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Uzbeks Unsure Who to Pick in Kyrgyzstan Election

By News Briefing Central Asia
  • Ethnic Uzbeks are trying to figure out which candidate in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election will look after minorities. (Photo: IWPR)
    Ethnic Uzbeks are trying to figure out which candidate in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election will look after minorities. (Photo: IWPR)

Ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan are trying to figure out which – if any – of the 19 presidential candidates might best serve the interests of their community.

The October 30 ballot comes at a time when Kyrgyzstan is still struggling to deal with the legacy of bloodshed left by several days of fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh and Jalalabad in June 2010. Over 400 people died, many more were injured, and hundreds of homes and businesses were looted and torched by mobs which attacked their targets according to the owners’ ethnicity.

More than a year later, attempts to rebuild bridges between communities have been accompanied by the detention and prosecution of those accused of participating in or masterminding the violence. Human rights groups have raised concerns about the latter process, pointing out that most of those convicted were Uzbeks. (See: Kyrgyz Unrest Trials Show Bias, Discrimination.)

Official statistics show that the Uzbeks are Kyrgyzstan’s largest minority, accounting for 15 per cent of the population, so they form a significant electoral constituency. But many appear cautious and ambivalent about the vote.

Ravshan Gapirov, head of the Justice and Truth human rights centre in Osh, which monitors violations of Uzbek rights, says the community is interested in the vote but is worried and fearful about the future.

"The situation has calmed down a bit, because of the campaign," he said. "Many Uzbeks ask me whether it’s worth voting at all. What can I say? I haven’t made my own my mind up whether to vote or ignore the election."

Shuhrat Bakirov, from the Uzbek-majority town of Uzgen, says he has been looking at the programmes advanced by the various candidates, looking for one who is not an avowed Kyrgyz nationalist.

An Uzbek activist from Turan, part of Osh, said prospective presidents must demonstrate a strong political will to tackle problems facing ethnic minorities if they wanted to win over Uzbek voters.

The activist, who did not want to be named, indicated that tolerant attitudes were somewhat lacking among the candidates.

"All the candidates only talk about ‘Kyrgyzdar’ [Kyrgyz], and ‘Kyrgyz eli’ [Kyrgyz people] in their speeches,” he said. “No one ever says ‘the people of Kyrgyzstan’ or ‘all the ethnic groups living in Kyrgyzstan’.”

Malik Abdurahmonov, a trader at the Karasuu market on the border with Uzbekistan, called for an improvement in relations with that country. Cross-border trade has fallen drastically since the 2010 violence, which led the Uzbek authorities to virtually seal the border.

"We will vote for a candidate who’s in favour of internationalism and who will be able to establish good relations with neighbouring countries, especially Uzbekistan," Abdurahmonov said.

Saidjalol Karimov from Uzgen said many people there had made up their minds in favour of candidates who seemed to have adopted more inclusive rhetoric.

"Several presidential candidates who used to be prominent nationalists have visited our town, but now they’re telling us that Uzbeks are full citizens like everyone else and that if they are elected they will address key issues facing not only the titular nation [Kyrgyz] but also the Uzbeks,” he said.

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.