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Kyrgyz regime uses anti-kurdish protests for political ends

13 maggio 2009



By Erica Marat (05/06/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst)

On April 26, a group of Kyrgyz and Russian villagers ransacked over a hundred houses belonging to ethnic Kurds, demanding they leave the Petrovka village in northern Kyrgyzstan. Inadequate and delayed responses from Kyrgyz state institutions – from the police forces and local government to the president – exacerbated the conflict. Despite the fate of thousands of ethnic Kurds being at stake, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev sought to use the conflict for his own ends. The president blamed opposition forces for inspiring the conflict, while local authorities supported the idea of forcing Kurdish families to leave in order to install peace in the village.

BACKGROUND: Over 100 Kurdish families living in the Petrovka village, 40 kilometers from Bishkek, were attacked by fellow villagers on April 26. The unrest unraveled after a 21-year old ethnic Kurd male resident allegedly raped a four year-old ethnic Russian girl. For weeks, Kyrgyz police delayed investigating the crime and punishing the man. According to local villagers, the girl’s grandmother committed suicide, unable to cope with the tragedy. Aggravated by the inactiveness of law enforcement agencies, dozens of ethnic Kyrgyz fellow villagers decided to collectively punish Petrovka’s entire Kurdish community. What began as minor unrest conducted by a few villagers ended in the mass ransacking of 110 houses. Hundreds of Petrovka residents, including ethnic Kyrgyz and Russians, broke windows, destroyed cars and threatened to seize cattle belonging to Kurdish families. Several Kurds were reportedly severely beaten, while some Kurdish households had to hide women and children to protect them from the aggressive mob. Unrest ended only when police was dispatched into the village and several dozen villagers were arrested.

Hours after the strife, several Kurdish families fled the village, seeking refuge in other villages. According to some reports, up to 500 ethnic Kurds are currently hiding from law-enforcement and fellow Petrovka villagers. More Kurdish families are thinking about leaving the village for other parts of the country. But residents of other villages expressed their concern that Kurds might move into their territory and have threatened to force them out should they choose to do that. In the meantime, windows in Kurdish-inhabited houses were broken in neighboring villages as well.

Ethnic Kurds have been living in Central Asia for over six decades. They were forcefully moved into the region from the Caucasus by Stalin in 1937 and 1944. Some of them returned to the Caucasus after Stalin’s death, while others remained in Central Asia. There are over 11,600 ethnic Kurds living in Kyrgyzstan, most being settled in villages in the northern parts of the country. Kyrgyzstan’s Kurds have lost contact with relatives in the Caucasus, instead finding new links with Russian-speaking Kurdish Diasporas across the former Soviet states. In order to attain legal status in Central Asian states, Kurdish Diasporas must openly condemn separatist ideas promoted by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Raisa Sidorenko, a parliamentarian representing Petrovka and a member of the Bakiyev-led Ak Zhol party, rushed to blame the opposition forces for instigating the unrest. She was supported by a leader of the Kurdish Diaspora in Kyrgyzstan, Sulkhidin Kasymov, who also blamed opposition forces for provoking the conflict. Although Sidorenko and Kasymov’s accusations lacked both argumentation and evidence, several opposition members were arrested along with the Petrovka villagers. Kasymov praised the efforts of law-enforcement structures for settling the conflict.

Yet Kurdish villagers have a different view of the conflict. Many complained that the entire community was judged for a crime committed by one of its members. Some expressed their concern that recent pogroms were intentionally politicized by the Kurdish Diaspora as well as the government. Kyrgyz opposition leaders reported that law enforcement representatives have in fact been persuading Petrovka villagers to blame the opposition. The ombudsman’s office argued that Minister of Interior Moldomusa Kongantiyev must be held responsible for allowing inter-ethnic rivalries to escalate into violent conflict.

IMPLICATIONS: The Petrovka incident is not the first outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan. Similar hate crimes have been committed against Dungan, Chinese, Uyghur, Uzbek, Russian and other ethnic communities since the early 1990s. Inter-ethnic rivalries were used by local communities to advance their own position vis-à-vis other groups by accusing them for involvement in criminal activities and extortion of land. This time, however, the ruling regime is especially keen on using the conflict for its own purposes. The government blamed opposition forces shortly after the unrest despite the fact that state institutions failed to act efficiently on virtually all levels. The local government is allied with the Interior Ministry, helping the latter persecute opposition leaders.

Bakiyev himself prefers the mob to decide the destiny of Petrovka’s Kurds. At the March 4 meeting between representatives of Kyrgyz Diaspora and local residents, members of the elderly council came up with a list of families to be extorted from the village in order to restore peace. Petrovka residents demanded extradition of 50 Kurdish families from Petrovka. Some of elderly leaders are demanding that all 110 Kurdish families be extradited from Petrovka.

The CIS National Congress of Kurdistan, a Diaspora union, compares the Petrovka unrest with a similar occurrence in Kazakhstan in November 2007. Then, Kurdish families were forced out of a Kazakh village following a crime committed by an ethnic Kurdish teenager. The Congress argues that both Kazakh and Turkish authorities were interested in provoking this inter-ethnic rivalry to exacerbate radicalism practiced by Kurdish communities and link them to the PKK. Shortly before the unrests, both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan listed the PKK as a terrorist organization. Yet other conspiracy theories claim that the Kurdish Diaspora is consciously pursuing the status of refugees to be able to leave Kyrgyzstan.

These conspiracies stem from the fact that Kurdish communities, along with other ethnic minorities, have little political representation across former Soviet states. In Kyrgyzstan, the Bakiyev regime sought to alienate political parties formed by ethnic minorities in the parliamentary elections in December 2007. Instead of promoting inter-ethnic tolerance among the grassroots, Bakiyev preferred to establish control over ethnic and religious leaders. Indeed, the Kurdish Diaspora’s accusation of the involvement of opposition forces involvement in the Petrovka unrest shows the government’s pressure on its leaders.

For a brief period, the Petrovka incident diverted the general public’s attention from Bakiyev’s maneuverings to get re-elected this July. The Kurdish community is blamed for instigating unrest, engagement in drug trafficking and organized crime. Responding to populist fears, the head of the regional police Sabyrbek Kurmanaliyev, reported that he noticed an increase in complaints against Kurds throughout the country. Sadly, however, while Petrovka residents and the local government were debating over the suitable punishment of the Kurdish community for a misdeed of one of its members, several drunken policemen raped an orphan girl in Karakol town. The policemen remain invincible in the face of justice, while Karakol residents are reluctant to challenge law enforcement structures.

CONCLUSIONS: The Petrovka scandal in Kyrgyzstan exposed the government’s failure to provide equal protection and rights to all citizens. Instead, Bakiyev quickly politicized the issue of inter-ethnic rivalry by arresting opposition leaders and establishing control over Diaspora leaders. The Kurdish community found itself in the midst of a political rivalry between the government and the opposition. Along with blaming the opposition, the government’s engagement in settling the conflict remains limited. Bakiyev seems interested in having the Petrovka mob decide the Kurdish minority’s future and protract the conflict. Should Bakiyev continue using inter-ethnic divides for his own purposes, more unrests are sure to take place.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Dr. Erica Marat is a Research Fellow with the Central Asia – Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program.



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