Satellite Images Reveal Massive Destruction in Kyrgyzstan

June 25, 2010

Satellite images released and analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Amnesty International’s Science for Human Rights Program show the dramatic impact of the recent violent events on the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. The new findings were released shortly after a top U.N. official warned the Security Council that ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan continue, along with fears that there could be another wave of violence in the strategic Central Asian state.

Comparison of buildings in the Cheremushki neighborhood, Osh (2007 vs. 2010). Houses without roofs indicate destruction by fire. CLICK TO EXPLORE. After Image: © 2010 DigitalGlobe. Before Image: © 2010 DigitalGlobe © 2010 Google Earth. Produced by AAAS.

Entire neighborhoods are burnt down (1,640 structures are damaged or destroyed in total), leaving only empty shells of houses behind. You can see a sample of the Cheremushki neighborhood at our interactive explorer or check out the in-depth analysis from our colleagues at AAAS. Additionally, and even more distressing, we found more than one hundred “SOS” signs throughout Osh, mainly in still intact areas. The varying sizes, shapes, and orientations of these images show little regard for the viewing angle or perspective of ground-based observers. As such, it is likely that many of them would be difficult to read, except from above, indicating that the population is aware that it is being observed from above. To the remaining residents in Osh we would like to say that we have documented your distress and captured your dozens of large SOS signs from space.

Today’s release of satellite images comes amidst reports that the Kyrgyzstani interim government is not in full control of its security force and that Uzbekistani authorities started expelling refugees to Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbekistani authorities should refrain from forcibly removing, coercing or persuading refugees from Kyrgyzstan to return until they can do so in safety and dignity. We are also very concerned that encouragement by the Kyrgyzstani interim government for refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes is premature as Kyrgyzstani security forces do not appear to be able to ensure the safety and security of these persons.

We have issued several Urgent Actions to protect displaced people. Join us in urging the government of Uzbekistan (pdf) to refrain from the forcible return of refugees.

SOS signs in the Cheremushki neighborhood, Osh, June 18, 2010. © 2010 Digital Globe. Analysis performed by AAAS. CLICK TO SEE FULL GRAPHIC.

The deadly violence is said to have started with clashes between rival gangs of mostly Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths on 10 June and rapidly escalated, reportedly leaving more than 2,000 people dead and thousands injured. Around 400,000 people are reported to have fled their homes and about 100,000 are believed to have fled to Uzbekistan.

To document the violence and help clarify the extent of the devastation, we conducted a damage assessment – based on satellite images – of the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan and surrounding neighborhoods. The analysis serves to corroborate the reports of widespread arson and to quantify the scale of destruction. The images confirm that while most of the city remains largely intact, where present, the damage is severe. Large swaths of buildings in the city appear to have been destroyed, a pattern which is repeated in the northern and eastern suburbs. Additionally, on numerous occasions the letters “SOS” appear on roadways and athletic fields throughout the city. In fact, the total count of “SOS” messages within this study area is 116.

To clarify all facts on the ground, we are calling for an international investigation into the violent events that have taken place in the past week in southern Kyrgyzstan. Only an international investigation will be considered unbiased and credible by all affected groups.