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Kyrgyzstan: Dissecting the rage in Osh

Ethnic Kyrgyz blame ethnic Uzbeks for violence and the media for inflaming tensions.

Many Uzbek refugees have now returned, but many say that they are simply living beside the Kyrgyz and not interacting. They also protest that they are still being targeted for abuse, and Kyrgyz officials are arresting and prosecuting them in disproportionate numbers in connection with the violence.

Human Rights Watch issued a press release last week calling on officials to crack down on recent attacks by ethnic Kyrgyz at the trials for Uzbeks accused of fighting in June. Recently, four ethnic Uzbeks were badly beaten — three of them relatives of a defendant in their 50s and 60s. Their photos can be seen on the HRW website.

(Read an account by Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch of one of the first trials for those accused of perpetrating the violence.)

In the recent parliamentary elections — which were roundly hailed as highly transparent — the Uzbeks in Osh voted in droves for the law-and-order party of Ar Namys. They said that they liked the party leader, Feliks Kulov, a former prime minister and KGB general, and the fact that he is believed to be close to Russia, which they hope could come to their protection if hostilities break out again. (Kulov used a photo of his shaking hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as one of his main campaign materials.)

For their part, many Kyrgyz — justified or not — fear the Uzbek minority. They believe the Uzbeks monopolize the levers of the local economy, and when some Uzbeks started recently to demand more political say, the Kyrgyz took fright. In the elections unexpectedly large numbers of Kyrgyz voted for Ata Jurt, a party that called among other things for protection of Kyrgyz ethnic rights.

“The Kyrgyz feel themselves under threat, that the ethnic minorities are trying to reduce their role so that Kyrgyzstan is no longer based on the idea of single ethnic group,” said the human rights defender Tashanov.

“There is such a thing as the aggression of a minority,” he added. “The Uzbeks are the aggressor.”