The more I educate myself about events in Kyrgyzstan, it’s becoming apparent that people who actually know something about the place are skeptical of the “longstanding ethnic strife” narrative. Michael Anderson, a Dutch journalist who covers the region, put it this way in an interview with Ferghana.ru., “Unfortunately, Western media fall back on stereotypes, describing events in Osh such as “interethnic violence” and “interethnic problems”, although you and I know that that is not really what is happening.’ He went on to add this: “I am ashamed that western media pay so little attention and produce such poor coverage. This is bad. Another bad thing is the constant use of stereotypes – often wrong.”
Kyrgyzstan, the small Central Asian country which sprung onto the global scene in April, boggling the minds of American news anchors, has returned. What I then called the “red revolution” has turned redder as ethnic violence swept through the southern city of Osh and Jalal-Abad this weekend. On Thursday, marauding gangs began rampaging, attacking Uzbeks, burning government buildings, banks, cafes, and even an Uzbek theater first in Osh and then in Jalal-Abad. Uzbeks locked themselves in their homes as rumors spread they would be killed on the street. Uzbeks, being the minority, fled over the border in the tens of thousands into Uzbekistan. Interim president Roza Otunbayeva declared a state of emergency and countrywide curfew, dispatched troops with shoot-to-kill orders, pleaded to Russia for help, and blamed supporters of ousted president Kurmanbek Bakiev for the violence. President Medvedev balked at sending a full force to stabilize the situation fearing that a large force could drag Russia into a much unwanted quagmire. Instead he sent a contingent of 300 paratroopers to protect Russia’s Kant airbase. On Sunday, RIA Novosti reported that Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic leaders were prepared for reconciliation talks. We’ll see how prepared they are and whether they matter in the coming days. The numbers as of now: 113 dead, 1292 wounded, an estimated 75,000 refugees have fled into Uzbekistan.
I’m no expert on Kyrgyzstan. I only play one on the Internet. In my travels around cyberspace in an attempt at a quick education, I’ve run into a lot of punditry, a whole lot of “What Kyrgyzstan means for the US”, a slew of saucy reductions of the situation into Russia vs. America, the Great Game, Cold War revisited, and a whole lot of stupidity. Sadly, this silencing of Kyrgyzstan is merely a symptom of a more pervasive disease. As Sarah Kendzior wrote on Registan,
Central Asia is the black hole of international media. It is not the “other” but the other’s “other” — Russia’s orient, a region whose history and political complexities are poorly understood even by some who proclaim to be experts; a region whose best-known ambassador
Another colored revolution devoured itself on Wednesday as violent protests engulfed the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. By nightfall, 40 people were dead with hundreds injured. The opposition had taken the government, and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the man the Tulip Revolution had put into power, had fled. If there is a color for this “revolution” it will be red. Red for the anger. Red for the blood. Red for the fire. The question is why, and why now?