Bad timing

Words and phrases in Russian that I now know and wish I didn’t: civil war, ethnic conflict, murder, rape, genocide. The appalling violence between ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz that exploded in the south of Kyrgyzstan last week is the only thing that anyone here is talking about (warning: both articles contain graphic descriptions of violence, and I found the latter in particular very difficult to read).

From here’s it’s pretty difficult to tell exactly who or what lies behind the eruption of violence: the interim government (and many locals I’ve spoken to) are quick to blame provocateurs in the pay of former president Bakiyev, ousted in April (and it certainly seems that a lot of the violence was organised in advance) and it also appears that the security forces may have been complicit in the attacks. No one here in the northeast seems to harbour any particularly strong ant-Uzbek sentiments or blame the Uzbeks for the attacks, but then there are hardly any Uzbeks in this part of the country. I rather suspect that opinions are very different further south.

I’m in Karakol, in the northeast of the country, which so far has remained peaceful and thankfully looks like it will remain so. Most of Kyrgyzstan’s international borders are closed at the moment, so I’m here for at least the next couple of weeks (which actually suits me down to the ground, as rural Kyrgyzstan is as wild and beautiful and hospitable as ever) but keeping a close eye on developments (given the tight visa regimes in all the surrounding countries, short of flying back home there is rather a shortage of quick and easy escape routes even if the borders do reopen, so that should prove interesting). Watching this play out is miserable: this country is easily one of my favourite places in the world, and just a few months ago seemed to have so much going for it; although now the threat of civil war seems to have receded a little, to see things disintegrate like this is just heartbreaking.

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