International support necessary to restore order, provide humanitarian aid and democracy
The widespread violence in southern Kyrgyzstan – with hundreds killed and tens of thousands fleeing – highlights the need for more international involvement in the country.
Western countries’ lack of interest in and understanding of the desperate situation democratic forces in Kyrgyzstan have found themselves in for a number of years have allowed cynical politicians to act in their private interest and instigate unrest.
The international community must learn to see Kyrgyzstan not only as a transit point in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Situated in a region hosting some of the world’s most oppressive regimes, efforts in Kyrgyzstan towards democratic developments have met both internal and external obstacles. Such efforts cannot be successful without strong support from the international community.
International support necessary
(Oslo 17 June 2010) The widespread violence in southern Kyrgyzstan – with hundreds killed and tens of thousands fleeing – highlights the need for more international involvement in the country. Western countries’ lack of interest in and understanding of the desperate situation democratic forces in Kyrgyzstan have found themselves in for a number of years have allowed cynical politicians to act in their private interest and instigate unrest.
The killings, burning of houses and other violence unfolding in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad are not primary the result of long-standing ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. This misinformed version of the events is often prevailing in Western media. Although tensions along ethnic lines have been present in the region, they were never likely to cause violence on this scale.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) believes that there are strong indications that the violence has been orchestrated and that it is a direct result of the ongoing political struggle in the country since former president Kurmanbek Bakiev was ousted in April 2010. However, after violence had been started, it escalated along ethnic lines.
Indications suggesting that the local population could be used in another attempt at power were clear already in May 2010, when recordings of what appears to be phone conversations between the former president’s son and brother were published on the internet. These conversations focus on plans to instigate violence and unrest in order to take back power from the current Interim government under President Roza Otunbaeva.
The NHC does not know who specifically is behind the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan – certainly, criminals inside the country have served as the direct instigators, killing indiscriminately and using all means to spread panic, fear and hatred among a mixed ethnic population with an ancient history of co-existence.
However, there are numerous indications that forces outside and inside the country are willing to go to great lengths to ensure their grip on power.
The international community must learn to see Kyrgyzstan not only as a transit point in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Situated in a region hosting some of the world’s most oppressive regimes (in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan), efforts in Kyrgyzstan towards democratic developments have met both internal and external obstacles. Such efforts cannot be successful without strong support from the international community.
The Russian Federation, the US and the EU have particular important roles to play in ensuring sufficient international support and involvement to solve the crisis. Kazakhstan, as the current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also bears responsibility in contributing to solving the crisis.
Western countries should provide humanitarian aid and increase support to the long-term goal of developing democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights in the country.
Both Kyrgyz authorities and the international community should make clear that they will make every effort to ensure accountability for those instigating the violence and for those taking part in it.
There should be international support for compensating losses due to the violence.
The NHC recommends that in the current situation and as short term measures,
- the Interim government should be resolutely supported in restoring order and rule of law in Southern Kyrgyzstan,
- sufficient humanitarian aid should be provided both to the remaining population in South Kyrgyzstan and to those who have fled to neighboring Uzbekistan
- the UN Security Council should as a priority, and in close consultation with the Interim government, consider mandating international peacekeeping in Southern Kyrgyzstan
- there should be an international investigation into the unfolding of the crisis, seeking to detect those responsible and to unravel the chain of events that led to the rapid escalation of violence, as well as the roles of different actors, including authorities in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring countries
After independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan was led by President Askar Akayev, seen by many observers as more liberal and pro-democracy than leaders in neighbouring countries in Central Asia. However, due to increasing nepotism, corruption and widespread poverty in the country, Akayev was forced to resign in 2005 by massive popular protest against his regime.
After elections in July 2005, Kurmanbek Bakiyev came to power, promising democratic and economic reforms. However, soon his leadership became target of criticism for similar patterns of abuses as his predecessor. Several members of his government deflected, criticising his leadership. President Bakiyev was toppled in a popular uprising in April 2010.
An Interim government under the leadership of Roza Otunbaeva replaced him. Her government struggled to impose control in Osh, Jalalabad and other cities in southern Kyrgyzstan. It accuses Mr Bakiyev's family of instigating the violence in South Kyrgyzstan to halt a 27 June 2010 referendum on a new constitution. In spite of the unrest, the Interim government plans to go ahead with the referendum.
Ousted President Bakiyev has denied any ties to the violence, however recorded telephone conversations between his son Maxim Bakiyev and other family members suggest otherwise. Maxim Bakiyev is currently in custody in the UK.
The southern city of Osh is a regional centre situated in a fertile plain known as the Ferghana Valley. The Valley was divided among the three Soviet Republics Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. After the fall of the Soviet Union, they became independent republics, with minority populations and enclaves in separate countries with international border crossings.
The last serious outbreak of ethnic disturbance was put down by Soviet troops in 1990. Since then, the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley has become a magnet for increasing trade with neighbouring countries, a thriving market for cheap Chinese goods and the centre of drugs trafficking from Afghanistan to the world markets.
Collapsing infrastructure and widespread poverty contributed to deep public resentment. The Ferghana Valley is an area of largely devout Muslims.
The minority Uzbek population makes up 15% of Kyrgyzstan's five million people. The majority of Uzbeks live in the south. Among some Kyrgyz people in southern Kyrgyzstan, there is a fear that the Uzbeks may want to grab Kyrgyz lands and to join Uzbekistan. Such fears may have been a factor in the escalation of the recent violence.
The Interim government hopes the referendum will approve reforms that will pave the way for parliamentary-style elections in October this year. Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva told a news conference: "We will fight to the last to ensure that the referendum takes place."