accounts of why it happened vary wildly.  By Dina Tokbaeva

KYRGYZSTAN REMEMBERS AND REBUILDS  Images reflect progress made in
repairing damaged homes, though mistrust between communities will be
harder to mend.  By IWPR Central Asia

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One year on from bloodshed, accounts of why it happened vary wildly.

By Dina Tokbaeva

Now that not one but five formal inquiries have filed reports about
the causes of ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last year, one
would think a generally-agreed version of the truth would be starting
to emerge.

Yet the Central Asian nation seems further away than ever from
reaching a common understanding of what happened, who was behind the
violence, and what it means for the future of the country.

Few people have read the published findings of the various inquiries,
and most have instead seen only the highly-charged media reports about
them. Biased readings of the reports are of more than academic
importance, since are already colouring the political debate ahead of
a presidential election set for October. (For an example of this,
Kyrgyzstan Debates Rival Ethnic Policies.)

The result, analysts say, is that all the investigative work done to
date has tended to confirm existing prejudices rather than encourage a
desire to learn new facts and take alternative views on board, with a
view to building reconciliation.

At an official level, investigative reports on the bloodshed have been
produced by a special National Commission chaired by Abdygany
Erkebaev; the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission, KIC, an international
group commissioned by President Roza Otunbaeva; the national human
rights ombudsman’s office; and a parliamentary inquiry which resulted
in two reports, a main one and an alternative version from the

The National Security Committee – Kyrgyzstan intelligence agency –
also carried out its own investigation, but that was for internal use

(See Deep Rifts Remain in Conflict-Torn Kyrgyz South on the Erkebaev
report, and Kyrgyzstan Report Draws Shaky Line Under Violence on the
international inquiry.)

There are in addition reports from watchdog organisations like Human
Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Osh Initiative group,
which consists of Uzbek and Kyrgyz human rights defenders.

All share the same common declared aim – to shed light on what
happened, why it happened, and who was responsible.

Most agree on some basic facts – several days of fighting last June
involving ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in and around Osh and Jalalabad
left over 400 people dead and many more injured. Massive damage was
done to homes and businesses as mobs engaged in arson and looting that
targeted specific ethnic groups.

Beyond that, the reports vary in focus and approach, some examining
human rights abuses in detail, others looking more at the political
causes of conflict. Accounts of what led to the outbreak of violence
and who was behind it differ materially.

Pavel Dyatlenko, a political analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank,
sees the Erkebaev commission’s report as primarily a political

“The National Commission’s report tries not to describe the conflict
as an ethnic one,” he said. “It identifies the principal culprits as
[Uzbek community leader] Qodirjon Batirov and his associates; former
head of state [Kurmanbek] Bakiev – who had already left the country at
the time – and his associates; and ‘third forces’ including
mercenaries from abroad.

In doing so, he said, the commission was merely “nominating convenient

By contrast, the KIC said the provisional government that replaced
Bakiev failed to address the marked deterioration in ethnic relations
in the south, and once the conflict began, its security forces failed
to intervene adequately, and parts of them may even have been

The commission detailed a series of orchestrated attacks on
specifically Uzbek neighbourhoods, and noted that three-quarters of
those killed were Uzbeks.

According to Dyatlenko, reports by the KIC and by international human
rights groups “talk about systemic problems that have endured over the
last 20 years, place blame on the interim government and
law-enforcement agencies, and report more extensively on the suffering
of the Uzbek section of the population”.

Politicians in Kyrgyzstan rounded on the commission and its chairman
Kimmo Kiljunen. The government said the international team missed out
crucial elements in the chain of events, and was wrong to assert that
Uzbeks suffered disproportionately. The parliamentary commission
conducting its own investigation accused Kiljunen’s team of ignoring
the roles played by Uzbek community leaders, supporters of ousted
president Bakiev, and organised criminals.

The KIC’s expressed view that some of the abuses it identified in Osh
would, if proved in a court of law, constitute crimes against humanity
as defined by international conventions, were particularly badly

Azimbek Beknazarov, the president’s representative in parliament, told
legislators on June 3 that the KIC was “exaggerating” by suggesting
that “a Kyrgyz mob entered Uzbek neighbourhoods and committed a crime
against humanity”.

On May 26, parliament voted by a large majority to declare Kiljunen
persona grata in Kyrgyzstan, saying the the KIC report was one-sided
and a threat to national security. (Kiljunen’s reaction to this can be
read in "Banned" Investigator Regrets Kyrgyz Probe Response.)

Political analyst Mars Sariev, who does not regard any of the reports
as truly objective, says the establishment in Kyrgyzstan has an
“survival instinct” that manifests itself in hostility towards
criticisms of its failings.

Meanwhile, ahead of the October election, politicians and their
parties have been trying to get mileage out of the various reports by
making selective use of the findings in order to win populist support
for themselves, for example by appealing to nationalist sentiment, and
also to damage their opponents by playing up their alleged role in
allowing the violence to happen.

“Many politicians will use the reports as an extra public relations
tool – both those who will present themselves as ultra-patriotic and
those who will make declarations about inter-ethnic peace,” Dyatlenko
predicted. “These reports may end up merely being the instruments of
[political] battle.”

The politicisation of the facts and implications of the violence has
led the appearance of rival accounts – for example, the Ata-Jurt
party, which appeals largely to a Kyrgyz nationalist constituency,
produced its own report as an alternative to the main parliamentary
one. Its report pins most of the blame for the conflict on politicians
who were in the transitional government at the time.

A third version produced by parliamentarian Ismail Isakov appeared to
be an attempt to defend his own actions as the government’s special
envoy for southern Kyrgyzstan. Isakov’s handling of the security
forces has come in for criticism in other reports. In the end, he
agreed to merge his findings into the main parliamentary inquiry.

Each new investigation is seized on and pored over by politicians,
analysts and human rights activists, but most members of the public
are less familiar with the detail. With so many differing accounts of
the conflict in circulation and being used to fuel political battles,
it becomes hard to decide what is fact or fiction.

A businessman from Kara Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan, an Uzbek who gave
his name as Mahmudjon, said he dismissed the parliamentary inquiry
after a debate in which “some members said that all Uzbeks were
extremists and separatists. After that, I lost all trust in it.”

Marat Tokoev, head of the Journalists’ Association, says media in
Kyrgyzstan have not explained the nuances of each document and the
differences between them in an accessible way. “Instead, we’ve seen
emotional statements about the reports, and only certain aspects of
them have been highlighted,” he said.

Tokoev says the trend is for journalists to add their own commentary
rather than seeking out the views of independent experts.

“It seems to me that many people have virtually no idea about the
reports. They may be aware of certain issues that have sparked
reactions and emotional comments,” Tokoev said. “As for the print
media, each newspaper has its own direction, and the owners are
politicians or businessmen who have political interests.”

Most people get their information from the national TV and radio
broadcaster, but reporting there has been restricted to occasional
mentions in the news, with few in-depth programmes to explain the

“That’s the problem with our media – we don’t have much analysis,”
Aisuluu Odrakaeva, a Bishkek-based TV journalist, said.

Odrakaeva said what most viewers would remember about the KIC inquiry
was the news that Kiljunen was no longer welcome in Kyrgyzstan, and
footage of a protester setting fire to a copy of the commission’s
report in front of the United Nations mission in Bishkek.

Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR regional editor in Central Asia


Images reflect progress made in repairing damaged homes, though
mistrust between communities will be harder to mend.

By IWPR Central Asia

Several days of bloodshed in southern Kyrgyzstan last June left over
400 people dead, and created an atmosphere of mistrust that will be
harder to repair than the visible effects of arson and wanton
destruction of buildings.

A semblance of normality has returned to Osh and Jalalabad, the focal
points of the ethnic violence. Aid money is helping restore homes
destroyed in deliberately targeted attacks, and the municipal
authorities are putting up new apartment blocks to house those who
were displaced.

The sense of fear that lingered for months after the violence is no
longer apparent, but the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities have reshaped
their lives in ways that tend to reinforce rather than reduce
separation. People stay at home in the evening rather than go for a
stroll through town, and youngsters stick to their own neighbourhoods.

The bustling open-air markets provide one of the few environments
where large numbers of people from different parts of town mingle and
trade freely.

In national and local politics, there are few unqualified messages
coming out in support of bridge-building and reconciliation. On June
10, the authorities came together to commemorate the first anniversary
of the outbreak of violence. But with a presidential election
scheduled for October, nationalism is likely to offer a potent and
easily-accessible instrument for winning voters.

(For a report on the mood in the south, see Conflict Legacy Haunts
South Kyrgyzstan.)

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