Uzbeks in desperate plea for aid as full horror of ethnic slaughter emerges
BORAMA (Somalilandpress) — A combination of clan feuds, corruption and indifference in the west is creating a lethal cocktail in Kyrgyzstan. In one town, 5km from the border, the charred ruins of a school bear witness to the violence unleashed by mobs and the army.
The classroom where the children once learned English had miraculously survived. On the wall was a large sign that read: “England, London and Great Britain.” Inside a glass cabinet was a neat folder marked “irregular verbs”; next to the blackboard were three vases of flowers – now withered. The students had given them to their teacher, Mrs Raimsanova, on the last day of term.
But the rest of the Lev Tolstoy high school in the Kyrgyz town of Osh was a blackened ruin yesterday. Bullet holes marked the walls of the kindergarten class, the corridors were full of rubble and the head’s office was a wrecked shell. Sandbags indicated where the Uzbek parents had tried to barricade the front gate against a murderous Kyrgyz mob.
“They’re not people, but animals,” said Gulamov Shakhobiden, 31, a former pupil. He described how Kyrgyz soldiers arrived at their street at 8pm on Friday 11 June, punching through a makeshift barricade in an armoured personnel carrier. The men carried automatic weapons. Behind them came women and boys hurling homemade petrol bombs.
The people of the Shark neighbourhood fled in terror, he said: “Those who didn’t run were killed. Those who fell had petrol poured on their heads and were burned alive.” Three or four men with Kalashnikovs burst into the school, followed by others lugging cans of petrol.
“Term had finished, but we had gathered the kids in the classrooms earlier that afternoon because we thought they would be safe there. We only just got them out in time,” he said. “They had snipers, were firing at everybody, and we had to run. We managed to save the English class, but none of the others. This was an organised, prepared attack.” According to Gulamov, the slaughter of civilians and the arson of the school, where the Uzbek language was taught, could only be described in one way. “It was genocide,” he said.
Rosa Otunbayeva, the head of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, visited Osh on Friday for the first time since ethnic riots erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan 10 days ago. The killing began in Osh late in the evening of Thursday 10 June, possibly ignited by a row in a casino between Uzbek and Kyrgyz youths. It then spread last weekend from Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second biggest city, to the Uzbek-dominated town of Jalal-Abad, 45 kilometres away.
Otunbayeva conceded that the death toll from almost a week of savage violence, in what was once central Asia’s most democratically inclined country, was at least 2,000. Previously, her administration put the figure at 191, in an apparent attempt to deflect international condemnation and accusations of state involvement in ethnic cleansing.
[ad#Google Adsense (336x280)]
In the past week, survivors have given the same account – that armoured personnel carriers and Kyrgyz men in military uniforms led the pogroms on Uzbek districts. It is hard to conceive how these attacks could have been carried out without the connivance of the Kyrgyz military, the police and local administration. The government, however, is turning its ire on the western media, which it accuses of one-sided reporting.
Yesterday, a handful of Uzbek men stood forlornly outside the Lev Tolstoy school, in a desolate alley of empty firebombed homes and a smashed-up Lada. Their women and children were in camps in Uzbekistan, they said. Non-governmental agencies last week estimated that the violence had displaced 400,000 people, with 100,000 in Uzbekistan, 5km from Osh. No one knows the precise figure, but, with Uzbekistan having closed the border to refugees, it is clear that this is a major humanitarian catastrophe.
So far, the world appears not to have taken much notice. Even America and Russia – which have air bases in the north – have failed to send significant aid. Uzbeks said that none has reached them, claiming all of it has been given to the Kyrgyz. Davron, 32, said this was in spite of 98% of the victims being Uzbek. “So far, we’ve got nothing – not even a pair of socks,” he said. He asked Britain and the US to distribute aid urgently.
Locals complained that they had been unable to bury their dead according to Muslim tradition. Returning several days later, Davron discovered the charred remains of his friend Farkhat, aged 25. “They poured petrol on his head,” he said. Further down the road, bloodstains showed where Solijan, Shark’s 60-year-old plumber, had been shot and killed. “Solijan was a lovely man. He fixed things for people. He would never hurt anybody,” Davron said.
Superficially, Osh was yesterday returning to normal. The curfew was relaxed, trolleybuses were running again and cleaners sent in by the authorities were scrubbing out graffiti that read, embarrassingly: “Uzbeks fuck off”, or “Death to Uzbeks”. But the scale of the devastation was hard to conceal. In the centre, every Uzbek enterprise had been destroyed. The town is now divided into Uzbek and Kyrgyz cantons, with the Kyrgyz army and checkpoints camped menacingly next to Uzbek areas.
Near the school, Kyrgyz residents blamed their Uzbek neighbours for starting the trouble. Dzusujev Amonovich said an Uzbek sniper shot him in the chin on Monday as he was on his way to Osh’s airport. Others described the Uzbeks as greedy, proud and capricious. Invariably, Osh’s Uzbeks were better off than their once nomadic Kyrgyz counterparts, running most businesses and living in bungalows with courtyards and apricot trees.
Kyrgyzstan is home to numerous nationalities – Kyrgyz and Uzbeks make up 15% of the 5.6 million population, but there are also Tajiks, Chechens, Turks, Tatars and even Volga Germans. But in its latest incarnation as a post-Soviet independent state, it has failed to build a multi-ethnic society. The army, police and government apparatus remain exclusively Kyrgyz – a source of resentment among potentially separatist-minded Uzbeks.
As well as local and historical animosities, Kyrgyzstan’s unstable politics appears to have played a role. The government took over in April after street protests in the capital, Bishkek, ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The country’s new leadership blames Bakiyev and his son Maxim – who was arrested in Britain last week – for financing the ethnic slaughter. He may indeed be behind it, but it could also be the work of shadowy nationalist forces determined to crush increasing demands for autonomy from the Uzbek minority.
After two revolutions in five years, and the worst ethnic unrest for two decades, Kyrgyzstan is on its way to becoming a failed state. Against a backdrop of western indifference, clan feuding and corruption within the new government, and a desire among Uzbeks for revenge, the conditions are set for a civil war.
The school playground and its basketball hoops survived the inferno. Improbably, so did the small garden: a vivid splash of tiger lilies and roses. The school tree, though, is split and charred.
Back in the English room, I leaf through a school project with pasted-in photos of scenic mountains and lakes. Its author, Alykul Osmonov, makes his own unwitting plea for unity: “Kyrgyzstan mountains are loved by all their people.”
by Luke Harding
Source: The Observer | Sunday – June 20, 2010