Friday is the first anniversary of the horrific ethnic violence that shook southern Kyrgyzstan last year. It’s been a terribly depressing 12 months, with national and local leaders circling the wagons, refusing to accept that what happened last year in Osh and Jalabad amounts to pogroms against the Uzbek population. With them discounting the significance of numbers showing many more Uzbeks than Kyrgyz were targeted and that, even so, many more Uzbeks have been prosecuted for crimes committed during the violence. With them banning from the country the author of an international investigation into the June events that documented the systematic nature of violence against Uzbeks. With much of the (Kyrgyz-controlled) media telling stories of a plot engineered by separatist Uzbeks (or Islamic extremists or supporters of the deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiev).
Some human rights workers in the country have been warning not only of a lack of progress toward reconciliation but also of the potential for more violence.
The situation only gets trickier in light of the fact that the country will hold its first post-Bakiev presidential election in October. And calling for national soul-searching or making concessions to Uzbeks, after the well has been so thoroughly poisoned against them, is a shortcut to defeat.
Acting President Roza Otunbaeva has announced that she will not run, theoretically making her freer to speak her mind. And she has said some interesting things lately. Last week she told parliament that many residents of southern Kyrgyzstan, mainly Uzbeks, had been arrested without cause.
She said something else that sounds reasonable enough. Otunbaeva urged parliament to get beyond disputes over who is to blame for last year’s violence. If political elites can’t come to some accord, she said, ordinary people never will.
But with no honest attempt to deal with festering nationalism and widespread restlessness, despair and frustration, now really isn’t the time to get beyond those disputes. Surely it’s important that the marauders who laid waste to entire neighborhoods face a day of reckoning.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Unfortunately, one other is Kamchibek Tashiyev, leader of the nationalist Ata Jurt party’s parliamentary faction, who earlier this year told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: “The war was started by ethnic Uzbeks that attacked Kyrgyz people. We defended Kyrgyz from Uzbeks in order to collapse the hopes of Uzbek separatists that wanted to split the country. Only after two days Kyrgyz started the revenge against Uzbeks and we defended Uzbeks from Kyrgyz.”
Tashiyev asked Otunbaeva why they shouldn’t try to find those responsible for the June violence.
But I don’t think he and I are thinking of the same people.