perceived inequalities and competition for resources and power.  By Jahongir 

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Seeds of both conflicts lie in perceived inequalities and competition for 
resources and power.

By Jahongir Boboev

One of the resistance leaders during Tajikistan’s five year civil war says 
Kyrgyzstan must avoid making the same mistakes if it is to prevent the recent 
ethnic clashes sparking a prolonged conflict.

Davlat Usmon told IWPR that a combination of peacekeeping and mediation could 
offer Kyrgyzstan a way out of crisis. But he warned that if politicians 
pretended everything was back to normal and failed to address local concerns, 
violence could recur.

Usmon was a leading figure in the Tajik opposition bloc that fought a five-year 
guerrilla war with government forces until a peace deal was signed in 1997. 
Afterwards, he led a commission set up to disband paramilitary groups, and 
later served as a government minister under a power-sharing arrangement that 
was part of the peace agreement.

After standing unsuccessfully in the 1999 presidential election, he left 
politics and is currently an academic at Tajikistan’s Institute of Philosophy.

Usmon says he has long warned of the risk of ethnic trouble in the Fergana 

The Kyrgyz authorities say around 300 people died in clashes between Kyrgyz and 
Uzbeks that began on July 10-11 and lasted several days in the Osh and 
Jalalabad regions. Other estimates put the death toll much higher. The 
bloodshed temporarily displaced 400,000 people from their homes.

Usmon says the complex demographics of the Fergana valley, which runs through 
eastern Uzbekistan, northern Tajikistan and the south of Kyrgyzstan, mean that 
an outbreak of violence in one place can spread outwards rapidly.

“The population is mixed in the three Uzbek provinces, three Kyrgyz provinces 
and the Soghd region of Tajikistan, so a conflict here can draw in supporters 
of this or that ethnic group, and expand the focus of tensions to other parts 
of Central Asia,”

Usmon said that despite some obvious differences, the Tajik civil war had 
enough parallels with the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan for important lessons 
to be learned from it.

The war in Tajikistan stemmed from political, economic, and to an extent ethnic 
rivalries, brought to a head by a battle between elite groups for control of 
the post-Soviet republic.

“As central government lost control of the regions, and political parties 
engaged in a power struggle, all these problems came to the surface, and this 
led to civil war,” said Usmon.

In Kyrgyzstan, similarly, the authority of the interim government which has 
been in place since April has been weakened and its nationwide reach has been 

Ethnic divisions were not the dominant factor in the Tajik conflict, but did 
play a part. Tajiks in the eastern mountains were generally aligned with the 
opposition. So were their kin whom Stalin had resettled in lowland areas, and 
ethnic Uzbeks and local Tajiks who had long resented these incomers took up 
arms against them on the side of the government.

In Kyrgyzstan, Usmon sees the roots of conflict in the mixed Kyrgyz-Uzbek 
populations living on both sides of a border drawn fairly arbitrarily between 
the then Soviet republics, and now sovereign states, of Uzbekistan and 
Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan tended to be successful in commerce, a 
position which assertive local Kyrgyz elites in the newly independent state 
wanted to redress, he says.

Fixing the underlying problems requires a concerted action plan, Usmon 
believes. But before that, the Kyrgyz government needs to acknowledge that 
these problems continue to exist.

“There are times when officials deceive themselves and regard problems as 
having been solved. That’s a mistake. If one looks back at history, one can see 
that if the disease isn’t treated, events of this kind tend to repeat 
themselves in five, ten or 50 years,” he said, adding that the same risks still 
existed in Tajikistan precisely because the post-conflict peace-building 
process had been flawed and incomplete.

As a first step, he said, the Kyrgyz authorities should focus on containing 
conflict on the ground to ensure that it does not erupt again and spill over to 
other regions.

Usmon believes the best way to do this would be by bringing in peacekeeping 
troops. These should come from a neutral player like the United Nations, as 
regional states like Russia and Uzbekistan are “to an extent interested 

“The reality today is that Kyrgyzstan is divided into two parts – the south, 
where Uzbekistan, followed by Russia, have interests; and the north, where the 
interests of Kazakstan and Russia dominate,” he said.

Relying on Kyrgyzstan’s own security forces is a non-starter as the 
preponderance of ethnic Kyrgyz in their ranks means they will not win the Uzbek 
community’s trust, he added.

Any peacekeeping mission would have to have a clear end date. “Their presence 
must not be extended under any circumstances,” he said.

The next step in the process would be a commission made up of neutral figures 
which would open up channels of communication with the Kyrgyz and Uzbek 
communities, listen to their concerns, attempt to mediate a settlement.

This process should ensure that both the Uzbeks and those Kyrgyz political 
groups that are hostile to them are given a fair hearing. In addition, smaller 
ethnic minorities should also be drawn into the process.

Then the authorities must set about fixing as many of the problems as they can, 
tackling specific concerns at a local level and broader systemic issues at 
national level, and prioritising them so that the most urgent things are dealt 
with first.

Usmon believes that in some ways the situation in Kyrgyzstan is “fundamentally 
different” and therefore more hopeful than it was in Tajikistan.

“In the early 1990s, Tajik society was poorly-prepared and closed-off. For 
instance, there were effectively no international organisations present in 
Tajikistan at that time. And that meant that events got rapidly worse. The mass 
killings continued for nearly a year,” he said.

“The main task now is to prevent the situation in Kyrgyzstan getting worse.”

Jahongir Boboev is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central 
Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the 
European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and 
Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no 
way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign 
Ministry of Norway.

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