OSH IN TURMOIL

August 6, 2010 by

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

In response to the recent tragic events in southern Kyrgyzstan, we have set up this follow-up blog to relate the stories of our collaborators from The Borrowed Kazan project in Osh in September 2009. We have been keenly concerned about how the violence affected the lives of the people we met in Osh. The Broken Kazan is an attempt to trace their daily lives since the riots first broke out in May 2010. One of our friends and collaborators from Osh has kindly agreed to share his experiences and to collect the stories of others involved in the project.* The support for this follow-up project has been generously provided by CEC ArtsLink.

*To protect the identities of these people, we are using pseudonyms.

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Going back to Osh

January 12, 2012 by

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.

Post-Conflict Life

July 29, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

We are still in Bishkek. The only difference from the last letter is that we’ve finally decided to stay here. It took us a while to come to this decision. We came a long way, after having debates, quarrels and disagreements. Frankly speaking, my wife does not like Bishkek. It was really hard to persuade her to stay here. 

The main reason not to return to Osh is security. The city is still unsettled and unsafe. In fact, it went almost extinct. There is only a mere pathetic semblance to peaceful life. It is still very far away from complete security. Even the President Rosa Otunbayeva has openly admitted that life is unsafe in Osh.

Many representatives of the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities, who have relatives working in Russia, try to go there by any means. Speculators are trying to use peoples’ desperate situations. Airfares to Russia  have skyrocketed; it’s now over 400-500 dollars one way. Tickets are virtually impossible to obtain. From Osh there are charter flights to Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Police routinely check everybody; it is said that the young Uzbeks suffer the most. It gets absurd as detainees are asked to present a certificate that they were not involved in the riots.

In the Uzbek neighborhoods, they are having weddings nearly every day. Quietly, casually… Relatives are trying to quickly marry the young women who have lost their parents and homes as a result of the June riots. They want to find new homes for the young women to somehow protect them in the future. 

We have heard less of the Kyrgyz migrating out of Osh, but they are fleeing too. Some (who already have a job and housing lined up) go to Russia, some to Bishkek, and some to Kazakhstan. This trend continues now. 

The reason is that Osh still runs on rumors. There was a serious indication that there would be riots on July 26-28. Now they say that they may surface again until 25 August. Others spread rumors that on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan (10 August) there will be some fights. They do not rule out the involvement of religious organizations.

In this atmosphere of political chaos, everything is possible. 

There have emerged a lot of experts who allegedly understand us. The OSCE suddenly became very active. As in the 1990′s Yugoslavia, the same rhetoric of human rights, ethnic minorities and so on has resurfaced. It is possible that the OSCE will say that we are unable to cope with the situation, and then there will be other players; and from there it is not far to new conflicts… 

I am surprised that when we really needed help, they were all (!) just watching the mass massacres, killings and arson. After the situation got more or less settled, the OSCE suddenly remembered its mandate. I do not believe the OSCE since the second Chechen war. 

Why has the UN been silent? Why won’t they decide something, perhaps to send help to decide how to get out of this problem?

Personally, I am looking for a job. Full-time and well-paid. There are 2-3 offers; I have to meet them on Monday. I hope that I can find a job, because we urgently need to undergo a medical examination. My wife’s old medical conditions flared up; the children must go to kindergartens so that they can develop. Especially the older one. We need to exchange the old passports; their terms expire this year. There are many different chores.

After the Osh events, I realized that we must be prepared for anything. 

Recently, my mother-in-law came to visit. To get here safely, we made a deal with a reliable driver, because there are frequent fights and scuffles on ethnic basis along the road from Osh to Bishkek. The other day they closed the car market in Osh because of this reason. 

For my mother-in-law, we bought a neutral-style-dress at Bishkek’s Dordoi market in order to attract less attention to her nationality. All her clothes were of the southern style, and they instantly gave away the Uzbek in her. There are still frequent cases of petty nationalism. In Kyrgyzstan, nationalism is blooming at full strength. I saw that it was really upsetting for her but she had no choice. We had to do it in order to be able to walk safely through the streets, parks and playgrounds. 

To be honest, we were not confident in our decision. Perhaps, deep down inside, we still fear of ethnic riots, and we are naively trying to barricade.

My mother-in-law brought us some of our clothes from Osh, because here we are mostly buying for children, not ourselves. Now we have to think about how to move the rest. 

We are trying to live. I want to believe in something good. But this belief is forced; you make yourself to believe, but inside you cannot believe anything. 

It is difficult to talk to people, almost everybody has turned nationalist (I knew many such people) or they very formally accept what’s happened in the south of the country… It’s a difficult time and difficult ordeal for all of us…

To avoid ending on a depressing note, I want to say that since moving to the big city, our kids started learning Russian language on the fly, which we could not force them to do at home. Every day, their vocabulary is enriched by 2-3 new words. For example, the following words: “bus”, “yes”, “thank you”, and “help”. Where she learned the last word from, I do not know, probably, from the cartoons…

Everything Has Collapsed

July 16, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

Today is July 16, just a few days before July 19, the 40-day-anniversary since the tragic events of Osh. In 1990, the second time the conflict broke out in Uzgen was after 40 days. People who remember this date have been living in fear for the past several days. The news is broadcasting different experts who have little optimism about us. The depression has only increased.

How about us? We live. We have decided to stay for another month. Today, during a long evening walk on city streets, my wife confessed to me that she’s afraid to walk alone with children without me because she thinks that everyone pays attention to her because she resembles an Uzbek. She has a crazy mixture of Uighur, Uzbek and Kyrgyz blood. A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me whether we were Kyrgyz. I asked “why you ask?” He said that the eyes of my children are too big and clear for Kyrgyz. I never paid any attention to this in their appearance. But I was uncomfortable. I do not know why, but I feel alarmed for my children.

If you go on my page on FACEBOOK, you can notice that I deleted all the family pictures of my children. You never know what comes to the mind of schizophrenics. Maybe it’s my paranoia. But I want to protect them from harm. Our family is mixed. Previously, this was considered an advantage. Everybody invited us to participate in different programs, but we refused. Now it is this quality of our family that plays against us. We have become strangers to both sides.

In Osh, it’s still restless. Life is more or less active before noon, and then gradually dies out. After 5 pm, there is no one on the streets. Each keeps to their own ethnic group. People that have recently returned to the city with their children are leaving again because of rumors. The situation is incomprehensible. No one knows what to do next … Everything has collapsed ….

On Media Coverage

June 25, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

My biggest fear is categorical judgment because we all have to continue living next to each other. With regard to the international media, with the BBC, Reuters and Radio Liberty coverage, the events in Osh were quickly labeled a “genocide” against Uzbeks, which, of course, brought forth a sharply negative reaction from us. It is so easy to just attribute labels to people and accuse them of what they do not commit.

Genocide is a very serious accusation. Because if you follow their logic, it turns out that I armed myself and went out at night to kill and rape. This is not true. A particular group of people was armed, both among the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz. And we, the regular inhabitants of the city, knew nothing about this. If any of us had known something, we would have shared this information with Uzbeks, and my Uzbek friends would certainly have done so as well. We have become hostage to some big game, an evil game that has been incomprehensible to us so far. The international media presented all these events exclusively as genocide against Uzbeks.

It was a real war. Unidentified cars without numbers and APCs went around in the streets and shot people. Yes, more Uzbek homes got burned, and unfortunately there are more deaths among the Uzbeks, it is fact. However, there have been casualties among Kyrgyz and Russian population too. We are still in shock. This tragedy is a sharp knife that cut through our lives. Especially for mixed families like ourselves; both sides began to vent their hate on us; we left Osh just because of such threats and the wall of hatred and distrust, even though we lived with my parents among the Kyrgyz. It was getting harder to prove every day that you are Kyrgyz. All have become blinded by ethnic hatred. I personally warned about such issues since 30 April – I have written to you about it – but Bishkek did not take any precautions. They thought we were exaggerating the situation, and this is what we have come to.

Yesterday, the head of the local intelligence said that the international extremist organizations played some role in the conflict. Many reacted to this statement with skepticism. Personally, I think there is a fraction of truth in his statement. Because on the night from June 10 to June 11, along with the azan call to prayer, many mosques began to broadcast the call to rise for jihad “Allah Akbar!” It was strange because the azan was not supposed to be announced at this time. I did not even notice it, but my friend (we were sitting in the tea-house at the time) immediately drew attention to this fact, I realized later.

I agree with the expert Saniya Sagnaeva who said that too many players partook in the Osh conflict to assert unequivocally that this was an ethnic conflict. Things are too messy. But this is the ground for experts. What is interesting is that Uzbeks in Osh are more categorical in their assessment in contrast to the Kyrgyz people. Their comments show that they do not generally focus on nationality. I understand both sides: the wounds are too fresh – they are still bleeding – in order to calmly decide what happened.

Repentance takes time. But everyone has been too concerned about the upcoming referendum …  If there is a sudden further escalation of the conflict, we may have to leave the country. I hope that it will never come to that.

Displacement

June 25, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

I am writing from Bishkek; we’ve been here since June 16. I remember this day of our forced relocation to Bishkek because it was just before my birthday. We had made so many plans for that day. In recent years, we had a little family tradition to arrange a trip out of town or in the mountains, or somewhere else far away for the birthdays.

This time, nothing happened because the war intervened. Even in my worst nightmare, I could not have dreamt of what would happen to my hometown. All the Osh residents are still in shock from the events. Every day, the local authorities reported about new bodies or fragments of human bodies found in different parts of the city. Today, after reducing the flow of the Ak-Buura River that flows into the city center, they found seven unknown bodies. The authorities asked residents in search of their loved ones to come to the local morgue where more than 40 corpses lay unknown.

The authorities identified the main organizers of the unrest. It is the family of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and the religious extremist organizations based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whoever it was, the organizers achieved their goals. Osh cannot recover soon from the June 
disorder.

We are getting used to Bishkek. For the first time in many days, we prepared hot food. For the first time, we normally ate. Many of our friends responded to our peril. Honestly, we have been touched. We are so grateful!

We are not hungry, we have everything. Yes, I guess we have everything. But we don’t have our home here. It’s hard to live away from our beloved home, the usual things and familiar faces …  We lived in a one-room apartment, but we were happy. Only sometimes we dreamed of a bigger apartment, and now we are in such an apartment. But we miss a lot of things here. We do not know what happened to our old apartment. We called our neighbors but most of them have had their phones cut off or they are outside the city themselves. We left the keys with my brother, but he has not yet been able to get to our home.

Previously, we made plans to move in order to have a little change of scenery. But we could not imagine the nature of our current move even in a nightmare. To leave your own home in search of a safe haven in our own country… I have been very worried for my wife and children. Today I was told that I have more gray hair, and I didn’t even notice it. I haven’t been paying attention.

Now I understand what nostalgia means. Everyone asks if we’ll ever return home? Frankly, we do not know because our district was one of the most affected. To return to the place where houses were burnt, people were burnt alive or killed and raped… I do not want to. I fear for my children. How will they play on the ashes?

The mahallah that was burned next to our building is just a yard away. I’m afraid to learn that some of those with whom we were acquainted, were killed or lost their homes. How do you explain to young children why houses got burned down? My daughter has never asked me about the news. For her, the television was just a wonderful box that showed her favorite cartoons and video clips. Yesterday, she came up to me and said: <<Papa, there are news that shows the burned houses and cars …>>. I was shocked by what she said. Now she knows what news is. A few days ago we were invited to dinner at a cafe, where there was a children’s playground. Children frolicked and played. Then it began to rain, and they started to play in the rain. We did not make any comments, though they got pretty wet, and their clothes became dirty. But suddenly, there was a thunder. My daughter and son instantly ran up to me and my daughter said, imploringly: “Daddy, they are shooting, let’s go home.” We could hardly reassure her. Previously she was never afraid of thunders.

The authorities say that the situation returned to normal. Personally, I do not believe it. They said the same when an ethnic conflict nearly broke out on April 30th, then on May 12-16, then on June 10-16. When we were hiding in the corner of our apartment, afraid to fall under the intense shooting, they also said that the situation was under control because they introduced the emergency regime. But it was in force only for us, the civilians. All those days, we, the civilians, were urged not to violate the curfew, and we did not break it; in fear for our safety and the security of the family, we did not leave the perimeter of the home.

In 1990, the conflict repeated after 40 days from the date of its beginning. Then it spread to Uzgen, where the scale of the disaster was just shocking. Again, I am scared to end up in the same meat-grinder. My mother flew back to Osh yesterday when they said that life is returning to normal. There are some signs of a peaceful life. But, they do not appear true. I still do not believe in such a peaceful life.

Our whole family is all okay, alive and healthy. The second grandmother has not seen her grandchildren for 3 weeks, she was crying when we talked to her on the phone. She lived not far from us, 20 minutes, and we often left the children with her. I was joking that it was our family day care. She called today and again, weeping, told us that as soon as this damned referendum takes place, she will arrive in Bishkek to visit grandchildren. Everyone is waiting for the referendum, not because they are so fond of it but because they are afraid of provocations in the day. All the talk is only about this.

We will probably not go to Osh anytime soon. Here we live in an apartment that our friends found for us. It is insanely expensive. They found it in a rush, because until the last moment, it was unclear whether we’d be able to get to Bishkek. Next week, we will seek for new housing, while we still have time. We are here until July 12. My friends have promised to help out with finding housing. But, this is just tentative. God knows how everything will turn out tomorrow. I’m ready for anything. Different 
experts forecast pessimistic outcomes. On our behalf… I don’t even know what to think, and sometimes I do not want to know. I just want to naively hope for the best, that the peace will come to my land. To all of us living in our little country, which is often hard to find on the map, that we find peace and security.…

Refugees in Bishkek

June 17, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

On the first day in Bishkek for the first time we ate normally and slept. I remember my daughter was surprised and kept telling me: “Look, Dad, there is no shooting and shops are open.” In Osh, she was always calling me to go to the store to buy candy, she could not understand why they are all closed. We fled our apartment in slippers, so the second day we went to one of the local markets and bought shoes, and colleagues have helped us out greatly with diapers, butter, flour, baby clothes and toys. We have no relatives here. Only friends and acquaintances.

It was sad to see that our children were so happy for someone’s toys. At home, they also had very good toys. It’s hard. I browsed the Internet. I saw everything that they were talking about in those days. I was shocked by what I saw. No less shock prompted by the publications, which were frankly anti-Kyrgyz. I refuse to comment because the two nations became drawn into a provocation and followed the people who skillfully fomented the war, playing up petty differences and contradictions. Almost every day I call to Osh. My brother and his family are still there. He is in the military. Other relatives. My children shy away from every noise, and sleep restlessly at night. My daughter is always looking around.

The situation there is calm, but it is far from stable. It is calm for the military, but not for a general person. There is still a referendum coming up, who knows what these gangsters are preparing for those days. I’m afraid to call many of my acquaintances and friends in Osh, because I’m afraid to hear in response that he or she is dead or the house burned down ….  Do I want, then go back to Osh? I do not know, do not know. I live in the present. I’m not thinking about the future.

Yesterday I was called a “Refugee”; it was strange feeling to be in my own country in that capacity. I even remember how I internally resisted that I was a refugee. But, then analyzed everything that happened in Cheryomushki, I realized it was a miracle we survived. Three times, we have hung close to death, without even knowing it. Because one is not aware of what is happening in the midst, we still did not know the full scale of the tragedy.

I remember how enthusiastically we told each other news about Russian peacekeepers, but when at 18.00 they changed their mind, everyone was overcome with such pessimism that despair was saved only by the message that Omurbek Subanaliev was appointed to be the commandant of Osh. But, unfortunately, he recently left the post, he said he is preparing for elections. Now, all programs have sections on inter-ethnic harmony, while before nobody cared for it. So many experts have developed in last few days, everyone is talking about us. As if they know better than anybody else. That they could have predicted it.  This is all lies. Even the politicizes language issue did not cost so many lives. They just played out the ambitions and contradictions.

And I think about how to restore the city. Especially the trust between people.  For the past 20 years, people started to forget about the Osh conflict of the 1990’s. Kyrgyz people started to settle in the Uzbek neighborhoods, even in the private ones where 10 years ago no Kirghiz would imagine to settle.  The city had fewer and fewer mono-ethnic areas with every year. Now, how do we live? I do not know. One thing I know for sure, this is NOT ethnic conflict, but something else. They just used this factor … skillfully used. So many deaths… The city has become empty ….

At the Airport

June 16, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

At the airport we were again detained for an hour. No information was available and water. There were citizens of China, for whom delivery of water was organized. My children wanted to drink, that water, which we managed to take home was all gone. I wanted to buy it but they politely refused. When I said that I needed only 1 bottle of water for the children, they silently gave me this bottle of water. They only asked not to tell anyone, not to advertise.

After some time, all were called for a boarding. In the narrow door into the hall, there was wild weeping and crying. Behind me, there were some young men, obviously not the family-type, but they had children in their arms and asked to get in. Then the local military said that they would not let men with children. They also forced me aside and asked to leave my child. I told them that it was my child and he will be with me, no matter what, I categorically refused to give my son to unknown persons.  They let me through. We all loaded into the Russian air-lifter “IL-62.” The plane was full of people. Kyrgyz, Russian, Tatars and Uzbeks. In Bishkek, nobody met us. Only foreign correspondents with cameras. We got into a taxi to the city and settled in the apartment, which our friends rented for us.

Day 6: Mass Evacuation

June 16, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

On the 5th day [at my parents’ house], I accidentally discovered two commercial stalls near my family’s house. I quickly went there and bought a 3.5. liters of cottonseed oil, pasta, sweets, soap, light bulbs, toilet paper, cabbage, potatoes. I had to overpay, but I did not think about this. The neighbors thought I was Uzbek. I even had to shave off his mustache and beard, to pass for Kyrgyz. A mustache and beard are mostly worn by Uzbeks. I’ve worn these since my student days. In general, everything was terrible…

I returned home. On this day, it was my wife’s birthday. She was not in the mood to celebrate the birthday. We just congratulated her and that’s all. We just did not want to think about that day. Then somebody called me and said that they were evacuating of civilians. I could hardly grasp it… The phrase itself “mass evacuation” was scary. I learned that foreigners and those wishing to fly to Bishkek were leaving.

We decided not to succumb to such rumors. But then there were more calls. On June 16, I decided that we have to get out of Osh. I was tired of fearing for my children, tired of living in constant fear for my family. Very worried for my wife, she is half Uzbek. Neighbors started looking at her and asking about her ethnicity.  They were also scrutinizing me, so I had to shave off my beard and mustache. It was becoming unbearable to live in an atmosphere of fear and provocation.

Friends in the police helped us to get to the central square, where people who wanted to fly out Osh were gathering. There were 2 buses and 2 covered KAMAZ trucks. Older women with several children got on the bus, others in trucks. We had been there an hour before, standing under the sun and guessing whether we would be able to fly away from Osh. From time, we had been told not to wait and that we should go home. But I told my family that we should stay to the end. I called the Red Cross and requested to organize their supply of drinking water for the waiting, because of unbearable heat. They told me that only help the wounded, and we were not yet shot …

An hour later, they gave the command to get into their cars. My daughter and my mother sat in the bus. My son, who clung to me from the shock, and would not let me, and my wife got into a lorry. Everybody was yelling around, we could not hear the phones ring. There were a lot more of those wishing to leave than available space. We accidentally got into the lorry, so we were able fly from there.  My mother did not know that we got in, she almost got off the bus, amidst all the confusion she did not hear the ringing phone. We barely managed to get through to her on our third attempt to warn that we boarded. We drove to the airport, accompanied by armored vehicles and military. The military told us that the city was still occupied by snipers. While we were driving I kept asking God, if it begins to shoot let me be shot in the hand, but not in the heart, or somewhere else, because all thoughts were about my son, who out of fright very hard pressed to me and laid on my shoulder. On our way to the airport, houses and shopping centers stood burned.

Day 5: Running out of Food

June 15, 2010 by

From Rustam M.

On the fourth day [at my parents’ house], we had no food left. My parents lived quite austerely and did not keep a supply of food, as we have, for example. My mother had 5 liters of oil and a couple of pounds of flour, potatoes and very few onions. There was no bread. Humanitarian aid did not reach us. A couple of times, they
announced, but then it was canceled. But once it reached us. For 34 families, they gave a bag of flour, 1 liter of oil and about 3 kg of pasta. Some people demonstratively rejected such humanitarian aid. In some parts, it was brought twice, while in others it was severely rationed. They were giving 350 grams of flour per family!  My son who had not really started speaking, suddenly came up to me and clearly said “Bread” in Kyrgyz. We all teary-eyed that he said that when there was no bread and they were actively shooting. My wife quickly made Kyrgyz bread “zhupka” to feed the children.