Kyrgyzstan: The Ramifications of Ethnic Violence

by Joanna Maltbaek

According to the UN, the violent uprising that occurred in Kyrgyzstan in June of 2010 left over 400 people dead and over 400,000 Uzbeks displaced in an attempt to flee across the border to Uzbekistan. Even today, over six months later, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the truth behind the June violence has yet to be exposed and that justice has yet to be served for those suspected to be responsible for the attacks.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, many minority populations in central Asia have found themselves displaced and disoriented amidst the growing internal strife of certain independent nations. In Kyrgyzstan, President Bakiyev was ousted on June 7, 2010 and a provisional government was set up under the leadership of Roza Otunbayeva. Yet the interim President has not succeeded in maintaining order, particularly in the southern border cities in the Fergana Valley (BBC).

The Fergana Valley region of Kyrgyzstan, though a largely successful center for international trade, has become overwhelmed with drug problems and well-established criminals in recent years (BBC). The situation in Osh, a city in Kyrgyzstan that closely borders Uzbekistan, became very dire with the replacement of the President in early June. In Osh, the minority Uzbek population quietly supported the new government. Pro-Bakiyev supporters among the Kyrgyz, however, showed their aversion to the new government by seizing public offices and kidnapping officials (BBC).

The situation only got worse. In the week that followed, tensions flared and ethnic gangs composed of young men began attacking Uzbek buildings and houses. Various news sources reported different death tolls and injury counts, but one thing remained clear: tens of thousands of Uzbeks were fleeing, displaced by the violence. Uzbekistan opened its borders but struggled to accommodate so many refugees.

Regaining control in Osh was far from successful. According to the BBC:

“…the government declared emergency rule in the south but failed to establish law and order. Ms. Otunbayeva’s appeal to Russia to send troops was widely seen as evidence of the government’s inability to deal with the situation. The interim government has sent a volunteer force to the south and granted shoot-to-kill powers to its security forces” (BBC).

In fact, due to the nature of the attacks, there seems to be some evidence that other motives were behind the violence. Said Rupert Colville, the UN high commissioner of human right’s spokesman: “We have strong indications that this event was not a spontaneous inter-ethnic clash – that it was to some degree orchestrated, targeted and well planned,” (Guardian).

In the months that have followed, little has been done to find and punish those directly responsible. In fact, many of the remaining Uzbeks were detained and tortured for their alleged involvement (BBC). Furthermore, the country’s democratic elections in early October showed that cross-ethnic unity has still yet to be constructed: the Kyrgyz ethno-nationalist party won the most seats in parliament (BBC).

With the start of the New Year, there must be a re-examination of the actions committed by the perpetrators during the violent period in June. Amnesty International released a detailed report in December of its findings in numerous case studies of victims. Various accounts of genocidal acts, including the killing of young children and the raping of women, have been reported. It is clear that human rights violations were extremely widespread throughout the conflict and that justice has not been served for those who suffered.

“BBC News – Q&A: Kyrgyzstan’s Ethnic Violence.” BBC News. 24 June 2010. Web. 3 Jan. 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10313948>.

Demytrie, Rayhan. “BBC News – Kyrgyz Election Exposes Ethnic Divide.” BBC News. 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Jan. 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/9089021.stm>.

“Partial Truth and Selective Justice.” The Aftermath of the June 2010 Violence in Kyrgyzstan (16 Dec. 2010). Amnesty International. 16 Dec. 2010. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR58/022/2010/en/2e04ab9b-73e6-46a1-98d7-563198e7255e/eur580222010en.pdf>.

Tran, Mark, and Luke Harding. “Kyrgyzstan Violence: UN Official Accuses outside Groups of Planning Attacks.” Guardian. 16 June 2011. Web. 3 Jan. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/16/kyrgyzstan-violence-un-accuses-outsiders>.

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