|Umělec magazine 2011/1 >> Front without a Front line||List of all editions.|
Front without a Front lineUmělec magazine 2011/1
Ilya Plekhanov | in transition | en cs de ru
Ilya Plekhanov is the founder and chief-editor of the Art of War almanac and it is largely thanks Plekhanov that the issuing of Umelec 1/2009 was realized. He is a graduate of the faculty of Economics and Informational Systems at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia) and he later attended the institute of Asian and African countries specializing Japanese History and Language. In 1991-95 he was a direct participant in the Yugoslavian War. Ilya Plekhanov’s literary activity is not limited to the almanac and publications in various war and analytical editions; his poems and translations in English, Japanese and Serbian languages have been released in a number of separate poetry collections. He is also an honorary citizen of the city Amadiya (Iraq).
In June of last year there was a huge outbreak of ethnic violence Kyrgyzstan that rarely made Western news coverage. Here, prepared by Ilya especially for Umělec, we are able to present his diary of the events as he followed the trail of incidents in Kyrgyzstan spending a few days right in the heart of the conflict.
Any ethnic conflict without a defined front line is particularly difficult to make sense of. Rather, the front line exists—and it’s you. It is enough to look in a mirror or imagine the lines of your face. All around you are thousands upon thousands of similar people and everyone looks at you with suspicion, asking the question, “Who are you?” You retaliate with a look of your own, to try to discern whether you will now be killed or not. And through these exchanges you are deciding, at that very moment, whom to be: a killer, an executioner, a refugee, a savior, a man or an animal. An infinite string of situations. When you are choosing with your heart instead of your mind, you put everything on the line, loaded within you by God, family and society; people are torn and their cores are shattered. They are driven to the edge, past the line. People show their true colors. In an ethnic conflict you are truly alone, more completely than a soldier in an army or a citizen of a government. You have no support of societal institutions. There is only your blood and your true face. No choice yet made. Later, you will either be killed or you will be lucky to survive. You just have to decide, what you are doing, here and now, on your front line in an ethnic conflict.
This conflict was no exception. Many said during this war, that they discovered a new side to people, one never suspected; they found out who was who. What is the worth of leaders, neighbors, loudmouths or the modest silent? What is your worth? The high and the low. Some even managed to alternate between these two dual sides of a spirit. So it goes.
People chose during this war. And we saw.
June 15th 2010, Bishkek: burnt homes, barricades, refugees and bandits.
The first thing that amazes any new comer to the international airport Manas is the sheer number of airplanes on the concrete. US Air Force war aircrafts; these make up more than half and are of a murky dirty-green color. Their sight immediately turns the mood serious. Bishkek in the morning is empty, practically devoid of people and cars. The mesmerizing tops of the white mountains rise above the city.
In this apparently quiet city there is no desire to mention war or murder; but the first conversations with locals and the sight of burnt out houses returns us to this desperate reality. One of the burnt homes used to be the house of Bakiyev. Now it is populated by invalids, guarding from marauders. On the streets we see the remains of broken and looted stores and cafes. We drove by the house of Bakiyev’s young wife. The house, according to the local standards, looks like a palace.
The car takes us past the Belarusian embassy. When Papa Lukashenka took in the deposed president, the embassy immediately evacuated and closed their doors. Further on the traces of shooting can be seen on the railings of the Parliament buildings. The people walk by and feel with their hands the holes made by the bullets, photographing them with their mobiles. All in silence. The bullet holes are seen from the side of the Parliament and from the opposite side. Evidently more shots were made from the Parliament. From the amount of holes in the iron, it is possible to tell that the firing was at a high density. Some sections of the fence are just burned through. Trash is taken out of the building and it is getting a plaster job, the windows are being changed. One of the floors is almost completely destroyed.
In Bishkek there is talk of 2000 dead Uzbeks and the streets littered with corpses. Everyone is waiting for an escalation of the violence. News comes from Osh of burnt cafes and homes, of cut off arms. The city is half burnt, with no water. The villages in the region are under siege and not letting anyone in.
There is much talk about Bakiyev’s ‘family’, both in the literal sense of his relatives and the wider group of cronies and hangers-on that he surrounded himself with; it is only ever bad things. Under his rule the drug lords openly drove around the city in their jeeps and lazed around. Under his ruling private businesses were taken away from there owners and redistributed to his ‘family’.
All of this reminds me of Iraq. The dictatorship of Hussein and the outward appearance of calm and stability until the overthrow of the regime; the dictator disappears and the country descends into an abyss of chaos.
Surprisingly there is no ethnic discord in Bishkek. I haven’t heard a word of hatred towards whichever group or nationality. Everyone just blames Bakiev’s provocateurs.
The city and the country await help. According to the accounts of the local residents, if a month of inactivity follows, the same fate will befall Bishkek as Osh. According to the accounts of the politicians, in a month all of Kyrgyzstan will turn into a single, giant territory of death. The longer the conflict lasts, the more visible the destructive forces become, including Islamic radicals. Too much blood is spilled on a daily basis and it becomes too hard to forget what is happening.
June 18th 2010, Osh: Uzbeks have nothing to lose.
Everything that I’ve written about Bishkek seems like a bad dream. I am in Osh. I’ve been to many wars, but what I’ve seen here, is incomparable. The level of destruction is unimaginable. Here the weapons of the 21st century are not planes and bombs but a man with a wooden rod with nails and a knife attached to the tip. Uzbek quarters are not just destroyed, but reduced to dust. There is not a single living square centimeter. Schools, hospitals, homes: are all burnt. Everything, absolutely everything. It is frightening to look at. One thing comes to mind; Osh looks like Hiroshima.
As of today the situation is as follows: Uzbeks sit in their barricaded quarters and do not leave under any circumstances. The people go crazy, brewing hatred, licking their wounds, showing journalists the horrors and burying their dead. Only the Kyrgyz are in the city itself yet nothing is open, there is no authority only civilians with guns and periodical shootings. There are people in uniform and with the constant arrival of other Kyrgyz from all over the country it leads us to think that the worst is still ahead. There is water and electricity. And that’s that.
The Russians are left alone. The whole war is a conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. In Uzbek quarters only men remain, the women and children were sent to Uzbekistan. I have been to the border; the checkpoint is nothing more than a dug trench. On the other side are two angry Uzbek soldiers. Only the heavily wounded are accepted across. The rest of the refugees live by the border, there are about 1500 of them. They are all in a state of critical stress. Such is the border. There are no multicultural organizations, NGO’s. No one at all.
The biggest problems are the prisoners or rather, those people that ended up in a foreign ethnic quarter. You have to give it to the journalists for carrying out actions that are, for them, uncharacteristic. Through the use of their identity papers they take Uzbeks from the Kyrgyz quarters, all as the crowds look on. They save women and children who live five or six days in apartments, they don’t eat anything and fear everything. There are about 300-400 such people. They truly need to be saved. Either they will die or they will be killed.
You can still see skeletons of burnt people in the Uzbek quarters. After the curfew (6 pm), the city becomes truly frightening. A number of strange people with weapons roam the streets, some of whom are drunk, carrying machine guns, gunshots are constantly heard.
My birthday began this way, in those darkest hours of night on the 17th of June, on some stand with a very tired and beer guzzling Kyrgyz soldier. Throughout our conversation he became more and more irritated with me, pulling the catch and removing the safety-guard from his gun. He was very surprised when I asked him directly why he was doing this during conversation.
Another problem is block posts. These are the unofficial checkpoints run by local militia acting on their own authority. If there is technology then that’s at least bearable. That means there is at least something like authority, the army. But the primitive block posts just appear very dangerous. Who? What? By what right? Their appearance is very unpleasant and threatening manned by old men with red faces with impermeable, indifferent gazes or by angry, aggressive youths in masks. The block posts manned by youths are the worst; they check your documents and nag about each digit or inscription, holding people at gunpoint and acting brazenly. Uzbeks are grabbed and taken in an unknown direction. People go missing. If you don’t have documents, you are immediately grabbed and taken away. There’s no word of execution shootings; yet.
As a whole, people are still in a state of shock as events unfold around them. Nobody knows what to do. The Uzbeks sit in their ghettoes’, the Kyrgyz are armed and present. The barricades are shocking in their sheer size, constructed with milk trucks, burnt cars and fallen trees and peppered with holes from bullets. Helicopters fly above the city and drop leaflets advocating peace. The people press to the walls from fear of the helicopters, expecting a volley.
I have a feeling things will take a turn for the worse. There are more people with weapons and each day they become angrier and more nervous.
Everyone is asking Russia for help, begging that they bring in soldiers, and give Uzbeks a chance to move, eat and live.
What’s actually happening is a complete nightmare. While driving by a market I almost catch a bullet. Two hours later I saw on a Kyrgyz television program that, according to them, everything in Osh is fine and people freely walk on the streets; this is nothing but a delusional lie. There are few people, the smell of burning and soot rise above the earth, sooner or later the Uzbek quarters will suffer a blockade breakthrough or will be destroyed. The Uzbeks have nothing left to lose.
22nd June 2010, Osh is ruled by fear.
During the night, in a barricaded Uzbek quarter (mahala, an Uzbek, normally Islamic district that could operate autonomously), listening to the singing of a muezzin, we listened as a Tatar dentist told us that toothache and the dentist’s profession are above politics and nationality, that warring leaders come into the same cubical and get the same medical help. Almost like people. We listen on.
A few hours pass and I can’t sleep before my flight to the south of Kyrgyzstan. My mobile rings. In a complete silence I hear the voice of a girl from Moscow; she says that the new conductor of the villages in Osh was decapitated. I give the phone to a companion, Arkadiy, whom I’ve flown here with, and he listens to the details. I have no thoughts at that moment. An unpleasant chill runs down my spine. I observe how in a completely cloudless sky there are no stars. Later, the death of the conductor, co-worker of the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and his driver are confirmed in Osh.
In Bishkek we had to pay a bribe in order to fly to Osh. We couldn’t leave, the convoys left, and part of the columns to Jalalabad were changed due to the shootings on the road. In the airport, 20 minutes prior to our flight we were given a whole performance of how there are no more tickets, that our reservations were sold, even though blank forms were lying right before our noses. Our filled aid packet (two packages of regular water in cellophane bags), corned beef and cigarettes were refused as hand held baggage, even though the small luggage could have spilled in the regular baggage compartment. “But we are carrying it for you,” had no effect. The Russian girl, who was flying to Osh to visit family with a similar load, was forced to pay extra for the excess weight, although we said we wouldn’t mind if her load was registered on our names. The girl shouted, almost burst into tears, but controlled herself. The customs people are inflexible. The mood becomes awful.
Within an hour of our flight out of Bishkek arriving in the South we meet the controller of the airport, Vissarion Alekseevich Kima. This one man, Vissarion Alekseevich Kima, should be awarded a medal. Despite the chaos of evacuation, running people, shady individuals armed with shotguns and machine guns, angry and despairing refugees washing in the bathroom; he is clear, giving order after order, calmly and surely directing the people, managing to sneak a minute to talk on his phone, and answer the questions of those immediately crowding around him. I have seen with my own eyes how he organized the issuing of the precious water and bread for Turkmen students, who for many days had been sitting in the airport without leaving it. There is no boarding for them just yet. At the same time there is an evacuation of Turkish citizens, there was a Chinese plane, and the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations is engaged in the operation of allowing women and children to board. The orders of the controller are carried out unhesitatingly by two or three people from the airport guard. New buses with refugees arrive. I look into the controller’s eyes and see that he is deathly exhausted, that he most likely hasn’t slept in days; I hear that his voice has grown hoarse but I see that he continues to do his job, he is in his element, and his department saves people without a question of nationality, a group, created by him, works on the delivery of humanitarian aid. Vissarion Alekseevich asks the commander of the plane that a woman be taken on board. The latter, replies, apologizing that already they are overloaded, that it is dangerous to fly. Under his decision, in the next couple of days, exhausted and shocked Russian journalists are boarded on the departing flights. Arkadiy and I, only thanks to him, in the end, will fly out of Osh boarding a U.N. diplomatic flight. At the exit we ask a representative of the U.N. what the humanitarian and aid organizations are planning to do, to which he replied with complete calm: “Nothing. There has not been a single official appeal for help from the government of Kyrgyzstan.”
We wait for the car, ordered for us by the head of the regional department for internal affairs in Osh, Omurbek Suvanaliev. While waiting I look over the soldiers slinking and sitting in their A.P.C. and some sort of militia men. If the soldiers in the A.P.C. look like the army, then the rest are dressed and armed in whatever came to hand. They hold the weapons insolently but at the same time as if frightened. They all have their fingers on the trigger. People in sweat pants and flip-flops drag the guns by the muzzle. A man, completely dressed in camouflage, can’t fit his helmet properly and shakily points his gun at people. Everything looks surreal. The smell of burning can be sensed even here, in the airport. Hundreds of armed people and 500 or so refugees remind me of a nomadic tribe resting in a field.
The car flies by, a police meat-wagon. We jump into the monkey house behind the grating and just like that drive to Osh. We get to the city in a cage. The gun men stick their barrels through the windows as we drive by Uzbek villages. I see the first tracks and the scale of destruction. I begin to understand that it is only the beginning of what I will end up seeing. We give out water to the policemen and ask our first questions. How all did this start and what is happening here? We are given our first version; who is guilty according to them. Water and cigarettes have done a lot for us during this trip; they made a lot of people talk. Best baksheesh at war. The two cans of corned beef we ate ourselves, the only food in two days.
A bit later it’ll become clear that any authority in the city is still nonexistent here, despite the incoming soldiers. There are many people sitting at homes—situational prisoners. They sit quietly in their apartments in their different quarters. The neighbors don’t disclose their position. I ask again, how many of them. Omurbek names a number in a few hundreds. One of the main things to do is to get these people out. A bit later we will see for ourselves such people, Kyrgyz and Russians, who didn’t give their Uzbek neighbors away to looters.
Right then we ask to take away an Uzbek from a Kyrgyz quarter. He’s been asking my friend, Arkadiy the journalist, for help since the morning. Omurbek immediately gives an order that a car and a group of Spetsnaz be given to us, we can give him nothing but our respect for doing this. I can tell by the faces of the Spetsnaz that the operation to come is not to their liking. We jump into the car and drive to Osh. Already the total impact of destruction could be seen here. The streets are burnt, barricaded, the homes destroyed. I become used to the smell of burning and for many days it will remain the only odor in my system. I can’t believe my eyes what I see in the streets.
The commander of the group explains that removing the Uzbeks is hard, as the local Kyrgyz are not happy with these rescues from their quarters and it is possible that they would inflict violence on their own if they were to try. Another big problem is how and to whom to give the rescued. There is no procedure, each time it is risk and improvisations.
The car flies into the Kyrgyz quarter, the soldiers scream at the passer-bys, so that they step aside. The people shy away in fear. We find the house, eject ourselves from the vehicle one after the other, run, and mistake the entrance. The neighbors look down in shock. Some old lady names the apartment, I swing my papers, shout that I am the press, and that we came to save a man. We burst into the hallway. The combatants run to the last floor and I remain so as to close the circuit. Suddenly the door opens on the first floor. A combatant naturally points his gun in the direction, and the barrel almost presses into the face of a Russian old lady. The lady asks with genuine surprise “Sonny, have you come to kill me?” I shout again that we are the press and calm her down. I hear movement and Spetsnaz shouting above. In the first second I think of the worst, running upstairs I see the door is already open; a man stands in the doorway, white as chalk and looks at the armed people. My partner from Moscow tells him something. Suddenly women are taken from the apartment! Anything but this. They are ordered to wrap their faces. The people are taken away. In the last row, near me, stands a woman. She drops the key, can’t find the key hole, drops them again. She thinks that she and her family are being taken to be shot. We run out, into the car, drag the people face down into the body of the truck. Everything to the sound of screams. With the screech of the wheels we start off. Almost immediately we run into a Kyrgyz block post, armed people walk towards us. The head of the Spetsnaz shouts something at them, commanding and greeting, and the crowd joyfully shouts back, raising bars and fists. The saved family is wrapped in a polyethylene film, which we find in the truck. So they wouldn’t raise their heads. I turn around and see the face of a girl, before it disappears under the film. She is saying goodbye to the world and already looks at the sky in a detached manner. We leave the quarter.
However, within the next five minutes the adrenaline escalates. “Attention! Everyone gather! The Uzbek district!” the chief of the Spetsnaz group shouts. The people again bare their teeth via their gun barrels. We fly into a completely lifeless area. Not a soul. Silence. A broken skyscraper is to the left. “There might be snipers! Watch out! Permission to fire at the slightest motion!” A family exchange to the Uzbek side must take place. We stop and squat behind the car. The building bothers us. The family is made to stand by the wall. Arkadiy offers to come out, as a journalist, and openly transfer the people to the Uzbeks. One of the soldiers says that then the whole group will be killed. The chief rises to his full height and goes somewhere behind the corner of the building, to which we have pressed ourselves to. I hear how he orders to kill the family, if he is killed. The people by the wall already stand as if dead. It is as if they no longer care. The order “Release” is made and immediately there is movement in the opposite building. A man runs. Nobody opens fire. Our group jump into the car and under the soldier’s shouting and snapping of weapons we fly out of the area. In five minutes everyone begins to move, talk, smoke and drink water. The operation is concluded. The chief reports on the phone. The stress dwindles. Later the Uzbek who called and claimed the saved Uzbek family will say that there, behind the corner of the building, he had to pay $20-25 for the freed family.
The freeing of the prisoners, especially by journalists, was seen differently by everyone. With our own eyes we saw how an American journalist was asked to take children out of a Kyrgyz quarter. He agreed. An Uzbek, an American and a translator went to the quarter, showed their ‘press’ papers and loaded the children into the car and drove away right in front of the much surprised Kyrgyz crowd. It was obvious that the American wasn’t expecting that things would turn out that way. Meaning; the Uzbek conducted everything clearly and competently. The American, I think, didn’t really understand what was happening and didn’t immediately realize that he was being used as a cover. Later in the car with us he lamented that he had broken journalistic ethics, wasn’t neutral, took a side and participated in the saving of children; and that this just can’t happen. This same journalist really wanted to film a funeral procession. He asked the Uzbeks to call him to snap a session, if they suddenly found a new corpse and decide to bury it. He didn’t find this specific request unethical.
And so we are walking to an Uzbek mahala. We carry cigarettes and water, corned beef and barley. For that man that called us and asked to save his family. We want to know, who his family is and simply to see that other side. This is our first independent walk through the city. Weaponless. We continue to observe the destruction, inscriptions and plates that say “Kyrgyz” on the doors of stalls and shops, which saved them from looting, a multitude of other inscriptions I can’t understand, staggering, turbid individuals with guns, passing by cars with armed civilians, barricades. The barricades lead me into a stupor. They are simply huge: containers, giant rocks, tires, concrete plates, upturned wagons, buses and milk trucks. How was it physically possible to quickly place and move? Just with hands!
There are few people. Sometimes dogs pass by. Silently. The dogs glance away, exactly as people with no weapons. Carefully and cautiously they run on the sidewalk, dispirited. In Iraq the dogs are different, more aggressive. Accustomed. These are not just yet. They weren’t expecting these things from people.
We reach the Uzbek district, every second expecting to receive a bullet from out of nowhere. We become acquainted. Give out the food and smokes. And we are led through the mahala. This is the first time I’ve seen such a total, live, destruction of human housing. If before, we have seen just the facades, now we could climb into the heart of the quarters. Not a living space. Everything is warped, burnt and broken. It’s hard to imagine how this can be accomplished without some form of heavy ordanance. Desks are lying in the burnt school named after Leo Tolstoy. In the conflagrated remains I see notebooks and notes, cards; I sit down and look through them. I refuse to enter the hospital. The burnt Soviet apparatus “Gazvody” is a symbol for the forever buried, for most, forever in childhood. We walk through the ash and I see bullet dents and dents from technology of larger caliber. In basements and under the ruins there might still be corpses. The American journalist will tell us in a day, how he saw a burnt and unmoved skeleton in one house. People walk near us, and grown, healthy men weep, tell us stories. All the women and children were evacuated. A helicopter flies above the city, spreading leaflets about peace, but people press against the walls in fear. We walk to the graveyard. We are shown fresh graves. There about 20-30 of them. The gravedigger cries. Such a graveyard exists in every mahala. There are tens of them in the city of Osh.
In the mahala we meet Russian citizens. Basically they are ethnic Uzbeks with a passport from the Russian Federation. I also meet those, who simply through ill luck came to visit their family and got caught in the thick of things. Nicolai from Yekaterinburg shows his plane ticket: his only document. He came to Osh a day before the pogrom, and now doesn’t know what to do. He is afraid to go to the street. In all, Russians are left alone. Perhaps, it is a chance for local Russians as well, to become mediators of negotiations between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, the Uzbeks do not reject such developments. It is at least some sort of chance out of this stalemate situation.
In general, the most active people in the mahalas are the youth. They live, move, plan their future, talk to journalists, and, risking their lives, take them to the villages. Selfless people, deserving respect. They plan the rescue of children through journalists, who arrive here from the rest of the world, although the latest complain that they are forced to do this and that they are caught in ambiguous, for their profession, situations. While the youth endeavors however, there is a chance, for a gleam of life, because someone still has hope. Adults and the elderly are in a complete state of prostration. They walk through their quarters like ghosts. The Uzbeks do not yet have a negotiator organ, no representatives, self-organization or a leader. They are still in shock.
At the same time, the people go crazy on a lockdown. There are rumors that Kyrgyz special service agents in the guise of journalists walk around and sniff out, how and what is happening in the Uzbek quarters. That the Uzbek youth earns through the journalists, those, whose wives or relatives are of Kyrgyz nationality, are getting problems, meaning, the people are beginning to fall morally, blaming themselves, and having an inner breakdown.
According to the words of the Uzbek’s, it’s not about some elemental or provoked inner burst of violence. They think that a planned operation took place a few days before the pogrom; the curfew was introduced, but only for the Uzbeks, they lost their freedom of mobility. A short while after the morning prayer, war technology burst into the mahala, followed by people in uniform, and in the third wave was a crowd of marauders and vigilantes. The attack lasted two or three hours, the two sides fell back, took breaks, and everything started all over again. Such was the whole day. Snipers were at work. This is evidenced in the video recordings from the rudimentary hospital that were shown to us; you can see the sharp shots into heads and hearts. I didn’t see weapons on Uzbeks, not in their homes, nor in the mahalas. I saw an opened safe. Nearby personal documents, picked them up and gave them to the locals. Then I saw how the elderly carefully studied the found paper. There was little talk of the marauders, more of the frightening stories of torture and death of people.
We asked how everything began, from what cause. Nobody could say anything intelligible about the causes. Generalized phrases about the differences between nomads and farmers, of water and earth, about whose land is it historically, who is smarter, who is dumber. Everything is, in the end, about territorialism. They spoke more about the reasons. Each side had stories more frightening, who attacked whom first and did what. The siloviks (national security agents) spoke in neutral terms of the trail of Bakiyev, not entirely rejecting the drug version. But they do not give the facts either. The locals are doubtful of this, blaming everything on the nationalism of their neighbors. Whatever may be, the reason is not important now, because everything has turned into a nationalistic bloodbath that has no equal in cruelty. Many years will pass, if not generations even, before life will be re-established or they will be separated forever.
We leave the mahala way past the curfew. Filthy, covered in soot, dazed after what we witnessed. It is unpleasant to walk through an empty city, shells rustle under our feet, sometimes shots are heard somewhere behind homes. What is more they are single. The line, I don’t know why, at this moment seems like a vision of hope. We reach the prospect and I become dumbfounded. A family pair walks by a burnt, blackened, toxic-fume emitting crosswalk, cautiously with a baby carriage. Inside you could see the head of a baby. It seems surreal, a fantastic and alien spectacle after a full day of horror.
The next day we try to reach Jalalabad, to get an interview from Miroslav Niyazov and from hundreds of his volunteers from Bishkek. The siloviks can’t give us a car, and Uzbeks and Kyrgyz refuse to drive through the village of their previous neighbors. Finally we do drive to the border of Uzbekistan. The border is on a lockdown, or rather, the sentries guard the trench through a net that plays the role of the checkpoint. They only accept the heavily wounded. Around them are children and women, they are screaming. Here we see lots of hatred and little humanitarian aid. With difficulty we leave from there, yet people won’t let me, everyone wants to tell me their personal story, about their family’s tragedy.
We drive into the village Narinam, to find out something about the deceased conductor. Zero information. At some moment I feel like the wrath and emotions of people will get out of control. We leave, not finding anything out. As we leave one of the Uzbek villages, I see a dozing old man, about 100 or so, on a barricade. In his hand he has a regular, strong tree branch, to the end of which a sharp knife is tied to. The knife is sharpened and glistens in the sun enough to blind. The old man sits on a tussock and his knife-on-a-stick is at face level of the driver. The old man looks sculpted, like a monument and an eternal witness of bloodshed. The vision really strikes me, the image forever engraved in memory.
The block posts engage in skirmishes with the barricades. But the posts in the city amaze with another extremity. The soldiers roll up their pants, wear flip flops instead of boots, place chairs and armchairs by the A.P.C. and sit with teapots and thermoses, in wife beaters or half naked, but with guns on their knees. On the faces of many are black sunglasses. Just like Rambo. I’ve seen luxurious carpets spread on the A.P.S.’s. We’ve seen right in front of us, how a detainee on a block post, was accused of being a sniper, for carrying a handful of assembled cartridges and five thousand rubles in local currency.
Later, video material, filmed from phones, records of wounded accounts, shots from morgues are gathered for us. People don’t believe that we will be able to get this information out. Rumors say that at a block post, after a search, everything was taken away from a French journalist. We got lucky and weren’t searched. Some of the shots I’m looking in the one house that has a workable computer in the whole of the mahala. From the morgue. When it comes to the part of the maimed bodies of grannies, I leave the building and sit on the steps. Nobody bothers me, for the first time there is no crowd gathering around me. I sit quietly for a few minutes, but I have to get up and go.
On the way back I see something on the road. I look at it and realise that a turtle is crossing the roadway, slowly and stubbornly it crawls to the safety of the grass on the sidewalk. I don’t know what comes over me, but I come up to her, squat down and begin to take pictures. The turtle doesn’t even blink. After two days of destruction, sorrow, cries of women and rage of men, fire, barricades, weapons, knives, photographs of the deceased, this turtle seems to me to be the only creature of God on earth. I watch her and think that she is great. She is just wonderful. She crawls towards her goal, indifferent to the war and people’s dismantling. Perhaps one day, two kinds of people on this earth, with a similar stubbornness and calm for external and internal annoyances, can reach peace.
We are driven to the airport by an elderly Kyrgyz. After passing each block post he swears at all those checking documents and curses all the past events. Like many whom we met in our path, he wishes that we come again to Osh, but when the times are good. Whenever that may be.
Within an hour we are in the air, thanks to the airport’s controller. We rise with the backdrop of pillars of smoke. Below us fear and hated continues, hope and despair, shooting, and the suffering of people. We fly over the ridge. Snow lies on the slope in stripes, but it reminds me of a giant skeleton, stretched over a boundless earth.
And another hour later, at the entrance from the Bishkek airport, I hear on the television at the first café, how a cheerful anchorwoman of a local news program reports to the viewers, that it appears that everything in Osh is calm, women and children walk on the streets, carrying flowers…
June 25th 2010: In the morning I have another boarding, a new trip. Not into Kyrgyzstan, but in a spot of another ethnic war. There the shootings have already stopped. I’ll walk the ruins. One of the local stalkers told me of a cliff there. To the right is the dead, destroyed city and to the left is the city of those who abandoned the war, a city of the living; streets are lit and you can hear the laughter of people. The stalker tells me that he has spotted a grove for me, where I can sit, drink wine and look at both of the cities at once. Such is the course of rehabilitation. And every other night go the city of the dead and to the city of the living. Taking turns. Until then.
Translated from Russian by Irina Makarova.