Noah Tucker’s excellent dispatches from Kyrgyzstan on the plight of Osh’s Uzbek community—seriously, read them, part 1 and part 2—have prompted some thinking on my part, in particular about what is happening to Kyrgyzstan’s political and social future.
First up is the worrying report that the supposedly reform-oriented Kyrgyz parliament is saying Uzbeks can’t live in their mahallas. This is, in short, a ridiculous attack on the already-embattled Uzbek communities in Kyrgyzstan. Given the nature of last year’s violence—in which Kyrgyz mobs brutally assaulted Uzbek communities while complaining about Uzbek atrocities no one could confirm—such a decision is worse than insulting: it is dangerous. While mahallas could sometimes be a source of violence and intimidation in some places in Uzbekistan, there’s little evidence they are pernicious artifacts of Uzbek society in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t get it, this seems gratuitously targetted against Uzbeks.
In addition, the Otunbayeva government—which seems to strike most outsiders as a generally benevolent force#*8212;has been persecuting Uzbek journalists:
Khudaiberdiyev, founder and owner of the regional television channel Osh TV, and Mirzakhodzhayev, owner of the independent broadcaster Mezon TV and the newspapers Itogi Nedeli and Portrfel, told CPJ they are being prosecuted for reporting on a May 2010 protest rally in the southern Jalal-Abad region. At the rally, videos of which are available online, an ethnic Uzbek leader and a governor of Jalal-Abad denounced violence and the return to power of your predecessor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Prosecutors charged both media owners with separate counts of organizing and participating in mass disorder; calls for separatism; incitement to interethnic and religious hatred; abuse of office; and illegal creation of an armed group. Khudaiberdiyev and Mirzakhodzhayev, both of whom are in forced exile, learned of the criminal case from reports in the regional press.
Sadly, the Uzbeks of the Jalal-Abad region have good reason for discontent: the Kyrgyz government, seemingly irrespective of who’s actually in the White House (the one in Bishkek, not the one in Washington), will find ways to marginalize and dispossess them. Even going so far as to persecute journalists who film protests calling for non-violent opposition to a rule ostensibly committed to free expression.
It’s getting more and more difficult to see a way Kyrgyzstan avoids another painful paroxysm of protests as a result of these repressive policies. Is that any light to be had at the end of this tunnel?