A GLOBAL church-development agency has warned that ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan could spread throughout Central Asia, as more than a quarter of a million people flee the region. ACT Alliance has staff in the country’s capital, Bishkek.
Tatiana Kotova, of the agency’s Central Asia Forum, said: “It is important that fragile democratic processes are supported not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in neighbouring Central Asian countries. The risk of the conflict spreading is high, with potentially global repercussions.”
ACT Alliance is made up of more than 100 churches and organisations that offer long-term humanitarian aid and assistance.
At least 174 people have died in rioting in the past week in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Albad. Up to 2000 civilians were injured, many of them women and children. An estimated 75,000 ethnic Uzbeks have fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan, and the United Nations has started to fly emergency aid into the region.
The Kyrgyz interim government has accused Maxim Bakiyev, the son of the President ousted from the country in a revolution in April, of being behind the violence. Officials said that he used mercenaries to attack Uzbek households in the region, with the aim of destabilising the interim government. Press reports say that Mr Bakiyev flew into the UK this week and claimed asylum, but the Kyrgyz government has demanded his extradition.
The UN has said that it believes the violence was systematic. It said that the spark had been five simultaneous attacks, mounted by armed men wearing balaclavas.
“We have strong indications that this event was not a spontaneous inter-ethnic clash. . . it was to some degree orchestrated, targeted, and well planned,” a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said.
Like most Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan is a tinderbox of ethnic and religious tension. Seventy-five per cent of the population are Muslim, 20 per cent are Russian Orthodox, and five per cent are of other faiths.
Forum 18, a human-rights organisation that monitors religious freedom, has criticised a harsh “religion law”, passed by the former President Bakiyev, which bans children from taking part in religious activities, bans the distribution of religious literature, and orders the re-registration of all religious organisations. The interim government had pledged itself to reform this law.
A missionary working in Kyrgyzstan, Jed Gourlay, wrote in an article for the ANS news service: “Since the revolution, members of our Church, in the capital city of Bishkek, have been having prayer meetings every morning at 7.30. It has been amazing to see these people pouring out their hearts to God for their country, their leaders, for revival, and for unity in our body and among the churches.
“Although multitudes of people are attempting to leave the country, out of fear and instability, the majority of the people in the Church seem to view this as an opportunity for ministry rather than as a reason to flee the country or hide out in their homes.”