Kyrgyzstan: Strike Four for “Never Again”

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 2:29 am

It's not all ethnic-- economic, political and social factors all contribute to the recent crisis in Kyrgyzstan.

My first introduction to the recent Kyrgyz conflict was the Washington Post’s Express headline on my way to work last week. Horrifying pictures, dramatic official testimony, the whole bit. It caught me somewhat off-guard, since I didn’t know much about Kyrgyzstan except sheep eyes are considered a delicacy there, and the country was formed after the breakdown of the Soviet Empire. So here’s my effort to understand Kyrgyzstan and its ongoing cultural clashes.

Some background on Kyrgyzstan the country first. Historically, the population has been nomadic in nature. Now they’re still a mostly-mountainous country with a huge agricultural sector and relatively little industry. They’ve been dominated by Russia ever since 1876. During the Russian Revolution of 1916, Kyrgyzstan lost almost 1/6th of its population during protests. The area, called the Ferghana Valley, was split years ago by Joseph Stalin into Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The country formally gained independence after the dissolving of the Soviet empire in 1991. As with most newly-free countries, they’ve had some political strife–a natural result of dealing with the establishment and operations of an independent government. During the first 15 years, the country was governed by Askar Akayev, who was ousted after protests during Spring 2005. Then came Kurmanbek Bakiev, who tried to consolidate power by dismissing media critics and ousting political opponents. After protesting his 2009 re-election, the country elected Roza Otunbayeva to power, and he’s still in office today.

So what’s up with the country right now? Turns out, along with political unrest, Kyrgyzstan has also been an

Close borders and ethnic minorities are never a good idea.

important center of weak interethnic relations. The violence began with a truly KYRGYZstan–majority of the public is Kyrgyz in origin, and Uzbeks are the minority in the country. Ethnically speaking, both are similar– both are Muslim and speak a common Turkish language. Despite these similarities, differences about. Both groups are at opposite ends of the scale economically–  the Kyrgyz are traditional nomads, while the Uzbeks are farmers. This difference has resulted in a class distinction between the groups, since Uzbeks tend to be more wealthy and successful. Therefore the Kyrgyz bitterness towards the minority. In turn, the Uzbeks have grievances against the Kyrgyz too– they are vastly underrepresented in the Kyrgyz government, despite the fact that they’re a very significant minority. [read more here and here] One can thus conclude that this conflict is unique in the sense that it was provoked by external forces, not MERELY ethnic differences. Despite this, the level of damage inflicted on Uzbeks is mind-boggling–enterprises burnt, people brutally murdered, and the sense of blind revenge are chilling, to say the least.

Throw into this midst political leanings. The Kyrgyz were very supportive of ex-President Bakiyev, who was ousted in April. But Bakiyev, for his part, has denied any and all allegations to starting or fueling a riot. Oh, and he just fled Kyrgyzstan to Belarus as an “exile”. On the other hand, the Uzbeks supported Akayev, who furthered interethnic talks through his policy of rapprochement. The Uzbeks suffered a political blow when Bakiyev came to power, since he allowed the situation to return to its default animosity. Now, with the country in flux and no unifying leader on the political scene, these groups are politically battling it out to see who gains control of the country’s future. Akayev, for one, seems to maintain that this conflict was “artificial”–created by individuals fighting for power.

Violence, health, malnutrition and sanitation are all issues of concern, especially for border refugees.

Even though the Kyrgyz are no strangers to violence (they fought over land in the 1990s and about everything else ever since), the fighting has been brutal. 176 people have been declared dead, and these are just reported numbers. Kyrgyz officials themselves admit the numbers could be much higher. The Guardian has already labelled these killings “pogroms”, in a dark reminder of the centuries of minority cleansing around the world. In addition, at least 100,000 persons have been displaced, internally and externally. Uzbekis now are responding to violence with violence– they blockaded an oil depot this morning and are threatening to blow it up if the government intervenes.

Think this doesn’t sound harsh enough? Read this excerpt from The Guardian:

It was early afternoon when the mob surged down an alley of neat rose bushes and halted outside Zarifa’s house. The Kyrgyz men broke into her courtyard and sat Zarifa down next to a cherry tree. They asked her a couple of questions. After confirming she was an ethnic Uzbek they stripped her, raped her and cut off her fingers. After that they killed her and her small son – throwing their bodies into the street. They then moved on to the next house.

Sound familiar? Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Sri Lanka… and now Kyrgyzstan. Now, how is this any different from what the Janjaweed have been doing for decades? I can’t emphasize this enough, but events like this truly expose the brutality of human nature. Exactly what right do any of these groups have to kill the other? Have we really regressed so much that we’ve decided slashing each other is a better solution than coming to a rational agreement of sorts?

The world is trying to respond, but generally speaking, the lack of initiative in the international community is

Staying out of trouble and fixing the problem are different actions, China.

disconcerting to me. While countries are doing their best to get their OWN people out of the region, they are doing nothing to fix the conflict itself. For example, China has managed to fly out 1,299 individuals from Osh, and Tajikistan is also pulling out many citizens. Granted, the UN is trying to help. They sent in a plane to Uzbekistan to help the refugees. But even then, all they’re doing is solving the refugee crisis, not the ethnic problem itself. Aid helps for a little while, but even the flow of basic needs is being obstructed due to corruption and criminal practices. Stealing supplies has become almost routine, and giving supplies to Uzbekis is generally looked down upon as well; so aid is not being distributed equally.  The rest of the world also happens to be a little slow with its response/indignance at Kyrgyzstan: The UN High Commission for Human rights announced only yesterday that the attacks were premeditated and planned out. Aid is coming in from Uzbekistan, but help is slow and very unequally distributed around the country. Russia, with the support of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, has also pledged to help with this situation. The US seems mildly concerned, but only because of its Manas air base near Bishkek, which is critical to its efforts in Afghanistan. The fact that everyone is still maintaining their own agendas in the face of conflict is one of the most frustrating things about trying to fix something like this.

Occurrences of such proportions have crucial side effects that affect other countries too. Uzbekistan, which has the world’s 81st largest GDP, has received many of the Uzbek refugees running away from this conflict. Tajikistan, another Russian satellite country, has also decided to evacuate its citizens from Kyrgyzstan and fortify borders along the North West. Problem? Kyrgyzstan has not yet ratified a 2001 agreement to define its borders with Tajikistan, which results in foreign friction. Border refugees create a whole another demographic problem–with resources steadily running out, starvation, disease and sanitation are all major issues that UN organizations are already beginning to voice concern about.

"Never Again" includes Kyrgyzstan

But I realize I sound more cynical than optimistic about this issue. There still are people trying to help this situation. The Jewish community in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek has collected “raised money to buy 30 sacks of flour and 15 sacks of rice”, according to the Jewish Times. The Special Envoys of the UN, EU and OSCE in Kyrgyzstan have already developed an Action Plan to deal with the Kyrgyzstan situation, which establishes a humanitarian corridor in the southern part of the country. So progress is still being made.

Despite these efforts, a lot more needs to be done both by regional governments and by the international community to restore peace in Kyrgyzstan. Even though organizations like Human Rights Watch are, in my humble opinion, over-characterizing this situation as “ethnic violence”, they are right in saying that more efforts need to be made to achieve the goal of restoring peace. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has already announced that “What is happening is already a tragedy and it could become a catastrophe.” So let’s all tap into that inner well of humanity and do something to help.

  1. At this rate, I’m losing hope of the words “never again”.
    Thank you for this informing post, I haven’t really heard about Kyrgyzstan until recently as well.

  2. […] the original post here: Kyrgyzstan: Strike Four for “Never Again” « Yes I Care … Share and […]

  3. Also, moderated comments are lame. Install wp-spamfree to counter the automated bots that spam comments, and then let the rest just show up live. you’ve got nothing to lose, comments are owned by their respective commenters anyway.

  4. Well written. I also like the theme you’ve got going here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: