Burned alive: the deadly politics of central Asia

In a small and distant country, a spate of vicious ethnic killings are being linked to a struggle between the world’s superpowers and a Russian bid to win control.

A terrible genocide is exploding in Kyrgyzstan. Yesterday the country’s government extended a state of emergency for another week. The best guess is that over 2000 have been killed in the southern city of Osh and 700 killed in the city of Jalal-Abad.
The fighting is ethnic -- between the sedentary Uzbeks and the nomadic Kyrgyz. Today it is the Uzbeks that are suffering. There are reports of fearsome cruelty: for example that many of the victims were raped and burned alive. It is said that armed gangs tried to prevent the wounded from receiving any first aid.
A reporter from The Guardian is there and has interviewed a man who described how Kyrgyz gangs arrived at a local school carrying Kalashnikovs. Three or four men burst into the school, followed by others lugging cans of petrol. “Those who didn’t run were killed. Those who fell had petrol poured on their heads and were burned alive,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous, landlocked country of 5.5 million people located in a key strategic position between Russia, China and India. After a proud history as home to the warrior Scythians and as an important stop on the ancient trading routes between China and Europe, it was absorbed into the Soviet empire in 1919.

Independent since 1991, the world superpowers all keep a close eye. Both Russia and American have military bases there. Both Russia and China covet the region’s natural gas, gold and hydro power.

Shadowy powers

Who is behind the violence? Many sources, including the UN, have claimed the riots are orchestrated from outside forces. There are two main suspects. One is the recently deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, whose son Maxim was arrested last week in Britain. Bakiyev has strong Kyrgyz support and may be trying to cause a civil war in which he can be returned victorious.
The other suspect is Russia. Experts say that the refusal to send any help plus the expert fanning of ethnic hatreds is proof that Russia is pulling the strings. Attacks are well-planned, coordinated and seem to be led by trained militia . They say, Russia wants to see Kyrgyzstan implode and then take control of the country behind a puppet president in order to establish wider influence over central Asia.

You Decide

  1. Why is the news about Kyrgyzstan so buried when such terrible things are going on there?
  2. Assume 3,000 have been killed in the current fighting. Can you remember an event in America where around that many people died? Did that get much news coverage?


  1. Imagine you have a pen pal in Kyrgyzstan who is the same age as you. Write them a letter to find out more about their life. Include information about yourself which you think they might find interesting.
  2. Find out more about the history of Kyrgyzstan and present your findings in a timeline.

Some People Say...

“I beat the people from China. I win against China. You can win against China if you're smart.”

Donald Trump

What do you think?


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