Tag Archives: Uzbekistan

Kyrgyzstan property issues update, part 2 – Unen-durable Solutions

by Kaigyluu

‘Kaigyluu’ is the pseudonym of a longtime TerraNullius reader with broad experience working on housing, land and property (HLP) and legal reform issues in many countries post-socialist, post-conflict or both. Having provided an earlier briefing last year on the aftermath of the 2010 ethnic riots, Kaigyluu yesterday updated TN readers on the local and regional politics of rebuilding Osh, and today addresses the policy choices of international actors involved in humanitarian response and reconstruction.

While housing, land and property (HLP) rights were put on the agenda in the immediate aftermath of the June 2010 inter-ethnic violence in South Kyrgyzstan, the HLP process was complicated (a) by a lack of clear rationale or objective and (b) strategic choices made at the outset.

With respect to the first point, based upon an initial assessment by the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) conducted in the wake of the June events, UNHCR focused first on the construction of shelter and then on legal assistance to restore HLP documents lost or destroyed. The assumption upon which provision of such legal aid was based proved faulty, in that it was soon discovered that over 80% of affected households had never had proper documentation. And so the HLP project concentrated on obtaining documentation for those whose homes were destroyed, as well as registering the newly constructed replacement shelters.

Nevertheless, the justification for securing documentation only for those whose homes were destroyed, whereas the majority of the affected population – and, indeed, the population at large – also lacked such documentation, was undermined. The project might have been realigned – and was, ad hoc, to provide documents to those whose homes were threatened with expropriation – but the follow-up scoping mission recommended by the GPC to conduct a full situational assessment was never carried out.

This leads into point (b) on strategic choices, namely that the international community chose to channel their support through the State Directorate for Reconstruction and Development for Osh and Jalal-Abad Cities (‘SDRD’ – previously, the State Directorate for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction or ‘SDRR’) set up by the central government, and headed by current Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev. The international community decided to bypass the Osh mayor, Melis Myrzakmatov – understandable, given his nationalist (and often erratic) rhetoric.

Myrzakmatov was opposed to anything directed by Bishkek: an opposition entrenched when he successfully resisted the attempt of the interim government to remove him. Unfortunately, in the case of reconstructed (and, indeed, all) housing, the issuance of building permits was controlled at the municipal level. Therefore, in Osh, construction permission was never granted. And so, the majority of the shelters constructed there remain unregistered; whereas, in Jalal-Abad, where the mayor was successfully replaced (twice) by Bishkek, authorities were more cooperative, building permission was issued, and registration proved relatively simple.

More broadly, apart from reliance on the SDRD, there a choice by the international community – perhaps by default – to opt for a ‘rule of law’ approach, as opposed to one driven by the need for a recognition of rights. That is, the reconstruction and HLP process was channelled through the existing domestic land and housing regime. As such, it became vulnerable to the inefficiencies or gaps in the system, as well as any political or personal manipulation of it.

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Kyrgyzstan property issues update, part 1 – Who’s afraid of the big bad master plan? Rebuilding Osh’s mahallahs in brick

by Kaigyluu

‘Kaigyluu’ is the pseudonym of a longtime TerraNullius reader with broad experience working on housing, land and property (HLP) and legal reform issues in many countries post-socialist, post-conflict or both. Having provided an earlier briefing on the politics of property in southern Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 ethnic riots, he, she or it now follows up with an update in two parts. Part one focuses on the local and regional politics of rebuilding Osh, while part two, tomorrow, addresses the policy choices of international actors involved in humanitarian response and reconstruction.

International attention on Kyrgyzstan, limited as it was during the Tulip Revolution (Redux) of April 2010 and inter-ethnic riots that followed two months later in the south of the country’s geologically and politically unstable Ferghana Valley, has long since waned and turned elsewhere. Indeed, with the Western military drawdown in Afghanistan, the importance of Central Asia – exemplified by the bidding-war between the US and Russia over the Manas airbase outside of Bishkek – has diminished correspondingly, while the problems in the region continue to fester and grow.

At least in terms of rebuilding and reconciliation (including international reconstruction assistance) in the aftermath of the June 2010 clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the ‘southern capital’ of Osh, as well as the nearby city of Jalal-Abad, progress would seem to be consolidating. The latest government shuffle, following the collapse of the yet another parliamentary coalition, saw the appointment of Jantoro Satybaldiev as Prime Minister. Satybaldiev, a former Head of the Osh Administration, led the central government’s reconstruction effort following the June 2010 clashes. He was a key partner of UNHCR, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and other international actors in this, and seen as a counterweight to perceived hard-line nationalists in the south, such as Osh’s current mayor, Melis Myrzakmatov.

Not only can Satybaldiev’s ‘promotion’ be construed as a reward for his work in the South, it is also hoped that his elevation will give him the authority to overcome the last hurdles to secure the housing, land, and property (HLP) rights of those displaced by the June 2010 events.

A ‘friend’ of the post-2010 reconstruction effort is sorely needed in high office. This past summer, the City of Osh began long-threatened expropriation of land and the demolition of at least two dozen houses, as well as several business premises, in order to widen roads: this, despite ‘iron-clad’ assurances to donors that reconstructed houses would be not be touched. It is feared that this is but the precursor for implementation of a new urban plan: one that is rumoured to include the replacement of the traditional Uzbek enclaves with ‘modern’ apartment blocks and, amongst the conspiracy-minded, one that is said to mirror – or even predate and predict – the patterns of supposedly spontaneous destruction that occurred from 11 to 14 June 2010.

The international community funded the reconstruction of almost 2,000 homes damaged or destroyed during clashes. UNHCR and ICRC led the emergency response, providing two-room (28 m2) shelters for affected households before the onset of winter in 2010. The ADB provided an additional $24 million to expand (up to 100 m2) and complete 1,500 of those shelters in a second phase of reconstruction in 2011-12.

However, optimism over Mr. Satybaldiev’s elevation may be misplaced. It is debatable whether the new Prime Minister will wish to expend precious political capital to protect those affected persons, the overwhelmingly majority of whom are from the minority (but substantial) Uzbek community. He seems still to accept, if not actively encourage, the inevitable replacement of the mahallahs – the traditional neighbourhoods composed of walled family compounds favoured by the Uzbeks in the centre of Osh – with high-rise apartment blocks. Off the record, even Mr Satybaldiev’s patron, President Almazbek Atambayev is said to have expressed puzzlement and mild exasperation at the international community’s obsession with preserving and reconstructing the mahallahs, in the face of the inexorable march of modernisation and progress.

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Marcus Cox letter from Kyrgyzstan – Why the referendum should go forward

by Marcus Cox

I’m just back from Kyrgyzstan, where I just happened to be when the country went south (spent an interesting evening watching the opening of the World Cup in a pub with the door barricaded and a riot outside.)

The question of whether to proceed with the referendum is actually a rather tricky one.  The previous Kyrgyz government, which was about as venal as they come, was toppled unexpectedly in April in a popular/Moscow-backed uprising.  The current interim government is in limbo, unable to receive the emergency budget support from the World Bank and other donors that it desperately needs due to its unclear legitimacy.  The draft constitution up for approval in the referendum is, by the standards of the region, remarkably democratic and progressive.  I don’t think it’s passage will in any way disenfranchise the Uzbeks.  It will provide the interim government with constitutional status, pending elections in October.

Against that background, there is clear evidence that the violence in Osh was instigated by the previous regime (now in exile in Belarus) to prevent the referendum going ahead, plunge the country into instability and either engineer a return to power or protect their many dubious economic interests.  The previous president and his family had stolen US$300 million from the country’s Development Fund, which you buys you a lot of trouble in Kyrgyzstan.  In the early days of the conflict, there were reports of unmarked vehicles driving into Uzbek neighbourhoods and shooting people at random, and then going into Kyrgyz neighbourhoods and telling people to flee before the Uzbeks retaliated.  Alas, despite some encouraging stories of Kyrgyz sheltering Uzbek neighbours, the provocation has proved all too successful, as the region’s many criminal elements, plus the mass of impoverished and undereducated young Kyrgyz men, have taken advantage of the ensuing chaos.

Against that background, cancelling the referendum would hand victory to those most responsible for this crisis, and in all likelihood cause the collapse of the current regime.  It’s hard to be sure, but my gut feeling is that this is the scenario most likely to lead to an escalation of conflict across the entire country.

I don’t believe the interim government has an anti-Uzbek agenda at all, but it has almost no capacity to intervene to stop the violence.  The army is small, under-equipped, unprofessional and poorly motivated.  The police were totally discredited in last April’s rebellion, when they failed to intervene in any useful way.  I don’t know whether elements of the army have been involved in violence in Osh – the consensus in international circles in Bishkek was that they have not, but nobody really knows – or if they are, whether they have been paid off by the previous regime or gone into business in their own right.  They are certainly not following orders from Bishkek.  But of course, it is characteristic of weak states that have lost the monopoly on force that, when they do intervene, they do so very badly.

The priorities now are to restore law and order in Osh and Jalabad, clear the way for humanitarian assistance and hope that, when the Uzbeks return home, the traditions of good neighbourliness among ordinary people have not been totally destroyed.  This calls for international support to the interim government to survive and regain control of the situation.  But special envoys and humanitarian supplies are not going to achieve this, and short of Russian military intervention, I don’t think anything else is on offer.

Update on Kyrgyzstan

by Rhodri C. Williams

Following up on yesterday’s post on displacement of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, the news coming in today has been pretty grim. On one hand, the dime appears to have dropped, with prominent EU foreign ministers expressing serious concerns. The Local reports this morning that Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, urged international intervention yesterday in recognition of the situation’s potential to bog down into an ethnic stalemate:

“The situation is alarming,” Bildt said at a joint press conference with Westerwelle in Stockholm on Monday.

Bildt emphasised the need for rapid action “in order to contribute to the confidence that is a necessity for people to start returning home.”

“If you don’t get people to start moving home fairly rapidly, you easily create a situation that sort of breeds resentment for years to come, and then there could be a very volatile and explosive situation,” he cautioned.

However, new NYT reports from Kyrgyzstan and refugee camps in Uzbekistan do not give rise to a great deal of optimism. In Kyrgyzstan, the interim authorities appear bent on proceeding with a referendum this Sunday on a new constitution virtually as if the clashes had not taken place. How internally displaced Uzbek citizens are expected to vote and whether the 70-100,000 that fled to Uzbekistan will be disenfranchised does not appear to be a priority issue.

Meanwhile at the local level, Kyrgyz authorities seem to be getting it entirely wrong, asserting their power in ways calculated solely to demonstrate that they are in charge and driving beleaguered Uzbek citizens further into a corner. The more the authorities insist on asserting power without acknowledging the wrongs done to innocent Uzbek civilians, the more acute the entirely predictable security dilemma that results.

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Risk of another post-Soviet frozen conflict in Kyrgyzstan

by Rhodri C. Williams

The mayhem in southern Kyrgyzstan over the last week has been viewed primarily from a humanitarian perspective to date, with the main media focus on the rapidly escalating death toll, as well as the condition of some 300,000 Uzbek minority citizens displaced within Kyrgyzstan and a further 75,000 who found refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan. However, the New York Times recently picked up on the longer-term risk that the withdrawal of ethnic Uzbeks into heavily defended enclaves could portend the beginning of yet another frozen conflict at the crumbling edges of the former Soviet Empire:

While it is still early, the tensions here could lead to the kind of ethnic standoff that has repeatedly arisen across the former Soviet Union. These clashes — in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and elsewhere — are often referred to as frozen conflicts because they have not been resolved over many years. They entangle the major powers, as in the case of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia over the renegade enclave of South Ossetia, which soured relations between Russia and the West, particularly the United States.

The government had been hoping to solidify its standing by holding a referendum on a new constitution on June 27, but the ethnic violence has thrown those plans into doubt. Ethnic Uzbeks, who make up about 15 percent of the population, will not take part in the voting unless international peacekeepers arrive in Kyrgyzstan, an unlikely prospect.

If the referendum is canceled, then the government may be further adrift.

Although the Kyrgyz provisional government has acknowledged that the death toll may be much higher than reported, it has been slow in responding to the humanitarian needs of victims, defensive about reports that Army units were involved in attacks on Uzbek civilians, and reluctant to explicitly acknowledge the inter-ethnic element of the attacks. Unsurprisingly, some Uzbeks have responded by circling their wagons and demanding ethnic separation and autonomy within the country.

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