Kyrgyzstan’s new government shows little interest in improving inter-ethnic relations, while the international community is slow to learn the lessons of last summer’s violent clashes in southern regions, according to a recently released report on the Osh violence. The report goes on to express concern that an uptick in aggressive nationalism is placing Kyrgyzstan on a path toward failed-state status.
This year’s presidential elections “may result in the emergence of a more nationalistic figure,” which would further undermine hopes for reconciliation, warns the report, titled Promoting a Stable and Multiethnic Kyrgyzstan: Overcoming the Causes and Legacies of Violence. The report was published March 7 by the Open Society Foundations. [Editor’s Note: EurasiaNet.org operates under the auspices of OSF]
“Kyrgyzstan continues to be affected by a set of conflict processes that produce violence on a daily basis. Since June 2010, Kyrgyzstan has witnessed a series of show trials, acts of daily intimidation and random violence, the forcible seizure of land and property, the exclusion of minorities from public employment, and a climate of fear and lawlessness around the actions of the agencies of law and order. These conditions could easily return the country to widespread violent confrontation,” cautions the report’s author, Neil Melvin, director of the Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. As it is, ethnicity “has been reinforced as the basis of nation building far above that of citizenship and rule of law.”
Exploring the sources of last summer’s violence, Melvin describes how 20 years of wavering national identity policy and failure to address the causes of similar violence in 1990 made Uzbeks into political scapegoats. As the divide between northern and southern Kyrgyzstan grew after independence, the country’s first president, northerner Askar Akayev, cultivated Uzbeks as political support in the south. After he was overthrown in 2005, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a southerner, came to power. Bakiyev “did not need the support of ethnic Uzbeks. Indeed many around him were in direct political and economic competition with ethnic Uzbeks across the south. As the corruption and criminality associated with Bakiyev’s rule spread, including within the police and security forces, Uzbek communities and businesses came under pressure from semi-legal criminal groups seeking extortion or expropriation.”
Bakiyev, who watered down Akayev’s efforts to build a multiethnic society, was ousted amid in street riots in April 2010. Because of their spite for Bakiyev, many prominent and vocal Uzbeks in the south joined the interim government and demanded better representation, exacerbating tension with Kyrgyz in the south.
Since the June violence, Uzbeks have been systematically shut out of the political process across the country; many have had their businesses seized illegally, creating a motive to seek revenge at some opportune point in the future.
The international community, which “proved unable or unwilling to respond effectively to the violence” last summer, must learn from the experience and be prepared to intervene if violence flares again.
The “crisis has exposed the security vacuum that has opened up in Central Asia with none of the leading security organizations in a condition to respond to the challenge,” Melvin wrote. The United States and Russia must fulfill their responsibilities as regional superpowers, engaging Bishkek politically and offering security assistance. Russia, as leader of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a regional security body, should prepare for “the possible deployment of a preventative peace operation in Kyrgyzstan.”