Thursday, April 22, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Clashes Threaten Kyrgyzstan’s Survival, Russian Analyst Suggests

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 22 – Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz, on the one hand, and minority groups, on the other, if they come to involve ethnic Uzbeks, a Moscow analyst says, would put Kyrgyzstan on the road to a “full-scale” civil war, likely lead to intervention by Tashkent, and threaten that already troubled Central Asian country’s survival.
In an analysis posted online today, Aleksandr Shustov points out that representatives of these non-titular nationalities have sought to play down the ethnic dimension of the conflicts but observes that “the fact that the majority of those who have suffered … are representatives of non-titular ethnic groups willy-nilly gives them an inter-ethnic subtext.”
And he suggests that both the efforts of an increasing number of ethnic Russians to leave Kyrgyzstan and the statements of some officials about dropping Russian as an official language underscore the rise of ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan, tensions that may soon involve the Uzbeks (
The “largest disorders” since the revolution in Bishkek, Shustov says, involved “pogroms of Meskhetian Turks and ethnic Russians living in Mayevka, a suburb of the [Kyrgyz] capital.” According to witnesses, these disorders were sparked by the actions of “crowds of young Kyrgyz” who apparently saw a chance to get housing and land by driving out the others.
Three days ago, these people attacked the Meskhetian Turks and Russians three times, bringing in reinforcements from Kyrgyzstan after being driven off the first two times. Militia units finally ended the conflict but not before five people were killed, nine hospitalized and 28 others given medical help. Moreover, several houses were burned to the ground.
According to Shustov, these pogroms “left Kyrgyz society in a state of shock precisely because of their ethnic dimension,” since as was clear to all, “the absolute majority of the residents of the village who suffered turned out to be non-Kyrgyz and the representatives of the titular nation living there, according to witnesses, were left untouched by the pogromshchiki.”
In addition to attacking people and housing, the crowds seized more than 8,000 hectares of land and have refused to give it back. That action, Shustov says, will have longer term consequences: It means that the residents of this region will “remain this year without a harvest,” something that guarantees people will remain upset by what has happened.
Shustov reports that leaders of the non-titular nationalities there have sought to play down any ethnic dimension. Murafiddin Sakhimov, head of the Meskhetian Turks, said “there cannot be any question of inter-ethnic conflicts in Kyrgyzstan.” And Aleksandr Stapanyuk, head of the Russian “Harmony” Cultural Center said the same.
But the Moscow analyst says that whatever such people may feel compelled to day, the reality that “the majority of those who suffered were representatives of non-titular ethnic groups willy-nilly gives these clashes an inter-ethnic subtext.” Consequently, even if the primary motivation of the attackers was to gain property, their actions thus have ethnic consequences.
And those may be intensified with time because the provisional government is not in a position yet to reverse the seizures, because any use of force to do so “could provoke new disorders” which would further undermine the power and authority of Bishkek and possibly lead to chaos.
Indeed, Shustov says, reports by witnesses that the attacks had “a planned character,” possibly the result of efforts of supporters of the country’s former president, suggest that more attacks may be in the offing and that provoking ethnic clashes may be part of the strategy of the former regime.
The most worrisome possibility, the Moscow analyst continues, is that such conflicts will soon involve the Uzbeks. So far, there has been only one clash involving that ethnic group, the second largest in Kyrgyzstan. That was in the northern portion of the country at Tokmok, but most Uzbeks live in the south. If there are clashes there, Tashkent might intervene as in 1990.
Some members of the Provisional Government intentionally or not are exacerbating ethnic feelings, Shustov suggests. Some near it have suggested that Russian should be dropped as a second state language, and other officials have even said that those who do not speak Kyrgyz are not “real” Kyrgyz citizens.
As ethnic tensions continue to heat up, Shustov says, it is hardly surprising that many members of minority nationalities are thinking about leaving. In recent days, the number of ethnic Russians visiting the Russian embassy to ask about moving to Russia has tripled. That in turn has led the embassy to consider increasing its staff to handle the load.

No comments: