After violence tears apart communities in Kyrgyzstan, a brittle calm settles in
by Rob McBride
OSH, Kyrgyzstan, 1 July 2010 – All along the Alisher Navoi Street, the scene is similar from house to house. Some of the buildings are just charred walls. Some have collapsed completely. Others bear bullet holes from intense gunfire.
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The street forms part of a poor ethnic Uzbek neighbourhood that saw some of the worst of the ethnic violence that swept through Osh, Kyrgyzstan in June. In the wake of the devastation, small groups of men, women and children stand along the street, many with a looks of shock or resignation on their faces.
Start talking with them about the events that ripped apart their community several weeks ago, and the emotion soon comes out – sometimes in anger, sometimes in tears of absolute despair.
Fear and recovery
A local mother, Dilya, sums up the nervousness of the community, and the brittle nature of the relative peace here.
“My son, Muradillo, came running in from the street yesterday,” she says, referring to her five-year-old. “He’d seen a Kyrgyz stranger and thought it was someone coming to attack.” It will be a long time before Muradillo and other children in the neighborhood will be able to play in the street as they once did.
In the wards of Osh Provincial Hospital, some of the injured are still being treated. In the men’s ward, patients with gunshot wounds listlessly gaze at the ceiling from their beds. In the women’s ward next door, others who were caught in the violence, like Tursunai Mamanova, are slowly recovering.
'What we want is peace'
“We want to live in peace with our neighbours,” Ms. Mamanova says, her voice shaking with emotion. “I want to say to everyone, and to our government, that what we want is peace.”
Throughout the streets of Osh, still under a curfew at nighttime, there is an uneasy calm. Few parts of this city escaped destruction from the days of rioting. Indeed, opposite the front gates of the hospital itself, the homes and stores have been torched.
This hospital was at the front line of the crisis response, dealing with hundreds killed and treating more than 1,500 injured.
“UNICEF was among the first to help us in the earliest days,” says Gulbara Kenjebayeva, the hospital’s deputy director. “All the medical and surgical kits they provided were very important when we were delivering aid in the camps [for the displaced], and later for delivering care in the community.”
Emergency aid arrives
Much more aid is now on its way. It will be distributed by UNICEF, other UN agencies and local partners, through programmes that are quickly being established throughout the city.
Through the border crossing with neighbouring Uzbekistan, a long-awaited convoy of UN trucks has brought in tonnes of supplies. For its part, UNICEF sent eight trucks containing 40 metric tonnes of aid for refugees who returned from Uzbekistan to southern Kyrgyzstan last week. The governments of both countries provided a safe corridor for the UN humanitarian convoy to travel across the border and into Osh – the worst affected region of Kyrgyzstan.
The UNICEF shipment included health and hygiene essentials, including medicines, treatment kits for diarrhoea, and nutritional and vitamin supplements for children.
Psychological support for children
But more than the physical destruction around Osh, there is emotional and psychological damage.
“What is important is helping communities to re-establish trust and have confidence in their institutions,” says UNICEF Kyrgyzstan's Acting Officer in Charge, Samphe Lhalungpa.
UNICEF will be a key partner with the government and community in this effort, supporting the provision of psychological and social support for children and helping to ensure that their schools are safe to attend. UNICEF is also appealing to international donors to help raise urgently needed funds for these efforts.
Reconstruction lies ahead
As part of its response, UNICEF will be supplying child-friendly spaces around Osh. “We will attempt, where possible, to make these ethnically mixed,” says Mr. Lhalungpa, “to re-start the renewal of trust.”
Seeing the destruction in the Alisher Navoi neighbourhood for himself, Mr. Lhalungpa is keen to emphasize the positive. “There were communities – mixed ethnic communities – that boarded up their streets and helped each other for a week. And they basically said, ‘We don’t want this carnage. We live together, and we’ll help each other.’”
On Alisher Navoi Street and elsewhere in southern Kyrgyzstan, it's clear that trust will be an important building block for the reconstruction effort ahead.