Monday, April 11, 2011
Claudia Schwarzenbach is currently in Kyrgystan, examining the role of local authorities in conflict transformation and peace building in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. For Free Press Unlimited she kept a blog in which she shares her findings on the Kyrgystan after the violence of 2010. Claudia Schwarzenbach is reading for her Master of Arts in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University.

Yesterday, I was invited for lunch by three local friends. They recommended a place that is known for serving the best samsas in town. Samsas (Samosas) are either filled with meat or potatoes. I had not heard of the place before and agreed, eager to see something new of Osh. On our way, we soon drove through one of these neighbourhoods that had been burnt down during the violence of last June 2010. We stopped in front of a place that looked a little bit like a bus stop. Under a high roof people were sitting on plastic chairs at small tables. We shared our table with two other men who were enjoying their samsas in the warm spring sunshine. In Kyrgyzstan it is not very common to sit outside, but in this place there was no other way. The building that used to be the restaurant was completely destroyed and only some ruins of the ground walls were left.

The owners of the place were Uzbeks and they have a different way of preparing samsas than Kyrgyz people. From the place where I was sitting I could oversee the tables where Kyrgyz and Uzbek sat next to each other and enjoyed their samsas. Even though local people say they can tell from someone’s face if he or she is Kyrgyz or Uzbek, I have some difficulties with this. Even so, a certain sign is the hat of men: while Kyrgyz men are wearing white and high kalpaks, Uzbek hats are in general smaller and in darker colours. This way I was able to tell that the guests in this restaurant were very mixed.

I was interested to learn more about the story of this restaurant and asked one of my friends if he could translate my question to the lady who was cleaning our table. She explained that the ruins just next to us used to be the restaurant and that there also had been another building on our other side. They had already removed what had been left of it and she indicated another, not yet finished building and explained that they would move into that one in a couple of weeks.

The situation in this restaurant, where Kyrgyz and Uzbeks were sitting and eating next to each other, mirrors the impression that I have got from Osh in the two weeks that I am here. To whom ever I talked to, people tell me that Kyrgyz and Uzbeks used to live peacefully together and that they still do. I talked to Kyrgyz and Uzbek youth who are friends since childhood and met people in the bazar who work close together. It is hard to imagine how it was possible that in this town a conflict broke out violent that took on an ethnic character. Local people keep on repeating that this violence was not started from people living inside the city. They explain that the violence must have come from outside, the villages or even other countries.

Now, many months after the violent conflict, its results are visible everywhere in town. So many buildings are burnt down and there is a lack of money to reconstruct them or tear them down completely. Less visible is the socio-psychological trauma of the people who have suffered. I was told that there are people who are even now too afraid to leave their house. Many cannot imagine their future in Osh anymore and have left, mostly to Russia. Especially young people see their future somewhere else and are not prepared to establish a livelihood in a country whose political future is as uncertain as it is in Kyrgyzstan.