After the April uprising was followed by inter-ethnic violence, the Uzbek-heavy city of Osh is entrenching practices that make it near-impossible for Uzbek families to make a living
An ethnic Uzbek child helps to rebuild houses, destroyed during ethnic clashes, in the city of Osh / Reuters
OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- "What is it like to lose everything?" An Uzbek man asked me over tea last week, his brow crinkled in obvious anguish. "Your wife killed, your daughter raped, your store smashed, your home burned down? What would you do?"
We were sitting in a bucolic place: a narrow, swiftly moving stream nearby gave a gentle burble while birds tweeted above us. The chaikhana, or teahouse, where we were eating lunch was nestled in the outskirts of Osh city, in an Uzbek neighborhood, called a mahallah. Narimon had invited me in this mahallah when he saw me taking pictures of some ruined buildings in the main city market. Narimon isn't his real name, but like most Uzbeks here he is unwilling to speak on the record for fear of reprisal from the Kyrgyzstan government, which is dominated, like the country itself, by the ethnic Kyrgyz majority.
Last summer, crowds of young Kyrgyz men turned these Uzbek mahallahs into scenes of horrifying violence in what people here now call "The June Events" or even "The War." Over the course of about 72 hours in June 2010, upwards of 2,000 people were killed, thousands more were beaten and raped, thousands of buildings and homes were torched, and nearly 100,000 Uzbeks fled across the border toward Andijon in nearby Uzbekistan.
The sudden onset of this violence caught many people here by surprise. There was always some tension between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities: the Uzbeks dominated the business community of Osh, and the Kyrgyz dominated the politics. But until the April Revolution last year, which saw the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, there hadn't been much violence since the 1990 riots, part of a paroxysm of ethnic violence that accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
"Thirty years ago, there were no Kyrgyz here," Narimon said. "When they'd come down from the mountains, we'd beat them on their donkeys." He made a disgusted gesture. "Now, they beat us. Kill us. This is how it goes."
Almost every Uzbek you find in Osh has a heartbreaking story of tragedy: homes burned down, family members beaten to death in the street. The local government response has worsened the injustice. The Uzbeks who didn't lose everything in the riots and fires now face a predatory local government that threatens them unless they sign over controlling stakes of their businesses to Kyrgyz. I found several restaurants and cafes run by Kyrgyz that had been owned by Uzbeks before the June Events.
What followed the June violence was economic dislocation on a massive scale: tens of thousands of people, thousands of families have been thrown into chaos, and can't rebuild their lives so long as they must give half of their earnings over to the Kyrgyz. The response by NGOs and UN agencies here has been inadequate as well. While UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which works in Osh) is very skilled at disaster relief, none of the agencies operating in this city have been able to address the fundamental social and economic problems that stem from the June Events.
"These NGOs mean well," Adilya told me. She lost her shop when a gang of Kyrgyz men smashed in her windows, stole all of her inventory and cash, and set her home on fire. "But they hire mostly Kyrgyz to work for them. I can't tell them a Kyrgyz is harassing me."
These NGOs have helped to fund a recovery effort, channeled through the local Kyrgyz-dominated government that Uzbeks feel so uncomfortable approaching for help. Most directly affected businesses have received a credit for rebuilding equivalent to about $1,000. The Kyrgyz I spoke to think this should be enough to fix a few broken windows. The Uzbeks complain that it's not enough if their business was burned to the ground, and besides which the money goes to Kyrgyz businesses first.
Some Kyrgyz businesses were affected as well. I spoke with one restaurant owner whose store was in the path of the rioters: his windows were broken, and the looters stole almost everything inside except the oven. It took nearly 11 months to find new suppliers, repair the damage, and re-open for business. On that same block, however, Uzbek businesses remain burned out husks, never rebuilt and never reoccupied.
It's difficult to look at the current situation and see hope. The Uzbeks have been systematically excluded or pushed out of public life. Most of the Uzbek men I spoke to stayed in their mahallah, afraid to be harassed by the Kyrgyz police. Most of the shoppers and low-level workers at the market are women, since they're less likely to be targeted. The Kyrgyz, on the other hand, insist there are no problems and Osh is a city picking itself up by its own bootstraps. I asked one Kyrgyz man at a political rally for Adahan Madumarov, a presidential candidate, if he thought the tension between communities was a big deal. "You know those Uzbeks," he said dismissively. "They exaggerate everything. They just want UN money."
Kyrgyz here control the government, and the fear Uzbeks feel for the future is palpable. But this is no simple case of ethnic cleansing. The tension here is economic, and has its roots in the very design of the Soviet Union, of Stalin's ethnic policies in the 1930s. By the time Gorbachev introduced market reforms in the 1980s, the Uzbeks, who are traditionally merchants and farmers, controlled a majority of the commercial activity in this little corner of Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz, meanwhile, who were more reliant on animal husbandry, were impoverished by the reforms. The situation only grew worse in the 1990s. Over Kyrgyzstan's first ten years of independence, the country's per capita GDP shrank by 54 percent.
The Uzbeks affected by the June Events are desperate for justice, but they don't know where it can come from. The Kyrgyz control the courts, the police, and the mayor's office. Bishkek is wrapped up in the Presidential election and doesn't want a distraction down south. More than one Uzbek spoke, darkly, of the need to get "personal justice" for what happened. The Kyrgyz, meanwhile, seem to think the Uzbeks are just whining and should get back to work.
Meanwhile, the economic dislocation continues. Every Uzbek with money has either left or is planning to leave for Russia (the only country that will take them in any number). While many businesses have been restored, with a Kyrgyz face, the whole region is in a depression: incomes are down, many businesses are facing mounting debts, and the divisions between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities seems to be growing by the day. It is difficult to see a future for Osh that doesn't end in disaster.
The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and an act of sacrilege.
Taboo and sacredness are among the most important words needed to understand Charlottesville and its aftermath. Taboo refers to things that are forbidden for religious or supernatural reasons. All traditional societies have such prohibitions—things you must not do, touch, or eat, not because they are bad for you directly, but because doing so is an abomination, which may bring divine retribution. But every society also makes some things sacred, rallying around a few deeply revered values, people, or places, which bind all members together and make them willing to sacrifice for the common good. The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and saw President Trump commit an act of sacrilege by violating one of our society’s strongest taboos.
Despite warnings, Trump gazed directly at the eclipse.
During the solar eclipse today, President Donald Trump stepped onto the White House balcony with his wife and his son Barron, and he looked up at the sun.
According to White House reporters, an aide shouted a warning that he should not look at the sun. Nevertheless, he persisted.
There were parts of the United States, along path of totality, that allowed people to look directly at the eclipse. But Washington, D.C., was not among them.
How much damage can a person do by staring at the sun for a few seconds?
As many children are warned, there is indeed no “safe” amount of time to stare directly at the sun. Note that no ophthalmologists recommend any amount of glancing or squinting at the eclipse. Against the energy of the sun, human eyelids are like a dam built of tissue paper.
A tour of the solar eclipse’s path reveals a nation that fought to maintain a different sort of totality.
Totality is everything, say those who chase solar eclipses. When the moon fully obscures the sun and casts its shadow on Earth, the result is like nothing you’ve seen before—not even a partial eclipse. A merely partial eclipse does not flip day to night, because the sun is bright enough to light our fields of vision with only a tiny fraction of its power. But when the sun and moon align just so, a little piece of Earth goes dark in the middle of the day. In this path of totality, night comes suddenly and one can see the shape of the moon as a circle darker than black, marked by the faint backlight of the sun’s corona. Astronomers and eclipse chasers chart carefully to be sure that they can watch from exactly the right place at the right time. They know that you cannot compromise with the sun. For a dark sky, the sun must be banished altogether.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State. It first appeared in Dillard’s landmark collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and was recently republished in The Abundance, a new anthology of her work. The Atlantic is pleased to offer the essay in full, here, until the day after the ‘Great American Eclipse’ on August 21.
It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled here to see would occur early in the next morning.
The cartoonist defended the president in a podcast debate with Sam Harris. The portrait he painted of Trump supporters was not flattering.
Sam Harris, the atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, has recently been using his popular Waking Up podcast to discuss Donald Trump, whom he abhors, with an ideologically diverse series of guests, all of whom believe that the president is a vile huckster.
This began to wear on some of his listeners. Wasn’t Harris always warning against echo chambers? Didn’t he believe in rigorous debate with a position’s strongest proponents? At their urging, he extended an invitation to a person that many of those listeners regard as President Trump’s most formidable defender: Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, who believes that Trump is “a master persuader.”
Their conversation was posted online late last month. It is one of the most peculiar debates about a president I have ever encountered. And it left me marveling that parts of Trump’s base think well of Adams when his views imply such negative things about them.
“Medicare for all” is a popular idea, but for Americans, transitioning to such a system would be difficult, to say the least.
French women supposedly don’t get fat, and in the minds of many Americans, they also don’t get stuck with très gros medical bills. There’s long been a dream among some American progressives to truly live as the “Europeans1” do and have single-payer health care.
Republicans’ failure—so far—to repeal and replace Obamacare has breathed new life into the single-payer dream. In June, the majority of Americans told Pew that the government has the responsibility to ensure health coverage for everyone, and 33 percent say this should take the form of a single government program. The majority of Democrats, in that poll, supported single payer. A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation even found that a slim majority of all Americans favor single payer.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”