Geographic Remote Sensing Technology Used to Identify Damage in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Background:  In early June, ethnic rioting broke out in and around Osh, Kyrgyzstan.  To better understand the nature of the current violence, the roots of the violence, and the global implications, see our recent blog posts, Ethnic Violence Breaks Out In KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan: Roots of Violence, and International Implications of Violence in Krygyzstan.

The Project:  Following recent reports of extensive violence, including looting and arson, between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) used satellite imagery to conduct a damage assessment of the area around Osh, Kyrgyzstan. AAAS conducted the study at the request of Amnesty International, USA, who wanted to corroborate that on-the-ground reporting was consistent with a bird’s eye view of the violence. 

The Findings:  The satellite images showed concentrated damage in areas surrounding Osh, including Furkat in the East, Kizil Kishtak in the West, and Dikan Kishtak in the South.

The images show that an estimated 1640 structures were damaged including 172 damaged structures in in Furkat, 297 in Cheremushki, 448 in Kizil Kishtak and 551 in Osh.  These are damage estimates, not exact counts, as it is difficult to count structures in dense urban areas using satellite imagery.

 Osh, Kyrgyzstan with areas of observed damage
 Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe – Analysis conducted by AAAS


The images also show that the letters “SOS” repeatedly on roads and athletic fields throughout the city of Osh.  Many of these messages are quite large and, given their configuration, would be difficult to read, except from above.  The total count of “SOS” messages within the study area is 116, which indicates a population hoping for outside intervention.


“SOS” Signs in Osh
 Several of the 116 identified “SOS” messages appear throughout the city, many painted on roads. These particular examples are painted across two lanes of roadway. Coordinates: 40.523, 72.788 
Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe – Analysis conducted by AAAS

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Kyrgyzstan: The Roots of Violence

Thanks to recent news coverage, we know that there has been ongoing violence in Kyrgyzstan between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks.  But what we may not know is WHY.  Whenever news coverage provides an explanation for the violence, “ethnic tension” is usually cited as the cause.  But what are the roots of the ethnic tension that has continuously lead to violence between these two groups?

First of all, the term “ethnic” conflict may be a misnomer.  There are almost no discernible ethnic differences between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks.  Both groups are predominantly Muslim and they speak a similar Turkic language.
Issue 1: Economic Disparity

The real conflict seems to stem from this fact:  Kyrgyz were traditionally nomadic while Uzbeks established themselves as farmers.  Since farmers typically stay in one place to tend their fields, they are able to build stable settlements and create surpluses.  Historically, this translates to wide class divisions.  Today, the Uzbeks in the south of Kyrgyzstan own and operate many successful businesses.  These economic differences are certainly a large contributing factor to the ethnic tension and the recent outbreak of violence.

Kyrgyz fleeing.jpg
Courtesy New York Times

An Uzbek soldier directed Uzbek refugees on Monday in Osh, a southern Kyrgyz city, as they waited to cross into Uzbekistan

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International Implications of Violence in Kyrgyzstan

The violence and instability in Kyrgyzstan affects more than just the people of Kyrgyzstan and the surrounding area.  The situation in Kyrgyzstan has international implications, particularly for U.S. and Russian military strategy and humanitarian aid efforts.

Both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks called on Russia to step in as a third party peace-keeper.  The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance made up of regional partners and dominated by Russia, met and adjourned without a commitment from Russia to send troops, but with an implication that if conditions worsened, Russia may act. 
uzbek refugees.JPGUzbek refugees lined up around an armored vehicle with Uzbek soldiers in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh.
Courtesy New York Times, Faruk Akkan/CHA, Via Associated Press

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Ethnic Violence Breaks Out In Kyrgyzstan

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.” 

Without context,
stories of violence in Kyrgyzstan on news programs and in newspapers
are nothing more than stories, confined to a 2D non-reality.

Courtesy New York Times





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