[lg policy] Provisional Government Grappling with Simmering Ethnic Tension in Kyrgyzstan

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu May 27 18:36:07 UTC 2010

Provisional Government Grappling with Simmering Ethnic Tension in Kyrgyzstan
May 25, 2010 - 5:08pm, by Alisher Khamidov

Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz Transition Kyrgyz Unrest Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan

As it strives to keep a lid on inter-ethnic tension in southern
Kyrgyzstan, the country’s provisional government is confronting a
lose-lose proposition.The government’s dilemma is connected with the
violent clashes that have occurred over the past two weeks. When
supporters of ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev briefly seized
government offices on May 13-14 in the southern cities of Batken, Osh
and Jalal-abad, ethnic Uzbeks were prominent in helping the
provisional government reestablish its authority. [For background see
EurasiaNet’s archive]. Five days later clashes between Kyrgyz and
Uzbeks in Jalal-abad left at least two dead and 71 injured. [For
background see EurasiaNet’s archive].

A source of particular animosity for many Kyrgyz was the perception
that a group of Uzbeks, led Kadyrjan Batyrov, a local Uzbek community
leader and prominent businessman, were involved in an arson attack on
Bakiyev’s family compound in the village of Teyit, near Jalal-abad, on
May 14. Under pressure from Kyrgyz protesters, Acting Defense Minister
Ismail Isakov said on May 20 that authorities had opened a criminal
investigation against Batyrov, local news agencies reported. His
location is currently unknown.

Although a provisional government-imposed curfew has helped ease
tension in southern Kyrgyzstan, the interim leadership still must
finesse how to proceed with Batyrov. Allowing Batyrov to avoid arrest
could galvanize Kyrgyz opponents of the provisional government.
Arresting him, however, would alienate the region’s large ethnic Uzbek
minority. As it already stands, Uzbeks are sensitive to perceived
prejudicial treatment in media coverage of the Jalal-abad unrest. In a
statement published by Ferghana.ru on May 20, Jalal-Abad Uzbek
community members said, “We demand an end to efforts in the media that
create a public image of Batyrov and Uzbeks as enemies among the
Kyrgyz population.”

Ethnic Uzbeks and other minorities have long complained about a lack
of political representation in Kyrgyzstan. But complaints can run both
ways in the South. In some southern districts where Uzbeks form a
majority, ethnic Kyrgyz complain about perceived Uzbek domination of
the economy and resources. “Uzbeks have control over the bazaars and
property in valued spots. They have a lot of money. And now they want
political power. They have to curb their appetites and behave
moderately. This is a Kyrgyz country, after all,” a Kyrgyz bank
official told EurasiaNet.org, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In June 1990, such differing narratives caused a deadly conflict
between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. In response, former president Askar Akayev
tried to quell ethnic passions by declaring Kyrgyzstan a "common
house" and building informal ties with leaders of ethnic minority
groups through the People's Assembly, a quasi-governmental structure.
Akayev’s liberal policies allowed groups to establish informal spheres
of influence in various economic and civil service sectors.

Bakiyev undid many of Akayev's policies that aimed at fostering
harmonious inter-ethnic relations. Under Bakiyev, the role of the
People's Assembly declined, and the informal division of economic and
social sectors was disrupted. Instead, Bakiyev relied on the security
apparatus, led by his brother Janysh, to suppress minorities.
Observers say that Bakiyev's downfall opened a floodgate of pent-up
ethnic tension created by years of biased government policy. The early
April unrest, then, triggered a renewed competition over resources in
the South.

The Jalal-abad events have alarmed many Uzbek leaders. A statement by
the Jalal-abad Uzbek Society claimed that lax law enforcement helped
fanned the unrest. “We became convinced yet again that some parts of
the security structures of the region, which are responsible for peace
and order among citizens, continue to serve as instruments of
anti-populist forces,” said the statement.

Batyrov’s involvement in the Jalal-abad events also has intensified
internal debate among Uzbek leaders. Prior to May 14, Uzbeks
traditionally shied away from aligning with Kyrgyz political factions
in promoting their long-standing demands, including the designation of
Uzbek as an official language and greater political representation.
After Bakiyev's departure, most Uzbek leaders were openly dismayed
that the interim government failed to include Uzbek representatives in
the government. Observers say that Batyrov's decision to back the
interim-government's efforts to restore its control on May 14 was
motivated by a desire to enhance Uzbek positions.

Yet Batyrov's move riled some Uzbek leaders in nearby Osh,
Kyrgyzstan’s de facto southern capital. "They [Kyrgyz political
leaders] have this habit of trying to involve us [Uzbeks] in their
disputes and confrontations. But we always emerge as scapegoats [in
such clashes]. It's best to stay away from their squabbles," an
Osh-based Uzbek community leader told EurasiaNet.org, speaking on
condition of anonymity.

An ethnic Uzbek journalist criticized Batyrov for not clearing his May
14 actions with other Uzbek leaders. "Many [Uzbeks in Osh] are unhappy
about this [Batyrov's decision to back interim forces]. It was clear
that this was going to lead to problems. What was he thinking? What
did he think he would gain from this? This is still unclear," the
journalist said.

Some Uzbek leaders hope the Jalal-abad crisis will force the interim
administration to address long-standing inter-ethnic issues. But it
appears unlikely that the government can respond in a way that
satisfies Uzbeks. According to the Osh journalist, adopting a forceful
position on inter-ethnic issues will flame suspicions that Uzbek
demands for political representation will likely be followed by
demands for autonomy. “Uzbek demands have not been met in the past and
they will not be met anytime soon. There is no illusion about that,”
said the journalist.

Editor's note: Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in southern Kyrgyzstan.

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