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Ethnicity Amidst the Violence in Kyrgyzstan: A Closer Look

Nobody denies the fact that there has always been some level of tension between two ethnicities in the South. But would they naturally spill over to the ethnic-cleansing that is taking place now? Probably not, especially after the 1990 events that are still fresh in the minds of both ethnicities. The reason behind the violence in the South is the crowd madness caused by well-prepared gangs, which exploited the mutual discontent between the two ethnicities. It is not the other way round, as many want to see it, that either ethnicity exploited the volatile political situation to settle for once and all their disputed issues. What is also true is that despite the discontents there has always been mutual respect if not an ideal harmony among the people in the south.

What is the nature of discontents that two ethnicities in the south have? If you ask a Kyrgyz in the south, the answer is: "Uzbeks always claim that the Ferghana valley was originally Uzbek land and therefore they are entitled to more land. Why can't they live as Kyrgyzstani instead of segregating themselves in the mahallas and always demanding more of this more of that? There are Uzbek schools and Universities and Media. They are represented in the Parliament. The draft Constitution is planned to be distributed in Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russian. Why at this moment of a political crisis, instead of opting for solidarity and attempting not to allow such tragedies happen, they keep demanding for more? Why is it always a 'Kyrgyz political crisis' and never 'our crisis'? "

If you ask Uzbek in the south, the answer they will give is: "The Ferghana valley always belonged to the Uzbek. Agriculture is one thing that we have always been good at, so we need more land. We are one of the biggest national minorities, so we need our schools and the Media. Yes, we have representatives in the Parliament but they are not so many, there should be more. Kyrgyz are not so loyal to their traditions, so for us it is better to live in our mahallas where we can live in unity with other Uzbeks who have as strong traditional values as ourselves."

Both have valid opinions. There will also be such responses from both Kyrgyz and Uzbek: "I don't care about the discontents. I have Uzbek/or Kyrgyz friends, I live in Uzbek/or Kyrgyz neighborhoods, I have extended Kyrgyz/or Uzbek relatives, I want us to live in peace. I hate the mobs that killed my Uzbek/or Kyrgyz friends, colleagues, neighbors, relatives and spread the inter-ethnic hatred."

Now, most of the violence happened in bigger cities like Osh and Jalalabad. The violence erupted in small villages too where there is not so much segregation between two ethnicities as in bigger cities but people were quick to reconcile. There were also reports that in one village at the news of Osh events where the violence started first, two ethnicities convened immediately and said that they would resist gang provocations and not allow a tragedy to happen in their peaceful village. There are Kyrgyz killing Uzbeks and there are Kyrgyz who are hiding the Uzbeks in their homes. It is true that thousands of Uzbek families are fleeing to Uzbekistan for the fear of their lives. It is also true that some Kyrgyz families are hiding in the mountains and desperately want to leave the south. The fear does not choose the ethnicity.

Unfortunately, Bakiev's gangs succeeded in their aim to cause dire events in most of the south that claim hundreds of people dead, thousands injured, refugees and internally displaced people. The hardest thing for both communities in the south is to accept that their attempts to never allow another 1990 tragedy failed. Will they be afraid that they will fail again or will find confidence to use another tragic lesson to further reinforce their attempts to live in peace? Today, they are afraid that they will not be able to look into the eyes of each other after so many dear lives lost. Will they still hold it against each other or will be able to offer the hands of support and grieve together? Will they always blame each other for giving in the provocations and taking the arms against their people or will try to never stir the emotions again?

I am Kyrgyz sitting in Bishkek and asking these questions to myself. I also ask myself will I ever be understood if I said to the Uzbek in the south that I grieved the fact that our people Kyrgyz and Uzbek were killing each other. Will my Uzbek compatriot understand that the lost lives of both Kyrgyz and Uzbek equally saddened me or will they say: "There were more Uzbeks killed and more mahallas burnt?" Will Kyrgyz and Uzbek in the south agree with my judgment that the tragedy happened because of the provocations and they became the victims of the dirty political game or will they take it as unwillingness to accept the fact of the ethnic cleansing? I don't know the answers to these questions. All I know is that more than ever I understand those nations, which had experienced such human disasters in the past. What I really hope is that we, people of Central Asia, which have always been known for tolerance will be able to overcome this tragedy and work towards peaceful coexistence instead of allowing the seed of hatred to be inherited by generations to come. I want to hope that more people will choose to trust, forgive and live together again.

Today, the south is still in the state of emergency but there are reports that some ethnic Uzbeks who fled to Uzbekistan are returning to their homes. There is other good news that people are happy about. Maxim Bakiev, the son of the ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who fled the country after the April Revolution, was arrested upon his arrival in the United Kingdom. He is seen as the main player who sponsored the gangs to instigate the inter-ethnic conflict in the south and was possibly planning similar disturbances in the rest of the country. People are happy not because they now have a scapegoat to blame on all the atrocities committed in the south, but because they are hopeful that people of Kyrgyzstan will be able to achieve their goal of bringing to justice those responsible for the crime against humanity. However, the UK is known to host many foreign nationals who are sought by their governments for various crimes and rarely extradite them if never.