It has been one year since bloody ethnic clashes in the Kyrgyz city of Osh shattered the optimism that followed the revolution deposing authoritarian dictator Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
In the uncertain power vacuum, longstanding tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbek citizens were fueled by rumour and mistrust, boiling over in turmoil that cost hundreds of lives, caused thousands of injuries and displaced almost half a million.
Stories of people being set on fire, raped, shot by government troops or beaten to death by mobs have left inter-communal tensions beyond the surface that are fresher and more dangerous than ever before.
Critically, reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch highlight the new government’s utter failure to deliver justice.
A grossly disproportionate number of prosecutions against Uzbek citizens and an un-disguisable official emphasis on Kyrgyz victims, despite the fact that the vast majority of those killed or driven from their homes were Uzbek, has left the Uzbek community feeling marginalized and insecure.
As presidential elections approach and candidates of all sides seek to emphasize their own nationalism, these fault lines will only heighten – leaving genuine fear in many quarters that violence could break out once more.
It is a grim warning to those nations currently undergoing democratic revolutions and one that is already resonating in Egypt where murderous sectarianism has blighted the young post-Mubarak era.
Syria, Libya and Yemen also all face ethnic and religious fault lines which are not, of course, reason for resisting change – as so many dictators claim, but issues that must be addressed by those seeking to transform their nations.
The lessons from Osh are to recognise the dangers early, provide robust protection for minorities and bring swift impartial justice to restore the confidence of communities where order breaks down.
The new Kyrgyz government’s neglect of these necessities led to some of the worst violence that the country has ever seen and may well cause further troubles long into the future.
Nevertheless – there are many positive lessons and optimistic signs from Kyrgyzstan.
A constitutional referendum and parliamentary election were both largely free and fair; the result of the latter produced no majority but a three-way coalition agreement. This integration of different ideologies, preventing any one party from imposing a new autocratic hegemony, has given Central Asia its first taste of democracy – which though far from perfect is a previously unimaginable advance in a region dominated by a rogues gallery of murderous strongmen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For those who doubt that nations touched by the Arab Spring could ever move away from their authoritarian past, Kyrgyzstan gives hope.
If the bitter legacy of Osh is seriously addressed by the parliamentary coalition and the new president, then the potential time-bomb of ethnic tensions could be averted and Kyrgyzstan could become a model of change.
That is no mean feat – it will require real justice, an even handed approach to security and strong state support for the inspirational reconciliation projects underway.