Rebuilding trust a year after Kyrgyzstan ethnic unrest

Family in Osh
Image caption Deadly clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan last year scarred communities

One year after hundreds of people were killed in ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz continue trying to rebuild lives and trust between divided communities.

People are still clearing rubble and rebuilding homes in Cheremushki, a neighbourhood in Kyrgyzstan's second largest city of Osh.

In the seasonal heat of the day, the workers wear face masks to keep the building dust at bay.

Cheremushki, a mainly Uzbek neighbourhood - or malhalla as it is locally known - saw some of the worst violence during four days of killing, burning and looting last year.

In one day alone, nearly three quarters of houses were destroyed.

For many, emotions are still raw. Khalida Khalmatova, an ethnic Uzbek, lost her brother. She still struggles to understand how ordinary lives could be turned upside down in this way.

"My brother was an ordinary man. I don't have a husband and I was raising my two children on my own. My brother was our main bread-winner. Now his family and us - 11 people lost our bread winner," she says.

'Emotions withheld'

She says that the family has Kyrgyz friends, and that there is no hostility now.

Image caption Sharipa Abdukharimova said her house was burned down during the clashes

"They tell us that they are not to blame, we tell them that we are not to blame either, they've got their losses, we have endured losses," she says.

It is a theme repeated in conversations with Kyrgyz residents too.

In a village on the outskirts of Osh, Sharipa Abdukharimova recalls how a group of Uzbek men armed with rifles approached their neighbourhood.

As Kyrgyz men went to confront them, she and other women and children fled. Her house was burned down, with all their possessions inside.

She says that now most male family members have gone to Russia in search of work, so they can rebuild their lives. Local work is hard to come by.

Ms Abdukharimova, too, says that she seeks contact with her Uzbek neighbours, but that things have changed.

"I am a woman and I go to my Uzbek neighbours' houses and ask the wives how they live, if everything is fine with them. We talk to each other but it is not the same as it used to be before," she says.

The language is restrained, but there is a sense of emotions withheld, that good neighbourliness has been badly damaged.

Crime against humanity?

Many Kyrgyz blame what they see as Uzbek separatism for fanning the flames last year. Many Uzbeks have pointed to Kyrgyz nationalism as a driving force.

And with ethnic Uzbeks accounting for most of the arrests, charges and convictions made so far, there is a sense of bias in the justice system too.

Cheremushki itself is at the very heart of the debate about the nature of the violence.

An inquiry by international investigators says that a crowd of Kyrgyz - several thousand strong - broke through barriers erected by Uzbek residents, using an armoured personnel carrier.

It says that Uzbek residents were subsequently shot or beaten, some women were raped, houses burned and belongings stolen.

Image caption A probe into the violence found serious violations of international law

The independent Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission says that, while violence was perpetrated by both sides, what happened in Cheremushki might amount to a crime against humanity if proven in a court of law.

The Kyrgyz government has angrily rebutted such suggestions, calling the report biased.

Back in Cheremushki, headmistress Svetlana Karpushkina is dealing with the day-to-day fallout from the crisis.

"We had a few incidents in our school when Kyrgyz kids called Uzbeks derogatory names, so I called their parents and I explained what happened and I told them that it is probably the influence of the family," she says.

Couple subsidies

Izatulla Rahmatullaev, a local human rights activist who works with victims of sexual violence in Osh, says that Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are living more separate lives.

"After the June violence, in the city of Osh and the region, society is divided by ethnicity, Kyrgyz live by themselves, and Uzbeks live by themselves," he says.

The authorities have been trying to address this with a number of initiatives to help rebuilt trust.

They are even giving subsidies to mixed couples who have decided to marry.

Compensation payments have been coming through too, for lives lost, injuries sustained and property lost.

But despite the public proclamations, it is lost trust that is harder to restore.

Tolkunbek Turdubaev and Aibek Abdyldaev in Osh contributed to this report

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