Kyrgyzstan: Need for international investigation grows

By Erica Marat

A month after the shocking violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, questions about what sparked a clash between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks remain. Kyrgyz NGOs and western experts are calling for a thorough international investigation. However, Kyrgyz president Roza Onubayeva has been sending mixed signals about whether she agrees that such an investigation is necessary.

Shortly after the violence ended she said that her government would persecute anyone guilty in instigating mass violence. However, since being elected president at the June 27 referendum, she has toned down her calls for an international investigation. Instead, members of the interim government suggest that an internal investigation commission should be formed.

Time is pressing for answers. Both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations are anxious to find answers to questions, including: why the violence began and then ended so abruptly? Who instigated the violence? Was it provoked by external forces? Did agent provocateurs aim at preventing the referendum? How did such a large number of local residents happen to have conventional arms? And, most importantly, will the violence occur again?

In the meantime, Kyrgyzstan’s military and law-enforcement officials might be the main force behind opposing an international investigation. Investigative journalistic reports suggest that in the midst of the conflict during June 11-14, the military and police forces acted unprofessionally – cases of shooting at civilian populations, specifically ethnic Uzbeks, have been reported. In the aftermath of the conflict, cases of the military’s harassment of the ethnic Uzbek minority continue to surface.

While questions about the root-causes of violence remain, pundits and Kyrgyz government officials put forward their own versions of what instigated the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. The blame has been placed by them on Islamic radicals and former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s supporters. Yet other Kyrgyz experts believe that this was instigated by the Russian government with the purpose to undermine Kyrgyzstan’s interim government. Finally, a small minority of experts believe that the violence is a result of boiling inter-ethnic confrontation between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations.

Amid these conspiracy theories, reconciliation efforts might prove to be futile, forcing both ethnic groups to live in uncertainty and suspicion. An investigation by a reputable international body – be it the UN or OSCE – is desperately needed. Only a common agreement about what caused violence will allow Kyrgyzstan to move forward past its inter-ethnic confrontation.