Kyrgyzstan: Revolution Revisited
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National Unity: Uzbeks and Russians, Dungans and Uighurs: Kyrgyzstan's ethnic diversity has long been touted as cause for celebration. But with social tensions on the increase after the 2005 uprising, many observers fear that regional and ethnic differences could potentially pose a threat to political and social stability. How has the government responded?


On April 25, 2005, Feliks Kulov announced that he would run for president to prevent the rise of "another northern candidate who would use nationalist motifs in contesting with the stronger candidate [Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev] from the south," news outlets reported. A little more than two weeks later, Bakiyev cited the need to stop the country's division between north and south as the reason for his decision to run with Kulov on a joint ticket.

Upon election, President Bakiyev promised protection to all geographic and ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan. "The peak of social tensions is now left behind. The problem of division into north and south does not exist in our society [any longer]. [...] All citizens, representatives of all nationalities that comprise the people of Kyrgyzstan, will be protected by the Constitution and the Kyrgyz legislation," television news outlets reported him as saying at his first press conference after the July 2005 election.


By May 2006, Prime Minister Kulov has denied the existence of a north-south rift among Kyrgyz. "It is no secret that today this division exists in a certain part of the political elite. I have to stress: there is no such division among the people, but a continuous exaggeration of this division in the political circles creates tension within society," local media sources reported him as saying.

Instead, growing attention is focusing on Kyrgyzstan's ethnic differences.

While the government claims that the outflow of Russian-speaking residents has slowed, in a recent interview with, Vladimir Vishnevsky, head of the Slavic Foundation, stated that as many as 20,000 ethnic Russians are still leaving Kyrgyzstan annually. Meanwhile, a government project to promote the use of Kyrgyz - an official language but one used far less than Russian in Bishkek - has raised concerns among ethnic Slavs about linguistic isolation.

The government's get-tough campaign against suspected Islamic radicals in southern Kyrgyzstan risks implications for ethnic relations, too. In early August 2006, a joint Kyrgyz-Uzbek security forces killed a popular ethnic Uzbek mullah, Muhammadrafik Kamalov, who authorities accused of membership in the extremist Hizb-Ut Tahir sect. The hundreds of Uzbeks who attended Kamalov's funeral harshly condemned the government's actions.

In May 2006, after expressing concern with growing "Uzbekophobia" among local law-enforcement agents, Jalal-Abad activists demanded that Uzbek be declared Kyrgyzstan's official language. The government has rejected the demand, all the while building closer relations with Uzbekistan. In August 2006, the government deported to Uzbekistan four Uzbek refugees and one asylum seeker who had been charged with involvement in the 2005 Andijon uprising.

Violence has also marred ethnic minorities' post-revolution experience. Early in February 2006, inter-ethnic clashes broke out in the predominantly Dungan village of Iskra, 70 kilometers from Bishkek. Twenty people are injured; 30 homes are destroyed. Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov accused local authorities of inaction and failure to prevent the violence. In response, many Dungan families left their homes to resettle in neighboring Kazakhstan.

Watch a News Broadcast of This Promise:
March 24, 2006 press conference by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
Credit: NTS Television

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