This month the official Kyrgyzstan National Commission to investigate the June conflict announced that it had completed its report on the tragic violence in Osh and Jalalabad last summer. Two things struck me as especially remarkable in the discussion that has surrounded their findings.
The commission, headed by Abdygany Erkebaev, held a high profile press conference on the 11th. Erkebaev announced that after months of “intensive investigation” [scare quotes, not direct quotes] the commission–minus several members who publicly resigned in protest and lodged complaints about sloppy methodology and disagreements with the findings–had discovered that those truly to blame for the the June tragedy were…
everyone the government has blamed at one time or another for the past seven months.
Well, and the Uzbeks. Mostly the Uzbeks.
Greedy, fanatic Uzbek nationalists? Check. Bakiev revanchists? Check. A murky alphabet soup of international Islamic terrorist groups with TIES TO AL-QAIDA? Check. International mafia groups? Check. Additional nameless Foreign Instigators attempting to derail Kyrgyzstan’s democratic progress? Check. (U.S. Special Forces? Can’t be ruled out.)
Naturally all these actors were working together in a vast, complex conspiracy that “we totally have evidence for, but we just can’t show it to you right now.”
In a special parliamentary session today with the members of the National Commission, the conspiracy got even better. Tantalizing details were added, the intrepid Mullah Abdulloh (who clearly must have been involved, since he does everything in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Central Asia) was meeting with Maxim Bakiev himself somewhere in… Tajikistan? And the Taliban were there. But don’t let yourself be distracted even for a second from the known fact that all of this is actually Kadyrjon Batyrov’s fault.
Well, and it’s also obviously the fault of Baxtiyar Fattaxov, the only ethnic Uzbek on the National Commission, whom JK speaker Keldibekov (Ata Jurt) insisted today should be removed from his post because Keldibekov claimed to have secret proof that Fattaxov was a nationalist-separatist who personally asked the UN for advice about how to secede from Kyrgyzstan.
That this incredible and impressively flexible conspiracy was being put forward as the official explanation for this heartbreaking human tragedy was the first thing. The second was that the same day the original press conference was held, I happened to also read a description that I thought was particularly apt (no surprise, since it was from John Schoeberlein):
The government and official press claim as a rule that the events are the result of a conspiracy involving nationalists, religious extremists, and criminal elements. They deny or play down the governement’s use of force against the population, and emphasize the harm suffered by law enforcers. Generally, the make no mention of legimate complaints voiced by the people, and often, foreign instigators (anti-[government] or pro-Islamic) are blamed.
Now, by itself, it seems like maybe a straightforward description of what, at one time or another, everyone affiliated with the Kyrgyz government or the nationalist parties have been saying about who’s to blame for the conflict since around June 11. The kicker?
This is from an article published in 1994. [“Conflict in Tajikistan and Central Asia: The Myth of Ethnic Animosity,” Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review 1:2, pp. 19-20]. Schoeberlein was summing up the (Soviet) government explanation for every ethnic or civic conflict that happened in the Soviet Central Asia from 1986-1990. The study included ten incidents, from the 1986 Almaty student demonstrations to Namangan clashes between soldiers and civilians in December 1990.
Some 25 years later under what was supposed to be a radically different political system another tragic conflict rocked Kyrgyzstan this summer: how can we explain it? Clearly, it was a shadowy conspiracy involving nationalists, religious extremists, and criminal elements… and foreign instigators (anti-government and pro-Islamic) are to blame.
I’ll leave an extended discussion of what this kind of lack of introspection about the roots of clearly very serious institutional problems might say for the future of peace or development for Central Asia to another time, or to other authors. But I found the parallels between the explanations used in the past bizarre, remarkable, and also very helpful in way for understanding why so many Central Asian politicians in this and other contexts seem puzzled when asked to provide evidence or even logical connections in the conspiracy theories they use to publicly explain everything that doesn’t go according to plan.