Kazakhstan is blocking reports of an ethnic clash in the south, in a sign of sensitivities in Astana over friction between two of the country’s 140 ethnic groups.
Reports highlighting the ethnic angle of the unrest in the village of Bostandyk on February 5 – which pitted local Kazakhs against Tajiks after a row over a greenhouse ended in murder – have mostly become unavailable inside the country, while reports that covered the unrest without stressing the ethnic component are largely available.
Individual reports have been blocked on Kazakhstani sites such as Today.kz and in international media such as EurasiaNet.org and RFE/RL (some of whose reports were blocked while others were not).
Blocking individual reports rather than whole sites is a tactic increasingly used by the authorities to restrict access to information Astana deems sensitive. Legislative changes last year gave prosecutors power to block information without a court order. Since last fall law-enforcement agencies have blocked 703 websites and 198 individual reports, general-prosecutor Askhat Daulbayev said last month, mostly on grounds of extremism.
Calm has returned to a village in southern Kazakhstan following clashes between ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Tajiks after a Kazakh man was murdered in an argument over a greenhouse.
Enraged friends and relatives of the murder victim, 30-year-old Bakytzhan Artykov, set fire to cars, damaged buildings, and attacked a Tajik-language school (no children were inside) in the village of Bostandyk, local resident Behruz (not his real name) told EurasiaNet.org by telephone.
“They set fire to buildings and cars,” the eyewitness said. “My own car was set on fire.”
He described how some 300 Kazakhs arrived in Bostandyk from the neighboring village of Yntymak on February 5 following the funeral of Artykov (whom police suspect was murdered by Navmidin Narmetov, a Tajik man now on the run). They rampaged through the streets from around 6 p.m. to midnight on February 5, despite the presence of riot police who arrived in response, Behruz said.
Grainy cellphone footage posted on YouTube said to be from Bostandyk (its authenticity could not be verified), a village mainly inhabited by ethnic Tajiks and located in the southern Saryagash District near the border with Uzbekistan, showed scenes of angry locals, some wielding sticks, and a burning car.
The administration of Nursultan Nazarbayev touts Kazakhstan as a model of tolerance because of the level of harmony among its 140 different ethnic groups. This unrest reveals how arguments can quickly escalate and split locals along ethnic lines.
Some of the attackers were shouting that Tajiks should leave for Tajikistan, Behruz said, “as if we were foreigners in our own country.”
An exchange of fire between troops on a disputed section of the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border reportedly left at least one dead and several injured on July 10. Tensions have risen sharply again in this volatile part of the Fergana Valley after negotiations over a controversial road construction project fell apart earlier this week.
According to the Kyrgyz Border Service, about 30 Tajik citizens were trying to build a water pipeline from Kyrgyz territory to the Vorukh exclave, a parcel of Tajik territory surrounded entirely by Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz border guards demanded they stop, the Tajiks threw stones and eventually troops from the two sides exchanged fire.
According to the Tajik-language service of Radio Liberty, citing a local doctor in Vorukh, one Tajik national (apparently a civilian) died and five were injured in the exchange of fire. Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency reports seven wounded. Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry says the Kyrgyz border guards picked a fight, shot without warning, and that the Tajik border guards did not fire a single shot.
Later in the day, the Kyrgyz Border Service said Tajik border guards had opened fire on another Kyrgyz checkpoint, this time with mortars and grenades.
It was an exciting moment last month for those wishing to put southern Kyrgyzstan’s poisonous ethnic tensions behind them.
For the first time since the mass interethnic violence that fanned out across the region in June 2010, a judge had acquitted and released an ethnic Uzbek man who had previously been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder during the riots, the Vechernii Bishkek newspaper reported. But the decision has not sat well with some locals.
At his trial last October, Shamshidin Niyazaliev’s lawyers argued he was not even in Kyrgyzstan at the time and 15 witnesses testified they had seen him in neighboring Uzbekistan on the day he is alleged to have committed the murders. Human Rights Watch called his trial unfair.
Niyazaliev was the 20th defendant in the murders of 16 people near the Sanpa cotton factory in the Suzak District of Jalal-Abad Province. Of the original 19, all had been found guilty; 18 received life sentences, one more got 25 years, according to Vechernii Bishkek.
These trials were among dozens that rights activists say were marred by blatant irregularities. Since the ethnic violence, justice in southern Kyrgyzstan has often looked more like bowing to mob rule than an attempt to find truth and punish the guilty.
Attacks on journalists are common in Kyrgyzstan. Attacks on Uzbeks are also common. Ergo, there is nothing surprising about an attack on an Uzbek journalist.
Shokhrukh Saipov was violently attacked in broad daylight on August 10. Saipov, 26, publishes UZpress.kg, which has reported on simmering ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan since violence last year left over 400 people, mostly Uzbeks, dead.
Shokhrukh is the younger brother of the late Alisher Saipov, a journalist murdered outside his Osh office in 2007.
“Half his face was missing,” Shokhrukh’s father, Avas, said, in comments carried by Uznews.net. Avas fears his son did not receive adequate medical care because of his ethnicity, the report said. That is a legitimate concern given the rise of aggressive Kyrgyz nationalism since the ethnic violence.
Police in southern Kyrgyzstan continue their systematic persecution of minority ethnic Uzbeks, extorting, torturing and killing with impunity, says a prominent human rights group, citing the latest example of police beating an Uzbek to death.
It’s bad enough Uzbeks are being forbidden from rebuilding in Osh, after suffering the worst of the ethnic clashes last summer that left many of their neighborhoods smoldering ruins. Targeted police violence continues and few, if any, officials have been prosecuted. From Human Rights Watch’s latest news release:
The policemen allegedly tortured Khalmurzaev for several hours, trying to extort money from him in exchange for his release. He told his wife that as soon as he was taken into the station, the police put a gas mask on him and started punching him. When he fell down, one of the operatives, using his knees, jumped on Khalmurzaev’s chest two or three times. Khalmurzaev said he lost consciousness.
When he regained consciousness, he told his wife, the police threatened that if he did not pay, they would frame him on charges of involvement in an attack during the June 2010 violence. They finally agreed to accept $680, which his family brought, and he was released at about 8 p.m., his wife said. Police told him they would harm his family if he told anyone what had happened.
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.
Kyrgyzstan’s leaders just can’t accept the international response to last June’s ethnic violence. Responding to the latest in a series of independent studies that dare say more Kyrgyz killed Uzbeks (though it did clearly point out that Uzbeks killed Kyrgyz, too), on May 26 parliament banned the report’s author, Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, from entering Kyrgyzstan.
Not a single deputy in the 120-seat legislature was brave enough to vote against the proposal, which passed with 95 votes and one abstention.
As Kyrgyzstan approaches presidential elections, the country is becoming a bastion of intolerance. Anyone who challenges the dominant nationalist discourse, which essentially holds that Uzbeks got what they deserved during the ethnic bloodletting -- and, by the way, members of the minority are ungrateful separatist-terrorists -- is accused of conspiring against the nation. The majority, in turn, takes increasingly drastic measures to make sure all they hear is that they are correct.
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."
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg has started leaking portions of the long-awaited independent international inquiry on the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last summer. Going by the fragments released thus far, the interim government in charge at the time has not received a very glowing appraisal.
The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC), headed by Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, reportedly based its findings on interviews with more than 750 witnesses and analysis of around 700 documents and thousands of photos and pieces of video footage. Over 400 people died in the clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. The majority of the causalities were Uzbeks, who also suffered heavily at the hands of arsonists and looters. The KIC notes that ethnic Kyrgyz also suffered significant losses of life, health and property.
The report charges the interim government, which had been in place for two months prior to the violence, with underestimating the deterioration in interethnic ties. A failure to prepare a contingency plan and properly organize security forces for a surge of unrest comes under particular criticism: "The arguments made by President [Roza] Otunbayeva, that the surge in violence was so extensive that the interim government was unable to contain it, did not exempt the authorities from their primary duty to protect the population."
General Ismail Isakov, who was then the interim government's special representative in southern Kyrgyzstan and took over security operations during the unrest, comes under fire for failing to dispatch forces "with clear orders and rules of engagement."