Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Osh, part II

On our second day in Osh we met H the journalist. "Give her until at least 11," D said, as he and Small V were making plans to invite her out. Invite her for lunch, he instructed; she was more amenable when food was involved.

A meeting was arranged, at a restaurant called Meeting. We arrived on time. "Do you have a booth that's heated?" Small V asked, shivering. "This one is heated," said the waitress, who was in a fur coat. We ordered hot tea. H showed up about half an hour later. She was about six feet tall, wearing boot heels and tapered jeans that enhanced her broad midsection. She had a generous face with bright brown eyes, a large and pointy nose, and bleached blonde hair in a semi-mullet. She, V, and D ordered chicken shashlyki. I asked the waitress what vegetarian dishes they had, and selected the garden salad. "You'd better get the farmer's salad," H interjected. "The garden salad's not enough. So," she continued, "I have news. I've changed my ethnicity. Now I'm a Kyrgyz." She had been loath to switch over, since she is closest to her father, her Uzbek half. But he had encouraged her. "Daughter," he had said, "since you're going to stay here, change it, for god's sake." The passport authorities had traced her Kyrgyz blood back to her grandfather, and only then had she been allowed to re-register. She also mentioned she'd been picked up by the police after June, when she was still an Uzbek, and accused of aiding Uzbek fighters. "They said I was distributing weapons from my car. Can you imagine, from my car! I said, what, so I went against my own mother? They said, we've got it all on tape." She'd sat in the station for many hours. They'd then decided they had made a mistake, apologized, and had her sign a paper stating that she'd come to the police station of her own accord and did not hold them responsible for any wrongdoing.

The waitress brought the shashlyki and my farmer's salad. D asked if she'd spoken to the international investigation panelists. She responded that the international investigation into the pogroms had been "truly one sided." All their efforts were focused on uncovering atrocities against the Uzbeks, while everyone knew the Kyrgyz had also suffered. She had worked with them for one day and then quit. She said little of the parliamentary and national investigations, which are widely viewed as a joke. (The parliamentary investigation basically says the attacks aimed at annexing the country to Uzbekistan, then bringing in Obama's death panels.)

She got to telling us about a journalists' training conference she'd gone to in London. The attendees had been tasked with getting past a roadblock. All the other journalists – "polite, decent Englishmen and Iraqis"– had asked nicely, shown their press cards, and stressed the importance of the information they hoped to gather. She laid down 1000 pounds. She was the only one to get through. The others were horrified, she said. "They said, that's not accepted here. And I said, it's accepted; there's nowhere where people don't accept [bribes]. There are places where people don't give."

I had trouble keeping up with her conversation. She was huge. Her face was huge, her eyes were huge, the breadth of her experience and her cultural identities was huge. The skinny cigarettes she smoked looked ridiculous next to her huge mouth. Small V and I barely seemed to exist for her– we were on another scale altogether.

We left and drove to Suleyman To. We climbed up and looked down at the city. I  wondered whether the group of young men who'd been hollering at me and then overtaken us aggressively on the way up had done it out of sheer impulse, or to put us (me) in our place. I fumed slightly as I stared out over Osh.


  1. This is a marvelous description. Did she ever explain what part the Uzbeks had played in creating the pogrom against them?

  2. Hi! Who is this?

    It was sort of a given in our conversation that the chronology of June 9th-14th had yet to be firmly established. She did place a fair bit of blame on Batyrov's activities in April, if that's what you're referring to.

  3. This is Matyushka. Also liked the post about Bolot and E. Is that really his name?

  4. Oh, hi! No, of course that's not his real name.