The standard refrain from anyone you ask is ‘Osh is older than Rome’. Legends credit all sorts of people with its founding, from King Solomon (Suleyman) to Alexander the Great. Certainly it must have been a major hub on the Silk Road from its earliest days. The Mongols smashed it in the 13th century but in the following centuries it bounced back, more prosperous than ever.
More recently, ‘Osh’ has become a byword for ethnic conflict in the festering, gerrymandered closeness of the Fergana Valley. In fact the worst of ‘Osh’ took place 55km away in Özgön, during three nights of savage Uzbek-Kyrgyz violence in June and July 1990, during which at least 300 people (some unofficial estimates run to 1000) died from a variety of ugly causes while Soviet military and police authorities stood oddly by.
Although the largest group, the Uzbeks, dominate local business, Kyrgyzstan has forced upon them an almost totally Kyrgyz (and apparently widely corrupt) municipal administration, by which they feel constantly ‘plundered’.
Rumours abound of weapons stockpiled for future conflicts. But considering the likelihood that most people living around Osh and Özgön – Kyrgyz and Uzbek alike – have friends or family members who were murdered in 1990, the wonder is how many Kyrgyz and Uzbeks remain close friends (or as married couples) and how determined most of them are to get along.
Perhaps to improve flagging morale and stir up some postindependence patriotism the year 2000 was celebrated as the 3000th year of Osh.