I have been doing a lot of thinking on the rise of “Ethnic Cleaning” in our world lately. While there have always been examples of people turning on their neighbors and friends because of racial or religious differences from the burning out of entire African American communities in towns in the U.S. to the genocide against Jewish people and anyone who dared to support them under Hitler, sadly, we have examples great and small to choose from. Yet it seems to me that the modern period has seen much more frequent examples of ethnic cleansing across the globe. Worse, in most of these cases so-called super powers have done very little to stop them while they are in progress. We can mobilize an endless amount of troops to go fight for oil in the Middle East, regardless of how many innocent people on all sides die or are permanently warped by the experience, but we seldom rush into the face of great evil against minority people whose only crime is the color of their skin, hair, eyes, or the place where they worship. Human Rights and Corporate Interests are clearly unequal in the eyes of the modern states and we humans are losing.
This week, another vulnerable group fell prey to its neighbors while the world watched. Southern Kyrgyztan errupted in ethnic violence late Thursday when armed Kyrgyz men turned on their unarmed Uzbek neighbors. By Saturday morning, the second largest city in the region is in flames with 1000s wounded and the counted dead nearing the 100s. Uzbek areas of the nation are all but deserted and people fear that even if they survive the violence there will be no food, medical supplies, or water for them to survive the aftermath.
While men were targeted to be beaten and killed, fleeing women and children found themselves trampled in the rush to a secured border and the attempts to cross the intentionally ditched designed to stop them. Like in other ethnic conflicts, these women and children are likely being targeted for specific gendered violence and trafficking and without aid will continue to be into the future.
While you might be hoping to turn a blind eye to this conflict and wait for the moving Hollywood film that comes out in a year or two, the fact is both Russia and the U.S. are implicated in the conflict in Kyrgyztan. Both countries have military bases there and yet neither has responded with requested military aid to the people being systematically killed and burned out of the nation.
The failure to act on the part of either the U.S. or Russia is further complicated by the relationship of Kyrgyztan’s Prime Minister with both nations. Interim PM Roza Otunbayeva, is a college educated moderate with longstanding ties to Moscow, including teaching at Moscow University. She was also the UN envoy to Georgia when violence broke out there. And while Otunbayeva served in a government she herself said continued the corruption and nepotism of the nation’s past, she broke away from them in order to form a party and a platform that would see more egalitarian representation and inclusivity in the Kyrgyztan’s government and society. Her calls for help should have been met with at least some kind of response from Russians who know and have supported her and North Americans who want to continue to have a moderate in charge of a country where the hold a military base. And so one has to wonder why those calls have fallen on deaf ears except for minor humanitarian efforts on the part of Russia. With two major super power’s bases in the nation, violence should never have escalated unchecked to ethnic cleansing and burning cities. In fact a previous conflict between these same ethnic groups in 2007 was quickly put down by Russian troops, sparing huge casualties and/or genocide.
Otunbayeva is also the first female president CIS/SCO member state yet neither she nor the huddled and terrified female refugees of today’s violence have garnered much attention from mainstream feminist press. As of now, I have seen no calls to support a beleaguered female leader or women who are very likely being raped or rounded up for trafficking and certainly are homeless, displaced, and largely trapped at the border with burning cities on one side and ditches blocking their exit on the other. Unlike imperialist feminist calls to “save women” in the Middle East that aligned with western expansionism and hunger for oil and failed largely to ask what women living in the region wanted or needed, hold accountable military and counter-military strategies that targeted women and girls and made it less safe for them to go to school or be in public, or ensure that women’s rights were not discarded by this or any previous administration as they pushed forward, calls to support the women and children in Kygyrztan would align with the requests the PM herself has already made. She has asked specifically for military aid in stopping violence and detaining the engineers of ethnic cleansing in the state. She has also asked specifically for help with the people who have already been displaced and with containing and putting out the fires and other damage raging through the cities.
At this point NGOs in the region are trying to get outside aid to people and hoping that violence can be quelled long enough to restore the constitutional democracy Otunbayeva has promised.
It seems that we feminists need to take a wider and deeper look at the meaning of solidarity and global feminism. And that we people engaged in social justice also need to make more lasting connections between current processes (economic, political, and social) and old “coping skills” (marginalizing, enslavement, rape, and genocide). As I watched the news today I couldn’t help thinking about lost African American cities, the children who refused to save themselves at the cost of their targeted classmates in Rwanda while adult “peacekeepers” divested in Rwanda, the gains one, or possibly two, corrupt military bases could gain from widescale instability in Kyrgyztan, and the deadly shooting of a Mexicano in Arizona weeks before the new pass laws come into effect there. It may seem like these things are not comparable and certainly the scale of some far outweighs the scale of others. Yet, what I am arguing here is that there are cyclical patterns of power and control that ultimately erupt in violence whenever, as the saying goes, “good men do nothing.” Sitting at the intersections of feminism, critical race theory, and history, I think we have plenty of information to do things differently and I find myself wondering why people, especially women and children, have to suffer while we do not use it.
image two: displaced women and children look on with nowhere to go on Saturday in Kygyrztan. AP Photo/D. Dalton Bennett