SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN: NEW TRENDS IN NATIONAL COMPOSITION AND THEIR EFFECT ON THE ETHNIC SITUATION IN THE REGION

Antonina ZAKHAROVA


Antonina Zakharova, Ph.D. (Hist.), head, International Relations Department, Institute of Social Sciences, Southern Branch of the National Academy of Sciences (Osh, Republic of Kyrgyzstan)


The Ferghana Valley, one of the most densely populated multi-ethnic regions of the world, is inhabited by the representatives of 100 nationalities and ethnic groups. Its territory belongs to three states: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Almost half of the entire population of Kyrgyzstan, i.e. more than 2 million people, live in this valley and the neighboring mountainous regions of Pamir and Tian-Shan.

Most of the population in the south of present-day Kyrgyzstan is made up of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Uighurs, Dungans, and other nationalities of the Muslim world. And only a little more than 1% are representatives of the Russian-speaking diaspora.

The profound geopolitical and socioeconomic changes which have been occurring during the past decade, the transfer to the market economy, and other processes have given rise to intensive demographic movement. Mass migration of the representatives of most Russian-speaking residents to their historical homeland has significantly changed the quantitative ratio of the republics ethnic groups, particularly in its southern part. And today, the transnational section of the Osh Region, the largest administrative unit in the south of the country (and Osh is called the capital of this part of the republic) is a structure inhabited by more than 80 nationalities and ethnic groups.

But during the past decade, the number of representatives in all the Russian-speaking diasporas has diminished. This is particularly indicated by the official data on the size of the largest ethnic groups (see Table 1).

Table 1 (thous people)

Nationality

1991

1997

2000

Kyrgyz

787.6

936.2

775.8

Uzbeks

363.5

412.9

376.2

Russians

68.3

37.3

14.1

Tajiks

28.5

31.5

6.6

Tatars

23.9

15.2

6.7

Ukrainians

8.2

4.5

1.3

Turks

7.9

8.9

10.7

Uighurs

7.8

8.8

10.7

Azeris

5.4

6.1

3.9

Kazakhs

1.6

1.6

1.0

Koreans

1.4

1.1

0.6

Armenians

1.3

1.3

0.1

Belorussians

1.1

0.8

0.1

Dungans

0.7

0.7

0.8

Germans

0.7

0.1

0.2

An analysis shows a stable trend toward a reduction in the number of representatives in the European ethnic groups. This process is vividly manifested in the following diasporas: the Russian (from 68,300 people to 14,100 people), the Ukrainian (from 8,200 to 1,300), the Belorussian (from 1,100 to 100), the German (from 700 to 200), and so on. However, the number of representatives in the Uzbek diaspora has increased slightly from 363,500 to 376,200, in the Turkish from 7,900 to 10,700 and in the Uighur from 7,800 to 10,700. The ethnic portrait of the region is approaching the 100% Central Asian characteristic, and changes in the national makeup are having a negative effect on the development of the complex ethnic situation, the tension quota of which is much higher in the south of the republic than in its northern part. Let us explain this conclusion. Despite the fact that outwardly the ethnic situation looks quite satisfactory, an objective study of several aspects of its development reveals several extremely important problems which require special attention and a scientific approach to their resolution. The imbalance in ethnic relations in the countrys south is largely explained by the grievous events during the last years of the Soviet period known to the whole world. This ethnic confrontation between the two indigenous peoples, the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, occurred in 1990. Its consequences still define the latent processes of ethnic tension. The tragedy was the result of the paternal approach of the Soviet party structures to ethnic problems, which served as a bitter lesson to everyone involved to one extent or another in this bloody conflict. We still do not know how many people were killed on the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz sides. Their total number fluctuates between 300, according to official sources, and 15,000 according to the data published in the mass media.

Kyrgyzstans years of independence have given rise to significant changes in ethnic relations. At the same time, certain manifestations of latent tension are making themselves felt at home and at work. A slight aggravation in ethnic relations, in particular between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, is observed during election campaigns at different levels, which is primarily related to the disproportion in the election structures of the largest ethnic groups in the southern regions of the country. For example, against the background of a reduction in the quantitative composition of most ethnic groups, interrelations between these two indigenous peoples in the Osh Region have become a determining factor in the ethnic situation of the region, since Kyrgyz and Uzbeks constitute 95.14% of the population here. According to the latest statistical data, 1,210,985 people live in this region, 775,826 of whom are Kyrgyz and 376,249 Uzbek, and the representatives of the other ethnic groups, which are national minorities, constitute 58,910 people (4.86%).

Let us compare these figures with the data for 1991. At that time, 1,314,900 people lived in the region, including 787,600 Kyrgyz and 363,600 Uzbeks, and the quantitative composition of both ethnic groups constituted a total of 1,151,200 people (12.4%).

As we can see, during the past decade, the sum total representatives of all ethnic groups, apart from Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, has decreased by 104,785 people, from 12.4% to 4.86%, that is, almost three-fold. These are mainly representatives of European ethnic groups who have left the region.

It is worth noting that their numbers continue to diminish to this day, which is shown by the data of the Osh Regional Department of State Statistics for the first six months of 2002 (see Table 2).

Table 2

Nationality

Foreign Migration

Including the Far Abroad

 

Arrived

Departed

Migration Outflow

Arrived

Departed

Migration Outflow

Total:

471

1,729

1,258

2

19

17

Including:

           

Kyrgyz

116

263

147

2

1

1

Russians

40

526

486

6

6

Ukrainians

5

60

55

1

1

Belorussians

2

2

Uzbeks

255

554

299

3

3

Kazakhs

14

14

Azeris

8

16

8

Lithuanians

1

1

Latvians

2

2

Tajiks

8

12

4

Armenians

2

2

Turkmen

1

4

3

Tatars

22

201

179

Jews

1

1

1

1

Germans

1

10

9

7

7

Others:

15

61

46

Including:

           

Uighurs

1

7

6

Dungans

1

1

Koreans

5

9

4

Turks

1

11

10

When analyzing these official indices, we will note that the reduction in exodus of the Russian-speaking population is explained not by positive shifts, but by the fact that most of the Russian-speaking population has already left. Relatively speaking, the population exodus in terms of individual ethnic groups exceeds its inflow more than ten-fold. In particular, in 2000, 40 Russians arrived in the region, and 526 left, that is, the outflow was 13-fold greater than the inflow, the outflow of Ukrainians 12-fold greater (5 arrived and 60 left), and of Tatars almost 10-fold more (22 arrived and 201 left). And these are the official data. But the indices will most likely be even more alarming if unofficial migrants are included, which we are still unable to do. Although it is completely obvious that there are vast numbers of unofficial migrants, including Kyrgyz, who leave to earn a living in Russia. For example, from one high-rise apartment building alone, 27 Isanov St. in Osh, two young Kyrgyz families left to work in Tiumen. In an interview, their relatives said that they do not intend to return to Kyrgyzstan, they are expanding their business and are very satisfied. Thus, families registered in Osh actually live and work in Russia, Kyrgyzstan has lost them, although according to official data they are considered its residents. And there are a host of other examples like this.

On the whole, in 2001, a total of 1,656 people left the Osh Region for destinations beyond Kyrgyzstans borders. Of this number, 908 were members of the Russian-speaking diaspora (more than 50%), despite its already small size. In so doing, 73.1% of migrants of all nationalities left for Russia. According to a sociological poll conducted in November 2001, most Russian-speaking respondents in Osh (54%) responded to the question: Do you want to leave the south of Kyrgyzstan? with yes, they would like to, but they do not have the finances to move, in other words, people are not staying of their own free will, but out of necessity. This category includes elderly pensioners, former weavers from the Silk Combine who worked there as early as the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, after the silk-spinning factory was evacuated from Pavlovskiy Posad (1942, the Moscow Region). This category also includes old employees of the Osh pump factory, teachers and kindergarten instructors, nurses, and liaison officers. (From an interview with representatives of Russian-speaking ethnic groups conducted in May 2002.)

Employees of the ethnic relations department at the Institute of Social Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences conducted these interviews during a sociological poll organized among the representatives of ethnic minorities of Kyrgyzstans southern capital. Its results make it possible to conclude that the governments measures aimed at minimizing destructive migration processes (the Law on Giving Russian the Status of Official Language and several other laws regulating migration processes) have still not yielded the desired results. The situation cannot be stabilized.

Thus, statistics on the Osh Region (one of the three regions of Southern Kyrgyzstan) and their analysis allow us to identify several trends. First, the absence of growth and even general reduction in the percentage of all nationalities, apart from Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Second, the ratio of the total number of representatives of these two ethnic groups to the number of members of all national minorities continues to change, including with respect to other indigenous peoples (Tajiks, Uighurs).

To make our data even more convincing, we will present the results of a comparative analysis of the population composition in Kyrgyzstans southern capital for the past two years. As of 1 January 2001, Kyrgyz constituted 108,997 and Uzbeks 106,736 of the total 239,328 residents of Osh. The two groups amounted to a total of 215,733 people, and the representatives of all the other ethnic groups to 23,595 people (9.9% of the citys population). And as of 1 January 2002, of its 241,673 residents, 110,942 were Kyrgyz and 108,051 Uzbeks (making a total of 218,993). Consequently, the total number of residents of other nationalities amounts to 22,680 (9.3%), that is, within one year, the ratio changed by 0.6% in favor of the two largest ethnic groups. And this process is continuing, which means that peace and reconciliation in the region depend directly on the level of mutual understanding between these two indigenous peoples. In so doing, according to statistics, there are 2,891 more Kyrgyz than Uzbeks. In reality, however, this difference amounts to tens of thousands. The current situation is explained by the fact that as a result of the ongoing migration from the villages to the cities, people come to live in Osh who are not registered. Consequently, a percentage of the rural population arriving in the city in search of work is not accounted for by the relevant official institutions. These are mainly Kyrgyz who make up the majority of rural residents of most of the republics southern regions.

In this way, during the past decade, the transnational representation of the population in the southern capital has significantly changed. Trends are observed toward the formation of a qualitatively new population composition, not only close to the 100% Central Asian characteristic, but also with a marked quantitative predominance of the titular nation.

Nevertheless, the abrupt decrease in the size of individual ethnic groups is causing significant negative changes in the mentality of their representatives and is having an immense impact on the development of ethnic relations. For example, before 1990, the Russian-speaking ethnic groups constituted a significant share of the total population, and were widely represented in the administrative agencies and among the directors of industrial enterprises. Now, they belong to the national minorities and, judging from the polls conducted, are feeling rather vulnerable, unsure about the future, and do not see prospects for their children. Many of them believe that they are frequently discriminated against by members of the titular nation at work, at home, and in their interpersonal relations. And even though the conflicting side may not say anything humiliating about nationality in petty domestic confrontations, the representatives of ethnic minorities believe that their national affiliation is the main reason for the conflict. In other words, the incident acquires an ethnic tone. This process, in turn, is having a negative effect on ethnic relations and prompting people to leave the country.

Let us sum up the results of the study of the ethnic situation reviewed in this article. The transnational representation of the population in the Osh Region reflects its traditional multi-ethnicity, which has evolved throughout the multi-century history of the area. What is more, the ongoing migration of representatives of the Russian-speaking diaspora is contributing to a change in the ethnic portrait in the south of the republic.

This process is leading to further escalation of ethnic segregation of society, which is accompanied by numerous conflict-prone factors. Against this background, there is the danger of such phenomena as ethnocentrism in its extreme forms, ethnic alienation, intolerance, rivalry, dispute, and negative interpersonal relations leading to ethnic confrontation. This particularly applies to the indigenous peoples, among whom, in contrast to the European, there is no mass migration, which means they will defend their aspirations in personnel policy, in gaining access to the distribution of resources, and in other vitally important spheres, which will undoubtedly complicate the ethnic situation even more.

The negative consequences of the ongoing exodus of representatives of the European nationalities also include the loss of high-level specialists in national education, health care, and industrial production, which has already dealt and is continuing to deal a harsh blow to the economy of the republics south, and have an impoverishing effect on its cultural diversity.

Nevertheless, studying the dynamics of the background of ethnic relations is making it possible to designate new positive trends, which is explained by the growing efforts of the world community to counteract international terrorism. The post-conflict development of Afghanistan and the active participation of our republic in delivering international humanitarian aid along the Osh-Faizabad route is also helping to improve the ethnic situation in Central Asia as a whole, and in the south of Kyrgyzstan in particular. In this respect, the people living in Southern Kyrgyzstan enthusiastically welcomed the efforts of the international community to establish peace in the region and draw up a strategy for further pragmatic steps in this direction. In particular, more than 70% of those interviewed noted that the international conference held under the auspices of the OSCE and the U.N. on 13-14 December, 2001 in Bishkek, as well as the international conference on rebuilding Afghanistan (Tokyo, 21-22 January, 2002), and several other summits helped to optimize ethnic relations and reduce tension. The deployment of international antiterrorist coalition forces in Bishkek is having a positive stabilizing effect on the situation in Central Asia, including in Southern Kyrgyzstan.

Nevertheless, mass acts of protest (meetings in Bishkek and several population settlements in the Dzhalal-Abad Region, and pickets on the Osh-Bishkek highway) had an extremely negative, although indirect, impact on the ethnic situation in the region in March-May 2002. The temporary domestic political instability activated destructive migration processes among representatives of the national minorities. Instead of the usual greeting, the question, What, you have still not left for Russia? can again be heard among the representatives of the Russian-speaking national minorities in the southern capital. This is a vivid indication that the geopolitical space of Central Asia, particularly the Ferghana Valley, part of which is Southern Kyrgyzstan, is still one of the most highly explosive regions on the planet in terms of ethnic confrontational relations.

Against this background, it is vital to accumulate and spread positive experience of ethnic integration in the region. In the southern part of Kyrgyzstan, much progress has already been made in this sphere, both in the rural areas (in the Alai, Karasui, and Aravan regions), and in the urban centers, Osh, Dzhalal-Abad, and Batken. For example, in the Karasui district of the Osh region alone more than 40 community organizations have been created which are resolving general professional and domestic problems. Most of the rural community organizations are mono-national. But community structures have been created in areas densely populated by national minorities which unite the representatives of different ethnic groups. The members of such community organizations are actively in favor of conducting a joint fight against poverty and promoting progressive economic development, which is raising the level of social mobilization of the representatives of all ethnic groups. And these are the main prerequisites for ethnic reconciliation and the prevention of ethnic conflicts at the early stage of their development.


1 See: Natsionalniy sostav naselenia Kyrgyzstana. Informatsionno-analiticheskie materialy IITs Assamblei naroda Kyrgyzstana, Bishkek, 1997, p. 6.
2 Information of the Osh Regional Department of State Statistics, 30 April, 2001.
3 See: G. Gafarova, A. Zakharova, Na puti k konsolidatsii, Information-Analytical Bulletin Salam, Aziia!, May 2002, pp. 14-17.
4 See: J. A. Omukeeva, Etnicheskaia politika kyrgyzskogo gosudarstva, Osh, 2000, p. 116.
5 Information of the Osh Regional Department of State Statistics, 21 July, 2002.
6 Archive of the Institute of Social Sciences, Southern Branch of the National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Kyrgyzstan, inv. 2, f. 12/3, pp. 18-39.
7 Ibid., inv. 2, f. 12/7, pp. 11-41.
8 Information of the Osh Regional Department of State Statistics, 30 April, 2001.
9 Information of the Osh Regional Department of State Statistics, 23 April, 2002.
10 Archive of the Institute of Social Sciences, Southern Branch of the National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Kyrgyzstan, inv. 2, f. 17/19, pp. 1-31.
11 See: A. Zakharova, Osh Ten Years On: Positive Developments in Ethnic Relations, EURASIANET, 18 September, 2000 / Co-author: Nick MegoranCambridge University, England.
12 See: G. Gafarova, A. Zakharova, Dobry primer, Information-Analytical Bulletin Salam, Aziia!, December 2000, p. 15.

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