Info Wrangling on Kyrgyzstan Continues

by Christian Bleuer on 6/15/2010 · 46 comments

Related to my earlier post on the causes and initiation of the violent conflict, I found this New York Times articles today. The title of the article is “Kyrgyz Tensions Rooted in Class, Not Ethnicity, Experts Say.” Here’s a sample:

The violence that has claimed scores of lives in Kyrgyzstan is frequently ascribed to ethnic tensions, but regional experts say the causes are more complex.

“I don’t believe in a narrative of long-simmering ethnic tension,” Alexander A. Cooley, a professor at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute and an authority on Central Asia, said in a telephone interview.

Indeed, ethnic distinctions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are so slight as to be hardly distinguishable, Professor Cooley and others say. Both are predominantly Muslim and they speak a mutually comprehensible Turkic language. The most notable distinction, the one that is most responsible for the animosities that led to the recent violence, Central Asian experts say, is economic: Kyrgyz are traditional nomads, while Uzbeks are farmers.

Professor Cooley is saying that it is not as simple as blaming ethnic differences for automatically causing conflict. But nothing he says justifies the ridiculous headline by the NYT. The NYT is grasping at some old-old school Marxist categories. Nobody is denying the significance of economic conditions in southern Kyrgyzstan, but if it’s about “Class, not ethnicity,” poor Kyrgyz would be burning down the houses of rich Kyrgyz. When economic differentiation is associated with ethnicity, it becomes yet another difference between two ethnic groups that can cause resentment. “Class” can then no longer be separated from ethnicity.

As for Professor Cooley’s comment that “ethnic distinctions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are so slight as to be hardly distinguishable,” I’m not sure the people of southern Kyrgyzstan read that memo. This is wishful thinking (perhaps he is referring to the perspective of foreigners when visiting the south). But generally, the NYT takes the professor’s comments to a much higher degree than it seems he intended regarding economics.

Other Kyrgyzstan watchers provide different analysis in regards to the politicization of ethnicity. For example, Bruce Panier at RFE/RL:

It would be worth it to look at the 1990 violence for a second. There has been a lot of reconciliation between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz populations since 1990, but that isn’t going so far as to say they put all their differences aside. This was always a tinderbox that was waiting to be lit up again.

And Eugene Huskey being interviewed by the CBC:

Q: Has there been longstanding tension between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz?

Huskey: Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have lived peacefully in the region’s main Ferghana Valley for centuries. It was only as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990 that one witnessed a major outbreak of violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. This conflict grew out of a land dispute that was poorly handled by local authorities.

As a young country still uncertain of its identity, there is an ongoing struggle between those who favour a Kyrgyzstan for the Kyrgyz and those who support a multi-ethnic state with equal opportunities for all.

Although all governments of Kyrgyzstan have been publicly committed to the latter approach, many daily decisions of government move against this ideal. For example, hiring practices in defence and law enforcement institutions have led to the virtual exclusion of non-Kyrgyz from the ranks.

And Erica Marat at Foreign Policy:

One might think that Kygyzstan’s southern region would be a tinderbox for ethnic confrontation. Uzbeks are the largest ethnic minority in Kyrgyzstan after Russians, making up over 13 percent of the population. In Osh and Jalalabad, however, Uzbeks constitute the majority of the population. The Uzbek minority is largely excluded from Kyrgyzstan’s political system, though they dominate the country’s merchant class. Disputes over water and land use between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are common in the south. The Soviet Union spent decades trying unsuccessfully to suppress ethnic nationalism in the area and in 1990, when the Soviet military was unable to put a stop to a three-month-long inter-ethnic battle between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh that resulted in hundreds of deaths, it was taken as a sign of Moscow’s diminished power over its regions.

But the early years of Kyrgyz independence, the two groups were generally able to settle disputes without resorting to violence, much of which was due to former leader Askar Akayev’s policies of rapprochement. He made the advancement of ethnic minorities a priority, granting land to the Uzbek community and building Uzbek language universities under a policy known as “Kyrgyzstan – Our Common Home.” Uzbeks were overwhelmingly supportive of Akayev, but their fortunes turned for the worse when Bakiyev overthrew him in 2005. While he never directly suppressed the Uzbek community, Bakiyev mostly ignored their grievances and allowed the ethnic situation to return to its normal state of animosity.

But how harmonious were the years between the ethnic riots of 1990 and now? Let’s look at the half-way point. In 2000 Nick Megoran and Antonina Zaharova, both academics, expressed optimism about southern Kyrgyzstan. But they also wrote this:

Interethnic tension among Uzbeks and Kyrgyz does indeed exist in Osh, part of the legacy of the brutal inter-ethnic fighting in 1990. […]

Since then, mutual suspicion has remained high. Intermarriage is rare and social segregation is strong. Questions about equal access to education and jobs are issues of great concern for Uzbeks. For Uzbeks in Osh, the difficulty of positioning themselves between an Uzbekistan that considers them as foreigners, and a Kyrgyzstan that doubts their loyalty leads many to describe their situation as being “between two fires.”

The article is full of examples of peaceful co-existence, and ends with this: “one can hope that the relative peace of today will continue.” Unfortunately not, in the light of recent events.

Earlier, in 1997, Russel Zanca (PDF) was not so optimistic after conducting field research in the south:

There is no question that the level of interethnic tension remains high in Osh, that it is strongest among youth, and that many adults are worried about its repercussions. Violence could occur again, but at present the state is more aware of interethnic dynamics and is better equipped with security forces if such an outbreak were to occur. Furthermore, the same kind of independent, nationalist political organizations that existed in 1990 no longer function. The most threatening factor to peace in the area is the worsening economy, which works as a natural antagonism builder in any society. The best the state can do at this point, short of repairing the whole economy, is to see to it that the most equitable laws and practices are executed with regard to ethnic groups in Osh.

Ultimately, an improved economy alone will resolve the issue of feelings of enmity between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, but changing people’s feelings about each other is not the most important aim. What is most important is to create social, political, and economic environments that greatly mitigate the outbreak of renewed violence. It is important that Uzbek and Kyrgyz leaders work with each other on such issues.

Later, Nancy Lubin (Nancy Lubin and Barnett Rubin, eds. Calming the Ferghana Valley: Development and Dialogue in the Heart of Central Asia, 1999) was more pessimistic. She wrote that since the Osh riots the south had undergone a general decay: continuing animosity over the Osh riots; growing Islamic activism among Uzbek youth; the spread of weapons; an increase in the drug trade; a decline in the quality of the police; and economic problems caused by the closed border with Uzbekistan. According to Lubin, the inability to overcome the legacy of the Osh riots was due to people and the officials not wanting to discuss it since it is considered “taboo.” However, this book was harshly criticized by the same Nick Megoran, who wrote the humorously titled response ‘Calming the Ferghana Valley Experts’ (PDF). His criticisms mostly proved right regarding terrorism, radical Islamist movements and other “problem areas” in the Ferghana, but not in regards to Osh.

Anara Tabyshalieva ( “Researching Conflict in Post-Soviet Central Asia,” in Marie Smith and Gillian Robinson (eds.) Researching Violently Divided Societies: Ethical and Methodological Issues, pp.130-147. ) was also somewhat skeptical of the new state of “inter-ethnic harmony.” She wrote that people do not wish to discuss the events with researchers and that government officials refuse to comment on it, instead they try to portray an image of “inter-ethnic harmony.” Researchers attempting to survey people in the area have a problem with “positive feedback,” which is the tendency of the people to give extremely optimistic responses (that fall apart in follow up questions). It was evident in a 1998 survey where about 90% of the people who were asked “how do you asses the state of inter-ethnic relations?” responded “good” or “very good.” The percentages were almost the same for both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. Tabyshalieva speculated that the question was answered so optimistically because of the legacy of Soviet times and a traditional fear of speaking of negative events, since that might cause them to occur again. Her skepticism was borne out of the fact that in follow up questions the responses revealed the extent of problematic relations.

Were there any noticeable signs of tensions? Lubin backed up her arguments for the 1990s, writing that the claim of Uzbek economic domination was made often by Kyrgyz in the south and was/is a sensitive subject, especially in Osh where the population continued to grow throughout the decade. In some occupations it was clear that Uzbeks dominated. They accounted for 79% of taxi drivers and 89% of workers in manufacturing. However, in turn they were underrepresented in government jobs. They accounted for only 5.5% of police officers and only 8 out of 128 tax collectors were Uzbek. As well, Uzbeks were rarely seen working as doctors or hospital workers. In large businesses that relied on the state, Kyrgyz dominated. As for the bazaars, while Uzbeks used to dominate, they started to lose out to Kyrgyz traders. In regards to legitimate entrepreneurship, Uzbeks in the area claimed that the Kyrgyz in the Osh bazaar have been pushing Uzbeks out of the best areas in the market. When an Uzbek stall goes vacant the authorities always gave it to an ethnic Kyrgyz. The Kyrgyz counterclaim is that Uzbeks have the best lands in the south. The Kyrgyz’ main fear was that as land sales become legal, the Uzbeks would use their wealth to buy up all of the best land. Uzbeks in turn worry that the government was conspiring to confiscate their land and redistribute it to Kyrgyz, exactly the type of situation which led to the Osh riots. The only significant land sales were from mono-ethnic collective farms to their own members. As a result no ethnic confrontations over land privatizations have occurred. Now, this is all relying on Lubin’s account (which does tend to present uniform ethnic blocs), and perhaps she set out to find as many signs of trouble as possible. But her claims must be weighed against those more optimistic analysts.

However, the one area of the economy that was not disputed during the 1990s was the drug trafficking business, which Anara Tabyshalieva sarcastically called a “model of interethnic cooperation.” Not too sure about the ethnic division of labor in the drug business these days.

Alisher Khamidov also wrote about ongoing tensions in the south. For example, in 2004:

…many Uzbeks to steer clear of the country’s opposition movement, according to one journalist based in Osh, a city with a large Uzbek population. “The reason why Uzbeks play no role in Kyrgyzstan’s opposition movement can be explained by the fact that the opposition movement is dominated by Kyrgyz nationalists,” said the journalist, who requested anonymity. “The rhetoric of these politicians frightens many Uzbeks.”

Uncertainty over the future has already prompted several Uzbek community leaders to join the pro-presidential movement “Alga, Kyrgyzstan!” (Forward, Kyrgyzstan!), the journalist added. Their action is meant not only to protect the status of Uzbeks, but, also, to protect what whatever economic gains that have been made by the Uzbek community during Akayev’s tenure, the journalist said.

As many Uzbek entrepreneurs see it, political change could pose a threat to their economic livelihood. “If new people come to power, they will start extorting money from us, and [the cycle of] corruption will start all over again,” explained Abdurashit, an Osh restaurant owner who gave only his first name. […]

An additional source of discontent is the fact that Uzbeks are underrepresented in regional and local administrations. “It’s time to overcome stereotypes and improve work” in personnel policy, commented Bakhtyar Fattahov, a prominent Uzbek leader, in an interview with the government newspaper Slovo Kyrgyzstana. “In short, the problem exists, and it should not be silenced.”

The opposition he is referring to took power in 2005, something Uzbeks were not too excited about. If you think the above passage only shows tensions at the elite level, Khamidov does have an earlier 2002 article where he wrote:

While political protests and arrests continue their cycle in Kyrgyzstan, some observers have noted a current of ethnic tension in recent incidents. The county’s south, where most protests have centered, is now witnessing violent skirmishes among ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz.

Upheaval increased on November 17 and 18 as police banished hundreds of citizens who were trying to organize a dissidents’ conference in Bishkek. Two hundred of these arrived in the south by bus on November 17. Police had reportedly left 129 of them overnight in the frigid Suusamyr Valley, according to activist Ramazan Dyryldaev. Dissidents have confronted authorities repeatedly since March, when at least five citizens died in clashes with police in Ak-Sui while protesting the imprisonment of parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov.

Meanwhile, episodes with ethnic overtones have cropped up in recent weeks. On November 1, according to RFE/RL, ethnic Kyrgyz and Tajik youth fought after an anniversary party in Batken province, leaving 12 people injured and destroying five houses. Earlier, local journalists reported fights between ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz youth in Jalalabad and Osh, during Kyrgyzstan’s independence anniversary festivities on August 31. Some observers claimed chants by some Kyrgyz youth demanding ethnic Uzbeks’ expulsion precipitated violence. An Osh-based journalist who requested anonymity noted that while authorities are rounding up political dissidents by the dozens, no ethnic instigator has served detention. Some observers worry that ethnic resentments will boil over while President Askar Akayev chases political enemies. […]

….authorities focus intensely on quelling political opponents and largely ignore the threat of deteriorating inter-ethnic relations in the south.

That threat is increasingly apparent, especially among ethnic Uzbeks. A recent poll by the Osh-based Uzbek Cultural Center found that more than 60 percent of 1,436 ethnic Uzbeks polled do not find the government’s policy toward them adequate. Over 79 percent of them say they need a political party, and over 76 percent of those polled want the state to switch to a Latin alphabet. In all, 78 percent of the respondents said that the Uzbek language should be given the status of an official state language. Local observers suggest that the perceived and real discrimination among ethnic groups, scarce resources and ineffective local administration are aggravating ethnic relations. “Competition for scarce economic resources such as jobs, spots in markets, water, housing space, and other social benefits is taking increasingly ethnic lines,” said Husan Soliev, an assistant to the head of Osh’s makhalla, a grassroots self-government. The state lacks strong dispute-resolution systems, Husan says. Moreover, some local sources say that representation of ethnic minorities in regional and local administrations has decreased drastically since 1990 and that increasing poverty makes the lack of representation increasingly dangerous.

More from Khamidov in 2002 here.

More recently, Michael Anderson, a filmmaker, had this to say to Al Jazeera yesterday:

I lived in Osh for several years and when you live there, you don’t feel any everyday tension between Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz.

However, an anthropologist who lived in Osh for three years had this to say:

Yes, there are some intermarriages and some inter-ethnic friendships, but that has little to do with inter-ethnic hatred. Have you ever read about the Rwandan genocide? There they not only had huge amounts of intermarriage, but the Hutus and Tutsis were actually only castes of the same tribe.

The reality is that Kyrgyz and Uzbeks do deeply distrust each other, bordering on the verge of hate. I have heard my Kyrgyz friends talk of how Uzbeks don’t belong in Kyrgyzstan. And I’ve heard some of my many Uzbek friends talk about how the Kyrgyz are lazy thieves.

That being said, I think one of the major forces behind what happened was economics. I’ve heard many Kyrgyz talk about how the “Uzbeks have gotten wealthy in our country, yet they cheat and steal from us.” Its easy to see how that could quickly spiral out of control during a world-wide recession and the further economic difficulties that fallen on Kyrgyzstan after the latest coup.

That is what the NYT missed. Economics important, yes. But attached strongly to ethnicity. Anyways, I’ll take the analysis of an anthropologist over a filmmaker.

Why did I copy and paste all this text? It’s not just the NYT article, it’s all over the place. Global Voices online is linking to all sorts of “it’s not ethnic” wishful thinking. Examples include:

STOP talking about ‘ethnic clashes’. It’s groups of BANDITS killing both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz!

Neither Kyrgyzs, nor Uzbeks are to be blamed for the bloodshed. It’s the Bakiyev’s fault, and let them be damned.

It is obvious that somebody is manipulating the situation in an attempt to cause a clash between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyzs. It looks like there are Bakiyev’s people behind this provocation, which threw a big part of the country in chaos

Twitter, of course, is also rife with similar examples.

Well, I’m not really sure this blog post is about anymore, so I should probably quit writing.

One caveat to end with: plenty of places in the world have problem like this (Osh from late 1990 to a few days ago), and they don’t always end in violence. That’s definitely worth mentioning. Maybe there is a lot of crying “Wolf!” from many analysts. But once and a while there is actually a wolf.

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Firecrak June 15, 2010 at 4:42 am

I take your point, its rather well made. I also believe that is ethnicity deeply involved in this root causes of this crisis. However doesn’t your thesis however point to a completely opposite effect, in that the Uzbeks should be the ones creating the mischief rather than the other way around. I am puzzled and alarmed that Osh and Jalal-Abad, which are majority Uzbek have been over run by what would appear to be lesser Kyrgyz numbers, enough that 80,000 people have had to flee. Obviously the news is so fresh and there is so little hard information, its very hard to pin point who started this and how it spiralled out of control.

CB June 15, 2010 at 5:09 am

I will take a stab at this.

Recipe: A rapidly increasing population in a poor/economically depressed country, 54% of the male population under 25, thriving drug/black market economy and the violent means often employed as part of the business strategy, weak central authority (additionally the government has just changed hands in a coup with associated winners and losers and a continuing struggle for power), fairly clear ethnic divisions with a minority population that is seen as relatively better off by the majority… all it needs is a match.

Young men with few prospects for generating sufficient income through normal work are a volatile substrate.

Christian Bleuer June 15, 2010 at 6:07 am

Juts FYI, “CB” is not me.

Harvey June 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

This was an excellent post.

Michael Hancock June 15, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Christian, I had the same response to the NYT headline v. the content of the article. Great post!

Michael Hancock June 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Also, if the numbers presented by the UN (over 275,000 Uzbeks flee Kyrgyzstan), isn’t that practically one out of every three Uzbeks in the country? Seems a bit hard to believe.

matt June 15, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Right- from what I hear, a lot of the Uzbek men were staying in Kyrgyzstan while mostly women and children were leaving.

mark June 16, 2010 at 12:36 am

275’000 are not only refugees leaving to Uzbekistan, but also internally displaced people.

Metin June 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm

why not to believe it? Reportedly, almost all Uzbek houses in Kyrgyz South are set on fire. The actual number might be even higher.

info_miner June 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

U.S. Army finds 1T worth of gold, copper and other minerals deposits in Afganistan:

Time for Central Asia to learn English language!

Grant June 16, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Check They have more than a few articles pointing out the timing of this publicity comes just as the jirga has run into problems and foreign soldiers were killed, that we’ve known about those resources for years, that the international community has been aware of Afghanistan and resources for decades, and that all the problems that prevented investment then are even more present today*. Also Afghanistan isn’t at all related to this article.

*Corruption, organized crime, poor workers, lack of infrastructure, and major violence to name the largest.

uku June 15, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Your analysis is just a plain description of sources. Doesn’t make anything clear. If they had Osh in 1990, the US had LA in 1992. So it’s just like saying that the black killed the white in 1992 in Los Angeles and people frown in New York when a stupid black teen plays his huge music box loudly in a public place. there are also skinheads in the US and there are few inter-racial marriages
so maybe there is a fundamental distrust and hate in the western society between the two races. Please. It’s ridiculous!

Schlosseh June 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm

this article is just a description of sources with no clarity added.
One might as well just replace the word Osh 1990 in every sentence of your article with “Los Angeles 1992 havoc” and no one would see any difference as the “conclusions” would have been the same considering the shallowness of criteria.

whats more interesting is that the interim government in KG plays fool and pretends to be a “weak girl” simply dismissing soldiers for not obeying when they should actually sue them in the military court for that. such behaviour might actually be interpreted as support of genocide.

Metin June 16, 2010 at 11:31 am

Exactly! so far the media has not raised the issue of the official government’s responsibility for massacre. Why does one have to ‘forgive’ inaction of the government in one case (Kyrgyzstan) and rightly condemn in another (e.g. Sudan)??

There must be international independent investigation for killings!

by the way June 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm

this article is just a description of sources with no clarity added.
One might as well just replace the word Osh 1990 in every sentence of your article with “Los Angeles 1992 havoc” and no one would see any difference as the “conclusions” would have been the same considering the shallowness of criteria used. its not a very simple topic.

whats more interesting is that the interim government in KG might be playing a fool and pretend to be a “weak girl”: simply dismissing soldiers for not obeying (they actually adopted such “Official decree”) while a due process of law should actually lead to suing such soldiers in the military courts for non-compliance of orders. Such act of OFFICIAL LEGAL behaviour might actually be interpreted as support of genocide and human rights violation

Sibrisa June 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I am sure they look the same to Dr. Cooley who is not aware of the groups’ acute sense of ethnic identity.

Gene Daniels June 15, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Two comments:

First, thanks Christian for a thoughtful article.

Second, let’s not be too hard on socio-political experts like Professor Cooley for missing the huge ethnic issue between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

I remember it was a few years into my Central Asian sojourn before I realized the depth of the differences. At first Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Uyghurs, etc all looked and seemed about the same due to the Soviet cultural overlay. So a socio-political expert on the region can be forgiven for making sweeping generalizations that miss the ethnic hostility and deep distrust that lurks under the surface.

However, after 10+ years in Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan, I have become much more aware of the issues and hostilities between the different Turkic Muslim nationalities.

Nathan Hamm June 15, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Is ethnic tension a sufficient condition for violence of the type we’ve seen in Osh and Jalalabad? Sure, these tensions exist all over Central Asia and can provide the narrative framework for conflicts, but I don’t really see the causal link between ethnic tension and conflict.

That’s my beef with the “ethnic conflict” explanation. It seems to be more an explanation of the conflict narrative than an explanation of how the conflict begins and proceeds.

Xenophon June 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Ethnic animosity is an underlying cause that waits for a spark. What, precisely, was the proximate cause–the Archduke-in-Sarajevo moment/incident? Not sure in this case. Sometimes it’s obvious like the murder of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents in 1993 and sometimes it’s more difficult to isolate as in Yugoslavia. I don’t see how one could miss the causal link between ethnic antagonism and violence throughout all of human existance.
Is ethnic antipathy amplified or brought to a boiling point by other factors like declining material circumstances or opportunistic manipulation? Sure, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of ethnic/tribal/national identity as a fundamental source of conflict.
I am a bit unclear on your use of the term “conflict narrative”. You seem to use it to mean a simplistic mytho-history we adopt for ideological comfort or convenience that obscures what really happened. Is that right?

Jake June 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I’m ending years of lurking to reply to an outstanding post.

On the topic of ethnicity, I have to quibble about Marat’s article at FP, and I’ve seen this error echoed almost everywhere in the last week: “Uzbeks are the largest ethnic minority in Kyrgyzstan after Russians, making up over 13 percent of the population.” Absolutely everything I’ve read says that Russians are only nine percent of the population, and anecdotal evidence suggest that many (hundreds? thousands?) have emigrated since Bakiyev was ousted in April. (Of course, Russians may have reclaimed the #2 rank, if the refugee numbers from Andijon can be taken at face value.)

Firecrak June 16, 2010 at 10:06 am

Latest Washington Post piece claims the UN is claiming 5 men balaclavas are to blame. Does anyone know where they are getting this information or which UN department is saying that. The whole notion that Bakyev is attemping to take over the country with hidden instigators sounds rather bizzare.

Nathan June 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

That Kurmanbek is planning everything is kind of weird. But he does have family whose whereabouts are unknown. In both April and may, elites who are close to the Bakievs have been leading protests and seizures of government buildings to try to destabilize the interim government. Up in Jalalabd, these efforts took on an explicitly ethnic character in May. With the referendum fast approaching, were members of the Bakiev family desperate enough to try to instigate the violence we are now seeing? We don’t know for sure, but it don’t think it’s entirely implausible.

I didn’t read the wapo story, but what I saw yesterday said the UN had interviewed eyewitnesses who said the violence started in five locations, not with five people.

Sarah June 16, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Someone who speaks Russian well needs to do an analysis of that Maksim/Janibek tape. On that tape Maksim talks about dividing fighters into five groups of one hundred people, each to carry out a separate attack. This is very similar to what the UN is saying.

Firecrak June 17, 2010 at 2:13 am

Can you link to the video, I can parse it

Sarah June 17, 2010 at 9:12 am

It has English subtitles, but they’re not the greatest. Also, there are four parts, which are linked from this one:

It would be nice to have a Russian-language written transcript of this so that we don’t have to sit through all the videos to find certain passages. Anyone know of one?

Brian June 16, 2010 at 3:59 pm

NPR/PRI just had an interview with Peter Zeihan of Stratfor global intelligence. It was a bit weird. I was struck by how strongly he seemed to dismiss any homegrown Kyrgyz factors in these past events. Basically it was all being orchestrated by outside powers…

For instance:
America orchestrated the first Tulip revolution (this theory never made much sense to me)
Russia orchestrated the overthrow of Bakeiv.
Uzbekistan has been massing thousands of troops near the Kyrgyz border all spring in preparation for a war with… Russia.
Russia wanted to send in peacekeeping troops but backed off when Uzbekistan threatened to go to war with it.
Kyrgyzstan isn’t a real country, and the Kyrgyz are barely a real people.
Uzbekistan doesn’t consider them a real country and therefore are treating them as such. Everything that’s happening is a powerplay between Russia, America, China and Uzbekistan.

All these things may or may not have a kernal of truth to them but the way he spoke about them so unequivocally was bizzare.

I guess that’s what you get when to talk to a guy from a global intelligence firm.

Here’s the interview:

CB June 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

His article over at AsiaTimes on the same topics:

One fight Russia can’t afford
By Peter Zeihan

Nathan June 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Wherever there is a crisis, Stratfor will be there to peddle some half-baked, weakly-supported theory.

True story: They approached me about having partner with them. My given answer was “no.” My desired answer was, “No, because I’m scared that whatever y’all got might be communicable.”

CB June 16, 2010 at 6:55 pm

No doubt it is communicable.

Mr. Zeihan is certainly making the rounds as the go-to expert on the situation and it’s strategic implications. Just heard him on PRI. Is there any evidence whatsoever that Uzbekistan has moved troops to its border over the past few months?

Nathan June 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Probably, but Uzbekistan moves its troops to the border all the time for all kinds of stuff. It wouldn’t be Fortress Uzbekistan if it wasn’t thoroughly fortified.

Xenophon June 16, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Just a general history question for anyone interested in providing an answer: When I look at an ethnic demography map of Central Asia, I see that the upper Fergana Valley is mostly Uzbek, the lower Fergana is a mix of Tajiks and Uzbeks and the horse-shoe-shaped arc around the valley–or in the upper elevations of the valley–are majority Kirgiz with an Uzbek admixture. Since all these Turkic tribes were nomads at one point, how did the Uzbeks get what I assume to be the historically best and most fertile land in the area? Should I draw the obvious conclusion that the Uzbeks took it by force of arms at some point?

Michael Hancock June 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Without looking up the answer, I believe that the best thing to say is, “these identities are kinda useless before 1920.” That being said, the best land there has been used since the time of Alexander the Great, at least, so it’s hard to say who all has been taking it by force of arms in the last 2000 years. The Khanate of Qoqand controlled the area, but was in decline by the time the Russians arrived, but who is to say that all the farmers were Uzbeks or Tajiks, especially considering that is the most difficult of the nationality distinctions to make, thanks to the Soviets’ negation of the ethnonym “sart.”

So, in short, yeah, probably someone took it by force of arms, but not necessarily from the other groups. In other words, if the Uzbeks have the best land, it’s not because they took it from the Kyrgyz or Tajiks.

Noah June 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm

The Kyrgyz were for the most part transhumant nomads, so their summer pastures were generally up in the mountains while their winter settlements were in lower areas. Uzbeks, after settling or mixing with settled peoples, were farmers in the Ferghana Valley. It’s not so much an issue of who took land from whom, as it is who used which land for what purpose.

It gets much more complicated when you take into consideration that in the 1920s and 30s a lot of other Turkic peoples that live in the Ferghana Valley were “turned into” Uzbeks by the Soviet census-takers, who had at different times varying quotas on the number of officially reckognized nationalities they could count, and who also made executive decisions to simplify demographics in order to increase the titular population of one republic or another.

Noah June 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I didn’t mean to correct or disagree with Michael there, his response posted while I was writing and I didn’t see it.

Michael Hancock June 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Noah, I think you’re right, though. If the ethnic names have basis language alone, they probably wouldn’t exist. More likely they were effected by class and placement. Your description seems fine to me – Kyrgyz used the land differently than the Uzbeks. However, we might be leaving out the overwrought Settled VS Nomad argument (aka Oh, The Farmer and The Cowman Should Be Friends.)

Xenophon June 18, 2010 at 12:52 pm


Nonsense June 16, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Buncha half-wise who knows what analysing something they have no idea about. Let me guess, sitting behind a Mac or PC and typing anything out of boredom. Most likely, somewhere in dorm or apt. on Main street in Oklahoma city with burger from Wendy’s on the table.
Am I right?

Michael Hancock June 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm


Brian June 16, 2010 at 8:08 pm


Metin June 16, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Those interested in ‘third forces behind the violence’ theory might find this useful:

The article says, Russia was involved in bringing the Interim Government to power, and is using ethnic tensions to its advantage.

CB June 17, 2010 at 9:12 am

The author has “Russia” painted on his binocular lenses and from where he sits in NY he must look across Russia to see Central Asia. Many grains of salt required when reading such speculations.

Helian June 17, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I like the “experts say” bit at the end of the NYT headline. They have a stable of “experts” who can spin stories any way that fits their narrative. As others have pointed out, this time they’re flogging the quasi-Marxist “economic determinism” meme. Meanwhile, all those who are getting killed because they happen to be in the incorrect economic class just happen to be Uzbek. Go figure.

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