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    Central Asia
     Jun 22, 2012

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North-south divide fuels Kyrgyz mistrust
By Ryskeldi Satke

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Grievances over the violence that shocked the Kyrgyz Republic in the summer of 2010 are still felt in the northern and southern provinces.

There have been numerous attempts by domestic and international commissions to find the root causes of the conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, but neither has able to do so conclusively.

The findings of multiple investigations have partially implicated the government of Kyrgyzstan - several reports from international organizations indicated involvement of the Kyrgyz police and


military in the ethnic strife that saw mobs rampaging through ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in the cities of Osh and Jala-Abad.

Kyrgyz officials stick to original statements announced by the State Security Department accusing the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union (IMU/IJU), the Taliban, and the family of ex-President Kurmanbek Saliyevich Bakiyev of fomenting the violence.

However, Kyrgyz authorities have not yet presented sufficient evidence of a IMU/IJU or Taliban role in the conflict.

Meanwhile, the family of former president Bakiyev, who was ousted in the weeks before the crisis, remains on the run and is unlikely to be apprehended in the near future.

The only close relative to the ex-president Bakiyev who was detained, his brother, managed to avoid jail by escaping from a medical clinic.

In the absence of the Bakiyevs, ethnic Uzbek politicians are emerging as convenient scapegoats. Meanwhile, human-rights groups repeatedly express concern over torture in prisons, biased courts and extortion by policemen. The aftermath of the June 2010 violence has created a massive exodus of the ethnic Uzbek population out of southern provinces to Russia and elsewhere, with 70,000-100,000 believed to fled the region.

Public opinion in the south reflects the official line, that the ethnic Uzbek community is responsible for planting hostility between Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks.

It is is no secret that opposition figures, then headed by former diplomat Roza Otunbayeva, offered high-ranking positions in the new government of the republic to leaders of the the Uzbek diaspora in exchange for support in the south, where Bakiyev's base was threatening to shake up the status of the interim government.

One of the political heavyweights in the south, Uzbek community leader Kadyrzhan Batyrov, took such an opportunity after negotiations with the interim officials including close interactions with current President Almazbek Atambayev.

After these talks violence erupted that turned thousands of Uzbek blocks and businesses into ashes and saw dead bodies in their hundreds line the streets of two southern cities. The Ferghana valley became a critical hotspot in June 2010 with the possibility of all-out regional conflict was in the air.

According to one report, co-authored and published by Norwegian Helsinki Committee, interim government appointees in the south implemented defensive measures in Osh and Jala-Abad based on information from the border with Uzbekistan.

Consequently, false reports of troops crossing from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyz territory caused a panic in Osh. [1] The scale of chaos in the hallways of the Kyrgyz authorities during the ethnic bloodshed contributed to the delay in halting horrendous attacks on Uzbek neighborhoods.

Local human-rights activists and NGO leaders saw indiscriminate killing by both sides, but the higher level of deaths among Uzbeks suggest that attacks on them by Kyrgyzs were premeditated.

Ethnic Uzbek activist Azimzhan Askarov tried to tell his ethnic group's side of the story, but he was sentenced to life in prison in Kyrgyzstan in September 2010. It is widely believed that criminal charges against Askarov were fabricated to conceal the facts he'd gathered from areas hit by clashes.

Video footage he had in his possession that showed how the conflict had escalated in the Jala-Abad area may have had a dramatic affect on the public's view of the inter-ethnic tension. The government has seized Askarov's files and still refuses to open them.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has repeatedly requested that Otunbayeva and newly elected President Atambayev to intercede in the case of the activist, both officials have failed to address the manner.

Internal politics of the north-south factions
The mountainous landscape and historic culture of the nomadic tribes of the country has for years segregated the Kyrgyz nation into regional subdivisions in the north and south.

This division is one source of the political instability that's rocked the Kyrgyz Republic for almost a decade.

A fierce power struggle among competing commercial interests lies at the heart of internal politics, with geopolitical events in the region of Central Asia complicating the situation.

The Western coalition's military operation in the AfPak region has impacted on the dynamics of domestic political struggles. A regional feud between the US and Russia has produced two coup d'etats in the Kyrgyz Republic in the past 10 years.

One of the distinct characteristics of Kyrgyz politics is the entry of the immediate family members (or regional clans associated with a head of the state) into the decision making process after power is taken. After both coups in the last decade, events caused by the north-south factional contest paved the way for a near collapse of the Kyrgyz state.

The latest parliamentary model has failed to press ruling elites to move ahead with long-awaited reforms in the republic, which remains infested with corruption and constant political infighting.

Atambayev embodies the circles of the northern ruling class that is in control of the country's national finances and resources. Meanwhile, southern Kyrgyzstan has become a major drug trafficking hub for the Afghan heroin in the region of Central Asia. UNODC's (UN Office on Drugs and Crime) recent report states that the city of Osh is a "reconnecting point of the heroin shipments from Afghanistan." [2] 

Continued 1 2  

Kyrgyzstan takes on the Kremlin
(Feb 24, '12)

Kyrgyzstan votes 'yes' amid death, fear (Jun 29, '10)

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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jun 20, 2012)


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