Two thousand two hundred people dead. Three hundred thousand people now homeless refugees. Untold numbers of rapes. Homes burned to the ground. As tension boils over in Kyrgyzstan, Scriptonite consider the real forces at play in this ethnic tension deja vous.
Bisected by the Silk Road, the 2000 year old trade route linking Europe and Asia, the five countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan are commonly referred to as The Stans. The region is filled with UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the most spectacular scenes of natural environment in the world, including the Al-Archa National Park and Lake Issyk-Kul (pictured below).
However, in the heart of the Stans, Kyrgyzstan; political and social matters are considerably less harmonious.
Conquered by Arab invaders in the 8th century, the Kyrgyz region has since been successively overrun by everyone from the Uzbeks, the Chinese and most recently the Russians. During this time, the population might have learnt that whenever the forces in charge wanted to retain power or distract folk while it increased it’s powers, it set the population up against itself. Let’s take a look at two such incidences.
First Time Round – June 1990
In 1989, the occupying Russian regime of the USSR was on the outs. The USSR was under pressure and leaking territory. It had made attempts to ‘Russify’ the populations of its key territories in order to impact the results of elections. Basically, just importing the friendlies.
It’s policy was to drive the inhabiting populous out to the country and beef up Russian residents of the cities, including access to jobs and services.
This led to an acute housing and employment crisis for the Kyrgyz. This is borne out by the contemporary census which reveals ethnic Kyrgyz made up only 22% of residents in these cities compared to over 60% Russian and other Slavic residents. There was also an unemployment rate of neary 30%.
The Uzbek minority who, although representing only 15% of the population as a whole, about equalled the Kyrgyz in number in the South including the capital Bishkek and Osh, created a rights group called the Adalat which sought to establish the Uzbek language as a main language of the region and redistribute some of the (for reasons specified above) highly scarce arable land. In response, the Krygyz set up their own rights group in opposition, called the Osh Ameigy (Osh Land).
The call went out….it was the Uzbeks nicking all the land and housing. In a final and fatal push, the local authorities approved build plots to Kyrgyz on an Uzbek dominated state farm. Cue anarchy. Groups of jobless, angry young men on both sides met on the disputed plot of land only to be mown down by the bullets of local militia who were authorised to use lethal force to disperse the crowds. Hundreds died and the people of Kyrgyzstan were successfully divided amongst ethnic lines.
The Russian occupying forces however, who had initiated the housing crisis, the failing economy, the lack of employment opportunities for the native population and shot dead most of those killed, got to rule the place for another year.
This buying of time was crucial for the USSR. The beleaguered empire spent the whole year doing it’s best to ensure its continuation by nobbling the local politicians. However, they failed and the country managed to crawl into independence in 1991.
This Time Round – June 2010
The above video is not of current clashes. In fact, bloody clashes have been breaking out intermittently once more in the nation under a succession of corrupt, power hungry and ineffective governments.
Despite international willy-waving like joining various trade agreements including the WTO, the Kyrgyz leadership has been fairly questionable in it’s application of ‘democracy’ since it’s independence in 1991.
The first leader of the new republic was Askar Akayev. Post independence, the new government did just about everything it could to increase the power of the president while curtailing the powers of the legislative branch of it’s democratic system.
Don’t let the smiling face fool you. Askayev is not benevolence personified. He was elected in 1991 as the compromise candidate, and was viewed as a modern liberal communist. He attested to this himself and viewed private land favourably. Hopes were high. However, his principal mission became ruling as hard as possible for as long as possible.
He went on to win a two further elections, both of which were internally and internationally akcnowledged for widespread ballot rigging. When rigging the votes wasn’t enough, Askayev proceeded to lock up the opposition. In March 2002, he locked up opposition deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. The charge? Well, being in opposition. When protesters hit the streets in outrage at this latest arbitrary arrest by the ever encroaching Askayev regime, they were shot down. Five innocent people were killed where they stood by state security forces. In echoes of 1990, the local enforcement were authorised to use live ammo on the peaceful protest.
In the elections of 2005, Askayev took his megolomania to whole new levels of crazy. He indicated, publicly, that he was considering the principle of divine hereditary rule for his children. His children then, in another clearly dodgy vote, won their seats. In rage and fear of defacto rule by Askayek to his death, or an Askyev Dynasty, the country launched into revolution.
The Tulip revolution took place in March 2005 and despite the horrors, Askayev was successfully deposed. Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev who had received 89% of the vote with a 53% turnout and was duly appointed President. Good news? Not really, Bakiyev was widely accused of rigging as many of the votes as Askiyev. The nation hoped for a change regardless….what else was there to do?
Sure as eggs, despite his promises to reduce the power of the president and restore power to the prime minister and parliament, Bakiyev’s period of rule was a bloody disgrace. It was marred by the murder of several prominent politicians prison riots, economic strangulation and financial scandal.
In 2007, massive protests in Bishkek saw violent clashes between police and protesters.
In the 2009 election, surprise surprise, beleaguered and hated Bakiyev WON the election. It was clear that voter fraud and corruption were now manifest.
By winter that year and early 2010, rolling blackouts were commonplace across the country, heating bills went up 400% and electricity went up 170%.
By April this year, the opposition forces had endured enough and following bloody riots, the government of Bakiyev was overthrown. After a final row he picked up his wife and children and fled to Kazakhstan.
In the meantime, a coalition government lead by Roza Otunbayeva was created. A referendum was called for June 27th where the resignation of Bakiyev would be announced and the public would have the opportunity to legitimise the new government.
However, over the border, Bakiyev was not done. In his own words:
“I, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, am the legally elected president of Kyrgyzstan and recognised by the international community. I do not recognise my resignation. Nine months ago the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and there is no power that can stop me. Only death can stop me“
It is alleged that Bakiyev and his supporters have deliberately incited ethnic tensions within the country to destabilise it to the degree that the upcoming referendum doesn’t take place. It is alleged that Bakiyev recruited Tajik groups to fire upon crowds of Uzbeks and Kyrgyz and blame either side for it.
Thus incited, angry young men once again clashed, this time in a club in Osh. The violence quickly erupted across the city and what ensued was a siege of rape, bloody violence and terror.
Pic 1. Dead Uzbek men looked upon by passers by.
Pic 2. Dead uzbek mother and her children, stamped to death in the rush to flee.
Pic 3. Fleeing Uzbeks crowded at the border
The nation looks unstable, the referendum looks in doubt and Bakiyev looks on from the wings, no doubt licking his lips and making deals.
A voice from the region attests to this.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The British Red Cross
International Rescue Committee
Help them help the displaced people of Kyrgyzstan.