16 June 2011

A Year Ago in Kyrgyzstan

In the middle of June last year Kyrgyzstan was still reeling from the revolution that had happened in April and in the middle of horrific ethnic violence in the south.  Many of the earlier links right now on the sidebar are about that. It was a horrible time for anyone living in Kyrgyzstan and for anyone who cared about Kyrgyzstan.

I don't really know much beyond what I can read about what happened in the south.  Most of our friends are from the north and even though there have been displaced people who've come north from the south, we haven't met very many of them.  Those we have met have had a difficult time.  But even though the violence didn't spread to the north, fear certainly did.

The people whose house we are renting fled their home, this very house.  They weren't the only Uzbek family in Tokmok to do so, and some never came back.  Kyrgyz friends in Bishkek left for Kazakhstan if they could, although most couldn't.  Most people didn't have anywhere else to go. 

No one much wants to talk about last June yet.  I don't think I would either if it had happened to me.  But we've also learned about some positive things that happened.  When it became painfully clear that the state had no intention of protecting any minorities, minority leaders came together to make plans to support each other and their communities.  Neighbors of all ethnicities helped each other hide, or rebuild, or feed their families.  It wasn't all horrible.

The ethnic violence had a huge effect on my family too.  Last June we were getting ready to move to Osh, just a few weeks away from buying plane tickets and getting visas.  We were all looking forward to living in an Uzbek mahalla and learning Uzbek there when everything we'd planned had to be thrown aside.  There was no way we could take a family there, and our grant certainly wouldn't let us go.  We spent the next 6 months in an ill-fated effort to get visas to Uzbekistan (a logical place to study Uzbek if we were German), then Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, and finally ended up with a plan to come to Tokmok (a decidedly not-logical place to study Uzbek).  Tokmok isn't Osh and even though we have the huge advantage of being closer to our dear Bishkek friends, Osh would have been the better place for us to live in every other way. 

Obviously my family's problems were tiny in comparison to what so many people have dealt with this last year in Kyrgyzstan.  Minuscule.  But our lives have also changed because of it, and not necessarily for the better.

Kyrgyzstan is a different place from what it was when we left it 5 years ago.  It's different from what it was last May.  I'm not entirely sure it's better either.  There's a parliamentary system now and incumbent-less president elections coming up which might be good.  There are far more products available to buy, and even though people are still poor, many are at least a little better off than they were five years ago (although they might not be better off than they were 2 years ago).  But there's more fear and distrust and, it seems, not a lot of hope. 

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