World Pulse

Kyrgyzstan: First We Cry Together

Nurgul Djanaeva
Posted August 30, 2010 from Kyrgyzstan

Often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, mountainous and ethnically diverse Kyrgyzstan was once touted as a success case for peaceful coexistence. Now, following violent clashes in June between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, ethnic tension is threatening to topple the stability of the entire region. But, a well-organized and thriving women’s movement could pull Kyrgyzstan back from the brink. Nurgul Djanaeva reports.


t was July, just weeks after violence had erupted in our country, killing hundreds of people and displacing hundreds of thousands. We were gathered in a room, looking out at buildings that had been burned to the ground: Kyrgyz and Uzbek women, meeting face to face for the first time since the conflict erupted and pitted us against each other.

Some of us had lost our houses; others had lost family members. We had witnessed violence; we had been the victims of violence. We were angry. Before June, we had been neighbors. Now, many of us were shouting at each other.

When the violence happened, I felt how deeply women had been affected. As the president of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, I also knew that women could take on a critical peacebuilding role after conflict. As women leaders from different ethnic groups, I knew we needed to meet each other to begin peace talks. But I was nervous. Our country had never before been through a conflict on this scale, and I had no experience in organizing peace and mediation talks.

Growing up, I lived amongst Kyrgyz, Germans, Russians, Roma, Uyghur, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, and many other ethnic groups. In Kyrgyzstan, there are over 100 ethnic groups who have lived together, mostly peacefully, for centuries. But we’re not strangers to ethnic violence—we had ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan ten years ago. Still, I never imagined that violence on the scale of what we saw in June would take place in my country.

The violence of June 10th presented itself as ethnic violence, but tension between Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups was not the only cause. Political turmoil, unemployment, growing migration, criminal activity, and the rising influence of fundamentalist Islamic groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir are other likely factors. Under these conditions, simmering ethnic tensions were easily ignited and the conflict was fueled by disinformation and rumors.

I first visited Osh less than two weeks after the violence began and the city was shut down. Police were enforcing a curfew. Markets and businesses were closed, and public transportation wasn’t running. There was still sporadic fighting in parts of the country. My Kyrgyz taxi driver was afraid to take me into Uzbek neighborhoods because he had heard about ethnic Kyrgyz who had been shot there. Before I left, I called my family to speak with them—just in case anything happened to me.

Now, over a month later, curfews were still in place, rumors were still swirling, and Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were still blaming each other for what happened. There were some NGOs talking to each other, but on the community level there was a kind of silence. By starting a process of face to face meetings in the affected regions, we hoped to break the silence.

Our first meeting began in anger, but as the women took turns speaking out and expressing their pain, we found ourselves crying together. Slowly we began to talk, and by the end of the meeting we had made the decision to go forward and continue peace talks.

We discovered that we needed to let our anger out while we were in one room, looking at each others' faces. Only then were we able to cry together about what we have lost. Meeting with these women was an emotional experience that reminded us that pain has no ethnicity.

This conflict has been a complete nightmare—especially for women. I have heard so many stories of women and girls from both ethnic groups who have been raped, beaten, disappeared, taken hostage, forced to flee their homes, wounded, and killed. During my first visit to Osh, I saw crowds of family members holding pictures of relatives who had disappeared. By now many of the people in these pictures have been found dead.

Part of the healing process is to document the violations that have happened during the conflict. When I first visited Osh, I found that there was no data on or attention to women's rights violations. There was no state unit responsible for women’s security. We decided to form such a group ourselves. We are now collecting data: the number of criminal investigation cases of violence against women filed by police, the number of women who have disappeared, the number of women in hospitals. We are attempting to count the women who have been raped and killed.

There are areas of the country where it is still very difficult to enter and investigate because of continuing tensions. We are doing our best to track the cases, knowing that for every girl or woman who comes forward to report rape and brutality against her, there are others who are afraid to report it. Documenting the violence is an enormous task, but if these cases aren’t addressed, the escalation of violence will continue. The violators must be brought to answer for these crimes.

It will take time to rebuild trust and peace. Our talks must continue in order to be effective. In each region, we’ve found we need to have at least three meetings. The first time we speak out to take away the anger and we cry together. The second time we look to the causes of violence. And maybe the third time we have a conversation and begin to plan and network together. I hope we can eventually work together to create joint security measures. I would like to see us set up solidarity networks and a system to inform each other when something is going wrong so that together we can address any issues.

The state and other actors have not been able to maintain peace in our country; as women, it is time for us to step in. In Kyrgyzstan, women’s groups are very active. Due to our campaigning, we have seen political leadership rise. Women’s representation in parliament has grown from 0% to 25%.

I know from what I have experienced during these first meetings between Kyrgyz and Uzbek women community leaders that the women of Kyrgyzstan are ready. We are ready to talk even when the country as a whole may not be ready. Most of us are mothers, sisters, and wives. We are deeply affected by the violence and we feel responsible for the security of our families. I myself am a mother of two children and I simply am not willing to see my children go to war.

It is time that we, as women, step forward and take charge to maintain peace and security in Kyrgyzstan. If we don’t take responsibility, there is no one who will do it for us.

Women Step Up to Bring Security to Teetering Kyrgyzstan

Comments 4

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Sep 19, 2010
Sep 19, 2010

It was good to read your story! Over the last few weeks, speaking with both people from the region and expatriates who have been able to work there, the power of social networking to bring about peaceful change has come up repeatedly.

The US Institute of Peace had a well attended panel discussion in Washington DC recently, that was well attended by people supportive of efforts like yours. It was great to hear about efforts by young people during the crisis to assist people in need.

On the USIP website is a 1999 paper about preventing ethnic violence in the Ferghana Valley you may find of interest. I would encourage you to download it, review and share your comments:

Building trust will happen as people are able to see positive results coming from networking useful and helpful information that has value to the community. Work on being positive. Conflict resolution, peacemaking, and peace building require people to be honest in their interpersonal relations.

Mr Johnson
Oct 05, 2010
Oct 05, 2010

Title: My Short story

My name is Miss Rita Beddle I was born July 25, 1979 unto the union of mr and Mrs. Moses Beddle in Gleyee Town, Tappita City, and Lower Nimba County Liberia. I came up as a child in Gleeye Town where I started my primary education at Methodist in the year 1988 and later enroll at rainbow school in 1992, and prior to the war. I started going to school after I got my three children. I decided to started in 2007 when I was in the 10th grade at Harrier E. Parkerson High School in in LPMC community, Ganta city, Nimba County Liberia. And I attended for three years and by the grace of God by the end of 2010 I will be graduating from the twelve (12) grade class. Sincerely yours Miss Rita Beddle

aderonke adeyemo
Oct 05, 2010
Oct 05, 2010


Paulina Nayra
Apr 29
Apr 29

Dear Nurgul,
The general community quarantine because of the corona virus gave me a chance to get to know the situation of women from all over the world. I admire you for taking time to listen to women from the villages and taking on the leadership to initiate peace and security in your country. Ten years have passed since your story. How is it there? Were the women victims of sexual violence able to seek justice? Wish to hear and learn from you.
Please take care.
Huggs from the Philippines.