Landlocked and surrounded by four extraordinarily boring countries, Kyrgyz Republic (commonly known as Kyrgyzstan) has, in my opinion, the least appealing location of any country of any country on the globe. I suppose you could argue Poland has a worse location because it’s pinned between two historically violent superpower rivals (Russia and Germany). But at least Poles can get in their cars and drive to cool places like Prague, Vienna or Budapest. Get in a car in Kyrgyzstan and drive for 12 hours and you’ll find yourself in remote western China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, or Uzbekistan. Podunkistans, all.
The Kyrgyz people have made a valiant effort to improve their lot. Despite general poverty, they have near universal literacy. It’s always fun to read about how poor you are. The Kyrgyz also use two of their most abundant edible natural resources, millet and horse milk, to make popular alcoholic beverages. Like I always say, when life serves you horse milk, make horse milkade.
Is that not charming enough for you? Well, the Kyrgyz have more kinds of stringed musical instruments than Guitar Center. Rock on.
Okay, the Kyrgyz have ancient mythological epic poem (called the Epic of Manas) that runs an Odyssey-dwarfing 500,000 lines long. Tweet that, bitches.
Unfortunately, Kyrgyzstan also has a trait that causes trouble everywhere it pops up — ethnic strife.
When the no-good Red Commie Russians sucked Central Asia into the Soviet Union as five separate “republics”, they drew the borders deliberately to encourage ethnic rivalries within each republic. Fostering internal rivalries kept the republics weaker and easier to dominate. You know this concept as “divide and conquer.”
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 (according to VH-1 it was “creative differences” — apparently Russia wanted to do an ambitious double album, while the Baltic Republics and Ukraine were still into punk) the ethnically hodgepodge Central Asian republics, including Kyrgyzstan, became their own countries.
The two ethnic groups who are fighting right now in Kyrgyzstan are ethnic Kyrgyz, who are 70 percent of the population, and ethnic Uzbeks, who make up about 15 percent of the population.
Why would they fight? What problem is so serious that mature adults can’t resolve it peacefully over a vat of fermented horse milk followed an all-night lute jam?
Well, apparently a lot of ethnic Kyrgyz think ethnic Uzbeks want to take the Uzbek bits of Kyrgyzstan and join them with neighboring Uzbekistan. Typical “us” vs. “them” stuff. It’s an ancient source of tension, but it has become a source of actual violence thanks to Kyrgyzstan’s recent political instability.
In April the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown because he was dictatorish. The interim government is now promoting a referendum that could make Kyrgyzstan a parliamentary democracy — a rarity for a slab of the world known for strongman presidents, warlords and single-party states.
Ethnic Uzbeks largely support the interim government. No surprise since parliamentary democracy tends to work better for ethnic minorities than strongman-type regimes. But clearly some ethnic Kyrgyz, many of whom are probably sympathetic to the overthrown regime, disagree.
Anti-Uzbek rioting in the country’s second largest city (Osh) have left hundreds confirmed dead, and probably many more unconfirmed dead. Eyewitnesses report that Kyrgyz army troops have been participating the massacres — which suggests someone in the government (or former government) is trying to stoke this ethnic rivalry. Divide and conquer.
The U.N. estimates 400,000 people have been driven from their homes. Nearly a quarter of those fleeing went all the way across the border to Uzbekistan.
When terrified civilians in poor, rural countries are forced from their homes, for many of them it’s a death sentence. They’re left without shelter, clothes, food, medicine, clean water, or toilets.
International aid agencies are trying to help, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that hundreds, if not thousands of people — innocent civilians — might die before this is over.
And for what? Almost nothing.
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