16/07/2007 Solomon’s throne (2)
We climb the rock in the late afternoon. We do not meet many other visitors, besides some groups of youngsters (Koreans?) and elderly people. The climb is done by stairs and a bit of not too serious rock climbing. Depending on one’s physical condition, one can reach the top in roughly twenty minutes. The view was a bit disappointing, also because it was a little hazy. Water, soft drinks and a small assortment of Islamic souvenirs can be bought at the top. The mosque is one of the tiniest you can imagine, eight people at the most will fit in. A sweaty group of men comes out, catching air and buying water.
It is said the mayor of Osh wants to build a ski lift on Solomon’s Rock. A lift could bring more people to the top in an easy way. It is said that Central Asian muslims consider visiting this rock three times, equal to the hadj to Mecca. Of course such a lift will give an economical upheaval to the city: more visitors and tourists will visit the place, which means: jobs and money for which the region is in dire need.
People opposed to the plan say there is much vagueness about the safety. The rock is said to be built on a sandy foundation. What happens if the lift brings up, as planned, 300 people every 5 minutes? Can the rock hold this kind of weight and movement? Recently the local government held a press conference about this issue, but they spilt not a word about safety precautions or environmental issues. They do not have any feasibility reports; it seems the authorities of Osh have not yet studied the consequences of their plans very well. Another contra argument are the ancient inscriptions in the rock, they should be preserved. Due to the rock the inhabitants of Osh know their city is more then 3000 years old.
The oppositionists say the rock could be on the Unesco World Heritage list, but of course the mayor will not put much of an effort into this because then it will be impossible to build a lift to the top. And finally: rumours go the Islamic Development Bank is behind the plan.
In a nutshell this heated discussion about the plans for a lift shows some of Osh’s main troubles. Firstly people do not trust the authorities and expect them to be corrupt. Secondly there is fear for the rising influence of religion. Although the majority of the people are Kyrgyz, the people in power seem to all have the Russian ethnicity. Serious ethnic clashes occurred here and in nearby Uzgen in 1990.
A small story like this brings together commercial, environmental, ethnic and religious elements. And we know what happens what can happen when people start locking themselves in their own ethnic and or religious niches. Distrust and hostility can grow, and one group will wish to rule the other. Whether or not this lift will ever be built, is not the point. It is the discussion about this lift that shows, as the temperature of the tolerance in the city of Osh.
To be continued