Save the Children’s Will Lynch: Fear and Waiting in Kyrgyzstan


WilliamLynchHeadshot05 Osh
, Kyrgyzstan

June 17, 2010

About 20 miles outside of Osh and 10 miles outside Jalal-Abad, life
returns to normal. The open shops and few barricaded roads are a distinct
contrast to the bottled-up fear in the cities.

There was renewed unrest in Osh today, with fighting in Nariman and
Furkat, Uzbek areas of the city. Driving into the city from Jalal-Abad, we saw
smoke from at least three distant buildings burning in Nariman. Judging by the
volume of smoke, the buildings were fully involved. Meanwhile, at city hall, a
group of relatively peaceful Kyrgyz protested a hostage swap that didn’t
happen.

In Jalal-Abad the main market reopened this morning. More
than one-third of the shops and stalls were doing business. Merchants told us prices
were 10–20 percent higher than normal. Most items, except men’s clothing,
appeared to be available. Two merchants were painting over anti-Uzbek graffiti
that had been sprayed on their shop shutters.

Absent from the market were Uzbek traders. Whole rows of
shops and stalls remained shuttered or covered. Nearby a burned-out market was
being cleaned up. Blocks of shops along the main street were charred shells.
The Uzbek university had burned. Across the street the Turkish university was
untouched.

Taxi drivers were hawking rides from Jalalabad center to the
capital, Bishkek. Minibuses were shuttling passengers around town. Our driver
told us he came out to work today because there was nothing to fear. “It is all
in God’s hands,” he said.

Residents of the still-barricaded Uzbek neighborhood of Sali
Bekeyev were not so sanguine. The men and women we interviewed expressed
apprehension that this was a temporary lull and that fighting would erupt
again. They complained that unless they protested loudly, they were left out of
ad hoc food distributions. Women and young children were few in the
neighborhood. We were told they’d been sent across the border.

Many side streets remained barricaded. At one, tires were
covered with straw, ready to be set alight next to a tanker truck, and downed
trees blocked the street. Two-meter high letters spelling SOS were painted on
these streets — as they are in Osh.
An Uzbek man said they were painted as a plea for help after a helicopter made
several passes over the city on June 13.

We went to the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan border where they said
the women had fled. The border was closed as were the nearby shops and
restaurants that normally would serve travelers waiting to cross. The border
guards pointed us northward. After some difficulty, we located the a camp in
several farmhouse compounds across an irrigation ditch from the Uzbekistan
border. Displaced children and adults are sheltered at the end of a labyrinth
of dirt tracks and dead ends through wheat, rice and sunflower fields.

Some 200 women and 300 children were waiting to cross the
border. They are town people, unused to living rough. They have latrines, but
drinking water comes from an irrigation canal running through the compounds.
Diarrhea is already a problem among children. But when they get sick, they are
said to be handed across the border where they are treated by doctors on the Uzbekistan
side. Several women said bread and other food is thrown over the border from Uzbekistan. We
saw children eating porridge and bread.

People appear worse for the wear but healthy. The children
are active and curious. We were asked for hygiene items, diapers and food by
several women.

People in the compounds have no idea how long they will
remain. The population fluctuates as people come and go through the day.

The route to and from the camp was circuitous. On leaving
the camp we hitched three short rides and walked a couple of miles before we
found our car. Cell phone contact with our driver proved impossible due to
erratic phone reception near the border.

Our local staff members are beginning to return to work in Osh. They met with the
mayor and with several local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs
will be assessed as potential partners for distributions and child-protection
activities. We are discussing food distribution with the World Food Program and
sourcing hygiene kits, children’s clothing and toys from Tajikistan.

Image courtesy of: Lonely Planet