Archive for the ‘Kyrgyzstan’ Category
New York- The above video project, City of Fire, about the ethnic violence that rocked southern Kyrgyzstan’s portion of the Ferghana Valley in June 2010 was one such unfinished project. Often termed a “tinderbox,” the Ferghana is a highly complex ethnic matrix that defies shorthand analyses. It’s not merely Kyrgyz and Uzbek-there are displaced Crimean Tatars from the Stalin period, North Koreans, ethnic Russians, Uighurs making up some of the purported 83 ethnic or ethno-linguistic identities in urban Osh alone.. My video does not provide such detailed background but is more of a belated visual artistic statement. It combines shaky footage from the long defunct Flip camera gadget with intimate DSLR portraits of those whose lives were upended by this at least partially orchestrated chaos.
As of late I’ve been getting a number of nagging creative monkeys off my proverbial back. For many years now, I’ve been traveling back and forth to a multitude of the world’s conflict zones. Before that, I was exploring ancient, medieval, and post-colonial ethnic and geopolitical frontiers in the ummah as a university student. Partying along the northern and western fringes of the still evolving EU in the late 1990s was never quite satisfying (as much fun as it was…and still is).
Over the past few months. I’ve been doing a long dreamt photography installation project called #fabledcity. This was an idea I’d had in my student days to educate and enlighten using large print photography as memetic street art. This dream faded with the collapse of the World Trade Center when I was instantly transformed from an aspiring NGO photographer to sudden war photographer. As with my #fabledcity idea, I have more ideas than I ever actually getting around to finishing. I’m certainly not a skilled videographer but I occasionally shoot clips while I’m shooting still images. Sometimes I then put said clips into montages after I get home dedicated to those who’ve suffered. I may move on from one story to the next, often in vastly different regions of the world but each of these events always lives somewhere in my memory. I still have my fixer’s number from 2010 in my Blackberry. It’s hard to let go sometimes.
Now 4 1/2 years on, I set aside a few days to finally put this dated idea together for some creative closure. I’d write way more on this topic but I have to get back to my paid work otherwise I’d be happy to expand on this for hours…
Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
New York- The Avtomat Kalashnikova assault rifle, known popularly as the AK-47 or Kalashnikov, became one of the defining symbols of Third World national liberation movements and a physical manifestation of anti-imperialist thought in the second half of the twentieth century. The Kalashnikov appears most notably Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO)-designed flag of Mozambique pictured above. Hezbollah has a Kalashnikov-like weapon pictured on its yellow and green flag as a symbol of its persistent resistance to Israeli occupation and military hegemony. During the ‘summer war’ in July and August of 2006, the Ba’athist regime in Syria, one of the Shia group’s principal external state backers, had Hezbollah’s yellow banners flying up and down its Mediterranean coast to drum up Syrian domestic support as well as that of visiting GCC tourists. Syria’s cities were plastered with these what should be incongruous visuals that summer. Anyone who covers the developing world’s violent conflicts is likely intimately and awkwardly familiar with the Kalashnikov’s wood and metal sinews coupled with that unmistakable banana clip.
In going through old photo portfolios this week I discovered an image I’d nearly forgotten I’d taken of a massive Soviet-style Kalashnikov monument on the road in central Iran. I love the photo not for its artistic merit obviously but for what it symbolizes. I tweeted the photo to C.J. Chivers, author of the definitive Kalashnikov book, The Gun. In return he created a kind blog post featuring my snapshot which I’ve reposted below.
Abu Dhabi- Yesterday, I appeared on Voice of America’s Russian language news service talking about my experiences and observations in southern Kyrgyzstan before and after the June 27 referendum on the country’s future. I was interviewed by my Jamestown colleague Erica Marat who works for VoA to comment on a Human Rights Watch report released yesterday entitled, “Kyrgyzstan: Torture, Detentions Escalate Tensions.” Here is the link to the VoA article (in Russian), “Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies involved in the torture of ethnic Uzbeks” and here in English using Google’s imperfect translate.
Dushanbe- I got the boot from the local police in Osh for taking an undesirable photo of ethnic cleansing graffiti being whitewashed over in time for UNHCR head Antonio Guterres’ visit to the wrecked city. The official reasoning was that I did not have a Kyrgyz press accreditation. While the Osh police did their best to give me the bum’s rush out of town, there was no indication upon my departure at Manas airport en route to Dushanbe that I was no longer welcome in the Kyrgyz Republic. I heard from a World Food Programme official on the flight back to Bishkek that the one and only Frederick Rousseau, the French Khan of ACTED in Central Asia with a Napoleon complex on steroids, made a scene when Guterres held a press conference at the Osh airport.
I’ve returned to Dushanbe for the first time since my whirlwind visit in October of 2001 after the United States air force began launching air strikes across northern Afghanistan and this town was, for a very brief period, the place to be in the international scene. I’m sitting typing this post in the once dilapidated Soviet hulk known as the Hotel Tajikistan. In the fall of 2001, it was the center of the action, really buzzing with journos and NGOs trying to figure out how to get in Afghanistan on clap trap Mi-8s who’s price for a seat was going up by the day. A few things have changed since then. This hotel was renovated a few years ago with a serious facelift, the room price more than tripled, and it’s eerily quiet. Tajikistan now mans its own southern border and the Russian 201st Motor Rifle Division is long gone from the Afghan border, and French forces who arrived in December 2001-January 2002 at that critical juncture are now entrenched at the airport here with their Transall C-160’s parked comfortably there from where they supply their contingents in Kabul and Kapisa Province.
Osh- It is somewhat of a hackneyed term to call a place like the Ferghana valley an ethnic “tinderbox” but in the case of this month’s staggering disturbances in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad, that type of description could not be more apt. Touring the majority Uzbek neighborhood of Cheremushki yesterday evening, a warm sunlight washed over the ruins of hundreds of dwellings as refugees who returned (likely by coercion by Uzbek and/or Kyrgyz authorities) from their very temporary refugee camps in neighboring Uzbekistan ahead of Sunday’s referednum vote on the legitimacy of the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva. Nothing in the ruins of Osh is clear.
No one knows precisely who started the violence, perpetrated the subsequent attrocities, or what the motivation was behind all of this. Amidst all of the speculation and innuendo are the undeniable results. Rumors of Tajik mercenaries, stone throwing Uzbek youths, and particpation in the violenece by local members of the state securoty forces float against the backdrop of a rising tide of Kyrgyz nationalism in a laregy destitute nation-state that some analysts direly say is on the verge of failing should more clashes ensue. Not everyone who had their home razed to the ground was an ethnic Uzbek but the overwhelming majority of them defintiely were. Homes that had painted things like, “Kyrgyz patriot” and “Tatar” on their facades and gates sit completely untouched next to piles of ash and rubble. The scale of the destruction is absolutely immense. Kyrgyzstan’s swath of the Ferghana is made of of many more groups that just Uzbek and Kyrgyz. Tatars (Turkic Muslims from the Volga region of Russia), Uighurs (Turkic Muslims who inhabit China’s western Xiniang province), ethnic Russians who have called Kyrgyzstan their home for generations, Meskhetian Turks and many others live in this region. In fact, if it were for the graffiti whereby families attempted to proclaim their innocence by spray painting their ethnicity on their property as a means of protecting it (which appears to have been an effective measure in most cases), an outside observer like myself might not know what to make of things. But when you see a lone home in near perfect condition that says “KG” (Kyrgyz) next to 10 with only cinders and scrap marking where they once stood, it looks very much like ethnic cleansing.
Osh- I have a new piece in today’s edition of Asia Times titled “Kyrgyzstan Votes “Yes” Amid Death, Fear” on Sunday’s quietly successful referedum vote here in southern Kyrgyzstan’s deadly ethnic jigsaw puzzle here in the Ferghana valley. Secuirty was heavy here in the country’s troubled, second largest city and there were no incidents that I know of but that may be because people here are exhausted more than anything.
Osh- I’ve made it to Osh in Kyrgyzstan’s troubled Ferghana valley of orchards and ethnic cleansing. The vote on the future of the interim government (and subsequently the October election that will follow) of Roza Otunbayeva will be held here tomorrow. The city is in pretty rough shape coming in from the airport, I observed block after block of torched Uzbek businesses, all of which I expected. What I did not expect however, was to see an Uzbek minaret burned (part of a medical facility stocked with the latest gear from Germany) with its charred hulk towering over a desolate commercial street. The destruction of a neighboring community’s medical or religious institution smacks of ethnic cleansing rather than just simple political rioting out of jealousy of a trading minority with a perhaps better buisness acumen than the city’s Kyrgyz majority. The BBC is reporting that the Uzbek authorities are forcefully repatriating Uzbek refugees back inside Kyrgyzstan where I am sitting just five kilometers from the Uzbek border. This outbreak of ethnic violence is purportedly much worse that the pre-independence riots of 1990. The difference is that with the absence of a ham fisted central authority, these two Turkic communities may not be able to live side by side for a very long time to come.