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Blog, The Other View

bam-e-dunya’s ailing eaves

Noah Tucker at Registan provides some excellent insights and his own ponderings over the current situation in Osh (Kyrgyzstan), slowly turning into a series.

Part I looks at the disappearance of Uzbek presence in the city and how fault always lies with the other.

The violence and its aftermath have steadily erased most traces of the Uzbek presence in the city’s shared spaces, the Uzbek language has disappeared from shops signs, newsstands, the airwaves. While the mayor’s office supposedly promotes tolerance and ethnic harmony, over the past year vigilante groups of mostly older Kyrgyz women freely harass and sometimes even physically abuse ethnic Uzbeks who dare to appear in public, ride on city transport, attempt to interface with the city administration, or even show up to work in shops that still employ a multi-ethnic staff. Even the city’s much heralded new monument to victims of last year’s violence quickly became a site for screaming protests by these groups, denying the ethnic Uzbek half of the city access even to what was supposed to be a sacred space for common grief.


While the destruction of homes overwhelmingly occurred in ethnic Uzbek mahallas, the human and sexual violence itself and the destruction of commercial spaces, restaurants, and businesses was shared among all communities of Osh—although alarmingly, many on both ethnic sides seem to believe that only “we” were the true victims and “they” were wholly at fault. In the interviews I’ve conducted here so far, one of the most unsettling things that I’ve heard repeatedly (aside from the terrible stories of suffering and loss themselves) are statements that negate or dismiss suffering on the other side, the suffering of the “other.” Each ethnic group employs—with alarming frequency–narratives of homeland and defensive violence in order to cast the other group as usurpers or invaders.

Part II elaborates on the latter paragraph. Part III looks at how it may be too easy to just boil it down to ethnicity. Part IV looks at personal narratives of one man and the routinely disorder that causes frustration.

Twice this week I saw expensive SUVs driving the wrong way down Lenin street downtown, with no regard for the direction traffic moves both legally and practically on the crowded one-way street. Small incidents like these are used by Osh residents to punctuate and illustrate a story of disorder that—with people that I have gotten to know over a longer period—often becomes a long running narrative. A driver that ignores a traffic light suddenly becomes a symbol of the same unpredictability that comes from revolutions that occur “every five years,” of why banks cannot be trusted, why schools are perceived to be failing, why corruption is corroding the institutions of society, of why—for Uzbeks anyway—the next generation needs to leave.

I expect he will be providing more insights in near future. Currently reading Oskar Verkaaik’s Migrants and Militants (which I will review soon) which looks at violence in Southern Sindh and how that is embedded in narratives while being overlty and poorly explained with ethnicity (Muhajir vs. Pashtoon vs. Sindhi) in the general media and scholarly writing, Tucker’s explanations do make a lot of sense to me with reference to another urban-ethnic-violence example that is reported but little understood.


I have never been to Kyrgyzstan but to Tajikistan last year, just after the riots in Osh, and have experienced a trans-border effect with somewhat less personal but more geopolitical-decision implications. Not only did many travellers who planned a Europe-China(-South East Asia) tour by car, bike or public transport see themselves at a dead end in the High Pamirs (afraid of Afghanistan and with a closed border-crossing Tajikistan-China for foreigners going to Osh from Mughab would have been their only option). Also Chinese hauliers who, especially with the KKH to Pakistan currenly blocked (see below), use the Kashi-Osh-Dushanbe-East/South route to trade with Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran were facing a serious problem. Many truckers detoured via the Pamir Highway, a road that is only tarmaced for a couple of kilometers once and gain. The extra burden of dozens of heavy weight freighters each day caused the road to deteriorate quickly – for locals who are used to travel in cheap (Chinese) Tangems this means a great extra number of stops because of technical failures between Khorog and Murghab.


As highlighted earlier, the Chinese acquired a piece of the Pamir Plateau – I do suspect that this move is at least somewhat linked to the worries about Kyrgyzstan and those about Pakistan. Rumours exist since years that China wants to build a direct connection to the Afghan and the Tajik Wakhan either via Sost (Pakistan) or maybe directly via their (now augmented?) border towards Afghanistan.

The worry concerning Pakistan comes mainly because of the Attabad lake, a natural catastrophe that is hardly reported in the West – it’s more popular to churn out speculative writing on the Sino-Pak relations that no one really understands (see our Sino-Pak ‘Series’ on that – it’s in German, and currently only one post long).

Shujaat Ali at Pamir Times (which is generally following this issue extensively) looks at the implications of this disaster for locals’ transport.

About Jakob Steiner

... lived, worked and studied in Australia, Europe and Asia.


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July 2011
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