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.
Kyrgyzstan’s Committee on National Security is denying a rumor it appears to have started a few weeks ago. It turns out Kyrgyz citizens aren’t traveling abroad en masse for terrorist training after all. But why is the GKNB -- the successor to the Soviet-era KGB -- toying with the tense country’s emotions like this?
GKNB Deputy Chairman Marat Imankulov now says reports that “over 300 Kyrgyz nationals” have joined international terrorist groups, presumably in Afghanistan and Pakistan, do “not square with reality,” the KyrTAG news agency reported.
“There is no need to talk about mass training of our nationals at militant camps," he said on June 9.
Where did that rumor come from? Six weeks ago, Imankulov’s boss, GKNB Chair Keneshbek Dushebayev said that 400 ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz nationals, that is) were plotting to unleash a wave of terror on the country from foreign training camps. That was an electric claim in Kyrgyzstan where Uzbeks, since last summer’s ethnic violence, are blamed for just about everything. Indeed, Dushebayev has tried repeatedly to link the ethnic violence last summer to Islamic radicals.
Dushebayev is rarely a convincing source, but this latest GKNB disagreement backtracks from a year of dodgy claims – namely, that terrorists are merely a few bullets or bombs from launching a revolutionary assault on the country. Such panic mongering is, though, great for drumming up support.
As the grim anniversary of last year’s tragic ethnic violence approaches, many people in Kyrgyzstan are worried about a renewal of the bloodshed. But members of parliament seem to be contributing to the tensions rather than addressing them.
Take, for example, Jyldyz Joldosheva. While parliament discusses various investigations, Joldosheva is pushing unsupported claims about how members of the Uzbek “diaspora” -- a word suggesting Uzbeks don’t belong in Kyrgyzstan at all -- are responsible for the violence. In Kyrgyzstan’s charged atmosphere, her ethnocentric, hateful invective could be easily misinterpreted as a call to arms.
Islamists, revanchists, and now NGOs: With days to go until the one-year anniversary of devastating interethnic bloodshed in southern Kyrgyzstan, the country’s officials have stepped up their blame game, scoring big points for bogeymen and zero for justice.
The latest burst of finger-pointing comes from President Roza Otunbayeva’s official representative to parliament, veteran politician Azimbek Beknazarov, who said on June 3 that NGOs and human rights groups bear responsibility for the violence, which left more than 400 people dead last June. As quoted by AKIpress, Beknazarov said:
Why did the bloody events occur? The report by the chair of the national commission tasked with studying the causes of the events in the republic’s south, Abdygany Erkebayev, speaks of third forces, but does not say who those are. But I will tell you, as a lawyer, that the third forces are NGOs, rights organizations and rights defenders, which continue to pursue their own agendas.
Two months after passing a deficit-plagued budget, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has amended it, reallocating about $12.9 million to compensate those who lost relatives in last June’s ethnic violence in Osh and Jalal-Abad. While the effort seems commendable on its face, the political pressure surrounding it and the implementation process to come both raise doubts about how fair and transparent the payouts will be.
Under a decree signed by Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, made public May 10, families of Kyrgyzstani citizens killed in the clashes will receive a one-time payment of 1 million soms (about $21,500); families of the missing will also collect a million soms; those who sustained serious bodily injuries -- as determined by experts in forensic medicine -- will get 100,000 soms; and those who received “less grievous bodily harm” -- ditto the official diagnosis -- will get 50,000 soms.
Here are two of the biggest challenges to an equitable compensation process:
Some articles appearing in Kyrgyzstan's media these days are hateful and obnoxious. But then sometimes there are views that are so barking mad as to tip from intolerant to plain ludicrous. The problem is, in Kyrgyzstan's tense environment, delusion and denial could foment more unrest.
Step forward political "expert" Talant Razzakov, who was interviewed by AKIpress news agency about the independent international report into the ethnic bloodshed in Osh last summer.
Clearly disappointed with not finding enough to be disgruntled with, Razzakov has compromised it by simply concocting patent nonsense about a nebulous first draft of the Kyrgyz Inquiry Commission (KIC) report released May 3.
KIC team leader Kimmo Kiljunen categorically stated that there was no qualification for describing the violence in Osh as a genocide, but Razzakov claims that terminology was in fact used in the initial version of the report: "I have read the first printed version and the main idea was like that. But then members of the commission denied that they had written the report."
Several weeks ago, mere rumors the word had been used by foreigners to describe the tragedy drew a a protest outside the parliament and the UN.
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg earlier this week began disclosing portions of an independent international inquiry into the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last summer.
On April 29, Russian daily Kommersant followed up with its own story based on a leaked copy of the report. This article repeats much of what came before, but makes a couple of notable departures.
According to the newspaper, the report explains that the interim government that took power after the April 7 unrest only controlled the north of the country. It was thus forced to rely on Uzbeks in the south to squeeze out supporters of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a process that culminated in the overtly political unrest in Jalal-Abad in the middle of May. Summarizing the report, Kommersant comments: "So the political confrontation between the new government and supporters of the ousted president turned into an ethnic conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks."
It is this kind of finding that already has some up in arms, like parliamentarian Ismail Isakov. According to 24.kg's accounts of the leaked report, the international investigation criticizes Isakov, who was the interim government's special representative in southern Kyrgyzstan and took over security operations during the unrest, for failing to dispatch forces "with clear orders and rules of engagement."
When a mayor in southern Kyrgyzstan hires "sportsmen" as his advisers, it isn't generally because he is determined to improve the health of his fellow citizens.
Melis Myrzakmatov, the virulently nationalist mayor of Osh, has appointed 15 coaches at local sporting clubs in the city as his advisers, 24.kg news agency reported April 21.
Moreover, Myrzakmatov has given sports clubs about $1,000 each out of the official budget, supposedly to help prepare for the 6th Republican Sports Olympiad to be held in Osh this year. Fifteen sportsmen have also been given cash tokens worth more than $5,100 to pay for university tuition.
Osh was the center of interethnic violence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities last June that left hundreds dead.
24.kg cites Myrzakmatov as noting that despite the tragic events in Osh in 2010, this year will see only peace and serenity, and that fine achievements will be accomplished in the fields of culture, sports and public affairs.
What do you call suspiciously timed information that undercuts an anticipated event? Could it be propaganda?
In Kyrgyzstan's parliament, a deputy from the nationalist Ata-Jurt faction alleges that a new book – that only she has seen – claims Kyrgyz massacred Uzbeks in last summer’s ethnic violence. Her story, as these things generally are, is hard to follow. In widely reported comments from April 19, Jyldyz Joldosheva rants against the publication of The Hour of the Jackal, by “rich Uzbek nationalists.”
"According to my information, rich Uzbek nationalists gathered $2 million to release the book. It was distributed around the world for free." she said, according to Kloop.kg. Unfortunately, we have only a single copy in our country." Presumably, she has the only copy.
That no other copies have surfaced is hard to explain since, Joldosheva says, 400,000 free copies (about one for every family in Kyrgyzstan) have been floating around Russia for a “month.” An English version will be released “soon.”
Then she adds, mysteriously, “According to my information, the book is published in Finland, but this fact must also be checked.”
Kyrgyzstan’s politicians are no poster boys for a parliamentary system of governance. The country’s ruling coalition was already shaky before two feral members bloodied each other at an April 1 session of the national legislature. And the mayhem that dominated the day – including not just the brawl but a fiery speech by the recently sacked prosecutor general and a mysterious intervention into lawmakers’ work by unidentified thugs in tracksuits – does not bode well for stability in the violence-racked country.
Prior to the fight, ex-Prosecutor General Kubatbek Baibolov, fired a day earlier, defended himself before the deputies against allegations that his family members had improperly profited off the scandal-clad nationalization of Kyrgyzstan’s largest mobile services provider, Megacom. In his speech, he accused Deputy Prime Minister Omburbek Babanov, leader of the Respublika Party, and others of illegally profiting from the deal.
One of them was Babanov’s long-time detractor Kamchybek Tashiev, whose powerful Ata-Jurt party belongs to the rickety three-party ruling coalition, which also includes Respublika. This time, Tashiev warned, if Babanov wasn’t properly investigated, Ata-Jurt would abandon the coalition, leaving the government to crumble. Because the threat was not Ata-Jurt’s first, one of Babanov’s allies told Tashiev, in no uncertain terms, to clam up and get out if he wanted to. Unprintable words and fisticuffs ensued.