Before the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, many people had probably never heard of the country or were barely aware of it. Now however, what has occurred in the Central Asian republic is a matter of international interest and importance. Last week, there was what appears to have been a spontaneous eruption of ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh, which led to the deaths of hundreds of Uzbeks, of which 400,000 have been displaced, and 80,000 of which have fled to Uzbekistan.
To understand the current situation we must rewind the clock a couple of years. In 2005, after rigged elections were held, the Kyrgyz people overthrew their increasingly corrupt president in what was known as the Tulip Revolution. The new leader was Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came from the country’s Uzbek south, and who though installed on a platform of reform and transparency, soon ran afoul of the country’s democrats through his involvement in the murders of several politicians and journalists, for initially refusing to curb his expansive executive powers, and for purportedly stealing the 2009 election. All this discontent culminated in his ouster this April, which the BBC gives a good account of. Bakiyev fled to Kazakhstan and then Belarus, while a new provisional government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, came to power.
The provisional government had not yet consolidated its hold on power and was dependent on the military to keep it afloat. It is rumored that the armed forces had a hand in the violence and the UN has said it might have been orchestrated, while Otunbayeva has accused Bakiyev of stirring up the trouble in his southern power base. Meanwhile, in the afflicted area, many have fled to Uzbekistan, which yesterday shut its borders to anymore refugees, and other Uzbeks have blockaded themselves in their homes and neighborhoods. A worsening humanitarian crisis has also ensued with shortages of food, a lack of medical care, and a dearth of clean drinking water accompanying the violence.
This situation has wider implications for the world’s major actors in the region, the United States, Russia, and China, because of the country’s strategic location. Kyrgyzstan used to be in the USSR and it is today viewed by Russia as part of its “near-abroad,” its post-Soviet sphere of influence, where it continues to have military installments. America has a huge military base at Manas, in the Central Asian republic, which supplies soldiers and military personnel fighting in Afghanistan. China has also been vying for influence in the region, in its quest for resources and as its tries to take on the US’s hegemonic position in Asia. This instability threatens the interests of all parties. Just recently, rumors circulated that the Kyrgyz government would close America’s vital base if Britain did not hand over Bakiyev’s son to the provisional government. Russia, which has been asked by Otubayeva to deploy troops to the country, does not want to be forced to commit soldiers to the Central Asian republic, and China, with its characteristic emphasis on stability and social harmony, can see no benefit in the current situation.
That is why all three countries must act to bring this violence end and once again establish peace in the area. Russia and the US could perhaps send a limited number of troops to the country on a peace-keeping mission, while China could provide economic assistance to Kyrgystan. This way the two pillars of stability; economic prosperity and a solid political system could be erected. Nonetheless, any solution that is implemented should involve the actions of all of these players, the Kyrgyz government, and most of all the people.