Jun 15 2010

Osh Eye Witness Account

Category: In The MediaChrisM @ 2:03 pm

For those interested in the current problems in South Kyrgyzstan, the following quote was written by an NGO worker in Osh. If you want to read more about the area, the revolutions and don’t find your favourite newspaper is giving you enough, I’d recommend reading through Registan, New Eurasia and EurasiaNet.

For my friends and family back in the West, I want to make it clear this is in a different country, Kazakhstan is absolutely fine. Wherever you see “I” in the quoted text, please remember this is someone else’s account.

First hand experience in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Before I explain anything, let me just say that I am completely safe. I and the other NGO volunteers (except for 3 village volunteers in Osh who will be moved tomorrow but are safe right now) have been moved to the American military base outside of the Kyrgyz capitol of Bishkek. I totally and completely safe right now, and I will definitely never be returning to Osh.

I don’t know if you have been following the news. Mostly just NPR and Al Jazeera have reported, but they know very little as the conflict is so bad no one can get in.

I just had the most terrifying experience of my life. I’m going to let you know so you can get a small picture of what it is like where I live. And I am only letting you know because I am now out of the conflict.

It was Friday at 1am and I was awoken by a phone call from another friend in the NGO who lives in my neighbourhood in Osh. He was wondering if I heard any strange noises on the streets. I didn’t at that point, but I got up and looked out my balcony (it must be noted that I am the only volunteer in Osh who lives on the main street with my windows facing it as well, so they wanted me to look for them. I am on the 2nd floor). What I saw was horrifying. I looked to my right and saw a fire burning in the street about a block away and men screaming loudly around it. I thought they were just screaming to put out the fire. I waited a bit and noticed the fire growing and growing. It cast a red glow across the whole street I lived on. I then turned to the left and saw a hundred or more local men walking down towards my building carrying axes and shotguns. They were yelling cheers and shooting into the air. They began to set fire to more buildings around me, while breaking the glass and doors of the stores on the first floor of my building and the buildings around me. I was scared and had no idea what to do so I called our safety officer at the NGO and she had no idea what was going on (I woke her up). More and more men gathered in the red glow of the burning buildings around me (at least 300 by now), and they began to throw rocks at buildings. I was walking towards the bathroom to seek cover (as this is the only room in my apartment that doesn’t have a window facing the street), and a large rock smashed through my window and flew right by my head. I was lucky to have missed it as it was a fist sized stone. I spent the rest of the night hiding in my bathroom, staying on the phone with the NGO, and sneaking peeks to see if my building was on fire. Luckily just as my building was going to get caught by the flames, the fire department came, dispersed the crowd and put out the fire (which I am surprised they put out so much because we don’t have fire hydrants here).

I can’t even properly describe the terror I felt. I have never felt so trapped in my life. I didn’t know what to do if my building caught on fire because if I ran outside I would have surely been killed. I am so grateful that the fire stopped when it did. It was also incredibly terrifying because this incident was about 2 hours long. I spent the rest of the night packing my emergency bag and trying to rest in the bathtub, but I was unsuccessful as I was so nervous about men climbing onto my balcony or my apartment being set ablaze. I can’t get the image out of my head of all those mens and guns shadows destroying my neighbourhood.

I spent the whole time praying for dawn because I thought it would get better with light. Well, it didn’t. 5 o’clock hit and Kyrgyz men came with crowbars and started smashing up the stores right across the street from my building. This continued until a crowd of Uzbek men came and chased them away with rocks. Yes, if you didn’t know, this whole conflict is about the ethnic tension between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, possibly started by a third party for political reasons.

Hundreds of Uzbeks gathered again on my street, but soon scattered into the distant neighbourhoods because of police. I was then called by the NGO and told to move about a block away to another volunteer’s house, where many of us would gather to be safe. I did so, and it was relatively safe. 6 of us spent the rest of that first day trying to rest, conserve our energy (I didn’t get to eat for 2 days because the gas and electricity were shut off and no stores were open), and hope for the best. We just heard distant fighting and shots the rest of that day and then that night military tanks were roaming the city firing into crowds to disperse them.

The next day (Saturday), we all woke up and got the 4 other NGO volunteers in the city to join us (thats 10 now). We were told by the NGO that we were leaving to the airport to catch a flight to the capital, but the roads were blocked and shooting was heavy on the way. We then had to wait for a new plan. In the mean time, some local Kyrgyz threw a bottle and rock into our window and smashed it. We had to create an emergency plan because we heard that molotov cocktails were being thrown into windows, so we needed to do fire prevention. We positioned the bed and cushions against all the windows, hoping that a molotov would bounce off back into the street. Luckily this was never tested. We spent the rest of the afternoon in complete silence (all phones were off except for mine to conserve our batteries. I kept mine on for communication with the NGO), and getting many different changing plans from the NGO.

Finally, at about 6pm we were picked up by 5 kyrgyz men (trusted and hired by the NGO) who had masks on and guns. They were to escort us to a bus that would take us to helicopter. We left with them, but the bus got lost so we were exposed on the main street for 20 minutes. It was so eery as all the streets were empty, except for when random cars would drive by with dozens of men and guns in them. One of the cars was stopped on the way by a group of Kyrgyz who pointed their guns at the volunteers in it and screamed, “If any of you are Uzbeks we will kill you all.” Luckily our drivers were Kyrgyz and we were somewhat “safer” because we were in Kyrgyz territory. They went away and we spent the next 20 minutes trying to get the bus to come to us while watching troops of Kyrgyz driving past us with guns. We were so scared of being shot at this point. Luckily, we got to the bus that was controlled by the Kyrgyzstan border control, who was to take us to a helicopter in the city. We got in and after driving a certain way we were blocked by a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of Kyrgyz men who were demanding the guns from the military tank escorting us. The military refused and started firing guns into the air. We all ducked down, but I saw that more gunshots were being fired around us by the local kyrgyz and then rocks and sticks were being smashed against our car windows. We were in this position for about 5 minutes and we were all in control, but I truly felt for the first time in my life that I could have died at that moment. So many men screaming, so many shots in my direction, so much anger. I just could truly see myself not surviving that moment. Again, i can’t describe how that danger feels. It is beyond numbing.

Luckily the tank eventually decided to plow through the crowd and we followed. We made it to the heli base and were lifted to the Osh airport where we got a charter flight to Bishkek. We are now safe at the base while our homes and friends burn in the fires of ethnic conflict.

While we feel grateful to be alive and gone, I personally feel guilty because I am so privileged to have the ability to be lifted out of the danger like that while my local friends and coworkers hide for their lives. It is a horrible feeling to have left them to die. Hundreds are dead already, thousands are injured. 150,000 Uzbeks have fled to the Uzbek border; women are handing their babies off to Uzbekistan soldiers at the border so that at least they survive.

Whats worse is that the Uzbeks are not only blamed for this whole thing (as the ethic and hated minority), but they are being targeted not only by Kyrgyz, but also the military. We hear from our Uzbek friends that police are openly killing defenceless Uzbeks on the street. Entire Uzbek neighbourhoods are destroyed in Osh. I will never forget the last image I had, flying away in a heli over the city, seeing entire blocks of houses scorched to the ground, with smoke and fire covering the whole city. It will haunt me forever.

Whats worse is that the Kyrgyz government is only providing humanitarian assistance to the Kyrgyz, and leaving the Uzbek out. Please urge your congressperson to push the american government to urge the Kyrgyz government to provide equal aid to all ethnicities. PLEASE. These are my friends and neighbors that are being murdered. Just take a few minutes and call/email. It is an emergency situation, no time to lose. Please leave my name out of your message though.

Email me if you have questions. I have good internet at the base. The rest of the country is completely stable as Uzbeks are mainly just in the south, so don’t worry about me being in the north now.

I love you all and I am think I will be home in America soon.

I have not been able to verify the accuracy of this account, and others have noted that conclusions drawn about the police and military forces in Osh and surrounding areas (although repeated by different people) could be inaccurate, as uniforms can be stolen, and identification of allegiances/membership of official forces could be difficult to ascertain in the heat of a battle.

If any Americans do want to contact their congressman/woman, I believe these three sites – 1, 2 and 3 should be able to provide you with details.

If you a UK citizen, and want to contact your MP, asking them to ensure the British government sends a message that humanitarian aid needs to be given out regardless of ethnicity, then click here.

Update to include information on the best contact methods and URL assignment, by KZBlog in the comments section below

All American senators also have websites at LASTNAME.senate.gov. So if you know your Senator’s name, you can go there. House members are at LASTNAME.house.gov. Or go harass Obama at whitehouse.gov. Letters and phone calls do tend to carry more weight than emails and Tweets, so I’ve heard.

(Just in case you don’t scroll any further)

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Jun 15 2010

Enforced Lock In

Category: Kazakhstan,PersonalChrisM @ 12:51 am

We had an interesting time watching the England vs USA football match on Saturday. A few friends came over to the flat pre-game, to warm up our drinking arms. We moved onto a bar (I think it is called Goal Keeper?), where power cuts meant we missed the American goal, and after the power flicking on and off for a while, we tried to leave the bar and head to the Hotel Radisson (as they were more likely to have a generator). However, the security guards had locked the front doors before we could leave, and were telling people to go back into the bar and wait, as electricity would return. Before we made complete idiots of ourselves with people holding batons, the owner appeared, apologised (I think she realised locals might take that kind of brute force attempt to keep customers, but ex-pats would throw a hissy fit and tell their friends, and therefore she could lose business).
So we left, but getting into our designated driver’s car we noticed someone had forgotten their top. He went back in, I hung around outside to start banging on the doors and windows if they didn’t let him out. This time some locals were caught trying to leave without paying, and the guards were literally throwing them back into the bar. Our friend got out, we went on to the hotel, and although they also had power cuts, they didn’t last as long. Obviously the match ended in a draw (I would have won 16,000 Tenge if England had managed to score one more goal!), but given that we had both Americans and Brits in our group, I suppose it was a fair enough score to keep all parties happy. I’ll leave commentary on the actual football played to other more knowledgeable people.

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Jun 13 2010

Interesting night watching Eng…

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 1:55 am

Interesting night watching England v USA match so far. Power cut hitting parts of Astana. Moved to Radisson. Accidentally bet 2-1 to England

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Jun 12 2010

QBP Videos

Category: Friends,Kazakhstan,VideosChrisM @ 2:41 am

So, as I mentioned in a tweet, Irina and I were invited to the Queen’s Birthday Party (organised by the British Embassy) on the 10th of June at the Radisson Hotel here in Astana. This was the first QBP since the new ambassador here in Kazakhstan took over.

A short summary would be no speeches (apparently the correct tradition for celebrating HRH’s birthday), a good local band that played a wide variety of covers, free good food (fish and chips in cones again, as well as a buffet (curries, beef kebabs, potato wedges 🙂 ) and free drink. I’ll leave the details of my mishap on the way home until another day.

The following videos were supposed to be uploaded on the night, but I was too drunk TBH. They were then supposed to be transferred via Qik, but once again the program got very tempremental. So, I reverted to YouTube.

I’ve not yet had a chance to actually watch all the videos, but I wanted to post these up tonight, as I’m away from the PC tomorrow for half the day, then giving a lesson and running an English Talking club in the afternoon and evening, then hopefully off to watch the England vs. USA football match during the night.
So it was now or at some random point in the future for embedding these clips.

Oh, and Irina took some proper photos with a real camera, so I’ll try ad post those up soon as well.

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May 26 2010

Recorded Strokes And Missing Blocks

Category: Aware Or Conspiracy Nut...,In The MediaChrisM @ 11:51 pm

Sounding more like a plot device in Mission Impossible XIV than a well researched BBC article, spying on people’s keyboard strokes via the mains cable that powers the computer is more fuel for the tin foil hat brigade. The article doesn’t mention whether PS/2 keyboards are the types of device that can leak information back through to AC wiring (not at all sure why, but I can imagine there being less potential digital interference when USB was used), nor does the piece refer to whether PSUs with certain features would be likely to curtail this activity. For that matter, would surge suppressors (with their sine wave cleaning abilities) further protect paranoid users?

Another article with potentially information missing, is a piece on credit card info thieves using cloned cards at unattended checkouts in supermarkets to empty American customers’ accounts. I can’t understand why a simply block on non Chip’n’PIN cards using these sort of self service checkouts wouldn’t be put in place. This way staff would get a chance to physically check the card at normal check outs, meaning more hassle for the data thieves at the very least.

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May 26 2010

Late Spring Clean

Category: PersonalChrisM @ 11:44 pm

After repairing all my other websites (following the hacking of my server and insertion of malware links), I decided to standardize all the plugins across the sites, and only install themes and plugins that were available from the official WordPress repository. This makes keeping them up to date a lot easier (and semi-automatic) and should any new hacks take place, the clean up job will be quicker. In the last few days, I also finally re-instated the Amazon links; when these sites were not built around WordPress, I’d had Amazon.co.uk books related to each topic displayed, but didn’t see a single sale. I went through my AWStats information, and nineteen out of twenty sites had the most traffic from America. (Actually Russia figured quite heavily as well, but a) Russian visitors aren’t famous for click on adverts and buying products and b) Amazon don’t have a .RU specific site, oh and c) A lot of the Russian visitors were actually spam bots, once again not known for earning web masters money 🙂 ) So, discovering that I had already set up an affiliate account there, I went ahead and inserted Amazon.com adverts on each site. I’m hoping that the sites will start to earn a bit money than the last year’s income, though I know that with summer coming there will be the usual dip in visitor numbers and corresponding income. The grill (BBQ) tips site might just be the exception, I suppose 🙂

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Feb 25 2010

Hmmm, can I answer directly to…

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 5:18 pm

Hmmm, can I answer directly to these? Rugby world cup has England, Wales and Scotland. Where is the American team? ChrisM

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Feb 11 2010

Unfair Wimp Labelling

Category: Friends,VideosChrisM @ 1:19 am

Despite me originally thinking that Lucky (of The District of Lucky and Lucky21842 fame) was simply a light weight former Almaty resident, who wouldn’t recognise a real snow storm if it held a sign up, after watching the following video, I concede that America did seem to get pretty hard, pretty quickly with its recent snow storm. I’m hoping that the renewed possibility of fresh snow in Britain quickly melts away – whilst pretty, it is a pain in the arse to drive around on, without winter tyres/snow chains…

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Feb 11 2010

Grumpy Young Man

Category: Friends,VideosChrisM @ 12:53 am

Just a quick embedded video from LuckyInDC here – he outlines one of the differences between America and Kazakhstan – strangers talking to you, or rather the lack of them in Kazakhstan. Some might argue that complete strangers talking is a good way to make friends outside of your normal circle of associates, but I suppose that insincerity from all around you could be just as bad?

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Jan 20 2010

Over The Counter With A Script

Category: KazakhstanChrisM @ 1:09 pm

Anna is still a little bit poorly (is that term used by Americans/non-native English speakers as well? If not, substitute “ill”). We don’t know if it was just random timing or not, but she has just had her hepatitis immunization, and a few days after she started to get high temperatures and a sore throat. The doctor said it was a case of Angina (the Russian term). This wasn’t (logically, but given she is still very young, I still worried for a moment) anything to do with her heart, but translates as a sore throat, or strep throat, or something or other-itis. The doctor said not to worry, just ensure she has plenty of rest, liquids and to keep an eye on her over the coming days. Some medical treatments are the same the world over 🙂
One of the things that struck me about medicine in Kazakhstan is that most antibiotics are available over the counter here, which although convenient as you don’t need to take time off work for a doctor’s appointment, did worry me a little. The reason? If you take anti-biotics when your body doesn’t actually need them, then bacteria are a lot more likely to build up a resistance to the medication, and the whole country can end up with stronger strains of diseases simply because the normal course of medication recommended are no longer capable of destroying the bacteria.
On the other hand, strong pain medication does require a prescription over here – when I have had serious dental problems, I had sort of hoped that living in this part of the world would mean I could balance out the pain of my teeth with something other than ibuprofen or paracetamol with low doses of codeine. It is probably for the best that strong pain killers aren’t available over the counter, but when you are in pain, logic doesn’t always apply 😉

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