A nail-packed explosive device blew up on the grounds of a synagogue in central Bishkek about an hour before the start of Rosh Hashanah services Thursday evening, according to local press reports. No one was hurt and physical damage was minimal as the bomb, lobbed over a fence into the synagogue’s courtyard on the first night of the Jewish New Year, landed in a small pool of water, news agency Regnum.ru reported. Police and security services kept onlookers at bay after the incident and have opened an investigation. Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said that someone working at the synagogue, reached by telephone, said, “We will not comment. […] There was no explosion.”
Though the sequence of events is unclear, a recent border scandal has opened a new chapter in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan’s fraught relations. In late August, border and customs officials from both countries took a few of their counterparts hostage. The standoff ended peacefully, for now, in a prisoner exchange late on September 5.
The press-uz.info news agency is the only major outlet in Uzbekistan’s tightly controlled online media bubble that has dared to cover the recent border disputes in detail. But their take is predictable.
The news agency, believed by Tashkent insiders to be controlled by President Islam Karimov’s Security Council, has made the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border a priority since it first reported on a plundering raid by Kyrgyz border guards on the night of August 28, and the valiant efforts of Uzbek officials to defend their countrymen.
“Having seized 22 head of sheep belonging to Uzbek farmer Abdumalik Khoshimov, Kyrgyz border guards retreated to their territory. After holding talks, Ferghana District law-enforcement bodies managed to retrieve the stolen livestock,” press-uz.info reported.
But with each new development, the news agency hardened its tone. In an August 30 report, the news agency said Kyrgyz border guards were extorting money from Uzbek citizens in border villages and suggested that “brazen, unscrupulous, and predatory” abuses by the Kyrgyz military in border areas might cause a “new outburst of resentment” among Uzbeks.
Since their home was torched in June during the ethnic clashes in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, 30-year-old Dilbar Kasimova and her four children live in an UNHCR-provided tent on a street in Cheremushki District, Osh. At least 390 people died and thousands more were injured during the violence. Most of the victims, like Kasimova, were Uzbeks.
A mob killed the children's father, aunt and grandmother. The family keeps fragments of the grandmother's bones in a plastic shopping bag beneath a pile of scrap metal in the back yard, unsure where her final resting place shall be.
David Trilling is the Central Asia news editor for EurasiaNet.
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.