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.
Kimmo Kiljunen, the Special Representative for Central Asia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) told reporters in Bishkek July 22 that an international commission will begin work in August to investigate the recent conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, finchannel.com reported, citing RIA Novosti.
"The purpose of our commission is impartial investigation of all facts connected with violence eruption in Osh city, Osh and Jalal-Abad oblasts of Kyrgyzstan,"24.kg quoted him as saying.
Kiljunen said representatives of the OSCE, the European Union, and the United Nations would be involved in the commission, and that the Commonwealth of Independent States has also agreed to participate. In response to a reporter's question about the possibility of including experts from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Kiljunen said, "This concerns other organizations. We will look into the methods of such cooperation," RIA Novosti reported.
Kiljunen said that Interim President Roza Otunbayeva had agreed to coordinate work forming the commission, which would make recommendations to the government on how to avoid a recurrence of such clashes.
Nationalist press interpretations of the recent violence in southern Kyrgyzstan are adding to tensions throughout the country. Coupled with the refusal of both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks to assess their hate, these reports make peace seem increasingly elusive.
Kyrgyzstan's legislation prohibits the incitement of ethnic hatred, but the weak central government has not stopped the distribution of the chauvinistic editorials and reporting in the Kyrgyz-language press. Certainly, Uzbek Internet portals are distributing hateful messages, too, but most Uzbek media outlets have closed following the June violence.
In the Kyrgyz media, the xenophobic opinions generally follow three inter-related themes:
1. The violent events in April and June 2010 endangered Kyrgyz statehood. Bigger and more powerful states (read: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) will “swallow up” Kyrgyz land. The Kyrgyz must fight for their state.
2. Preserving Kyrgyz statehood requires the titular ethnicity - the Kyrgyz - to assume their "deserved preeminent status" in the country. Ethnic minority involvement in politics and the economy must be limited because the recent events indicate their representatives (i.e. Uzbeks) are unreliable: ethnic minorities did not shed blood toppling the authoritarian Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April. Rather than work with the Kyrgyz toward building Kyrgyz statehood, the ethnic minority representatives sought political autonomy and language privileges, such narratives attest.
3. The main perpetrators of the June 10-15 violence are Uzbek community leaders and they must be punished severely.
Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov says he has security under control.
Here’s a revelation: Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov is also against deploying OSCE international police monitors to his besieged and frightened city. Reports 24.kg:
According to him, most of residents of the southern capital are against bringing in this OSCE group. “I entirely support the citizens and think that we are able to manage the situation on our own,” the city Mayor said.
According to him, now it is necessary to solve one of the most important questions – about restoration of Osh.
Yep, rebuilding; not stopping his security forces from torturing and killing Uzbeks, as impartial observers have widely documented. Isn’t it convenient? Most of what Myrzakmatov wanted gone – including those awkward Uzbek mahallas – was destroyed in the June bloodletting. Guess he’ll have to move that bazaar outside the city, after all.
Myrzakmatov, recall, is a powerful force in Osh. Appointed by former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, he emerged on the steps of his office a few days after Bakiyev's April 7 ouster and asked his people to show their love. (He failed to disclose how much he paid them.) Since then, despite widely being suspected of complicity in last month's violence, the infirm government in far off Bishkek has been unable to remove him.
He has a growing lobby: the thousands (or more) Kyrgyz who refuse to accept that some of their ethnic kin may have had a role in the violence. Osh sees rallies on almost a daily basis.
Anybody who has spent any time in Osh recently knew that this was going to happen sooner or later.
As CA-News reports, shooting was heard in the Cheremushki district Monday night, creating alarm among the rattled inhabitants of one of the city’s most ravaged areas.
But as the Osh region emergency authorities’ press office explained, this was no repeat of the cycle of ethnic violence that first threw the city into chaos:
“In the course of search operations, a Defense Ministry offer was detained. At the time of detention, the officer was drunk and weapons were confiscated from him.”
Police Major-General Bakytbek Alymbekov, in charge of Osh during the state of emergency currently scheduled to last until Aug. 10, says he has demanded that heads of law enforcement agencies tighten control over their officers. Any breach of military discipline will be punished to the full extent of the law, he said.
This is an admirable attempt to instill some sense of order among the ranks in Osh, but it seems to woefully overlook the strained conditions under which many, frankly poorly trained, soldiers and police have had to operate.
Often lacking food, drink and rest, the very people expected to maintain order are themselves the cause of much enduring tension. In many cases, ethnic Uzbeks have borne the immediate brunt of this, with some having food confiscated by weary police.
Police sealed off a gravel road in Osh’s central Cheremushki district on Friday. Word spread quickly through the Uzbek neighborhood. Since ethnic Kyrgyz make up most of the security forces, the residents’ first response was fear: “We will be attacked.”
The details of how the recent violence in southern Kyrgyzstan started – leaving perhaps thousands dead – may never be clear. Yet for most Osh residents, the culpability is obvious. Uzbeks blame Kyrgyz and Kyrgyz blame Uzbeks. The two groups each nurse their own irreconcilable versions of how the region became deformed with fear and resentment. They generally go something like this:
Among many Uzbeks: “It was the Osh mayor. He wanted to clear out the Uzbek neighborhoods and build apartment blocks for Kyrgyz. Snipers attacked our neighborhoods. He wanted to move the bazaar out of the city, onto his own land. He had outside help from a third force, perhaps Russia, which may explain why Moscow didn’t send peacekeepers.”
Among many Kyrgyz: “The Uzbeks started a fight for autonomy by raping our women. Their leader Kadyrjan Batyrov in Jalal-Abad was using the weakness ofthe interim government to call for political representation. They don’t know how good they had it. They were arming themselves and we had to defend Kyrgyzstan.”
Of course Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh still talk to one another.Many have been neighbors for generations. But blame has settled into a set of isolated, stagnant mythologies; the narratives divide neighborhoods and offer little room for political reconciliation.