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What You See Written In Osh


A makeshift sign in Osh reads "Kyrgyz zone."

A makeshift sign in Osh reads "Kyrgyz zone."

Moving around Osh these days, you see a lot of destruction: burned-out buildings, broken windows, smashed vehicles. But there are also two words in particular that you see written: "Kyrgyz" and "SOS."

"Kyrgyz" of course means that the car, building, or whatever-it-is is Kyrgyz-owned. And for the most part these things are intact -- not always, but more often than not.

It is particularly striking regarding buildings, since there are neighborhoods where more than half -- and sometimes nearly all -- the buildings are gutted from fire and, presumably, owned by ethnic Uzbeks. But sometimes in the midst of such places are relatively undamaged buildings that have "Kyrgyz" written on them, standing and surrounded by blackened skeletons of torched homes.

"SOS" is what you see in Uzbek areas -- painted on walls, roofs, and especially on the streets. Often enough, SOS is written repeatedly on the street and you walk by or drive over several such scrawlings over the course of just a hundred meters or so.

They don't pronounce "S-O-S" as separate letters but as one word. In any case, it doesn't appear to have helped much.

SOS is a controversial topic here, with some people claiming Uzbeks started painting the distress signal before this month's violence actually started.
A banner that reads "June 27, 2010. Referendum (nationwide voting) of Kyrgyz Republic" hangs on the wall of a ruined local school in Osh.

It seems to me that as they clean up Osh, these are the first things that need to be removed. In different times, the words would mean something else; but right now it is just a constant reminder of the division between the ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz here.

There is one more word one sees constantly around Osh: referendum. That, of course, refers to the June 27 referendum to approve a new constitution for Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, the signs and banners advertising the referendum are mainly located on the main streets in the center of Osh. Such reminders remain out of sight for the Uzbek population that is still too frightened to emerge from its neighborhoods.

-- Bruce Pannier
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