Monday, September 27, 2010

There's no tension like ethnic tension

Weeks after political tensions resulted in the president fleeing the country and the opposition party taking power, things got even worse.

By late spring 2010, longstanding ethnic tensions between minority Uzbeks and majority Kyrgyz begin rising, and finally boiled over in the nations second largest city of Osh. On June 9-10 gunfire was reported and a state of emergency was declared, resulting in the deployment of military units to restore law and order.

Many sources, including the UN, have claimed the riots were orchestrated from outside forces, with multiple reports of organized groups of gunmen in ski masks shooting both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz to ignite the riots.

Although damage was widespread, it seems that Uzbek businesses, schools, and homes were systematically targeted. The United Nations has said it believes the attacks were "orchestrated, targeted and well-planned." Human Rights Watch has documented numerous examples of ethnic Uzbeks being the target of detention and torture.

Thousands of people were killed, several thousands more wounded, and tens of thousands of people are now displaced refugees.

Osh is now a city of two divided communities, with suspicion and mistrust between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

The PBS Newshour put together an excellent slide show - Turmoil in Kyrgyzstan - that I highly recommend.

There's a pretty good chance that I'll be working in Osh to observe voting there in the upcoming election - and I'm curious to see firsthand if the tragic events of last spring have an impact on the democratic process there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Perfectly "safe"

Personal safety is one of the first things that friends ask me about when I tell them I'm going to observe an election in some far-flung country they've never heard of.

Fear not - there hasn't been a riot in Kyrgyzstan in months.

There was a bit of trouble last April, when demonstrations over rising energy prices, the sluggish economy, and the government's closure of several media outlets got a bit out of hand. Protesters took control of some government offices and clashes between protesters and police in the capital turned violent - resulting in nearly 100 lives lost and about 1,000 people seriously injured.

The president fled the capitol in a private jet with his family; opposition leaders formed a new interim government.

A week later, supporters of the president turned out for a rally to demand his return to power; gunshots from unknown sources dampened their mood, and the president fled the country and resigned.

Things were fine - for about two months.

More on that later...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Continuing Adventure...

After recent international adventures with Lisa to Argentina and Italy, it's time for something a little different...

I've once again been offered the opportunity to volunteer with the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe as an international elections observer - this time in Kyrgyzstan!

Kyrgyzstan is a small, mountainous, landlocked central-Asian nation - bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest, and China to the east.

Yes, I know that doesn't help most of you - so here's a map to put it into perspective:

Kyrgyzstan is the tiny yellow country
(it isn't really yellow...)
in the upper right

I'm tentatively scheduled to leave Seattle on October 3, arriving in Bishkek, the capitol of Kyrgyzstan, after a series of flights more than half-way around the world (It would be shorter to fly westward through China, but all OSCE missions rendezvous in Europe en route).

I'll be in Bishkek for a couple of days of briefings on Kyrgyz election law and election observation procedures, and then deploy with a team for a few days somewhere out in the hinterlands to actually observe what will by Kyrgyzstan's first parliamentary election since adopting a new constitution last spring.

After observing the election and filling out reports, we'll return to Bishkek for debriefing and a post-election reception before flying home. I should be getting back to Seattle around October 15.

Two glorious weeks of...

Well, not so glorious. It's plenty of hard work.

On election day we'll be traveling over rough terrain from one village to another to watch people vote, and then staying up all night long to watch election officials tabulate the results - by hand.

Did I mention I'll be doing all of this on a 13-hour jet-lag, after sitting on planes for about 15 hours?

Still, it's extremely rewarding - I can't wait to eat some "besh barmak," drink some "kymyz," and play an invigorating game of "Buzkashi!"

Much more to follow!