A repetition of last summer's Batken hostage crisis so far has not materialized as many experts and local government officials had feared. The inability of Islamic militants to mount anti-government operations this year may be connected with their failure to attract a broad popular following. Indeed, many residents in the Kyrgyzstani portion of the Ferghana Valley tend to make a clear distinction between political discontent and religious beliefs.
The Batken hostage crisis began in early August 1999, when a band of approximately 1,000 armed Islamic militants, most of them ethnic Uzbeks living in exile, moved out from bases in Tajikistan and occupied the mountainous area of southern Kyrgyzstan. The militants' original aim supposedly was to foment an Islamic uprising in Uzbekistan. Those plans were frustrated, however, by the presence of a large contingent of Uzbek troops in the Ferghana Valley. Unable to continue their advance, the Islamic militants resorted to taking hostages, including four Japanese geologists, in southern Kyrgyzstan.
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Morgan Y. Liu is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.