(Reuters) - Thousands of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks clashed on Wednesday in southern Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s most ethnically divided corner, leaving two people dead and 56 injured.
Here are some details on the flashpoint area of Kyrgyzstan, where hundreds have been killed in unrest in the last 20 years:
— Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous, landlocked ex-Soviet republic bordering China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
— A conflict between Uzbeks and minority Meskhetian Turks in Uzbekistan, which started as a market dispute about the price of strawberries, killed 103 people 1989.
— Arbitrary Soviet borders, which have stranded enclaves of Uzbeks and Tajiks in Kyrgyzstan, and Tajiks in Uzbekistan, contributed to heavy Uzbek-Kyrgyz riots months later in 1990.
— Osh, capital of the south and Kyrgyzstan’s second city, saw most of the clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.
— Around 300 were killed in the Osh massacre — sparked by land disputes — before Moscow brought in troops to separate the warring sides.
— In 2005, riots broke out initially in the southern town of Jalalabad as opposition activists denounced presidential election results. Osh fell to opposition control as protests swept across the country’s south to demand the resignation of President Askar Akayev, a northerner.
— The Akayev government fell on March 24, 2005. Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev became acting president and prime minister after Akayev fled to Moscow. Bakiyev in July 2005 won a landslide victory in a presidential election described as free and fair by Western monitors.
— Kyrgyzstan was again in turmoil as a popular revolt on April 7 toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Bakiyev took refuge in Belarus. However Jalalabad then became the scene of two days of fierce clashes between Bakiyev supporters and backers of the interim government. At least two people were killed and over 60 people were wounded in the turmoil. The interim government said it regained control across the volatile south on May 14.
— The densely-populated Ferghana valley is largely ethnically Uzbek but is split between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The region suffered greatly from the nationalities policy of the 1930s that transformed the previously interconnected areas into something like a puzzle.
— In general, Uzbekistan holds the valley floor, Tajikistan holds its narrow mouth and Kyrgyzstan holds the high ground around.
— The valley mouth is narrow, but the actual valley is vast, covering 22,000 sq km (8,500 sq miles) and the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains that rise above are only dimly visible.
— The Ferghana Valley zone includes the Osh, Jalalabad and Batken regions of Kyrgyzstan, the Andijan, Namangan and Ferghana districts of Uzbekistan and the Sogdiyskaya region, of Tajikistan.
— The valley is a major center of cotton and silk production, and the hills above are covered by walnut forests. The valley also has some oil and gas.
— Poverty is widespread. Islamic militancy has deep roots.
— The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) that emerged from the Ferghana Valley has cooperated with the Tajik United Opposition, Al-Qaeda elements and the Afghan Taliban with the aim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate. It is active in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.
— Hizb ut-Tahrir, another outlawed Islamist group, says ideas of Islamic rule are beginning to catch on in Osh. The city has long been synonymous with a post-Soviet rise of radical Islamism in the largely agrarian, cotton-growing region. There are no accurate figures on membership of the group. Some estimates put it at 8,000 in Kyrgyzstan alone.
Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit;