Archive for June, 2010
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.
New York- Princeton’s Norwegian Islamist scholar Thomas Hegghammer gave a nice recommendation on a report that I edited for Lebanese author Camille Tawil’s Jamestown occasional paper The Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb: Expansion in the Sahel and Challenges from Within Jihadist Circles on Jihadica.com. Thanks Jihadica!
Los Angeles- On Friday evening (GMT), I appeared on BBC Arabic’s Newshour presented by Malak Jaafar to discuss reaction to that days Washington Post story entitled “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role” by Karen de Young and Greg Jaffe with Egyptian Brigadier General (retd.) Safwat al-Zayat. Thanks to my colleague Murad Batal al-Shishani for arranging this.
Los Angeles- The AfPak Channel has an incredible photo essay that Messr. Mohammed Qayoumi, president of Cal State East Bay, gave them after he scanned a 1950’s era image book published by the Afghan Ministry of Planning in the now relatively very quaint days of the Zahir Shah monarchy’s Cold War zenith. Obviously the book is strictly representative of Kabul in that era though one must know that modernization was the order of the day in neighboring Iran under the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and to a lesser degree under the dizzying, revolving door of Pakistani regimes of PM’s Khawaja Nazimuddin, Mohammed Ali Bogra, Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar and Ayub Khan to Afghanistan’s east and south when pro-Western foreign and domestic policies were in vogue throughout the post-colonial realm. Afghanistan, which had virtually no imperialistic baggage to shed, was attempting to move forward wedged, as always, betwixt and between “great” powers of the twentieth century. These so-called great powers of Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, and Eisenhower Doctrine-era America among others, saw Afghanistan as a barren polo ground where Cold War manoeuvring was in play. “What an unlucky country.”