by Cholpon Nogoibaeva
Exclusive Commentary for HUMNEWS
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan - Bloody clashes in Kyrgyzstan’s south have been dominating headlines in the international media for the past several days. Scenes of rioting crowds watched by seemingly clueless law enforcement officers remaining passive have flashed on television screens around the world, suggesting a direct link between the state and the marginalized groups. Pictures of young men agitated by a feeling of impunity riding captured armored vehicles are coupled with text saying that the government is unable to normalize the situation. The printed and electronic media, blogs are full of stories describing horror, violence and lawlessness.
The coverage of the events in the South has been immediate but its accuracy left much to be desired. It is vitally important that conflicts should be covered, and, preferably, by free media, who adhere to impartiality. However, reporting on Kyrgyzstan shows that even those enjoying freedom of the press fall victim to stereotyping, generalization and misrepresentation.
Today Kyrgyzstan is shown in international media as a failed state that is about to cease to exist, a country gripped by civil war, where ethnic cleansing and genocide of ethnic Uzbeks takes place. How and why did such an image of Kyrgyzstan and its people arise? Whatever the reason - uninformed reporters or superficial analysis - is of little importance now: major messages have been communicated and fixed in the minds of millions of people creating fertile ground for panic and rumors.
What happened in the south was horrible – the dead, wounded, refugees and victims of violent crimes. The number of people killed is higher than reported in official statistics because only those who have been delivered to specialized medical institutions for identification are included in the statistics. While houses and shops were torched on a scale hitherto not seen in Kyrgyzstan, these were not acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kyrgyzstani Uzbeks. Central and local governments, police and army, government and non-government organizations did not engage in acts that violated the civil rights of Kyrgyzstani Uzbeks. The Kyrgyz Republic's identity as a state is based on citizenship, not ethnic origin.
Kyrgyzstan does not have a policy that separates or discriminates on the basis of ethnicity. That is why police officers died trying to calm mobs of young Kyrgyz and Uzbeks who were provoked by specially trained mercenaries. Liberal use of the words "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing," irresponsible distribution of information, or, what is much worse, willful distortion of information, have damaged not only the people of Kyrgyzstan, but ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries.
It is particularly sad that the clashes in two Southern regions of Kyrgyzstan are labeled as ethnic conflict. Willingly or unwillingly, those who do so confuse causes and consequences. The bloodshed in Osh and Jalalabad was caused not by inter-ethnic tension between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, but by willful provocations that were aimed precisely at causing bloodbath between the two peoples. The perpetrators were nationals of Kyrgyzstan and other countries, while the funding and overall coordination came from ex-President Bakiev's closes relatives. Their purpose was to create havoc to ensure that the 27 June referendum on the new constitution that establishes a parliamentary democracy does not take place.
There were at least three groups of mercenaries. One included highly trained snipers who went around town in cars with tinted glasses, shooting both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Presumably, these snipers were the same snipers who shot at the people from the roof of the Government Building in Bishkek in April.
There were also arsonists, who were responsible for setting buildings on fire in Kyrgyz and Uzbek districts. One of the things that contributed to the panic was that the arsonists set on fire buildings with slate roof. At high temperature slate cracks loudly with a sound that can be mistaken for gunfire.
The third group consisted of instigators who prompted males to avenge by spreading rumors of multiple atrocities: committed by Kyrgyz against the Uzbeks, committed by Uzbeks against the Kyrgyz. These planned and deliberate actions caused the conflicts on the night of June 10-11 and the timing was to coincide with the 20th anniversary of serious inter-ethnic disturbances that took place a year before Kyrgyzstan became an independent state in 1991. Subsequent events followed the intended scenario and resulted in clashes between the two communities.
The new coalition interim government was not ready for this development and lacked capacity to intervene to turn the events around quickly, which the mercenaries took advantage of very well. There were cases when residents of neighboring ethnic districts tried to reconcile with each other, but were shot at by unknown snipers. Gunmen fired on trucks that distributed humanitarian aid, sabotaging relief efforts and creating an impression among the people of Osh (who suffered from lack of food and other essentials) that the local and central government abandoned them.
The masterminds of these provocations that caused numerous civilian victims and a flood of refugees knew precisely of various long running social, community and criminal (especially narco-business) tensions which existed in the south and were able to take advantage of weakness of the interim government.
Rehabilitating towns and villages and, most importantly, returning to normal life in Osh and Jalalabad will take years and colossal resources. Kyrgyz citizens will face a wave of post-conflict gore and negative information. A representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that the events were orchestrated and planned in advance by shadowy groups and not a spontaneous inter-ethnic clash.
Free media would do a great service to all Kyrgyzstanis by stopping reproduction of clichés and paying more attention to the young nation that tries to create its own civic identity.
Ms. Nogoibaeva is President of Institute for Policy Analysis in Bishkek.