Kyrgyzstan: Communal Clash Escalates Into Political Row

A confrontation between different ethnic communities has blown up into a dispute among national-level officials and politicians.

Kyrgyzstan: Communal Clash Escalates Into Political Row

A confrontation between different ethnic communities has blown up into a dispute among national-level officials and politicians.

A flare-up of ethnic violence in a village in northern Kyrgyzstan which got out of hand has had reverberations well beyond local community level, with central government and the opposition hurling accusations at one another over the dispute.

Around 200 people were involved in clashes on April 26 as local Kyrgyz and Russians fought with Kurds from the same village, Petrovka. The former were demanding that a Kurdish man accused of raping a four-year-old girl should be handed over to them.

Several people being stabbed and two people received gunshot wounds. The windows of more than a dozen houses were smashed and several cars destroyed.

Police arrested more than 90 people they said took part in the rioting.

The dispute took on an ethnic colouring as Russians and Kyrgyz called for the 500-strong Kurdish community to leave the village within 24 hours.

The Kurds moved into the village, in the Chu region 50 kilometres from the capital Bishkek, a few years ago. They are part of a community that was scattered across Central Asia after they were deported wholesale from the south Caucasus in 1944 on Stalin’s orders. There are some 11,000 Kurds in Kyrgyzstan.

This case bears a number of similarities with a clash in southern Kazakstan in 2007, in which Kurds were blamed en masse for a crime allegedly committed by one individual. (See Kazakstan: Ethnic Clash a Worrying Sign, RCA No. 517, 23-Nov-07.)

Residents of Petrovka accuse local police of indirectly causing the trouble by failing to handle the original rape claim properly.

When news of the assault on a child first emerged, villagers held a meeting to air their concerns, in particular that police were effectively ignoring the case. Some told IWPR they had heard that police were paid off to hush the matter up

“That was precisely what infuriated people. Does that mean no one can protect our rights?” said local resident Japar.

The head of the Kyrgyz interior ministry’s press service, Bakyt Seyitov, confirmed to IWPR that the disturbances were provoked by an alleged rape on April 7, of which a 25 year-old-man has been accused.

Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongantiev insists police did respond to the complaint. In remarks quoted by the news agency, he said his men established the identity of the suspect and launched a search after failing to find him at home.

When Kongantiev’s deputy Talantbek Isaev briefed the Kyrgyz parliament on April 29, he said the suspect had now been detained by locals and handed over to the police.

Isaev noted that the alleged crime was reported ten days after it took place.

The dispute has now widened well beyond the individual crime allegation in question. Locals are now accusing police of using excessive force to quell the unrest, and anti-Kurdish sentiment is rife.

“My wife went out into the street to see what was going on after she heard loud noises,” said villager called Akjol. “At that moment, police armed with batons and shields took her away. I don’t know who to turn to. If I go to the police, I’m afraid they will detain me too.”

The day after the violence, several hundred Petrovka resident blocked Kyrgyzstan’s main arterial highway leading from Bishkek to Osh in the south. They were demanding the release of detained relatives, punishment for the suspect, and an investigation into the death of the four-year-old’s grandmother.

The woman reportedly hanged herself after reporting the alleged rape and becoming disillusioned with the lack of results.

Some of these demands were met on April 30, when the Kyrgyz prosecutor general’s office reported that the grandmother’s death was to be investigated, and that a separate case had been opened with regard to police who, it is claimed, committed offences including forgery while handling the rape allegation.

Kurdish community representatives are fearful that indiscriminate hostility to them will spread.

Ibrahim Nadirov, a leader of the Association of Kurds of Kyrgyzstan, said a Kurdish family in a different village came under attack on April 29 and had windows in their home broken.

“Residents of the village of Petrovka are saying the Kurds should be evicted,” he said, in remarks quoted by the news agency. “But where would we go? One family tried to move to Sokoluk district, but the people there held a meeting at which the told them not to show their faces and pledged to destroy all Kurdish homes.”

Meanwhile, national-level politicians are arguing about who did what to resolve – or incite – this local conflagration.

Central government has blamed local officials, and the Moskovsky district administration chief, the district police chief and the district prosecutor have all been sacked.

Meeting the chief prosecutor and the interior minister, President Kurmanbek Bakiev said, “It is not the outraged people, to whom the local administration denied justice, who are to blame. The fault lies with the heartless bureaucrats who ignored [the incident] and tried to cover it up.”

Raisa Sidorenko, a member of parliament with the governing Ak Jol party, took the same view, saying that if local government, police and prosecution officials had acted in a legal and timely matter, “the pogroms in Petrovka would have been avoided”.

The opposition is now embroiled in the aftermath of the violence.

Green Party leader Erkin Bulekbaev visited Petrovka the day following the unrest, and was arrested together with opposition activist Sapar Argymbaev and two local people.
Bulekbaev and Argymbaev were charged with the offence of organising disturbances, and were sentenced to two months imprisonment. The two others, who are believed to belong to the opposition party Ata Meken, were released.

Interior Minister Kongantiev has turned on the opposition, saying it was aware that there was going to be trouble, and accusing members of inciting this outbreak of ethnic violence.

“The investigation has indisputable evidence that the mass unrest was provoked deliberately,” said the minister. “There is video footage showing a man calling on villagers to give the Kurds 24 hours to pack up and leave the country. Standing in the middle of a crowd, he urges people to attack Kurds’ homes. It’s obvious that calls like this made in a crowd of emotionally charged people have led to the pogrom.”

The minister’s claims have turned a story about a local clash and allegations of police culpability into a full-scale political battle at national level, just three months before Kyrgyzstan goes into a presidential election.

The main opposition bloc, the United People’s Movement, UPM, promptly announced that it was suing Kongantiev for slander.

In the same statement the UPM issued counter-allegations - that the disturbances were caused by police “attempting to cover up a heinous crime”, and by local government officials who failed to address people’s needs and wishes.

Bakyt Beshimov, who heads the opposition Social Democrats in parliament, pointed the finger of blame at central government.

“It is the local administration that is being blamed, but in a situation where the state authorities are far removed from the real problems facing people and are making no attempt to respond to citizens’ day-today requests, there could be many Petrovkas to come in Kyrgyzstan.”

Three different enquiries are to be launched into what happened in Petrovka – one by the Ak Jol party, another by a public committee including local officials, and a third by Kyrgyzstan’s human rights ombudsman.

Anara Yusupova, Ayday Tokonova, and Beksultan Sadyrkulov are pseudonyms for journalists in Kyrgyzstan.

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