During the days when I was in the southern city of Osh last week with J.A., my photographer friend, we attempted to find media outlets that would be interested in seeing and reading about the ways that Osh is coping in the wake of the June Events (violent inter-ethnic clashes). We felt that it was particularly interesting, and pertinent to the wider global community since the elections were an opportunity both to move towards peaceful, democratic reconciliation or in the direction of further violence.
I sent a brief article proposal to my friends who work in media, trying to see if they had any suggestions on how to pitch the story to a magazine. I am not a journalist, so I was admittedly going into the endeavor blindly.
The proposal was this, followed by a brief bios of J.A. and me:
Article proposal: Osh Portrait, Enduring Uncertainty
Project: An article of 5,000-7,000 words and a photo essay.
Background: In April of this year, a popular revolution took place in Kyrgyzstan The president was forced out of office and parliament dissolved. Two months later, ethnopoliticial violence broke out in the south of the country between Uzbeks and Kyrgyzs. During this unrest, which has come to be known as the June Events, several thousand people were killed and crowds set fire to buildings in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Coming at the heels of this turmoil, elections will be held to form the first post-revolutionary parliament on Sunday, October 10.
Main narrative: By weaving together the personal stories of 8-10 people from various segments of society with the history of the Fergana Valley and recent political developments, this piece will paint a picture of contemporary social life in this critically important region of Central Asia. The article will contextualize recent incidents while illuminating people’s hopes and fears along with their views on government and community. In addition, there is a significant possibility that there will be further violence during the election period, which we will be able to document.
We spent our days in the bazaars and burned, destroyed neighborhoods where pogroms had taken place. J.A. documented rebuilding efforts, the hesitant optimism that had begun to show on people’s faces, and quiet fearful glances while I heard terrible stories of families fleeing from renegade troops and rumors of secret mass killings, litanies of blame and acute expressions of gratitude. In the evenings, we would check our email to see if there was someone who would be interested, someone who wanted to publish what we were gathering. Every day was the same – no answer. It became a joke between us. Each night when I signed on line he called out “Nobody cares about Kyrgyzstan, right?” “No one at all,” I intoned in reply.
Eventually a few people did give me some feedback. (Thank you – I am humbly appreciative for all of it.) According to people I heard from, the main thrust of any story about Kyrgyzstan in the Western media ought to be “Why should we care about this?” Also, the story should be kept to under 1000 words, because Kyrgyzstan just doesn’t loom large in people’s minds in the English language media. This saddened me because this short “Why should we care?” article has been written hundreds of times over the last several years. Even last week Tom Daschle wrote one of these pieces for the Washington Post. I kept thinking, “How many times can readers consume the same superficial article about this far off country without stopping to wonder what people here feel and think about their political situation?”
I am still trying to find an outlet that might be interested in publishing our work. If that time ever comes, I will link to J.A.’s great photos. If not, I will try to get him to let me post them here, along with a version of the article. Until that time, I guess I have to resign myself to the fact that most people do not care about Osh. But for those that do, keep checking the blog.