Here at Registan.net, we tend to give a lot of crap to western media for poor coverage of Central Asia. So, it only seems fair that we at least sometimes give the media credit for a job well done. Perhaps I have low standards, but I’ve seen what seems like a surprising number of stories beginning to report on background and context to the violence in Osh and Jalalabad. For example, in today’s Washington Post was a story on the recent violence in Nariman that contained mention of events in May that help explain why this happened.
A month before the deadly ethnic clashes that devastated southern Kyrgyzstan last week, a mob loyal to the recently deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, seized the provincial government building and expelled the local governor. The next day, another crowd, supporting the forces that had toppled Bakiyev, recaptured the building and reinstalled the official.
From a distance, the incident hardly seemed significant. Kyrgyzstan’s new interim government appeared to have maintained the status quo.
But the back and forth on May 13-14 was a turning point. Because many in the crowd that prevailed were minority Uzbeks, the struggle for political control of the region began to be seen as a battle for ethnic survival, especially among the Kyrgyz majority. That perception grew in the following weeks, fanned by local politicians as the national authorities in the north struggled to respond.
The background and context that hints that the violence in Kyrgyzstan was more than just the collision of opposed ethnic particles, positive as it is, is probably a function of those reporting on the story for major western news outlets having the time and opportunity to chase down the bigger story.
Eurasianet reports that some members of the provisional government aren’t liking all the foreign media attention, though, going so far as to blame poor media coverage for making the violence worse and spreading negative stereotypes about ethnic Kyrgyz.
A provisional government spokesman in Bishkek was highly critical of foreign journalists for supposedly not reporting on the Osh events in an objective manner. “Western media covered [the conflict] in a very one-sided way and they pick information that is good for them,” Kemel Belekov of the interim government’s press service told EurasiaNet.org. “Some western media outlets are even calling it a genocide of the Uzbek people. That is not true. […] Our suggestion is to show both sides, Kyrgyz and Uzbek.”
Before hanging up the telephone abruptly, Belekov claimed that Western reporters, because of their supposed one-sided coverage, bore some “moral responsibility” for the bloodshed.
The opinions expressed by Belekov appear to be widespread, both among provisional leaders and, more broadly, among members of the titular nationality.
“International media, especially western media, has covered events in a one-sided manor, saying that the Kyrgyz people have organized a genocide against the Uzbeks. That’s absolutely not true,” Deputy Health Minister Kasymbek Mambetov told EurasiaNet.org in Osh.
I guess you can’t please everyone. And I imagine that as more reporting on what happened over the last 10 days in Osh and Jalalabad, especially where it implicates the government and security forces, the provisional government will only get less happy with the media.