The restaurant five month after the events
Rustam M. comes back to Osh:
Good morning, I am writing to you from Osh. I cannot believe I’m here. It’s been almost five months since we left Osh because of the tragic events in June. I had an opportunity to go to Osh during this period, but every time something affected my decision and desire to go to the south, home. I was looking forward to this day, but as we were approaching the city, I was overwhelmed by mixed feelings of nostalgia and anxiety. I did not know what to expect, what experiences were ahead of us, what the city would look like. I remember that previously I would always be glad to recognize the silhouette of the Sulaiman mountain from afar. Now, no such feelings came to me. I was anxious to see my hometown battered and ruined.
When entering from the northern side on the Bishkek highway, the city appears in ruins with burnt houses. In some sites, there is on-going reconstruction of the houses affected by the violence, in others, things look like the violence happened just yesterday …
But I have not seen a single house with a finished roof.
In my opinion construction is slower than what the officials are saying on TV. Even though it has been almost six months since the conflict, you can still see the broken shops, burnt-down houses with heaps of garbage, even in the city center. I cannot understand why this is the case. Maybe people are just tired of living and do not want to do anything. May be it is something else … However, the city looks devastated.
Yesterday, I was visiting somebody’s house. I asked a woman “How’s life in Osh?” She said, “everything is fine” but then added, “In fact, things are not so simple. Again the sirens wail. There is also persistent mistrust and nervousness in the relations between the two communities.”
Another detail I noticed is that almost everyone speaks Kyrgyz.
Spending the first night in Osh was hard for me, because I kept remembering all those days, and I could not believe that everything is over. I kept listening to every rustle, conversation, trying to understand whether the city really returned to peaceful life.
I noticed that I became much more suspicious after the events …
P.S. I wrote this in Osh, I was there for the first time since June 20.
In Osh he visits Olga, someone we met during the residency. She tells him her story:
“During those days of the conflict, my son and I were in Bishkek where I went on a work-related visit. My mother and my sister were in Osh. It was unbearably hard to be so far from home and not know what was going on in my hometown. Not to be able to somehow help my friends and relatives. I was especially worried about my sister. She was terribly frightened, she did not know
what to do and what to expect. I do not even want to talk about the worst. In those days, my entire life flashed in front of my eyes.
I did not know what to do, whether to return to Osh or not. It was hard to make a decision but after a while, we were able to return to the city.
I was shocked by what I saw and heard in Osh. We live in a mixed neighborhood where Russians, Tatars, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz live side by side. It’s close to an Uzbek Mahalla. One night in the courtyard of our house, someone was celebrating something, then they got drunk as hell, and started raping a girl or several girls all night long. All night, the heart-wrenching cries and chilling wailing did not abate. It was eerie and awful. At such moments, you realize how vulnerable and unprotected you are. That your life can change in one moment.
I live next to Kyrgyz and Uzbek families. One day, a crowd
smashed the Uzbek neighbor’s house, he makes a living baking bread. His Kyrgyz neighbor stepped in and started defending him, she is a teacher in one of the local universities. However, the aggressive crowd ignored her plea entirely. On the contrary, they were hostile towards her. Someone in the crowd shouted back at her, saying, “Shut up, or we bury you.” But, she continued to scream that they would go away. Then someone from the crowd came out and walked to her, then others stepped in too and locked her in a room. They were really angry and kept swearing.
Unfortunately, such situations occur regularly. At these moments, you lose your heart, and you’re ready to do anything to leave this place forever”
Again, I apologize for not writing for such a long time. To be honest, I was depressed and apathetic. I did not want to do anything, I was just mindlessly browsing the Internet, abandoned work, started quarrelling with my family and shouting at my kids, I began to hate any kind of noise and became easily irritable. I was perfectly aware of what was happening to me, and yet, I could not help but be overwhelmed by all these sentiments. It’s still so hard… This peaceful life and all, but I’m still missing something. I was in Osh recently for a week. I was helping out with a training workshop.
It seems that Olga is resigned… I do not know, she wanted to leave, but there are too many reasons to stay. Many want to leave and real estate prices have fallen dramatically. Those who sell, generally get pennies. There were rumors that even in the area of the bazaar they sold apartments for one or two thousand US dollars. These apartments cost 30 to 40 thousand dollars during the time of peace. Olga said to say hello to you too. I think she is a little upset with me. We did not get a chance to sit down and talk normally. I had such busy days; I barely got a chance to visit my parents and relatives that I have not seen for five months!
I have sent you a photograph of the café where you used to work, and the bread-making place where you ordered the buns for the hamburgers. My classmate is standing in front of the door. The place used to belong to him. He said that everything got stolen. He said that he saw all the thieves. Once there were Uzbeks from the neighborhood above, another time, they were Kyrgyz. He just stood there and watched how people were stealing his stuff but he only cared that they would not burn down the place. He even knew some of the people stealing stuff. Once, he lost his temper and tried to say something to these marauders but the crowd threatened him: “Do you want to die?”
I don’t know when the market will resume its work. People say different things but if the market began to function, it would bring people of different ethnicities closer to each other a lot faster, especially the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. We have traded here together for centuries
You know, we are increasingly aware that the robberies did not involve locals, people from the city, but the residents of neighboring villages, regardless of nationality.
The second young bread-makers’ mother died recently from all the stress. Such cases are legion, they are not in the official list of the victims of the massacre ….
Thank you for your understanding. I just remembered everything and my heart immediately seized up.
K., who owned a shop in the market, said that among many victims were those who lived in the market and worked there, many children died, they were locked in the containers, beat, and then shot. The survivors tell these stories but not immediately….
Another friend of mine saw how his women friends were raped. According to his words, he could not eat for two days afterward, did not want to see or talk to anyone. Another friend accidentally saw how some people were cut alive. He is in a terrible state of stress and depression, he drinks all the time. When I heard all these stories, I was in a state of total shock.
I do not know … I’m scared to live, to remember everything, especially now that I am writing and remembering everything again. But how do they manage to live with all this stress and memories around, I can’t even imagine… In this trip to the city, I kept staring into everybody’s eyes to see who the crime perpetrators were. It was chilling to think that some of these monsters were among us, people.
The market was burnt down completely, except for the covered units, which were at the center. Everything along the river was completely burnt out, and according to eyewitnesses, it was burning for almost a week, the fire kept breaking out here and there.
The authorities have not yet allowed trade to resume, they are determined to move it to another place. But day after day, little by little, people come to trade here, yet this process is slow because they are afraid.
Our drive to Osh took place at night, we departed from Bishkek quite late. We were traveling as a whole family. When we were approaching Jalal-Abad, there is a descent into the valley towards the plant that produces cotton oil. On June 12-13, many people were killed there. Someone spilled fuel oil on purpose, and all the passing cars got stuck there not suspecting anything. At that moment, they would be shot at and killed, quite methodically. When we were passing this place, I was really anxious. It was almost 2 or 3 o’clock at night, and I prayed to God that nothing would happen, and kept reproaching myself for having left so late.
A letter from Olga:
Hello, today in the center of Osh, near the old bus station, the security forces carried out a special operation to neutralize the gangs of extremists and terrorists. Authorities have officially named them “Nationalist extremists.” There were killed and wounded among them. According to the residents of Osh, there was a powerful explosion in a park named after Alisher Navoi, at least in the area. All this has caused great panic in the city. People started fleeing the Center City, transport was moving without stopping, without following any rules, traffic jams formed instantly. Various rumors crept around the city, the authorities are trying to dispel rumors and otherwise assure that they are in control of the situation, but people who survived the massacre in June of this year are still worried. Olga
This “special operation” was very strange, it has raised more questions. Without any doubt, the political turmoil in the country intensified all kinds of extremist feelings; you don’t even have to conduct an inquiry into it.
About R. I have not been able to get through, but tomorrow I will make another call.
I heard many stories about the dead and burned. According to witnesses, inhabitants of the bazaar who miraculously survived, children who were pushing wheelbarrows and carts on the market were the most common victims. All of them were right here, they lived at the market. I do not want to retell the details of these stories. I can only say that I still cannot avoid being upset when it comes to crimes against defenseless children.
I often say that we should not think too much about what happened in the summer. But, I honestly cannot imagine how not to think about it if it directly affected us.
And we still live under the pressure of those events, sometimes we forget or pretend, and sometimes it gets unbearably overwhelming.
All photos from Rustam M.