A culinary twist in Osh, the capital of southern Kyrgyzstan, highlights how last year’s bout of inter-ethnic violence has reshaped the region’s cultural landscape.
Uzbeks are widely acknowledged as the better cooks in Kyrgyzstan, even by hardened Kyrgyz nationalists. And before the outbreak of violence in June of 2010, Uzbeks tended to run Osh’s hundreds of small eateries, serving up plov, samsas and shashlik. Since the violence, though, many of these businesses have been taken over by Kyrgyz owners and now bear Kyrgyz names. In some cases, criminal groups forced Uzbek owners to sell; in others, Uzbeks fled in fear and their properties ended up being seized.
At the Jalal-Abad Café in Osh, the Kyrgyz manager explained that two men, a Kyrgyz and a Uyghur – another Turkic minority with communities across Central Asia, especially in western China – own the establishment. She admitted, reluctantly, that the name and the ownership, previously Uzbek, changed following the violence. It had been the Victoria Café.
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Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.