The Uzbek minority is largely excluded from Kyrgyzstan's political system, though they dominate the country's merchant class. Disputes over water and land use between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are common in the south. The Soviet Union spent decades trying unsuccessfully to suppress ethnic nationalism in the area and in 1990, when the Soviet military was unable to put a stop to a three-month-long inter-ethnic battle between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh that resulted in hundreds of deaths, it was taken as a sign of Moscow's diminished power over its regions.From the Telegraph, on June 17, "Kyrgyzstan: Death, dictators and the Soviet legacy." An excerpt:
It would be wrong to characterise the violence in Kyrgyzstan as politically motivated. Ancient ethnic tensions and stereotypes have come to the fore, and poverty is the root cause. But at the same time it is broadly true that the Uzbeks of the south generally support Otunbayeva, while their southern Kyrgyz attackers do not. Bakiyev supporters have played some role in stirring up the violence.From the Times, on June 18, "Diplomatic Memo: Value to Big Powers May Not Save Kyrgyzstan." An excerpt:
Now, Kyrgyzstan needs help building a stable government that knits together the north and the south. Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, suggested that NATO should be working with the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization to develop a mechanism for collective action. The next time a Central Asian country is wobbling at the edge of a precipice, he said, someone must be prepared to accept responsibility.From the Post, on June 21, "Both sides in Kyrgyzstan fault government for failing to prevent violence." An excerpt:
At the front of the crowd was Kadyrzhan Batyrov, a prominent Uzbek politician, businessman and university chief who argued that Bakiyev's ouster meant Uzbeks would finally get the political rights they deserved. After recapturing the building, the throng marched to the Bakiyev family compound in Jalal-Abad and burned it down.From The Economist, on June 24, "Kyrgyzstan's humanitarian crisis: Sad homecoming." An excerpt:
Witnesses said Kyrgyz and Uzbeks stood side by side in the crowd. But Bakiyev's supporters framed the conflict in ethnic terms and painted Batyrov as a radical Uzbek nationalist, tapping into fears among local Kyrgyz that Uzbeks might gain too much power and attempt to secede.
[Ethnic-Uzbek] women are now trickling back to their husbands, fathers, and brothers, who stayed behind to protect their homes—or what is left of them. Many houses were burned down, sometimes with their residents still in them. Now they have to go back and attempt to pick up their lives again, side-by-side with their ethnic-Kyrgyz persecutors.From The Nation, on June 25, "Kyrgyzstan on the Brink." An excerpt:
Unaddressed stereotypes have allowed tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to fester ever since the only previously reported conflict between the two groups, in 1990. These typecasts were a breeding ground for the surge of rumors—spread by Internet chat rooms, text messages and word of mouth—that helped provoke the attacks: “Uzbek men raped a group of Kyrgyz girls”; “young men brawled over a restaurant bill”; “Uzbeks, in their efforts to declare autonomy, had armed themselves.”From the Times, on June 26, "After Kyrgyz Unrest, a Question Lingers: Why?" An excerpt:
But frictions between the two groups aren’t the result of some ancient ethnic hatred. They have waxed and waned for only a generation, as local elites, manipulating economic grievances, vie for control of resources. In recent times, that has meant Afghan heroin. In place of a functioning state, southern Kyrgyzstan has become a network of trafficking routes controlled by narco-barons and their extended families.
Last week the head of the country’s national security agency issued a statement saying that the younger son of Mr. Bakiyev, Maksim Bakiyev, had hired Islamic radicals from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a group with ties to the Taliban, to infiltrate Uzbek neighborhoods and stoke conflict. The statement said the Islamic radicals fired rifles at civilians and then hid, only to reappear in other areas.From RFE/RL, on June 30, "How Strong Is Kyrgyzstan's New Constitution?" An excerpt:
Reinforcing the message of external instigation, on Thursday an airplane flew over Bishkek dropping leaflets warning that “provocateurs” could foment ethnic violence in the capital, too, though the streets remained calm.
The challenge for Kyrgyzstan now will be to go far beyond simply writing a new constitution to developing the whole body of institutions and public expectations which assure a constitution is upheld and guides a society.
As Kyrgyzstan took its first step this week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave it a dubious send-off. He told reporters at the G20 summit in Toronto that he did "not really understand how a parliamentary republic would look and work in Kyrgyzstan."
Medvedev asked, "Will this not lead to a chain of eternal problems -- to reshuffles in parliament, to the rise to power of this or that political group, to authority being passed constantly from one hand to another, and, finally will this not help those with extremist views to power?"
Put another way, the same question would be: Are not parliamentary systems, though a proven success in democratic countries, doomed to failure in the post-Soviet space?
Update (July 7, 2010) -- From the Times, on July 2, "Uzbeks Accused of Inciting Violence in Kyrgyzstan." Two excerpts:
The arrests are based on a section of the Kyrgyz criminal code that bans inciting ethnic hatred, after the ethnic Uzbek leaders accused the police and army of instigating and in some cases participating in the original violence ... Azimzhan Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek and the director of a human rights group in the town of Bazar-Kurgan, was arrested on this charge, according to his lawyer, Nurbek Toktokunov, who said Mr. Askarov had bruises on his back suggesting he had been tortured in custody.From RFE/RL, on July 2, "Kyrgyzstan: Anatomy Of A Conflict." An excerpt:
The latest round of fighting in Osh began in the predawn hours of June 10-11, when two youth gangs -- one Kyrgyz and one Uzbek -- were gambling in a local casino. Each accused the other of cheating and a scuffle broke out. The fighting spilled out onto the street as reinforcements on both sides -- alerted by text messages -- joined the brawl. Rumors quickly spread -- which were later debunked in a Human Rights Watch report -- that an Uzbek mob raped as many as 12 Kyrgyz girls and killed three at a nearby dormitory. The false reports stoked Kyrgyz anger as mobs took to the streets to exact revenge.From NPR, on July 4, "Trust, And Answers, Elusive In Post-Riot Kyrgyzstan." An excerpt:
As a journalist covering a conflict, I'm supposed to offer more than stories of suffering. I'm supposed to get answers, and the truth. In Kyrgyzstan so far, that's been painfully impossible.From EurasiaNet, on July 6, "In Osh, Easier to Dig Up Corpses Than Truth." Two excerpts:
Armed young men guarded that Cheremushki street corner, stopping and searching cars. They were a jumpy mix of military conscripts and police ... My colleague and I pleaded with them to give us access: “Officials [i.e. you] keep telling us [Western journalists] to report both sides of the story. Here is an opportunity. Please let us past.” Each recklessly gripped his Kalashnikov – “please stop pointing that at my belly” – and dithered, scared of his seniors, uncertain of his own place in the hazy chain of command.And from RFE/RL, on July 7, "Rising Nationalism Threatens Kyrgyzstan." An excerpt:
Eventually, we flagged down a senior officer. He explained that Kyrgyz police had died in the conflict, too, and let us through.
Almazbek Atambaev doesn't want people to talk about that. In his sprawling office in parliament, the interim government's dapper deputy prime minister -- a top candidate to lead the country as a possible future prime minister -- criticizes Western journalists for reporting about the overwhelming number of Uzbek deaths.
"We won't allow divisions in our society," he replies when asked to clarify the figures.