Fear and waiting in Kyrgyzstan
About 20 miles outside of Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country, and 10 miles outside Jalal-Abad, life has returned to normal. The opened shops and few barricaded roads are a distinct contrast to the bottled-up fear in the cities.
There was renewed unrest in Osh today, with fighting in Nariman and Furkat, Uzbek areas of the city. Driving into the city from Jalal-Abad, we saw smoke from at least three distant buildings burning in Nariman. Judging by the volume of smoke, the buildings were fully involved. Meanwhile, at city hall, a group of relatively peaceful Kyrgyz protested a hostage swap that didn’t happen.<
In Jalal-Abad the main market reopened this morning. More than one-third of the shops and stalls were doing business. Merchants told us prices were 10–20 percent higher than normal. Most items, except men’s clothing, appeared to be available. Two merchants were painting over anti-Uzbek graffiti that had been sprayed on their shop shutters.
Absent from the market were Uzbek traders. Whole rows of shops and stalls remained shuttered or covered. Nearby, a burned-out market was being cleaned up. Blocks of shops along the main street were charred shells. The Uzbek university had been burned. Across the street the Turkish university was untouched.
Taxi drivers were hawking rides from Jalalabad center to the capital, Bishkek. Minibuses were shuttling passengers around town. Our driver told us he came out to work today because there was nothing to fear. “It is all in God’s hands,” he said.
Residents of the still-barricaded Uzbek neighborhood of Sali Bekeyev were not so sanguine. The men and women we interviewed expressed apprehension that this was a temporary lull and that fighting would erupt again. They complained that unless they protested loudly, they were left out of ad hoc food distributions. Women and young children were few in the neighborhood. We were told they’d been sent across the border.
Many side streets remained barricaded. At one, tires were covered with straw, ready to be set alight next to a tanker truck, and downed trees blocked the street. Two-meter high letters spelling SOS were painted on these streets — as they are in Osh. An Uzbek man said they were painted as a plea for help after a helicopter made several passes over the city on June 13.
We went to the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border where they said the women had fled. The border was closed, as were the nearby shops and restaurants that normally would serve travelers waiting to cross. The border guards pointed us northward. After some difficulty, we located a camp in several farmhouse compounds across an irrigation ditch from the Uzbekistan border. Displaced children and adults are sheltered at the end of a labyrinth of dirt tracks and dead ends through wheat, rice and sunflower fields.
Some 200 women and 300 children were waiting to cross the border. They are town people, unused to living rough. They have latrines, but drinking water comes from an irrigation canal running through the compounds. Diarrhea is already a problem among children. But when they get sick, they are said to be handed across the border where they are treated by doctors on the Uzbekistan side. Several women said bread and other food is thrown over the border from Uzbekistan. We saw children eating porridge and bread.
People appear worse for the wear but healthy. The children are active and curious. We were asked for hygiene items, diapers and food by several women.
People in the compounds have no idea how long they will remain. The population fluctuates as people come and go through the day.
The route to and from the camp was circuitous. On leaving the camp we hitched three short rides and walked a couple of miles before we found our car. Cell phone contact with our driver proved impossible due to erratic phone reception near the border.
Our local staff members are beginning to return to work in Osh. They met with the mayor and with several local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs will be assessed as potential partners for distributions and child-protection activities. We are discussing food distribution with the World Food Program and sourcing hygiene kits, children’s clothing and toys from Tajikistan.
News story: Children have been left distressed and in shock after ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan
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