Why Kyrgyzstan, Usually Ignored, Now Matters

If you're at all interested in international affairs and want to understand the significance of what's happening in Kyrgyzstan, of all places, Erica Marat does an excellent job of providing background in a Foreign Policy piece on the Central Asian nation where serious ethnic conflict is raging between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.

As she explains, prior governments, whether during the Soviet era or the time of the recently deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, were strong enough to keep the ethnic tensions tamped down.

But the present caretaker government clearly isn't able to exert the necessary authority. That's why it's asking for international help to bring matters back under control. So far, the international community hasn't seemed eager to pitch in.

As Marat further explains:

The interim government seems to have given up on solving the problem on its own and at this point, third-party mediated negotiations seem the only viable solution to bridge the trust gap between Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek and Kyrgyz population. Kyrgyzstan urgently needs the United Nations ‘and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's specialized peace mediators to engage Kyrgyz officials and leaders of the Uzbek diaspora before there is the need for peacekeeper involvement in the region.

Kyrgyzstan doesn't often find itself dominating the international headlines, but the stakes in this conflict are high. It is still the only state in Central Asia with viable and active political opposition, professional NGOs, and independent journalists. The upcoming referendum and the parliamentary elections that would follow could set a powerful example for the region. However, if Kyrgyzstan is left alone in solving its deep-rooted ethnic strife, the escalating violence threatens the very future of democracy in Central Asia.

She doesn't mention, as others have, that Kyrgyzstan also has a significant base the U.S. military uses to move troops in and out of Afghanistan.

So there are a number of important reasons to keep a wary eye on how the crisis there plays out. NPR is on the ground in Kyrgyzstan and plans on bringing listeners and readers the latest from there in the coming hours and days.

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