Kyrgyzstan: How to Rouse Ethnic Tensions

Jyldyz Joldosheva (Photo: Kenesh.kg)

Interethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan have slipped out of the headlines, but analysts say the threat of renewed violence is still a real concern. And if there’s one Kyrgyz politician who loves to stoke the tensions, it’s Jyldyz Joldosheva, a parliamentary deputy from the ultranationalist Ata-Jurt party.

Since the June 2010 ethnic violence, when approximately 450 people died, Joldosheva has regularly traded on anti-Uzbek sentiment. She has often claimed to have proof that members of the Uzbek “diaspora” are plotting against their hosts, the Kyrgyz. Her language relegates Uzbeks to outsider status, although they have lived in the area that is now southern Kyrgyzstan for hundreds of years. 

Now she’s getting her supporters riled up with the newsflash that Uzbek high school students are taking their state exams in their native language. This displeases people, AKIpress cited Joldosheva as saying on April 18. She’s demanding an explanation from Education Minister Kanat Sadykov, while other deputies, perhaps bowing to the xenophobic climate, are falling in line behind her. One warns that his constituents are rallying at parliament’s gates, demanding the exams be stopped. The Education Ministry says the tests have been carried out in Kyrgyz, Russian and Uzbek since 2001; of approximately 40,000 students who took the exam last year, about 1,000 took it in Uzbek. 

Joldosheva’s rhetoric is divisive in and of itself, but in a post-conflict situation it could be explosive.

Ethnic Uzbeks, concentrated in the country’s south, where Joldosheva is from, face a “steady pattern of unpleasantness in everyday life: in public transport, at the market and in dealings with local officials. Probably the most scarring form of harassment is still the fear of arrest, torture and detention, often with the aim of extortion,” said the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report released last month. “The steady exclusion of Uzbeks from all walks of life risks creating a dangerous predisposition to violence: the feeling that the only means of redress left are illegal ones.” 

Last year, Joldosheva claimed Uzbeks were behind an international campaign to call the ethnic violence “genocide,” although no credible sources (sensationalist headlines notwithstanding) have referred to the four days of violence using the G-word. When Joldosheva went on at length about a lavishly published book propagating the idea, called “The Hour of the Jackal,” her office ignored EurasiaNet.org’s repeated requests to see a copy. 

One of her regular targets is Kadyrjan Batyrov, once a wealthy businessman and politician from Jalal-Abad, who was handed a life sentence in absentia for organizing the clashes, inciting ethnic hatred, and spreading separatist propaganda. Prior to the violence, Jalal-Abad was a center of Uzbek political activism. A few weeks ago, Joldosheva suggested Batyrov and a celebrated ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyzstani astronaut were organizing an Uzbek resistance movement in Moscow with $120 million. 

While it would be hard to claim that any post-Soviet businessman is squeaky clean, European authorities seem to feel that Batyrov cannot get a fair trial in his native country. Sweden has reportedly granted him asylum. 

ICG and other independent monitors have determined the vast majority of fatalities that June were among ethnic Uzbeks and most of the destroyed property had belonged to Uzbeks. But the vast majority of trials have targeted ethnic Uzbeks, too, “giving support to the widely propagated theory in Kyrgyz political circles that the Uzbeks initiated the violence.” 

Joldosheva no doubt knows the relative calm in southern Kyrgyzstan is tenuous. With Uzbeks persecuted by officials working for Osh City Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov – who has at times aligned himself with Joldosheva’s party – Uzbeks are running out of options, ICG says. 

The central government appears uninterested in addressing the ongoing injustices. That’s not much of a surprise when people like Joldosheva are running the country, and look bent on ignoring the obvious. 

Kyrgyzstan: How to Rouse Ethnic Tensions

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