Lessons of the Turmoil of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian state bordering China, Uzbekistan Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. It became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

(Photo Courtesy: www.lonelyplanet.com)

Most of the population of Kyrgyzstan is nominally Muslim, and there has been a growing interest in Islam among those seeking a new ethnic or national identity. Kyrgyzstan also features in the US-Russian rivalry for control of Central Asia, as both powers have military air bases in the country.

The country is facing major challenges of widespread poverty and ethnic divisions between north and south. The resentment caused by this poverty occasionally spills over into violence. The country’s first two post-Soviet presidents were swept from power by popular discontent.

The Kyrgyz make up nearly 70% of the population, with Uzbeks accounting for about 15% and concentrated in the Ferghana Valley in the south. The valley is known for being the birthplace of Zaheer-ud-Din Babar, who founded the great Mogul Empire of India in 1526.

The Valley was divided among the three Soviet Republics. After the fall of the Soviet Union, these became independent republics, with minority populations and enclaves in separate countries with international border crossings. The Valley is an area of largely devout Muslims which serves as the recruiting ground for the militant organizations active in the region.

The southern city of Osh is a regional centre situated in the fertile plains of the Ferghana Valley. There is tension between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities over land and housing. There have been several serious outbreaks of Kyrgyz-Uzbek interethnic violence in Osh, notably in 1990 – when hundreds were killed – and again in June 2010 following the overthrow of Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

According to BBC reports, about 300,000 people have fled their homes, while another 75,000-100,000 people – not counting children – are thought to have taken refuge in Uzbekistan. Insecurity and fear, combined with shortages of basic necessities like food, water, shelter and medicine, were putting a tremendous strain on communities, hospitals and families.

Many people are in a state of deep shock after their houses on the outskirts of Osh were burnt down. Many husbands do not know where their wives and children are while dozens of women are searching for their husbands. Large numbers of children are abducted who will eventually be sold as sex-slaves in the hidden markets of human traffickers. Eyewitnesses reported that women and children were dragged out of homes and chopped to death.

According to a spectator, outraged mobs have been knocking on the doors of our neighbors asking where the Uzbeks live. They are threatening to set fire to surrounding buildings and to our block of flats. I’ve overheard them say that they will burn the buildings and shoot us when we flee. I could even see the flames from my flat. Shops have been looted and gangs have occupied the streets. I heard that they were cutting people with knives and killing them.

“It was quiet and then suddenly I heard a crowd yelling in the street,” a hotel employee said. “Suddenly about 200 people stormed the building; they were equipped with sticks and rocks. It was chaos. They destroyed everything, the doors, the windows, smashed all the TV sets and other equipment. Our guests were so scared.”

It was a night of looting and shooting. The next day, thousands of residents in the city woke up to chaos. Hundreds of shops were looted and people unlawfully seized land, private property and businesses.

During the clash, there is also a shortage of food. Shops and markets are closed. People who are stuck in their homes are running out of supplies. Prices are doubled in a few open shops.

If we look through the modern history of the country, democratic credentials were regarded as relatively strong in the immediate post-Soviet era, but this reputation was lost when corruption and nepotism took hold during President Akayev’s years in office. Parliamentary and presidential elections were flawed, opposition figures faced harassment and imprisonment, and opposition newspapers were closed.

His successor after the 2005 revolt, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, failed to restore full confidence in state institutions at home or abroad. His time in office was marred by political instability and an almost constant struggle with parliament over the constitutional balance of power.

Civil tensions again came to a head in April 2010, when Bakiyev himself was toppled and an interim government was set up under the leadership of former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva.

Among the Kyrgyz population, pro-Bakiyev elements organized resistance to the interim government by seizing government offices and taking officials hostage. As Roza Otunbayeva, the interim president, struggled to control the south, well-established criminal elements and drug dealers exploited the power vacuum.

The spark for communal violence was provided by a clash between Kyrgyz and Uzbek gangs. It soon turned into street fighting among the youth in Osh. Fuelled by rumors of atrocities on either side, angry mobs from other towns and villages arrived in Osh, forcing large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks to flee.

Since 1990, the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley has become a magnet for increasing trade with neighboring countries, a thriving market for cheap Chinese goods and the centre of illicit drugs from Afghanistan on their way to the world markets.

Successive Kyrgyz governments failed to deal with growing corruption and crime. Collapsing infrastructure and widespread poverty contributed to deep public resentment.

The situation of Pakistan is not very different from Kyrgyzstan. We should also learn various lessons from this story of violence and turmoil.

The main lesson of this story is that poverty is the mother of violence. If we want to avoid any carnage, ferocity and upheaval in our society, we must wage a “Jehad” against the poverty. We should go into overdrive to fulfill at least the basic needs of our poor. We must not wait for the government to help such have-nots. It is our responsibility to start the ball rolling.

Corruption is another major cause of chaos and anarchy because it eventually widens the gap between rich and poor. Writing articles, telecasting talk-shows or arranging demonstrations against the corruption of the government do not change the big picture. It only adds fuel to the flame of frustration.

The character of rulers, whether good or bad, is nothing more than a manifestation of moral and ethical climate of the society. Instead of treating the symptoms, we have to get to the bottom of corruption which is the moral degeneration of our society. We have to fight tooth and nail against it.

Overthrowing a corrupt ruler by a revolt does not solve any problem. When things get out of hands of the government, criminal networks fill the vacuum of power and go off the rails. The corruption and injustice of a government is limited to a few people but the criminals don’t care about anything. It opens the floodgates of inflation, poverty, lawlessness and eventually more corruption.

If a camel gets his nose in a tent, his body will follow. Similarly, when the immorality penetrates into the veins of a society, it produces its offspring. Dog-eat-dog attitude becomes normal. People start selling their souls for a few bucks. Entire society falls from grace as a result of moral disintegration. Debased religious leaders sprout out who consider themselves holier-than-thou.

If we look through the history of revolutions, we find that such political revolutions merely change the faces. These revolutions only replace a characterless ruler with another who is also cut from the same cloth. Erstwhile aristocracy is subverted by another elite class which is not very different from its predecessors.

A revolution can never be the real solution to corrupt regimes. The only real and solid solution is an evolutionary and gradual process of intellectual and moral reform of the society.

(Author: Muhammad Mubashir Nazir)

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Think about it!

1. What is the solution of widespread corruption?

2. What lessons do you derive from the story of Kyrgyzstan?

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Lessons of the Turmoil of Kyrgyzstan
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