“You, where are you from?” A tired, bored and maybe half-drunk Kyrgyz soldier flags me down on Osh’s main drag, Ulitsa Lenina.
In the past days, the city has been transformed into a war zone. Burned-out cars, tipped-over buses and sawn-down trees are makeshift blockades.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” the soldier says.
“I’m a journalist from Moscow.” As long as I stick to short phrases I can hide my very un-Russian accent.
I guess in a way, I am somehow a Muscovite: I say ‘malaka’ for milk and even feel at home there while stuck in an endless traffic jam.
“He’s from Moscow!’ the soldier shouts to a shifty group of army men sitting around an old Mercedes on the edge of the Kyrgyz part of town.
Some of them are wearing uniforms, but others just shorts and T-shirts that bluntly say “FBI”, or armed vests that have “Shanghai Metropolitan Police” in yellow letters on the back. The clowns of war. They try to cook rice on a fire of rubbish and keep complaining that Uzbeks are better cooks.
“How much does it cost to buy an apartment in Moscow?” he asks while reloading his gun and slowly aiming it in my direction. “Are girls nice there?” he asks. “How much do they charge to sleep with you? You have a metro there, right? How much do you pay for gas? Why are you not sending any Russian troops? Could Putin not rule Kyrgyzstan? Are the streets clean?”
His friends call him Belek, I have to write down my phone number for him. In the end, they let me pass to the Uzbek area of town. Chances are that he and his mates drove through these streets a couple of nights ago in armed vehicles, fired at anything that moved and burned down the whole street except for the mosque.
The Uzbeks about 200 metres further down the road don’t have any guns – just sticks and kitchen-knives. A mob of men appears out of the rubble. Only men are left. Women and children have fled, trying frantically to cross the border into Uzbekistan.
“If you guys are really from Moscow, you’re a bunch of liars! Stop telling lies and do your job!” an older man shouts.
Like many others he brings his mobile to show the slaughter the Uzbeks managed to film while it happened. “And you in Moscow only show Kyrgyz victims,” he continues. “Your Channel One is lying to us!”
At this point, the Russian photographer I’m with snaps. “So why the hell are you shouting at me? Do I work for Channel One? I’m a photographer! Russian television always says bullshit. Now they’ve fucked you once, but you forget they fuck my whole country every day on TV.”
Then Belek calls.
“Did the Uzbeks kill you yet?” he laughs, but abruptly stops. “There is a problem,” he explains. “We are watching Russia’s Channel One here, and they’re only showing Uzbek victims! You’re a bunch of liars!”
Because war is complicated enough already I hang up the phone. He calls me back later that evening.
“Never mind the television – I want to come to Moscow too. I heard it’s cheap to buy a car there, and you can make a lot of money as a taxi driver. When I come, can I stay at your place?”