Kyrgyzstan Violence: Conspiracies Abound

by Christian Bleuer on 6/14/2010 · 51 comments

Some random, hastily collected thoughts as a study break: Who is to blame? Who is doing the killing? Why?

These questions have been asked over and over again in regards to short episodes of violence in Central Asia since 1986, starting with the Almaty “Kunaev” riots. Other examples of violent riots/pogroms include the May 1989 attacks on Armenians in Turkmenistan, the 1989 Uzbek pogroms against Meskhets in the Ferghana valley, summer 1989 fighting between Tajiks and Kyrgyz in Isfara, the February 1990 riots in Dushanbe that left 50 dead (half of them non-Tajiks – including Slavs), summer 1990 in Osh as Uzbeks and Kyrgyz killed each other, May-September 1992 in the collective farms of the Vakhsh valley, etc….

Patterns emerge in assigning blame. And the ongoing violence in southern Kyrgyzstan is no exception. I’ve seen the discussions blaming criminal groups and Bakiev, for example (as well as all those tweets in English and Russian). And God knows there have been some not-so-insignificant issues with mafia bosses dying recently.

But I am skeptical (especially regarding the scale and share of the blame assigned). There is an oft-repeated tendency to blame criminal groups for carrying out the violent attacks and to blame politicians and/or deposed leaders for the manipulation of these groups. Basically, blaming criminal groups and power figures absolves the teenagers and young men from the neighborhood. Certainly they would not rape, steal, mutilate and kill? Must be criminals, right? Wrong. Regular people kill. Criminals kill. And they can be killing at the same time. People have been murdered by their neighbors all over the world at various times throughout history.

Osh and the rest of southern Kyrgyzstan is no exception here. The violence in Dushanbe in 1990 is in many sources blamed on Yaqub Salimov (a convicted racketeer/tolkach), nationalist opposition groups, and/or “out-of-towners” from Hisor. This is so much more satisfying than admitting that regular young men from Dushanbe set out with friends to beat and murder Russians.

A quick look at one article from the widely read Ferghana.ru:

Ruthless, cynical criminals that called themselves “Uzbek” went on demolishing the houses of ethnic Kyrgyz, setting on fire the “Kyrgyz” shops, insulting and beating elderly and children. And then pretending to be “Kyrgyz” the same bandits went on demolishing “Uzbek” cafes and markets, shops and cultural centres, automobiles and private housing.

The violent provocation reached its aim: the streets and mahallas were struck by a chain reaction, eye for an eye, blood for blood.

This is as ridiculous as the time that Russian paratroopers were blamed for killing a mahalla full of Urgutis while disguised as Tajiks (rather, the Russian-led forces saved what what remained of them).

So now can you see it? Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are not killing each other, rather “bandits” are killing Uzbeks and Kyrgyz as agents provocateurs in part of some elaborate, finely executed conspiracy. This is, of course, BS. Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were completely capable of being killed by each other without the aid of criminals and bandits in 1990, and they still are now. For example, read Valery Tishkov’s article “`Don’t Kill Me, I’m a Kyrgyz!’: An Anthropological Analysis of Violence in the Osh Ethnic Conflict.” To put too much stress on criminal groups is to avoid, or lead the reader to miss, a discussion of ongoing tensions and conflicts in the community, whether they be based on elite-level politics, resentment over another group’s perceived economoic or political success, or the competition for land, water and a good spot in the bazaar (all of which are contentious at the ethnic level in Osh), or the meeting of these levels of competition in mutually beneficial mobilization.

Politicians and opposition leaders especially love the criminal version, as they can portray their opposing rivals as criminal leaders, or the tools/masters of criminals. But what was/is always needed in the Soviet Union and its successor states is the idea of a master manipulator. The same source asks:

A day after the beginning of the tragedy I have no doubts that what is happening in Kyrgyzstan is not the infamous “ethnic conflict”, nor is it a territorial community war (i.e., for water, land, working places, political power, etc).

Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that are killing each other on the streets of Osh and Jalalabat, are not shedding their blood in the honour of their nations nor for the sake of some high ideals of justice. They are random victims, martyrs, puppets in the hands of a cynical and violent Khan, who was ousted from his throne, cornered away and is now full of revenge.

This Khan is the former president the Kyrgyz Republic Kurmanbek Bakiev. His wallet is his son Maxim. His loyal gangsters are his brothers Janysh, Ahmat, Kanybek… The smaller ranked servants that keep loyalties are the former bureaucrats who are tied to the Khan by killings, narcotics trade, raiding of businesses and torture, by their entire corrupt past, by their entire rotten core.

And on Al Jazeera these comments were made:

Michael Andersen, a Danish film maker who has been living in Osh, said “it’s very likely that Bakiyev and his cronies are behind this”.

“I lived in Osh for several years and when you live there, you don’t feel any everyday tension between Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is clearly something that is constructed and provoked by some third party.”

Well, an anthropologist who also lived in Osh for three years disagrees with the point about the lack of “tension.”

It sounds simple enough, apologize for the obvious violence committed by regular people and toss the blame onto a third party. This is as predictable as a clock. There is a tendency to connect localized mobilization (particularly of the violent variety) to an easily identifiable talisman figure. I get it, Bakiev was a corrupt, oppressive ruler and a general bad guy. But I don’t assign him and his people super-mobilization powers. Something similar happened in Tajikistan as the two sides pined for the blood of Qozi Turajonzoda and President Nabiev when the violence was being conducted completely independently of them by Nuri’s network and by Bobo Sangak’s people, and again beyond these guys by completely independent locals. But few knew who these people were at the time (summer 1992), and it was easier to attack well-known figures.

In the case of Bakiev, if he is pulling the strings, why didn’t/couldn’t he do it earlier? Like when he was actually there in the south and not in Belarus. People like this always try to “stoke” conflict and mobilize a large number of supporters in a bid to scratch and claw their way back to power, but they rarely succeed. Maybe Bakiev woke up from his afternoon nap in Belarus, saw the news and said “What a surprise!” or maybe he woke up and said “Bwahaha! Exactly according to my diabolical plan!” or maybe he woke up and said “I’ve been trying to stoke conflict in the south for the last few weeks, and I guess something is happening, but I’m not too sure what exactly it is.” Bakiev, predictable, calls all accusations against him “shameless lies.”

But, that being said, Bakiev’s patronage network (in all its possible vertical and horizontal manifestations) could very well be responsible for the initiation of violence, I just doubt that it is fully or even mostly sustaining the continuation of violence at this exact moment (of course they could attempt to become the ‘sustainer’). These things do acquire independent momentum. Related to this, Nathan mentioned “violence specialists,” a term used by Idil Tuncer Kilavuz in her article: “The Role of Networks in Tajikistan’s Civil War: Network Activation and Violence Specialists.” This would apply to local figures who carry out violence on behalf of patrons/partners when political wrangling fails.

However, the formula of “Bad guy gives order to foot soldiers to let loose the dogs of war” oversimplifies the initiation of violent conflict. Other riots in Central Asia have started under various circumstances: a fight between two vendors of different ethnicities in a bazaar, a group of drunk soldiers being confronted by local men for harassing the local women, a peaceful political rally that escalates out of the control of the rally leaders, a clumsy attempt by the state to arrest/remove local power figures, control over an irrigation canal, etc.. And we have the violence of Osh in 1990 as a decent comparison study. Now, in all the cases it is totally plausible for criminals, the state, some opposition figure or deposed leader to attempt to take advantage of the situation without actually initiating it. It is as equally possible for those people to initiate the violence and then have it become far larger than their network as the violence expands and be far beyond their control.

Often, the issue of drugs and alcohol are brought up. Literally every single time. And that’s fair enough, as some participants do get drunk. Sometimes it’s a little silly, as when in 1990 the Kyrgyz Interior Minister said that stores in Osh had increased their stocks of vodka in anticipation of the violence. Or in Parkent the same year where the police chief blamed drug addicts for violence (as if Parkent was overrun by drug addicts in 1990). Or when the Russian media and Soviet leadership blamed local officials for liquoring up local youths during the anti-Meskhet pogroms. But occasionally there is some reasonable analysis, such as Tishkov’s article above. Not surprising that during extended violence and looting young men will get drunk (sometimes as a coping mechanism to deal with the appalling violence they’ve committed, for bravery, or out of boredom during the down-time – as per usual). For something recent, check out Ilya Varlamov’s article on his experience hanging out with drunk young Kyrgyz men in Bishkek.

At times the violence results from local and/or national power figures mobilizing and transporting their supporters to certain locations, and sometimes conflict breaks out at unpredictable times during normal, everyday interactions. Sometimes criminals are involved, sometimes not. But usually, regular people do horrific things to other regular people. Sometimes, academics and journalists want to believe the best about the people without power, and will attempt to shift the blame to criminals and politicians, thereby absolving the little guy who uses the situation as an occasion to loot, rape and kill (sometimes even denying steadfastly that, just possibly, in this one case ethnicity may be the overriding consideration). And usually, politicians will blame anybody but themselves and will continue to avoid addressing the structure of the political/social environment that allows for such violence to erupt so quickly and with such ferocity.

As for the flow of information, to say that there is a vacuum being filled by rumors is putting it quite mildly. Everything is ‘Eto fakt!’ at the moment.

Some recommendations for further reading from the English-language literature, but not necessarily strong endorsements:

Valery Tishkov, ‘`Don’t Kill Me, I’m a Kyrgyz!’: An Anthropological Analysis of Violence in the Osh Ethnic Conflict’, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 32, No. 2 (1995).

John Schoeberlein-Engel, ‘Conflict in Tajikistan and Central Asia: The Myth of Ethnic Animosity’, Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1994).

Yaacov Roi, ‘Central Asian Riots and Disturbances, 1989-1990: Causes and Context’, Central Asian Survey, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1991).

I’m sure there will be some decent analysis of the current events in about 4-5 years (I’m serious with this time frame). Breaking news-style analysis from Central Asia has never been worth much.

Pre-emptive strike: I’m not saying that this situation is all Kyrgyz against all Uzbeks. Neither am I saying that this is the latest in some eternal Uzbek-Kyrgyz struggle. And I’m not denying that there may be some Kyrgyz on Kyrgyz violence occurring. Nor am I absolving the powerful people or criminal groups of blame. What I am saying is that the people without power sometimes make their own decisions – out of fear, hatred or material benefit – to kill their neighbors based on their ethnicity, a concept that they can, in many places, consider quite important.

Also, southern Kyrgyzstan is not my area of research, so the usual caveats apply.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 22 posts on Registan.net.

I am currently a PhD candidate at the Australian National University.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use

{ 51 comments }

Sarah June 14, 2010 at 11:22 am

Christian, I think the reason so many people are asking whether criminals or Bakiev’s goons were responsible for instigating the riots is that the level of violence is unprecedented and shocking — particularly to those who have spent time living in and studying southern Kyrgyzstan. In fact, I would venture that the more someone knows about southern Kyrgyzstan, the more shocked they are by what happened. I’ve talked to several scholars who have spent a considerable amount of time there, many of whom interviewed locals about ethnic relations as recently as a year ago, and none of them saw this coming. If you read Kyrgyz message boards and commentary from Kyrgyzstanis, none of them saw this coming. And it is safe to say that the Uzbeks in Osh did not see this coming either. There is an enormous difference between ethnic tension and the translation of that tension into brutal violence. Everyone is trying to figure out what the tipping point was. Given the events of the last few months, it is natural to look to criminal and political groups as possible instigators.

I just read a Guardian editorial that begins, “‘We have been here before.’ That just about sums up the Central Asia watchers’ overall view of the latest upheaval in Kyrgyzstan.” Actually, I think this is the exact opposite of the average Central Asia observer’s view of Kyrgyzstan. I don’t think we have seen anything like this before, and it certainly wasn’t expected. The fact that riots erupted in 1990 is notable not because it is part of a pattern of violence, but because for the next twenty years Uzbeks and Kyrgyz people managed to live amongst each other in relative peace. Ethnic violence is rare in Central Asia – it is notable that all but one of the examples that you gave are over twenty years old and come from the late Soviet era. This is not the latest chapter in an old story. This is something new.

I do think you raise an important point though about the agency of the participants. I think it is possible to speculate that criminal elements may have instigated the violence without absolving the participants – the looters, murderers, rapists and rioters of Osh — from blame. Regardless what external pressures were at work, a great number of young men committed atrocious crimes on their own volition. There may be an explanation, but there is no excuse.

Christian Bleuer June 14, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Sarah, I guess I have read enough case studies on ethnic violence (including Osh in 1990) that I am no longer surprised at acts of violence in areas that were supposedly OK. And I’m no longer surprised when areas where tension stay peaceful. And all sorts of cases in between. As for experts, they have never been able to predict anything about human events.

I do agree that this is “something new,” as all the cases I listed do belong together in their own category.

Brent Hierman June 15, 2010 at 12:57 am

Christian, first off, I agree that “ordinary people” can commit all sorts of horrible acts for a wide variety of motives. I also agree that it is good to be skeptical given the information flow constraints of this situation; however, I wonder if you have gone a bit too far.
One common trait in the literature on ethnic riots (and I agree that this is clearly “ethnic”) in a diverse set of contexts from Nigeria to India to Central Asia is that local governing institutions play a major role in shaping the level and type of violence that is experienced (this can be through implicit actions- if a local official does not step in and condemn violence, it can be interpreted as a winking acceptance of it). Of course, the issue in southern Kyrgyzstan is that since April it has been unclear who is in charge. Personally, I find the distinction between mafia networks and the networks of supposedly legitimate politicians nearly impossible to make given the dynamics of southern Kyrgyzstan- but it seems clear that different prominent individuals (some of whom have been called mafia bosses) have been vying for power. It also seems clear that some of these individuals have condoned the violence, even if they have not actively promoted it (I suspect that they have done both).
I am one of those that has studied ethnic relations in the south and am very much shocked by the level of violence. That is not to say that there was not tension in (some parts) of southern Kyrgyzstan. A few years ago, I was doing field work in Osh when a drunken fight between Kyrgyz and Uzbek youth threatened to escalate into something destabilizing. This was not primarily because of deeply held stereotypes each group has of the other (which they have) or perceptions of discrimination (which are held) but because the son of a prominent member of the city’s police force (which are perceived to be primarily Kyrgyz) was involved and as a result, the police were actively harassing ethnic Uzbeks in the Turan neighborhood of Osh. Many residents told me that they feared that it would escalate into “another 1990.”
Thankfully, a few years ago, pressure from above forced the police to cease these actions a week later. Tragically, it seems that now either there is no local authority/network that is able to exert its will, or more plausibly, there is no local network that is willing to. And this is why I am shocked.

Christian Bleuer June 15, 2010 at 1:36 am

Brent,

Sure, I agree that local government institutions “local governing institutions play a major role in shaping the level and type of violence that is experienced.” That’s why I left open the possibility that local power elites (of all stripes) could have initiated the violence (maybe) or jumped on the bandwagon to take advantage of it (probably).

As far as me “going too far” with my analysis, I dunno. I re-read my post and I can’t quite clearly understand what I wrote last night. The post is a mess.

Randy McDonald June 15, 2010 at 10:02 am

“I also agree that it is good to be skeptical given the information flow constraints of this situation; however, I wonder if you have gone a bit too far.”

How so?

Criminal networks and political authorities probably did play a major role in the background of these events. Their efforts would have come to naught if not for the willingness of ordinary people to see those networks and those authorities as legitimate ones.

Brent Hierman June 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

Christian,

Fair enough. It is quite possible we are not disagreeing at all.

Randy,

Okay, but I am not certain what the term “legitimate” serves here. If you mean that these networks/authorities are important because they have the ability to influence the distribution of goods and information (think of the role of rumors) then sure, I agree.

Randy McDonald June 16, 2010 at 1:21 am

I also called these “legitimate” because they’re recognized by ordinary people as organizations and individuals worth following, regardless what these organizations and individuals want them to do. They’ve chosen to live up to their end of the social contract.

mark June 15, 2010 at 4:12 am

“I’ve talked to several scholars who have spent a considerable amount of time there, many of whom interviewed locals about ethnic relations as recently as a year ago, and none of them saw this coming.”

Reminds of this quote:

“Only a great fool would call the new political science diabolical…nevertheless one may say of it that it fiddles while Rome burns.” – Leo Strauss

sorry couldn’t resist taking a pot shot at the social sciences :)

Sarah June 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Normally I applaud pot-shots at the social sciences, but in this case, I think people who live in the region were just as shocked as the social scientists who study it. The only people who seem unfazed are a few moronic journalists.

Metin June 16, 2010 at 2:10 am

what is ‘moronic’ in that article??

Matthew Doye June 14, 2010 at 11:48 am

One doesn’t have to look very far for examples of how easily inter communal violence can be touched off and spread. The all too recent history of Northern Ireland shows how small an not so small events can trigger social wildfires that are difficult to bring under control. The key to preventing such outbreaks is in addressing the underlying structural difficulties and social inequalities that get ignored during calmer times.

On reflection it seems almost inevitable that tensions kept repressed by more autocratic rule would erupt once that heavy weight was lifted. Perhaps, in the future, we can learn to support new regimes a little better in identifying and addressing such issues.

Nathan June 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm

On reflection it seems almost inevitable that tensions kept repressed by more autocratic rule would erupt once that heavy weight was lifted.

By what mechanism? Why didn’t it happen continuously prior to Bakiev’s rule and immediately after his fall if the only conditions necessary are tensions and the lack of autocratic rule?

Nathan June 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm

What Sarah said, especially regarding instigation.

I think that what I and probably a lot of other Central Asia watchers may have missed or not taken seriously enough over the last decade is the strength and role of organized crime in Kyrgyzstan. I think we’ve seen it play a big role in April and May disturbances post-April 7 in southern Kyrgyzstan as the change in the balance of power has led to competition over political and economic resources.

Sean June 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Regarding the point about assigning blame:

Does deflecting responsibility for communal violence away from one’s neighbors serve any useful purpose of de-escalating tensions and allowing people to return to coexistence? Or does this denial just allow grievances to accumulate and misdirects efforts to prevent future conflict?

Reader June 14, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Christian and Nathan, why can’t you both be right!? A match lit on the dirt will burn itself out but in a field of hay…

Khamidov at Eurasianet (let’s hope for his safety) lays out the background on level of ethnic tension rising after Bakiev dismantled the People’s Assembly (this makes Christian’s point), so only a criminal gang was needed to start the violence (this makes Nathan’s point) that was so ready to happen. There is no hard evidence yet, but it sure looks that way.

A Peace Corps Volunteer who got rescued from Osh writes a horrifying personal account and blames the Kyrgyz including its military.

To all those people defending Kyrgyzstan’s island of democracy status (where are you Phoenix) this is the kind of thing I have always dreaded.

Michael Hancock June 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Can we get a link to that Volunteer account? Is it cached somewhere? The Volunteer account of Andijan was similarly difficult to find after-the-fact.

Reader June 14, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Michael, what’s your e-mail address, I’ll e-mail it to you, provided you keep my identity confidential.

Michael Hancock June 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Miflhanc (at) indiana (dot) edu

Reader June 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

deleted at request of author — Nathan

other reader June 14, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Other reader,

good analogy with the match. While there might be some sort of cynical or political instigation at the heart of this, hatreds and violence don’t just spring up from nowhere. There has to be some sort of organizing narrative for people to frame their actions. Communal violence isn’t a chaotic undertaking, even if there aren’t clearly defined goals. Uzbek vs. Kyrgyz, Shia vs. Sunni, Serb vs. Muslim, Ulster Catholic vs. Protestant, Hutu vs. Tutsi are all examples of political players using historical grievances, ancient and modern, to justify violence that would not have existed without a real, i.e. economic impetus. I’m sort of channeling Chris Hedges on Yugoslavia here. My questions are, what is the real (not doctored) unemployment rate in Kyrgyzstan and how has the recent global economic downturn affected Kyrgyzstan?

Phoenix June 14, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Reader,
I’m right here, sir. The events in Osh have no relation to our debate. You and I debated whether the Uzbeks would turn to violent religious extremism under a more liberal regime. You insisted they would. Didn’t provide any coherent argument. I cited the Kyrgyzstan’s part of the Ferghana valley. The Uzbeks there haven’t become violent religous extremists. Now you claim the events in Osh support your argument? How?! Sir, I suggest you go back, improve your memory and sharpen your analytical skills. I shall be happy to debate you then. Also, let’s not go off topic on this thread. Open a separate, dedicated article if you wish to continue our debate. Yours truly.

Reader June 14, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Phoenix, this is what you get with liberal democracy in Central Asia at this point in their development stage. Do you call mass-murder a kind of weekend activity? In my opinion it is extremism, just of a different kind, not religious but ethnic extremism. These exist in underdeveloped nations and changing them into liberal democracies overnight, will result in exactly what you see today. I hope you are not defending ethnic extremism as not dangerous to stability.

Phoenix June 14, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Reader,
As I’ve said, let’s not go off-topic here. Start a separate article. Just copy and paste your text in a separate article.

You remind of Soviet propagandists of the the past. Heavy on emotional charges, light on facts.

Just to help you with your memory. You are a self-confessed fan of thinking in degrees. A gradualist. Well, note my words: “a more liberal regime.” I didn’t say a fully-fledged democracy. We were discussing Uzbekistan, just to remind you. In Central Asia, only Turkmenistan is less liberal than Uzbekistan. All others are *more* liberal.

My friend, try to sedate your “either-or” attitude, learn facts, improve your memory. Leave your Pravda/Fox News rhetorical tricks at home. Then start a separate article. I shall be happy to debate you then. And so that you don’t get off the emotional rails, please note that I haven’t said a word about the Osh events.

Reader June 14, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Thank you for seeing the light and becoming a gradualist. I will ignore your personal attacks. I need the rest of my day now.

Metin June 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Lets face it – Kyrgyzstan never ever was ‘island of democracy’. Those who chanted about Kyrgyz democracy turned blind eye to Kyrgyz nationalism and every day discrimination of ethnic minorities, particularly Uzbeks. Now, they have nothing left but to modify their assessment and accept that their ‘expert’ assessments on the country were flawed. Hopefully, this will be a good lesson to learn from for all.

Phoenix June 14, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Metin,
We can also debate this on a separate thread. But let me assure you: nobody is modifying their opinions. Get some sleep. You’ve been commenting into the wee hours your time for months now. Don’t risk your day job just to practice English and improve critical skills.

Looks like, opinions of experts who are not averse to facts are converging:

Kyrgyz Tensions Rooted in Class, Not Ethnicity, Experts Say
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/world/asia/15ethnic.html

And for Metin and Reader, a Xinhua report:
Kyrgyzstan’s unrest exposes heavy political jockeying
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-06/15/c_13350401.htm

Metin June 15, 2010 at 12:18 am

Pheonix,
you tend to get personal when discussing with anyone. Well, you’re right I am writing on late hours – don’t worry about my ‘day time job’. I am a student on vacation now; besides it is too hot on daytime – I tend to sleep.
What about hours you post, Pheonix? are you in Uzbekistan? what do you do for job?

Brian June 14, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Who says that the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Osh is liberal democracy? And was it liberal democracy in 1989, 1990, 1992, etc.?

Reader June 14, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Phoenix 6/3/2010 at 6:24 pm
Reader,
You are being unfair to the people of Ferghana. The Uzbeks in the Kyrgyz part of Ferghana, under the liberal Kyrgyz governments, have had 20 years to turn violent. They are no more violent or religious than the Uzbeks who live in the Uzbek part of Ferghana, under the strongman.

No Phoenix, they are not, it is the Kyrgyz living under the liberal Kyrgyz government who are. Thank you for making my point for me way before this occurred.

Now let’s stop the petty disagreements and contribute some useful information to the site for once.

Phoenix June 14, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Reader,
…and your response to my argument was:”“Uzbeks in the Kyrgyz part of Ferghana” is a very good argument.” Now it’s a bad argument? As I said, please, start a separate article – we’ll debate it there. Let’s not waste people’s time on this thread.

Oldschool boy June 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm

“To all those people defending Kyrgyzstan’s island of democracy status (where are you Phoenix) this is the kind of thing I have always dreaded.”

I am 100% with you on that

Nathan Hamm June 14, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I think we both are right. I’m agreeing with him, I just think we’re emphasizing different phases of conflict.

Michael Hancock June 14, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Did you see this?

Anon June 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I took this comment with the dispatch from the Osh Peace Corps evacuation down for the time being. It’s showing up elsewhere, and being passed around, so if you didn’t get a chance to see it here, you can likely see it somewhere else. — Nathan

Metin June 14, 2010 at 5:35 pm

The best in-depth analysis on massacre in Kyrgyzstan so far – it is on par with best articles you usually read on magazines like New York Times.

Hopefully, it will broaden horizon of some folks here, who are excited to hear more news on killings (finding it ‘interesting’), and seem to buy Kyrgyz interim government’s crappy propaganda about ‘bandits calling themselves Kyrgyz shooting on Uzbeks’ or ‘it is all work of Bakiev’.

Great article! I wish I would be able to write like this someday.

Brian June 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Why does everyone seem to be using the term ‘democracy’ when they actually mean ‘chaos’? Aren’t we getting on a bit of the wrong track when we equate a weak government with a democratic one?

It seems that this area has seen violence when there’s been political instability, be it in the waning days of the USSR or after the Bakiev government was overthrown. So where is the democracy here? There hasn’t ever even been one real, democratic change in power in all of Central Asia and yet we’re blaming democracy for all this violence? Are the angry mobs actually upset about each others voting patterns? Uh no. What we do have is weak, ineffective governments and a period of chaos, coupled with extreme financial distress (think the recession that’s caused so many migrant workers to come home).

Uzbekistan may very well see the same thing happen to it someday when Karimov finally dies and no one has a clue what should come next.

Anthony June 14, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I’d like to add about that PCV account. I have received that email and know the volunteer. What they receive and hear is just the like the rest there. Rumors. ‘Kyrgyz military’ can just as well mean the ‘unknown’ assailants. Reports of men dressed in security uniforms was noted in Jalalabad.Yes, there is ethnic tension. You find that in every country and every social stratum, it exists. Hell, anyone remember Watts?
Yet, there are also those who aren’t driven by bigotry and greed. A lot of Kyrgyz have been risking their lives and homes to protect their Uzbek neighbors from the bloodshed. That needs to be reported just as much as the bloodshed.

Randy McDonald June 14, 2010 at 11:37 pm

“Yet, there are also those who aren’t driven by bigotry and greed. A lot of Kyrgyz have been risking their lives and homes to protect their Uzbek neighbors from the bloodshed. That needs to be reported just as much as the bloodshed.”

The outside world is focusing on the violence being committed right now by (some) Kyrgyz in south Kyrgyzstan against Uzbeks, not on the efforts of (some) Kyrgyz in south Kyrgyzstan to save Uzbeks from their attackers, because the attackers are the ones representing the dominant trend in that area. Later, when things calm down and we’ve the leisure to investigate secondary issues, these good people will start appearing in the media coverage.

Phoenix June 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm

This thread shows who is who. Everyone is trying to understand why this tragedy happened and what’s going on on the ground. Except for two people.

Metin is pushing his usual agenda that the planet has a bias against the Uzbek government. “Where are those people who criticized Andijan massacre so much?” Metin, they have raised their voices. Just read the news.

Reader is pushing his usual agenda. “I told you so. These people should live only under despots! See what happens when you put them on a longer leash.”

Guys, you are being a distraction here. If you want to have a debate on your favorite topics, just start a separate thread. I promise to join you there.

Reader June 14, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Phoenix, I’m sorry about hurting your feelings. I had no idea you’re a teenager – “Guys” – gave it away and also trying to create cliques and isolate people you don’t like, etc. I won’t disagree with you again, promise. :)

Phoenix June 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Reader,
Yes, I’m in junior high. Yes, I’m not accepted into the in-crowd. But that’s OK because my mind is preoccupied with trying to understand your mind. Last week you said my Ferghana example “was a very good argument.” Today you say it was a very bad argument. What gives? Again, let’s take this to a separate thread.

Turgai Sangar June 15, 2010 at 5:48 am

Any role for the Karimov regime? They heavily infiltrated southern Kyrgyzstan for years (I saw that myself) and the regime is certainly keen to turn the Kyrgygstani revolution of two months back even more nasty so as to legitimize the own regime (‘the strong hand or chaos’- line). There’s a precedent. They did had a hand in the escalation of the Tajik civil war in 1990 (support to the Lakaitsi and Khodoberdiev, Kofarnigan air raid, … ) that sunk a coalition experiment that might have ‘contaminated’ Uzbekistan.

For the rest, ethnic tensions did existed but what is happening now is the work of death squads and has been orchestrated.

Dilshod June 15, 2010 at 6:16 am

Yes, it is about inter-ethnic tension, yes, it is about the fact that when you have a shared source of frustration (e.g. government), you are likely to “forget” tension and opt to adapt and co-habitate. And yes, it is the Kyrgyzs burning the Uzbeks to ashes.
Enterpreneural spirit of the Uzbeks aided by strong links with the Uzbekistan part of the Valley made them more competitive and wealthy as compared to their Kyrgyz neighbours. My fellow Uzbeks did strongly feel the need to be better represented and to have a say in their local public affairs.
I think it was inevitable. It was inevitable because in 1990 the Kyrgyz enjoyed impunity for atrocities and the Uzbeks were left to the mercy of fate. It will happen again until this vicious chain is broken either by force or political decision protecting my Uzbeks.

Damian June 15, 2010 at 7:16 am

Dilshod wrote: “Enterpreneural spirit of the Uzbeks aided by strong links with the Uzbekistan part of the Valley made them more competitive and wealthy as compared to their Kyrgyz neighbours”.
I would be more cautious with the use of primordial qualities of people depending on their ethnicity as an explanatory factor. Rather, the socio-economics of the Kyrgyzstani part of the Ferghana Valley as well as the particular demographics of Osh and Jalal Abad explain why wealth and sectors of the economy are divided among ethnic lines. The Uzbeks traditionally own land and estate in those areas because of their sedentary history in those very areas. They also control most of the trading structures. The demographics of Osh changed dramatically with the Kyrgyzification of the town, due to a higher demographic growth, rural exodus and some levels of outmigration by ethnic Uzbeks to Uzbekistan. The ethnic Kyrgyz control almost all of public service jobs, and government-related contracts. This sectors, however, cannot provide enough jobs and wealth for a rapidly increasing Kyrgyz population. Therefore, frustrations grew from the lack of access to several sectors.

So? June 15, 2010 at 8:50 am

There are two options:
1) Restore the USSR.
2) Redraw boundaries. Transfer people if necessary.

Dilshod June 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm

@So?
I think I won’t be that wrong to assume that your name starts with J and surname with S? Am I right, Joseph? Joseph Stalin?

So? June 16, 2010 at 2:32 am

What do you suggest?

Sarah June 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

FYI, the UN is claiming that the violence began with five coordinated attacks:

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65E1PQ20100615

Noah June 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Sarah thanks for posting that, that’s interesting. I wish, though, they wouldn’t say there were five and only describe one. As if the world isn’t interested enough in the story to hear the rest of the evidence…

Christian, I followed your suggestion and read the Tishkov article today (thanks for pointing it out, btw). It certainly provides a more sobering perspective and is a painful reminder that “ordinary” people can do very evil things, even to their neighbors, under the right circumstances.

One of the most important circumstances that he cites for the 1990 riots is the rapid spread of a myth/rumor about Uzbeks attacking Kyrgyz in Uzgen. It made me wonder if anyone has discovered any master rumors/myths in this round of rioting yet–I’ve seen several that get posted on Diesel and then moderated, one of them that makes me most curious is this claim that a group of Uzbeks attacked Kyrgyz university students in their dorms around 1 or 2 a.m. on the 10th. There was a story the next morning about the dorms being evacuated around 3 a.m., but I’ve never seen any other details.

I don’t think that the evacuation necessarily means that the story is true (it may be that the evacuation was prompted by a rumor anyway), but whether or not we can get to the truth of it, I’m interested in whether that real or imagined attack on the girls’ university dorm turned into one of the master rumors that moblized people throughout that next day. Has anybody else seen anything on this?

Anton June 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Dear people,
Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have lived in Osh for millenia. There are many inter-ethnic marriages and they all live side by side. It is unbeliveable for us, how this could all erupt overnight. It is definitely not a conflict of Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. This is all politics. Russia, former president Bakiev, the US – these are the main players here these days. There are so many things to tell about what these players have been doing prior to these events. I will write more next time. For now, as an eye-witness of what was happing in Osh, I can tell you that instigators were shooting at both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. The instinct of defending oneself has made the rest. All of these events were well-planned and executed by outside forces, which is a proven fact. In areas where Kyrgyz and Uzbeks live side by side, nothing happened because instigators were helpless there. Why? Because Kyrgyz and Uzbeks defended their houses together and did not let those provocators come close to their neighborhoods. Russia does not want a parliamentary system in Kyrgyzstan and it hates current pro-American interim government. It may well be that Russia used Bakievs to achieve their own interests. Nobody could tell who was mysteriously handing out weapons to both sides. The economic blockade by Russians and Kazakhs is one of the compenents of this conflict. Recent appointments of Deputy Head Prosecutor General and Deputy Head Minister of Interior after the Osh violence could tell us something. These appointed people are of Russian nationality. Russia basically controls law enforcement and military forces of Kyrgyzstan from now on. Other appointments in Osh and Jalal-Abad speak for themselves too. Suvanaliev, Riskulova are all pro-Russian politicians that held high positions during Bakiev’s regime. Russia finances all pro-Russian politicians such as Madumarov, Niyazov and many others.

other reader June 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm

So Sydykov is responsible for the actions of hundreds? Ok, even assuming there might be some cynical provocation about which the public is ignorant, does the news that so-and-so from ethnic group X recently killed one of our boys, justify everybody in the mahallah going downtown and beating another person from ethnic group X?

Look, at some point everyone around the world is going to have to face the fact that you can’t divorce the actions of leaders, armies, and criminals from the larger public. We can’t just all say, well, we were manipulated, but we are all still good people. Yet, after every war or pogrom, everybody seems to do it. This sort of communal cognitive dissonance and lack of individual responsibility is far more responsible for ongoing violence than any demagogue or drug lord.

Previous post:

Next post: