March 9, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Ferghana Information Agency: My advice to you regarding the future of Peace Corps in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan is to be very particular and careful about your placements here

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Kyrgyzstan: Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan : The Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan: March 9, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Ferghana Information Agency: My advice to you regarding the future of Peace Corps in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan is to be very particular and careful about your placements here

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My advice to you regarding the future of Peace Corps in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan is to be very particular and careful about your placements here

My advice to you regarding the future of Peace Corps in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan is to be very particular and careful about your placements here

My advice to you regarding the future of Peace Corps in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan is to be very particular and careful about your placements here

Foreign volunteers come to Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan, misinformed and leave nonplussed

Ferghana.Ru news agency, Staff correspondent, 09.03.2005

Photo: medieval minaret in Uzgen

Located in southern Kyrgyzstan, Uzgen was known in the 8th and 9th centuries as the capital of the Karakhanid state. Uzgen was built in the oasis on the caravan route from Maverrannahr to Eastern Turkestan. Clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyzes took place there on the eve of disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's. These days, Uzgen is famous for the medieval minaret and special rice for pilau. Cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, an Uzbek, was born and grew in Uzgen.

Here is a report on Uzgen as it is drafted by an anonymous American volunteer from the Peace Corps. The report was apparently meant for executives of the organization. Ferghana.Ru news agency laid its hands on it quite by chance but entirely legitimately.

The report offers a brief but independent evaluation of the situation in Uzgen - ranging from ethnic and linguistic problems to crime rate to the locals' attitude towards the underworld and foreigners. This is a straightforward picture of life as it is in Kyrgyz provinces. Drafted about a year ago, the report has lost none of its topicality.

* * *

To Whom It May Concern:
April 1, 2004

These are my thoughts on my relationship with my host community and especially on the reasons why this city – Uzgen – sometimes frightens me. I believe that it is necessary to first put a few things into perspective. One of the reasons that Uzgen is difficult for me is that I am the only volunteer (the only foreigner in a city of fifty thousand) and therefore I am a unique target for harassment. Another reason is that I am primarily servicing (through the university*) a peripheral Kyrgyz population (rather than the Uzbeks of Uzgen who only make up ten or fifteen percent of the university) and therefore I am not necessarily seen as a benefit to the immediate community. Thirdly, it has been impossible for me to focus on any one language (Uzbek gets neglected the most) because I learned Kyrgyz in PST, I need Russian to speak with my family, I need Uzbek to communicate with my community, and I need both Russian and Kyrgyz in working at my university. I am now about equally proficient in Kyrgyz and Russian and currently continuing my studies in Russian (the most intercultural language of my university and of Uzgen).

Here are samples of the kinds of incidents that I occasionally have to deal with in Uzgen. Everyone in the office (and probably even further abroad) knows by now the details of how I was attacked by two men on a horse. That, I believe, was an isolated incident and does not particularly bother me anymore, other than as a reminder that walking around Uzgen in not normally a safe activity. The more troublesome incidents are far more generalizable. Firstly, verbal harassment, which used to be very general and directed against me as a “Russian,” but now (as I am being more commonly recognized) is targeting me as an American (many people love to yell the word ‘terrorist’). Secondly, the tossing of stones (only small ones thus far) normally in order to get my attention so that someone can yell ‘terrorist.’ Thirdly, the glaring and spitting (I believe that this is mostly done by people who still believe that I am a Russian… Russians are not looked upon well in this community). And lastly, the occasional ‘shadowing’ as individuals attempt to (presumably) learn what I am doing and where I am going.

These are not, however, the reasons that I feel afraid in this community. I can both adapt to and find ways to diffuse the harassment; I believe (hope) that it will almost certainly fade with time (and I am sure that other volunteers deal with the same things, if perhaps not normally on the same magnitude). The things that I am afraid of are the atmosphere and the intensity that this town sometimes displays. I have met Russians from surrounding communities who have said that they no longer use the Uzgen bazaar because they are afraid of this town and of the way that they get treated here. I have seen many fights break out in the center of town (including several involving dozens of people at once). Gangs of young men wander the streets (including in front of my house) fighting and screaming long into the night. I do not – and would never – go out at night (and neither would most members of my host family). The events of fourteen years ago are still very much on people’s lips (I have learned details of the slaughter that would make most people go quite pale). Several weeks ago a friend of mine (a mini-bus driver) was beaten to death by one of my neighbors in the early evening as several other men stood by and watched (there is a cultural acceptance of retribution in this city – I have even seen police officers stand by and watch a fight unfold). I only include these details because they are characteristic of the attitude toward violence in this city. Women in particular are targeted by very aggressive attitudes here (ask either Naomi or Amy about this, both of whom are very hesitant about visiting Uzgen). In addition, there is a clear and present tension between the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz, which is heightened by a real or perceived employment discrimination against the Uzbeks within all of the professional and semi-professional industries (banking, government, engineering, construction, etc.).

My advice to you regarding the future of Peace Corps in Uzgen is to be very particular and careful about your placements here. If you place a volunteer in the (one) Kyrgyz school make certain to place that volunteer near to the school. If you place a volunteer in an Uzbek school make certain to teach him UZBEK in order to make the transition to this difficult community easier. For future placements at my university please teach the volunteer Russian (the language of most of the teaching and of intercultural communication in this highly diverse institution) so that he/she can both work effectively and (at least partially) communicate with both the Uzbek and the Kyrgyz populations. Do not continue to tell volunteers that Uzbek and Kyrgyz are so similar that they will have no problems understanding both languages (with only having learned one). An educated Kyrgyz or Uzbek national with a lifetime of experience in hearing both languages might be able to understand both of them easily (but I have my doubts)… a volunteer most definitely cannot (simply ask any of the volunteers who have dealt with Uzbek extensively and they will tell you the same thing). Be careful which volunteers you choose to send here (pick out the sturdiest ones), as I believe that a volunteer who is easily frightened might be tempted to go home after witnessing some of the rather common violence and harassment.

For my own part, I know that if I am to stay in this community (and succeed as a volunteer) I need to focus on discovering new ways in which to safely integrate (through projects and friendships). Presently, I do not feel at all safe in the center of Uzgen, or in the bazaar, or on the roads between my home and my community. I do, however, feel very secure with my host family and I have the highest regard for them (I would not stay in Uzgen without the security of their household and their support and I would never dream of risking moving to an apartment on my own). I have never been the target of harassment by any of my students (indeed, it is among my students that I have witnessed the best intercultural (Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Russian) relationships in Uzgen).

Thank you for your time and consideration!

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Story Source: Ferghana Information Agency

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Kyrgyzstan; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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