Until recently, Aksai, an ethnic Kyrgyz village on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, had seemed so small and insignificant that most cartographers failed to include it on their maps. But now it has become a flashpoint, with a recent standoff there underscoring the potential for interethnic violence along the poorly defined frontier.
For Turgunaly Tagaev, a villager in southern Kyrgyzstan’s isolated and impoverished Batken Province, the death of his brother, who lived a few kilometers away, was a tragedy. But his sense of loss turned into a sense of injustice and anger when border guards from neighboring Uzbekistan -- where his brother’s village is located -- kept him from the funeral.
Kyrgyzstan’s security officials are not the most convincing bunch. So when they go on a media blitz warning of impending terrorist attacks, we naturally start asking for evidence and bracing for some sort of blast. This time, they are worrying Osh, scene of fierce ethnic fighting that left over 400 dead in June.
Speaking on state television on December 20, Keneshbek Dushebayev -- director of Kyrgyzstan’s KGB-successor, the recently renamed State National Security Committee -- reiterated a familiar refrain: Terrorists wish “to turn the Central Asian region into a blazing torch of destabilization for the entire world.” He did not produce any evidence.
This would not seem unusual coming from a Central Asian security boss seeking international sympathy, but a week earlier Osh Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov, who prompts panic merely by opening his mouth, suggested the city is swarming with terrorists who are ready to blow up a bridge, a government building, or a kindergarten.
Myrzakmatov has repeatedly tried to link Islamic militants to the summer’s ethnic violence. As ethnic Uzbeks tend to be more religious than their Kyrgyz neighbors, between the lines Myrzakmatov is again pushing the idea -- widely held in nationalist circles -- that Uzbeks are responsible for the violence.
Surprisingly, he also said the Islamic terrorists lurking in the hills are the same radicals responsible for the 2005 Andijan massacre in neighboring Uzbekistan, when security services murdered hundreds of their own citizens, according to human rights groups.
As we reported yesterday, Kyrgyz authorities have said that two violent incidents this week were the work of Islamic militants. But authorities quickly arrived at this conclusion, without providing evidence, after presenting some odd accounts of the November 29 shootout in Osh and the November 30 bomb explosion in Bishkek. For the record:
Kyrgyzstan’s provisional leaders initially courted public support by taking steps to reverse many of the previous regime’s policies. But as they have settled in to power, provisional leaders have started to emulate former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s tendency to blame Islamic radicals for the country’s security woes.
UPDATE: The Prosecutor General's office has denied press reports that a criminal case has been opened against the Ata-Jurt party, saying that, on the contrary, it is investigating the provenance and authenticity of the controversial video and audio recordings implicating Kamchybek Tashiev.
In early August, leaders of Kyrgyzstan's main political parties signed a memorandum pledging to play clean during the upcoming campaign for parliament. Two months later, as the campaign enters its final stage, mud is flying: leading candidates are accusing each other of foul play while their supporters spread compromising material about rival parties. The brewing political antagonism could end up polarizing voters and undermine provisional government attempts to stabilize the country during or after the October 10 poll.
On October 4, an unlikely coalition of four “opposition” parties -- Respublika, Ata-Jurt, Ar Namys and Jashasyn Kyrgyzstan -- issued a statement accusing the Social Democratic Party (SDPK), the main party affiliated with the government of provisional President Roza Otunbayeva, of “relying on dirty campaign technology which seeks to sow discord among parties.” The statement alleged that SDPK is using so-called “administrative resources” to influence and postpone the vote.
Editor's Note: Alisher Khamidov reports on his travels late on June 13 along the road between Osh and Aravan, 20 kilometers to the west.
I was easily able to drive to Osh through the security checkpoints on the Aravan-Osh highway. It was striking that the security forces in charge of preventing movement on the highway were totally disorganized, they had insufficient supplies of food and they did not even check my documents. I told them that I was a journalist and that I needed to go to Osh to see the security situation there. They basically told me that I was free to go at my own risk.
At the entrance to Osh, there was no security at all. Soldiers who were dispatched to patrol the checkpoint and cordon were sitting on the roadside. Nobody stopped me.
As I drove through the streets of Osh, I could see a few people here and there. I saw a lot of destroyed property. I could see some crowds looting stores and bazaars where Uzbeks tend to trade.
The Uzbek-populated neighborhoods are blocked by make-shift barricades. Several men I spoke with in those areas described being in shock, tired and hungry.
In sum, the situation in Osh is calm. It seems the violence in Osh has stopped and the unruly crowds are now busy looting the town with little regard to the curfew.
Uzbeks say that most looters came from neighboring Kyrgyz-populated towns.