Osh Tense Once Again

By Erica Marat

On November 29, residents of Osh city awaited in panic for the government to clarify that a series of shootings were part of a National Security Service’s special operation. Memories of ethnic strife from last June are still fresh in southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 450 people died and 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks were forced out of their homes as a result of the clash that erupted unexpectedly on June 10 and lasted until June 14. The violence was aggravated by government forces’ chaotic and unprofessional actions during the outbreak.

Head of the National Security Service Keneshbek Dushebayev has assured the people that this was a special operation conducted by security forces and the government was in control of the situation. President Roza Otunbayeva, too, rushed to explain that the shootings were not a result of renewed ethnic violence.

According to the Ministry of Health, four government troops were injured and three criminals were eliminated in the clash. Earlier this month Kyrgyz security forces detained nine people suspected of attempting to instigate ethnic clashes. The government still blames former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev for fueling the ethnic hatred that arose last June.

Despite statements by Dushebayev and Otunbayeva, information coming from the government was incomplete and at times conflicting. Minister of Interior Zarylbek Rysaliyev argued that security forces disbanded an organized group that intended to instigate ethnic strife in southern Kyrgyzstan. Other government channels pointed at security forces’ eradication of Islamic radicals.

The population at large lacked clear information as to what type of “special operation” the government decided to carry out in Osh. Rumors spread fast, fueling panic. Some ethnic Uzbeks feared that police forces renewed “chistki” (cleansing) of Uzbek neighborhoods in search for weapons and the alleged instigators of June violence. Local ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities mobilized for defense against perpetrators.

The latest incident points at persisting fear of the possibility of renewed ethnic clashes as well as the government’s inability to communicate with the masses efficiently. It is such panic and lack of information that might potentially spark a new wave of violence. Looters and opportunistic criminals will seek to attack local businesses and communities should there be a feeling that the government is losing control over Osh. This is the same feeling that many in Osh shared during clashes between government troops and unknown insurgents.