Uzbek Leader Islam Karimov’s Response to Ethnic Violence in Kyrgyzstan: An Act of Self-Preservation?

by Janey Myers, Research Intern to Mr. Michael Kofman, Program Manager, Center for Strategic Research

On June 10, 2010, violence broke out  in southern Kyrgyzstan following the removal in April of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Ethnic rioting targeted largely at the minority Uzbek population swept the south of the country and ravaged the cities of Osh and Jalalabad.  According to press reports, the Kyrgyz military, took part in targeting the Uzbeks, indicating Bishkek’s lack of control over the military in the south.  Many Uzbeks sought temporary refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan’s reaction to the conflict will have serious ramifications on Kyrgystan’s ability to stabilize and establish itself under a new government. Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov’s response to the violence in Kyrgyzstan  indicates his apprehension that Kyrgyz unrest could spill over into Uzbekistan, creating greater regional instability. Karimov’s strategy has been to stay out of the confrontation and maintain an authoritarian grasp over the domestic reaction to the conflict. Fearing an explosive Uzbek reaction to the violence in Kyrgyzstan, Karimov has restricted the information on Kyrgyz violence available to Uzbekistan’s population. Karimov clearly understands the danger posed to his government’s control over the hotly contested Fergana Valley should the Uzbek public retaliate to the Kyrgyz violence.  As a recent Eurasianet article  states, “Karimov seems to believe that anything that could lift the lid on the frustration and the fury of Uzbeks could ultimately boomerang on his own iron-fisted regime.” With Karimov hesitant to allow his government to address Kyrgyzstan’s internal problem and to help quell the unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan, interim Kyrgyz leader Roza Otunbayeva may find herself with less regional support than anticipated.

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