Kyrgyzstan: Christians become latest target in ethnic violence
About a quarter of a million people have fled their homes in Kyrgyzstan as the situation escalates into a humanitarian crisis; an estimated 150,000 people, including children, are sheltering in makeshift refugee camps in Uzbekistan. On Tuesday 15 June, it was reported that the Uzbekistan border had been closed to refugees, leaving the remaining displaced people stranded. Four days of fighting, in which ethnic Kyrgyz have targeted ethnic Uzbeks in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad and surrounding areas, have left over 170 people dead and at least 1,800 injured. Property has been torched and entire city blocks reduced to rubble. There is an urgent call for international intervention and humanitarian aid.
Christians live in many of the towns and villages around Osh and Jalalabad.
Christian brothers and sisters united despite conflict
Amid the carnage, Kyrgyz Christians are trying to help their Uzbek brothers and sisters escape the violence – despite the prospect of severe retribution from fellow Kyrgyz if they are caught.
A Kyrgyz pastor (Pastor K) and his wife have been helping to distribute aid and sheltering some Uzbek Christians and their families in their apartment. On Tuesday (15 June), Pastor K and some members of his church were helping an Uzbek Christian woman to find a safe place when they were stopped by an angry mob, armed with knives and axes. The group demanded to know who Pastor K was trying to help and threatened to set fire to his car and kill them. A man wielding an axe came close to cutting off the pastor’s arm. When Pastor K told the mob that he was distributing aid, they kept three Christian women (including his wife) hostage and went with him to see where the aid was being distributed, to check the truth of his story. When they returned to the group, Pastor K and the Christian women took the opportunity to witness to them about the Lord Jesus. The mob calmed down and set the pastor and the women free.
There have been reports of rapes and there are now virtually no Uzbek women left in Osh, most having fled to the border with Uzbekistan. Other pastors in Kyrgyzstan have told of some Uzbek Christian women hiding in the basement of a house in Osh, unable to leave because of roadblocks and a curfew between 6pm and 6am.
Predominantly converts from Islam, Kyrgyz and Uzbek Christians are always vulnerable to persecution from the Muslim majority community or the authorities. They are now being threatened by the mob simply for being Christians. A church building in Jalalabad was about to be attacked when quarrels broke out amongst the mob and they moved away.
Kyrgyzstan had reasonable religious liberty until a new religion law was introduced in 2009, which has brought increasing difficulties for Christians. Neighbouring Uzbekistan, where the refugees are trying to flee, is the worst of the Central Asian republics for religious freedom and Christians experience regular harassment and punishment. [Link] Barnabas Fund has been involved in both countries for many years, giving discreet practical help to the Christians.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments:
“In the midst of such a bitter conflict, it is heartening to know that Christians are setting an example of love across ethnic groups. Let us thank the Lord for our Kyrgyz brothers and sisters who are so courageously helping Uzbek fellow-Christians, in the full knowledge that these actions make them targets for violence from their own fellow-Kyrgyz. Let us re-double our prayers in the light of today’s news that all Christians are now becoming a target, simply because of their faith in the Lord Jesus.”
The exact cause of the latest clashes is unclear but it comes two months after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted following a violent uprising, in April 2010. [Link] He has denied allegations from the government that he is involved in the current unrest. An interim government headed by Rosa Otunbayeva, an opposition politician, had initially established a degree of calm.
The Kyrgyz people comprise nearly 70 per cent of the population of Kyrgyzstan with Uzbeks accounting for around 15 per cent. The majority of the population is Muslim (about 85 per cent) with Christians making up less than ten per cent. The small Christian minorities within the Kyrgyz and Uzbek peoples are almost all converts from Islam, and as such are vulnerable to persecution.
Christians caught in between: How you can help
Barnabas Fund is channelling donations to help Christian victims caught up in this conflict.
If you would like to donate to help our Christian brothers and sisters in Kyrgyzstan please send your donation to project 00-345 (Victims of Violence Fund). Please click to donate online using our secure server.
If you prefer to telephone, dial: 0800 587 4006 from within the UK or +44 1672 565031 from outside the UK. Please quote project reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence Fund).
If you prefer to send a cheque by post: Click this link for the address of our regional office. Please quote project reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence Fund).
For a quick donation of £3.00 by SMS (see terms and conditions here) text Barnabas/345 to 70007
As the violence begins to die down, pray that the government will work to maintain peace and order and to assist with humanitarian needs. Pray for all who have been injured or bereaved in the conflict.
Thank the Lord for the bravery of Pastor K and his fellow Christians as they distribute aid and shelter their Uzbek brothers and sisters, and praise Him for the opportunity provided to witness to the angry mob.
Pray for the Lord’s protection of Kyrgyz Christians and pastors as they seek to help Uzbek Christians, by providing aid, sheltering them or helping them to flee. Pray that the Lord will protect their path, and that their example will inspire Muslim Kyrgyz people and Muslim Uzbeks to show tolerance and compassion to each other.
Praise God for His protection of the church building in Jalalabad. No reports have reached Barnabas Fund of any further churches being targeted so far.
Thank God that an Uzbek Christian missionary family was able to reach safety, with the help of a Kyrgyz pastor, despite having to make part of the journey on foot because vehicles were forbidden to leave the area. They feared that their young child, who speaks only Uzbek, would talk and thus reveal their ethnic identity. But to their amazement, the toddler slept all the way.
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