Justice and the facts in Kyrgyzstan

As Managing Editor of neweurasia, I want to take a moment to address something that’s been concerning me throughout the crisis in Southern Kyrgyzstan, namely, the conflation of speculation with fact, ultimately and especially regarding the issue of blame and the problem of evil.  To begin with, this is what the international journalistic community thinks it knows and only that: as affirmed by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, it appears that gangs of masked men attacked, in an organized and premeditated fashion, Uzbek and Kyrgyz targets in Osh.

That’s all we know right now.  Even the Commissioner is unsure as to these gangs’ intentions, although it’s more than reasonable to conclude they were seeking to provoke a reaction.  More importantly, we don’t know who they are.  There is no smoking gun — yet.  In its place there are a lot of theories buzzing around, everything ranging from Russian special forces to secret agents of the Bakiyev network.  But these are only theories at the moment.  Until we have hard evidence, e.g., a confession, one that meets international standards of propriety, we do not know what was the plan behind these attacks.

I must remind everyone, especially certain Westerners, that this is not some board game of Risk or hermetically sealed thought experiment in a military lab.  The city of Osh has been burned down.  The old methodology of identifying likely suspects by who would profit the most from a situation simply doesn’t work.  Let’s use the Bakiyev network as an example: even if they didn’t expect the violence to get so out of control, why would they have taken the risk knowing that the interim government would likely blame them anyway?  And that’s exactly what has happened, by the way.

That leads me to the next important point: the scale of the violence clearly indicates that there is no easy villain in this.  You cannot blame Bakiyevists, mafiosos, Russian special services, Islamist terrorists, or space aliens for the immense and gratuitous bloodletting of the past week.  Some bloggers have tried to argue that the extremism of the violence couldn’t have come from “mere” ethnic tension, but they underestimate that there are some chasms in the human soul that are too dark for decency.

That means you also cannot conveniently blame the Kyrgyz military, nation-state, or the entire ethnic group, either.  You want to call this a “genocide” and a “conspiracy”?  Until you can offer me rigorous proof of a systematic basis for the tragedy, I as a journalist and an academic won’t allow you to call it that.  Why?  Because truth is what is at stake, and at stake in truth is justice and real human lives.

But even when we track down the forces behind this tragedy and get answers from them, that will only provide a short-term form of justice.  I cannot let you stop there.  I want you to open your eyes: evil doesn’t care about the who’s and how’s of its terrible deeds. You want to know who those masked men really were?  Take off your mask — your mask of being a blogger or an intellectual or a Kyrgyz or an Uzbek or a Westerner — take it off and look in the mirror.  The gun is in your hands.

What’s really at stake in Osh is you and me — humanity.  Mark my words, the only true and lasting justice will come when humanity confronts its own barbaric impulses, calls itself to account, and finally submits to the inevitable reality that the earth is one country and we are all her citizens.


The above editorial was cross-posted from neweurasiaA brief note of clarification is in order, for I recognize that skepticism and metaphysics make for an uncomfortable fit.  Nevertheless, I think both are warranted here because of the scale of the crisis:

(A) Yes, some theories do explain the data better, chief of all being the Bakiyev one, but I insist that until we have something empirical, they can remain only theories and not be elevated to the status of a fact. Barring something empirical, then the next best thing is a coherent account from a neutral international body, in this case the UN, but of course they have not yet offered such an account. All in all, at the moment, we are left with just the raw data of brutality.

(B) But I think the raw data does tell a story that is, so to speak, transempirical or transcoherent, hence the metaphysical turn at the end. We cannot just be left with the trauma of calamity; we need some kind of explanation. The universal face of evil is precisely such an explanation. Does it satisfy immediate needs for empirical justice? Of course not. But it does unearth the deeper issues going on in events like Osh, issues we cannot avoid if we are to establish a longer term peace, either in Kyrgyzstan or the rest of the world.

I hope this explanation helps for those who may be bothered by my marriage of two otherwise contradicting elements.

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