What of Kyrgyzstan’s Ethnic Uzbeks?

by Christian Bleuer on 4/14/2010 · 10 comments

For those of you new to this whole Kyrgyzstan thing, there was a very unfortunate episode in June 1990 in and around the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan (or rather the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic). Hundreds were killed, several times that were badly injured, women were raped, houses were burned, etc… It was one of those deadly ethnic riots, this one between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. The main issue was land redistribution, among many grievances.

So, fast forward past a lot of stuff that is actually quite important (for brevity’s sake) to right now, namely Dmitry Solovyov’s Reuters article today. He writes about an anti-Bakiev rally of mostly Uzbeks being crashed by pro-Bakiev Kyrgyz:

Impassioned supporters of ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev upstaged a rally on Wednesday by mostly ethnic Uzbek opponents in his southern power base. […] At an anti-Bakiyev rally in Jalalabad’s central square on Wednesday that had been advertised on national television, several women grabbed the microphone and shouted pro-Bakiyev slogans, denying the local Uzbek leader the chance to speak.

Support for the ethnic Kyrgyz Bakiyev is not necessarily split along ethnic lines, but the incident carried uncomfortable echoes in an area that has been a cauldron of ethnic and tribal tension in the past. […] About 2,000 ethnic Uzbeks made up the bulk of those protesting against Bakiyev. They did not resist being sidelined by the 1,000 or so Bakiyev supporters, and local Uzbek leader Kadyrzhan Batyrov, who had expected to address the crowds, left the scene quietly.

Hopefully this does not turn into a more serious ethnic political cleavage. There does not need to be two uniform opposing ethnic blocs for there to be ethnic violence, so the fact that the issue is mostly Kyrgyz vs. Kyrgyz at the moment is no guarantee that Uzbeks won’t be drawn in (or jump in). Local issues are very important and it is hard to say how things are being interpreted down south amongst the various communities (harder even for me, ethnic Uzbeks in Krgyzstan were dropped from my research a few years back and I’ve never been to Osh or Jalalabad).

What would make things worse, and make them worse quickly is if any Uzbeks try to use the recent events as an opportunity to grab any economic assets, positions of power or land from Kyrgyz, or if Bakiev or any of his supporters identify ethnic Uzbeks as one of the “enemies,” particularly the “near enemy.” So keep your eyes on the rhetoric/action down south. In 1990 the violence ended when Soviet soldiers arrived in force. Who will come in any worst case scenario now? Perhaps all the training at those SCO and CSTO exercises can be put to use?

Anyways, I hope what Solovyov described is not as bad as it sounds, and that this will all blow over.

*Apologies for quality of writing/analysis. I wrote this very quickly as soon as I saw the news story. And, like I said above, this is not exactly familiar territory for me.


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{ 9 comments }

Grant April 14, 2010 at 10:56 am

I had thought that the Uzbeks living there had been pretty much marginalized since the 90s.

michaelhancock April 14, 2010 at 11:47 am

Your fear is certainly well grounded. Makes me think of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, particularly where the character learns about human nature by watching a cage full of monkeys. The biggest monkey thumps the next smallest monkey and steals his food. That monkey in turns whomps on the next smallest, and so on, and so forth. In other words, the Uzbeks might become targets of the Kyrgyz because “shit rolls down hill.” However, the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are no shrinking violets, so any violence begun by Kyrgyz projecting their tensions to their closer neighbors will likely be returned…
And what if Karimov moves forces over the border to protect his ethnic countrymen? [Don’t you love playing What If?]

Christian Bleuer April 14, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Karimov’s relations with ethnic Uzbeks outside of Uzbekistan has only been to use them for his own purposes. And usually only individuals rather than communities. He has later dumped/ignored them. Or completely ignored them even when they could have used the help (i.e., in Turkmenistan). I believe he specifically told ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgzstan that they should take their concerns elsewhere (when some appealed to him in the 90s), i.e., to Bishkek.

davejon April 15, 2010 at 8:36 am

i think ethnic uzbeks also understand the problem, and they have asked Bakiev to resign through negotiations with the interim government. at this time, it looks like uzbeks have not entered into the dispute, and see it as kyrgyz vs. kyrgyz issue, which does not mean of course that they are supporting bakiev. Dmitriy Solovyov’s arguement sounds more like a wishful thinking at this current time.

brent April 15, 2010 at 10:00 am

I have been talking to some of my ethnic Uzbek contacts in Osh and Jalalabad and most of what I have heard from them supports Davejon’s comments. Of course, it is a very tense situation and could change quickly. But the article seems to playing up the current ethnic tensions a bit too much.

brent April 15, 2010 at 10:31 am

Let me just add that Batyrov is a pretty savvy guy and I wouldn’t expect him to do anything that could jeopardize his future ability to conduct his businesses. So I’d predict that fence-sitting will be the preferable option for the time being.

Metin April 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Uzbeks living there had been pretty much marginalized since the 90s

though country was hailed as a model of democracy for the rest of Central Asia…

michaelhancock April 15, 2010 at 1:12 pm

@Metin – I’m not sure if anyone writing/reading here ever believed that particular piece of propaganda. Kyrgyzstan was no different, or at least no more democratic, than any other Central Asian government – though Akaev lent an air of class/academia to the top position at the beginning. It was their particular situation that promoted that definition: one part pandering to US government aid and NGOs, one part pandering to the nascent tourism trade that has yet to take off, and one part remaining relatively untouched by the Tajik Civil War, thus looking good by comparison.

Who even knows anymore what’s going to happen there. One thing is for sure — it doesn’t look to become “Afghanistan No. 2” any time soon, no matter what Medvedev says.

Metin April 15, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Medvedev seem to have meant under “Afghanistan No.2” failed state. He is right in this sense. If new government (whose legitimacy is questionable) fails to solve problems it protested against we might witness another ‘revolution’. Poorly ruled country might attract some extremists who might wish to make another 9/11.

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