Digital Memory and a Massacre

by Sarah Kendzior on 6/23/2010 · 70 comments

On Sunday I lay in bed and watched an Uzbek man be burned alive. The video starts with a fire in the center of a crowd. At first it is not even clear that the fire is a human being. As the Uzbek man thrashes and screams, the crowd laughs and applauds, shouting insults in Kyrgyz. No one makes a move to save him.

This video is all over the internet. In the version I saw, a link to which arrived in my inbox with the warning “attention — graphic”, there were captions to tell me who was who. “Kyrgyz”, it said, indicating the crowd; “Uzbek”, it said, pointing to the victim. About halfway in, another caption appeared over the burning man’s body: “Oh brothers, take revenge for me, for I can no longer live myself.”

I watch the Uzbek man writhing on the ground, screaming in pain, as a Kyrgyz man emerges from the crowd and runs to him. At first I thought he was going to help him, but instead he kicks him while the crowd roars in approval. My two-year-old daughter looks up at me and says “Who’s making that sound?” and I shut the laptop off.

*      *      *

The day before, I had received a request to translate a letter from a friend of mine, an Uzbek living in Europe. The letter, signed by a number of Uzbeks living abroad, asked the International Court of Justice to consider the Osh events to be acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing. They told the court that they had proof. Using the internet, they had amassed an large collection of videos, photos and documents detailing the violence against Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan. Some of these materials were made public on YouTube and web forums; some were e-mailed from Kyrgyzstan to private addresses. On Facebook, Uzbeks have formed groups precisely for the purpose of archiving this information.

There will be some who will say that my friend was wrong to write this letter, and that I was wrong to translate it for him. Ethnic cleansing and genocide are inflammatory terms. They give permanence to tenuous accusations, they demand accountability for anonymous crimes, and they offer little hope for forgiveness. Furthermore, they tend to implicate by association more than just the direct perpetrators of a violent act. Many Kyrgyz online writers are resentful that terms like “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are being tossed around. They claim that these words falsely imply that all Kyrgyz people support the brutality that took place in Osh. This is an understandable concern, and it is important to remember that many Kyrgyz are shocked by the violence and terrified about what is happening to their country.

But I do not feel bad about translating that letter. If Uzbeks want to make the case for genocide, then by all means they should, and the court will decide. The accusations of genocide do not bother me. The fact that their evidence is strewn all over the internet, moving from person to person and site to site, recopied and reposted so that nothing will erase it, is what I find unnerving.

*      *      *

No one knows who the burning man was. The Iranians had Neda — Neda, who fought passionately for a cause she believed in, Neda, whose face and name we came to know because her violent death was broadcast online.  By contrast, the Uzbek man is tragic in his anonymity. No one knows why he was there, no one knows how his story ends, no one knows who the Kyrgyz men are or why they are cheering. He is a symbol of a conflict with no clear cause or solution, a conflict that, at the time I write this, has no end in sight.

Who was this man? Did he have children? Are his children going to watch a video of their father being burned alive ten or twenty years from now? It is impossible to follow the Kyrgyzstan conflict and not be struck by the ubiquity of images of children — tiny bodies lying dead in the street, toddlers sleeping in refugee beds, babies being passed over the border to soldiers in Uzbekistan by Uzbek mothers desperate to get them to safety. Are those babies going to find their photos online decades from now? What are they going to think? In an era when so many images and stories are so easily accessible, in a time when a fleeting thought can turn into a personal crusade with the click of the mouse –- how will Uzbeks forget, and how will they forgive? And should they? These are the questions you ask when a massacre is chronicled online.

*      *      *

In April, I asked Registan readers to save the information coming out of Kyrgyzstan. “Save the Twitter posts and the YouTube videos, the photos and the articles,” I wrote. “Print them out if you need to — just hold on to them somehow. Right now your goal might be to simply keep up with the information. But later, we are going to want to look back. And if the block on internet access is ever lifted in Kyrgyzstan, it is likely that the Kyrgyz are going to want to take a look too.” At the time, I was worried that valuable information coming out of Kyrgyzstan would be lost, much like what happened in the aftermath of the 2005 Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan. Now I worry about what will happen if these images and stories and videos remain.

It used to be harder to document violence; now, as one of the slogans of Iran’s Green movement reminds us, “every citizen is a medium”. More to the point, it used to take effort to investigate genocide or ethnic conflict. It took patience, commitment, a trip to the library or to the site at hand. Now you can have a passing thought, type a few words into Google, and be directed to an image of an Uzbek man burning while Kyrgyz men cheer. Now you can watch a massacre on demand.

A few weeks ago, I read a book called “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”, by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger. Mayer-Schonberger argues that the internet is making it impossible to forget. There are no second chances in a digital world, no possibilities of re-invention when your old self, and your old mistakes, are preserved forever online. The book dealt mainly with problems of the Western world — losing your job over an inappropriate photo; writing a controversial article in your youth and reaping the consequences twenty years later on Google. But what happens when mass violence plays out on the internet in real time? I have no doubt that the stories from Osh will endure without the help of the internet. But there may come a time where Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are trying to make amends, and digital memory spares no mercy. There will always be a catalogue of sins, searchable and accessible, impervious to the human desire to move on.

So in the end, what do we do? I still argue that we should make an effort to preserve the videos, photos and documents that come out of Kyrgyzstan, if only because they help contribute to the narrative of what happened. It is particularly important to do this now as the interim government attempts to destroy incriminating information. But it is easy for me to say this — I am not an Uzbek or a Kyrgyz. Like many Westerners who study Central Asia, I cannot read the coverage of Kyrgyzstan or watch the videos without becoming emotional. But what I feel when I watch these videos is not the same as what Uzbeks or Kyrgyz feel. And what my daughter feels, when she reads about these events years from now, will not be what the daughters and sons of today’s victims will feel. Tragedy persists in memory, as resentments over the 1990 Osh riots well show. But those riots were not meticulously documented and preserved online, accessible in seconds to anyone, anytime. Time may heal all wounds, but the internet goes on and on.


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This post was written by...

– author of 21 posts on Registan.net.

Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who studies politics and the internet in the former Soviet Union. She has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University. Her research has been published in many academic journals and media outlets, including American Ethnologist, Central Asian Survey, Demokratizatsiya and the Atlantic. She is currently an instructor at Washington University, where she teaches a course called "The Internet, Politics, and Society." Follow her on Twitter.

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{ 67 comments }

davejon June 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm

it is really unfortunate to see how both the Uzbek and Kyrgyz are engaged in struggling over information…the high energy of those trying to show all the videos and photos online, and similar energy to try to flag those photos and videos as inappropriate to get them removed by the other party…it is also unfortunate to see the Kyrgyz interim government accusing western media of bias, just to look as a victim in the whole situation…

Metin June 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm

great post! I think that will refresh attitudes of some westerners who fell into fallacy that they promoted what they call ‘democracy’ and ‘civil society’. The issue of ethnic discrimination and blind Kyrgyz nationalism was never the issue of serious discussion.

Recent events and scope of violence against ethnic minority demonstrates, that most Kyrgyz think they can kill without consequences. The reaction of Kyrgyz officials, who de-facto gave the green light to killings reinforced their determination to kill.

Kyrgyz society has become increasingly ultra-nationalistic and generally anti-Uzbek. Few remember that those who killed Uzbeks in different events of 1990 never got punished. It is not surprising that Kyrgyz government (and most of its people) hold that they did nothing wrong. It is unfortunate, but chances that killers will be ever punished in such a racist society are zero.

Sarah June 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Metin, I disagree 100% with your statement that “most Kyrgyz think they can kill without consequences” and that most Kyrgyz do not think that there was anything wrong with the violence. Many Kyrgyz are outraged and shocked, and many are trying to work with Uzbeks to help the victims in Osh. Some Kyrgyz worry that they will be lumped in with the perpetrators of the violence despite the fact that they find them as abhorrent as we do. Unfortunately, this appears to be the claim you are making.

Metin June 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Sarah,

What you call ‘many Kyrgyz’ did little if anything to stop horrible things you wrote about. Sadly, the Kyrgyz government seems to lack will to address the problem as well. The interim government head did not visit conflict zone and made no attempt to calm down Kyrgyz ‘volunteers’ rushing from all parts of the country to the South. Interim government head visited Osh after events, and look, visited only ethnic Kyrgyz victims (who are as pictured all young *men* – possibly those injured while attacking Uzbeks) only is worrying. This being aired in Kyrgyz media gives sends a message for public as if ethnic Kyrgyz are victims.

The point I want to make is Kyrgyz society is ultra nationalistic and generally anti-Uzbek. That needs to be addressed by international community, rights activists and researchers like you.

Aibek June 24, 2010 at 8:21 am

Metin, IG head R.Otunbaeva did visit the Uzbek inhabitants in Osh and JA regions, a few days ago. Check the Internet.
Sarah is right: it is wrong to attribute the deeds of some thugs to the entire nation. That’s wrong morally and factually.
But I second your point about spread of nationalist ideas in the Kyrgyz society, like everywhere accross the f.USSR, and that the issue should become a topic of wide discussion, which possible in Kyrgzystan. I am not sure about the other CA states, inlcuding Uzbekistan.

Mirbek June 28, 2010 at 7:17 am

Metin, have you read wider on the events in Osh in 1990 and 2010? In both conflicts the initiators were uzbeks. See wikipedia and other ensiclopedias on the events. In 1990 Uzbeks started violance by killing kyrgyz and forcing out their families out of villages and city. The same was in 2010 June. At one time midnight from 4 minarets there were appeal to kill kyrgyz. It was organized event. At a moment thousands of uzbeks gathered and started violance. Uzbeks crushed all kyrgyz shops, houses and killed kyrgyz whole the night.

Brent Hierman June 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Sarah,

This is a great and heartfelt post. It is distressing to think that these images and videos may preserve “What” happened while obfuscating “How” and “Why” it happened since they may alter individuals’ personal memories.

Zhyldyz June 24, 2010 at 9:33 am

What a good point!

predictor June 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm

1) You can not google Uzbeks burning Kyrgyz people. So, no, there’s no genocide on demand. There are simply no videos like that so far.

2) While people are discussing all pros and cons of what needs to be done, I think the Kyrgyz learn a bad lesson of getting spoiled in their anarchy and nazism. What you will finish up with is a re-make of Hitler the Kyrgyz way in the 21 century… and they will call it a democracy too.

The Kyrgyz elite (not necessarily all ethnically Kyrgyz) NEED Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan now because Uzbeks are playing the role of a buffer sacrificed by the Kyrgyz elite to their poor and hungry ethnic peers in order to avoid a civil war and collapse of the system with the following REAL re-distribution of wealth and power…. but guess what, they seem to be unable to avoid it.

If this thing grows as big as I am afraid it can, then all of the Southern Caucasus, probably up to the Southern Europe will scorch on fire… just like that poor Uzbeki guy dying to the weird music of the crowd swearing in Kyrgyz language.

Read this:

http://esteban.iae-csic.org/docs/esteban/EstebanRaySalience.pdf

On the Salience of Ethnic Conflict

Joan Esteban Instituto de An´alisis Econ´omico (CSIC) and Universitat Pompeu Fabra Debraj Ray New York University and Instituto de An´alisis Econ´omico (CSIC) July 2006, revised October 2006

Linar Zairov June 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Here is the story of Adilet, a 17 year old kyrgyz boy who was tortured by uzbeks and forced to say that the state and the army was involved mass murders of uzbeks: http://jetigen.com/story/2010-06-24/russian-news-hub-ferghanaru-caught-spreading-false-info-video .

This video was uploaded in Youtube and cicrulated to all media outlets. You, like millions of others, form your opinion and beliefs on these digitally mastered false stories. Now, we have stories of raped children by a mob of angry and vicious kyrgyz men. One has to ask, “what does the government and the nation of Kyrgyz Republic gain from killings its own citizens, especially those who contribute to about 1/3 of the country’s GDP?”

Does ethnic tension exists among Kyrgyz and Uzbeks? The answer is YES. But the ethnic tension among whites and lations exists in Arizona, it exists among majority Germans and minority Turks, white French and North African immigrants to mention few. You cannot generalize and slander entire nation based on one or two horrible crimes.

Christian June 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm

No. You can’t generalize about an entire nation. But, if adjusting for population, 120,000 people were murdered in race riots last week in America, I would suspect people would make some generalizations about America which I would probably have to accept.

The situation in Kyrgyzstan is clearly just a tad worse than Arizona, the Paris ghettos and Berlin, no?

Metin June 24, 2010 at 2:50 am

17 year old Kyrgyz boy ‘forced to lie’… wait, give some more background on this case. Are you sure that this guy was not among rioters, who ended up caught in Uzbek neighborhood? how can you be sure that this guy is now telling the truth or being asked (by the state and army) to deny what he said previously?? so far it looks like something done to cover up state and military.

predictor June 24, 2010 at 2:57 am

whatever this guys story is, Uzbeks did not burn him or rape him, maybe he got a slap or two and then you see he is alive and doesn’t even look traumatized.

predictor June 24, 2010 at 2:59 am

cuz Uzbeks grow children, not animals which is the only reason he is alive.

Randy McDonald June 24, 2010 at 11:34 pm

One has to ask, “what does the government and the nation of Kyrgyz Republic gain from killings its own citizens, especially those who contribute to about 1/3 of the country’s GDP?”

What did Serbs, or Croats, or anyone in the SFRY have to gain in 1991 when they either allowed their prosperous, Westernized, globalized upper-middle-income country fall apart into a welter of impoverished warring murderous statelets? If it had made the transition, whether through a renegotiated federation or a slow-motion managed dissolution, the lives of so many people would have been so much better.

What did Yugoslavia fall apart? The outside world may have been insensitive, but it had no interest in the implosion of one of the wealthiest states in post-Communist Europe, with all the disruption to trade and reform and migration it caused. Rather, Yugoslavia fell apart because people let it fall apart, because they didn’t care about the consequences, because they thought there wouldn’t be any negative consequences, or because they thought they could personally benefit.

Why might Kyrgyz not think that pogroms against the Uzbek could work? More irrational policies towards ethnic minorities have been enacted.

So? June 26, 2010 at 9:24 am

What did Yugoslavia fall apart? The outside world may have been insensitive, but it had no interest in the implosion of one of the wealthiest states in post-Communist Europe, with all the disruption to trade and reform and migration it caused.
That’s not the impression one gets from reading the Rambouillet Agreement.

Sean June 23, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Sarah,

Thank you for writing the post, it offers a lot to think about.

I can’t say I expect the fundamental human experience of grievance, memory, and ethnic conflict will change, even given increasing access to this visual archive of violence. Atrocity and even genocide have occurred in the context of wildly different media environments.

Yet I agree that somehow it will change the specifics of these experiences, especially for those particular individuals who find themselves in a photograph, caught up in other people’s memory of conflict. These changes have been developing for some time.

Thank you for mentioning the markers edited on to the video. While they are most likely accurate, those labels could easily have been edited otherwise, and deserve to be viewed critically.

CMEHG June 23, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Behaviour of Otunbaeva and IG is very strange. very strange. even considering the circumstances, if they are afraid to shoot their own pogromists of Kyrgyz nationality (they shoot Uzbeks no problem with that), it means they want
1) ministry chairs
2) they have some hidden agenda of genocidal character. you see a democracy in a country divided between two people is not possible.
How will you deal with the minority?
3) Some of them can be interested in destablizing Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In a much the same way – WE DIDN DO THAT, ITS JUST THE CRAZY PROFESSIONAL KYRGYZ MILITARY AND SOME PROFESSIONALLY SNIPERING STREET GANGS LOST THEIR CONTROL… WE MAYBE PUNSH HIM, BUT WE ARE TOO BUSI NOW DONT YOU SEE? WHAT? YOU SAY THEY ARE ON YOUR TERRITORY? WELL GO DO SOMETHING YEAH! AND WE ARE VEEEEERY BUSY, WE BUILD DEMOCRACY SEE?

Linar Zairov June 24, 2010 at 3:45 am

I am disturbed by the hostility toward the entire Kyrgyz nation by those who know little to make such a leap of faith in judgment. To imply that the entire Kyrgyz nation raises animals not human beings shows depravity your mind.

My comment, Ms. Kendzior, was intended to inform your readers that not all digital media can be trusted. One has to question the authenticity of videos, especially when they carry an enormous emotional weight. One has to have a healthy skepticism to reports based on convenience based interviews. Individuals with extreme feelings are more likely to come forward to tell a story. A personal account is confounded by many factors, and quite often is not reliable in the court of law (at least in the US).

Acts of brutality, unfortunately, are not specific to those that can easily be identified as monsters. Quite possibly, some of your aggressive readers, if put in right circumstances, could unleash no less brutality than that we have observed in Osh.

I hope this preview of the report by a reputable and least biased group will put an end to the blame game. Furthermore, I very much hope that your readers recognize that brutality and depravity is not a kyrgyz or uzbek problem, it is a human problem.

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61392

Metin June 24, 2010 at 4:35 am

I don’t get why deploring crimes should be equaled to being ‘hostile toward the entire Kyrgyz nation’. Those who raped, burned people alive behaved not like humans, but animals. I feel really sad that Linar Zairov associates the entire Kyrgyz nation with those killers.

Interesting observation: as evidences of crimes against ethnic Uzbek surface on media, people like Linar Zairov start calling readers for disregarding them. It is disturbing that some Kyrgyz, instead of addressing the problem, prefer to deny voices of their own compatriots, who happen to be of different ethnic origin.

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61381

Linar Zairov June 24, 2010 at 5:03 am

Ms. Kendzior,

Your reader Metin is obviously a person who had made up his mind. To clarify for those too lazy to read the link I provided earlier:

“(kyrgyz) Victims and burned corpses continued to be brought to the hospital on June 12, many with their throats slashed, all of them from the Kyrgyz neighborhoods of Furhat and the villages of Kyzylchek and Medy. The victims reported that they were fired at from improvised weapons, slashed with knives, and wounded and dead were drenched with gasoline and set on fire. Uzbeks placed the Kyrgyz kalpak (national hat) under the arms of the dead bodies.

In the initial days of the conflict (June 10-11), Kyrgyz victims were brought to the hospitals; by June 12-13 the victims were Uzbeks. ”

Brutality went both ways.

As far as the claim that I somehow urge people to disregard brutality is absurd. All instances of brutality needs to be investigated by an impartial party. I do, however, urge people to abstain from making careless and slandering remarks.

I deeply care for all of my fellow citizens and do not need a criticism from someone who hides his identity.

Azamat June 24, 2010 at 5:59 am

may be this will balance your views regarding the events.

Azamat June 24, 2010 at 6:00 am

may be this will balance your views regarding the events. http://www.osh-reality.info/93

the body of kyrgyz girl murdered.

Metin June 24, 2010 at 7:48 am

Great proof to counter-balance ‘western media bias’ !
Unidentified women’s body found means, she was Kyrgyz, and of course killed by Uzbeks. Kyrgyz media is doing excellent job on telling Osh reality!

Metin June 24, 2010 at 6:12 am

Linar Zairov makes claim that Brutality went both ways.
However, that person fails to recognize that scope of violence was disproportional and main victims were ethnic minority. Instead, he focuses on ethnic Kyrgyz as victims of conflict, implying the ethnic minority was instigator. Accidentally (or not), this matches fully with the official position of Kyrgyz government.

Whether such an approach will be helpful in bringing inter-ethnic stability is doubtful.
Eurasianet
quotes the words of the Head of Uzbek National Center in Kyrgyzstan:
“There are no equal opportunities. There’s a barrier between Uzbeks and government, and because of that barrier our voices are not heard.”

Turgai Sangar June 24, 2010 at 7:10 am

What you will have now during the hangover (I saw that in the Balkans too at the time), are embarassed psychological suppression mechanisms: blaming ‘foreigners’, ‘mercenaries’ or ‘uneducated southern villagers’ for ‘our people don’t do such a thing’.

Whoever carried out atrocities against whom: the tragic outcome of the convergence of ethnic nationalism, criminal interests and alcoholic frenzy is clear.

The saddest thing is, that the present ethnic nationalist beast is an outcome of the IFI- and donor-promoted neo-liberal policies and concepts that were shoveled down the throat of Kyrgyzstani society since the ’90s. These did not only legitimized the rotten, Soviet-shaped ‘elites’ who dislocated society and the economy, with their hardly covert westernization (including full de-Islamization) agendas they also led to an acute identity crisis among the Kyrgyz in partcular. The backlash is nationalism.

May Islam ease reconciliation.

http://qirim-vilayeti.org/content/view/1438/100/
http://halifat.info/analysis/umma/628-kirgizstan-etnicheskie-pogromi.html

Metin June 24, 2010 at 7:54 am

Turgai,

Kyrgyz government claims Islamists were behind the violence:
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hbaJ4FKRgvRUjqmBoyfYUmpG0vJgD9GHILQ00

Turgai Sangar June 24, 2010 at 8:14 am

AH, NA-KON-YETS! It took a long time. Well, then again, they blamed it all on Bakiev in the beginning. Now it’s ‘Islamists’. The classical worn-out trick for not having to investigate the role of the police and armed forces.

Oldschool boy June 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Hey, this could be a great post for the “It was a dark and stormy tinder box”!

Laura June 24, 2010 at 9:06 am

Wow. The comments in this section are like a living laboratory for just the destructive processes that Sarah is concerned about. Well done, Metin, predictor, Azamat, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, I will make the controversial assertion that words have meanings. If you label every nationalism “ultra-nationalism,” the word loses its power. If you label every political trend you don’t like “Nazism,” the word loses its power. If we want a term like genocide to carry a heavy weight, to carry the connotation of the most serious accusation the world community can level against a state (a deliberate attempt on the part of the state to wipe out an entire segment of its own citizens), we need to refrain from using it to describe other situations. Words have meanings, and writers who do not recognize this risk not being taken seriously and not getting their message heard.

This is not to say that Sarah should not have translated the letter – she is right. People should be allowed to take these risks as they wish.

kebz June 24, 2010 at 8:14 pm

About 2000 – 3000 Uzbek homes were destroyed. Not a single kyrgyz home damaged. I am not even mentioning all those videos with body count. Look at this map: http://asiasmi.ru/?p=1257

If you are so good at choosing words, What would you call it?

Zhyldyz Kabaeva June 24, 2010 at 10:00 am

While I am not trying to justify kilings taken place in Kyrgyzstan, I want to remind you that Kyrgyzstan is a very young country. We have been independent only for last 10 years, and while it is not right, nacionalism is probably a default consequence of getting independent. Kyrgyzstan was part of Soviet Union for 70 years. Soviet era did bring quite a bit of industrial development, but in the same time Kyrgyz culture was suppressed. We still strugle with Russian language being a predominant language in many arease of society, for instance high education. Although Kyrgyzstan is multinational, there is strong ethnic segregation and some degree of mistrust between large etnic groups, some of it is based on inhrent prejudices and supported by increasing social-economic divide. So it would be not totally right to say only Kyrgyz are nationalist, same is true with Uzbecks, Dungans, Uighurs.. The difference here is that Kyrgyz feel entitled to dominate and to be a set rules because it is THEIR state.
In short, we Kyrgyz are still working on our identity and it is maybe a corner stone for being so defensive in recognizing and giving consessions to other etnical groups. I hope as the social-economic status improves and we start feeling stronger about Kyrgyz statehood, it would bring the interethnic tensions to some basal respecteble level, but in the same time it is up to geverment to pass laws to enforce equal opportnunities.

Above Brent Hierman had an excelent point. While we need to know what happened, let’s not forget to aks How and Why. There are no simple answers. And as Laurs rightly put, words need to be used appropriately if we want them to carry any meaning.

My two cents…

Zhyldyz Kabaeva June 24, 2010 at 10:16 am

correction: Kyrgyzstan has been indepentent since 1991, so ~20 years.
sorry for typos, should have proof read.

oshlik June 24, 2010 at 10:41 am

One cannot claim to be “the Switzerland” of Central Asia, and then deprive the minority of being able to work in the government, army, and parliament, and also give their language an official status.

Zhyldyz, I think it is exactly one of the problems that you say, Kyrgyz “feel entitled to dominate and to be a set rules because it is THEIR state.” Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan do feel that it is their state too. Same about Uighurs and Dungans, who did not come from China or feel entitled to go there. Same about Russians and Jews, and many others. If the minorities are getting nationalist, it is not because who they are, it is because the majority has been treating them unequally. If you live abroad, you know exactly that feeling.

Zhyldyz Kabaeva June 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Agree we are still far away from being “Switzeland” of Central Asia. We are rather still a very much developing country in regard to so many aspects of civil society, e.g. human rights, ethnic equality, civic consciousness. It is absolutely right that Uzbek and other minorities are as much citizens as Kyrgyz and deserve as much privileges as we Kyrgyz, but it might take some work and time to overcome this sense of entitlement Kyrgyz have. My point is that it doesn’t help to keep pointing fingers and telling Kyrgyz how much nationalist they are. It would rather create an opposite effect and bring up thousands of excuses how Kyrgyz are still much less nationalists than those other nations in the region (Kyrgyz people are convinced of this anyway). What I want is people understand the roots of this nationalism: it is partly an identity issue, party it is just simply due to extreme poverty. People who struggle to feed their kids find it very hard to engage in such “western non-sense as human rights or ethnic equality”. The other reason of nationalism is lack of education and exposure to outside world, and being in Russian language zone doesn’t help either. Believe me, living abroad and seeing other ways people/states deal with problems, opens minds. Instead of pointing fingers, I would rather see people come up with suggestions how to help situation. There are many examples how on personal level Kyrgyz can be good friends and neighbors with other nations, the question is how to bring it to the level of society. I hope the recent violence will be a wake up call for government and society to work on ethnic inequality issues.

michaelhancock June 24, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Maybe this is silly to mention, but Switzerland was never as bad an analogy as it first seemed. Switzerland has a long history of dealing with shifting identity, as well as social conflict between linguistic/ethnic groups. The German-speaking majority and the French-speaking minority have a history of misunderstandings, while the Italian and Romansh minorities have complained in the past of being under-represented. Citizenship is rather a sticky thing, as one in 5 residents of Switzerland is described as a “foreigner,” even if they were born there, and many of those not born in Switzerland have lived there for more than 10 years. And, like in Kyrgyzstan, even the ethnic majority subdivides along many lines, seemingly to side with the minority. Whereas many northern Kyrgyz often compare Southern Kyrgyz to Uzbeks, non-Catholic German-speaking Swiss sometimes equate Catholic German Swiss with the French-speaking Swiss.

But, yeah, that’s just from reading some articles and following the news and knowing a couple Swiss folks. I doubt the people that coined “Kyrgyzstan is the Central Asian Switzerland” meant anything more than, “It’s Got Pretty Mountains.”

kebz June 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Correct, my colleagues here are telling me that similar questions rose after the fall of Austro-Hungarian empire into smaller fragments.

Zhyldyz Kabaeva June 24, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Thanks. I was looking for analogies to support the point I was trying to make. So I guess we could use the experience Switzerland, Hungary and Austria have with identity shifts and interethnic issues. What we need in Kyrgyzstan right know is not denial, but rather public discussion.

Kenny Solomon June 24, 2010 at 10:42 am

Ms. Kendzior, thank you for your writing.

I’m making an attempt to ‘cover’ the events in Kyrgyzstan for another website and have linked to this page. I sincerely hope and pray things settle down in the region.

However, with the potential Statist/Totalitarian control, the apparently immense and untapped underground resources in the overall area and the influences from within and without, I can only see dire circumstances becoming much much worse, especially if/when China and Russia stick their paws in deeper.

Since this is my first comment to any article here at Registan, I’m betting you and most people involved here know the “community organizing” entity called ARIS. They’ve been funded by the Soros Foundation since 1993 to the tune of $37 Billion USD….. yeah, that’s a ton of money. But it comes with the black hand of George Soros holding the strings, which I guarantee are of ill will towards any type of freedom and rights for the people of Kyrgyzstan.

Kenny Solomon
South Florida, USA

tictoc June 29, 2010 at 1:05 am

Nice to see the paranoid Tea Partiers are trying to figure out the scary world outside US borders. (I can see Kyrgyzstan from my porch … if I squint just so through my mason jar.) Who else would view “community organizing” as evil.

Kenny, try getting your facts straight. I know it’s hard, but there’s this new-fangled thing called Google. ARIS is funded by the World Bank, not the Soros Foundation. And Soros is certainly not funding it “to the tune of $37 billion USD,” which happens to be several times the entire GDP of Kyrgyzstan (2008 GDP was around $5 billion).

ARIS also doesn’t do “community organizing”. Its goal is rural development through, among other things, “supporting the development of private enterprises.”

Oldschool boy June 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Sarah,
Thanks a lots for the post. It is great.
For myself, I am tired of reading every day about Osh. (Thank God, World Cup is just in time.) I’ve decided that it needs some time to pass before cool objective judgments can be made of what happened and why it happened. I strongly believe that right now the less debates the better. It is like a family quarrel, the more arguments and accusations the spouses make the uglier it gets. I would disagree with you on being right to collect more and more evidences. This can be a situation when more information does not help but makes it worse.
You know, we tend to forget bad things happened to us, we just block them. It may be true to the collective memory as well. Few people now make fuss about what happened in 1930s in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, although my grandmother was haunted by the memories of her childhood. However, she lived a happy life since then, had a family and many kids and grandchildren and never thought about avenging her father and brothers.
What would happen next, Kyrgyz would make similar videos and will pass it over the Internet. It will be an information war.
Another bad thing that can happen, the more information about violence and more gory videos spread around the World, the more people will get used to it. And at some time we will just stop paying attention.

predictor June 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm

You are definitely right that such gory media will change the inner culture and values in people. I personally think people will become more decisive about what they want or not want in their lives (its about the existential experience). I also think we can foresee a more maturity and less shock in people’s attitudes to death and pain. The world may become more decisive and less emotional in response. I mean you HAVE to develop some sort of psychological adaptation to this sort of things and human organism and psyche works exactly like that – resolving unsolvable problems through adaptation.

Now, for the “cool head” approach and intra-familial quarrel, I think you are deluding yourself (probably to avoid trauma) but this is NOT a family quarrel. Based on the available evidence, adult people and children (predominantly Uzbeks) are actually being murdered, raped, and burned alive by the Kyrgyz and no one (of those who can) is stopping the crazy crowd intoxicated with blood. It just can not get any more ugly than it already is and remains.

Most people around the world hope that this is just a small localized conflict in some barbarian land. But I am telling you, this might also be the first sign of the global system cascading collapse. If this is correct, then the Osh fire will soon be behind everyone’s window (literally!), no matter if you are in the big China or small Brussels. Wake up people! We all have a problem here…

Oldschool boy June 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Yes, it is not a family quarrel, but it started with angry rhetoric and political statements. Somebody said, there are girls raped by Uzbeks. It always starts with words.

As for “Global collapse”, well, people killed each other all the time, but the world is still there.

hm June 25, 2010 at 12:16 am

The world is still there, just a few thousand people were murdered in a few days by the efforts of a small crowd of Kyrgyz mobs whom no one could stop in a mysterious way, including the very people who had been able to conduct a coup d’etat a few days before that. The world is still there, just they still dont know how to fix that oil spil. The world is still there, just Greece, Portugal and Spain got some sort of serious problems. The world will still be there when ethnic clash will spill to China, South Caucasus and Souther Europe. The world is still there, just the population has quadrupled since the last World War. The world is still there, just it is much more interconnected and technically over-equipped then ever before. The world will still be there when you’ll see looting in your streets in your city. When they will take your home and life, the World will still be there.

The World has changed. Face it. Wake up!

Oldschool boy June 25, 2010 at 2:01 am

Who said that the World should not change? It always changes.

noname June 25, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Sylvie Lasserre, a french grand reporteur who frequently isits the region, says that the video was shot in “Zapadniy” district of Och and the uzbek man was the bread maker of the street. I don’t know how she got this information:
http://sylvielasserre.com/

The efforts of Uzbek diaspora to document the brutalities of Kyrgyz system are becoming more and more justified and needed as the Kyrgyz political and administrative elites have already started to cover up all evidence and Kyrgyz intellectual elites have shown their complete impotence. I read with consternation that after all these images and videos, after hundreds of thousands of Uzbek populations being displaced, with the ongoing government and media supported harrassment of Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, the representatives of Kyrgyz people who have access to media ressources, both as writers or commenters, those who can be described as intellectuals, are waiting to count ethnically the number of victims and hoping that Kyrgyz victims will outnumber Uzbek victims.They can’t still accept that horrible crimes were committed against their Uzbek compatriots precisely because of the general state of Kyrgyz system.

A June 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm

And aren’t we inundated with highlight reels of the Holocaust so that we may never forget?

Those touched by this will never forget. It doesn’t take a video to do that.

hamdard June 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm

oldschool boy, i agree with you. i am ethnic uzbek, and the first couple of days i could not stop myself from reading these news. at this point i am so sick of it, that i just refuse reading them anymore… i noticed that many uzbeks in online forums are doing the same, just concentrating on collecting money, donations, etc.

i noticed that more i read and watch youtube videos more i get angry, angry with kyrgyz… it is just tough, tough to watch a video clip where you do not need to read subtitles to learn about people’s pain… you sort of get the pain as they are speaking in your language. i try not to, but it is just difficult. what is really getting old is the kyrgyz government’s explanation — blaming the “third party forces” or “bakiev and co.” etc. i yet to read or hear a word of sympathy coming from kyrgyz… on online discussions, or forums, every time uzbeks try to say something, they are attacked by “its uzbeks who killed kyrgyz first”… its like a competition who gets more videos showing more violence….

i guess what i am trying to say is that media might be a good thing to remember the violence and document it, but i am afraid it might also create more violence, or trigger people to be more hateful.

hamdard June 24, 2010 at 2:14 pm
Turgai Sangar June 25, 2010 at 4:16 am

Yesterday morning I told an aquaintance: within 72 hours the ‘intelligence’ agencies will come up with a Taliban/Al-Qaeda plot. It did not even took 12. 🙂 Very handy indeed to divert attention from the dubious role of the Kyrgyzstani security apparatus in what happened.

It reminds me that shady grenade attack against then sec chief Misir Ashyrkulov and the blaze in the Bishkek bazaar several years ago. These were also linked to the IMU and the Hizb Ut-Tahrir and eventually turned out to be common criminal matter.

I also like the line on fighters wearing American combat dress. 🙂 Anyway: the Venus project is the solution.

Zhyldyz Kabaeva June 24, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Agree we are still far away from being “Switzeland” of Central Asia. We are rather still a very much developing country in regard to so many aspects of civil society, e.g. human rights, ethnic equality, civic consciousness. It is absolutely right that Uzbek and other minorities are as much citizens as Kyrgyz and deserve as much privileges as we Kyrgyz, but it might take some work and time to overcome this sense of entitlement Kyrgyz have. My point is that it doesn’t help to keep pointing fingers and telling Kyrgyz how much nationalist they are. It would rather create an opposite effect and bring up thousands of excuses how Kyrgyz are still much less nationalists than those other nations in the region (Kyrgyz people are convinced of this anyway). What I want is people understand the roots of this nationalism: it is partly an identity issue, party it is just simply due to extreme poverty. People who struggle to feed their kids find it very hard to engage in such “western non-sense as human rights or ethnic equality”. The other reason of nationalism is lack of education and exposure to outside world, and being in Russian language zone doesn’t help either. Believe me, living abroad and seeing other ways people/states deal with problems, opens minds. Instead of pointing fingers, I would rather see people come up with suggestions how to help situation. There are many examples how on personal level Kyrgyz can be good friends and neighbors with other nations, the question is how to bring it to the level of society. I hope the recent violence will be a wake up call for government and society to work on ethnic inequality issues.

P.S. there was an error message, so I am trying post again, sorry if duplication happens.

predictor` June 24, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Jyldyz, there is a huge FLAW in your discourse. Nationalism has nothing to do with murdering people. When you kill people selectively by national their identity its genocide and NAZISM.

Here is a map made based on photos from the space satellites:
http://asiasmi.ru/?p=1257

All those destroyed houses without roofs are Uzbek homes. Not a single Kyrgyz has been damaged. The current world governments rhetoric reminds that of Hitler nazis that were talking about democracy while burning people alive in concentration camps.

Wake up people! We have a problem here…

Oldschool boy June 25, 2010 at 2:56 am

Sarah,

I believe that the wounds will heal and people will forget if we let them. I am convinced. I will tell you two stories that may convince you too.

The first story. In 1930s, when my grandma was a little girl, her family tried to escape from the forceful collectivization, which actually meant that communists would come and take everything away. Her farther was a wealthy Kazakh man, so he would be a definite target of the expropriation. Since all clan members were always sticking together, the entire clan moved together from the Altai region in Russia to Mongolia. Unfortunately, halfway to the border, they were rounded up by Red Army troopers. The communists shot her father and several other adult men of the clan and forced the rest to go back. They took all the sheep, camels, horses and cattle away from my grandma’s family and left them only one cow. Also, every day they would come and take half of the milk that the cow was producing. As her brothers grew up, two of them were arrested and sentenced for some petty crimes for long years in Gulag type of camps, and neither of them ever returned home. Of course, for her all who did that were Russians. She told me as she had seen babies killed in their cradles of less fortunate clans.
Despite all of this, my grandma have lived a happy life, her husband was a decorated WWII veteran, she has been decorated by the Russian government. They had eight children and about 30 grandchildren. And she never hated any Russian, as far as I remember.

The second story. My very close friend’s grand-grandfather was an officer in the Russian Army at the beginning of the 20th century. He fought in the royalists White Army against communists during the Russian Civil War in 1918-1922. When the Red Army won, he tried to run through Kazakhstan to China. At the border, near a pass through mountains he was killed by a Kazakh man, and his wife and son had to stay. At his son’s (my friend’s grandfather’s) funeral in 1980s, came descendants of the man who had killed the father (my friend’s grand-grandfather). They paid him great respect. It turned out that the descendants of the two enemies had had good relationships. And there was no animosity.

There are probably millions of stories like that around the World, when people understand that in order to have decent lives people have to be able to forgive, forget and live on. Even Shakespeare wrote about that. So it is not the first time, and, probably, not the last.

Turgai Sangar June 25, 2010 at 4:53 am

Eski maktabyn dzhygyt: were the respect and lack of animosity that you describe sincere, or did Soviet society rather kept a lid on the grudges?

Now, what might have helped in the case that you describe is that Stalinism was more something ‘from above’/from the Kremlin, that it affected both Kazakh and Russians and that there were Slavs as well as Kazakhs among the NKVD perpetrators too (that is also savvily shown in the film Mustafa Shokai for example).

Whereas in during the last few days it was more grassroots, nighbours against each other. Time might help indeed yet after what happened, for the years to come Osh, Jalalabad, Bazar-Kurgan, … wille likely be more like Mostar and Mitrovica without the UN presence (not that the latter can make much difference).

Linar Zairov June 25, 2010 at 4:33 am

Oldschool boy: I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion, if I understand it correctly, that people have an immense capacity for forgiveness.

I like reading old news. There is something very familiar in almost all of them, especially when it comes to a human reaction to adverse news. This link may be of interest for those who would like to draw a parallel between the modern media and the old media reactions to tragic events. http://starosti.ru/key_article.php?keyword=%EA%E8%F8%E8%ED%E5%E2%F1%EA%E8%E9%20%EF%EE%E3%F0%EE%EC

Linar Zairov June 25, 2010 at 4:34 am

Oldschool boy: I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion, if I understand it correctly, that people have an immense capacity for forgiveness.

I like reading old news. There is something very familiar in almost all of them, especially when it comes to a human reaction to adverse news. This link may be of interest for those who would like to draw a parallel between the modern media and the old media reactions to tragic events. http://bit.ly/cy0Xbb

Dilshod June 25, 2010 at 6:54 am

I think this “davayte jit drujno” is dead-end road. It’s a typical Soviet approach, when instead of resolving problems you just put it in a tincan, so it grows unseen to explode some day. And this is exactly what happenned – in 20 years another massacre took place. Why? Because it was not resolved back then, but smoothed on a surface. So, do we want something like to happen in the coming 5, 10, 15 years?
I’m quite irritated, not to say outraged, to see the comments which equate atrocities to sort of family quarrel. It is insulting, it is unbearable and disrespectful of the victims. Please stop that.
Re issue of collevtive guilt. Yes, there is a collective guilt, grow up young Kyrgyz state. When you do a crime, you are a felon. Court may put you on probation or pardon you. But you are still a felon.
The sooner the apologies brought and pains remedied, the more chances you have for successful future. Drag it on and the next day the problem will catch you. You cannot erase memories, you shut the people up but not erase their memories. So heal them. And you don’t do it by denying your wrong. Unless you want to keep it fester.

Dilshod June 25, 2010 at 6:56 am

think this “davayte jit drujno” is dead-end road. It’s a typical Soviet approach, when instead of resolving problems you just put it in a tincan, so it grows unseen to explode some day. And this is exactly what happenned – in 20 years another massacre took place. Why? Because it was not resolved back then, but smoothed on a surface. So, do we want something like to happen in the coming 5, 10, 15 years?
I’m quite irritated, not to say outraged, to see the comments which equate atrocities to sort of family quarrel. It is insulting, it is unbearable and disrespectful of the victims. Please stop that.
Re issue of collevtive guilt. Yes, there is a collective guilt, grow up young Kyrgyz state. When you do a crime, you are a felon. Court may put you on probation or pardon you. But you are still a felon.
The sooner the apologies brought and pains remedied, the more chances you have for successful future. Drag it on and the next day the problem will catch you. You cannot erase memories, you shut the people up but not erase their memories. So heal them. And you don’t do it by denying your wrong. Unless you want to keep it fester.

Abdullah June 25, 2010 at 11:05 am

Good post and obviously shared from the heart, but don’t let feelings gathered from video’s complete your view of reality. I would have refrained too from mentioning
“The Iranians had Neda — Neda, who fought passionately for a cause she believed in, Neda, whose face and name we came to know because her violent death was broadcast online.”
It is a know fact now that Nada and her husband were sent to Iran by Israeli interest and she was shot by her own people, Not the Iranians. Her husband is now safe and giving interviews from Israel.
Don’t stop loving CA though, keep up the stir.

Nathan Hamm June 27, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Isn’t it funny that the statement “it is a known fact” is almost always followed with a conspiracy theory of some sort?

Turgai Sangar June 27, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hm yes Nathan but in this specific case Abdullah is not wrong. Lets’ not be naïve. Like these babes and ponytailed twats on the maidan in Kiev, these North Teheran yuppies *were* instrumentalized for agendas anything but noble, whereas the Uzbek baker who was torched was a tragic victim.

Abdullah June 28, 2010 at 7:54 am

You really put me in my place Nathan, I wonder why I, a Muslim, have even bothered living in CA for the past 25+ years, learning language, getting to know the culture, living with local families, then going off and studying Arabic and Islam for 8 years in some of the top Islamic institutes in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, not to mention extensive travel in and out of most of the ME and SE Asia. I should have just joined the PC and lived a couple of years in a foreign country, then I would have really understood what is going on, I could have been the expert.

Nathan June 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

Good, I’m glad we agree.

But seriously, how does either of our experiences make us privy to Israeli conspiracies against Iran?

Dilshod June 29, 2010 at 12:17 am

Now they are trying to erase Uzbeks from their memories. See http://fergana.akipress.org/?id=86481, the story says that the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University is being renamed to Central Asian University. What about American University or Russian-Slavic Universities in Bishkek?

ChrisM June 29, 2010 at 1:56 pm

@Boratino

IT Moron? So you’re claiming my tech-related IQ would be 51-70? Somewhat overstating your case, I’d think. Perhaps you’re referring to the fact that your previous comment that contained the oft-repeated text about the Venus project has been removed? This doesn’t make my reply less valid, it surely points to the fact that I wasn’t alone in thinking you were veering way off topic at every opportunity and repeating yourself. Pretending that your comment never existed and that I was commenting about nothing isn’t really helping to portray yourself in a positive light.

More specific? If my original comment and the additional info above isn’t enough, please do let me know where exactly you need assistance in gaining comprehension.

Myopia? See first paragraph of this comment. As it happens, I’m long sighted with an astigmatism. Does this satisfy your bizarre curiosity?

I’m hoping this comment will stay up long enough for you to read it, then perhaps all this can be removed, as we’re nowhere near talking about the massacre. If you feel the need to verbally beat your chest some more(IT moron, bored of my ways and throwing out some bizarre visual health reference, despite my clear “This isn’t meant as a personal insult” reference earlier), feel free to leave a comment at my site. Or not.

TK July 3, 2010 at 8:04 am

With the fragmentary, unit-based nature of these internet documents, there is always the risk of seeing the world “through a straw,” as Robert Gates recently claimed on the release of the WikiLeaks helicopter video of the Iraqis and Reuters journos being killed by US gunfire.

Even seen in aggregate, any picture can be very fragmented, with great room for misunderstanding, but far preferable to forgetting altogether.

Take the case of Neda, “whose face and name we came to know” – it turns out the face most people recognized as ‘hers,’ was actually misappropriated in last year’s media frenzy and actually comes from an Iranian still living – but hiding in asylum in Germany. This isn’t a conspiracy, just a victim of the strange internet/media age we live in.

What’s chilling is how while information has lost a quality of “finite-ness” on the internet, this goes for all info out there – whether accurate or totally bogus.

Boratino July 3, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Mc-Moron

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