Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Use of Uzbek in Election Campaign in Southern Kyrgyzstan City of Osh Outrages Many Kyrgyz

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 22 – A large share of the population of the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh consists of Uzbeks and so it is not surprising that candidates running for office have issued some of the election materials in the Uzbek language. But that has sparked a backlash among Kyrgyz who insist that such materials should be only in Kyrgyz.

            The first candidate to adopt this strategy during this election cycle was Sherzod Sabirov who is running on the Hope of the People Party list. But local Kyrgyz reacted extremely negatively saying that what he was doing is illegal and that it threatens to trigger new ethnic clashes (russian.eurasianet.org/кыргызстан-предвыборная-агитация-на-узбекском-языке-усиливает-напряженность).

            Osh has long been a tinderbox. It was at the center of the deadly 2010 conflicts in southern Kyrgyzstan (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/09/window-on-eurasia-tashkent-fears.html and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/09/window-on-eurasia-more-ethnic-conflicts.html). And it is true that unlike Kyrgyz and Russian, Uzbek is not an official language.

            As one local woman put it, “we live in Kyrgyzstan. The main ethnic group in this country is the Kyrgyz. Therefore, all signs, store names and election materials should be in the state language.” Uzbek should not be used. In the past, other parties have used Uzbek to reach Uzbek speakers, and there is in fact no law against their doing so.

            But Kyrgyz demands that Uzbek be banned in the elections suggest that ethnic attitudes are hardening there. Unfortunately, what that means is efforts to ban something that had been allowed earlier almost certainly will lead to exactly the opposite result their advocates say. Such calls will infuriate many Uzbeks and deepen the divide between them and the Kyrgyz.

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