Subversive Politics at the Heart of the Violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Calling what is happening in southern Kyrgyzstan inter-ethnic clashes means buying the idea that the organisers of the violence are trying to sell to the world.

C alling what is happening in southern Kyrgyzstan inter-ethnic clashes means buying the idea that the organisers of the violence are trying to sell to the world. The events that resulted as of today in over 90 deaths and hundreds of injured are directly linked to the political developments in the country. These are the subversive actions towards the upcoming Referendum of 27 June that is expected to make the Interim Government legitimate.

Ex-President Bakiev who fled the country after the 7 April Revolution that claimed over 80 lives doesn’t have a chance to return to the power but he and his gang are very much interested in destabilizing the country. Call it revenge.

As for the inter-ethnic relations, of course, like in any country there are some tensions from now and then, but they are not at a scale to hate or readily kill each other. Whenever I visited Osh, I greatly appreciated the mutual respect Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have towards each other. So, the idea that two ethnicities were just waiting to get at each other’s throat once the opportunity arose is too cheap. Plus, it is not in the interest of Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan to cause a conflict when they have to flee to tyrannical Uzbek regime. Karimov is also not eager to accept Uzbeks from the revolution-infected neighbour. Why should they flee by the way? Kyrgyzstan is their home too. As many know the southern Kyrgyzstan is different from the rest of the country in many ways. It is the ethnic composition that makes the Ferghana valley so unique and exotic. In short, the issue of regionalism i.e south versus the north is more problematic than any inter-ethnic tensions.

The violence allegedly started in a local slot machine parlour and spilled over further . If it was just a fight between two ethnic gangs of youngsters (which exist by the way) they wouldn’t head to seize the TV station or burn cultural centers and government offices. Everything was well-prepared. It is also hard to believe that families in Osh just casually have so many arms and weapons at home. The organizers of the violence cleverly exploited the incident in the history- June 1990 inter-ethnic clashes that reportedly started over territory claims and claimed more than 300 lives. The fight between the gangs spilled over to the inter-ethnic violence back then too. The massacre was stopped by the Soviet troops. Because of that very hard lesson learned from that infamous event in the history, it was not so easy to incite the inter-ethnic clashes, which started last month. It is also not surprising that the violence started among the youth, which may not have experienced the 1990 events.

Just recently the phone conversation of ex-President Bakiev’s son with his uncle Janysh Bakiev was broadcasted on TV channels where they shared their plans of such disruptive events, including terrorist attacks in public places. One would ask why then the Interim Government couldn’t prevent the violence with so much information at hand? The Interim Government simply doesn’t have a capacity to control it alone. Russia sent the humanitarian assistance to the country but is reluctant to send forces yet, explaining it as “an internal conflict of one country” that it does not want to intervene in. The possibility of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation’s (CSTO) peacekeeping forces is also waved off for now. This makes you think how much more lives will still be lost until they decide to intervene to save lives. The priority now is stop the violence before it grew to a regional conflict and not calling for calm and assigning yet other special envoys.

According to Roza Otunbaeva, the President of the Interim Government, the timing of the violence that coincides with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Tashkent clearly shows that it was in someone’s interest to include in the SCO agenda the capability of the Interim Government to govern. One could possibly take it as a hint that there are more players in this dirty game than just Bakiev’s gang.

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5 Responses to “Subversive Politics at the Heart of the Violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan” Subscribe

  1. Stephen Gray June 16, 2010 at 3:50 PM #

    Comment courtesy of Sergio Figueroa Sanz:

    I can agree to some extent but there’s parts of the analysis that I think deserve further scrutiny. In particular the idea conveyed by claims such as ” Whenever I visited Osh, I greatly appreciated the mutual respect Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have towards each other”. Regardlesss of the obvious fact that personal anecdotes of the perception of the author … See Moreof such a complex social reality are, at best, weak evidence of anything, I’d be careful in so insistently separating enthinc conflic with government politics. A common mistake is viewing politics as a sphere almost only relevant in government settings under electoral contexts (much like the Referendum referred to in the artcile). Yet, politics has a much broader definition and encompasses every single aspect of human life. This is not a statement from a hardcore political scientist but a remark of acknowledgement. After all, I’m not trainied in polisci. A superficial reference to genocidal scenarios in Africa should suffice to illistrate the point that creating-enhancing ethinic conflict is both source and result of institutional political strategy. The author in fact acknowledges this when she/he anyway refers to regionalism as a potential stressor. Consider the country’s characteristics according to the CIA Factbook. Rougly 75% of the population live in rural settings. Economic activity is concentrated on agriculture (although the arable land is less than 7%) and mining. 40% are below the povery line. Terrible communications and transportations infrastructure. Just how ethnically mixed can this country be? I’d say not much. What are the odds that regional divisions are marked by ethnical divisions? I’d say pretty high. In fact, as reported by The Economist, “Although Uzbeks make up only 15% of Kyrgyzstan’s population of 5.4m, most of them live in the southern part of the country, where they make up the majority”. So regional division and ethinc division basically match. How can one separate them so arbitrarilly? How could an instigation just out of the blue create such a reaction if no past tensions existed. Let’s get real. Conspiracy theories and anecdotal evidence analysis are fun but make for uninteresting arguments.

  2. Aidai Masylkanova June 17, 2010 at 10:16 AM #

    You first advise to be careful and not separate the ethnic conflict from the politics (I just exactly did that-described the ethnic conflict in connection with the current political developments), but then you acknowledge that “politics has a much broader definition and encompasses every single aspect of human life”. I understand that you are not making scientific statements here but these are controversial if not confusing remarks. But, no, I did not separate ethnic conflict from politics.

    As you have rightly noted, the social reality is a complex issue and it becomes even more complex in a region like Central Asia. Unfortunately, the CIA tourist book or the Economist and alike that often give sensational articles, are not really the sources that can help you understand the region and its problems better.

    Speaking of the regionalism as a bigger problem than inter-ethnic tensions, let me clarify that it is Kyrgyz in the north and Kyrgyz in the south that have strained relations and not the Kyrgyz in the north with the Uzbeks in the south. Here comes the issue of tribalism that plays its role in the competition between Kyrgyz in the north and the south. But that is another story that deserves separate discussion.

    Take for example boroughs in NYC. Or even just small Manhattan, which is divided into so many bits and pieces based on ethnicities/races or financial income. Just like in this multinational city Kyrgyz and Uzbek in the southern Kyrgyzstan may have certain stereotypes and biases against each other but not hatred (at least until last week). Stereotypes and biases are different from the hatred that can lead to the ethnic cleansing that happened in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t exclude that stereotypes and biases can grow into hatred, but that was not observed in the southern Kyrgyzstan. So, yes, I insist that without third forces, Kyrgyz and Uzbek would commit such atrocities against each other. So, yes, let’s get real. Without well-planned subversive actions, just a fight between two young men in the casino would not result in the ethnic cleansing. How many times, young men fight and people don’t take up arms and kill each other to settle the fight…? You ask for evidences, listen to the phone conversation of Maxim Bakiev with his uncle on youtube. Kyrgyz and Uzbek brought foreign militants to settle their inter-ethnic dispute…? I doubt it. I’d like to add that the southern Kyrgyzstan is a transit region for illicit trafficking in arms and weapons. It is also the area that was infiltrated by the IMU in the past. It is not a secret that non-state actors are interested in volatile states with weak governments. Ferghana has always been the desired region for the religious extremists.

    The article doesn’t deny inter-ethnic tensions nor does it give an idyllic picture of the southern Kyrgyzstan. It does not have an ambition to analyze the history of the Ferghana valley with a single article. What it attempts though is to share my perspective as a Kyrgyzstani on current events in the southern KG. Uninteresting or not, these are my personal experiences in a multi-ethnic country (80 ethnicities) that has always been known for its high level of tolerance in almost all social aspects: ethnicity, religion, language etc.

  3. Sergio Figueroa Sanz June 17, 2010 at 7:05 PM #

    Hi Aidai!
    It’s great to see that we’re having a conversation over this! I’m certainly no expert in Central Asian affairs but have an interest in social dynamics and what drives them. Ok, so, in order to make the discussion interesting, instead of writing you a response in essay format, I’ll make comments or questions to your response in brackets and caps (let’s see if it’s not too burdensome). I hope that allows us to talk about the details with more depth. Hope to hear back from you soon!
    Best,
    Sergio.

    ———————-

    You first advise to be careful and not separate the ethnic conflict from the politics (I just exactly did that-described the ethnic conflict in connection with the current political developments), but then you acknowledge that “politics has a much broader definition and encompasses every single aspect of human life”. I understand that you are not making scientific statements here but these are controversial if not confusing remarks [I DONT SEE HOW ITS CONTRADICTORY. I WAS MAKING THE POINT THAT ETHNIC "POLITICS", SO TO SPEAK, AND ELECTORAL "POLITICS" SHOULD NOT BE SEPARATED BECAUSE, INDEED, POLITICS HAS A BROADER DEFINITION AND ENCOMPASSES EVERY ASPECT OF HUMAN LIFE. IF THATS TRUE, THEN SEPARATING ASPECTS OF POLITICAL LIFE AS DISTINGUISHABLE AND MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE IS MISLEADING. FROM WHAT YOU SAY HOWEVER, I UNDERSTAND THAT IT WAS NOT YOUR INTENTION TO CONVEY THE IDEA THAT THE CAN BE EXCLUSIVE SO I BELIEVE WE'RE IN AGREEMENT IN THESE RESPECTS]. But, no, I did not separate ethnic conflict from politics.

    As you have rightly noted, the social reality is a complex issue and it becomes even more complex in a region like Central Asia. Unfortunately, the CIA tourist book or the Economist and alike that often give sensational articles, are not really the sources that can help you understand the region and its problems better [COMPLETELY AGREE. THE REFERENCES WERE QUICK DATA SNAPSHOTS THAT WERE USED TO QUESTION YOUR HYPOTHESIS. I CAN AGREE WITH YOUR JUDGEMENT THAT THEY MAY BE SUBOPTIMAL BUT WOULD LIKE TO BE DIRECTED TO EVIDENCE QUESTIONING THEIR VALIDITY OR ACCURACY. IS THERE ANY SOURCE YOU'D RECCOMEND ME AND YOUR READERS LOOKING AT?].

    Speaking of the regionalism as a bigger problem than inter-ethnic tensions, let me clarify that it is Kyrgyz in the north and Kyrgyz in the south that have strained relations and not the Kyrgyz in the north with the Uzbeks in the south [LET ME ASK THIS: IS IT ACCURATE TO SAY THAT UZBECKS' SOCIOECONOMIC POSITION IS DISFAVORABLE WHEN COMPARED TO KYRGYZ? MY GUESS IS THAT THAT'S THE CASE. IF SO, IT MAKES SENSE THAT EFFECTIVE MOBILIZATION IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE EMPOWERED POPULATIONS AND NOT THE MARGINALIZED ONES. STILL, IF WE AGREE ON THAT IT HAS BEEN ENTIRELY STIRRED BY KYRGYZ, AS YOU HINT OUT BELOW, VIOLENCE CAN'T BE STIRRED SO IRRTAIONALLY BY A GROUP IF NO PREVIOUS TENSION EXISTS AND THIS TENSION MAY AS WELL BE ETHNICAL. I MADE A REFERENCE TO THE AFRICAN CASE THINKING OF NOT AN OUTRIGHT ORIGINAL ETHINIC POLICY BUT SIMPLY AS A CONSEQUENCE OF POLITICAL FAVORITISM IN PATRONAGE STATES. WOULD YOU SAY THIS IS THE CASE FOR YOUR COUNTRY? iS IT POSSIBLE THAT SOME DEGREE OF MARGINALIZATION HAS CREATED A SENTIMENT OF ANIMOSITY EVEN IF IT HAD NEVER MANIFESTED ITSELF BEFORE? FOR INSTANCE, IN MEXICO, IN CHIAPAS, WE KNOW THAT HARSH ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS ISSUES HAVE BEEN HOT FOR DECADES AND MANIFESTATIONS OF VIOLENCE AT LEAST AT THE SCALE THAT YOUR COUNTRY IS CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING HAS RARELY APPEARED. THIS IS, NONETHELESS, NO EVIDENCE OF THE TENSIONS BEING INEXISTANT AND THEY HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN MADE EVIDENT BY SPORDAIC RISES, INDEED, STIRRED BY NON-LOCALS]. Here comes the issue of tribalism that plays its role in the competition between Kyrgyz in the north and the south. But that is another story that deserves separate discussion [DO ELABORATE. I'D LOVE TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR INSIGHTS IN THIS TOPIC!].

    Take for example boroughs in NYC. Or even just small Manhattan, which is divided into so many bits and pieces based on ethnicities/races or financial income. Just like in this multinational city Kyrgyz and Uzbek in the southern Kyrgyzstan may have certain stereotypes and biases against each other but not hatred (at least until last week) [I MADE A REFERENCE TO ETHINC DIVERSITY NOT INTENDING TO SAY THAT SUCH DIVERSITY WILL ALWAYS RESULT IN VIOLENCE BUT THAT SUCH DIVERSITY ALONG WITH POVERTY AND CERTAIN TRAITS COMMON TO RURAL SETTINGS DO TEND TO SPUR ANIMOSITY AND TERRITORIALISM. SO NY IS A BAD COUNTEREXAMPLE]. Stereotypes and biases are different from the hatred that can lead to the ethnic cleansing that happened in Kyrgyzstan. I don’t exclude that stereotypes and biases can grow into hatred, but that was not observed in the southern Kyrgyzstan. So, yes, I insist that without third forces, Kyrgyz and Uzbek would commit such atrocities against each other. So, yes, let’s get real. Without well-planned subversive actions, just a fight between two young men in the casino would not result in the ethnic cleansing. How many times, young men fight and people don’t take up arms and kill each other to settle the fight…? [I'D ASK A SIMILAR QUESTION: WHY WOULD A WIDESPREAD REACTION BE TRIGGERED IF NO PREVIOUS TENSIONS EXISTED? TAKE MEXICO AGAIN AS AN EXAMPLE. WE HAVE INDISCRIMINATE VIOLENCE DUE TO DRUG TRAFIC AND CALLS FOR REVOLT AND REACTION HAVE BEEN COMMON, YET, NO ONE'S REACTING IN SUCH A SYSTEMATIC WAY. I BELIEVE THAT PART OF THE REASON WHY IS THAT MAKING A CASE THAT DRUG DEALERS BELONG TO A ONE SPECIFIC ETHINICITY OR SOCIAL IDENTITY WHICHEVER IT MAY BE IS CLOSE TO IMPOSSIBLE. IN THIS SENSE, MY HYPOTHESIS IS THAT IN YOUR COUNTRY THE FACT THAT SUCH PROFILING IS POSSIBLE AND SOME DEGREE OF PREVIOUS TENSION EXISTED ALLOW FOR SUCH A REACTION]. You ask for evidences, listen to the phone conversation of Maxim Bakiev with his uncle on youtube. Kyrgyz and Uzbek brought foreign militants to settle their inter-ethnic dispute…? I doubt it [WOULD IT BE SO UNLIKELY IF, AS YOU SUGGEST, FOREIGN INTERESTS ARE AT PLAY? RELIGIOUS PERHAPS AS YOU SAY A FEW LINES BELOW?]. I’d like to add that the southern Kyrgyzstan is a transit region for illicit trafficking in arms and weapons. It is also the area that was infiltrated by the IMU in the past. It is not a secret that non-state actors are interested in volatile states with weak governments [WHY? I CAN'T THINK OF WHY THIS IS THE CASE PER SE. VOLATILIY AND FRAGILITY HAVE NO APPEAL BY THEMSELVES]. Ferghana has always been the desired region for the religious extremists [SO THERE IS SOME NON ELECTORAL COMPONENT? WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT EXGTREMISTS, YOU REFER TO LOCALS OR FOREIGN?].

    The article doesn’t deny inter-ethnic tensions nor does it give an idyllic picture of the southern Kyrgyzstan. It does not have an ambition to analyze the history of the Ferghana valley with a single article. What it attempts though is to share my perspective as a Kyrgyzstani on current events in the southern KG. Uninteresting or not, these are my personal experiences in a multi-ethnic country (80 ethnicities) that has always been known for its high level of tolerance in almost all social aspects: ethnicity, religion, language etc.

  4. Aidai Masylkanova June 18, 2010 at 7:07 AM #

    Sergio,
    1. Good that we agree on that :-)
    2. Consider thinks tanks that focus on the region, not just on one single event. As for the regional media: www. ferghana.ru , www. timesca.com . ICG issued some articles too. Plus, I am sure there will be so many investigative reports by independent groups soon that will give in-depth analysis that you are seeking.
    3. The socio-economic realities of NY and the southern Kyrgyzsan are incomparable, and that is exactly the reason why such violence will not occur in NY and why it took place in the southern KG. I gave NY as an example to point at the level of the inter-ethnic tensions. Osh is the southern capital city of KG, where the violence started. The clashes in rural areas occured but stopped quickly.
    4. You can further research on this, but from the econ. point of view the national minorities in Kyrgyzstan (I don’t mean here just Uzbek)always lived better than title nations. The common perception is that they are more hardworking.
    5. The same question is puzzling all of us, why a violence at such a scale happened between people who may disagree on certain things but do not hate each other. Just like you I am also eager to study the upcoming investigative reports. Until then, we can endlessly debate over various speculations.
    6. Interesting example of Mexico. The Kyrgyz reality is that the politics, business and criminal world are very much interconnected. http://www.timesca.com just issued an article on that. The inter-ethnic tensions started last May and allegedly were initiated by Uzbek gang leader, who demanded that Uzbek language is given the status of third official language. There are calims about the discontent between the businessmen/criminal groups of two ethnicities, which instigated the violence. This only supports my initial argument that ordinary uzbek and kyrgyz were manipulated, the result of which became the manifestation of the brutal violence.
    7. Both.
    8. The region is attractive for non-state actors for the same reason why Tajikistan appeals to them. If it is true that foreign militants are involved, we might experience guerilla warfare, who will now using the momentum find the shelters in the caves in the south. And, we have US and Russian airbase… Just a speculation, not a statement based on strong research.

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  1. Ethnicity amidst the violence in Kyrgyzstan: a closer look | The Morningside Post - June 17, 2010

    [...] not, especially after the 1990 events that is still fresh in the minds of both ethnicities. The reason behind the violence in the southern  is the crowd madness caused by well-prepared gangs, which exploited the mutual [...]

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