Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Wish From Suleyman's Hill

They say if you climb Suleyman Hill and make a wish, it will come true.
They say if you climb Suleyman Hill and make a wish, it will come true.
In the center of Osh there is a hill. It's called Suleyman's Hill -- Suleyman Tau in the local language. By climbing Suleyman Tau you can gain a bird's-eye view of the city that has been in the news a lot lately, for all the wrong reasons.

I came to Osh for the first time in 1992 and fell in love with Kyrgyzstan's second city. Everyone lives here -- Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Turkmen, as well as Arabs, Turks, Uyghurs, Slavic peoples, and many others. For me, it is the most Central Asian of Central Asia's cities. I've been here many times since 1992, and people have told me repeatedly that if I climb Suleyman Tau and make a wish, it will come true.

I have wished for so many things on Suleyman Tau, I can't remember them all.

I am here again in Osh, and this time my heart is broken. I've spent the last few days walking through Osh, through neighborhoods and along streets where I've been dozens of times, as recently as two months ago, but it is certainly not the same. Now I pass by uninhabited buildings and burned-out homes that smell of smoke and of rotting food left by people who fled to save their lives. With every step, I hear the sound of broken glass and ceramicware beneath my feet.

The ruins of people's lives stand around me -- to the left, to the right, behind me.

The Uzbek and Kyrgyz residents here have been fighting with the most horrible results, and the stories they tell me make it difficult for me to sleep at night. They have been so good to me in the past, I wonder how they could have been so cruel to each other over the last few days.

I have not had time yet to climb Suleyman Tau, but I feel I have to before I leave. I keep thinking about what I'll wish for if I make it to the top again.

I could wish that none of this had ever happened, but it's too late for that now.

I could wish for life here to return to normal, but after the stories I've heard -- people being beaten, doused with gasoline, and burned; throats cut; eyes gouged out -- it is difficult to imagine how that could be possible, at least anytime soon.

On Sunday, I saw a man in an Uzbek neighborhood. His family was killed in front of him. He appeared to have lost his senses and was wandering the streets of his burned-out neighborhood, talking to himself, laughing at nothing. He stared me directly in the eye with a look of total insanity. What happened was more than he could bear, it seems.

He would not be alone after what has happened in this city.

I will remain here in Osh for a few more days and still hope to climb Suleyman Tau. But for the first time I have no idea what to wish for.

-- Bruce Pannier
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Comment Sorting
by: Jake from: Wisconsin
June 26, 2010 08:14
Thank you, Mr. Pannier, for your hard work. Beyond the risks to your physical safety, the misery of witnessing this shows through in your dispatches.

But I must reluctantly quibble with part of your lead paragraph: " the news a lot lately." Sadly, no. Last week, a major U.S. news network (no names) "monitored" southern Kyrgyzstan via a correspondent bravely embedded right on the front lines in ... Moscow. Not even Bishkek. And while being upstaged by the oil spill and Afghanistan is understandable for a U.S. audience, more airtime was given to the next item: the anniversary of Michael Jackson's death. I'm no journalist, but I work in a production capacity at a mid-sized Midwestern paper and can safely say that I'm still the only staffer even vaguely aware of "that place with no vowels," including the journalists. Given corporate media's cynical capacity for milking tragedy, the near-total silence here manages to disappoint even my curmudgeonly self.

With detailed coverage so scarce, RFERL and EurasiaNet have been oases (Silk Road pun notwithstanding), and you deserve tremendous credit. Thank you, and keep the info coming, but above all stay safe. Apologies for rambling.

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