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    Central Asia
     Jul 7, 2010
Kyrgyz woes meet feminine touch
By Derek Henry Flood

BISHKEK - Kyrgyzstan's former foreign minister and ambassador to the United Kingdom, Roza Otunbayeva, was sworn in on Saturday as the nation's president after the June 27 referendum affirmed the legitimacy of her office until the end of 2011.

Kyrgyzstan has been through two fits of upheaval that have given regional powers like Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan reason to question the country's political future. First, a wave of bloody street riots in April ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and killed at least 88 people.

Then, clashes last month between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan - when mobs of Kyrgyz trashed


and set fire to Uzbek neighborhoods - claimed 300 lives, according to the official death toll. Otunbayeva has said the real figure is closer to 2,000.

Otunbayeva, a smart woman encircled by silk-suited autocrats, has become Central Asia's first female leader amid Kyrgyzstan's most difficult period since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Otunbayeva, from the southern city of Osh that saw the most of Kyrgyz-Uzbek clashes, has been criticized by the traumatized Uzbek refugees returning there from a brief exile in eastern Uzbekistan for not meeting with their community leaders. The Uzbeks say the new president has not addressed their concerns on heavily guarded visits to Osh - only made after a degree of calm had returned to the region.

Otunbayeva's immediate concerns are the internal crisis in the south and doubts by regional state actors over her ability to keep Kyrgyzstan from disintegrating along ethnic lines - there is more distrust between communities now than at any time in the nation's history.

Tensions in Osh have not receded, though Kyrgyz security forces have began to scour the city's leveled districts under the auspices of a government investigation. Otunbayeva must deal with the contentions of many ethnic Kyrgyz that the conflict and the international media's supposed sympathy for the mostly Uzbek victims have tarred the whole of the Kyrgyz nation unfairly, only generating further resentment within Kyrgyzstan.

Some Kyrgyz believe their Uzbek compatriots have adeptly manipulated the media to win sympathy. In Osh, there were even more absurd claims that Uzbeks purposefully set fire to their own businesses to stain the image of the Kyrgyz population.

Otunbayeva's apparent inability to entirely control the police and military has many worried that, should a new bout of fire and death break out, she may not be able to stem its bloody tide. In reaction, some Uzbeks talk of arming themselves for the next, in their eyes, inevitable confrontation.

Trudging through the wholly destroyed majority Uzbek area of Cheremushki in Osh, the only structures not razed are those with "Tatar" (Turkic Muslims from the Volga region) or "KG" ("Kyrgyz") hastily spray-painted across their pastel facades.

Anwar, a mixed ethnic Russian-Uzbek, toured the charred remains of what had been until June 11 a lovely two-storey house he and his sister built for their 72-year-old mother as a home for the inter-ethnic family. They had lived peacefully in the Ferghana Valley for decades following their Soviet-era migration to the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic.

Anwar called his sister Luda from the ruined garden inside the scorched walls of the home's courtyard. Luda sobbed uncontrollably when recalling the six years it took them to save to build their matriarch's dream home, and then came the night of the clashes; her septuagenarian mother had to leap out of a window to safety as a group of uniformed men sprayed the house with petrol and set it alight.

Across the narrow lane the home of a mixed Korean-Kyrgyz family was destroyed just as mercilessly, apparently because the owners did not appropriately label their house to let the raiders know it was not owned by Uzbeks.

"The world must know," Luda said with contempt. "Kyrgyzstan is our home. We do not want to live in Russia. How can the world watch this happen? They [the international community] must know!"

According to a senior Rome-based World Food Program logistician, the 49 refugee camps that were rapidly erected in Uzbekistan were closed under collusion of Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities anxious to have the refugees return in time to vote before the June 27 referendum.

The United Nations and all of its sub-agencies had prepared for a long-term humanitarian situation along the Uzbek side of the border and ferried in tons of relief supplies from their Dubai hub in the United Arab Emirates, 175 tonnes in all.

Now, with virtually all of the displaced having returned, much of the aid sits unused in Uzbekistan requiring another feat to move it to the Kyrgyz side. Authorities on either side of the border were keen to quell the burgeoning crisis, oblivious to the rapid response and expense that was already underway by international aid organizations and the gargantuan Iluyshin-76 jet cargolifters piloted by their Russian and Ukrainian contractors.

The regime of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov had no desire to host tens of thousands of newly stateless people, possibly fearing they would destabilize the already troubled Andijan province, which was the scene of a massacre in 2005 when government troops opened fire on an anti-government demonstration.

Khairullah, a formerly well-heeled Uzbek businessman, took a piece of blackened wood to the bare, white wall of his home and etched "300,000" and uttered "dollars", explaining that he felt himself almost a victim of his own success and that his home had not just relative value in the Ferghana Valley, but that at an estimated US$300,000 it was valuable anywhere by international standards.

He looked on in despair at the ruins of his house and asked rhetorically, "Where will we sleep this winter?" As thousands of Uzbek families plod through the wreckage of their lives, a team of military advisors was dispatched to Osh by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to ascertain the feasibility of constructing a new base there.

Despite Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev's tetchy statements about Kyrgyzstan's ethno-political future that further democratization could lead to "the collapse of the state", Russian realpolitik never seem to skip a beat in Kyrgyzstan as the work of the CSTO, a sort of Eurasian North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was well underway. The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.

The Kremlin's unease with political progress in Kyrgyzstan is no surprise considering the Russian government's consolidation of power following the reforms of the 1990s and the humiliating war without end begun in the North Caucasus during what former president and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his allied siloviki (politicians from the security or military services) consider the disastrous reign of Boris Yeltsin.

The Russian-led CSTO's secretary general, former KGB and Russian General Nikolai Bordyu, told the press that his delegation consisting of officers from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Tajikistan as well as local nationals were in southern Kyrgyzstan to assist local law enforcement and "promote peace" in the region.

This correspondent spoke to a representative from Tajikistan who stated that the objective was to scout the area for a future base and that other concerns were certainly of secondary priority. While the United States and Russia have military bases in the northern outposts of Manas and Kant respectively, Russia looks to use the Osh conflict to gain an anchor in the south in a bid to outmaneuver the Americans tramping in its "near abroad".

Many Uzbeks wandering around Osh's ruins repeated rumors that plans for more organized violence had been afoot, either just before or after Otunbayeva's inauguration. Such talk is dissipating and ethnic violence has abated for the time being.

Kyrgyzstan's next test has been confirmed for October 10, when elections will be held across the country for seats in Bishkek's newly expanded parliament. Otunbayeva decreed that ministers in her administration must vacate their posts by this weekend if they wished to run for parliament. This she feels will help ensure a freer and fairer electoral process removed from the expansive cronyism of her predecessors.

Deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Tekebayev led the charge by stepping down before the weekend to announce his candidacy. Though the UN, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised the referendum overall for the peaceful way in which it was conducted, providing the interim government with a good degree of international legitimacy, many questions remain as to the identity of the conflict's core agitators and whether or not the new government can survive in such an embittered climate.

Here in Asia's fissiparous heart where thousands of internally displaced ethnic-Uzbek citizens exist in limbo fearing the cold of the next Central Asian winter, people continue to live day to day in trepidation. Otunbayeva has taken an oath that she will do her utmost under the circumstances. The world is watching.

Derek Henry Flood is a freelance journalist specializing in the Middle East and South and Central Asia and is the editor of the Jamestown Foundation's Militant Leadership Monitor. He blogs at the-war-diaries.com.

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Kyrgyzstan votes 'yes' amid death, fear (Jun 28, '10)

US, Russia fail to grip Kyrgyz helm
(Jun 25, '10)

Russia peers into Kyrgyz void
(Jun 14, '10)

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