Kyrgyzstan: Murder Highlights Enduring Ethnic Tensions
Justice is relative in southern Kyrgyzstan. But blame seems to be absolute. The murder of a tax official has set off a protest with frightening parallels to events preceding ethnic violence last summer. Sagynbek Alimbayev, the deputy head of the regional tax service, was found dead February 23 in a brand-new Lexus sedan with a gunshot wound to the chest. Two days later, local authorities said they had arrested the culprits, three ethnic Uzbeks, who had allegedly acted on orders from a businessman in Uzbekistan.Employing the kind of mob justice that has replaced courts here, several hundred Kyrgyz rioted in the southern town of Nookat on March 1 and burned down a house or three that, they say, belong to the killers. As police dispersed the rioters, taxman Alimbayev’s son Nurbek did his part to keep hostilities ablaze. He announced, improbably, that the murder was carried out on order of the elusive, exiled enemy number one: Kadyrjan Batyrov. A wealthy businessman from Jalal-Abad, Batyrov had called last spring for Uzbeks to have greater representation in government, but not, independent investigators have found, much more. Yet he is constantly blamed for sparking the ethnic violence that left at least 400 dead. Batyrov organized “mass riots in the Osh region in June 2010. He intended to stir up the war in Nookat, but my father prevented it. After that, Batyrov with his bandits called a meeting and set out to destroy him and all other men who broke his plans,” Nurbek Alimbayev said. The State Committee for National Security (GKNB) denied an ethnic dimension to the troubles today, saying the killing is related to business interests. It seems unlikely Batyrov is so powerful (from his exile in the UAE or Ukraine or wherever he has now fled), or careless, to spark renewed pogroms against Uzbeks. Hopefully Kyrgyzstan will be lucky enough to escape this latest disturbance unscathed. But with genuine interethnic reconciliation not happening, the Batyrov brand sure stimulates a crowd.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.