Kyrgyzstan had slipped from the headlines after the April 7 uprising that ousted its president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. But ethnic attacks which saw five people killed on Monday have brought the Central Asian country back under the spotlight. Our Observer in the capital Bishkek tells us why the recent unrest could spell disaster for the multi-ethnic nation.
Kyrgyz interim leaders have vowed to restore law and order after former president Bakiyev was forced to resign. But the new government is struggling to assert its authority and Kyrgyzstan remains tense as marauders try to exploit the weakened central powers to illegally seize land (see: Fear and looting in Bishkek).
On Monday, rioters targeted the ethnic Turkish community living in Mayevka, on the outskirts of Bishkek. News agencies reported that hundreds of Kyrgyz people rampaged the homes of ethnic Turkish residents, triggering the fatal clashes.
The killings shocked Bishkek residents, where inter-racial relations have remained largely peaceful for the past few decades. Ethnic Turks were deported from Georgia to Central Asia during the Soviet era and since then they have been considered part of Bishkek’s social fabric. Kyrgyz people are now worried that an increasingly weak government could spark more inter-ethnic violence.
"The unrest in Bishkek was initially about land, not ethnicity"
Joldosh Osmanov lives in Bishkek, where he works for an international organisation.I initially heard of the unrest in Mayevka through a local TV channel and I decided to have a look for myself. When I arrived, the mayor of Bishkek was making a speech but the people watching were hardly listening. Most of them were ethnic Kyrgyzs from the southern part of the country, who moved to Bishkek after the 2005 Tulip revolution but ended up living in slums around the capital because they couldn’t buy any land.
When the mayor said he could not give them land that belongs to other people, the crowd started getting angry. In the end, hundreds of Kyrgyz people suddenly attacked the homes of ethnic Turkish people living nearby. I don’t think the rioters actually planned their attack in advance; they just took advantage of the weakened government to try to get hold of some land. The unrest in Bishkek was initially about land, not ethnicity.
Residents from other districts in Bishkek have now decided to take the matter into their own hands by organising patrols to deter the illegal seizing of land [see: Bishkek's citizen militias keep looters at bay]. I heard that 2,000 volunteers have already joined up. The vigilantes are not armed because they are supposed to patrol only with police officers… Everybody here hopes that their added presence will be enough to bring some calm back to the capital.
But I’m still worried that ethnic violence could spread to other parts of the country. If the central government remains weak, we can expect more clashes between Kyrgyzs and Uzbek minorities in the south-west. The situation between Kyrgyz people and ethnic Russian, Uyghur, and Turkish communities could also degenerate here in the north. It’s sad that the government is not taking any decisive steps towards solving these problems".