Altynai Myrzabekova – Journalist, Graduate of the Peace and Conflict Master’s Program of the University of St. Andrews.
The following essay is an excerpt from the dissertation submitted for the Master’s Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies Program of the University of St. Andrews. The excerpt is only a short part of the chapter on conflict resolution attempts in Kyrgyzstan after 2010 June events. I do not attempt to discuss causes of the conflict, but focus solely on the post-conflict initiatives by international and domestic actors, and their implications. The main argument made in my dissertation is that international and domestic actors overlooked the needs of the population affected by the conflict which created a façade of peace but made post-conflict initiatives less effective.
The year 2010 left a deep imprint in the history of Kyrgyzstan. Following the 2010 Revolution in April, an ethnic conflict between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz escalated in the south. The violence took the lives of more than 400 people, made 400 000 people flee from their homes and escalated ethnic divisions. The country’s own army was not able to immediately take control over the situation. The most challenging task was to establish sustainable peace in the south of Kyrgyzstan in the aftermath of the conflict. However, four years have passed since the events, and for the two communities to live side by side without being afraid of any renewal of conflict will require much endeavor. A great number of international organizations along with the Kyrgyz government initiated projects on conflict transformation, restoration of the affected areas and created a façade of peace and interethnic tolerance. The essay investigated whether current peace initiatives installed by the government and international stakeholders move the country away from a repetition of similar ethnic clashes.
There is no commonly accepted way of resolving ethnic violence. Scholars such as Burton (1990) argue that a conflict will not be resolved unless the fundamental roots of the conflict are engaged with. Harff and Gurr (2004) suggest that states and civil society should recognize as well as advocate rights of minority groups, including protecting their collective interests. Whereas, Azar (1990) offers to work on the economic, social and political conditions that had led to conflict in order to address root causes of the violence through the equal and fair distribution of resources and development strategies. Domestic and international agents meanwhile have established a relative peace in Kyrgyzstan; interethnic tensions did not disappear but transformed into a latent form of conflict. The structural causes of the conflict such as marginalization and social divisions that resulted in inequality of ethnic groups remain unresolved.
In this regard, this essay argues that the resolution attempts did not address the underlying causes of the conflict in 2010. In particular, the peace building initiatives by the government and international organizations disregarded an investigation of the dynamics of the conflict and its underlying causes, by treating it as a conflict based on “ancient-hatred.” This work acknowledges the conflict transformation projects initiated by the international stakeholders; however, it argues that they were ultimately ineffective due to their generic application, thus without applying them in relation to local norms and without addressing the immediate sources of ethnic discrimination. Finally, the Government of Kyrgyzstan which was dominated by ethnic Kyrgyz undertook measures that touch only upon the surface of the conflict and avoided fundamental change in the country’s policy towards minority groups.
Despite numerous international diplomacy and mediation efforts in the aftermath of the political revolution, intervention of the international stakeholders did not prevent further violence in the country. Since the aim of conflict management is the minimisation of violence but not necessarily elimination of it[i], its objectives were partially achieved through the application of hard and soft powers of presidents of three states – the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan.[ii] Major international organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) were the “Track One” mediators to facilitate the negotiation process between the ousted President Bakiyev and the interim government. Unfortunately, the details of the process remained unrevealed. But it is known that the international stakeholders have reached the agreement on Bakiyev’s departure from the country in order to avoid the escalation of the civil war. As the Chairperson of the OSCE has noted, the departure of Bakiyev was an important step in order to stabilize the situation as well as bring the rule of law to the state.[iii] However, it did not prevent the escalation of ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan and the activities of international players were criticized by regional experts for being unable to take more decisive steps in order to regulate the ethnic conflict itself.[iv]
Although conflict management also involves the element of peacekeeping mission to establish the order and stability, the international body was hesitant or unwilling to take active measures and instead focused on providing the humanitarian aid. The international community, including Russia, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), OSCE and the UN Council did not respond to the appeals to deploy troops in order to protect the civilian population at the height of the violence.[v] Since the interim government was struggling in establishing the rule of law and order, the head of the provisional government, Otunbayeva sent a request to the Kremlin to intervene and restore control in the violence-hit region.[vi] One of the major challenges to maintaining order was that ethnic Kyrgyz soldiers were refusing to shoot at their own people, allowing Kyrgyz to attack Uzbeks and burn their properties.[vii] As peacekeeping processes, particularly in ethnic conflicts, always involve the debate of intervening into the sovereignty of another state,[viii] Dmitryi Medvedev, Russian President at the time, refused to send peacekeeping forces by arguing that it was “an internal conflict,” instead they would send humanitarian aid to the south of Kyrgyzstan.[ix] Furthermore, despite the calls of numerous local NGOs and Human Rights Watch to the UN-mandated force to support the interim government in providing protection and stopping the violence, the UN Security Council also did not address the crisis in Kyrgyzstan.[x] Instead of active intervention, the OSCE and the UN developed a humanitarian relief and reconstruction processes with the end of the violence.[xi]
Conflict transformation approach with a direct involvement of civil society as well as reconstruction processes have been applied by the foreign stakeholders. The donors created reconciliation and mediation projects as the most effective and democratic models of conflict transformation.[xii] However, the application of conflict transformation in post-violence Kyrgyzstan was challenged with local norms and different expectations of actors as opposed to the vision of international stakeholders. The international community prioritized restoring relationships instead of addressing the underlying causes of the conflict. Therefore, the main downsides of the conflict transformation initiatives were: confusion in understanding of the roots of the conflict, improper training methods, and limited access in recruiting people, as well as international organizations’ prejudice towards the state.[xiii] The participants of mediation and reconciliation projects and local NGOs critiqued foreign stakeholders for attracting those who already have experience in mediation practice and failed to involve those who participated in the violence.[xiv] For example, in spite of the fact that the majority of perpetrators were young, economically deprived men, from outside of the cities, mostly women and elderly were recruited as “mediators” for training.[xv] Many participants of the workshops did not understand the objectives or what mediation or reconciliation is. Therefore, the local people often were not ready to contribute to the process and did not believe in possibility to mitigate interethnic tensions by talking about peace (Megoran et al., 2014). This was exacerbated by the Western mediators, representatives of international organizations, who were imposing alien and wrong assumptions while facilitating the processes.[xvi] Rather than transforming interethnic relationships, people envisioned preventing future conflicts by addressing the failures of the legal system for ethnic minorities and increasing the economic opportunities for both ethnic groups, since these were the main sources for ethnic violence.[xvii] On the top of misperceptions and misunderstanding of the objectives and procedures of mediation and reconciliation, most of the participants felt uncomfortable sharing their experiences of conflict in small groups and rather wanted to forget about what happened in the past.[xviii] Accordingly, the fact that people were mostly concerned about the fulfilment of their prompt needs of social, economic, and political justice, demonstrates that the direct government’s involvement in peacebuilding was crucial.
As argued by Richmond (1999), conflict resolution demands a high commitment from all of the actors, including the local authorities, yet the Kyrgyz government failed to effectively address the violence. The authorities left most of the burden of peacebuilding and reconciliation on local NGOs and international stakeholders, by only partially taking care of restoration processes.[xix] Furthermore, as the violence decreased, the government tried to avoid public discussion on regulation of interethnic relations, particularly in the south.[xx] The authorities attempted to restrict the information on the topic in order to manage and regulate interethnic relations.[xxi] For example, along with the popular social networking site Diesel.kg being controlled, the parliamentarian members voted for banning Fergana.ru, a famous news website, which followed up the stories of atrocities committed by security forces against Uzbeks.[xxii] Months after the conflict, misleading rumours on the conflict continued to circulate. Then being under international and domestic pressure, Otunbayeva requested Finnish lawmaker Kimmo Kiljunen to conduct an independent investigation and mandated the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC) to explore the facts and circumstances of the conflict outbreak.[xxiii] The conclusion of the
KIC investigation was that attacks on the Uzbek community may be characterized as crimes against humanity, and that the Kyrgyz authorities may have been involved in the violence.[xxiv] As a result, the interim government accused Kiljunen for taking the bribe from the Uzbek side and for being one-sided in his report. The government declared him a “persona non grata” and no further investigation of the violence was conducted.[xxv]
Even though the basic element of resolving ethnic conflict is elimination of insecurity among ethnic minorities,[xxvi] the government failed in ensuring security for Uzbeks following the conflict. For that reason, the government was accused by international body for ethnically biased trials in relation to the ethnic conflict.[xxvii] Amnesty International (2013) along with many other foreign stakeholders (HRW, 2014; Marat, 2012; Amnesty International, 2013; KIC, 2011; ICG, 2012) criticized the government of Kyrgyzstan for human rights violations against Uzbeks, including torture, ill-treatment in imprisonment, enforced confessions, unfair trials and fabricated evidence. Granted that Uzbeks suffered the majority of casualties, the international research has reported on the disproportionate number of them being arrested, targeted and prosecuted.[xxviii] Many Uzbek men, who were arrested, were accused of being involved in the ethnic violence and some of them were released only after paying bribes.[xxix] Hence the failure of authorities to ensure security resulted in allowing the relatives of ethnic Kyrgyz killed during the events, to attack the suspects and their relatives, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers.[xxx] At the same time, ethnic Kyrgyz offenders did not face basic elements of justice or investigations.[xxxi]
Four years after the violence, however, the structural problems in Kyrgyzstan, such as poverty and economic inequality, elite competition over resources, underrepresentation of ethnic minority across structures, as well as extensive corruption – all remained largely unaddressed.[xxxii] Furthermore, the position and rights of ethnic minority were undermined even more due to the corruption in the legal system, which singled out ethnic Uzbeks as perpetrators in the violence, as well as Kyrgyz nationalism that followed the events.[xxxiii] Although adopting the concept is an important step to eliminate discrimination in institutions, ethnic Uzbeks still remain underrepresented in political system compared with previous years.[xxxiv] Meanwhile, economic inequality affects both ethnic groups, causing more people to search for jobs in neighboring countries.[xxxv] While international organizations significantly contribute to conflict transformation in the aftermath of the conflict, they overlook the sources of titular ethnicization, which create the ethnic tensions that they aim to address.[xxxvi] Consequently, identifying the roots of the conflict, analyzing the dynamics of the violence and implementing them institutionally and locally, at same time being supported by the international body is critical in the conflict-prone Kyrgyzstan.
[i] MacGinty, Roger, and Andrew Williams. Conflict and Development. London: Routledge, 2009.
[ii] OSCE. “OSCE Centre Helps Kyrgyzstan Implement UN Resolution 1325.” 25 July 2012.
[iii] OSCE. Ibid
[iv] Abazov, Rafis. “Quagmire in Kyrgyzstan: Can the OSCE Stabilize the Situation?” Analyst (2010). Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, 8 July 2010. AND Alsytė, Justina. OSCE’S Achievements vs. Shortcomings in the Resolution of Armed Conflicts. Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review. 2010.
[v] Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2011: Kyrgyzstan.” <http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2011/kyrgyzstan>. AND Melvin, Neil. Promoting a Stable and Multiethnic Kyrgyzstan: Overcoming the Causes and Legacies of Violence. Open Society Foundations. Central Eurasia Project, 2011.
[vi] Marat, Erica. Nations in Transit 2011: Kyrgyzstan. Freedom House, 2011. <http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/inline_images/NIT-2011-
Kyrgyzstan.pdf>. AND BBC. “Q&A: Kyrgyzstan’s Ethnic Violence.” BBC News. 24 June 2010. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10313948>.
[viii] Richmond, Oliver P. “Mediating Ethnic Conflict: A Task for Sisyphus?” Global Society 13.2 (1999): 181-205.
[ix] BBC, Ibid
[x] Fitzpatrick, Catherine A. “Can the UN Respond to Pleas to Help Stop Violence in Kyrgyzstan?” Global Policy Forum, 21 June 2010. AND Human Rights Watch. “Where is the Justice?” Kyrgyzstan. “Where Is the Justice?” August 2010.
[xi] Melvin, Neil. Promoting a Stable and Multiethnic Kyrgyzstan: Overcoming the Causes and Legacies of Violence. Open Society Foundations. Central Eurasia Project, 2011.
[xii] Megoran, Nick, Elmira Satybaldieva, David Lewis, and John Heathershaw. Peacebuilding interventions in southern Kyrgyzstan. SIPRI–OSF Policy Brief. Open Society Foundations, June 2014. http://www.sipri.org/research/security/afghanistan/central-asia-security/publications/sipri-osf-policy-brief-megoran-et-al-june-2014
[xiii] Megoran, et. al. Ibid
[xiv] Megoran, et. al. Ibid
[xv] Megoran, et. al. Ibid
[xvi] Megoran, et. al. Ibid
[xvii] Megoran, et. al. Ibid
[xviii] Megoran, et. al. Ibid
[xix] Marat, Erica. Nations in Transit 2014: Kyrgyzstan. Freedom House, 2014. http://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2014/kyrgyzstan#_ftn14
[xx] Marat. Ibid.
[xxi] Marat, Erica. Nations in Transit 2011: Kyrgyzstan. Freedom House, 2012. <http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/Kyrgyzstan_2012_RUS_0.pdf>.
[xxii] Marat. 2012.
[xxiii] Marat. 2012.
[xxiv] RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. “Head Of Commission On Kyrgyz Violence Declared
Persona Non Grata.” 26 May 2011 <http://www.rferl.org/content/head_of_commission_on_kyrgyz_violence_declared_persona_non_grata/24205930.html> AND Kyrgyzstan Enquiry Commission. Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into the Events in Southern Kyrgyzstan in June 201. May 2011.
[xxv] RFE/RL. Ibid.
[xxvi] Lake, David A., and Donald Rothchild. “Containing Fear: The Origins and Management
of Ethnic Conflict.” International Security 21.2 (1996): 41-75. JSTOR.
[xxvii] Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2014: Kyrgyzstan.”, HRW, 2014. <http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/kyrgyzstan>; AND Marat, Ibid. AND Amnesty International. Public Statement. “Will There Ever Be Justice? Kyrgyzstan’s Failure to Investigate June 2010.” Peace Research 36.2 (2004): 123-26., 11
June 2013. AND KIC, Ibid. AND Amnesty International. Public Statement. “Will There Ever Be Justice? Kyrgyzstan’s Failure to Investigate June 2010.” Peace Research 36.2 (2004): 123-26., 11 June 2013.
[xxix] Schwarzenbach, Claudia. Peace Building in Osh, Kyrgyzstan; The Role of Local Actors in Context of Political Hybridity. Working paper. American University of Central Asia Social Research Centre, May 2011. http://www.academia.edu/1214845/Peace_Building_in_Osh_Kyrgyzstan_The_Role_of_Local_Actors_in_Context_of_Political_Hybridity
[xxx] HRW. Ibid.
[xxxi] Marat. 2012.
[xxxii] Galdini, Franco. “Kyrgyzstan Violence: Four Years On: Core Problems Which Precipitated the 2010 Violence in Kyrgyzstan Have Not Been Addressed.” Aljazeera, 1 July 2014. <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/kyrgyzstan-violence-2010-201463016460195835.html>.
[xxxiii] Galdini. Ibid.
[xxxiv] Marat. 2014.
[xxxv] Toktomambetov, Kenesh. “Kyrgyzstan: Uroven’ Zhizni Snizhaetsya – Chislo Migrantov Rastet.” CentralAsia.ru, 18 Dec. 2013. <http://www.centrasia.ru/newsA.php?st=1387359480>.
[xxxvi] Megoran et al. Ibid.