Kyrgyzstan and the Media

by Nathan Hamm on 6/21/2010 · 7 comments

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.


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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on Registan.net.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 7 comments }

Christian June 22, 2010 at 1:54 am

They can blame negative media coverage all they want. But a lot of it is independent. Example: front page of reddit.com (which towers over most others on the internet in terms of views) has a link to a cell-phone video on a Turkish website showing a crowd of cheering Kyrgyz setting a guy on fire and then cheering and kicking him as he stumbles around and dies slowly (no I didn’t watch it). Can’t blame that on scheming Russian and American media types. The Kyrgyz guy that shot this video shared it like a trophy… Where else is this video popping up? Online in Russia, Uzbekistan, everywhere?

People will not wait a year for a report to find out what percentage of deaths were Uzbek and Kyrgyz. They won’t wait for an independent investigation to be completed. They are watching this video and seeing photos passed around online. And it’s unreasonable for the interim government to blame the media in this case. The government needs to get out of denial mode…

Sarah Kendzior June 22, 2010 at 8:09 am

Agreed. I have watched that video and it is one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen. If the interim government has evidence that this was not an intentional massacre of Uzbeks, or that Kyrgyz were equally targeted, then they should put that evidence online. This is, after all, the government that tweeted a photo of Bakiev’s resignation letter moments after taking office. It’s not like they don’t know how this works.

Linar Zairov June 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm

I think the essential point of the interim government has been misunderstood. Nobody is denying the fact that body count of uzbeks is far greater than kyrgyz. The point is not who has more dead, but whether the disproportionate deaths imply genocide. The logic dictates that it is not necessary nor sufficient.
As far as the video is concerned, it is clear that a group of kyrgyz men brutally murdered person X of uzbek ethnicity. One cannot, however, generalize that the entire nation and its interim government had something to do with that. Unfortunately, many journalists who reported on these events were all too eager to implicate the entire nation in genocide against uzbeks based on personal accounts of the events from the uzbek side.
It is one thing to take pictures of an aftermath and tweet about it, but it is a whole another bowl game to implicate the nation in genocide based on 10th grade investigative journalism.

Nathan Hamm June 22, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Which media have said that genocide took place? I’ve seen some that have reported Uzbek accusations of genocide, but not seen any that say genocide unequivocally took place.

I don’t think the government’s position is being misunderstood. It sounds to me a lot like the kinds of things Uzbekistan’s government said after Andijon (or more recently about photography) about balance or what any post-Soviet government says about “objectivity” when faced with critical reporting. When it turns out that there’s pretty good evidence that the Kyrgyz military and police participated in the violence against Uzbeks, answering with “well, that’s not fair!” is hardly a convincing response. When it looks like police killed 2 and shot many more people in Nariman, and the answer is “they were bandits!” it begins looking like a pattern of defensive denial.

There are more questions than just genocide, and even on these, the government seems uninterested in talking. It’s just, “be calm and vote in the referendum!”

The point about the video, which I think you’re missing, is that it does far more to create a negative view of Kyrgyz and the Kyrgyz Republic than western media coverage.

sad lullaby June 23, 2010 at 1:59 am

Sad lullaby for Kyrgyz people
from the raped and burned Uzbek children.

http://www.tinyurls.co.uk/M6043

Linar Zairov June 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm

I do not defend the impotence and cover ups of the interim government. The interim government is a defunct political group that had only one unifying purpose–to overthrow Bakiev. Apart from that it has nothing novel to offer.

I wanted to voice my civic concern that the western media is implicating the entire nation in genocide. Whether the damage to Kyrgyz image from the videos outweigh the reckless coverage or not is irrelevant to my argument that journalists have ethical responsibility to portray the events as objectively as possible. Interviewing several victims on one side and failing to report on victims on the other side is an example of bad journalism. Implicating, though never stating that it unequivocally took place, the entire nation in genocide is an example of unethical journalism.

Like many ordinary Kyrgyz citizens, I am shocked and traumatized by brutal murders of our fellow Uzbek and Kyrgyz citizens. If the state officials or army personnel are found to be guilty, they should be brought to justice. Journalists have done a good job of disseminating these stories of abuse. Unfortunately, the implicit editorializing has been, to put it mildly, of poor quality.

Metin June 24, 2010 at 6:28 am

Western media has no clue about violence in Kyrgyzstan. It is biased against poor Kyrgyz.

Now, great news – Kyrgyz officials have identified organizers of inter-ethnic violence. Guess
who
they are!

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