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Kyrgyzstan: Students sympathize with American tragedy

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October 23, 2001 Posted: 1:38 PM EDT (1738 GMT)
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By Mariana Kim
CNN Student Bureau

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (CNNSB) -- On September 11, 2001, Kyrgyzstan received the news about a great tragedy in the United States. It was nearly 9 p.m. in this Central Asian country. The Kyrgyz people were gathering together after dinner around TVs in cafes, pubs and at home. One terrible phrase still rings out in memory: "America Under Attack."

Kyrgyzstan knows war and terrorism all too well. The country was annexed by Russia in 1864, and while it achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, a war began brewing in the Southern part of Kyrgyzstan in August 1999. Extremist terrorist groups tried to penetrate the Kyrgyz Republic's territory from neighboring countries. They made another attempt in 2000. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has been living under continued tension, and everyone here is very afraid of a new war.

When the news broke out about the terrorist attack in the United States, people in Kyrgyzstan were terribly shocked. During the days that followed, all Kyrgyz mass media operations carried one news item: the new war in America. The tragedy had touched regions far across the ocean, affecting many students as well.

"I just can't realize what's going on," said Zakir Alimov, an 18-year-old from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. "When I heard the news, it seemed like I was sleeping and this was a nightmare. If it was terrorists who did it, they broke all possible limits then."

"I'm scared because I live in Central Asia, and this word combination provokes anger from all over the civilized world," said Ayana Niazalieva, 17, from the city of Osh.

Students in Kyrgyzstan watch for news updates  

In peaceful Bishkek, the American tragedy did incite some incidents. About 75 percent of the Kyrgyzstan population is Muslim. On the night after the September 11 attack, the American University of Kyrgyzstan (AUK) was attacked by a group of revelers who broke windows and put up a poster with threats addressed to Americans. Some people said they believed that the actions against the AUK were done by teenagers "looking for fun," and carried no truly hostile intentions.

But many Kyrgyz teens say they denounce such behavior. They say that the attack on the World Trade Center in New York can never be justified.

"I can't imagine what human beings could do this," said Bakyt Azimkanov, 18, of Jalal-Abad, reacting to the attack on America. "When I lived in the States, I visited the World Trade Center in New York City, and I was just amazed by the beauty of the Twin Towers and by the unique way they were built. It was the pride of the U.S. Nowadays, the human race is in a fog of problems, which can only be solved by uniting the powers of all civilized people on the Earth. We should punish those who destroy so many innocent lives. We have to hunt them down."

"All my life I dreamed of seeing New York City and visiting the WTC," said 17-year-old Bishkek student Nargiza Sadykova. "And now my dream is dead. I don't know what to do. I still can't understand what happened."

Many Kyrgyzstan people have relatives and friends in the United States. That prompted long lines at Bishkek Internet cafes from people trying to call New York after the American attacks. All of them were worried; some of them cried.

An American flag flies at the American University in Kyrgyzstan  

"When I first heard the news on TV and saw burning buildings, I thought it was a movie," said Anna Ryvkina, 23. "I haven't slept tonight, trying to call to NYC. I have a friend there. I pray for the American people and for all of us too."

Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akaev sent sympathies after the attack to U.S. President George Bush and John O'Keefe, the American Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan . The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan had to cancel functions in the days after the attack and tripled its number of armed guards.

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One student, Tanya Shmakova said that the pain America is experiencing now is felt around the globe. "The whole world is mourning for innocent souls who died. This is one common, big grief."

Mariana Kim, 16, is a student at the American University of Kyrgyzstan. She wants to become a professional journalist and a language expert.

• American University of Kyrgyzstan

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Updated September 21, 2002

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