Bloodshed in Kyrgyzstan’s South

By Erica Marat

What began as a spat between Kyrgyz and Uzbek youngsters in one of the local clubs on the night of June 10 turned into one of the worst bloodsheds in Kyrgyzstan’s history. Kyrgyz media report 37 dead and over 300 injured as a result of violence between local Kyrgyz and Uzbek population. But local NGO leaders think the number of causalities is much higher.

Sources suggest the June 10 spat was orchestrated by supporters of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev who are interested in destabilizing the country. Should the upcoming referendum and parliamentary election scheduled on June 27th and October 10th, respectively, fail, Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government will be unable to claim legitimacy. As violence unraveled, Bakiyev (or someone acting on his behalf) has been actively tweeting about how concerned he is about the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Inter-ethnic frustration has been breeding in southern Kyrgyzstan for many years. Inter-ethnic spats are the reality of everyday life in most places in the region. Yet it takes greater political forces to instigate larger conflicts. The violence spread fast across Osh and the suburbs as rumors about Kyrgyz attacking Uzbek population spread. Cars and shops were set on fire, perhaps by “third forces” interested in fueling the conflict.

Increasingly, the June 10-11 tension in Osh and the nearby villages is reminiscent of the violence in the summer of 1990, when over 1,500 people died as a result of a civic clash between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Back then the Soviet leadership was hardly able to halt the conflict, even while imposing strict curfews and sending in troops. President Roza Otunbayev’s provisional government will need to use complex diplomatic and military methods to prevent escalation of tensions. But some military officials are not sure if the government is ready to fight against such decentralized outbreaks of violence.

It is, however, important not to confuse inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan with the north-south divide among political elites. The inter-ethnic confrontation between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks has little to do with the representation of leaders from the south or north of the country. Often these are leaders from the south acting against the allowance of more ethnic Uzbeks to join the government.