An independent assessment of satellite images corroborates on-the-ground and news reports of widespread burning, violence, and human migration in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, AAAS reported.
“Consistent with on-the-ground reporting, the city of Osh appears to have been substantially damaged by widespread violence that completely destroyed some neighborhoods while leaving other, adjacent ones, undamaged,” said Susan Wolfinbarger, a senior program associate within the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.
Wolfinbarger and her colleagues analyzed before-and-after satellite images captured 15 March 2007 and 18 June 2010, encompassing 0.66 kilometers, or 0.41 miles—roughly the size of 120 football fields. In particular, AAAS assessed damage in central Osh as well as four surrounding neighborhoods: Cheremushki, located just southwest of the city; Furkat, to the east; Kizil Kishtak, to the northwest; and Nariman, to the north.
“Entire neighborhoods appear to have been destroyed,” Wolfinbarger noted. “The empty shells of these neighborhoods contrast sharply with the few undamaged buildings remaining in the area.”
Across the study region, AAAS identified an estimated 1,640 damaged or destroyed structures, including 551 in central Osh, 448 in Kizil Kishtak, 297 in Cheremushki, and 172 apiece in Furkat and Nariman.
“While most of the city appears largely intact,” AAAS reported, “where damage is present, it appears to be severe. Large swaths of buildings in the city appear to have been destroyed. The discontinuous distribution of the destruction largely appears to follow the major east-west road in the city, but is also found in the northern and eastern suburbs.”
In addition, satellite images reveal many “SOS” messages on roadways and athletic fields throughout the city.
The assessment was independently conducted by AAAS at the request of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). That humanitarian organization has reported that thousands of people fled the region after violence erupted. The turmoil seemed to begin 10 June as a result of confrontations between rival gangs of mostly Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths, according to AIUSA. Small-scale clashes rapidly escalated into large-scale arson, looting and violent attacks, including killings within mainly Uzbek-populated districts in Osh, and later in the city of Jalal-Abad and surrounding towns and villages, the group reported.
On 23 June, the U.S. State Department announced that it was “deeply concerned about and closely monitoring developments in the Kyrgyz Republic and the affected border regions of Uzbekistan.”
The U.S. news service, Voice of America, reported 25 June that “tens of thousands of Uzbek refugees are [now] returning to the homes they fled after ethnic clashes broke out in Kyrgyzstan earlier this month,” while at the same time, “many internally displaced people in Kyrgyzstan also are going back to homes they fled.”
After reviewing the AAAS image analysis, however, AIUSA noted that many displaced people clearly will be unable to return to their homes. “The situation in southern Kyrgyzstan remains extremely volatile, and is not a safe place for returning refugees or internally displaced persons, many of them children and elderly people,” the group concluded.
The State Department has pledged roughly $32 million to “programs for humanitarian relief, reconstruction, and community stabilization.” The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme and other organizations have also extended relief to the troubled region. An array of UN and non-governmental organizations meanwhile are seeking $71 million to assist those displaced by the crisis, according to the UN News Centre.
Images assessed by AAAS were captured by the QuickBird and QuickBird-2 satellites, and made available to AAAS by Google Earth and DigitalGlobe, respectively. The latest AAAS satellite analysis, conducted by the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, part of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, was supported by a grant from the Oak Foundation. In previous work, AAAS had assessed images related to human rights violations in regions ranging from Zimbabwe to Burma.
Read more about the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.