Assistant Secretary Blake Visits Kyrgyzstan

Posted by Andrew B. Paul
June 23, 2010
Assistant Secretary Blake Lays Wreath in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

About the Author: Andrew B. Paul is serving temporarily in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. He is permanently assigned to the U.S. Embassy Warsaw in Poland as the Information Officer.

The United States has committed over $32 million in an initial response to address humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and community stabilization.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr. emphasized this as the initial U.S. response to the violence and displacement of an estimated 400,000 people in southern Kyrgyzstan with about 100,000 of those fleeing across the border into Uzbekistan. During his June 18-20 visit to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Assistant Secretary Blake met with the Interim President of Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbaeva and other officials to express American condolences for the tragic events that happened in southern Kyrgyzstan and expressed the intention of the United States to help meet the urgent humanitarian needs triggered by the crisis and support the restoration of democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

I was fortunate to play a part in communicating this message of American support because I'm actually assigned to our Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. I came to Kyrgyzstan on short notice for temporary duty (TDY) to help out our hard-working but beleaguered U.S. Embassy in Bishkek.

Since April, the U.S. Embassy Bishkek has seen two crises in rapid succession. First the demonstrations, shootings and violence in Bishkek that led to the toppling of Kurmanbek Bakiyev's presidency and the establishment of a Provisional Government that hopes to reform the constitution and reestablish democracy. The second crisis was the outbreak of violence in the southern regions of the Kyrgyz Republic, which led to an unknown number of deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

As I prepared to travel to Kyrgyzstan, I heard the media reports about the violence in Osh, and I knew that this crisis would also place a strain on the Embassy. As I arrived, the violence in the south was reportedly at its peak, and so was the buzz of activity in the Embassy. Much of our public outreach focused on the U.S. humanitarian response and USAID programs that would help with community development following the crisis. One of my favorite examples was a public, anti-violence campaign to promote tolerance, funded by USAID.

I soon learned from many of our local staff about their friends or relatives who lived in the south and were affected by the crisis of violence. Remarkably, most of them had heard stories of ethnic Kyrgyz who had protected or hidden their Uzbek neighbors or vice versa. Many of them did so at great personal risk to themselves. In addition, I had the chance to meet youth of various ethnicities who were gearing up for an initiative to promote forgiveness and dialogue among youth in the wake of the crisis. I was impressed by these university-age activists, their commitment to restoring peace, and their articulation of specific steps towards reconciliation. Their work is being funded by a small grant from the Embassy.

These were just a few of the reasons that so soon after arriving I found reason for hope. The news media told us of the harrowing and heart-breaking stories of violence and refugees uprooted from their homes in Kyrgyzstan. Being in the country, I understood the magnitude of this tragedy. But I also saw the constructive and sometimes heroic responses of good people regardless of their origin. I saw those who started to take immediate steps towards reconciliation.

Sometimes a crisis brings out the best in people. It certainly brought out the best in our Embassy and other U.S. Government colleagues. And we saw how it brought out the best in many local citizens.

Related Content: Kyrgyzstan Crisis: Assistant Secretary Blake Highlights Collaboration With Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Video: Assistant Secretary Blake Travels to Uzbekistan and KyrgystanFollow the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

Comments

Washingtonian
|
District Of Columbia, USA
June 23, 2010

W. in Washington, DC writes:

This is a poorly-written story of a horrible genocide against one nation against the other. The story does not cover a thing about Kyrgyz people killing and burning alive hundreds of Uzbeks, raping children, and Kyrgyz military shooting Uzbeks on the streets.

It must have been an "exotic" trip for your, Mr. Paul... I bet you have not been to Uzbek neighborhoods, because your hosts (interim government of Kyrgyzstan) do not want you to do that...

And the whole world, including the UN, OSCE, and other international organizations are just closing their eyes to this problem. Apparently, this is not the same as genocide in Yugoslavia... What a shame...

Douglas M.
|
United States
June 24, 2010

Douglas M. in the U.S.A. writes:

I will have more respect for DoS if it does not delete the comment made by W.

I actually hope for a well reasoned response from Mr. Paul and I may even determine he is in the right. Conflict must be faced head-on.

Saman B.
|
Iran
June 24, 2010

Saman B. in Iran writes:

In view of the last war in Georgia(country)it's specifying who blew that fire, 2500 of Georgian killed during one day.
Josef Stalin spirit, influenced of Putin frame and Putin always chatters to Medodef in their conspiracies; they don't want accept that, the Soviet Republics died, the sickle and hammer flag died.
Now periodic plot, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; poor those children, the old.
Thank You

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 24, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Douglas M,

W's comment already made it past the moderator if you see it posted. I guess the "fluff" aspect of his complaint about Mr. Paul's blog entry is that he expected more pithy reporting about the situation, and Mr. Paul can only relay what he's experienced as part of his job. Generally condemnations of atrocities are made by senior officials and spokesmen speaking in the capacity of their jobs, not by rank and file FSO's who support them in their work.

On the other hand, I can understand why W reaches the conclusions he does, and why as a public affairs officer, he feels Mr. Paul should tell it all like it is. No holding back... Or being so focused on positive things to say that one loses perspective and causes folks to question the author of a blog entry in this manner.

I suppose it goes without saying that we the public will never be satisfied until we hear "the rest of the story." It's probably something for folks to keep in mind in the future as they write these blog topics. However, Mr. Paul did relay this, which we probably won't hear much about in the press; "Remarkably, most of them had heard stories of ethnic Kyrgyz who had protected or hidden their Uzbek neighbors or vice versa. Many of them did so at great personal risk to themselves."

I find it amusing and a little sad at the same time that here this blog represents the cutting edge of free speech and interactive government, and that my fellow Americans would assume for a second that the government who sponsors this blog would violate its own tennents of free-speech by censoring comment here that questions rationality and or policy of the US government. I would recommend you take a dive into the archives of DipNote and check out some of the commentary to get a sense of how non-censored this blog really is.

Stick around and you'll get a sense of how interactive it is as well. Which I feel has room for improvement, but that will be when blog authors of topics decide to get more interactive with the public that interacts with them. I suggest they should not be shy about it, as we the public obviously arn't.

Best regards,
EJ

Pamela G.
|
West Virginia, USA
June 24, 2010

Pamela G. in West Virginia writes:

It is so important for these countries to know that their continuing problems are not being ignored by the U.S. It is also wonderful that Andrew took the time out of his schedule to keep us updated.

DipNote B.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
June 24, 2010

DipNote Bloggers write:

@ Eric in New Mexico – Thanks for the praise and the vote of confidence! We couldn’t have asked for a better lead-in to announce that we do, indeed, plan to be “less shy,” both here and on various social media platforms. Please keep an eye out in the coming weeks for more feedback from blog authors and DipNote editors.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 25, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Dipnote Bloggers,

Will do. If you do this right this could become the place assumptions are laid to rest.

Folks in government trust the public has a center of gravity they can formulate policy by.

The American public as yet doesn't get that the government has a sense of gravity as well based on our constitution, regardless of which way the political pendulum swings.

Like I'd be here a second longer than you actively censored this blog, right? (chuckle)

Or rather, just long enough to make Gen. McCrystal's remarks seem tame, on the way to getting gone off the blog.

In the meantime, I guess you'all are stuck with me till hell freezes over, or the world becomes a better place for kids to grow up in, whatever comes first.

Keep up the good work...,

EJ

Gregory S.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
June 25, 2010

Gregory W. Sullivan, Director of Press and Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, writes:

I’d like to take a moment and respond to W’s legitimate sense of outrage at the horrific violence that took place in some places of Kyrgyzstan:

We share that sense of outrage, and the U.S. Government has called for an international investigation by a credible international body to help us understand "how such violence can be prevented in the future so that secure conditions can be established for the safe and voluntary return of the 110,000 refugees from Uzbekistan and the estimated 300,000 internally displaced persons here in Kyrgyzstan." (For more information, please click here.)

We’re focused on two objectives: easing the suffering of hundreds of thousands affected by this violence and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again by restoring and building democratic institutions in a region where it’s been hard to advance those ideals. That is why late last week, we authorized the emergency disbursement of more than $32 million in humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and community stabilization. Among that support are millions in medical and relief supplies (i.e., food, water, temporary shelters) and emergency funds for both the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent and the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. So, we’re addressing the immediate needs that thousands of refugees now face as they’ve fled their homes from this sectarian violence. (For more, please see our fact sheet.)

But, we’re also looking to the long-term with efforts that address the underlying reasons for the recent unrest. We’re engaging in community stabilization and improvement – small-scale infrastructure projects, job creation efforts, support for farmers through fertilizer and seed disbursements – efforts that create a sense of hope in these tough economic times. We’re also supporting efforts that focus on education and community integration that get Kyrgyz and Uzbeks talking to one another. Even during some of the darkest moments of this violence, there were integrated neighborhoods of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that felled trees or barricaded vehicles so that roving gangs could not extend the violence into their communities. So, it’s clear to us that there are communities that are integrated, that cooperate and work together, and we’re finding ways to take their example and expand it to other communities throughout Kyrgyzstan.

So, I guess what I’d say in wrapping up is that we share W’s sense of outrage at the violence, but we are working on several levels to address both the immediate needs of those driven from their homes by the violence and the long-term needs that led to this violence. And finally, I want to give credit to Mr. Andrew Paul, who volunteered to participate in the “surge” of personnel and resources following recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 26, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Greg Sullivan,

Thanks for that feedback as it helps me understand better what we're doing, and I don't know that you got a chance to view the press conference with Pres. Obama and Pres. Medvedev but I found it interesting that when asked about possible joint US/Russian peacekeepers, niether president ruled it out if the situation warrants by becoming worse.

If one were looking for mile markers along our bilateral road to better relations with Russia, nothing like a common effort to keep the peace in the neigborhood to earn each other's respect.

What practical ways would you envision such a joint effort becoming manifest on the ground if and when such a decision were reached?

I guess my question boils down to; What are the US and Russia jointly prepared to do to protect populations if there's no one else able to end the fighting decisively so it doesn't flare up again?

Best regards,

EJ

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 1, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

"Turning to Kyrgyzstan, the United States welcomes the peaceful orderly conduct of the constitutional referendum held yesterday in Kyrgyzstan and notes the positive assessment by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which commended the provisional government for organizing a peaceful process that allowed for a high turnout. The United States commends the civic participation and peaceful conduct of ordinary citizens who voted without incident. The United States calls on the provisional government and all of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan to use this opportunity to advance the process of reconciliation and accountability to ensure future interethnic harmony and move Kyrgyzstan forward on a path to stability, security, democracy, and prosperity for all citizens of the republic. The United States, working with the international community and our partners, will provide all appropriate support and assistance to the people and Government of Kyrgyzstan in these efforts."

-Asist. Sec. PJ Crowley, Daily briefing June 28th

PJ probably wouldn't consider this in his perview to answer as State Dept. Spokesman, but I sure would like to know why it it is that I always have to get my fill of good news directly from the source.

To me this was not exactly an expected outcome given the nature of the violence that had just taken place, but it is in the realm of the human condition for a society to become shocked by the ugly side of its own human nature to the point of collective revulsion and turning towards a point of social redemption for a cure to their ills.

Perhaps this referendum offered just that under the circumstance.

In any case, the sane have spoken and it's time for good thoughts, good words, and good deeds to follow through on commitments.

.

Latest Stories

November 25, 2014

20th Anniversary of State.gov

It seems like just yesterday that the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) developed the internet precursor to the state.gov website… more
November 24, 2014

Iran Nuclear Talks in Vienna

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to London, Paris and Vienna, November 17-24. On November 24, Secretary Kerry held a… more

Pages