The Pogroms in Kyrgyzstan
Asia Report Nº193
23 Aug 2010
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
An explosion of violence, destruction and looting in southern Kyrgyzstan on 11-14 June 2010 killed many hundreds of people, mostly Uzbeks, destroyed over 2000 buildings, mostly homes, and deepened the gulf between the country’s ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. It was further proof of the near total ineffectiveness of the provisional government that overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, and is now trying to guide the country to general elections in October. Given the government’s slowness to address the causes and consequences of the violence, the danger of another explosion is high. Even without one, the aftershocks of the looting, murder and arson could seriously damage Kyrgyzstan’s ailing economy, cause a significant outflow of ethnic Uzbeks and other minorities, and further destabilise the already fragile situation in Central Asia in general. The route back to stability will be long and difficult, not least because no reliable security or even monitoring force has been deployed in the affected area. It should start with an internationally supported investigation into the pogroms, as visible an international police and diplomatic presence as possible to discourage their recurrence, and close coordination on effective rebuilding of towns and communities.
The most disturbing and dangerous consequence of the violence is that the central government has now lost de facto control of the south. Melis Myrzakmatov, the mayor of Osh, a ruthless and resolute young nationalist leader, has emerged from the bloodshed with his political strength, and his extremist credentials, stronger than ever, and is now the south’s pivotal political figure. Given this, there is a strong risk that any attempt at investigation or even reconciliation will be subordinated to many politicians’ desire to enlist his support for the October elections. The government seems reluctant to challenge this nationalist mood, which it clearly feels is popular within the majority Kyrgyz community. If the south remains outside of central control, there is a strong risk that the narcotics trade, already an important factor, could extend its power still further, and that the region could quickly become a welcoming environment for Islamist guerrillas.
Though the government blames external elements, including Islamic militants, the pogroms in fact involved many forces, from the remnants of the Bakiyev political machine to prominent mainstream politicians and organised crime, especially the narcotics trade.
Most of the violence took place in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s southern capital, with a less bloody outburst in and around the region’s other main city, Jalalabad. The forces that stand behind the violence have not yet been fully identified. This is unlikely to happen without an exhaustive and professional international investigation. Certain things are, however, clear. Although the profound belief in the Uzbek community that the pogroms were a state-planned attack on them is not borne out by the facts, there are strong indications that prominent political figures, particularly in Osh city, were actively, perhaps decisively, involved. Most security forces in the region, who in Osh currently answer to local leaders rather than the capital, were slow to act or complicit in the violence. The pattern of violence in Osh moreover suggests a coordinated strategy; it is unlikely the marauders were spontaneously responding to events. The criterion that guided looters in all the districts attacked was ethnic, not economic. June’s violence had been prefigured by serious ethnic and political tension in Jalalabad in May. At the time, however, this was largely ignored by the central government and the international community.
Successive governments have failed to address ethnic tensions in the south, or even admit their existence. Many features of the 2010 violence strongly resemble the last round of bloody ethnic clashes, in 1990. At that time there was no attempt to address the root causes of the problem, and the same phenomena burst to the surface in an even more virulent form twenty years on. During the intervening two decades, state neglect and economic decline have deepened social deprivation, increasing the pool of poorly educated and mostly unemployed young men who, in 2010 as in 1990, proved particularly susceptible to destructive rhetoric.
One of the most striking differences between 1990 and 2010 was that twenty years ago a large number of elite Soviet troops were deployed in the region for six months to normalise the situation. This time, a weaker government facing a greater challenge has refused any external help, arguing that it can handle the situation itself. Even the token and already delayed deployment of 52 police advisers by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been the target of repeated protests by nationalist demonstrators who seek to weaken the central government. Few international observers or foreign governments believe that the government is capable of assuring the bare minimum of governance in coming months; an embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt to remove Myrzakmatov has weakened the government, and the president, even further. It has also reinforced Myrzakmatov's hold on the south.
The international community’s response to the crisis was inglorious. Most countries deferred to Russia, which declined to send peacekeepers and has since predicted the country’s disintegration. The UN Security Council did nothing. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) deployed with laudable speed, while key UN agencies were initially frustrated by internal security rules that even some senior UN officials felt were excessively constricting – and which played into the hands of local officials in Osh who appeared keen to limit the number of outsiders in the area. Looting of aid convoys was a serious problem for some time after the Osh authorities announced that order had been restored.
The situation throughout the country remains tense. In the south, however, it is explosive. The government tries to maintain a facade that the situation is returning to normal. In fact the Osh authorities are pursuing a punitive anti-Uzbek policy that could well trigger more violence – and in the view of many observers, Kyrgyz and international, may be intended to do just that. Moderate ethnic Kyrgyz are aggrieved at sweeping foreign allegations that have made them the villains of the crisis. Meanwhile, there is already talk within the Uzbek areas of Osh – largely secular and middle class, a long way from the Islamists’ core constituency in the south – of the welcome that the jihadi guerrillas would receive if they stepped up their activities in the south. The conversations are so far restricted to a tiny segment of the Uzbek community. Without prompt, genuine and exhaustive measures to address the damage done by the pogroms, however, the country risks, sooner or later, another round of terrible violence.
To the Government of Kyrgyzstan:
1. Support a full, open and internationally backed enquiry into the events in May 2010 in Jalalabad, and June in Osh and Jalalabad.
2. Take a strong public stand against positions of extreme nationalism and ethnic exclusivity put forward by prominent national and regional politicians.
3. Cooperate with and support immediate deployment of OSCE police mission to Osh, international humanitarian organisations and diplomatic presence to reduce the likelihood of new violence.
To the International Community:
4. Call for and support a thorough enquiry into the events of May-June 2010, with central roles assigned to international organisations with expertise in this field such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. Make it clear that further aid to the Kyrgyz government will be conditional upon such an investigation.
5. Elaborate a unified strategy for the reconstruction of the south, involving extensive on-ground monitoring – including the early deployment to Osh of the OSCE police mission and other international humanitarian and diplomatic observers – the recognition of cultural sensitivities and the need to avoid worsening conflict risks.
6. Ensure that no international aid funds go to the Osh government as long as it advocates an exclusionary ethnic policy and refuses to submit to the authority of the central government.
7. Engage in a long-term program of police reform and training, sweeping reforms of the judiciary and legal system.
8. Start the process of seeking a framework for the equitable coexistence of all ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan.
To the Members of the UN Security Council, in particular the U.S. and Russia:
9. Undertake active contingency planning on a priority basis, jointly and severally as appropriate, so that in the event of another explosion in the south threatening lives and the stability of Kyrgyzstan and the Central Asia region, the international community or key members and institutions will be in a position to respond in a timely and effective manner.
Bishkek/Brussels, 23 August 2010