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Osh Anniversary: Uzbek Recounts Friendship Forged Amid Adversity

The ethnic violence in Osh five years ago left hundreds dead and displaced thousands. (file photo)
The ethnic violence in Osh five years ago left hundreds dead and displaced thousands. (file photo)

As residents of southern Kyrgyzstan mark five years since the ethnic clashes that killed hundreds and left tens or even hundreds of thousands homeless, many people in the regional hub of Osh -- the epicenter of the June 2010 violence -- might be tempted to look back in anger.

After all, more than 400 people -- two-thirds of them ethnic Uzbeks -- were killed and thousands more were injured in the four days of clashes between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks.

Tens or hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks were thought to have been displaced by the violence that ravaged southern Kyrgyzstan, a region a sizable Uzbek minority has called home for centuries.

Since the violence, for many ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the area, mutual contacts have been largely limited to joint prayers in mosques and encounters in local bazaars.

But Khairullo Jalolov, an Uzbek man from Osh, describes a Kyrgyz neighbor whose friendship was tested during those dark days of 2010 as "like a brother."

"We've always had a good neighborliness with Kubat...and his family," says Jalolov. "Our daughters were classmates and would go to school together."

But that Friday, June 10, which he says was shaping up as an "ordinary day," would turn bloody as simmering ethnic tensions and lawlessness took hold in swaths of the city, in many cases pitting neighbor against neighbor.

"Kubat's eldest daughter had just given birth in the local maternity hospital, and he was going to visit her and he asked me to come along," Jalolov recalls. "We visited Kubat's daughter, and on our way back we were stopped by a group of young men, a mob of complete strangers."

Jalolov says he and Kubat, who were on foot, got separated, and he was brutally beaten by the marauding gang.

There was no way for him to know at the time that he was among the first victims of the wave of violence that would devastate his city and drive his family from their home.

Gutted By Fire

Jalolov was taken to a nearby hospital, where he underwent treatment for nearly a week for severe injuries.

As authorities failed to assert control, mobs continued to march on neighborhoods, attacking residents and setting fire to homes.

"While I was in the hospital, my wife and our four children hid in our cellar," Jalolov says. "When the mobs were going door-to-door looking for Uzbeks, Kubat went to my house and took my family to his own home and hid them."

He was just in time. Jalolov's home lay in a particularly vulnerable section of Osh, in the predominantly ethnic Uzbek neighborhood of Cheryomushki where barricades were being erected in the streets and "SOS" messages were famously being scrawled on asphalt and, in at least one case, on a rooftop. By June 11, it had been gutted by fire. The family's car and other belongings were also set ablaze.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Aftermath Of Ethnic Violence In Osh

"Four days later, when the clashes died down, Kubat helped my wife and children to go to a camp for Uzbek refugees," Jalolov says. "I wasn't aware of any of this. My wife and daughters told me about it later when I joined them in the camp [after being discharged from the hospital]."

Jalolov and his family returned to Osh later in the month to find many Uzbek-owned homes and businesses torched and destroyed. The leafy Cheryomushki neighborhood was hit hardest.

According to official statistics, more than 1,500 homes were burned in Osh alone.

Jalolov has since rebuilt his modest one-story house and returned to work in the city's central heating station.

Many of Jalolov's relatives have left Kyrgyzstan since the violence that so deeply scarred the city and its people.

But Jalolov's friendship with his Kyrgyz neighbor hasn't changed, he says.

"We still keep in close contact with Kubat and his family," Jalolov says. "He's like my own brother."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Ydyrys Isakov
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.