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The Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, formally known as Kirghizia, is a state inhabited with people who have a proud nomadic tradition. The ancestors of the Kyrgyzstan’s people were nomads. Kyrgyzstan is characterized by a land with snow-capped mountain, grass-covered steppes and a windswept desert. Most of the Kyrgyzstan’s inhabitants live in settled communities. In early 2010, the population of Kyrgyzstan was estimated to be around 5 million. The first president of Kirghizstan, Askar Aakayev, was the first non-communist president to be elected among Asian states. In his ruling, Askar took various steps which rendered Kyrgyzstan to become the important state among the Asian states (Anderson, 1999). For instance, he attracted financial assistance from the Western countries in order to improve the economy of Kyrgyzstan. In 1993, Kyrgyzstan experienced privatization of the state owned businesses and land. Like other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan made progress in terms of its cultural equality, open-mindedness and modernity. Kyrgyzstan became a centre of trade. Goods from China, Korea, Thailand, Dubai and Iran were brought here before being exported to other countries. Also, Kyrgyzstan became a forerunner in developing good relations and treaties with various international organizations (Anderson, 1999). It is worth noting that it is the only country in the Central Asian states which is a member of World Trade Organizations (WTO).
Despite Kirghizstan being a center of trade in Central Asian states, in 2010 Kyrgyzstan suddenly appeared to be a major issue in international media. At that time it was not presented as the center of trade in Central Asia, but as a state with ethnic riots. The city of Osh which is located in the eastern part of Ferghana valley is a home for diverse ethnic groups. Ferghana valley is shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks, who were the majority in the city, but minority nationally, were facing competition with the Kyrgyz, who were dominating nationally. The two groups were struggling for owning Osh, which was a desirable prize for the rival groups (Anderson, 1999).
The Uzbeks are descendants of the ancient Sogdian population, whose people were traditionally excellent agriculturists, traders, artists and restaurateurs. They adopted the name Uzbek who were the nomads of Turkic origin. The Uzbeks were the earliest group to settle in Central Asia and thus determined the fate of Central Asia. The nomads from the inland part of Asia had kings while the Sogdians permeated the cultural circles and public administration and, therefore, provided an economic foundation for the nomadic kingdoms.
The Kyrgyz also come from the Turkic origin. They are traditionally excellent in animal husbandry and had lived in the mountains but could come into contact with the sedentary culture from time to time. Before the Soviet modernization policies, the two ethnic groups had coexisted harmoniously both socially and economically, even though there was tension in their political sphere. In 1930s, after the nomad Kyrgyz were settled by the Soviet state, the two communities started competing for the scarce resources.
Most of the Uzbek ethnic community lives in Osh and its surroundings, some bordering the Kyrgyz. Each group forms quarters (mahallas) where they co-exist, especially in borders which make them an easy target of attacks. The Kyrgyz form quarters basically surround the whole city of Osh. Thus, the thriving centre of Osh fed the laborious, entrepreneurial and diligent Uzbeks, while the lazy, honest but warlike Kyrgyz involved themselves in politics, administrative, military and intellectual fields (Anderson, 1999).
The Uzbeks were rich possessing many companies and numerous cafes and restaurants. Thereby they dictated various policies in private sector including the employment policy. The Kyrgyz, both poor and rich, were irritated by the dominance of Uzbek in private sector which was pampered by corrupt mayors and governors. Similarly, the Uzbeks were also irritated by the corrupt Kyrgyz governors and mayors since they had to share employment opportunities with the Kyrgyz.
Since independence the Kyrgyz had to struggle in order to prevent the rich Uzbeks from doing things to their disadvantage. They had to struggle in order to maintain the democracy standards and the human rights. During the rule of President Bakiev (2005-2010), the Kyrgyz often resorted to the mafia leadership which operated in the South. However, the gang leaders were murdered by the Bakiev family. This relieved the rich Uzbeks from the burden of dealing with the hash Kyrgyz. The murder aggravated the tense inter-ethnic relationship between the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz. The corrupt Kyrgyz became wealthy while the rich men from the Uzbek ethnic group needed more power and thus became active in politics. The ordinary inhabitants of Osh went through suffering during the period of incited violence in order to resolve the contradictions. However, the violence needed provocations. In order to avoid the eruption of conflicts in Osh, both communities kept constant communication with each other. These safety precautions were inadequate to prevent eruption of violence (Gertz, 2010).
The political environment in Kyrgyzstan was one of the major causes for the eruption of violence in the city of Osh. Since 1991, Kirghizstan has experienced two political regimes under the rule of Askar Akaev from 1991 to 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiev from 2005 to 2010. Both political regimes were characterized by clannish rule, intolerance to opposition and plebiscitary democracy. Due to their poor political ruling, they were both toppled down by mass actions.
Democratic regimes were established by opposition groups that resisted the Bakiev’s regime. Though the government was trying to unify all the eighty ethnic communities which inhabited the country, Kirghizstan was home to the Kyrgyz, as they constituted majority of the population. During elections, the minority ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan were usually exploited. The rights of the Kyrgyz and their nomadic culture preservation were being guaranteed by the constitution. In 2001, in order to facilitate inter-ethnic communications, the Russian language was adopted as the official language since most ethnic community did not understand the Kyrgyz language. However, the Uzbeks demanded the Uzbek language to be made as official language.
Analyzing the occurrence of the clashes in the city of Osh Jalal-Abad indicates that the violence was a planned action since no such intensive conflicts could occur without any provocations. The eruption of violence may have been based on the fault of communication between the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz communities and also due to the negligence of the government. In the springs of 2010 there were several events which predated the occurrence of the inter-ethnic clashes. To start with, it should be recalled than on 7th April 2010 the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz cooperated in order to prevent sparking of the inter-ethnic conflict in Osh when mass uprising forced Bakiev to flee.
In early April 2010, some Kyrgyz youths attacked the Turks, one of the minority ethnic groups living in the outskirts of the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. They burned most of the Turks. According to Khan, investigations found out that the youths were provoked by the supporters of Bakiev in Bishkek (Khan, 2010).
The relationship between the two major ethnic groups, the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks, fractured in the mid May in the Southern Kirghizstan, Jalal-Abad province. These intensified the mutual prejudice and suspicion between the two ethnic communities. The Bakiev’s family organized a protest in Jalal-Abad. In order to resist the violence the government used Uzbek leader, Kadyrjan Batyrov and his supporters who burnt Bakiev’s family houses. Kadyrjan demanded the Uzbeks to be given a 50% representation in all state bodies. Hearing this, the Kyrgyz demanded Kadyrjan to be arrested and punished for kindling inter-ethnic clashes, but they never retaliated. Later, Kadyrjan fled abroad in the fear to be arrested.
Corruption was on the high rise in the Interim Government. Some forces heard the conversation between Maxim Bakiev and his brother Janysh Bakiev, the sons of Bakiev, and uploaded what they heard on the internet. They were planning to destabilize the government by using armed groups who would spread chaos. On the eve of the violence, the Uzbeks declared separatism on their Uzbek TV (Gertz, 2010). The Interim Government did not resist or act against separatism since most of the members of the Interim Government were preoccupied by the upcoming referendum and the upcoming elections. The security did not suspect any possible provocation. Another factor that might have contributed to the emergence of clashes was the translation of the constitution into Uzbek language. This enraged the Kyrgyz since the government was fulfilling the demands of the Batyrov and the Uzbeks to be promoted to power.
The inter-ethnic clashes in Osh and Jalal-Abad province started on 10th June 2010 at night. A mob of Uzbek youths had gathered on the central street and when the head of police in Osh arrived in attempt to stop the riot, they opened fire at him (Gertz, 2010). The police did not react instantly and thus the youths started attacking public buildings, hotels, shops and institutions. On 11th June 2010, the Kyrgyz attacked the Uzbek with cudgels, firebombs and knifes but were defeated by the Uzbek due to their weak firearms. Over 50 people died in the riots during the attack. The Kyrgyz with the help of police and the military managed to get firearms. On 13th and 14th of June 2010, the mass riots had extended to Jalal-Abad province and the city was set on fire. According to Asia-Pacific Daily Report, 420 people were killed during the riot, 111,000 fled to Uzbekistan and 300,000 were internally displaced in Kyrgyzstan. According to some estimates over 2,800 properties including buildings were damaged by looting and fire. Many of the fatalities, about 74%, were from the Uzbek community whose majority of property was destroyed (Asia-Pacific Daily Report, 2010).
The causes of inter-ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan are complex and are not yet fully revealed. However, some of the causes of the clashes are clear. The negligence of the government was one of the major causes of the clashes. After independence in 1991, the government did not put effort to develop a viable economic base for the nation, nor did it develop adequate social and education services.
Also, the government did not involve itself in discussing the issue of ethnic differences among its citizens. The government hewed to the consideration that only its involvement in the matter would make it even worse. This ignorance of the government resulted to a large number of population, especially the Kyrgyz, being restless due to inadequate job opportunities and poor educated. Such groups of youths were therefore, easily mobilized by the talks that the Uzbeks were organizing secession (Gertz, 2010).
Also, the overthrow of President Bakiyev, who was a southerner, on 7th April by the northerners, was viewed by the southerners as a move to weaken their position in government (Gertz, 2010). This led to the emergence of a group of criminal youths who supported some well-inclined politicians. Additionally, in Jalal-Abad the security forces did not respond to the Bakiyev’s loyalist power grab. This led to emergence of an informal armed force which was supported by the Uzbeks in an attempt to suppress the local revolt. Properties belonging to the President’s family were destroyed. This burning was based on ethnic relations between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks. The belief that the Uzbeks had destroyed properties of the Kyrgyz was on ethnic bases and it was crucial in provoking the inter-ethnic riots (Gertz, 2010). The Uzbek demand of greater rights (50% representation in government) further led to the formation of an aggressive Kyrgyz group in order to resist this demands. This was viewed as a rise in the Uzbek separatism.
The riot was not a protest or a movement because the security official did not heed on the occurrence of riots. The protest by the Uzbek’s youth developed to be a riot because the government leaders did not take the responsibility of sovereignty and integrity of the state. Also, they did not ensure security of Kirghizstan’s citizens. The hatred between the two communities had hiked to irresistible levels and thus none of the two communities could have gone into protests.
This riot distinguishes itself from an organized uprising riot group because the riot was not provoked by any individual. The riot could have been prevented but the security sector. It had been weakened because of the split of regional loyalties and the wide spread corruption among the government officials. Also, President Bakiyev, whose regime played an important role in organizing crimes, had been overthrown. Also, some eavesdroppers had overheard the talks by Bakiyev’s son and uploaded it on the internet. The plan never came true.
When reviewing the June 2010 violence, social context of the mater should be looked at thoroughly. The riot evolves around social environments. Ethnic differences, the land and politics were major determinants of the riot. The riot was between the two ethnical communities, the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz, who had different historical background. The Uzbek were historically entrepreneurs and they were therefore richer compared to the Kyrgyz who were nomads and less stable economically. These differences led to jealousy among the two communities. Also, the Uzbek population occupied the central region of Osh while the Kyrgyz surrounded almost the whole city. There was discrimination in employment in both public sectors, where Kyrgyz dominated and in the private sectors, where the Uzbek dominated. All these differences were among the contributing factors that led to the inter-ethnic riots and therefore the social context of the matter is worth understanding.
The central government in Kirghizstan was caught unaware by the event and was not prepared to deal with crimes of such magnitude. The security structure was impotent to predict the occurrence and was not even capable to stop the violence. However, there were many warning signals on a possible emergence of violence. For instance, the violence in Jalal-Abad in early 2010 was due to differences in ethnicity. The government should have intervened on the matter in order to avoid any possible revenge by the attacked community. Also, the allegations that the Bakiyev’s sons, Maxim and Janysh, were planning to destabilize the government should have been taken seriously since the allegations could have brought eruption of chaos. Also, the government should have taken action against Kadyrjan before fleeing abroad. His demand of 50% representation of the Uzbeks in all state bodies was a clear indication of the intensity of ethnic differences among the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz. In addition, the declaration of separatism by the Uzbeks on a public media, Uzbek TV, could have foreseen the occurrence of violence in a near future.
In conclusion, leaders all over the world should realize that power is not something to be misused or play with. They should take responsibility of integrity and sovereignty of the nation and should have the importance of security of every citizen at heart. The 2010 Kyrgyzstan riots, which were caused by the failure of the government to provide security to its citizens, should be a lesson to the current government and should guide any action or policy enacted.