MAYEVKA, Kyrgyzstan (Reuters) - Kaptan, a minority Turkish farmer, died trying to defend his home against 100 armed attackers on the outskirts of Kyrgyzstan’s capital as ethnic violence erupted in the Central Asian state.
His body was left lying on the doorsteps of his two-storey house late on Monday after hundreds of Kyrgyz men stormed through the village of Mayevka, looting and torching dozens of houses and barns. Four others were killed in overnight violence.
“Everyone ran away but he put up resistance. So they stabbed him to death with knives and hayforks,” said Alik Aliyev, a relative and neighbor.
“They took everything from the house. They even knocked teeth out of his mouth looking for gold fillings.”
Kyrgyz mobs have mainly targeted minority Turks in the wake of a revolt that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on April 7.
Russia, which says ethnic Russians have also been menaced, has ordered its military to protect Russians in Kyrgyzstan, with the country’s new interim leaders struggling to reinstate order.
Like many nearby suburbs of the capital Bishkek, Mayevka is populated by Meskhetian Turks and Russians, and its brick houses and leafy gardens are perched neatly in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks.
The attacks, sparked by a local land ownership row, have raised the specter of more ethnic violence in the predominantly Muslim nation with a delicate ethnic composition.
Such strife was hitherto rare.
After Tuesday’s daybreak, villagers trickled back to Mayevka to pick through the rubble and look for missing relatives.
Many walked around listlessly, having found only smoldering piles of ash and charred debris where their homes once stood.
Women wept and men hugged. A child stood on the side of a dirt path, holding a chicken and staring at blackened walls.
Locals said attackers specifically targeted Turks because they are considered a wealthier and more vulnerable minority. Russian houses were also attacked but on a much smaller scale.
Some Russian landowners, knowing that the gangs were targeting mainly Turks, had scrawled “Russians here” on the gates of their houses.
Kyrgyzstan’s Meskhetian Turks are originally from ex-Soviet Georgia, but were deported to Central Asia by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1944, when he also moved the entire Chechen and Ingush people from southern Russia.
Ethnic Kyrgyz make up 70 percent of the country’s 5.3 million population, with eight percent being Russians. Turks, Uzbeks and other minorities comprise the rest.
Turkish Ambassador Nejat Akcal visited the village as soon as calm returned and inspected one rubble-strewn household.
“It’s a terrible incident. It shouldn’t be like this,” he told Reuters. “I hope things will be better tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. It’s a transition period.”
Most locals accused the interim government, which came in after Bakiyev’s overthrow, of losing control over the security situation, allowing armed gangs to loot freely.
“We have no hope in the new government,” said Khulizar Dursunova, 45, whose house was torched overnight.
“They’ve taken the (presidential) White House and now they are robbing and killing us,” she added as broken glass crackled beneath her feet.
The new government sent forces to the area late on Monday to quell the violence, arresting dozens of troublemakers. Locals said their forces arrived too late.
“We called the police for hours and hours begging for help,” said Nazli, a local woman. “One officer finally picked up the phone and said: ‘It’s your problem, fend them off yourself’.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich