“Forgive one another, we’re all guilty”, begs a sticker and poster campaign doing the rounds in Kyrgyzstan following the recent tragic events in the south of the country which conservative estimates believe claimed over 1,000 lives. But blame, it would seem, is more easily apportioned than shared. In the capital, Bishkek, some of the stickers have been selectively defaced, the Russian “мы”, – meaning ‘we’ changed to a “Bы”, the plural form of ‘you’.
The campaign's website itself, which seeks grounds for a common approach to the problem and an end to provocation in the South, has been largely eschewed by local internet users in favour of partisan efforts such as www.osh-reality.info/ On such sites, videos of dubious authenticity set the tone for ‘commentary wars’ between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, in which boasts and accusations regarding race, religion and history veer off into fantastic, implacable polemic.
Pop artists and men of culture have done their bit to increase tension. Uzbek singer Yulduz Usmanova’s ill-advised release entitled ‘To the Kyrgyz’, has unleashed a storm of inter-ethnic controversy, as well as attempts by lesser-known artists from the Kyrgyz Republic to provide answers to some of her song‘s principal accusations.
“Don’t trust every hand that gives you bread; don’t rejoice in victory for nothing. You’ve inflicted pain on the souls of my Uzbek people; don’t regret it tomorrow,” Usmanova sings. Then:
“If you kill and strangle each ethnic group, who will stay in the land of the Kyrgyz?”
One response, posted on www.osh-reality.info, was offered by Kyrgyz poet Jenishbek Zhumakadyrov. Zhumakadyrov begins innocuously enough:
“Kyrgyzstan – you must remember that you are the son of a great people/Perpetuate that greatness/A compassionate and mild Kyrgyz/That no-one has the right to humiliate.”
Following this, he goes on to refer to Usmanova in person: “Don’t lose your head in the verses/ Of that girl unwanted in her country (a reference to Usmanova’s conflict with the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan and self-imposed exile in Turkey), before descending into fully fledged bigotry:
“A melon sells one who knows not the sense in horses/in rabbit hearts that know not the taste of kymyz (fermented mare‘s milk)/ …all guests must come to see – who owns this house.”
The post and the comments which have flown thick and fast beneath it are representative of traditional cultural divisions, which appear, even in the modern age, to wield considerable influence in Central Asia; the sedentary person’s perceived fear of the nomad, the nomad’s perceived disregard for the settled confines of the city. Repeated in a series of heated exchanges is the word ‘sart', an ethnic slur for an Uzbek with associations echoed in Zhumkadyrov’s ‘melon trader’ slight.
The fallout from this catastrophe confounds a simple assessment. ‘Experts’ have varied in their analysis of events, from the lazy application of the term ‘genocide’ to the ‘its economics, stupid’ school of thought. Yet many of these commentators have never stepped a foot in Osh or Jalal-Abad, and fewer still have lived there long enough to fully understand the unique social dynamics of these cities.
One of the best pieces to emerge from the ruin of the riots was Eurasianet editor [eng] David Trilling’s ‘In Osh, easier to dig up corpses than the truth.’ In it he describes how:
‘for most Osh residents, the culpability is obvious. Uzbeks blame Kyrgyz and Kyrgyz blame Uzbeks. The two groups each nurse their own irreconcilable versions of how the region became deformed with fear and resentment.’
Kloop blogger Nomadlady[eng] also made reference to that ‘first casualty of war’ in a short post about the Wikipedia-hosted article ‘Kyrgyzstan Riots’ that surfaced on the second day of violence in the South.
‘So, the horrible event that happened some days ago in the South of our country is now written in detail on Wikipedia. Interesting to me is how many times it will be re-written,’ the blogger wrote.
True to her prediction, the article was amended several times before a highly sterilized version that revealed little about the origins of the violence enjoyed an extended stay on the site. Still, the page issues the warning that “The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the discussion on the Talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved.” And then another note: “This article needs attention from an expert on the subject.
The Talk page, unsurprisingly, is longer than the article itself.
Back in Osh, the talk is of reprisals rather than reconciliation, and the wounds opened up so rawly on 11th June show no hopes of healing. As residents of this region and neighbouring Jalal-Abad brace themselves for further conflicts, lyricists such as Yulduz Usmanova and Jenishbek Zhumakadyrov would do well not to stoke the flames.