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Kyrgyzstan Civil Unrest

Possibly as many as 2,000 were killed and several times that many wounded when ethnic riots began on the night of 10 June 2010 in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Dubbed the country's "southern capital," Osh -- with a population of some 220,000 -- is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. Osh, which saw the deadliest clashes, had streets strewn with bodies. Fires destroyed much of the city, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest with some 250,000 inhabitants. Interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva, who made her first visit to the region on 18 June 2010, said the violence has likely killed 2,000 people - while the official death toll still stands at about 200.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks were trying to reach the nearby border with Uzbekistan to flee the violence, the worst since former President Kurmanbek Bakiev was toppled in a bloody uprising in April 2010. By 20 June 2010 more than 300,000 people were thought to have been displaced inside Kyrgyzstan, while another 100,000 had fled into Uzbekistan. Besides the makeshift camps on either side of the border, many displaced people are living in desperate conditions on the outskirts of Osh. Some 14% of the country's 5 million population are Uzbek, suggesting that the 400,000 displaced persons include more than half the 700,000 Uzbek citizens of Krygyzstan.

It is generally believed that the violence was sponsored by former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, seeking to disrupt the national referendum on a new constitution, scheduled for June 27. The new constitution would formally change the system from pro-presidential to a parliamentary system. Many Uzbeks believe they have no representation in the government -- the soldiers and police are Kyrgyz. If the referendum is held without Uzbeks participation, they will say "This isn't our constitution. This is a Kyrgyz constitution."

Uzbeks were generally supportive of former President Akayev, but after former President Bakiyev overthrew him in 2005, Uzbek prospects darkened. Though Bakiyev did not actively suppress the Uzbek community, in contrast to Akayev he generally ignored their grievances. Significant regional political power centers continued to exist, with a pronounced split between northern and southern provinces. In many cases, political loyalties still are defined by clan rather than party.

The situation has been unstable in the south since the ouster of the former President Bakiev in the aftermath of a popular uprising in April 2010 that left more than 80 people dead. Support for Bakiev was strongest among Kyrgyz in the south, where the president hails from. While the Uzbeks largely backed the new April 2010 interim government, many Kyrgyz in the south supported ousted President Bakiyev and his clan. Interim government leader Roza Otunbaeva told reporters on 12 June 2010 that there were "some inside forces" who would want to destabilize Jalal-Abad as well ahead of this month's planned national referendum on a new constitution. Kyrgyzstan's interim authorities accused "destructive" elements of instigating interethnic violence in the country.

Late on 12 June 2010, authorities declared a partial mobilization of the army. Government spokesman Azimbek Beknazarov called on all able-bodied men to "come forward and carry out their duty." The interim government has appealed for Russian help in quelling the ethnic riots, but Moscow has said it will not send in peacekeepers alone. It has pledged to discuss the situation on June 14 within the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a bloc of former Soviet republics.

Interim leader Roza Otunbaeva declared on June 24 that the state of emergency will be lifted on June 26 as the country gets ready to vote on a new constituion then next day. On June 25, soldiers were able to vote, so that they could provide security on voting day. The new constituion is set to give more power to the parliament as a result of reducing power towards the executive.

In March of 2011, Acting President Otunbayeva was awarded the US State Department's prestigious Women of Courgage award for her role in the choas that consumed country in the Spring of 2010. Though, Uzbek human rights activivst claim that she had failed to quell the violence against Uzbeks in the Osh region.

The population of Kyrgyzstan is divided among three main groups: the indigenous Kyrgyz, the Russians who remained after the end of the Soviet Union, and a large and concentrated Uzbek population. Topography divides the population into two main segments, the north and the south. Each has differing cultural and economic patterns and different predominant ethnic groups. In 1993 the population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated at 4.46 million, of whom 56.5 percent were ethnic Kyrgyz, 18.8 percent were Russians, 12.9 percent were Uzbeks, 2.1 percent were Ukrainians, and 1.0 percent were Germans.

About two-thirds of the total population live in the Fergana, Talas, and Chu valleys. As might be expected, imbalances in population distribution lead to extreme contrasts in how people live and work. In the north, the Chu Valley, site of Bishkek, the capital, is the major economic center, producing about 45 percent of the nation's gross national product (GNP). The Chu Valley also is where most of the country's Europeans live, mainly because of economic opportunities. The direct distance from Bishkek in the far north to Osh in the southwest is slightly more than 300 kilometers, but the mountain road connecting those cities requires a drive of more than ten hours in summer conditions; in winter the high mountain passes are often closed.

The separation of the north and the south is clearly visible in the cultural mores of the two regions, although both are dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz. Society in the Fergana Valley is much more traditional than in the Chu Valley, and the practice of Islam is more pervasive. The people of the Chu Valley are closely integrated with Kazakstan (Bishkek is but four hours by car from Almaty, the capital of Kazakstan). The people of the south are more oriented, by location and by culture, to Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and the other Muslim countries to the south.

Geographical isolation also has meant that the northern and southern Kyrgyz have developed fairly distinct lifestyles. Those in the north tend to be nomadic herders; those in the south have acquired more of the sedentary agricultural ways of their Uygur, Uzbek, and Tajik neighbors. Both groups came to accept Islam late, but practice in the north tends to be much less influenced by Islamic doctrine and reflects considerable influence from pre-Islamic animist beliefs. The southerners have a more solid basis of religious knowledge and practice. It is they who pushed for a greater religious element in the 1993 constitution.

The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Southern Turkic group of languages. In 1924, an Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Latin script in 1928. In 1941 Cyrillic script was adopted. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until 1953.

In the Fergana Valley, tension exists between citizens of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over land and housing rights. The Fergana Valley, which eastern Kyrgyzstan shares with Central Asian neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is one of the most densely populated and agriculturally most heavily exploited regions in Central Asia. As such, it has been the point of bitter contention among the three adjoining states, both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Members of the various ethnic groups who have inhabited the valley for centuries have managed to get along largely because they occupy slightly different economic niches. The sedentary Uzbeks and Tajiks traditionally have farmed lower-lying irrigated land while the nomadic Kyrgyz have herded in the mountains. However, the potential for ethnic conflict is ever present. Because the borders of the three countries zigzag without evident regard for the nationality of the people living in the valley, many residents harbor strong irredentist feelings, believing that they should more properly be citizens of a different country. Few Europeans live in the Fergana Valley, but about 552,000 Uzbeks, almost the entire population of that people in Kyrgyzstan, reside there in crowded proximity with about 1.2 million Kyrgyz.

Uzbekistan has several large diasporas located in the Chimkent Oblast in southernKazakhstan, in Khujand in northern Tajikistan, and in the drug ridden cities of Osh and Jalalabad1 in Kyrgyzstan. These diasporas were displaced during Russian colonial times when the Russians drew artificial boundaries thus separating Uzbeks from their homeland.

In 1989 the liberalized policies of Communist Party First Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev ignited strife between the Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbek population in Osh Province. Hundreds of people were killed in Kyrgyz-Uzbek clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1990. In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in an area of the Osh Oblast, where Uzbeks form a majority of the population. Violent confrontations ensued, and a state of emergency and curfew were introduced. Order was not restored until August 1990. Russian troops intervened to end the violence. Kyrgyzstan has always been a reluctant republic. It declared sovereignty on December 12, 1990.

One of the first questions when dealing with land in the Ferghana basin is the issue of land availability. Because of geographic and historical conditions, the Central Asian capitals, the Ferghana valley, the irrigated areas of Khatlon and Sogd (South and North Tajikistan), the areas along the Zeravshan river (Samarkand and Bukhara) in Uzbekistan show very high population densities. The tensions related to the management of the water flow from the Toktogul reservoir have strained the relations between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the point that Kyrgyz troops were deployed in summer 2000 and 2001 (drought years) in order to protect the reservoir and the water release operations. On the other hand, the constant involvement of interstate bodies, multilateral organisation, international financial organisations and key regional actors is a guarantee that enough pressure and resources are dedicated to find peaceful solutions among the five Central Asian states.

In the early 2000s, Kyrgyzstan's location between Tajikistan (a major transit country for narcotics from Afghanistan) and Russia has made the western part of Kyrgyzstan (particularly Osh) a major transit region for narcotics and human trafficking, with related increases in overall crime. Domestic crime groups also have become linked increasingly with transnational groups.

On 14 May 2009, the Supreme Court reduced the sentences of 32 ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz Muslims whom the Osh regional court convicted in November 2008 for participating in an October 2008 protest in Nookat. The protest followed local authorities' decision to ban a public gathering for the Muslim holiday Orozo Ait (Eid al-Fitr). The sentences, which originally ranged from nine to 20 years' imprisonment, were reduced to a range of five to 17 years.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:28 ZULU