Some 400,000 people have fled violent pogroms in southern Kyrgyzstan, according to the United Nations. Entire Uzbek neighbourhoods were reduced to ruins as almost half of the region’s roughly 800,000 ethnic Uzbeks tried to escape the violence.
Kyrgyzstan’s government says as many as 2,000 people have died.
The government says that the attacks were carried out by supporters of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown by a popular revolution in April.
It is broadly true that the Uzbeks of the south generally supported that revolution, while many of their southern Kyrgyz attackers did not.
But the revolt involved people from all ethnic groups.
Ethnic tensions have come to the fore because they have been pushed from above.
Poverty is the root cause. Rapidly rising energy prices have been one cause of discontent.
There are also conflicts over land and water sharing.
During the attacks, the Kyrgyzstan government removed barricades that ethnic Uzbeks had built to protect themselves. In some cases troops stood by and watched violence against the Uzbeks.
The pro-Western regime of Uzbekistan initially closed its border to refugees.
For three days, tens of thousands of Uzbeks massed on its border.
The Uzbek government eventually relented and let women and children through.
They have been herded into camps and are not free to leave them.
Under Joseph Stalin’s regime the Soviet Union divided the region that includes Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to include ethnic minorities in each state.
Those divisions have lasted through decades of neoliberalism and corruption.
The struggle between Russia and the US for dominance over Central Asia also shapes Kyrgyzstan.
The country hosts major US and Russian military bases.
Both powers see that Kyrgyzstan occupies a strategically crucial position north of Afghanistan, on the route from Central Asia to China.
The US is currently embroiled in a stand-off with the interim Kyrgyz government over whether it should pay taxes on imports of jet fuel for the Manas air base.
This is a giant logistics hub ferrying US and Nato troops in and out of Afghanistan at a rate of 55,000 per month.
Russia, while hostile to the previous government, is nervous about the push towards democracy in the region.
There are many competing forces with an interest in instability in Kyrgyzstan.
People’s determination for a united fight is the only solution to the poverty and division fostered from the top.