Sooronbay Sharipovich Jeenbekov (Kyrgyz: Сооронбай Шарипович (Шарип уулу) Жээнбеков, Sooronbay Şaripoviç (Şarip uulu) Jeenbekov [soːrɔnˈbɑj ʃɑˈripɐvit͡ʃ d͡ʒeːnˈbɛkəf] or Sooronbay Zheenbekov; born 16 November 1958) is a Kyrgyz politician who served as President of Kyrgyzstan from 2017 to 2020, until his resignation following a week of protests. He was also the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan from April 2016 to August 2017.
Early life and education
Jeenbekov was born in Biy-Myrza, Osh Region on 16 November 1958. His father, Sharif, was a collective farm (kolkhoz) manager while his mother was a housewife. His grandfather, Jeenbek Pirnazarov, was a Red Army soldier who served during the Great Patriotic War and was labelled as missing in action. Jeenbekov is one of nine siblings in his family, being the third eldest child. Jeenbekov attended the Kyrgyz Academy of Agriculture, graduating with a degree in zoological engineering. In 2003, he completed further studies, graduating in accounting from the Kyrgyz National Agrarian University.
Jeenbekov started his career at the Lenin School in the Uzgen District, where he worked as a teacher at 18 and taught Russian and literature. In 1983, he became the chief livestock specialist of the Soviet farm in the Soviet district of Osh region and continued to work in the position for five years. In November 1988, he managed to obtain a job as an instructor in the district committee of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan in the Soviet district of the Osh region. After a few years, he became the director of the party committee.
After entering politics, in 1993, Jeenbekov was elected chairman of the Kashka-Zhol collective farm in Kara-Kulja District. He became a Deputy of the Assembly of People's Representatives in 1995. In 2007, he became the Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and the Processing Industry. In 2010, he served as the Governor of the Osh region, and in 2015, he was appointed as Director of the State Personnel Service. In March 2016, he was appointed as First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, before his appointment as Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan.
2017 Kyrgyz presidential election
Jeenbekov resigned from the post of Prime Minister on 21 August 2017, after being named as an official candidate in the 2017 presidential election. He stated that he "[wanted] to be in an equal position with other presidential candidates."
The election was held on 15 October 2017. Kyrgyzstan's central election commission reported a total of almost 1.7 million votes cast, of which Jeenbekov won 54.74 percent. Jeenbekov's election marks the first democratic transfer of power in a Kyrgyz election. Azay Guliyev confirmed the election to be one of the few peaceful elections in Kyrgyzstan's history.
Jeenbekov was inaugurated as president on 24 November 2017 in a ceremony that took place in the Enesay reception house of the Ala Archa State Residence. His first presidential decree in office was made to confer the title of Hero of the Kyrgyz Republic to former president Atambayev. Just days into his presidency, Jeenbekov changed the time of his departure to the White House to early in the morning to avoid Bishkek traffic, a move which was praised by many Bishkek residents. He conducted his first foreign visit after assuming the presidency was to Russia where he met with Vladimir Putin. Early into his presidency, he has been accused of undermining the country's democracy by suppressing opposition politicians and journalists. On 19 April 2018, Jeenbekov fired his Prime Minister Sapar Isakov and the government following a vote of no confidence from Kyrgyzstan's parliament.
In an address to journalists in May 2018, Jeenbekov promised to fight against tribalism being imposed on the country saying that "We will take measures against those, who impose a "north-south" issue in the society."
Jeenbekov opened the Central Mosque of Imam Sarakhsi, which is the largest mosque in Central Asia, with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit to Bishkek in early September 2018. During his visit, Erdoğan pressured Jeenbekov to take the appropriate measures to deal with Turkish Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen.
Jeenbekov opened the 2018 World Nomad Games in Cholpon-Ata on 3 September 2018, marking the first major international event that Jeenbekov has hosted in Kyrgyzstan. Receiving Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Cholpon-Ata State Residence the next day, Jeenbekov thanked the prime minister for becoming the first Hungarian leader to visit the country since its independence. In April 2019, Jeenbekov received Valentina Shevchenko (a professional Kyrgyz–Peruvian mixed martial artist fighter) during her tour of her native Kyrgyzstan, her first visit in seven years. Jeenbekov praised Shevchenko's role in her profession, even going as far as to say that she "defended the honour of our Kyrgyzstan". On 4 May he ordered that all mining of uranium in the country will be banned.
Jeenbekov's foreign policy has been described as much more balanced that his predecessors. In his inaugural remarks, he vowed to make the Kremlin the country's "main strategic partner" as well as signaled that he will seek more collaborative bilateral ties with China and the European Union. He is noted for repairing relations with neighboring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, following an improvement in ties under Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who took power the year before Jeenbekov, and a diplomatic crisis after Jeenbekov's predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev accused Kazakhstan of election interference and called the Kazakh government under President Nursultan Nazarbayev a "dictatorship". All of this is reflected in the international working and state visits which he makes often, with Jeenbekov visiting Russia and Kazakhstan the most since 28 November 2017.
In an address to the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan in late June 2018, he outlined and made clear that his country will pursue and develop multilateral relations with Turkey, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and the Arab world by the end of his term in 2023. In his first year in office, President Jeenbekov participated in 30 international meetings, where 77 bilateral agreements and 414 multilateral documents were signed. Also during his first year, Kyrgyzstan established diplomatic relations with four foreign countries. In March 2019, Jeenbekov made his remarks during a meeting with the heads of diplomatic missions of Kyrgyzstan that his country had plans to step up work on development of bilateral co-operation with the United States and United Kingdom. The draft of a new co-operation agreement with the United States is currently being reconciled.
During Vladimir Putin's state visit to Bishkek in March 2019, he ordered that a new marble pavilion be created outside the Ala Archa State Residence to provide a sound place for the National Guard to render honors. Since then, he has received Xi Jinping, Khaltmaagiin Battulga, Narendra Modi at the new area. Jeenbekov attended the latter's second swearing-in ceremony in late May in his first visit to the Indian sub-continent.
State visits hosted by Jeenbekov
In June 2020, Jeenbekov went into quarantine after returning from a cut-short visit to Moscow after two of his staffers tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic in Kyrgyzstan. He was due to attend the 2020 Moscow Victory Day Parade. He declared 30 July as a Day of National Mourning. That day, he took part in an Islamic religious ceremony to honour those who lost their lives from the pandemic, saying "Let the souls of our deceased compatriots rest in peace, may their souls be in heaven".
Relationship with Atambayev
Since Jeenbekov took power in November 2017, he has had what can only be described as a contentious relationship with his predecessor and former ally, Almazbek Atambayev. In the early months of his presidency, he used his position to praise Atambayev's work, even going as far giving him the title of "Hero of the Kyrgyz Republic", which is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a citizen of Kyrgyzstan. Atambayev strongly backed Jeenbekov during the 2017 election against his opponent Ömürbek Babanov, even referring to himself as an “older brother” to Jeenbekov. As he continued serving as president, a rift grew between the two as Atambayev later became more involved in politics in the 6 months post his presidency, eventually rising to the Chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, of which Jeenbekov is a member. In Atambayev's remarks following his assumption to the post, he criticized Jeenbekov for his handling of the Bishkek power plant failure earlier that, as well as rebuked him for not taking steps to force his brother to resign from parliament. In early April 2018, Jeenbekov dismissed two high-ranking officials in the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) who are considered to be close to Atambayev. The move was seen as an apparent jab at Atambayev and his former government. In an interview on his 60th birthday later in the year, Jeenbekov accused Atambayev of indirectly and directly trying to influence him and his presidency, saying the following to the 24 Kyrgyzstan news agency:
He later denied that he was fighting with Atambayev, saying at a press conference in December 2018 that his major goal was to do "nothing but to work day and night" while saying that he does "not consider anyone a rival". Due to the failed attempt by SOBR Units to arrest Atambayev at his residence in Koy-Tash on 7 August, which resulted in the death of one soldier, Jeenbekov came back from his vacation and called a meeting of the Security Council, in which Jeenbekov accused Atambayev of "rudely violating the constitution".
The relationship between the two and their supporters eventually became so strained that the SDPK suffered splits in 2019, and the majority of each faction formed their own parties to run in the October 2020 Kyrgyz parliamentary election. The SDPK did not run any candidates.
Following the October 2020 parliamentary election, protests broke out throughout the country, with many demanding his resignation. Earlier that August, he indicated that the elections could not be postponed in spite the coronavirus pandemic. During the elections, several parties close to Jeenbekov were accused of buying votes. Out of the parties that made it into parliament, only the United Kyrgyzstan party opposes the Jeenbekov government. On early Tuesday morning of 6 October, protesters claimed control over Ala-Too Square in central Bishkek and also managed to seize the White House and Supreme Council buildings, entering the President's offices and destroying portraits of Jeenbekov. On 6 October, following the protests, the Central Election Commission annulled the results of the parliamentary elections. Jeenbekov claimed that he faced a coup d'état, and then he told the BBC that he was "ready to give the responsibility to strong leaders". On 8 October, it was announced that his whereabouts were unknown, with the Interior Ministry saying that it is not engaged in searching for him. Meanwhile, opposition parliamentarians launched impeachment procedures against him that day.
In an address published on the presidential website on 8 October, Jeenbekov declared: "After legitimate executive authorities have been approved and we are back on the path of lawfulness, I am ready to leave the post of President of the Kyrgyz Republic". Later that day however, despite all indications of the opposite, Jeenbekov declared a state of emergency in Bishkek and ordered the deployment of the Kyrgyz Army to the streets. He charged General Taalaibek Omuraliev as Chief of the General Staff to lead the response, replacing General Rayimberdi Duishenbiev. He also sacked Omurbek Suvanaliyev, who served as the national security chief.
Jeenbekov resigned on 15 October 2020. He stated as his official reason staying not being "worth the integrity of our country and agreement in society”. He also called "on Japarov and the other politicians to withdraw their supporters out of the capital of the nation and to return the people of Bishkek to peaceful lives".
The day after his resignation, Japarov signed an order that provided Jeenbekov with the status of ex-president, which carries the privileges of access to a lifetime of personal security, a right to reside in the main government residence, a service car, and a free medical service. His next major appearance was alonside the Kyrgyz leadership at Ata-Beyit during a ceremony on the Days of History and Commemoration of Ancestors.
His wife, Aigul Jeenbekova (née Tokoeva), has been married to Jeenbekov since 1988. Together, they have 2 children, with their eldest daughter, Baktygul, being married and a graduate from the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University. Their younger child is a son named Iman. Jeenbekov's younger brother, Asylbek Jeenbekov, is also a politician, while his other brother, Zhusupbek Sharipov, is a former governor from Jalal-Abad and the current ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to Ukraine. Another brother of his, Kantoro Toktomamatov (born in 1947), who formerly served as rector of the University of Economy and Enterprise, died in April 2017. Aside from his native Kyrgyz, Jeenbekov is also fluent in Russian.