Kyrgyzstan’s Ethnic Wounds Still Close to the Surface

This week marks the first anniversary of the seemingly spontaneous ethnic violence that drew the world's attention to Kyrgyzstan for several weeks last June and ultimately left more than 400 dead. But while Western attention has long since waned, the antipathy between the country's Kyrgyz majority and its Uzbek minority has not. A year after the fighting between them first broke out in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan is nowhere near achieving reconciliation between the two groups; rather, it is in the eye of the storm.

Although last year's violence reached its greatest intensity in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad, its origins can be traced to the remote northern province of Talas, where a small group of picketers assembled to protest the rising cost of utilities. When police attempted to disperse the group by force, they set off popular anger that quickly spread to the capital city of Bishkek, where, to the surprise of many, it gained enough momentum to force then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev to step down. Bakiev eventually fled to Belarus, where he remains, but not before making his last stand from a stronghold in Jalal-Abad, dragging Bishkek's political violence into the ethnic tinderbox of the south.

Today, Osh's scars remain largely unhealed. Although international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have begun to rebuild homes damaged in the violence, many buildings are still charred and uninhabitable. The city bazaar, once a vibrant ethnically diverse forum, is now greatly diminished, and avoided by Uzbeks. And although street life has, by some measures, returned to normal by day, many refuse to leave their homes after dark.

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