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Is Kyrgyz Media Providing The Whole Picture?

Media experts have criticized state-run broadcasters for their coverage of the June violence
Media experts have criticized state-run broadcasters for their coverage of the June violence
By Farangis Najibullah
Stark differences have emerged in how the Kyrgyz media have covered the origins and aftermath of the interethnic violence that erupted the Central Asian country in mid-June.

In some cases, ethnic Uzbeks are vilified and accused of sole responsibility for the unrest that left more than 350 people dead and 400,000 displaced in the southern provinces of Jalal-Abad and Osh. Other coverage is notable for its failure to address the Uzbek side of the story, or to downplay the scope of the violence against ethnic Uzbeks.

Nationalistic rhetoric and open calls for violence have threatened to heighten interethnic animosity at a time when international organizations, foreign donors, and human rights groups are working with the interim government to calm the situation and prevent another outbreak of violence.

Sultan Jumagulov, a Bishkek-based independent media consultant, says several independent newspapers, including the independent Kyrgyz-language newspapers "Alibi" and "Apta," took a decidedly pro-Kyrgyz stance from the beginning.

"When interethnic clashes in the south began, these papers started publishing materials under such slogans like 'Kyrgyzstan For Kyrgyz people,' 'Our Fatherland Is In Trouble," Jumagulov says. "And these publications had this mood of instigation against some minorities."

Dangerous 'Alibi'

Just days before interethnic clashes broke out in Osh on June 10-11, "Alibi" published an editorial on June 8, which contained inflammatory passages and was illustrated with a picture of a clenched fist:

Without any doubt, under the current circumstances Uzbeks will become even more impudent if we don't attack them seriously...

We say so, because we heard several groups of Kyrgyz in Talas region say: 'If Uzbeks in Jalal-Abad do not stop bothering the Kyrgyz, we will go there and put [Uzbeks] in their place...

Therefore, if [Uzbeks] don't appreciate our hospitality, then the government along with people would have to properly attack Uzbeks.

Jumagulov says that "Alibi" and "Apta" have for some time been publishing material of an ultra-nationalistic nature. They would rhetorically ask why the Kyrgyz were "poor in their own country," while "other nationalities were rich." Alternatively, he says, they would ask why other nationalities were not "respecting" the Kyrgyz.

"Alibi," a weekly based in Bishkek but distributed nationwide with a circulation of about 10,000, provides recent examples of content that could be read as a provocation to violence.

The July 13 editorial titled "'Alibi' Withdraws The Line Under This Argument" appears to pin blame for the violence on ethnic Uzbeks, the country's largest minority, even if it they are not mentioned by name:

These other nationalities who started this war and murdered Kyrgyz people, then -- being unable to defend themselves -- ran away, would be put in their place by our very united efforts.

The coverage of mainstream Kyrgyz news agencies, such as "24kg" and "AkiPress," both of which are privately owned and are published online in Kyrgyz, Russian, and English, have tended to downplay the extent of violence in the south.

While international media were quick to identify the interethnic nature of the violence, "24kg" and "AkiPress" adopted the terms "mass unrest" or "June events" and took care to avoid mention of the ethnicity of the two battling sides.

In recent weeks, international media have focused much of their coverage on how ethnic Uzbeks have been disproportionately targeted by police raids, arbitrary arrests, and even torture while in detention.

Reporting from Osh and Jalal-Abad by "24kg" and "AkiPress," meanwhile, has generally focused on investigations into the origins of the unrest, the official number of casualties, local government appointments, and reconstruction efforts.

"Local people's" anxiety about the possibility of future unrest is mentioned almost as an aside in a July 28 article published by "24kg" and titled, "The City Of Osh Remains The Most Painful Place In Osh Province."

The day before, on July 27, the news agency did concede that there were "different explanations" for the unrest. The solitary comment of Human Rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun explained the situation by saying "most international organizations accuse Kyrgyzstan, including the Kyrgyz, of genocide of Uzbeks."

No Coverage, No Problem

State-run broadcast media have been remarkable mainly for what has been lacking in their coverage. In the early days of the June violence, there was a scarcity of reporting of fighting in the south, and very limited coverage of the plight of ethnic Uzbeks during and after the violence, according to media observers and ethnic Uzbeks questioned by RFE/RL.

In one Uzbek neighborhood right off the main Masaliev street in Osh, a woman gave a dour assessment of the television coverage. "On television they're saying everything is fine," she said on condition that her name not be used, out of fear for her safety. "We never see a single Uzbek being interviewed."

In the southern village of Mazhnun-tol, a man named Mamirjan said that "TV broadcasts only one way. Uzbeks are always being blamed." He alleged that state broadcasters were "showing Uzbek homes and saying they're Kyrgyz."

Media consultant Jumagulov says one of the country's major television channels, EITR, has not broadcast a single report over the past two months on the thousands of ethnic Uzbeks who were forced to leave their homes.

He adds that his monitoring of national-television programming has revealed that the state channels' coverage of the situation in the south has largely been limited to reports on officials' visits and statements and on the delivery of humanitarian aid. Most interviewees, he says, call for peace or praise reconciliation efforts.
The violence left more than 350 people dead and hundreds injured


Correspondents from the two channels have offered explanations for the dearth of coverage.

Gulbara Kenjeeva, a regional correspondent of NTRK, told a media-monitoring group from the NGO "Journalists" that the threat of violence played a large part.

Kenjeeva recalled that on June 11 a young man with a knife attacked her and Ibragim Ashurov, NTRK's cameraman. Only because they were able to drive away quickly, she said, were they able to survive. After that incident, they didn't go out to cover events because all journalists were under threat, she said.

EITR correspondents were also attacked, according to "Journalists." The NGO reports that Rasul Nasirdinov, an EITR cameraman, was beaten badly and his car damaged when he attempted to cover events.

Image Crisis

Kuban Abdymen, director of the Zamandash press agency in Bishkek, suggests that bias in some Kyrgyz media could be attributed to an effort to instill balance to the overall coverage, often seen to disproportionately portray ethnic Uzbeks as the main victims of the unrest.

"Since in the international media there were lots of one-sided articles about the events and the tragedy in Osh, these materials [in the Kyrgyz press] may be considered a natural response to them," Abdymen says. "If the foreign media would try to be objective about the events in Kyrgyzstan, then there would be no reason to publish such articles."

The international media focused much of their reporting on attacks on businesses and properties of ethnic Uzbeks, broadcasting images of the burning and looting of homes in Uzbek neighborhoods into living rooms around the world.

In some cases, ethnic Kyrgyz have come under fierce criticism in the Kyrgyz media for contribute to this portrayal of events.

Rights activist Tolekan Ismailova, who was oft-quoted by international media in the early days of the violence, has been called a "traitor" in Kyrgyz online forums for describing atrocities being committed. She announced in early July that she left the country after hearing that her life was under threat.

Bermet Malikova, a journalist with a Russian-language daily, says she was described by several Kyrgyz newspapers as having been "unpatriotic" for her coverage of the events. Malikova works for "Vecherny Bishkek," which media observers widely mention as the most outspoken publication in Kyrgyzstan during the crisis. She says several Kyrgyz newspapers warned her not to become an "enemy of the Kyrgyz people."

"Alibi," for example, wrote in July that journalists such as Malikova have "no respect for their native language," and called on her to make amends for her actions: "At this moment, when Kyrgyz people are swallowing blood, suffering, and expecting condolences and support, why don't you offer your sincere condolences?" the paper asked.

One Story, Two Sides

The reporting by "Vecherny Bishkek" does not stand out as having been pro-Uzbek. A review of its coverage over past weeks reveals few interviews with ethnic Uzbeks. It had no reports from camps along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border where tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Uzbeks sought shelter in the aftermath of the violence. Slide shows depicting burned-down Uzbek neighborhoods or displaced ethnic Uzbeks do not feature prominently on the paper's website, as they have on many international news sites.

However, " Vecherny Bishkek" was one of very few Kyrgyz publications that openly -- albeit sparsely -- mentioned the Uzbek side of the story. "The Uzbek community claims the deaths of some 700 people," the paper wrote on June 15 in a chronicle of events in Osh. "In Uzbek neighborhoods, residents are too afraid to call the ambulance," the chronicle's author, Andrei Oreshkin wrote.

"Vecherny Bishkek" also published some photos of dead bodies gathered on a street corner, tanks moving down streets, and burning homes and cars -- although there is no mention of location or names that would indicate the ethnicity of the victims.

Overall, explains Akmat Alagushev, a Bishkek-based observer for the Media Policy Institute, coverage of the unrest has revealed that Kyrgyz journalists "have split into two groups."

"They keep accusing each other, with one side saying that the other papers are unpatriotic, and that group of papers calling the others too nationalistic," Alagushev says.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent Venera Djumataeva contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Seidkazi
July 31, 2010 12:59
"They would rhetorically ask why the Kyrgyz were "poor in their own country," while 'other nationalities were rich.'"

That is indeed an important question, and one I was confronted with during tensions bewteen Kyrgyz and Dungan in the north of Kyrgyzstan a while back. Well, there can be several explanations several of which were given by ethic Kyrgyz themselves.

First, there's the traditional presence of a stronger work ethos and/or mercantile tradition and less handout dependency culture among certain minorities.

Second, rampant alcohol abuse: several of the minorities (Uzbeks and Dungans in particular) are 'more Muslim' than the Kyrgyz, drink less and work more.

And third, one of the main explanations lays in the (predominantly Kyrgyz or mankurt Kyrgyz) power elites that looted the country in connivance with international banks and -organizations, foreign embassies and clan-based criminal networks.
In Response

by: Jeff
August 01, 2010 18:49
Sorry Seidkazi, but your analysis is a bit superficial.

While your points regarding alcohol consumption and the presence of a traditional work/ethos among the traditionally sedentary groups such as Dungans and Uzbeks vs the highlander Kyrgyz are more or less true, you are missing the more proximate cause the historical legacy of Soviet policy.

During the Soviet period, ethnic Kyrgyz, aside from a small circle of political elites, were generally relegated to the highland collective farms where their primary economic activities were shepherding and light industry. The fertile low land areas of the Ferghana valley in the south and the Chui valley in the north, were primarily farmed by Uzbeks and Koreans/Dungans/Meskhetian Turks/Russians in the two regions respectively while the major urban areas were composed of Russian, Uzbek and various ethnic minorities with the titualar national ethnic majority Kyrgyz being left as minorities. Since the soviet collapse a massive influx of ethnic Kyrgyz to the cities and lowlands has occurred, urbanization on a large scale. The Kyrgyz government's inability to address the economic and social needs of these economic migrants to the cities is the root cause of conflict. And to be cynical, we could also see that in some cases the government in Bishkek exploited Kyrgyz nationalism in this context to increase political power. Points one and two you listed above are symptoms not causes. Point three...leaving out the international orgs and foreign presences, yes, previous Kyrgyz governments have also been corrupt elf serving rentier seeking regimes. Bakyiev's regimes very much so, Akayev's regime perhaps a bit less but also so. Kyrgyzstan needs good goverenance for all its communities to develop in peace, not nationalistic rhetoric that exploits Kyrgyz poverty for political power, only leading to more division and conflict.
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 02, 2010 16:22
I would call it 'compact' rather than 'superificial'. ;-) For the rest, good supplement.
In Response

by: Sergei Alexandrov from: Bishkek
August 02, 2010 12:20
I think commentary of Seidkazy is quite absurd.
There certainly lots of people not work at all. But generally Kyrgyz are workoholic.
Secondly Kyrgyz don't drink alcohol a lot. Some western countries drink even more but that doesn't make them less rich. Thirdly Kyrgyz try to cherish their culture unlike the Sarts (more commonly known as Uzbeks). The Sarts are mainly less educated and less culturally developed people. Sarts also are basically engaged in drugs mafia and kidnapping. Most of criminal acts registered (predominanlty sexual abuse - homo and hetero) are made by Sarts. It's widely known that Sarts try to arrange marriages among relatives - between cousin sisterd and brothers that causes lots of moron cases among this people.
In Response

by: Frank from: Bishkek
August 03, 2010 05:53
- anybody on the review board accepting the people using the words Sarts?--

Excuse me, Uzbeks being less culturally developedcompared to the sheep/goat herders? Are you nuts? Ever been to Uzbekistan? What culture do the Kyrgyz have? These funny hats, velt, drunk horseback riding, clan mentality and strong looting instincts? Give me a break...
Kyrgyz are so used to handouts they think it is their birthright. Uzbeks know that they have to work hard for their money (and give a few bribes to the Kyrgyz lazy officials). Question: Whom do the Kyrgyz now take their bribes from, now that they have destroyed the economic heart of the country? It is shocking that there is no national shame about what the Kyrgyz have done to the Uzbeks.
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 03, 2010 14:56
"Kyrgyz are so used to handouts they think it is their birthright."

Unfortunately, Frank is right here and many Kyrgyz say that too.

Upon 'independence', what basically happened was a 'transition' (to use the UNDP and IFI lingo) from dependency on Moscow and Gosplan to one on international aid. For the (primarily Western) aid industry, the Kyrgyzstan of 1991 was to become a laboratory for neoliberal 'reforms' and social engineering. What happened was, that these 'neoliberal refroms' gave the green ligth to an elite of recycled, mainly Kyrgyz Soviet apparachiks and their children to loot the country, turn it into a borthel adn leave a dislocated society withpout identity. From the late '90s onwards, furstration with that became felt at the popular level. Part of it was channeled into nationalism, which was also encouraged by the kafir and mankurt elites to divide and rule and limit the influence of the true revolutionary force for social justice that is Islam. Seriously, I fully understand the bitterness and hatred of the Kyrgyz brothers. But they turned it against the wrong target: an ethnic minorty, chasing away common people, ... Instead of targeting symbols of and booting out the real destructive forces like the IFIs.

There's no need to go into that moronic auction style 'our culture is greater and more ancient that yours', like e.g. Georgians and Albanians love to do. Look at them: they're American puppet states. Instead of wallowing in primitive nationalism and support beasts like Myrzakmatov, a truly great nation interrogates itself: do we want to achieve something, or do we continue to be a neoliberal IFI colony? Hasn't Kyrgyzstan completely sold itself out to the West and the IFIs in an attempt to be something that it is not?
In Response

by: Bek from: USA
August 04, 2010 19:56
Sergei, or rather Sirgakbek, perhaps! Stop hiding behind a Russian name! A Russian from Bishkek, wouldn't know what "Sart" means, let alone to use it to insult Uzbeks. When you reveal your true identity it becomes clear where all this hatred and ability and desire to tell lies comes from, for you are a typical Kyrgyz nationalist!
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 05, 2010 09:25
Bek, I don't think either that Sergei is Russian. It's rather a troll handle. In any case, what he says is not the state of mind among ethnic Russians in Bishkek or other places in Kyrgyzstan. They rather try to keep a low profile and will certainly not be supportive of a primitive, underworld-connected nationalism that might make them the next target in line after the Dungan in Tokmak, the Turks and Caucasians in Alamedin and Nizhnaya Ala-Archa (these two cases have been overshadowed but the first ethnic provocations after Bakiev's overthrow took place in/around Bishkek) and more recently the Uzbeks in Osh and J'abad. Personally, I think that is not very probable that there will be widespread anti-Russian pogroms but at least the concern among the Russians is there.

by: Aliman from: Kazakhstan
August 01, 2010 16:02
Seidkazi, your generalizations are killing me....such a bull....t
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 02, 2010 16:20
Well bratan, it's you right to call it bullshit but then again you don't provide any useful supplementary views and analysis like Jeff did.

by: Serik
August 02, 2010 17:09
Why kyrgyzs poor in their own land? I recommend you reed Chingiz Aytmatov's books. You can find answers to this quest.

by: Kubat from: Bishkek
August 03, 2010 05:34
I agree with Sergey. Beside his name, Sergey thinks as native Kyrgyz. However all his commentary is fully right. As Kyrgyz I would say, at present Kyrgyz drinks much less than some more known nations including closest neighbor Kazakhs. And it does not mean they could not be reach. All problems of Kyrgyz is unlimited tolerancy. All minorities in Kyrgyzstan use it and gradually became stronger than it should be as in Uzbekistan, Baltic countries and even in Kazakhstan. Uzbek minorities, who is known in Central Asia as Sarts (here Seidkazi is absolutely right), did not respect Kyrgyz. The same time Sarts in Kyrgyzstan already are not Sarts in Uzbekistan. They mentally have changed during last 20 years and began overestimated their capasity to live as minority. They demand now more rights and more yields. It could not continued forever. Kyrgyz in Uzbekistan are more than 2 million in just Ferghana valley and they have NO such a rights there as Uzbeks in Osh and Djalal-Abad regions - their real neighbors. Uzbeks in Uzbekistan hate Uzbek in Kyrgyzstan, because they are very poor and have to work for Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan. That is a really serious problem.
In Response

by: Frank from: Bishkek
August 03, 2010 06:07
Overestimated their capacity to live as a minority? Every minority has a right to unite and form political party, if you are part of a large minority I would not be suprised to see that one also asked to have their own language accepted. Not respected the Kyrgyz...ooh boy, I think the Kyrgyz are just jealous bums. The last years the Kyrgyz have only put more pressure on the Uzbek businesses to squeese money out. That is called working for the Kyrgyz. Well you are right, the human rights status is Uzbekistan, not only for Kyrgyz but also for Uzbeks is worrisome. This does not give Kyrgyzstan an excuse to proudly start a genocide.
I really hope no international organisation provides financial support., because it will al go to the Kyrgyz..
Still police and other officials are arresting Uzbeks to get money out of them, no wonder that the Kyrgyz don't want the OSCE to send a police force...it is relaly profitable now to arrest Uzbeks in Osh/JB.
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 03, 2010 15:54
"I really hope no international organisation provides financial support., because it will al go to the Kyrgyz.."

The truth is that these hypocrites of the foreign aid organizations don't care as long as the money is disbursed so that flashy reports can go to HQs and the expats' carreers are safe.
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 03, 2010 17:56
Kubat, I was not the one who came up with Sart but 'Sergei Alexandrov'.

I don't think that 'Sart' is so much a term that was cooked up for 'Uzbek minorities' even though it is used nowadays as a derogatory term for the Uzbek minority in Kyrgyzstan as you say. The Russian imperial administration officially used it in the 19th century to designate the sedentary Turco-Persian peoples in the General-Governorate of Turkestan and the protectorates of Khiva and Bukhara. The Russians may have taken over the term from the Kazakh-Kyrgyz nomads who came under their rule earlier than the sedentary people of Turkestan, Khiva and Bukhara.

One Kyrgyz told me that 'Sart' comes from 'sary it' (yellow dog) but I don't know to what extent that is true really (it can as well be bollocks). In Tajikistan, I myself have not heard the term for the sizeable Uzbek minority there. One term that they do use the region of Vakhsh, Hissar and Shaartuz is 'Lakaitsi' after the specific Uzbek group who lives there.

by: Azat from: Bishkek
August 05, 2010 07:36
After reading all these materials on this web-site and comments to them I understand that this site run just for the sake of further provocations of conflicts between the ethnicities. This web-site and its owner RFE/RL stimulated conflict but not interested in its resolution. Secondly, it become very clear that in management of both the web-site and organization the Uzbek ethnic journalists can influence to their policy. They devote most of their time to prepare nationalistic and abusive materials not only to the Kyrgyz ethnicity but to the others.
Though I am sure you are not going to post my comment. But you have to understand that we all analyze your activities and this disproportion will lead to deteriorated image of RFE/RL.

by: Uzbek
August 08, 2010 02:57
And Azat it was published. How far you are - Kyrgyz people from the truth!!! Open your eye and ears. You will ruin your country in a few years. You should be much more tolerant if you want any peace. ethnic Uzbeks are the same citizens of Kyrgyzstan like you! You shouldn't discriminate any nationality whether it is Uzbek, Turk, Tartar or Russian. And indeed we see the clear and open attitude of Kyrgyz who started with calling names "Sart". Shame on you and pity on you.
In Response

by: Sergei from: Bishkek
August 10, 2010 03:57
It's really funny to read what Uzbek wrote above. Don't cheat - Uzbeks call themselves "the Sarts". I lived in Ferghana and heard a lot this term. Don't deny.
Azat, I agree with you! This RFE/RL has already dicredited itself.
In Response

by: Seidkazi
August 16, 2010 08:02
'Seryoga', be careful that the Kyrgz as a nation do not discredit themselves too. We all know that those Kyrgyz who participated in the killings, rapes and lootings are not 'the Kyrgyz'. They're vermin and a disgrace to the Kyrgyz. Yet what is much more painful and worrying is, that a far larger number who should know better or at least wait and see, buy into the nationalist frenzy and even try to justify what happened down to the absurd.

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