I can’t even pronounce the names of the two ethnic groups, and I couldn’t find their country on a map of the world. But when I read reports of Kyrgyz mobs slaughtering Uzbeks and burning their homes, my heart is heavy.
In case you missed it:
On Sunday 75,000 Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan fled during a devastating ethnic slaughter. Kyrgyz mobs armed with guns and metal rods marched on Uzbek neighborhoods and set Uzbek homes and cafes on fire.
More than 100 people were killed in southern Kyrgyzstan and more than 1,200 wounded in days of attacks, according to government estimates. The true toll may be much higher.
According to CBS News, the riots appeared to be aimed at undermining Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, which came to power after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a bloody uprising in April and fled the country. Uzbeks have backed the interim government, while many Kyrgyz in the south support the toppled president.
In the flurry of the news, this is just another of the myriad conflicts going on around the world – ostensibly because of political disputes but in reality driven by ethnic hostility. And if you stop to imagine what the slaughter must be like, you cannot hold back the tears.
I know it makes me weep.
I weep not only for the helpless victims of these vicious attacks, but also for mankind. Incidents like this remind me of the other horror stories that haunt our memory.
The Holocaust was, of course, the most unforgettable example of ethnic cleansing. But it certainly was not the only manifestation of this terrifying phenomenon.
It was much the same story in Bosnia a few years back.
It’s much the same story throughout Africa, where tribal violence leaves an ever-flowing trail of blood and tears.
It’s much the same story in the Mideast.
It was much the same story in the Old South, where black bodies swung from the trees. And the story might yet be told again, as hostility toward Hispanics reaches a fever pitch – especially in border states like Arizona.
It’s such an old story. It’s such a depressing story. And it’s so pervasive.
As a child, my grandparents told tales of the persecution of the Scots and made me learn to resent the English. Me, a fourth generation Jamaican, fuming over centuries-old injustices in the hills and glens of Scotland. It’s enough to make me laugh – through my tears.
The Irish still harbor grievances over the atrocities of the Black-and-Tan – and even from the time of Oliver Cromwell. The Greeks still mutter menacingly about long-ago Turkish “war crimes.” And the Macedonians brood over the offenses of the Greeks.
Ethnic hostility smolders on from generation to generation.
Yet a stranger would have a hard time telling most ethnic enemies apart.
Looking at their pictures on the web, I can’t tell a Kyrgyz (photo at left, above) from the Uzbeks (at right). But Wikipedia describes the Kyrgyz as red-haired with white skin and blue eyes, “features that were interpreted as suggestive of Slavic origins.”
And the Uzbeks? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, they are “similar in appearance to Mongolians.”
And that’s enough to cause such bloodshed?
Have we humans evolved so little since the times of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan? Beneath the Blackberry wielding, jet setting, fancy talking exterior, are we still shaggy savages with murderous prejudices seething in our hearts, ready to turn on our neighbor because of real or imagined skin-deep differences?