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.
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