Friday, June 11, 2010

The View from Osh

Out my window, a farmer pauses to listen to a firefight
By R.B. Moreno

It's been nearly a day since predawn text messages brought news that renewed fighting had broken out on Osh streets and in surrounding villages. The unrest quickly spread to neighborhoods including mine, whose location can't be named here for security reasons. Wire services report as many as 37 people killed and over 500 wounded, many from bullet wounds; already this is half the number who died in Bishkek in April. Local TV channels have aired pictures of students being evacuated from dormitories on buses, as well as interviews with officials from Kyrgyzstan's Health and Interior ministries, some of whom stated that the city is now back under control. That does not appear to be the case, at least locally.

As I write this post the popping and booming of gunfire and cannons can be heard through an open window, along with the rattle of Chinese firecrackers lit by teenagers looking to add to the mayhem. Few cars have taken to the streets today; those that do motor past at high speeds. Gas lines have been cut. Along one avenue a steady stream of pedestrians, mostly young men, could be seen moving downtown. Columns of smoke later rose from that direction, then dissipated. Shouts from mobs occasionally waft skyward. Still, for some Osh residents, including the neighbor pictured above, life carries on.

For another man close to the family I am staying with, life has ended. The jangle of a telephone, just minutes ago, brought word that a 27-year-old nephew of my host, whom I'll call Ms. Jashyrova, has died in the fighting. This news shook a woman whose stately features and ebony hair rarely lose composure. "I told my sister, keep your children at home!" she protested, raising her hands toward our dining room ceiling. I met this nephew's mother recently at a reunion that had both sisters chatting in whispers for hours on end. The victim's father passed away years ago, just before his birth, and so the son's Kyrgz name carried that fact. As the youngest child, he would have been expected to care for his mother, who now must lean on aging Ms. Jashyrova and other siblings. (At one time they numbered 15.)

As tonight's curfew descends and combat helicopters orbit the city, the reasons for this family's loss remain obscured. Wire reports mention a brawl breaking out Thursday evening on Osh's main thoroughfare and a number of damaged properties owned by ethnic Uzbeks. (Other property owners have also suffered losses.) But Ms. Jashyrova prefers to think today's events were coordinated by Uzbek enclaves themselves. Then again, maybe it was a reminder from God. Kyrgyzstan's people, she points out, were also rocked by an earthquake Thursday.

"Why did they go out?" she demands of the rioters, and again of the ceiling. "Teachers, farmers: we just want to work. Who suffers? Ordinary people!"

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


  1. Thanks for the on-the-ground post. Do you know if the fighting has hit the Nooksatski Podyem area? I'm concerned about friends there.

  2. Serendipity is coming upon a sentence in Pearl Buck's The Good Earth just after reading your blog and seeing your photo of the farmer. Consider this for a caption: "But (farmer) Wang Lung, although he saw this and he heard the talk and felt their anger with a strange unease, desired nothing but his land under his feet again."
    Stay safe from Margaret, future PC volunteer heading to Central Asia this Fall.

  3. JJ: I'm sorry but I don't have immediate information about the area you mention. Margaret: thank you for the quotation and best of luck with your service; I'm also reading Buck's novel just now.