Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Voice from inside a blockaded Osh neighborhood

It took many tries to get ahold of my Uzbek friends in Osh this evening, making me worry about their well-being. Finally, I was able to reach them at their home number.

Nargiza (name changed) answered and her voice sounded like a child’s. Unlike last time, when she expressed her excitement to hear from me, she remained somber. “We’re not doing very well,” she said in a low, quiet voice. “We’re all still healthy, but you know, it’s a war zone.”

A few days earlier, she expressed regret that her sons were out guarding the neighborhood and couldn’t talk to me. Tonight, there was no discussion of friendly chats. Her husband and sons were busy sleeping in shifts of 1-2 hours, taking short breaks from a constant guarding of the neighborhood.

“I’m very scared for my children,” she said. “None of us are getting much sleep.”

She said the men in her neighborhood have blockaded it, so the people and the houses have remained safe. But they feel they are in a state of war, and the stress and the lack of the sleep are wearing on them.

“We can still hear shooting,” she said. “We keep hoping that someone from outside will come to provide security, but it hasn’t happened yet. We don’t believe anyone in Kyrgyzstan anymore, so we want someone from the outside to help.”

She says it has been a bit quieter since Monday, though they can still hear shooting. The people within her neighborhood were told not to venture out, so she hadn’t seen the city outside her street for several days. “People have run in different directions,” she said. “The Kyrgyz to their villages and the places they came from, the Uzbeks into Uzbekistan. There might not be many left in Osh.”

They are left with a sense of incomprehension. “We don’t know who killed people or who was killed. The Kyrgyz say it was people specially prepared to do this. I know the Kyrgyz are good and peaceful people. We’ve lived among them and shared space at the market together. Still, there is a war with Kyrgyz and Uzbeks killing each other. They burned Uzbek homes and destroyed their stores.”

“I’d like for my children to be able to leave,” she said. I asked where they could go and she didn’t know. “Uzbekistan isn’t letting anyone else in. They let in 80,000 and said they don’t have any more room. There are a 100,000 people lined up at the border. Those who went first to Uzbekistan were those who had no protection, who had nowhere else to go.” She is in regular contact with relatives in Tashkent, but says they are unable to do anything.

A few days ago, she spoke about how the family had begun the process of remodeling their house to put in an addition for their eldest son. They wanted a space ready for him so that he could marry and bring his future wife into their home. In a matter of a few days, they are willing to give it all up. “A part of me is ready to leave this all behind, to give up our house and everything for our family to be able to leave.”

While the men protect her neighborhood, she and her female neighbors huddle together at home. They have food, water, electricity and telephone service. “I hear talk about humanitarian relief being organized,” she said. “We have plenty of food. No one in our neighborhood will die due to a lack of food. What we need is protection. I’m very, very afraid of something happening.”

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