Ethnic tensions smolder in
Kyrgyzstan By Igor Rotar
In June, 2010, an armed conflict between
ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz occurred in the south of
Kyrgyzstan. According to official statements,
around 500 people were killed; according to
unofficial data more than 2,000. Most victims were
Uzbeks. According to official reports, 3,746
houses were destroyed during these tragic events,
and most of these homes belonged to Uzbeks.
Consequently, more than 5,000 criminal
cases were opened, and 79% of the defendants were
Uzbeks. Criminal proceedings were brought against
545 people, 400 (73.3%) of which were Uzbeks and
133 (24.4%) were Kyrgyz.
The events of
2010 have dramatically changed the situation in
the south of Kyrgyzstan. After this tragedy, the
discrimination of Uzbeks in the south increased
dramatically. Until June 2010, ethnic Uzbeks
constituted about 17% of police officers; now they
make up to only 2-3%.
Uzbek radio, television and newspapers have been
The police regularly extort money
from Uzbeks, who returned from working abroad in
Russia. The number of Uzbek-owned shops and
restaurants also dramatically decreased. According
to Lada Khasanova, the manager of a guest-house
chain in the south of the country, the service
industry, particularly restaurants and hairdresser
salons, had prior to June 2010 been dominated by
Uzbeks. After the June 2010 events, however, Uzbek
cafes and restaurants practically disappeared in
Drastic changes have also taken
place in religious life. Uzbeks are generally more
religious than the Kyrgyz (who in the past were
nomads). Therefore, the majority of imams in the
country's mosques were Uzbeks until the June 2010
As Abdumalik Sharipov, an
activist from the Kyrgyzstani human-rights
organization Justice told EDM on June 12,
following the summer 2010 riots, under pressure
from the authorities, many ethnic Uzbek imams have
been replaced with ethnic Kyrgyz imams.
Authorities also appointed ethnic Kyrgyz as
deputies to Uzbek imams who were not replaced.
As Sharipov claims, the government
pressure on underground Islamic organizations has
also sharply increased. The largest underground
organization in Kyrgyzstan is the party
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which advocates for the creation
of an Islamic state in Central Asia. In
Kyrgyzstan, almost all members of this party are
Prior to the June 2010
events, in contrast to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan,
Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan practically did not
face repression from authorities, and members of
this organization were free to express their
views. However, after the violent June 2010
clashes, mass arrests of Hizb-ut-Tahrir began; the
group's activity within Kyrgyzstan is now largely
The senior political science
researcher of the Russian Academy of Science, Dr
Alexander Knyazev, who lives in Bishkek, thinks
that the decline of Islamist activity in
Kyrgyzstan is a very alarming symptom.
"Today, the situation in Kyrgyzstan is
similar to that in Uzbekistan. Now, just as in
Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Islamists had to deeply hide
their activity. However, secrecy generates the
radicalization of views. As a result, terrorist
attacks have become commonplace in Uzbekistan.
Now, the same can be expected in Kyrgyzstan,"
Alexander Knyazev told EDM.
the analyst, the dismissal of Uzbek imams and the
repression against Islamists are rather beneficial
for Islamic radicals who are trying to translate
the inter-ethnic conflict into religious terms.
This point of view is implicitly shared by the
When addressing the
parliament in April 2011, Kyrgyzstan's National
Security State Service chief, Keneshbek
Dushebyaev, said that 400 citizens of the country,
mainly ethnic Uzbeks, were training in terrorist
camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "After the June
events, they went to southern Kyrgyzstan,"
Dushebyaev said, describing them as "separatists".
Notably, the location of ethnic clashes is
spreading to the north of the republic. Such
clashes are occurring between Kyrgyz and different
ethnic (not only Uzbeks) groups: Meskhetian Turks,
Uyghurs, as well as Dagestani ethnic groups.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs,
there are 147 zones of potential ethnic conflicts
conflicts have not been recorded, but there were
incidents of indirect persecutions of Russians. In
August 2011, a Russian Orthodox cemetery was
desecrated in the north of Kyrgyzstan where
unidentified vandals destroyed over 30 tombs.
About 20 Protestant churches (most Kyrgyzstani
Protestants are Russians) have also been robbed in
Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan
demanded an eight-year prison term for ethnic
Russian blogger and journalist Vladimir Farafonov,
who has been charged with inciting ethnic hatred
through the media.
The charges stem from a
series of analytical articles Farafonov wrote for
the website of the Moscow-based foundation Russian
Unity and for several regional news websites. In
his articles, the journalist criticized
Kyrgyzstan's politics and the spread of
nationalism in the Kyrgyz-language media. The
Committee to Protect Journalists called on
authorities in Kyrgyzstan to drop the
politically-motivated extremism charges against
Russians and Kyrgyz are especially dangerous for
many reasons. Firstly, Russians (12.5% of the
republic's population) are the second-most
numerous (after Uzbeks) ethnic minority in
Kyrgyzstan. Secondly, Russia would inevitably
involve itself in the conflict should a clash
erupt between Kyrgyz and local Russians inside
Kyrgyzstan. Finally, the Kremlin could use the
argument of needing to protect Russians being
persecuted in Kyrgyzstan as a pretext for
reinforcing Russia's troops stationed in the
"The Uzbek-Kyrgyz conflict is a
very serious problem. But new ethnic conflicts may
be even more catastrophic than the Uzbek massacre.
Kyrgyzstan is a multiethnic country, and ethnic
clashes will cause the demolition of Kyrgyzstan's
nationhood," Knyazev told EDM.