Rebuilding interethnic relations among students in South Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is slowly moving forward after the June 2010 violence in the south of the country that left hundreds dead. On 10th October, parliamentary elections were held in a peaceful manner and characterised as relatively fair. 56 per cent of those with the right to vote went to the polls and cast their vote for one of the 29 parties contesting the 120 seats in the Parliament. According to the OSCE and European Parliament election observers, the elections ‘constituted a further consolidation of the democratic process’*.

These elections came at the end of a series of turbulent events in Kyrgyzstan. On 7th April the regime of the former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown amid popular unrest during which 17 people were killed and 180 wounded. A provisional government was formed by representatives of the opposition parties and headed by Roza Otunbayeva who was largely seen as a national unity figure. On 27th June a constitutional referendum was held to legitimise the power of the interim government and introduce a parliamentary system as an alternative to the earlier presidential model.

In June, only two weeks before the referendum, violence erupted along ethnic lines in the south of Kyrgyzstan and hundreds were killed, over 200 buildings were destroyed and an estimated 400,000 people temporarily displaced. The months that followed brought an increased nationalism among the ethnic Kyrgyz and continued human rights abuses in the south, and thousands of ethnic Uzbeks left Kyrgyzstan mainly to Russia.

The 10th October elections were expected with caution and fears of renewed violence in the south. To decrease the risk of confrontations in the run-up to the elections, the Government postponed the start of the academic year in the universities in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad from 1st September to mid October. During the clashes in June, young men constituted the main force that engaged in attacks and destruction. It is very important to engage students of different ethnic origin in dialogue and joint activities at the beginning of the academic year in order to prevent violence on campus.

International Alert, in partnership with the Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI), has launched a six-month project in Osh and Jalal-Abad aimed at reducing the likelihood of renewed violent conflict and creating local capacity for peacebuilding in South Kyrgyzstan. The main component of the project is focused on dialogue and joint initiatives that will engage students on topics such as conflict management, citizenship and participation. Around 120 students from three universities will take part in the project activities – student camps, small initiatives and problem-solving and dialogue meetings.

The Enhancing Local Conflict Management Capacities in South Kyrgyzstan (ELCOM) project is supported by DFID’s Office in Kyrgyzstan.

* OSCE, statement of preliminary findings and conclusions