Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 09:44 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Kyrgyzstan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Kyrgyzstan, 28 June 2012, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Following the turbulence of the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the clashes between ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz groups in 2010, during which over 400 people died and many more were wounded and displaced, Kyrgyzstan had a quieter year in 2011. Elections on 30 November saw the peaceful transfer of power to Almazbek Atambaev, who had been prime minister under interim President Roza Otunbayeva. Atambaev drew most of his support from his native north of the country. Those who voted among minority ethnic groups in the south also tended to support Atambaev, whose appeals to inter-ethnic unity reassured them more than the nationalist rhetoric of the candidates who came second and third. Though two ethnic Russians and one ethnic Kazakh were among the initial 83 candidates, by the time of the vote, only ethnic Kyrgyz were standing. Overall, the election campaigns were marked by an increased use of nationalist rhetoric by politicians and the media, which implicitly scapegoated Uzbeks for the 2010 violence and broader problems.

Back in March, the grief of some ethnic Kyrgyz – who lost relatives during the 2010 violence and created the 'Osh Martyrs' movement – was channelled into demonstrations in Osh and Bishkek against Atambaev, other members of the 2010 interim government, and Uzbek community leaders, whom the group considers to be jointly responsible for the violence.

A new coalition agreement, formed after Atambaev's victory, led to the exclusion of the more nationalist Ata Jurt party from power, with the other four parliamentary parties agreeing the composition of a new government. Under the new government formed in December 2011, Ravshan Sabirov, who in 2010 had become the first ethnic Tajik parliamentarian in Kyrgyzstan, became its first ethnic Tajik minister, responsible for social welfare. There are no other representatives of minority ethnic groups in the new government.

President Atambaev is likely to follow the principles of the Concept of Ethnic Development and Consolidation in the Kyrgyz Republic, drawn up under Otunbayeva to increase levels of trust between different ethnic groups. The principles call for the rule of law, respect for human rights and cultural diversity, preservation of the identity of ethnic groups and non-discrimination, ensuring equal opportunities for political participation and transition from ethnic identity to civil identity. The concept also calls for an education system in which young people from all minority groups learn to speak Kyrgyz, the state language, rather than continuing to rely solely on Russian for inter-ethnic communication. The draft concept was adopted by the Assembly of the Peoples of Kyrgyzstan, an umbrella body for minority ethnic groups, on 17 June 2011.

However, in the same month, parliament voted to approve a document developed by the Ata Jurt party, which proposed another approach to ethnic policy, founded on the notion of Kyrgyz ethnicity as the central element of nationhood, and set out cultural and language policies focusing on Kyrgyz identity. Approval of this document shows that nationalist ideas have broader support in parliament than just within Ata Jurt. One contentious issue, for example, is the current provision that internal passports state a person's ethnicity. In his inauguration speech, Atambaev spoke of his desire to see this provision removed, in order to promote civic rather than ethnic nationalism, while senior Ata Jurt figures wish to see it maintained as a symbol of identity. There are ongoing efforts to reconcile these two approaches, and the results of this policy debate will be crucial for peace-building efforts in Kyrgyzstan in the coming years, and will have major repercussions on ethnic relations.

The situation in southern Kyrgyzstan remains strained. While inter-ethnic violence has largely abated, and many houses have been built with international support to replace most of those destroyed in the violence, widespread economic, social and legal harassment of the Uzbek community continues. Local newspapers in the city continue to publish derogatory and inflammatory articles targeting the ethnic Uzbek population.

Human rights organizations continue to document arbitrary detention and torture in police custody, predominantly of ethnic Uzbeks. Between July and September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recorded 10 cases of arbitrary arrest and torture of ethnic Uzbeks; two died as a result of torture. Trials stemming from the June violence in southern Kyrgyzstan have also been marred by physical attacks on lawyers and ethnic Uzbek defendants. Police and other officials have refused to intervene, and only one investigation into these attacks has so far gone to court.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the crimes committed during the violence, disproportionately those targeting ethnic Uzbeks, remain unsolved. Women who have been victims of gender-based violence and often now face serious psychological and health problems, feel unable to approach the authorities for support because of their community's conservative traditions, and the hostility of the overwhelmingly ethnically Kyrgyz police. Prolonged detention of Uzbek men, and increased outflow of migrant workers to Russia from already high levels have led to a rise in female-headed households in the city.

Prominent government figures have alleged that support for militant Islamist groups has increased among ethnic Uzbeks. However, some analysts see the reports as merely a pretext to justify further discrimination and persecution against the minority.

Official approval of some houses that have been rebuilt in ethnic Uzbek areas of central Osh remains unclear, as the local government continues to press for implementation of a master plan which would see these areas replaced by high-rise buildings. The more inclusive inter-ethnic policies of successive national governments have had little sway in recent years in Osh, where Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov continues to play to his nationalist powerbase, musing on an independent police force for the city and building massive monuments to Kyrgyz folk heroes.

The trend of transition from Uzbek- to Kyrgyz-language schooling is continuing for many children in southern Kyrgyzstan. This is partly because of concerns about the quality of Uzbek-language education, particularly given the acute shortage of modern textbooks in the language. There are also few prospects for higher education in Uzbek, after the two universities in Kyrgyzstan that taught in the language were closed in 2010. Ethnic Uzbek parents around southern Kyrgyzstan have elected to send their children to Kyrgyz-language classes. There has also been active support for the move to Kyrgyz-language teaching among prominent members of Kyrgyzstan's ethnic Uzbek community, who see this as a way to improve ethnic relations.

The situation of religious minorities is relatively better in Kyrgyzstan than in neighbouring countries. However, problems still remain. For instance, two Jehovah's Witnesses, arrested in May 2011 for possession of Hizb-ut Tahrir Islamist literature which they maintain was planted by police, were released on appeal in July. Human rights groups have also expressed concerns that many parliamentarians appear to want to erode the secularism enshrined in the country's constitution by providing extended breaks for prayers on Fridays and opening a Muslim prayer room in the parliament building.

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