Bishkek's investigation into June’s ethnic violence seems more about fingering easy blame - and buttressing nationalist fantasy - than uncovering truth. Members had previously agreed to release their findings on September 10, but it looks like they couldn't wait.
Provisional President Roza Otunbayeva established the National Investigative Commission on July 15 to research the June ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan that left at least 370 dead and more than 2,000 wounded.
Zhypar Zheksheev, a member of the commission, suggested we foreign journalists have blood on our hands because we were poking around in the South before most of the violence started. Our presence in May, for example, demonstrates we knew the ethnic violence would occur.
“We have instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review the date of publication [of these foreshadowing articles] and to evaluate their content. In addition, we intend to find out who accredited and invited these media outlets and how they learned in advance about how and what will happen in reality,” he said on August 17.
With all due respect, Mr. Zheksheev, it didn’t take a genius to see the place was imploding. In fact, here’s a story from May 19 about ethnic violence in Jalalabad.
Zheksheev is continuing a tired narrative blaming the foreign press for being, we hear ad nauseam, “anti-Kyrgyz.”
The Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization is set to discuss options for providing military and technical assistance to member state Kyrgyzstan at a two-day informal summit opening in Yerevan on August 20.
As a military source told Russian news agency Interfax:
"Issues related to the possible delivery to Kyrgyzstan of armored vehicles, helicopters, special weapons, uniforms and other materiel are being considered. There are many subtleties here related, for instance, to the capabilities of CSTO countries and to the development of a mechanism of deliveries."
The CSTO has been distinctive for its passive response to unrest in Kyrgyzstan over recent months, so the prospect of yet more jibber-jabber is unlikely to set hearts fluttering in Bishkek.
Utter failure to take a decisive line of action over the June violence should prompt existential questions over the bloc’s very existence and modus operandi. Its regularly vaunted military exercises have tended to focus on nebulous and indistinct trans-national threats (i.e. terrorists) to be scotched by means of loud bombs and implausibly well-coordinated storm attacks on strategically high-value buildings.
Without underestimating the danger that terrorists may pose to Central Asia, the primary hazard to stability is the region’s poverty-stricken population itself.
Hopefully not a sign of what's to come: Vandals have destroyed 30-odd headstones at a Russian Orthodox cemetery near Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk-Kul, Interfax reports.
The Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots announced the desecration on August 10.
"Such provocations are aimed at destabilizing the situation in the republic and they set as their goal moral pressure on the Russian-speaking part of our society," Council officials stressed.
The Russian Embassy has sent a note of protest to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry over the incident. Ambassador Valentin Vlasov says 30 graves were desecrated and described the action as "not characteristic of the wise Kyrgyzstani people."
On August 5, the UN Security Council heard a briefing on the situation in Kyrgyzstan from Ambassador Miroslav Jenca, head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) in Ashgabat.
In a brief press statement, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which currently holds the Security Council's rotating presidency this month, said:
The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the need to provide appropriate support to the efforts of the Regional Centre to facilitate dialogue and assist the governments of Central Asia on regional issues of common concern.
Churkin also said Council members "appreciated the work of the Regional Centre to assist Central Asian countries in responding to the challenges in the region, particularly in the context of the recent developments in Kyrgyzstan."
And that's it -- no reference to support for an international policing mission, or for the international fact-finding mission.
Inner City Press reports that although some Security Council members reportedly tried to get more substance into the press statement, apparently not only Russia, but the U.S., which has repeatedly called for accountability, preferred not to use the UN on this issue, leaving the statement vague and "decaffeinated" as one non-permanent Council member put it.
Human rights activists monitoring ongoing unrest in Kyrgyzstan are concerned that an ethnic Uzbek leader from Osh may have been detained and is still being held.
Jakhangir Jalaliddin Salakhuddinov, head of the Uzbek National Center in Osh, has been reported as still missing after more than a day by NGO local activists. EurasiaNet has been unable to confirm the report.
Russian human rights advocate Oksana Chelysheva, who recently visited Kyrgyzstan, and Tolekan Ismailova, a prominent Bishkek-based Kyrgyz civic activist and founder of the movement Citizens Against Corruption, say they fear Salakhuddinov has been arrested. They say he was one of the few ethnic leaders who worked with Kyrgyz human rights activists when they travelled to the region in June.
Salakhuddinov was reportedly detained in Bishek on July 27 by unknown persons, then taken immediately to Osh. Chelysheva said she had learned from Salakhuddinov's lawyer that his driver had been located, and confirmed some of the details of the detention.
Salakhuddinov is a prominent businessman in Osh, owner of several textile factories including Kyrgyzjipteks, which reportedly provided 200 jobs until they were forced to close with the onset of unrest. He has been characterized as helping human rights activists get access to Uzbek mahallas and with negotiating with police forces going into Uzbek neighborhoods. Among the wealthiest men in Osh and a well-known civic figure, he is noted for building an Islamic University and is said to have provided humanitarian aid to the displaced in the recent unrest and also helped humanitarian convoys to reach affected areas.
A colleague of Salakhuddinov, Uzbek lawyer Husanbay Saliev, said Salakhuddinov told local activists that he has received threats from criminal groups unhappy with his recent efforts to pacify the situation in Osh, and that he had gone into hiding on or about July 20 and moved to Bishkek.
As the Kyrgyz Health Ministry reports a higher death toll of 355, and NGOs continue to bring forward allegations of many more deaths, victims of the conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan are hoping for an impartial international investigation that could establish the facts. Facing ongoing persecution, thousands of Uzbeks have already left for Russia and other countries, EurasiaNet reports, making tracking of their testimony difficult.
Petros Efthymiou, the newly-elected president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), said today his organization supports the efforts of Finnish parliamentarian Kimmo Kiljunen, who began putting together an international commission to investigate the atrocities in southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this month.
“I am pleased to offer my support to Kimmo Kiljunen; his extensive experience of working with Central Asia for more than a decade makes him eminently qualified to fulfil this role,” Efthymiou was quoted as saying in a press release on the OSCE PA website.
With over a billion dollars in foreign aid promised on July 27, Kyrgyzstan’s provisional President Roza Otunbayeva has a new bounce in her step.
The question is now: What to do with that pain in the Osh?
Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov is widely considered part of the problem, not a solution, to southern Kyrgyzstan's instability. He is even rumored to have threatened Otunbayeva after the June ethnic violence, saying, roughly, “Remove me, and I’ll mess things up even more.”
Asked during a July 27 press conference if she has confidence in the mayor, Otunbayeva hesitated and said she could not answer.
The saga is getting interesting. Rumors on Bishkek’s chat rooms (which have since been deleted) say Otunbayeva is on her way down to Osh with an axe. While it’s doubtful – and perhaps dangerous – such an announcement would be made public ahead of her trip, something’s gotta give in the coming days.
Myrzakmatov is a contentious figure not least for his plans to redevelop (some Uzbeks say “ethnically cleanse”) Osh’s charred Uzbek neighborhoods. Moreover, he appears to inspire protests against the deployment of a small, unarmed OSCE police advisory force in his city.
Sulaiman Too rises behind the ashes in the Cheremushki district of Osh.
Just last year, Osh residents received a welcome honor. UNESCO, the UN body charged with cultural preservation around the world, designated the “holy mountain” of Sulaiman Too at the heart of their city a world heritage site.
But Suliaman Too did not come alone. The surrounding neighborhoods – mostly ethnic Uzbek mahallas (map) heavily damaged in the recent ethnic violence – were part of the cultural heritage, UNESCO said in a statement at the time.
[S]ince the sacred associations of the mountain are linked to its dramatic form rising from the surrounding plain, it is highly vulnerable to continuing new development on it and around its base. In order to protect its majesty, spirituality, visual coherence and setting and thus the full authenticity of the property, great vigilance will be needed in enforcing protection of its setting.
That appears to mean nothing to Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who has long wanted to level the (conveniently damaged) neighborhoods as part of his redevelopment plan.
In its original application for UNESCO status, Kyrgyzstan's government promised to protect the area around the heritage site. In return, the honor brought money to Osh, according to the mayor’s office.
Protests against the deployment of 52 unarmed OSCE police advisors in Kyrgyzstan’s troubled south appear to be growing in strength. On July 26, demonstrators outside parliament in Bishkek burned an effigy of an OSCE police officer. Simultaneously, in Osh, up to 400 people marched from the mayor's office to the police station, witnesses told EurasiaNet.org, demanding the government rescind its request for foreign police.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe approved the deployment on July 22 after weeks of appeals from provisional President Roza Otunbayeva.
This growing opposition could intimidate the mission. In this heated atmosphere, it wouldn’t take much for a crazed nationalist to send the OSCE packing.
One official even hinted ominously that Kyrgyz authorities could not protect the OSCE police.
Does the international investigation announced by Kimmo Kiljunen, the Special Representative for Central Asia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) have the backing of the OSCE, United Nations and other bodies? Kiljunen told reporters in Bishkek July 22 that an international commission will begin work in August to investigate the recent conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan
Yet it's not clear if all the institutions being referenced have in fact formally -- and politically -- backed the effort, and whether or not the authorities in southern Kyrgyzstan will cooperate.
According to knowledgeable sources close to the OSCE and the UN who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity, officials in various international bodies looking at the prospects for the Kiljunen Commission have expressed misgivings as to whether it has sufficient international support and legitimacy, and are keeping their distance.
The OSCE PA itself has not taken a formal decision about the investigation. It's very uncommon for multilateral organizations to create mixed commissions of this nature. Usually, they prefer to run their own inquiries by their own long-establed rules. For the UN to conduct a formal commission of inquiry, for example, a decision by a political body such as the Human Rights Council or the Security Council would have to be taken, as was taken, for example in investigations of atrocities in Guinea.
In the past, the European Union has preferred to make its own investigations, as was done on the events in Georgia in 2008. Finland, Sweden and Norway have reportedly indicated their willingness to fund Kiljunen's investigation in Kyrgyzstan, but it is not clear whether they have resolved among themselves the issue of legitimacy.