Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan pogrom vow to return
‘We are starving but west fails to respond’, they say, and report military involvement in violence
5 in Jalal-Abad guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 June 2010
Ethnic Uzbek refugees cross the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Photograph: Oxana Onipko/AFP/Getty Images Adina Haidarova’s escape from the city of Jalal-Abad took 14 hours – a wretched, footsore, terrifying exodus. With her she had a few possessions, her two grandchildren and ailing husband Zatulam. Behind her she left a Kyrgyz mob busy torching her home at Number 4 Lenin Street and other Uzbek property.
Stumbling across fields, the family joined a weeping column of women and children heading for the Uzbek border. In the distance, fires from the Uzbek quarter lit up the night sky. At one point a Kyrgyz military helicopter buzzed overhead. “We thought they were going to shoot us,” Haidarova, 56, said. “By this point we were many hundreds of women and children. We tried to hide. But they didn’t shoot.”
The family found sanctuary eventually in Bekobat, a rustic agricultural Uzbek settlement close to the border.
For the first four nights they slept in a grassy open field, next to a walnut tree. After that they moved in to a one-room cottage with a television, teapot and a geranium plant. Zatulam, who has heart problems, got the only bed. It is now home to 15 adults and children.
“There’s not enough space, so we sleep in shifts, with the kids on our laps,” Haidarova explained.
No aid has so far reached the 6,000 Uzbek refugees currently camping out in Bekobat. Most fled on Sunday, after the pogroms that began last week in the city of Osh spread to Jalal-Abad, the third biggest city in Kyrgyzstan. The refugees said they were baffled by the international community’s failure to notice their plight and their homelessness.
“We have absolutely nothing. The children are hungry. The only thing we have to eat is what the locals give us,” Haidarova – who worked as a cook – said, showing a meagre plastic bag containing half a kilo of scruffy potatoes and a small cabbage. She added: “How am I supposed to feed 15 people with that?” Others said they had no medicines, running water, or nappies. Zatulam grumbled that the children had urinated on his mattress.
Village elders who are attempting to feed the refugees on their own said the response from the west had been less than pitiful. “The US has a military base in Kyrgyzstan. But it seems this is all America cares about,” said Farkat Matsakov, a spokesman for the village’s impromptu relief committee. “We have a humanitarian catastrophe here. Why is the west shutting its eyes?”
Kyrgyzstan’s interim government and non-governmental organisations today said 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks had been displaced by the violence – with 100,000 now in temporary camps in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
Matsakov said that unless the world community took a more active interest there was every probability Kyrgyzstan would turn into a failed state. “We’re on our way to becoming a second Afghanistan,” he said. The country’s Uzbek minority felt betrayed, he said: “We don’t trust anybody any more. The local administration, the police, the west, they all failed us.”
Indeed, Kyrgyzstan’s prospects look bleak. Most Uzbeks put their faith in the country’s new interim government, which took over in April after mass street protests ousted the formerpresident, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Bakiyev – who comes from Jalal-Abad – had himself ousted the previous incumbent in a revolution in 2005.
Months after the latest government took over, it seems that shadowy nationalistforces, working with the military and police, staged the furious pogrom against the country’s Uzbeks.
Eyewitnesses said the riots in Jalal-Abad were similar to those in Osh – with armoured personnel carriersused to kill defenceless civilians and clear the way for a knife- and stick-wielding mob. Kyrgyz men in military fatigues rounded up Uzbek youths in the main square and executed them, some claimed. The Guardian was unable to establish the veracity of such claims. “What happened in both cities was a genocide, a holocaust,” Alisher Karimov, a local Uzbek journalist, said. “It was very well organised.” The riots began in Jalal-Abad on Sunday, Karimov said, when around 3,000 Kyrgyz youths gathered in the hippodrome on the edge of town. They were handed automatic weapons and then set off for the centre – ransacking and burning Uzbek houses on both sides of Lenin Street, trashing the town’s Uzbek university financed by an Uzbek oligarch and razing Uzbek shops and cafes. Daubed on the walls was the slogan: “Death to Uzbeks.”
“They burned down all the homes of non-Kyrgz. We had two to three days of chaos here,” Karimov said. “My neighbour was shot dead. What was shown on Kyrgyz TV didn’t resemble the truth. They said the situation was under control. It wasn’t under control,” Karimov said – adding that he had been robbed at gunpoint. “They took my mobile phone and wallet. Strangely, they left my camera,” he said.
For the Kyrgyz population life was almost back to normal today, with the bazaar open again, flatbreads for sale on colourful tables and one ambitious cafe even serving plates of fried eggs and sausage.
In Jalal-Abad’s mosque, Kyrgyz and Uzbek community leaders met and had lunch together. On the edge of town, Kyrgyz herders wearing striking traditional national hats were nudging their cattle up a mountain road towards green summer pastures.
But among Uzbek refugees the mood was angry and defiant. They passed round mobile phone footage of an Uzbek teenage boy shot dead in Osh. A round from an armoured personnel carrier had blown off one side of his head.
Haidarova said she had every intention of returning to Jalal-Abad, even though her home there no longer existed. The town is named after Jalal, a 13th-century Uzbek warrior-hero. “We want to stay [there]. This is our country. This is our town. We are not leaving it,” she said. “They [the Kyrgyz] are the arrivistes.” But how could she live side by side with people who had burned down her home? “We can’t,” she replied. “They are our enemies.”
Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan pogrom vow to return