Linguistic Marketplace of Osh, Kyrgyzstan: From Bazaar to Bizarre

Reference work entry


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.


Language Ethnicity Boundaries Kyrgyzstan Conflict Education 


  1. Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (Revised ed.). London: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. DeYoung, A. J., Reeves, M., & Valyayeva, G. K. (2006). Surviving the transition?: Case studies of schools and schooling in the Kyrgyz Republic since independence. Greenwich: IAP.Google Scholar
  4. EurasiaNet. (2013). Kyrgyzstan: Uzbek-language schools disappearing., March 6. Accessed 25 Jan 2015.
  5. Heathershaw, J., & Megoran, N. (2011). Contesting danger: A new agenda for policy and scholarship on Central Asia. International Affairs, 87(3), 589–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Irvine, J., & Gal, S. (2000). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In P. V. Kroskrity (Ed.), Regimes of language: Ideologies, polities (i.e. politics), and identities. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.Google Scholar
  7. McIntosh, J. (2009). The edge of Islam: Power, personhood, and ethnoreligious boundaries on the Kenya Coast. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Megoran, N. (2000). Calming the Ferghana Valley experts. Central Asia Monitor, 5(5).Google Scholar
  9. Megoran, N. (2007). On researching “ethnic conflict”: Epistemology, politics, and a Central Asian boundary dispute. Europe-Asia Studies, 59(2), 253–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Megoran, N. (2012). Averting violence in Kyrgyzstan: Understanding and responding to nationalism (Russia and Eurasia Programme paper, 3). London: Chatham House.Google Scholar
  11. Pavlenko, A. (2008). Multilingualism in post-Soviet countries: Language revival, language removal, and sociolinguistic theory. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Multilingual Matters, 11, 275. Scholar
  12. Reeves, M. (2010). The ethnicisation of violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan. openDemocracy. Accessed 19 Feb 2015.
  13. Schoeberlein, J. (1994). Conflict in Tajikistan and Central Asia: The myth of ethnic animosity. Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review, 1(2), 1–55.Google Scholar
  14. Shishkin, P. (2014). Restless valley: Revolution, murder, and intrigue in the heart of Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Stoler, A. L. (1997). Sexual affronts and racial frontiers: European identities and the cultural politics of exclusion in colonial Southeast Asia. In F. Cooper & A. L. Stoler (Eds.), Tensions of empire: Colonial cultures in a bourgeois world. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  16. Stoler, A. L. (2002). Carnal knowledge and imperial power: Race and the intimate in colonial rule. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  17. Toloev, C. (2014). Kyrgyzstan Ends Uzbek-Language University entrance exams. Transitions Online, May 13. Accessed 25 Jan 2015.
  18. Vela, J. (2011). Kyrgyzstan: Where the restaurants in Osh have new names. EurasiaNet, July 12. Accessed 15 Jan 2015.
  19. Wilmsen, E. N., & McAllister, P. (1996). The politics of difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Wolf, E. (1982). Europe and the people without history. Oakland: University of California Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pardes Institute of Jewish StudiesJerusalemIsrael

Personalised recommendations