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.