The tragic violence in mid-June in southern Kyrgyzstan displaced hundreds of thousands of residents, about half of whom still live away from their homes, which remain wrecked by the fires that ravaged the ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods known as mahallas.
I visited Osh on July 19 and saw the devastation first-hand. We passed whole blocks with caved in roofs, charred walls, melted windows, and rubble fenced off from the street. I stopped at a couple points along the road, and as I walked around, people gathered around me to describe the gut-wrenching events that ruined their businesses, destroyed their homes, and killed relatives and friends. In a stark demonstration of the tension that remained, when a Kyrgyz couple started participating in the roadside conversation, Uzbek women screamed at them, blaming them for the violence. The discussion deteriorated rapidly, to the point that my security guards advised that I go back to the car and leave.
The civil society representatives -- both Kyrgyz and Uzbek -- with whom I met, also expressed concern about the continued persecution of ethnic Uzbeks. Uzbek journalists have left, activists have been jailed, families have been dispersed, and businessmen have left without a means of income. Although they recognized that anger persists, they also proposed a possible opportunity of encouraging reconciliation among certain groups who could play a role in promoting more harmonious relations: religious leaders, youth, and teachers. In fact, while they worried that the start of school in September might bring on more conflict as angry teens come together for classes, it also offers a chance for Uzbek and Kyrgyz youth to prove the durability of a multi-ethnic society, provided they have the training to do so.
Although the situation remains fragile, the United States has focused on providing assistance and supporting international efforts to guard against more ethnic clashes. The $1.1 billion raised at the international donors' conference on July 27 shows the importance that the international community places on the future of democratic Kyrgyzstan. Although the Police Advisory Group approved by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has met resistance in Osh, its deployment also illustrates that the world's attention remains fixed on southern Kyrgyzstan. And while the national inquiry and international investigation remain controversial, it demonstrates that the interim government wants to do the right thing.
This was my third visit to Kyrgyzstan in four months. And while the threat of ethnic clashes hangs over the country, we cannot lose sight that the interim government led by Roza Otunbayeva has survived longer than many would have expected. President Otunbayeva herself has accomplished much: she has gained legitimacy as president after a remarkably smooth referendum process; led a successful donors' conference that earned more for Kyrgyzstan than it set out; restored close relations with her neighbors in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which helped her overcome the crisis; and positioned the country to hold parliamentary elections in October. Kyrgyzstan will undoubtedly have many more bumps in the road, but we intend to work with the government to help smooth the path to democracy.
Related Entries: Rebuilding Kyrgyzstan: U.S. Pledges $48.6 Million at International Donors' Conference and Helping the People of Osh Move Toward Peace and ReconciliationFollow the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs on Facebook and Twitter.