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The consolidation of peace in southern Kyrgyzstan: the effectiveness of the strategy after five years

“Now, many ethnic Uzbeks are forced to develop their own survival strategies, re-registering their property on the names of the Kyrgyz in order to avoid the “accusations of excessive prosperity”. But if you think about it, business is the only free niche for people who have limited access to education and work”, said Zamira Isakova, an expert on political and security issues, in an article written specifically for cabar.asia.

I am not a stepson, I am a blood son!
Even if someone is unhappy.
Sarwar Turdiboev [1]

June 10, 2010, is a day in the modern history of Kyrgyzstan that is remembered due to violent clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh and Jalal-Abad. The victims of the outbreak of aggression, which lasted four days, according to various sources, are more than a hundred thousand people, of whom about 400 died.

Among the catalysts of occurrence of collisions, there were mentioned various reasons. The official version of the republic’s government accused the alliance of Uzbek political separatists and supporters of the regime of ex-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev [2]. In addition, a version of the former mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, should be noted, too. He blamed the leaders of the Uzbek population, namely Kadyrzhan Batyrov and his supporters, calling for the formation of autonomy within the Kyrgyz Republic [3]. According to the data from the report of the international commission of inquiry into the June clashes in Osh and Jalal-Abad, the weakening of the official power at the time of the Provisional government can be considered one of the key reasons [4] We can thus assume that the political and economic instability and social crisis that prevailed at that time became the cause of that situation.

This year, the country, as every year since the tragic events, will commemorate those who died and remember the lessons learned. It’s been five years since the beginning of ethnic clashes, and at first glance, the population of Osh and Jalal-Abad lives as it lived before, trying not to think about those events. However, the June events affected almost every resident of the city, and it is impossible to forget about those terrible days. And if the violence ended on June 14, 2010, some consequences of the June events are still going on. Though many of Osh citizens who fled immediately after the conflict began to come back, the situation remains tense.

Uzbek part of the population, unfortunately, continues to feel that they are not treated fairly. For example, there is a perception that inspectors of traffic police often stop just Uzbeks, and not because of traffic rules, but because they are Uzbeks. According Abdimital Ake, a resident of the Amir Timur neighborhood (almost 90% of the population are Uzbeks), “One gets the impression that policemen have a detector of ethnicity of the driver” [5].

Talking about the full restoration of confidence between the population and the credibility of the authorities is too early. But in the south, nevertheless, a kind of peace has been established, and there is less and less open conflict between the two ethnic groups. And if you cannot hear, as before, Uzbek songs on Kyrgyz weddings, ethnic Uzbeks began to openly celebrate their traditional weddings with many people and loud music. Local elders, almost like in the old days, began to gather in chaikhana to drink tea and play dominoes in the park named after Navoi. Time and memory of the past played a huge role here, but some contributions were made by other actors, too.

On the state strategy in promoting peace in the south

Speaking about the strategy of the state in post-conflict situation, one can see a distinct element of the reconstruction of the identity of the country’s population. In other words, the state machine (realized or not realized) opted for the strategy of building a state (nation-building) [6], when the policy is aimed at ensuring that all the population identify themselves as citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic. In academic circles, the construction of state identity through the reconstruction of the population, or nationalism as a tool for peace building have been discussed in detail for a long time. And many agree that the construction of the state in general is an effective way of building peace in post-conflict period.

All the initiatives taken by the higher echelons of the country say in favor of the reconstruction of the identity of the population. For example, one of the most important directions of the concept of strengthening the unity of the people and inter-ethnic relations in Kyrgyzstan (hereinafter – the Concept), adopted in 2013, is the formation of civic identity through the dissemination of ideas of civic patriotism. Furthermore, the Concept is aimed at prevention of inter-ethnic conflict. For this purpose, there was created the State Agency for Local Self-Government and Inter-Ethnic Relations (SALSGIER). SALSGIER, in turn, has opened about 20 community liaison offices of inter-ethnic relations in the local government.

Community liaison offices are open mainly in places with mixed population. According to the regulations of community liaison offices, they were created as a tool for feedback from the public, where people can turn to with critical issues. After an appropriate query processing (registration, topics and target), their applications are submitted to the appropriate authorities. [7] And although it is supposed that employees of community liaison offices must receive in any way and address the causes of ethnic tensions, it has not been described how they can do it. Moreover, few people know of the existence of community liaison offices.

The Concept also emphasizes the importance and unifying role of the state language and the development of linguistic diversity. Speaking of linguistic diversity, the document had in mind three main languages: Russian, Kyrgyz and English. In a society, there have been discussed the full transition to the state language. For example, all hospitals already draw up the documents in the Kyrgyz language. The need to study the Kyrgyz language rose very sharply, and the mixed population of the south must somehow respond to this demand of the time.

That is why school administrators of Amir Temur and On Adir (Uzbek villages/ Makhallyas in Osh) added more hours for study of the Kyrgyz language. And some schools in Nookat completely switched to training in the Kyrgyz language. According to the parents of children enrolled in the modified program, they generally support the initiative of training their children in Kyrgyz and Russian, but they are concerned with the quality of education. The Kyrgyz language is taught in all schools, but at the same time, the quality of education needs to be improved. Kyrgyz language teachers lack the necessary methods and technologies of teaching, students are not provided with a sufficient number of textbooks on Kyrgyz and Kyrgyz language for teaching at high school, and many technical terms and concepts are not translated properly.

The willingness of the population to learn Russian and Kyrgyz languages ispires. Not so long ago, it was announced about the allocation of 200 million soms for the development of the state language [8]. Let’s hope that these funds will be used for its intended purpose, i.e a more thoughtful transition to the state language and its popularization, because the steps taken to date cannot attract more supporters. In the first year after the events, Uzbek television stations were closed, and in autumn 2013, it was announced that the republican test for all high students would take place in two languages ​​- Kyrgyz and Russian, despite the fact that in the south, there functioned many schools with Uzbek language of instruction. But such abrupt withdrawal of testing in the Uzbek language, according to the deputy of the Jogorku Kenesh Natalia Nikitenko, “will lead to further violations of human rights and constitutional norms.” [9]

With the abolition of the public testing in the Uzbek language, many were limited in the opportunities for admission to universities of the country. According to a resident of Suzak district, Jalal-Abad region, his son, most likely, will not be able to pursue higher education, because, firstly, he will not be able to go to university, and secondly, even if he does, he will not get a proper education because of language limitations. [10] Such a policy, in the end, may lead to the fact that a whole generation of young ethnic Uzbeks will be unable to find work. However, it should be noted that still, the majority of young graduates-Uzbeks go to university, but it should be recognized that the study for them is not easy. And they experience the difficulties not only because of lack of understanding of language of instruction, but also because of some faculty bias against them. [11]

Another initiative raised by officials [12] is the test of knowledge of the state language for employment in state bodies, and it can also significantly narrow the ranks of ethnic minorities in state institutions. As recognized by a graduate of school named after Fedchenko in Amir Timur, the best option for him would be to go to work in Russia than to seek work in the native country, because opportunities here are very limited. According to him, to go to work without continuing education is a common survival tactic of his peers. [13]

Canceling the republican testing for high school students in the Uzbek language, the closure of several media broadcasts in the Uzbek language, the transition of some schools to Kyrgyz language of teaching and the closure of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University have a negative impact. Such initiatives draw artificial boundaries between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz living in Osh. Moreover, it causes reciprocal aggression on the part of the Uzbeks. So, for example, one of the residents of Amir Timur (a Kyrgyz) was forced to lodge complaints with several international organizations in order to help her solve a conflict situation with her neighbors (the Uzbeks), who required from her to move from the neighborhood or to talk to them in the Uzbek language. [14] Therefore, the language policy must be conducted with great care and taking into account the views of all stakeholders. As pointed by Megoran, Kyrgyz language should be the main language, but it should not inhibit the Russian or Uzbek languages. [15]

The reverse side of the state policy

Based on the foregoing, it can be concluded that, although the method of reconstruction of identity, as a mechanism for the recovery of peace, can be considered effective, it is necessary to take into account the risks associated with it. Andreas Wimmer, for example, speaks of the ambiguity and ambition of building civic identity, as a tool for peacebuilding. [16] Daniel Byman in his works even warns politicians about the risks of the use of the reconstruction of identity, because such a strategy is more likely to become a source of conflict. [17]

The reason for this is the transformation of nationalism into ethnic nationalism, which, as Valery Tishkov wrote, is an ugly form of nationalism and has a discriminatory nature [18]. According to Tishkov, ethnic nationalism is an idea that is based on the fact that only the ethno-nationalists can create an ideal basis for the development of the country. According to the ideology of ethno-national minority groups, all people should speak the Kyrgyz language and respect traditional values ​​of Kyrgyz people. Such a policy is promoted by a number of politicians. Sometimes ethno-nationalists sound more radical saying that ethnic minorities should be aware that the Kyrgyz is a privileged group and therefore should the Kyrgyz them accordingly. [19] In such a policy, of course, there lies a serious threat to the fragile peace in southern Kyrgyzstan.

One of the main features is the use of ethno-symbolism when the entire population is imposed the adoption of symbols of the dominant ethnic group. This, according to residents of the neighborhood Cheryomushki (Uzbek mahalla), occurred immediately after the events of June, when the local administration started erecting everywhere monuments to the heroes of the Kyrgyz people. “You see where the tigers of Manas are aimed at on the airport road… They are clearly looking at Uzbekistan”, says a resident of the neighborhood Cheryomushki. [20] This suggests that some part of the Uzbek population can perceive these monuments as a kind of threat.

Thus, it can be noted that the state policy of strengthening peace in southern Kyrgyzstan is not well thought out in terms of its implementation. Moreover, the implementation of this strategy has serious errors that can cause the opposite effect. Therefore, despite the official policy that does not isolate and takes into account the interests of the country’s population, actively promoted by President Almazbek Atambayev, more attention should be paid to the language policy. It is impossible to experiment on the unprepared population that does not agree with the experiment. The propaganda of the state language now brings native speakers above the rest of the population, which in itself is an act of discrimination. Moreover, this pressure can be misinterpreted by the ethnic majority, giving them the right to be unjust to others.

In addition, there is great risk that political manipulation can be constructed around this issue during the upcoming parliamentary elections in the autumn. According to Erica Marat, there is a risk of repetition of events against the background of the forthcoming elections when the ethnic nationalists could exploit the situation and steer /manipulate in its favor [21].

The population’s exposure to any kind of manipulation or how fragile “world” is can be manifested in the recent rumors about the possible ethnic clashes on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the victory that excited the entire population of the southern capital. In addition, in May this year, there was revealed a recording of a TV program on the maing state television channel when the chairman of the National Union of Writers, poet and social activist, Abdrahman Alymbaev compared representatives of non-Kyrgyz groups with jackals. Naturally, it was immediately reflected in the growth of discontent among the population.

The contribution of international organizations

Most public initiatives have been financially supported by a variety of donors. One of the most obvious examples of this cooperation was the State Directorate for Reconstruction of Osh and Jalal-Abad. The Directorate had a huge financial flow of money from donors who had focused on rebuilding homes or building new housing. Discussions and condemnation of the quality of restoration works, coordinated by the Directorate, continue until now. Many built houses are empty, and those that were given to victims of violence, are in poor condition. But the worst of all things that had not been fully thought through is the mechanism of distribution of apartments. The information about who and why gets housing is never published, thus causing unnecessary suspicion. Some brag to their peers that their father got an apartment for killing a man.

Authorities were trying to blindly give apartments so Uzbeks began to live next to Kyrgyz. It would be naive to believe that the people who yesterday caused the harm to each other will peacefully share the same driveway area. Therefore, many of the new owners of apartments have tried to quickly resell them to purchase a house in a place where they feel safe.

But, in addition to material support to government initiatives, international organizations actively began to restore peace after the June bloodshed. Most of the projects have been launched in the territory of the city, and in the areas around Osh. And so, organizations such as the OSCE, the UN agencies, EFCA, ACTED, InternationalAlert, USAID, Helvetas, DRC, Saferworld, IREX and others actively started to restore good neighborly relations between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. Some of these organizations were working on rehabilitation of infrastructure in the most affected areas, and assisting in the restoration of documents. These projects did not last long, and after a partial recovery of the city and the documents, their projects were ended.

But most of the projects were more ambitious, and their goal was to restore not the infrastructure but the trust. The trust was supposed be restored through joint activities such as various festivals, workshops, seminars and roundtables. It is believed that a greater amount of time spent together will be able to somehow have a positive impact on the population. Also a great emphasis is placed on the prevention of conflict, because of which countless workshops have been held, which resulted in the south of Kyrgyzstan, is the creation of several networks of mediators that in the event of a conflict can have an impact on the situation.

Contributing to the potential of the population, of course, has a right to exist, but most of the projects are working with the same people. Thus, at least two projects are investing heavily in the same person, who, as noted by Nick Megoran John Hizershou, David Lewis and Elmira Satybaldiyeva in their work, can be motivated even by the chance to have a rest on Issyk-Kul. [22]

Unfortunately, most of the “conciliatory” donor-funded projects have a few glaring errors, first, the ill-conceived selection of beneficiaries. As noted above, it often happens that the beneficiaries of projects are the same persons with questionable motivation. Secondly, Megoran and his co-authors rightly point out that international organizations have focused only on the residents of the city, when Osh residents themselves say they would never do harm to their neighbors, by people were killed, beaten, raped and robbed by visitors who do not live for decades side by side. Third, although there is some logic to invest in community leaders, socially inactive residents of communities remain uninvolved. In other words, project coaches teach already trained community leaders.

Conclusions and recommendations

Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have suffered during the June events, but the consequences of these collisions were different for them. That is why public policy should be designed so that both can be more productive to respond to these consequences and try to do no mutual harm by their actions. Especially if the strategy to restore peace was chosen effectively, but the idea of reconstruction of the identity of the population is very ambitious, which is often called rational or positive nationalism.

And if Anna Matveeva argues that nationalism is a curse for Kyrgyzstan, Nick Megoran, on the contrary, emphasizes the important role of nationalism as a unifying element for the whole population of the country if properly used by the government and supported by the international community. Despite the undeniable advantages of choice of building state identity through the reconstruction of the population, mechanisms for the implementation of this strategy are not well thought out, and it  can lead to the fact that the rational nationalism can be transformed into ethno-nationalism.

When the “sons of the land” impose their values ​​on national minorities, the latter, in turn, have to adapt to new realities. According Ashtushu Varshni, the growing ethnic nationalism is forcing ethnic minorities to counter nationalism. [23] The minority unconsciously mobilizes all resources to ensure resistance to this imposition. An example of this is when school students being asked the question “who is your President?” answered “Karimov!”. [24]
This situation is exacerbated by exposure of the population to all kinds of manipulation. This is especially true of young people, who proved to be not only an involuntary witness, but also an active participant in the events of June.

Although the concept has been developed in the direction of strengthening the interethnic relations, the document avoids a direct appeal to the most concerned about the issue – the rights of ethnic Uzbeks in the aftermath of violence in June 2010 [25]. Now, many ethnic Uzbeks are forced to develop their own survival strategies, re-registering their property on the names of the Kyrgyz in order to avoid the “accusations of excessive prosperity”. But if you think about it, business is the only free niche for people who have limited access to education and work.

The main mistake of the strategy of strengthening peace in southern Kyrgyzstan is that the root causes of the June events have not been adequately addressed, and because of this, there is a huge risk of recurrence of the events. The state machine has been completely focused on building a new identity of the population – of citizenship. But, as has been briefly described above, this approach has obvious disadvantages.

What recommendations can be given in order not to harm the relative peace in southern Kyrgyzstan? Firstly, the urgent need to revise the country’s language policy, and choose the path of not imposing the state language by force. Today’s language policy has become a convenient tool for political ethno-nationalists, who use it for their own purposes. Any attempts to cast doubt on the urgent need for such widespread use of the state language may be perceived as an attempt to cast doubt on the national unity.

Secondly, it is necessary to think more thoughtfully on the mechanisms preventing inter-ethnic clashes. For example, the opening of community liaison offices, which perhaps raises the government’s rating in the eyes of the international community and provides some points, are unlikely to be an effective instrument for prevention of ethnicity crimes. Why not to put all efforts for the development of the existing mechanisms of prevention of crime – public preventive centers.

After all, in fact, in every ayil okmotu of the country, these institutions formally exist, and instead of opening an additional duplicating institution, government bodies could improve the capacity of the existing mechanism in the LSG. Moreover, recent studies have shown that the population has more trust in local government bodies than in others. Therefore, third, it is necessary to delegate more powers to the authorities at the subnational level. But before that, it is necessary to train them to adequately respond to alarm calls.

With regard to the contribution of international organizations in the process of restoring peace in the south, there can also be noted several recommendations. First and foremost, we must strengthen the partnership with the authorities, and not be limited to only financial support. It is necessary to try to become full partners in the implementation of projects. It should also include elements of sustainable / economic development, in order to somehow help address the worsening economic situation of the population. As Megoran and his co-authors stress, we need to find ways of financial support for young people. [26] Fourth, it is necessary to think about the ways to include the residents of mono-ethnic communities in the work. The more is that the confidence in international organizations is still preserved, and it allows them to achieve great results.

In general, the next test of strength of interethnic peace in the south of the country will take place in October during the parliamentary elections – the period of great opportunities and serious threats. Taking into account the lessons of the past, and objectively assessing the present, people in the country will have to prepare for a real test. At the same time, based on the history, we believe that most of the politicians will be able to adequately behave during the time of elections; the country will follow the road of development, allowing its citizens to find their own unique path of unity in diversity.

Zamira Isakova, a specialist in political and security issues, Master, the OSCE Academy

The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of CABAR
[2] Opinion of the National Commission
[3] Melis Myrzakmatov “Men izdegen Chyndyk”
[4] Kyrgyzstan inquiry Commission (2011), Report of the International Inquiry Commission of Inquiry into the Events in the Southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010
[5] From the conversation with a resident of the neighborhood Amir Timur (May 22, 2015)
[6] nation-building refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state
[7] Regulations on community liaison offices, http://gamsumo.gov.kg/ru/inter-ethnic-relations/public-reception/  (May 30, 2015)
[10] Interview with a resident of Suzak district of Jalal-Abad region. (27 May 2015) In universities of Kyrgyzstan, subjects are taught in the official and national languages
[11] Interview with a student of Osh State University, a resident of an Uzbek mahalla (May 21, 2015)
[12] Video interview with Mira Karybaeva for IA Azattyk
[13] Mansurali, Amir Timur
[14] An excerpt from a Master’s thesis, Understanding peace processes in the aftermath of Ethnic Violence in the South of Kyrgyzstan: the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz Happily ever after, Zamira Isakova, OSCE Academy in 2013
[15] Nick Megoran, Averting Violence in Kyrgyzstan: Understanding and Responding to Nationalism, Russian and Eurasia Working papers, 2012, p 11
[16] Andreas Wimmer, “Ethnic Exclusion in Nationalizing State” The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism
[17] Daniel L. Byman, “Keeping Peace: Lasting Solutions to Ethnic Conflicts,” The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 2002 p 100
[18] Valery Tishkov “Ethnicity.Nationalism and Conflict in and after Soviet Union. The mind aflame” in 1997
[19] Marlene Laruelle, p 8 “The Paradigm of Nationalism” in 2008
[20] Interview with the locals
[21] Erica Marat, Looking for National Consensus in Post-Violence Kyrgyzstan, http://fride.org/publication/1194/looking-for-national-consensus-in-post-violence-kyrgyzstan
[22] Nick Megoran, Elmira Satybaldieva, David Lewis, and John Heathershow, Peacebuilding and reconciliation projects in Southern Kyrgyzstan, http://www.sipri.org/research/security/afghanistan/central-asia-security/publications/sipri-osf-working-paper-megoran-et-al-june-2014, p 18
[23] Ashtoush Varshney, “Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict and Nationalty” p2
[24] Interview with a resident of Aravan district May 30, 2015
[25] Erica Marat, Looking for National Consensus in Post-Violence Kyrgyzstan, http://fride.org/publication/1194/looking-for-national-consensus-in-post-violence-kyrgyzstan (2014)
[26] Supra n.21, p 37