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24.09.09 23:04 Age: 9 yrs

Eit without a fight

By: Roger and Megan

20 September 2009

During the days toward the end of Ramadan we were looking out for places to witness the religious Eit festival, which is celebrated on the final three days of Ramadan (in 2009, this was 18-20 September). The main themes of these three days (at least for Uzbek people, perhaps not for all Muslim people) are remembering your dead ancestors, and visiting your grandparents. Around this time we were travelling along the detour road from Batken to Osh - a road unmarked on any map, and so information regarding the whereabouts and size of villages along this road is virtually unavailable to outsiders. Initially, we had been directed toward the large-ish town of Kadam Jai (not on our maps) to see a good example of Eit celebrations. However, on the road about 20 km from Kadam Jai, a man pulled up alongside us and spoke to us in very good English, telling us about the village of Halmion where he lived. We told him we were interested in seeing the Eit festival and he directed us to his town, rather than Kadam Jai, saying that the celebration would be better there.

Upon hearing this we decided to follow his directions and take the next left into the town centre. We were a bit cautious heading in that direction as we knew the Uzbekistan border was very very close by, so once in town we confirmed with the locals that we were indeed still in Kyrgyzstan. We created quite a scene there in the centre of the village, with almost 50 men gathered around us, and soon enough one of the older, and more respected men invited us to stay at his house.

Soon after settling down for our welcome chai at his house, we were informed that this was an Uzbek village. Over the few days we spent in Halmion, it became apparent that there was quite a bit of tension simmering below the surface between the two nationalities. We didn't actually see any conflicts arise, but we were informed that the whole town centre (and thus wealth) was Uzbek, that Kyrgyz people only lived in the outlying regional villages, but the governing body was all Kyrgyz. We also learned that in general, the Uzbek people have the impression that Kyrgyz people drink too much and are not as adherent to Islamic practices. After learning these things we speculate that this is the reason we were re-directed away from the Kyrgyz town of Kadam-Jai to see Eit, and instead recommended this Uzbek village of Halmion.

On the final day of Ramadan, we were awoken at 7 am in order to get into the main town mosque for the 8 am Namaz to end Rosa. We were very lucky to be given special permission to film the final Namaz of Eit by the Imom of the mosque. This final Namaz was very spectacular to film, even more so due to the size of it (all the men of the village were at the mosque!), and the importance of this day. We could see the ratio of Uzbek to Kyrgyz in the hats worn - of the 1000+ men present, there was only one Kyrgyz hat. Basically all the men of the village attended this final Namaz, before going out to gorge themselves silly on meat, then going back home for a big family get togethers over the course of the day.

It was only a short time after that we were told (by a man from the Special Services) that a bomb had exploded in a mosque some 30 km away in Uzbekistan (set of off by some Islamic fundamentalists) during the same Namaz that we had filmed. After hearing this we were glad that we hadn't been able to re-enter Uzbekistan, as we could well have been at that mosque instead!

And this week, we also heard that there has been more terrorist activity around Batken and Isfara only a few weeks after we had been there ourselves. The Batken/Isfara/Osh/Jalabad area makes up the non-Uzbekistan contingent of the Ferghana valley, which is very prone to religous extremism and violence. We have heard that numerous men have killed in the confrontation (and that the Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan border has been closed), and we hope our friends there are OK (and weren't involved)!