Tensions in Kyrgyzstan over Exams in Uzbek

The education ministry in Kyrgyzstan is revisiting the issue of making university entrance exams available in the Uzbek language after 15 people protested that allowing students to sit the exams in Uzbek is unconstitutional. The constitution says that the only official languages in Kyrgyzstan are Kyrgyz and Russian. Currently, students may take exams for university admissions in Kyrgyz, Russian, or Uzbek. High-scoring students may be exempt from university fees.

Nationalists met with members of the Kyrgyzstani parliament, after which politicians raised the issue and insisted that the exams should not be available in Uzbek. However, both President Almazbek Atambaev and Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov supported the ministry of education’s decision to offer the exams in Uzbek.

The number of students who opt to take the exam in Uzbek is very small, especially considering that 15 percent of the population in Kyrgyzstan speaks Uzbek. Out of 40,000 students who sat the exam, only 1,000 took advantage of the Uzbek version of the test.

The controversy comes two years ethnic clashes that erupted in violence. One Ata Jurt parliamentarian who supports the elimination of Uzbek testing, Nadira Narmatova, insisted that the increased tension was not the intended outcome and that  “the events of June [2010] will not be repeated.”

“Why are we portrayed as the enemy the moment we call for Kyrgyz to be spoken?” Narmatova asked. “They [other ethnic groups] live in Kyrgyzstan, and their great-grandfathers lived in Kyrgyzstan. If you live here, there’s nothing wrong with speaking Kyrgyz as a mark of respect. We should be patriots.”