Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Monday, May 30, 2005


Still in Bishkek. They have go-carts here! Sushi restaurants! Real pool tables! Cold delicious draft beer! I passed on the go-carts and Sushi (afterall we are about 3,000 miles from the closest ocean and the most landlocked country in the world)--I am sorry but the fish isn't fresh...

In Service Training (IST) finished up on Saturday afternoon. All the K12 volunteers stayed at a hotel (a short drive out of Bishkek) from Monday through Sunday morning. our days were filled with language sessions, cultural training and program training and our nights were open. Bishkek has come alive since last September (when we arrived) and for many of us (myself included), this trip was the first time I've actually gotten to explore the city on my own.

Chris Burns (great guy!), one of our "staging" trainers in Philadelphia made a surprise visit during IST--pleasant surprise to see on of the excellent PC folks who sent us off on our initial journey. I enjoy encounters that jolt one's sense of context--we last saw Chris at the airport in New York.

Beer gardens, fancy restaurants--I jokingly asked for tobasco sauce and 30 seconds later had a monster-sized bottle shoved into my hand at a restaurant called the Metro. I lathered my cheeseburger and fries in the liquid fire and smiled between my bites of burger and the cold golden draft beer that doused the inferno. Simple pleasures...

Ambassador Young came and spoke to us and deftly and diplomatically answered our questions about Central Asia. It appears he will be leaving his post in Kyrgyzstan in July. Today, several senators arrived in Bishkek (including John McCain).

I will be searching for a new organization to work with in Osh. I am fairly adamant about staying in Osh and really do not want to start over from scratch. So the search begins later this week for a new organization. I have several leads to follow up on when I get back to Osh--but right now everything is up in the air.

That's the quick update!

Take care and I hope to write a few more details soon.

Unemployed Peace Corps Volunteer,

Larry Tweed

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Perhaps the cleanest street in Osh. I like this photo. I live right next to the mountain in the background. About 1 mile from here.

James makes himself ill. Please note the "cute" kiddy band-aid, proving that this mountain man is really a softy at heart. So much for the "image" James. Ha!

The carriage of this Ferris Wheel also spins. Here, James Hart (the revolultionary) attempts to make his co-passenger nauseous by spinning our carriage round and round. When we alighted, we found that we had spun so fast that we actually traveled back in time and landed smack dab in the middle of the Soviet Union. James and his party tricks. Who knew?

Vertigo #2: our view from above: Tim Selter & Andrew Painter (below) take bets below on whether James and I will make it down alive.

Vertigo #3

Ferris Wheel: May 15th: After the ride we were presented with food for tempting our fate on this Soviet dinosaur.

James, me, Ferris Wheel operator and Tim Seltzer: Tim chickened out on the ride but helped us eat the flat bread pronounced "Nahn" and plov that this Kyrgyz operator presented to us. Apparently we were the first one's to ride the relic of the Soviet-era in many years...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Old Man fishing in the Ak-Buura river in the middle of Osh city.

May 15: Kids.

Kids love cameras.

Old men playing poker in the park. May 15th

Squat Shopping

James Hart's body was recovered from the stomach of the elusive cave dwelling Kyrgyz mountain mule. Mr. Hart was then revived by Japanese robots and released back into the wild. Here is a rare glimpse of James Hart squat-shopping in Osh. Note: most Kyrgyz bookstores tend to stress the open-air architecture you see here.

May 15: Kyrgyz kids by the fountain.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Andijon, Uzbekistan: You Probably Know More Than Me.

It’s 9:45 PM Sunday night. I am typing in darkness. The electricity has gone out for the fourth time in two days. The evening “Call To Prayer” floats a few decibels above the occasional car and meowing cat and I find the Arabic invocation strangely soothing in the darkness that’s befallen this day. News sources and people on the street are reporting that as many as 500 Uzbeks were killed in Andijon over the past two days. Andijon is located 45km (30 miles) from Osh.

The three Peace Corps Volunteers in Kara-Su have been evacuated due to the influx of refugees along the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Though technically closed, military and police forces along both sides of the border have not been able to stop Uzbeks from crossing over (primarily, it is thought, to escape the violence). I have heard unconfirmed reports that men, women and children were gunned down by the troops that Karimov sent in. I can’t help but recall what has now proved to be a somewhat portentous interview with Karimov. The interview took place during the March protests and Karimov was asked if he was worried about whether the same thing would happen in Uzbekistan. Karimov said he was not worried because he would have no problem using his mighty military to quash a demonstration. It seems he also had no problem gunning down women and children as they raised their hands in a posture of unarmed supplication. The current U.S. administration considers Uzbekistan a significant partner and ally in the war on terror.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Russians Say The Darndest Things

Apparently, in response to Russian accusations that Peace Corps is engaged in espionage, Peace Corps Head Quarters in Washington D.C. has decided to pull me out of my organization. Friday, May 20th, will be my last day working with the people whom I have spent over five months (nearly ¼ of my Peace Corps Service) getting to know.

I have been told that the decision was made based on the possibility that my organization could be perceived as being political. The post below is the three page letter that I sent to Peace Corps in response to the news that I would be pulled. Unfortunately, this letter had no effect on Peace Corps decision to remove me from my organization.

My Response To Peace Corps' Decision To Pull Me Out of My NGO

Mr. Alex Boston and Mr. Craig Lamberton:

Peace Corps placed me with the Human Rights & Democracy Center (HRDC), located in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. At the time I learned of my placement, I was told that I would be working with one of the best NGOs in Kyrgyzstan. This has proved true. HRDC consists of fourteen employees, nine of whom are licensed advocates (attorneys). HRDC is a highly respected, non-governmental, apolitical organization that promotes Human Rights by providing indigent clients with free legal advice. The Democracy portion of HRDC’s title is fulfilled by educating law students, secondary-school students, attorneys, judges, police, local officials and citizens on the constitution and normative laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

HRDC’s work in human rights and democracy manifests itself in three ways. First, it provides free legal advice and representation to those who are unable to afford an attorney. Second, it raises the level of education among students through legal clinic programs. And, third it develops civil society and social awareness by educating the populace on the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

HRDC’s primary work is conducted through their three legal clinics. Two of the three legal clinics unite law students from three competing institutions by creating a venue that provides students with practical experience in both the civil and criminal arena. Select groups of students from these institutions are taught how to interact with clients, legal research skills and trial skills. After receiving in-depth training, the students’ clinical education culminates in providing pro bono assistance and representation to those who are unable to afford an attorney. This is all done under the presence and with the supervision of a licensed HRDC staff attorney.

The third legal clinic focuses on civic teaching methodologies for secondary school teachers. The goal of this clinic, entitled “Street Law Clinic” is to train teachers in interactive methods of civil education and to increase school children’s knowledge of the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

HRDC’s attorneys are greatly respected for their knowledge, energy and their non-partisan, apolitical approach to improving civil society in the Kyrgyz Republic. Many organizations, universities and even secondary schools have taken a political stance and have supported particular candidates or parties, over the last few months. I know of at least two universities in Osh alone, where the rector’s (each running for a parliamentary seat) ran political campaigns on their campuses. However, throughout the recent elections and their aftermath, HRDC has remained an independent and non-political entity.

In fact, because of HRDC’s highly respected independent status in the Kyrgyz Republic, organizations such as the ABA/CEELI, OSCE and IFES have sought the assistance of members of HRDC in implementing civic education programs. Last fall, HRDC implemented a program which educated over 1,000 physicians and teachers about proper local election’s procedures in the Kyrgyz Republic. They taught intelligent people, interested in the democratic process, about the laws of their country.

I find it somewhat incredible to believe, after all of the hard work I was told Peace Corps was doing to find appropriate placements, that Peace Corps did not know my organization was educating over 1,000 teachers and physicians on the electoral process.

More recently, several volunteers and staff of HRDC were approached by IFES (specifically because they were known to be non-partisan) and asked if they would be willing to supervise the technical procedures in several local elections. On voting day, these individuals checked people’s identification cards and sprayed their hands with a fluid that only becomes visible under a black light.

While I am aware that the Peace Corps office in Washington D.C. is concerned about the perception of volunteers being involved in political activities, I think it is a far stretch to say that working with people who teach the law and supervise the logistical and technical aspects of the electoral system on election’s day rises to a level political activity that warrants removal from an organization.

Throughout history, universities have been very involved in the political arena. The universities in Kyrgyzstan are no exception. As stated above, two rectors from two universities in Osh, Kyrgyzstan were political candidates in the parliamentary elections. Not only did they participate directly in the political process, they appropriated their institutions for the purpose of promoting their campaigns. Faculty and students were “strongly encouraged” to campaign and vote on their behalf. Yet, Peace Corps volunteers remain at these institutions which are publicly known to promote political candidacies.

Now, one could argue that a university’s main focus or objective is education and not politics and I think this is a good argument. I also believe that it applies to my organization. Everyone knows that HRDC’s focus is legal education. Why would Peace Corps send me to an organization titled the Human Rights & Democracy Center—if the organization’s focus was political? They wouldn’t. The only difference between the universities I spoke of above and my organization is that the universities were known to be overtly political and even corrupt, while my organization is known to be non-political and law-abiding.

I would also like to discuss the personal bonds I have established with my organization. The people who work at HRDC are some the brightest and kindest people I have encountered in the world. In December, as a new Peace Corps volunteer, my-coworkers took a pay cut in order to pay for my housing. They have become my best friends in Kyrgyzstan. They’ve invited me into their lives, broken bread with me and shared their hopes and dreams. It takes quite a while to establish the trust and bonds that we’ve established. They’ve invested a lot of time and energy in teaching me about Kyrgyzstan. This time and energy has detracted from other projects that they could have been working on.

Only recently have I begun to feel like I could start paying them back for all of their generosity and patience and investment in me as a volunteer. In April, we submitted a concept paper to USAID. I have included this concept paper as an attachment because I thought you might be interested in the kind of work we do here at HRDC.

In addition to everything that I have written above, I also have some questions for Peace Corps. I know you are worried about the perception of Peace Corps volunteers working with NGOs involved in politics. Since most NGO’s act as a nexus, bridging gaps between governments and their people, it seems that most NGOs could be perceived as political. Is Peace Corps going to terminate their work with NGOs all around the world because of the fear of potentially being perceived of as working with organizations who are involved the political process?

What are you going to do about all those who teach at overtly political universities? Could you please explain the difference between teaching at a university that is known to be political and teaching at an NGO that is known to be non-political? Please explain why it is OK for PCVs to continue working at the former and not the latter.

If you remove me from my organization, will you reimburse HRDC for the housing costs they’ve incurred? Believing that I would be able to assist them over the next two years, HRDC has invested time, energy and money into training me and familiarizing me with their organization. They have spent 2,500 som per month on housing alone. As you know, this is a large sum of money for most people in Kyrgyzstan. Out of a sense of fairness and justice, I deeply believe that if Peace Corps pulls me out of the organization before they can reap the benefits I have to offer, then Peace Corps should bear the burden of their decision and reimburse my organization for their costs in housing me.

Where am I going to be placed? I have been told by everyone who encounters HRDC (including two University of Montana law professors who were at my organization yesterday) that I am working with one of the best organizations in Kyrgyzstan. I completely agree with them. If I am moved are you going to try and find a solid organization that matches my skills and interests or be satisfied with any organization not “perceived to be involved in the political process?”

Are you going to remove me from Osh where I have spent nearly ¼ of my Peace Corps service, adjusted to the environment and established many friendships?

As the gravity of your potential decision begins to weigh on my mind, I am sure that I will have many more questions. I hope that Peace Corps finds the time to provide some thoughtful answers.


Larry Tweed

Friday, May 13, 2005

Uzbek official says man killed at Israeli Embassy carried only mock-ups of explosives

From a Russian News source:

A man carrying mock-ups of explosives was shot to death by police outside the Israeli Embassy in Uzbekistan's capital Friday, a senior police official said.

The man earlier had been described as a would-be suicide bomber, but the police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the man was carrying only wooden objects that appeared to be explosives.

The victim has been identified as an unemployed ethnic Russian, who had a history of mental illness and had served prison time, the official said.

Read the entire article here: NewsFromRussia.Com Uzbek official says man killed at Israeli carried only mock-ups of explosives: "Uzbek official says man killed at Israeli carried only mock-ups of explosives"

Andijan (also spelled Andijon), Uzbekistan: Nine Dead, Prisoners Released, Many Injured: RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY

RFERL reports the following:

The Uzbek government says nine people have been killed and another 34 wounded in unrest in Andijan. The troubles started after rioters stormed a high-security prison overnight, freeing hundreds of prisoners and triggering exchanges of gunfire with security guards and police forces.

Protesters are demanding the release of 23 businessmen on trial for allegedly belonging to the banned Islamist group Akramiya. The defendants say the charges are politically and economically motivated.

Sharipjon Shakirov, who served four years in prison on charges of belonging to Akramiya, spoke to RFE/RL from the regional administration building in Andijan. He confirmed that mediation talks have begun.

"Yes, they are holding talks," Shakirov said. "[Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir] Almatov is talking. He speaks on behalf of President [Islam Karimov]. On our side, Parpiev Qobiljon is talking to them."

Eyewitnesses report several buildings in Andijan are on fire and demonstrators are picketing the regional administration's headquarters.

One of the protesters told RFE/RL that they are holding a number of policemen hostage.

Another unnamed protester, reportedly occupying the Andijan mayor's office, told RFE/RL the protesters want Russian mediation in the crisis. "We have peaceful demands," the protester said. "[Among them], we call on the Russian government to get involved in the events that are happening in the city of Andijan because [the Russian government] knows well the problems we have."


Uprising in Andijan, Uzbekistan: Across the border from Kyrgyzstan

I have very little information about what is happening accross the border in Andijan, Uzbekistan. However, I did receive this message from the Consular Warden System (those charged with keeping U.S. Citizen's up to date):

The following is a message distributed thru the Consular Warden System of
the American Embassy in Tashkent.

Embassy Tashkent has confirmed that a suicide bomber was shot outside of the
Israeli Embassy this morning (May 13).

The U.S. Government has received reports of gunfire and possible explosions
in the city of Andijan. BBC is reporting that a group of armed men took
over the prison and released prisoners. American citizens are urged to stay
off the streets. The Embassy has also confirmed that at least one of the
Uzbek-Kazakh border crossings north of Tashkent has been closed. Travelers
should avoid traveling to Andijan at this time.

Click here to see where Andijan is on the map.

And here is a recent news story from the AP.

Also, you will find lots of information and current news and links if you check out Nathan's excellent blog

I just emailed an expat friend that I know who is based out of Andijan and will post more information if/when I get a response from him. Take care and stay safe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Uzbek girls staying cool in the water that runs over the stairs in the park.

Yak-40 Russian airplane in the middle of the park. The plane used to be used as a movie theatre as I discovered one day when they accidentally forgot to lock it. Now it's merely a photo-op.

Water fountain in the Osh park by my apartment. Out door seating for eating Shashlik (shisk-ka-bob) in the shade.

Kids playing in the park by my apartment. Notice how the stairs are turned into water falls in the summer.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Kyrgyzstan Landscape 30 minutes outside of Osh.

Another shot.

Gorge-ous. Montana pioneer James Hart and I discovered this gorge on day-hike out of Osh. Unfortunately, James was attacked by a killer cave-dwelling mountain mule (see below). It was a sad loss, but he bequeathed me some of his homemade mountain-man salsa. umm umm good.

The elusive, cave-dwelling, Kyrgyz Mountain Mule, captured here for the first time on film. Right after I took this photo a member of our exploratory party was trampeled and eaten by this beast. Life in the Kyrgyz frontier has proved more difficult than we thought...

In a village on a day hike outside of Osh