Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 10 14:15:36 UTC 2009

Umid Erkinov 7/07/09

For members of Kyrgyzstan’s Lyuli community, marginalization has been
a constant fact of life. Even the totalitarian ways of Soviet
authorities never succeeded in integrating the Lyuli into mainstream
Kyrgyz society. But now there’s hope that young Lyuli will be able to
break the cycle of hardship. "I am confident my pupils will have a
better future, and won’t be discriminated against and mistreated like
their parents," says Fatima Toichieva, the principal at a school for
Kyrgyzstan’s Lyuli minority in Jany-Kyshtak, a predominately Lyuli
community just outside the city of Osh. "My best student is
13-year-old Tukhtokhan. Children like her are the future of the Lyuli

Bright and affable, Tukhtokhan says she wants to become a Kyrgyz
language teacher, an ambitious goal for a young girl from the Lyuli
community. Known to outsiders as Roma -- or derogatively as Gypsies --
Kyrgyzstan’s Lyuli have traditionally suffered from prejudice and
diminished expectations. Local observers note that with their darker
features, Lyuli are often targeted for discrimination by Kyrgyz and
Uzbeks. Kyrgyzstan’s Lyuli have also suffered from a lack of
educational opportunities.

"Because of mass unemployment and the low quality of life, many women
from our village are forced to beg to support their families," says
Tulanjon Kadirov, a history teacher and ethnic Lyuli. "Local people
don’t like us. We have been ill-treated for decades. Our young people
stay in the community, and don’t go to the city and do not socialize
much with other ethnic groups."
Some activists see education, especially improved knowledge of the
Kyrgyz language, as the best means of improving the Lyuli community’s
circumstances. "Now we have four experimental classes where children
are taught in the state language," says Principal Toichieva, an ethnic
Uzbek. "It is difficult for them because at home they speak their
native language, but their attempts and eagerness to learn brings hope
that in the long run they can get out of the endless cycle of

The history of the Lyuli in Central Asia goes back centuries. Like the
Roma in Europe, scholars say their ancestors originated in India. But
unlike European Roma, Central Asian Lyuli practice Islam and they
speak a language related to Persian. There are no reliable statistics
about the number of Lyuli living in Jany-Kyshtak. Local officials say
many do not even have identification documents. "About 60 percent of
over 3,000 inhabitants of this village have no passports, and about 30
percent of their children do not have birth certificates," the Kyrgyz
head of the local council, Abdulatif Shadmanov, told EurasiaNet.
"Therefore, they do not have social protection and cannot expect
pensions or other allowances from the government."

Dispelling stereotypes, a local police officer said crime in the area
is no higher than elsewhere, but suggested illiteracy and the lack of
general education among Lyuli impedes their acceptance by area Kyrgyz.
"When Lyuli people deal with us, they cannot even write a simple
statement and application," says Maj. Aijigit Joroev, an Interior
Ministry official. Observers agree. Aliyma Sharipova, a professor of
international relations at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University in Osh, said
the lack of educational opportunities, along with the inability to
speak Kyrgyz, prompt many Lyuli to avoid contact with mainstream
Kyrgyz society. "Many Lyuli do not risk leaving their settlement, and
they do not visit Osh because of fears that they can be discriminated
[against], or abused by representatives of other ethnic groups," she

Compounding their predicament, many Lyuli are unaware of their rights.
Many do not know, for example, that Lyuli children have the right to a
basic education. "The future of any nation or ethnic group depends on
the realization of their rights to education, and this is the area
where Lyuli are most discriminated against," says Antonina Zakharova,
a senior researcher from the Osh Branch of the National Academy of
Sciences. "Children deprived of education services end up begging on
city streets, joining the army of illiterate adults without any
positive prospects."

Some educated representatives of the community recognize that ensuring
Lyuli children learn Kyrgyz is essential. "We want our children to
study Kyrgyz, which is the state language of this country. This will
help our young people to join the local community and to remove
existing stereotypes," says Kadirov, the Lyuli history teacher.
Tukhtokhan feels the weight of her community’s future upon her. "I
want to believe that my dream to become a teacher will come true, and
I can teach others," she smiles.

Editor's Note: Umid Erkinov is the pseudonym for a Kyrgyz journalist.

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