International researchers and NGO workers in Kyrgyzstan are starting to wonder if their time is running out.
As Kyrgyzstan’s nationalism metastasizes, foreigners who have studied the ethnic bloodletting last summer – and offered recommendations for how to move the country beyond the threshold of more violence – are under increasing attack from local lawmakers and journalists. (Western commentators and other “outsiders” consider these accounts unbiased; many local politicians brand them pro-Uzbek.) Parliament has unanimously declared one prominent investigator persona non grata for reporting that more Uzbeks died than Kyrgyz.
It seems only a matter of time before the new authorities resurrect censorial former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s blacklist, and begin adding names.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a damning report describing the widespread torture of Uzbeks since the violence. Police – who are overwhelmingly ethnic Kyrgyz – are rounding up Uzbeks and torturing them to extract confessions, HRW found. Almost no Kyrgyz have been prosecuted for the violence or the aftermath.
HRW and Amnesty – which released similar findings the same day – are Kyrgyzstan’s friends: They are warning that the injustices threaten to spark a new round of violence. Their profession is analyzing comparable situations around the world and they know when a spark can turn into a flame. But the local response is disheartening.
Kyrgyz-language newspaper Fabula (Russian translation by gezitter.org) cried that “different international organizations denigrate Kyrgyzstan, write various reports dousing us with mud” and insult the country. The paper then declared that Kyrgyzstan should be more like totalitarian Uzbekistan, demanding officials take meddling foreigners “by the ears and lead them out of the country, as do the authorities of Uzbekistan.” (What next? Boiling opponents alive?)
In this reactionary environment, internationals are being fingered with the most outrageous claims.
On June 13, a Kyrgyz lawmaker said the West sponsored the violence, using Uzbeks and extremists in an attempt to split and destroy Kyrgyzstan.
That was the ultranationalist Ata-Jurt party’s Jyldyz Joldosheva. Ata-Jurt (Fatherland), which holds the most seats in parliament, is poised to ride her unflagging hate into the president’s office this fall. (Indeed, the lack of party censure suggests she is executing their campaign plan; this is a party whose leader has said Uzbeks must “respect” the Kyrgyz – whatever that means.)
“Rich Uzbeks” are taking their claims against the Kyrgyz to The Hague, Joldosheva alleged. Her invective is not designed for sophisticated discourse (since the dearth of reliable information in Kyrgyzstan makes it easy to distort the workings of The Hague or other international institutions), but to ratchet up the tensions and xenophobia.
And as if we international writers/researchers were part of an anti-Kyrgyz cabal, the president’s representative in parliament -- veteran politician Azimbek Beknazarov -- said recently: “It’s as if international organizations researching the events have struck a deal,” and “pursue their own agendas,” to cover up their roles in the violence.
We may laughuncomfortably at these fabrications, but the sad thing is that many people, looking to their representatives for answers, are certain to believe Joldosheva and Beknazarov.
And the more often that populist manipulation replaces self-scrutiny, the more likely we’ll all have trouble with our visas. (Am I worried? Yes. Friends and I had our share of visa denials under Bakiyev.)
**Update: I hadn't known this information was public: The BBC's Central Asia correspondent, Rayhan Demytrie, has been banned from working in Kyrgyzstan. Listen to her account here.