Thursday, June 10th, ethnic violence broke out in the southern city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Shortly after, American newspapers and news channels began covering the story.
For many of us, Kyrgyzstan isn’t a country we hear about often. We’re
likely unsure of what language Kyrgyzstanis speak, what type of
government they have, how big the country is, where it is located, and
even how to pronounce or spell “Kyrgyzstan.”
stories of violence in Kyrgyzstan on news programs and in newspapers
are nothing more than stories, confined to a 2D non-reality.
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So here is a little geographic background: Located in Central
Asia, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and
Tajikistan, and is slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota in
size. Landlocked and mountainous, the country is dominated by the Tien
Shan mountain range. Kyrgyzstan gained independence from the Soviet
Union in August of 1991. Of the current population of 5.5 million
people, 65% speaks Kyrgyz, 14% speak Uzbek and 13% speak Russian. Both
Kyrgyz and Russian are official languages.
Kyrgyzstan has a republic form of government, the capitol of which is
at Bishkek, located in the north-central part of the country. In
general, Kyrgyzstan is a poor country with a dominant agricultural
sector, which exports mainly tobacco and cotton. Water pollution is a
widespread problem, with many people getting water from contaminated
streams and wells, resulting in many water-borne diseases.
Kyrgyzstan’s interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, has been in power only
since May 2010, when popular riots resulted in the ousting of President
Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Tensions between Uzbeks (an ethnic minority) and
Kyrgyz (the ethnic majority) erupted into violence last week when armed
mobs reportedly began raiding Uzbek neighborhoods in Osh. Many
refugees have fled across the nearby border to Uzbekistan, which
recently announced it could take no more refugees. The United Nations
reported last Thursday that 400,000 refugees have been displaced. On
June 14th, Kyrgyz officials reported the death toll at 125, with nearly
1,500 wounded. It is suspected that the violence was incited by Maksim
Bakiyev, the son of recently overthrown president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.