Uzbek voices muted in Kyrgyzstan
Asia Times – 04/10/2012 – por RFE/RL
In June 2010, southern Kyrgyzstan erupted in violence between the Uzbek minority and Kyrgyz majority. Almost 500 people were killed, hundreds injured, and many thousands left homeless in the Osh and Jalal-Abad regions.
Most of the victims were ethnic Uzbeks and many members of the minority have since been tried and sentenced to long prison terms over the violence. Critics have attacked the government’s failure to provide equal justice for the Uzbek minority.
One legacy of the violence – and the lingering standoff between the two groups – has been the place of the Uzbek language in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Elmurad Kasym writes on Registan that the Kyrgyz authorities seem bent on removing Uzbek from public life altogether. He points to the closure of Uzbek schools in the south, as well as the shift of many of them to an all-Kyrgyz curriculum.
As RFE/RL has reported in the past, there has been a movement toward more Uzbek children being educated in the Kyrgyz language, as some parents believe that it’s in their children’s interest in a Kyrgyz-majority society. But as Kasym says:
The latest of such occurrences has taken place in the town of Naukat in southern Kyrgyzstan where seven Uzbek-language schools chose Kyrgyz-language instruction. According to the Akipress news agency, “local residents requested” the move. Over the last two years, authorities in such cases advanced similar claims. But, for some mysterious reason, there was no single case when a parent would object such decision. At least, none was reported. It is quite understandable that even if one does not want to give up his constitutionally guaranteed right to obtain education in his native language, he better not voice that opinion (which is, too, guaranteed by the constitution).
And following statements by Kyrgyz officials earlier this year, some members of the Uzbek and Tajik minorities fear for the future of any education in their languages at all.
One Kyrgyz legislator who led a campaign to end university exams in Uzbek said: “Why are we portrayed as the enemy the moment we call for Kyrgyz to be spoken? They [other ethnic groups] live in Kyrgyzstan, and their great-grandfathers lived in Kyrgyzstan. If you live here, there’s nothing wrong with speaking Kyrgyz as a mark of respect. We should be patriots.”
Another aspect of the disappearance of Uzbek, Kasym notes, is taking place more concretely – in the names of schools, mosques, and businesses, especially cafes and restaurants. As Eurasianet notes, many of them have since been taken over “by Kyrgyz owners and now bear Kyrgyz names. In some cases, criminal groups forced Uzbek owners to sell; in others, Uzbeks fled in fear and their properties ended up being seized.”
Perhaps then it’s ironically fitting that a bell erected in Osh in memory of the victims of the June 2010 violence has inscriptions calling for peace in three languages: Kyrgyz, Russian – and English.
Copyright (c) 2012, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036