Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Violence Subsides in Kyrgyz South

Refugees say it’s too early to consider going back, and if they do they may find their homes burnt to the ground
By Ainagul Abdrakhmanova, Beksultan Sadyrkulov, Ilya Lukashov, Isomidin Ahmedjanov
  • Pall of smoke from torched homes hangs over Osh (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
    Pall of smoke from torched homes hangs over Osh (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
  • The Kyrgyz military and police have struggled to contain ethnic violence. (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
    The Kyrgyz military and police have struggled to contain ethnic violence. (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
  • Many homes lie in ruins after targeted arson attacks (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
    Many homes lie in ruins after targeted arson attacks (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
  • Divisions between communities will be even harder to heal (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)
    Divisions between communities will be even harder to heal (Photo: Inga Sikorskaya)

 Violence in southern Kyrgyzstan appears to be subsiding following days of clashes in Osh and Jalalabad, but most agree the situation remains highly volatile.

As widespread rioting and violence petered out, attention turned to the mounting humanitarian crisis facing the population of southern Kyrgyzstan, especially ethnic Uzbeks displaced from their homes,

Three days of national mourning were declared on June 16 to commemorate the victims of violence that began in Osh overnight on June 10-11 and spilled over into neighbouring Jalalabad region. The Kyrgyz health ministry said 187 people died and more than 1,900 required medical treatment.

A special envoy sent by neighbouring Kazakstan in its current capacity of chair of the OSCE, Zhanybek Karibzhanov, said, “The situation is fragile and could easily take a turn for the worse”.

Speaking at a June 15 press conference which he gave together with United Nations and European Union envoys in Bishkek, Karibjanov said they had discussed the humanitarian situation in the south, in particular the need to help the refugees who fled the fighting.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Kyrgyzstan, Andrei Makhechich, said the same day that 275,000 people had been displaced, including 75,000 who had entered Uzbekistan.

Kyrgyzstan’s national security service said on June 16 that the trend in Osh and surrounding areas was towards greater stability. But in the same daily update, the agency said the armed groups that had provoked the violence in the first place were continuing attempts to cause trouble and sow panic.

Police and security-service officers mounted joint patrols, searching cars for weapons.

Gunshots were heard in Osh late on June 15, but residents told IWPR this seemed to involve soldiers firing warning shots into the air.

In Jalalabad as well as Osh, people appeared on the streets again for the first time in days, but many still ventured out only to fetch food and water.

Jalalabad resident Natalya Rudenko, who is a market trader, told IWPR the night of June 15-16 was the first without shots being heard.

There was limited trading at the local market and some bakeries reopened, but the shops were still closed, she said.

Rudenko added that people were keeping windows closed because of the strong smell of burning.

The authorities admit that humanitarian aid is still inadequate in Osh. Only “a drop on the ocean” is getting through, according to Aigul Ryskulova, appointed by the government to help the refugees.

In central parts of Osh, aid began reaching people who had remained at home throughout the violence. Consignments are delivered daily, but not everywhere. Some areas of the city cannot be reached because of roadblocks erected by locals.

Rudenko said that three families in her block of flats, seven people in all, had so far received one loaf of bread, one kilogram of flour and the same amount of cooking oil. That might not be much, but she said, “We are lucky – others are getting even less.”

Another resident, who gave her name as Mahpirat, told IWPR that when there was a delivery of flour in the neighbourhood, there was not enough to go round, and people were turned away empty-handed.

“Many people were crying when they got back,” she said.

In the face of such difficulties, many Osh residents are demonstrating community spirit. An IWPR reporter witnessed how in one neighbourhood, all the residents pooled the flour distributed to families. It was then baked into bread and distributed equitably.

Despite the uneasy calm, people continued to leave, mainly for the border with Uzbekistan in hope of being allowed to cross, while others went northwards to the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, or into mountainous areas where they hoped to find temporary safety. (See Desperate Refugees Wait on Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border on the refugee situation along the Uzbek border.)

Housewife Gulbarchyn told IWPR that in her neighbourhood of Jalalabad, all the Uzbeks had left. They accounted for 70 per cent of the area’s population, although the area in fact escaped the violence relatively unscathed.

“On the day it all started in Jalalabad [June 13], two groups of people rushed through our street and gunfire was heard. But fortunately, apart from that, there were no further incidents round here,” she said.

“All the Uzbeks left, concealing their livestock,” she said, adding that it was now hard to get milk and bread because it was mainly Uzbeks who sold these.

Small numbers of refugees have been seen coming back, mainly those whose homes have escaped arson attacks.

Kyrgyzstan’s interim leader Roza Otunbaeva has said the nationwide referendum scheduled for June 27 is to go ahead as planned. The vote will determine the fate of a new constitution seen as the most democratic the country has ever had.

Her decision has come in for some criticism from politicians who argue it is unrealistic to conduct a ballot so soon after devastating levels of violence, and that doing so could provoke more trouble.

Residents of the south told IWPR that voting in a referendum was the last thing on their minds given the trauma they had just lived through.

Ainagul Abdrakhmanova is an IWPR-trained journalist; Beksultan Sadyrkulov is a pseudonym for a journalist in Kyrgyzstan; Ilya Lukashov and Isomidin Ahmedjanov are freelance reporters.

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.