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A sickening pain

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 08:52 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010

I would rather carry on writing about the World Cup, but the tragic events happening in southern Kyrgyzstan, where I am myself from and where my father and many relatives still live, is overshadowing all my thoughts, aching inside of me. Along with my colleagues - over the last few days - I have been reporting, analysing what has happened in Osh, Jalal-Abad, in the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley. Here is some background that I wrote for the BBC World Service in my capacity as Head of the Central Asian Service:

"Uzbeks and Kyrgyzs have lived together in the Ferghana Valley for centuries. In my own family I have both Kyrgyz and Uzbek relatives. Both peoples speak mutually understandable Turkic languages and share the same religion, Islam.

"Historically there was also an economic reason for their coexistence: the Kyrgyz, who were mostly nomadic, were cattle-breeders, while the settled Uzbeks grew crops and dominated local trade. During Soviet times this traditional way of life was disrupted and the Ferghana Valley was divided between the three newly-created states of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with large pockets of minority population in each of these countries. So more than 800,000 Uzbeks live in Southern Kyrgyzstan and more than 200,000 Kyrgyzs live in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley. The Ferghana Valley is one of the most densely populated parts of the former Soviet Union with great pressure on land, water and jobs.

"After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city of Osh - where the latest inter-ethnic clashes between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks started - has also become a major centre for drug trafficking from Afghanistan, as well as for the flow of goods from Western China. That has created a fertile ground for organised crime and wide corruption. It's widely believed that Uzbeks were largely running this trade with the patronage of predominantly Kyrgyz officials. The April uprising which brought down President Bakiev broke this system. That's created a power vacuum, and both political and criminal structures are seeking to exploit existing ethnic tensions for their own purposes. That's not the entire explanation for the current turmoil, but it's a significant undercurrent, feeding the violence that has killed so many innocent citizens."

It's all true: as true as the facts of horrific, savage atrocities which have claimed the lives of hundreds and made dozens of thousands flee their burnt and ruined homes, as true as the fact that some brave Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have sheltered each other, as true as the fact that in these kinds of tragic events there are no winners, everyone loses. Yes, it's all true.

One sickening thought chases me these days: is all our so-called 'civilisation' as thin as the shirt and tie we wear, and under the skin hides a beast - be it a mobbing youth or agitated intellectual - which knows in his ravaging wildness only 'us' and 'them'?

This question is not just to my Central Asian compatriots, but also to football fans and to those who wage the war in the name of terror and those who retaliate with the same.


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