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A Different Osh

A building burns amid interethnic violence in the city of Osh in June 2010.

A building burns amid interethnic violence in the city of Osh in June 2010.

The anniversary of the sad events in southern Kyrgyzstan is here. The tales of horror of the clashes on June 10-15, 2010 between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks are already being retold.

For the next few days, in numerous reports, the name "Osh" will be practically synonymous with bloodshed, brutality, injustice, and the lingering controversy over the causes and who was responsible.

I was in Osh last year. I arrived the morning of June 17. I saw. I'll never forget, but I'll always wish I could.

But I've been there many times before and what I saw last year was not the Osh I know. So instead of writing about June 2010, I want to write about May 2006.

I was in Osh then also. At that time there was a different one-year anniversary -- Andijon. Since I was barred from entering Uzbekistan I went to the closest place I could get -- Osh -- already long my favorite city in Central Asia.

I arrived on May 9 -- Victory Day -- and Osh was celebrating. An Uzbek friend met me at the airport and took me directly to the festivities.

A Friendly, Lively City

There were jugglers and strongmen outside the theater (which suffered severe fire damage last year) performing fantastic feats, including one strongman who was juggling weights.

Farther down the road there were musicians and singers -- Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and others -- some playing traditional instruments, some dressed in traditional clothing.

We arrived at a park where there was a band playing, a large crowd sitting and laughing and copious amounts of food and drink, usually strong drink. We passed another park where some band was playing Creedence Clearwater Revival songs.

The city was alive and friendly. Roses were blooming everywhere giving off a wonderful fragrance. Evenings were warm and comfortable, inviting the city's inhabitants to come out at night, which they did in large numbers. For those days in May 2006, Osh seemed to me to be the best place in world.

Roses grow in abundance in Osh, where even the most modest yards and roadside patches are packed full of the fragrant flowers.

I was there for a serious reason. There were still hundreds (at least) of Uzbek refugees who fled the violence of Andijon and were being given shelter in Kyrgyzstan. I was there to see them and talk about Andijon and life in Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz government refused to send the Uzbeks back to Uzbekistan as the government in Tashkent was demanding. And one year later the people of the south, both Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities, were still doing whatever they could to help these refugees.

Bad Things Happen To Good Places

Former President Kurmanbek Bakiev currently stands accused of numerous misdeeds during his presidency, but it is worth noting that he had been Kyrgyzstan's leader for fewer than two months when the Andijon violence broke out.

He declined the Uzbek government's request to send the refugees back and allowed the UN to fly more than 400 of them out of the region to Romania, all the while risking the wrath of the Uzbek government.

The Kyrgyz people in the Osh area were very sympathetic to the Uzbeks. The Kyrgyz knew what sort of government Uzbekistan has. Many of the Uzbek refugees I saw then were obviously receiving help -- food, clothing, part-time work -- from the Kyrgyz and the Uzbeks were grateful for this kindness.

Obviously the majority of the Uzbeks who stayed in Kyrgyzstan moved in with relatives in Osh, Uzgen, and the Jalal-Abad area. But some of the Uzbeks did not have family or friends in Kyrgyzstan and, it seemed to me at least, the Kyrgyz people opened their hearts to them.

Those sorts of memories are what made June 2010 so hard. But Osh was -- and I'm sure will be again -- a great place. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to good places also. Unfortunately, last June very bad things happened to both.

-- Bruce Pannier