Saturday, June 12, 2010

Osh Riots, Day Two (Updated)

By R.B. Moreno

It's early afternoon and I've moved to a safe house in another part of Osh where a number of American aid workers have gathered. The drive here, in a word, was harrowing: gangs of men with clubs guarding road blocks fashioned from felled trees and torched cars; others trying to forcibly enter apartment complexes. It's unclear who is in charge of the city, but cannon fire can be heard from our vantage as well as helicopters patrolling overhead. An evacuation plan is being developed; I'll update with more as I can.

Update (2:00 AM, June 13, 2010) -- With help from local security forces and a commendable coordination effort from headquarters staff, our group has evacuated from Osh. We are safe now in a compound near Bishkek, but our thoughts remain with our Kyrgyz and Uzbek colleagues in the South. Tonight these families cope with interethnic violence that at last count had claimed close to 80 lives and wounded nearly 1,000 (see updates below).

Inside our safe house, a barrier is erected to expel rocks and firebombs

As we made our way to a helicopter today our convoy was met repeatedly with vigilantes brandishing everything from bows and arrows to Kalashnikovs. Later, aerial views of neighborhoods in flames and a skyline blackened with smoke suggested the death toll will rise much higher.

Postscript (July 1, 2010) -- After being removed temporarily at the request of the U.S. Peace Corps, this post has been republished.


  1. Con cuidado Mijo. We are all thinking of you.

  2. We will be praying for safe traveling for you and the other Peace Corps folks with you. Also praying for a harmonious resolution to the conflict....George Larkin

  3. Thank you, Raul Sr. and George! Your thoughts and prayers can be felt here.

  4. What a harrowing experience! Stay as safe as you can and we'll be waiting for updates.

  5. You may want to request a transfer to a more harrowing area of the world; Kyrgystan seems a bit tame for your tastes.

    Keep the updates coming - and stay safe!

  6. I'm sorry you had to experience evacuation. When I was a PCV in K-stan, that was my biggest fear. It must be very difficult to walk away and leave people behind who you know are facing an uncertain, violent situation.

    However, I think instead of saying, "... our thoughts remain with our Kyrgyz colleagues," you should use "Kyrgyzstani colleagues" instead. I know it seems like such a small thing, but it might seem like you favor the ethnic Kyrgyz (against the many other ethnic groups in K-stan).

    I think it's important for Americans (and PCV's in particular) to refrain from picking sides. Peace Corps should be there advocating for ethnic tolerance -- promoting the idea of a Kyrgyzstani identity that is inclusive of all the ethnic groups in the country.

    Under Bakiev, Kyrgyz nationalism (or more accurately "ethnic chauvinism") increased. And unfortunately, US government organizations tended to pander to it, including, in my opinion, PC. I knew people (minority Kyrgyzstani) who felt that Americans favor the Kyrgyz, so if you were from a minority group, you would have a tough time winning a State Dept sponsored scholarship or a spot in a student exchange program. So much for promoting American values!

    Anyhow, while it may seem like a small thing to us -- "Kyrgyzstani" instead of "Kyrgyz" -- it's important to realize that members of minority ethnic groups can't self-identify as Kyrgyz, but they can identify with being Kyrgyzstani.

  7. To Anonymous's comments: I appreciate your concern about refraining from picking sides in this sort of conflict, and I hope reflects a commitment to neutral reporting. Perhaps this post should have originally specified "Kyrgyz and Uzbek colleagues in the South," as it now reads. However, I'll also note that the terms "Kyrgyz" and "Uzbek" can take on different meanings, depending on the context. (I rarely encounter the term "Kyrgyzstani" and thus refrain from using it here.) "Kyrgyz" and "Uzbek" can certainly refer to Turkic ethnic groups found in various parts of Central Asia. But they may also refer to citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, respectively, as in the following excerpt from a U.S. State Department report on religious freedom: "The country's Roman Catholic Church, whose members are comprised of approximately 80 percent Kyrgyz citizens, remains an unregistered foreign religious organization" ( Wikipedia, too, lists "Kyrgyz" as a primary demonym (and "Kyrgyzstani" as a secondary option). To specifically distinguish members of ethnic groups, I prefer to use "ethnic Kyrgyz" or "ethnic Uzbek," as in another example from the same U.S. report: "The population is 61.2 percent ethnic Kyrgyz."