Peace and Justice in Kyrgyzstan: A Voice from Uzbekistan

Posted on 15 July 2010 by

The violence in Osh, Kyrgyzstan has caused me great pain. Atrocities committed against Uzbeks, Russians, Tartars, and some Kyrgyz, such as those recounted in Fergana.ru, reflect the cruelty of what occurred. While lack of information is the reality inside Uzbekistan, even people around the world do not have full information about what has happened. I am proud that Kyrgyz human rights activist Tolekan Ismailova was on the ground in Osh and in the refugee camps documenting the human rights violations, and that she along with other Kyrgyz activists have been calling for international investigations. It is sad that their calls for an international investigation have not received worldwide support.

Dawn in Tashkent (cc) vpzone

Dawn in Tashkent (cc) vpzone

In the first days after the violence, organizations such as UNDP and the Red Cross, and the government of Uzbekistan provided humanitarian support to the refugees and victims of the attacks. However, refugee camps in Uzbekistan received far more people than had been anticipated and in a short time there was a serious lack of water and other provisions. Local people have been trying to support the refugees through donations of bottled water, warm bread, and clothes for children and there was even some talk of local land being made available for refugees to construct houses. But due to poor conditions inside the refugee camps and concern for family members who remained in Osh, many refugees felt they needed to return home to Kyrgyzstan, to a situation that is neither stable nor safe.

These most recent attacks are not random outbursts, but have ties to earlier violence. I remember the ethnic violence in Osh and Uzgen in 1990.* In the very first days the heads of the governments of the Uzbek SSR and Kyrgyz SSR came to the conflict zones along with famous and respected people such as Chingiz Aytmatov, one of the best known figures in Kyrgyzstan’s literature. They spoke with the perpetrators and called for an end to the violence. Although finally violence was stopped by the Russian military with the international community largely turning a blind eye, the Kyrgyz authorities were right to take immediate action to stop the violence in 1990. Sadly this time, it is the opposite: No well-known figures spoke out against the violence in Osh. Ms. Roza Otunbaeva, leader of the provisional government in Kyrgyzstan, came to the conflict zone several days after the eruption of violence. The Kyrgyz government is de facto on the side of those who organized the violence. And the Uzbeks, who were trying to protect their homes and families, now make up the majority of those who have been arrested.

One million Uzbeks live in Kyrgyzstan on their own lands. They are not immigrants to the country, but have lived there since the days of Khanate of Kokand.** But some Kyrgyz nationalists are claiming that Uzbeks are aliens living on their land and want to push them out of the country. During the Soviet era, use of the term “ethnic violence” was not permitted as it was considered contradictory to the regime’s ideology. Therefore after the violence in Osh in 1990, thorough investigations were not considered. The problem was buried and allowed to simmer until now. To prevent the recurrence of ethnic violence in this region in the future, it is critical that a full and transparent international investigation of the Osh and Bishkek events be carried out as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the Kyrgyz government’s support for an international investigation and justice for all victims is necessary if a true democracy is to form in the country. The international community has donated millions of dollars for a “Kyrgyz democracy.” Therefore it has a legitimate right to ask what sort of democratic system is actually forming in Kyrgyzstan, why ethnic violence occurred, and how this democracy was not able to prevent the deaths of hundreds of its own citizens.

The government of Uzbekistan supported an international investigation into the Osh events, but its calls have been ignored, with some pointing out that Uzbekistan itself refused to accept an investigation into the 2005 Andijan massacre of hundreds of people, mostly civilians, within its own borders. Two wrongs do not make a right. As a human rights advocate I agree that the events in Andijan should have been investigated. It is for the same reasons that the tragedy in Osh must be fully investigated today. An independent international investigation is a critical condition for the prevention of further ethnic violence in Central Asia and the protection of all people.

*Ethnic clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz occurred in and around Osh over disputed land and ethnic rights.

**A state in Central Asia that existed from 1709–1883 within the territory of modern eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Marfua Tokhtakhodjaeva is head of WLP’s former partner in Uzbekistan, the Tashkent Women’s Resource Center (TWRC), which closed operations in 2006 under pressure from the government.

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1 Comments For This Post

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