June 15, 2005
Kyrgyzstan Diary: The Shootout
This is the third installment of the Kyrgyzstan Diary. In it, Jeff Renz describes being caught in the recent political violence.
Talai and I were in the store discussing terms and prices with the owner when we heard shouting in the direction from where we had come. We looked out the window and saw people marching down Kurmonjon Datke in our direction. Women were in front, many carrying sticks, shouting. Some of the more astute customers in the store bailed out of the building and ran up the street, all assholes and elbows, as we used to say in the Army.
Then I saw the pistols and the march became an interesting combination of First and Second Amendment rights.
Guns are designed for a purpose and it is not to carry protest signs. Very quickly people began shooting. We learned later that 200 of Erkembaev's supporters had been gathered at his building for the previous two days. We couldn't tell who had started shooting or why. But there we were, like the farm family at Hougamont, with front row seats to an intensifying gun battle. News reports would later call it a riot.
Front row seats were undesirable at this point so, with Talai's help, we started getting people on the floor, away from the windows, and into a back room. Our efforts were aided by the two rounds that came through the front windows of the store. With everyone down, we made a flurry of phone calls, to Greg, to Peace Corps volunteers, to Talai's relatives, to anybody on my mobile phone's directory, to tell them to either stay put or go home, but by all means stay away from the corner of Kurmonjon Datke and Arvanskaye. I also called Jim Carney, who is the Montana Army National Guard's man in Bishkek. Carney, in turn, alerted the Embassy's security people.
I had been a Ranger qualified infantry officer for four years, so I wasn't worried about stray rounds. We were above street level and the walls of the building, inside and outside, were four inch thick cement and mudbrick. Anything that came in would go high. As long as we sat down and stayed away from the windows, everyone would be okay. One of the guys started shutting the window to the back room, as if this might give us some protection. I told him to leave it open, since flying glass was the greater threat.
My primary concern was that this shootout would be followed by looting and that we would be in a very bad place if someone was looking for a new hard drive. We had men and women as well as an infant with us. None of them had a clue about what to do. Talai and I tried to keep their spirits up.
After about 15 minutes, 100 shots, and a loud crescendo, the firing stopped. The militsia had arrived. We were now part of a crime scene. So we had to remain in the building.
We looked outside and saw the two warring factions, guns no longer visible, to the north and south of our building and separated by police. Investigators were on Kurmonjon Datke videotaping spent cartridges, ricochet marks, bullet holes, and the Molotov cocktail that someone had left on the sidewalk in front of the computer store. I hadn't seen any casualties and now I could not see any evidence of casualties. We later heard rumors of dead and wounded.
After it was over and I had rendezvoused with Greg, we encountered one of our law faculty colleagues.
"Was it politics or drugs?" Greg asked. Our colleague grinned and meshed the fingers of his two hands together as if to pray.
"They are inseparable," he said.
Welcome to Osh.
June 15, 2005 | Permalink
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Kyrgyzstan Diary: The Shootout: