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A Hero In Osh

An ethnic Uzbek woman cries as she passes by a burnt-out house in Osh.
There were many horror stories coming out of Osh earlier this summer. Brutal things were done. There was little honor and not much reason for pride on either side of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek conflict.

But I did see one hero there.

I was in an Uzbek neighborhood in Osh one day, speaking with people who had fled the violence and had returned to find themselves living in tents provided by the UN's refugee agency.

It was a bit surreal, and I suppose paradoxical, since the tents were often in the courtyards of their former homes, now burned beyond the possibility of habitation, making the Uzbeks there displaced people living on their own property.

A group of Uzbek women were taking me on a tour of the destruction in their neighborhood. One Uzbek woman came up and said I had to come with her and see someone just around the corner. That someone turned out to be a Kyrgyz man in his mid-20s who was standing in front of the gates (closed) to his inner courtyard and home, which had not been touched while the neighborhood around was torched.

Displaced in their own front yard?
The women explained to me that this young man protected some 30 of his Uzbek neighbors, mostly women, as a Kyrgyz mob descended on the neighborhood. He ushered them into his courtyard then went out, shut and locked the gate, and waited, alone, for the mob to arrive.

The Kyrgyz man remained quiet as the women told the story, but at this point he spoke up and told me the Kyrgyz that came to that neighborhood that day were not from Osh.

Although the mob knew there were Uzbeks behind his gate, this young and slender man told them the people behind the gate were his neighbors and that they, the Kyrgyz, were not from his neighborhood and should go, immediately.

And the mob left.

The Uzbek women credited him with saving many lives that day.

Unfortunately, some of the bravest deeds and those who perform them are destined to pass with little or no notice.

I asked the man to tell me his name, but he declined. In fact, he asked me not to say anything about what he had done or where it happened or take his picture. He was afraid. Since he was still living among Uzbeks it wasn't difficult to understand whom he was afraid of.

His anonymity is a great pity, since he was one of the few people I met who had a story a person could be proud of and remember with honor. I waited to write about it and purposely made no mention of which part of Osh he lives in out of respect for his wishes.

But I couldn't leave the story of such a brave and decent person untold.

-- Bruce Pannier