The fighting in Kyrgyzstan between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks claimed more than 100 lives and wounded at least 1,800, according to The Economist.
From the other side of the Atlantic, it might seem difficult to decipher the conflict.
Even the experts say it’s not clear yet what’s causing the violence. But there’s a couple factors that are probably playing a role.
First, Kyrgyzstan has been unstable since a rebel faction ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7. Bakiyev was from the south, and still has many supporters there. These supporters seized government offices a couple weeks ago, which was the start of the violence.
Many of the Uzbek residents of Kyrgyzstan sympathize with the new government. One Uzbek businessman was the center of the controversy; he was believed to have led the mob that burned down Bakiyev’s house.
Meanwhile, the new government’s weakness brought about a power vacuum in the south that gangs took advantage of. These gang clashes probably precipitated the wider street fighting, house torching and mayhem that ensued.
However, there are also long-term factors that helped set the stage for the ethnic violence. The area is part of a fertile plain called the Fergana Valley, which used to be under one rule.
But after the Soviet Union collapsed, Stalin split the region into three countries: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Borders were drawn so each country had large minority groups-Tajiks in Uzbekistan, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan-so that the countries would be weaker and couldn’t turn on Russia. This led to a lot of ethnic conflicts in the following years.
So, the geographical lines that Stalin drew almost a century ago, are still affecting the countries of Central Asia today.
The last big outbreak of violence in the region took place in 1990, when a land dispute between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks turned violent, resulting in the deaths of more than a thousand people.
Today, the interim government is accusing Bakiyev of orchestrating the conflict to undermine the new government. The interim president, Rosa Otunbayeva, has also appealed to Russia to send in peacekeeping troops, as it did in 1990. However, Russia has chosen to stay out of this one.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan is a complex one. It’s still unclear exactly what caused the fighting to break out. However, it could have wider impact in the region. Uzbekistan has opened its borders to refugees for the first time in its recent history.
Sources: The Economist, personal analysis