Linguistic Marketplace of Osh, Kyrgyzstan: From Bazaar to Bizarre
In June 2010, Kyrgyzstan’s “Southern Capital” of Osh became host to a violent conflict in which hundreds were killed and thousands of homes destroyed. Outsiders labeled the events an “ethnic conflict,” but where do the residents of Osh believe the responsibility lies? Surprisingly, “language” is one explanation offered by Kyrgyz in particular, who comprise a majority of Kyrgyzstan’s population, but only a slim plurality in Osh. Shortly before the violence began, a leader of the minority Uzbeks publicly demanded that the Uzbek language receive official recognition, and many Kyrgyz reacted angrily to what they perceived as an act of separatism. The politicized nature of language in the former Soviet sphere has roots in the Union’s successful reification of ethnolinguistic linkages that were previously tenuous. This chapter explores the fruits of this reification project in examining the relationship between language ideologies and ethnic identity in Osh before and after the conflict. Based on 20 months of fieldwork conducted from 2008 to 2014, this study argues that the ambivalence surrounding code choices and language purity stems metonymically from concerns about the success of the “nation” as a whole. To demonstrate this phenomenon, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Russian schools are compared and analyzed according to language pedagogy and ideology. The current yoking of ethnicity and language in the classroom problematically prevents Uzbeks from integrating into what could become a more pluralistic model of citizenship. The Soviet ideal of the “friendship of peoples” still lingers in local memory as a distant, but nevertheless tangible dream.
KeywordsLanguage Ethnicity Boundaries Kyrgyzstan Conflict Education
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