Kyrgyzstan: the roots of ethnic violence

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Kyrgyzstan: the roots of ethnic violence

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Amateur video has rarely been so dramatic. Previously unseen pictures from last Saturday show the panic and confusion of thousands of people fleeing ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan as they surge across the no-man’s land towards the border crossing into Uzbekistan.

Many women and children are clearly visible in the crowd. Uzbek border guards do what they can to pass the very young to safety.

Around 15 per cent of the 5.5 million people living in Kyrgyzstan’s southern cities including Osh are ethnic Uzbeks, the majority of whom favoured the new government in Bishkek.

It was here where the violence erupted as hooded assailants set Uzbek properties alight and then opened fire on those who tried to escape. Homes marked with the word “Kyrgyz” were saved.

The interim government has accused supporters of deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of stoking the violence as an act of reprisal against the new leadership.

But political analyst, Shairbek Juraev suggests the answer is far more deep-rooted.

“This somehow downplays the ethnic character, and maybe it is important at this stage to calm down the population,” he said. “However, ignoring the inter-ethnic character and blaming Bakiyev does not serve the purpose of the long-term resolution of the problem.”

The long-standing rivalries between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have been played out in the fertile plain known as the Fergana Valley. It is home to a thriving market for cheap Chinese goods and a centre for illicit drugs en route from Afghanistan to the rest of the world.

It is also home to a massive devout Muslim population and a ripe recruiting ground for Islamic militants. Some intelligence sources estimate that groups linked to al Qaeda have some 8,000 activists living in the area.