ROW OVER UZBEK LANGUAGE IN KYRGYZSTAN  Calls for minority language to
be dropped as option from school exams are dangerously incendiary,
experts warn.  By Ekaterina Shoshina


UNEASE PERSISTS IN SOUTH KYRGYZSTAN  Lack of real reconciliation
leaves Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities far apart.  By Timur Toktonaliev

TAJIKISTAN'S STUDENTS IN FLIGHT  Steady brain drain deprives country
of its best and brightest.  By Vasila Nuralishoeva

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Calls for minority language to be dropped as option from school exams
are dangerously incendiary, experts warn.

By Ekaterina Shoshina

Kyrgyzstan’s education ministry has rebuffed an attempt to stop the
country’s ethnic Uzbek school pupils taking exams in their own

Conflict experts warn that the no-Uzbek language campaign is
dangerously divisive and potentially explosive, given the country’s
recent history of ethnic bloodshed. In the space of a just a few days
in June 2010, over 400 people were killed and properties burnt and
ransacked in a wave of violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

The pressure began building on April 18 with a protest by 15 people of
members of the Kyrgyzstan Youth Council of Kyrgyzstan outside the
parliament building in Bishkek.

They accused the education ministry of acting unconstitutionally by
holding state school examinations in Uzbek, since the only acceptable
languages are Kyrgyz, the state language, and Russian, which serves as
a lingua franca and is denoted a second “official language”.

After the protesters met members of parliament, the issue was raised
by sympathetic politicians in the legislature later the same day.
Jyldyzkan Joldosheva of the nationalist Ata Jurt faction, for example,
insisted that only Kyrgyz and Russian should be allowed for official

Two days later, the Youth Council was joined by another youth group
called Solidarity at a press conference where Uzbek-language testing
was again denounced.

In response, the education ministry said the practice would continue,
and explained that it was perfectly legal in view of the
constitutional requirement to give minorities equal opportunities
including the right to maintain their languages. Statements from
President Almazbek Atambaev and Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov upheld
the ministry’s stance.

Human rights ombudsman Tursunbek Akun criticised legislators who had
pushed for the change, accusing them of “inciting ethnic strife”.

The nationalists’ complaints centre on the tests for university
admission, which can be sat in Kyrgyz, Russian and also Uzbek. A high
score in these exams exempts the candidate from university fees.

Of the 40,000 students who sat the exam last year, only 1,000 took it
in Uzbek – a small number given that the community accounts for some
15 per cent of Kyrgyzstan’s population.

In their rush to protest, the nationalists seem to have completely
misunderstood the current position. They took offence at the provision
for Uzbek after the education ministry put a notice in the press
extending the deadline for registering for the exams. The Youth
Council seems to have taken the Uzbek-language tests to be a new
initiative, when the whole system has been in place since 2002.

The protest comes at a time when Kyrgyzstan is still struggling to
deal with the legacy of mistrust left by the 2010 clashes. In a report
in March 2012, the Brussels-based advocacy organisation International
Crisis Group said the government was failing to calm ethnic tensions
in southern Kyrgyzstan. It expressed concern at “an emergent, strident
Kyrgyz nationalism”, and the “steady pattern of unpleasantness in
everyday life” facing Uzbeks in the south. (For a recent view of the
mood in the south, see Unease Persists in South Kyrgyzstan.)

Nadira Narmatova, an Ata Jurt parliamentarian who supported demands to
end Uzbek testing, rejected claims that campaigns around language and
ethnicity tended to revive tensions. “The events of June [2010] will
not be repeated,” she said.

Narmatova insisted that this was not about one ethnic group dominating others.

“Why are we portrayed as the enemy the moment we call for Kyrgyz to be
spoken? They [other ethnic groups] live in Kyrgyzstan, and their
great-grandfathers lived in Kyrgyzstan. If you live here, there’s
nothing wrong with speaking Kyrgyz as a mark of respect. We should be
patriots,” she said.

Critics of such views warn of a slide towards nationalism.

Gulshayir Abdirasulova of the Kylym Shamy human rights group said
sidelining Uzbek would aggravate ethnic relations – and in any case
would do nothing to advance the use of Kyrgyz in public life.

Recalling a row earlier this year about Kyrgyz politicians addressing
parliament in Russian, she said, “I do not think that putting an end
to testing in Uzbek and excluding Russian from official use is
automatically going to make us start speaking Kyrgyz only.”

Abdirasulova welcomed the robust and speedy manner in which the
government had dismissed the latest campaign. Three months ago, Ata
Jurt leader Kamchibek Tashiev was forced to apologise for suggesting
Prime Minister Babanov was unfit to run the country because he was not
of “pure Kyrgyz” parentage.

At the same time, Abdirasulova said the response to nationalist
outbursts needed to be more consistent.

“The law is applied selectively. I’m sure that if it had been Tatar or
Uzbek members of parliament, instead of Tashiev and Joldosheva, they
would have been immediately stripped of their immunity, dismissed and
prosecuted,” she said.

Ekaterina Shoshina is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan.



Lack of real reconciliation leaves Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities far apart.

By Timur Toktonaliev

A recent trip to southern Kyrgyzstan – my first since 2010, shortly
after the ethnic violence there – has left me with an abiding feeling
of disappointment and unease.

The clashes in and around Osh and Jalalabad in June 2010 left more
than 400 dead. Despite the passage of time, I am even less optimistic
about the reconciliation process now than I was right after the
violence, when the wounds were still raw and the atmosphere febrile.

At that time, there was a sense that people really wanted to get back
to normal, which created some hope that things might get better.

Now I realise that people like me who live in the capital Bishkek, in
the north of Kyrgyzstan, have a somewhat rosy picture of how the
process of rebuilding bridges between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities
has been going. My experiences during a ten-day trip to the south have
left me with the feeling that there is very little room for optimism.

I was greatly pained to hear the various Kyrgyz people I met voicing
negative views about their Uzbek neighbours, with whom they share a
city and a country. I would not be surprised if the feeling is mutual.

A taxi driver who I hired for the duration of my stay told me outright
that he did not like Uzbeks.

“They might smile at you and say they’re your friend, but then they
can stab you in the back,” he said.

On the 2010 bloodshed, the taxi driver’s views reflected the Kyrgyz
nationalist line that the Uzbek community was trying to mount a coup
or harboured separatist ambitions.

“What more did they need?” he said. “They lived well. They had houses,
cars and businesses – and then they asked for power.”

I tried arguing with him, saying there were no bad nations, only bad
people. I said that nothing good would come from the constant tensions
between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, and that it was up to people from both
communities in the south to ensure there was no repeat of the

I am not sure I managed to convince him. I only hope the discussion
gave him some food for thought.

Through positive spin in pro-government media, the Kyrgyz central
authorities has managed to create a false sense that the south has
undergone real improvements since 2010. But I now know it is just not
true when they say Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are moving back to peaceful

On the surface, it does seem almost as if normal life has resumed – on
the streets, at the markets, and in the traditional tea houses or
“chaikhanas”, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz still talk to each other, smile, and
ask how they are. But this semblance of normality is deceptive.

Most evenings, I went out for a stroll in central Osh. I rarely saw
anyone on the street who did not look Kyrgyz. It was as though as
night fell, members of other ethnic groups simply vanished from the
city centre, cafes and shops.

Of course no one wants a repeat of the violence. But nor did I sense
that people were making a real effort to stop this kind of tragedy
happening again.

I visited On-Adyr, a mainly Uzbek village on the outskirts of Osh is a
village. Kyrgyz try not to go there, and the Uzbek residents avoid
venturing out of the settlement.

A friend who was visiting Osh at the same time as me described how
difficult it was to find a taxi driver willing to take her to On-Adyr.
The Kyrgyz driver asked for four times the usual fare, saying he
generally avoided going there.

“You won’t see any Kyrgyz at all,” he told her. “I will take you
there, but I’ll leave quickly.”

Before I went there myself, people told me that On-Adyr residents did
not like Kyrgyz, but when I got there, I did not sense any animosity
towards me. The people I met came across as warm and friendly.

It is depressing to realise that no lessons seem to have been learned
from 2010. All the terrible things that happened then have just been
swept under the carpet.

What is also disappointing is that the only politician in the south
who wields real power, Melis Myrzakmatov, is driving forward a
nationalist agenda that reflects both his personal views and the
rising tide of nationalism.

There is no doubt that as mayor of Osh, Myrzakmatov has done a lot for
the city. It is hardly surprising that he enjoys wide support among
the Kyrgyz community. He is very charismatic and they see him as
someone who cares about them, in contrast to central government.
Southerners mistrust the authorities in Bishkek, where political
leaders tend to hail from the north of Kyrgyzstan.

Since June 2010, Myrzakmatov’s policies have moved steadily in one
direction – towards a vision of a future in which Kyrgyz are the
dominant group in the state. And there are many who, just like my taxi
driver, support this wholeheartedly.

In recent months, beautiful new memorials, heroic statues and
architectural projects reflecting Kyrgyz culture and history have been
unveiled in Osh.

All of it sends out a message that the Kyrgyz are dominant, a message
that is also promoted in the media. It goes down well with many
Kyrgyz, but it also drives the Uzbeks further away.

The current situation is that two separate, inward-looking communities
exist side by side, important issues are not discussed, and emotions
are not expressed in public.

There are also political divisions. The Uzbek community is perceived
as looking to central government, whereas Kyrgyz in the south are
mistrustful of the mainstream parties. This centre-versus-south
tension is unhelpful.

It is true that the Bishkek authorities would like to see Myrzakmatov
go. But trying to engineer this is bound to be counterproductive. The
mayor is just too powerful to be removed by applying pressure from

So he is likely to continue in office, and to stick to his line that
the Uzbeks need to integrate into a Kyrgyz-dominated society or else
face exclusion.

Osh has turned into a city with two communities living separate lives,
and one of them is growing resentful and angry.

Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR journalist in Bishkek.


Steady brain drain deprives country of its best and brightest.

By Vasila Nuralishoeva

Many Tajiks who go abroad to study are staying on to live and work
there rather than return to live in the impoverished Central Asian

Every year, around 1,000 Tajikistan nationals go off to study in other
former Soviet states like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakstan, often on
scholarships provided by host countries.

Official figures are unavailable, but a Tajik education ministry
official told IWPR on condition of anonymity that around 70 per cent
of students were choosing to stay abroad after graduation.

Observers worry that Tajikistan, where half the 7.7 million population
lives on less than two US dollars per day, can ill afford to lose some
of its brightest minds.

“These are professionals who could help lift this country out of
stagnation,” said Alla Kuvatova, a lecturer at Dushanbe’s
Russian-Tajik Slavonic University, which sends many students to

Tazarf Nasimova, head of the education ministry’s external relations
department, said the students ought to return.

“It’s very unfortunate that not all the students come back. Under
current rules, they are obliged to return after graduating,” she said.
“We are trying various methods of encouraging our citizens [to
return]. They are supposed to give something back to the state.”

The Tajik government itself sponsors dozens of young people to study
abroad, but they generally do return, as their parents have to repay
the scholarship money if they do not.

Those who have studied abroad say a host of factors make life back in
Tajikistan look unattractive – lack of jobs and other opportunities,
conservative social mores and an undemocratic political culture.

The biggest factor is perhaps the shortage of jobs.

“Manufacturing is virtually non-existent in our country. We don’t see
agriculture or industry being developed,” Ibrahim Usmanov, a
journalism lecturer at the Tajik-Russian Slavonic University. “Until
the economic situation improves, young people will continue to leave
the country.”

Students who opt to remain abroad form part of a much bigger picture
of labour migration from Tajikistan. Over a million nationals of the
country work abroad, on a seasonal or semi-permanent basis, typically
in manual jobs in Russia and Kazakstan. They money they send home is
equivalent to half of gross domestic product, and is a lifeline for
many households in Tajikistan.

Mavzuna Arifova, a 22-year-old from Dushanbe, is studying for a
master’s degree in Moscow, and says three of her four Tajik
fellow-students want to stay on in Russia after graduating.

Arifova plans to return, but hopes to work for the foreign ministry so
that she can go abroad again.

The environment in Tajikistan is too conservative and there is not
much to do there, she said.

“After ten in the evening ,everything in Tajikistan is closed,”
Arifova said, adding that Moscow offered theatres and other leisure

In Russia, she can wear shorts and short-sleeved tops without anyone
commenting, whereas this would attract criticism back home.

Dozens more students attend universities in the West. For them, the
prospect of returning is particularly off-putting. Kuvatova says about
half of them stay on rather than coming back.

“When you come back to Tajikistan... you initially feel like a
foreigner in your own country,” said Qobil Shokirov, 25, who recently
returned from five years working and studying in Nevada in the United

“We’re missing a lot of things. We are so far behind,” he said.

Reverse culture shock also hit Zarina Juraeva when she came back from
the US, where she studied prevention of HIV/AIDS among street

“It’s bad when you realise that the Tajikistan you imagine from abroad
is a long way from the reality,” she said.

While in America, Juraeva was struck by how politically open the US
political system was.

“When we used to call up congressmen and fix up a meeting – they were
so approachable,” she said, adding that members of Tajikistan’s
parliament were unreachable.

Standards at her US university were much higher, she said, so that it
would be out of the question to bribe a lecturer to get through an
exam, as happened in Tajikistan.

“Students [in Tajikistan] don’t study,” Juraeva said. “They download
ready-to-use coursework off the internet. It’s a widespread practice.”

Juraeva is in her early thirties and married with a child. She has no
immediate plans to emigrate, but would seize the opportunity if it

Sitora Hakimova recently returned from studying sociology at the New
York State University in Buffalo. She praised the high educational
standards there, and also the fact that students were free to
challenge their lecturers.

“I was surprised at how students interacted with professors. You can
criticise them if you don’t agree with their views,” she said.
“There’s a very liberal atmosphere. It is a real democracy.”

Hakimova hopes to leave Tajikistan again soon. So does Shokirov, who
has been offered funding for a doctorate by the Aga Khan Foundation,
and plans to leave later this year.

“I’m afraid I won’t have many opportunities in Tajikistan, and to be
honest, I have no desire to stay,” he said.

Vasila Nuralishoeva is an IWPR intern in Dushanbe.

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