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Uzbekistan: What Has Tashkent Gotten Away With In Andijon?

  • Farangis Najibullah

http://gdb.rferl.org/B829E219-E9EE-4E96-9FA8-D4600C155221_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/B829E219-E9EE-4E96-9FA8-D4600C155221_mw800_mh600.jpg Demonstrations to urge accountability for the Andijon killings are limited to places outside the country, like this event in Brussels in May 2006 (RFE/RL) May 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- It has been two years since a massive demonstration in the Uzbek city of Andijon ended in violence and the deaths of scores of people. Many protesters were convicted of trying to overthrow the government and set up an Islamic state.


However, no Uzbek government or military officials have been held responsible for the deadly force used against protesters. Now, many Andijon residents don't want to discuss the event, which has destroyed so many lives in the city.


Two years after the popular uprising in Andijon on that May day in 2005, many residents in the eastern Uzbek city are reluctant to talk about those eventful days that ended in so much bloodshed.


There are still two entirely different versions of the May 13, 2005, events in downtown Andijon's Bobur Square. The Uzbek government blames Islamic extremists for instigating antigovernment demonstrations, using women and children as shields, and killing "soldiers and others."

Two years later, some Andijon residents are still discovering that their family members were imprisoned following secret trials.

Human rights activists accuse the Uzbek authorities of using excessive force against protesters -- the vast majority of whom were peaceful civilians -- killing several hundred of them and forcing hundreds more to leave the country for fear of reprisals.


'People Became Afraid'


Most Andijon residents prefer to keep quiet about the events.


Bakhtiyor Turghunov, a human rights activist in Andijon, says that after such a bloody experience hardly anyone in Andijon would dare to raise their voices any time soon.


"People became afraid. Afraid," Turghunov says. "You can talk about it -- a bit -- with your closest people and friends, but not everywhere."


Those who have dared to talk about the events in Andijon have paid a heavy price. Most recently it was Gulbahor Turaeva, an Andijon doctor who has reportedly been sentenced to six years in prison. Human rights activists say Turaeva was punished by the Uzbek government for giving out the number of Andijon victims to the media.


Toghboy Razzoqov is an Andijon refugee living in Kyrgyzstan. Razzoqov, who left the city in 2006, says that after the bloodshed Andijon was turned into a place of fear, suspicion, and mistrust.


"Even if you said something at some get-together, some people would leave the place because they were afraid," Razzoqov says. "They know everything themselves; they hide their pain inside because there are so many [government] agents. There are lots of spies around."


Beneath The Surface


On the surface, Andijon today looks like any other Uzbek city. Bazaars are full of fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables. Small businesses are thriving with merchants importing goods from neighboring countries. Ordinary people's concerns and problems seem to be similar to those in other parts of the Uzbekistan -- they complain about unemployment or the shortage of gas and electricity.


However, people who know Central Asia first-hand say it is impossible to judge Uzbekistan by the surface. Alison Gill spent two years working in Uzbekistan for Human Rights Watch, an independent human rights watchdog, and was there in May 2005.


"It is important to be there and to talk to the people without the interference of the government," Gill says. "I've been there for two years, and I had the opportunity to talk to many, many, many people -- hundreds of victims of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. I know that the situation there remains extremely complicated and extremely difficult."


Disputed Death Toll


According to human rights activists as many as 1,000 people -- including women and children -- were gunned down by government troops who started firing at demonstrators in the square without warning.


Uzbek authorities, however, put the number of Andijon victims at 187, and said many members of government forces were among the victims.


Andijon residents lay out the bodies of victims on May 14, 2005 (AFP)

Shortly after the Andijon events, foreign media quoted eyewitnesses who said the bodies of women and children were taken away by government forces and were never returned to their families.


Many months after the demonstrations, some families still did not know whether their missing relatives were dead of alive -- whether they were killed, thrown into jail or had left the country.


Two years later, some Andijon residents are still discovering that their family members were imprisoned following secret trials.


Under such circumstances it would be difficult to believe that everybody in Andijon has moved on. Yet hardly anyone in the city would be willing to talk about the past, let alone question the government's position about the Andijon issue.


Life Goes On


Even those who were directly affected by the events try to avoid criticism.


Zulfiya works in a bank in Andijon. Her husband went missing after the demonstrations. Zulfiya maintains that life is back to normal in the city.


"Everything is functioning," Zulfiya says. "The bazaars are getting better. The situation is exactly the same as before. Our markets are good. Well, life is going on."


Bakhtiyor Turghunov, the Andijon-based human rights activist, says all of the opposition voices that would criticize the Uzbek government have been silenced.


The international media attention has faded and, apart from a few human rights advocates, no one seems to care about what happened in the city two years ago.


However, some experts say it is unlikely that the Uzbek government would get away with the bloodshed at Andijon. James Nixey is an expert on Uzbek affairs from Chatham House, a think tank in London.


"Most analysts who I've spoken to suggest that this issue is not closed and there is a grand sort of dissent amongst certain sections -- among the Islamic community in particular -- which will produce more demonstrations," Nixey says. "And that is very, very hard to stop."


For the time being, however, many Andijon residents seem to have chosen to get on with their lives, leaving the past behind them.

Aftermath Of Andijon


A dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of the events in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May 2005 and their continuing repercussions.


CHRONOLOGY

An annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions.

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