s parliamentary elections, in which President
Akayev controversially put forward two of his children as parliamentary
candidates, while disqualifying leading members of the opposition
On 23 February Nazaraliev published an open letter in MSN, the
main opposition newspaper. The text was surrounded by pictures of
the doctor in the company of international dignitaries — Gorbachev,
Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama — to emphasise his international celebrity
status. In the letter Nazaraliev promised he would leave Kyrgyzstan
if Akayev’s regime remained in power, as would anyone else with
self-respect, while ‘the remaining ones will kill each other with
He accused the Akayev regime of telling lies 90 per cent of the
time, and said if his policies continued the Kyrgyz people would
become extinct. He exhorted the reader, in words reminiscent of
his hypnotic technique, to rise up and reject Akayev — ‘Remember
that you are a strong person!’ What sparked such a public attack?
Members of the Akayev government claimed he was being paid by Americans.
Others suggested his business might be coming under political pressure.
Nazaraliev himself says he merely wanted to stand up for democracy
in his country. He also seems to have had a long-running feud with
Akayev, who he says was jealous of his celebrity.
His good friend Roza Otunbayeva says, ‘I had several underground
meetings with Nazaraliev in the weeks running up to the revolution,
when we were both in hiding. He was very helpful to the opposition.
The problem was it was very difficult for us to shake up the population
throughout the country. The cultural intelligentsia all tended to
support Akayev. Nazaraliev, on the other hand, came up with some
really shocking statements. He is a fashionable figure, so he was
very influential with young people.’
Nazaraliev sent off two other epistolary broadsides following the
one that appeared on 23 February. In the first of these he declared,
‘The President of the Kyrgyz Republic and his people are in complete
shit.’ His final letter was, if anything, the wildest. Without Akayev,
it claimed, the average Kyrgyz could have ‘a good house, at least
two cars, your son could study in Moscow or abroad — in America
or Europe!’ He warned Akayev to leave power or ‘repeat the fate
Nazaraliev describes his political technique as a shamanic battle
of wills: to banish an evil sorcerer who has cast his spell over
the community. He says, ‘The main idea was to destroy the personality
of Akayev. The Kyrgyz have an irrational fear of those in power.
But he is effeminate, he’s a plaything of his family. He’s never
had an opinion of his own.’ Through his attacks, he says, he aroused
the Kyrgyz people from their servile passivity. ‘I made this chemistry.
The people of Bishkek would never have risen without Nazaraliev,
because they are all comfortable egotists. I broke their complacency,
I shocked them until they woke up.’
The day before the White House fell, Nazaraliev’s Radio Max broadcast
more than 100 announcements by the doctor, telling the people to
‘get up, stand up’ and join a protest the following day, outside
his clinic. More than 3,000 people turned up on Thursday 24 March,
in the first major demonstration in Bishkek. They were addressed
by leading members of the opposition. Then the crowd set off for
the White House, where they met thousands of other protesters from
the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.
Roza Otunbayeva says the plan was to demonstrate peacefully outside
the White House, as in Ukraine, until President Akayev gave in to
the demonstrators’ demands. However, Nazaraliev told a Russian journalist
on 24 March that the plan as he understood it was ‘to sweep away
the regime this very day’.
As the demonstrators waited outside the White House, a group of
wrestlers weighed into the crowd with clubs. Nazaraliev says, ‘I
called the chairman of the National Security Council and told him
to call off the sportsmen. I said I had 100 snipers from the Russian
mafia with their sights trained on them. I decided to scare them,
because they think I have close ties with the mafia.’
Nazaraliev mentions in his book how many of his clients are senior
figures from the criminal world. When I meet him, he is dressed
something like a mafioso, in tracksuit and baseball cap. Four heavies
in dark coats loiter in the courtyard, and there’s even a rifle
magazine lying on his desk amid the Buddhas. He explains he has
only just come out of hiding because of a government plot to kill
him, and that he has spent the last three weeks with a sub-machine
gun in his hand.
The government-hired wrestlers were easily dealt with, he says.
‘We were psychologically higher, and our spirit won.’ He also mentions
that the opposition had some wrestlers of their own, provided by
Bayarman Ekenbayev, a shadowy figure from Nazaraliev’s home town
of Osh, whose apparent political ascendancy since the revolution
has some Western ambassadors concerned.
The rapid success of the revolution has given the doctor, if anything,
an even greater estimation of his own powers. ‘I united the tribal
relations of the country,’ he says. ‘Every country needs somebody
to do this, like Joan of Arc did for France.’ So he sees himself
as Kyrgyzstan’s Joan of Arc? ‘Maybe not. She was burnt at the stake.
But who becomes the next president depends on what I say.’
However, when I call Nazaraliev a few days later to meet him again,
I am told he has gone underground, that his life is in danger. ‘He
has gone on a cruise to Turkey and Czechoslovakia,’ his assistant
says. Whom is he running from? Remnants of the Akayev regime? Jealous
competitors from the opposition? His famous mafia connections? And
how can you go on a cruise to Turkey and Czechoslovakia? Yet more
unresolved mysteries around the man, the myth, of Nazaraliev.