21 July 2005, Volume
WEEK AT A GLANCE (11-17 JULY).
Kazakhstan released Lutfullo Shamsiddinov, an Uzbek human rights activist police had detained at the request of the Uzbek authorities. Shamsiddinov, who fled Uzbekistan after witnessing violence in Andijon in May, will be relocated to an unnamed European country along with six members of his family. PetroKazakhstan, a Canadian-registered company that extracts oil in Kazakhstan, said that it has been hit with a $55.4 million judgment from a Kazakh court for violating antimonopoly legislation. And Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi, who lauded the recent strategic partnership agreement between China and Kazakhstan and said that the two countries will try to double bilateral trade to $10 billion annually.
Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission and Constitutional Court officially confirmed the victory of Kurmanbek Bakiev in the 10 July presidential ballot. For his part, the president-elect vowed to reduce the powers of the presidency and told the first meeting of his interim cabinet that "the time for politics is over." He also confirmed that he will propose Feliks Kulov for the post of prime minister, in line with their pre-election agreement. The issue of foreign military presence in Kyrgyzstan, where both Russia and the United States maintain air bases, remained on the agenda. Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry confirmed that Russia may double troop strength at its base in Kant, currently reported at around 500 servicemen. And in the wake of his election, President-elect Bakiev said that with Afghanistan stabilizing, "we can begin reviewing the issue of the advisability of the U.S. military presence [in Kyrgyzstan]."
Uzbekistan's embassy in Kyrgyzstan issued a statement urging an amicable Kyrgyz-Uzbek resolution of the issue of over 400 Uzbek asylum seekers currently in Uzbekistan. The statement warned that "the puppeteers who want to destabilize the Ferghana Valley by means of obedient international organizations and NGOs continue to exploit the fallout from the failed plan to bring off an armed coup in Uzbekistan in order to justify their step-by-step imposition of the so-called 'project to advance democracy.'" The embassy also denied that Uzbekistan is pressuring Kyrgyzstan, although other reports indicated that Uzbek security agents were attempting to target the asylum seekers at the camp where they are housed in southern Kyrgyzstan.
A ceremony took place at the Panj border post on the Tajik-Afghan border on 13 July to mark the transfer of border security from Russian to Tajik border guards. With the completion of the handover, Tajik guards now protect the 1,344-kilometer length of the Tajik-Afghan frontier. Elsewhere, the independent newspaper "Nerui Sukhan," which recently managed to publish an issue after months of enforced inactivity, ran into new problems with the tax police.
A prosecutor in Uzbekistan's Andijon Province raised the official death toll from 12-13 May violence in the city from 176 to 187, telling reporters that 94 terrorists, 20 law-enforcement officials, 11 soldiers, 57 ordinary residents, and five unidentified individuals died. The prosecutor, who blamed the violence on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Akramiya (which he described as an offshoot of Hizb ut-Tahrir), showed a videotape he said was seized from militants and showed them taking hostages.CENTRAL ASIA: IS REGIONAL TURBULENCE RETURN OF THE GREAT GAME?
By Daniel Kimmage
Just as the wildebeests migrate across the Serengeti, commentary on Central Asia periodically turns to talk of the Great Game. In its 19th-century variety, the Game pitted England against Russia in a scramble for control of Eurasia. Early 21st-century interpretations expand the number of players -- bringing in such regional heavyweights as Iran, Pakistan, and especially China -- but retain the central premise: big powers projecting their designs across Central Asia.
The wildebeests are now on the move en masse for the first time since 2001. The last spate of Great Gaming flared up in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, when the United States gained the use of military facilities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to support military operations in Afghanistan. In 2004, long-cool Russian-Uzbek relations warmed to a rapprochement against a backdrop of deepening Western dissatisfaction with Uzbekistan's human rights record. On 24 March 2005, a suddenly restive Kyrgyz street brought down long-ruling President Askar Akaev, prompting parallels with earlier changes in Georgia and Ukraine. And on 13 May 2005, Uzbek police and military units used force to put down an uprising in Andijon, outraging public opinion in the West even as Russia and China chimed in with warm words of support for Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
The momentum has continued to build. In early July, the leaders of member states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which brings together China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, held a summit in Astana. The summit's final communique called on the forces of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to provide a deadline for withdrawal from the military facilities they are currently using in Central Asia, a clear reference to the U.S. air bases in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan.
Since the summit, Russia has suggested it may double its military presence in Kyrgyzstan, reports hint at increased Russian-Uzbek military cooperation, Uzbekistan's government-controlled press has mounted a campaign against various forms of U.S. meddling, and China looms large in the wings.
Still The Same Game?
Clearly, another season of Great Gamesmanship is upon us. Or is it? A closer examination reveals that the 19th-century paradigm of great powers at play amid the nomads' yurts and sundry Central Asian backdrops obscures at least as much as it explains.
In Kyrgyzstan, regime change produced a delicate domestic situation with numerous conflicting pressures, and the keynote in statements by the post-Akaev leadership has been a desire to avoid conflicts on the international arena.
Conditions are somewhat less than propitious. After violence in Andijon, nearly 500 Uzbek citizens fled to Kyrgyzstan, where they remain as asylum seekers in a camp in Jalal-Abad Province. Uzbek authorities have made it clear that they would like to have many of the asylum seekers back, while international organizations (and Kyrgyz NGOs) have strongly urged against their extradition, warning that they could face torture at home.
Against this contentious backdrop, Kyrgyz officials have strained to strike a balance. On the one hand, Kyrgyzstan has put at least 29 Uzbek asylum seekers in detention in response to information received from Uzbek authorities, who have requested the extradition of over 200 Uzbek citizens from Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 7 July. Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov has stressed that Kyrgyzstan will honor its international obligations -- which would not permit the extradition of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan -- while adding that it will also check the information it is receiving from Uzbekistan.
With international organizations currently seeking a third country, or countries, to take in the asylum seekers, the official Kyrgyz stance clearly suggests an attempt to mollify its large, angry neighbor while hoping that the international community will engineer a solution to the dilemma sooner rather than later.
Kyrgyz statements in the wake of the SCO's demand for a U.S. withdrawal timetable also resembled an attempt to tack against the wind. Immediately after his victory in the 10 July presidential election, President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev voiced his support for the SCO declaration. Since parliamentary and presidential elections have taken place in Afghanistan, Bakiev carefully stated, "Now we can begin reviewing the issue of the advisability of the U.S. military presence [in Kyrgyzstan]," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 11 July.
Kyrgyzstan's ambassador in Moscow went even farther, saying that the U.S. base "will become unnecessary as tension eases in Afghanistan," Interfax-AVN reported. But by 18 July, Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Avazbek Atakhanov had walked those statements back considerably. In an interview with Kyrgyz Radio 1, he noted that the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan is a "bilateral issue" and stressed, "We are not talking here about the withdrawal of the U.S. air base from Kyrgyzstan."
The maneuvering extended to Russian plans for an expanded presence in Kyrgyzstan. On 14 July, Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry confirmed that Russia might double its current troop presence of approximately 500 servicemen at its base in Kant, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. But a spokesman noted that "an additional intergovernmental agreement in the framework of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan] between Kyrgyzstan and Russia" would be required to boost troop strength. As in the case of the asylum seekers, official Kyrgyz statements appeared calculated to avoid conflict with necessary allies near and far, whatever the differences between those allies might be.
Russia Ready To Play?
But even if a new agreement emerges, it remains to be seen whether Russia is really willing and able to expand its presence. In February 2004, General Yevgenii Yurev, commander of Russia's 5th Airborne Division, said that the number of Russian service personnel at Kant would rise from 200 to 800 by the end of the year, Interfax reported. In August 2004, a source at the base said that reinforcements would bring Kant's strength up to 650 men and 20 aircraft by the end of 2004, Interfax-AVN reported. And in October 2004, General Yurev promised during a visit to the base that personnel numbers at Kant would reach 1,000 by the end of 2004, ITAR-TASS reported. But in February 2005, personnel at the base appealed to Russia's Defense Ministry, complaining of understaffing and a lack of financing, Interfax-AVN reported. Their letter stated: "Instead of 1,200 servicemen, who were to have facilitated operation of the air base, the unit now employs 120 people, including volunteers and conscripts."
Perhaps aware of these twists and turns, Vyacheslav Smirnov, the director of Russia's Political Sociology Institute, said on 13 July that Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan is actually declining, apn.ru reported. Smirnov compared Russia's influence in Kyrgyzstan unfavorably to that of Kazakhstan and the United States, predicted that newly elected Kyrgyz President Bakiev would not seek the withdrawal of the U.S. base from Kyrgyzstan, and concluded that Bakiev's desire for balance rendered "the appearance of a Chinese military base in Kyrgyzstan...very likely."
The issue of a foreign military presence is even more fraught in neighboring Uzbekistan, where the fallout from unrest in Andijon has sparked tension over the U.S. air base in Karshi-Khanabad. High-ranking U.S. officials have called for an independent international inquiry into events in Andijon, a request that the government of Uzbek President Karimov has repeatedly and adamantly denied.
Uzbekistan limited flights out of the U.S. base at Karshi-Khanabad in the wake of Andijon (although the official justification for doing so was not linked to the U.S. position on events there), and the Foreign Ministry issued its own follow-up statement to the SCO declaration on a timetable for withdrawal from bases in Central Asia, indicating that the issue of Karshi-Khanabad is very much on the table in Uzbekistan.
These strains come at a time of warming Russian-Uzbek relations and suggestions of tighter military ties. After President Karimov's recent visit to Moscow, Vladimir Mukhin, an observer for Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" -- a newspaper controlled by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii -- reported on 5 July that Uzbekistan is ready to grant Russia the use of 10 Uzbek air bases, including Karshi-Khanabad, "in the event of crisis situations in Central Asia." Citing anonymous "military sources," Mukhin said that the base deal was part of a memorandum Putin and Karimov signed, with Russia offering to pony up military hardware and riot gear in exchange for new toeholds in the region.
The unconfirmed memorandum is dubious, both in terms of Russia's current force-projection capability and, more importantly, the efficacy of using Russian troops to quell unrest in Uzbekistan, or anywhere else in Central Asia. Yet it conveys a commonplace in Great Gaming analysis -- as U.S. influence wanes, Russian waxes.
While the tensions in U.S.-Uzbek relations are certainly real in the wake of Andijon, the Russian-Uzbek relationship is not a hierarchical one in the tradition of great powers and clients. It derives, rather, from a shared reaction to the perceived danger of regime change, which both Tashkent and Moscow increasingly see as a nefarious U.S. project.
A statement issued by the Uzbek Embassy in Kyrgyzstan on 16 July provided a typical example of the conspiratorial logic and allusive rhetoric that pervade statements on the vast U.S. conspiracy. The embassy's statement warned, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported, that "the puppeteers who want to destabilize the Ferghana Valley by means of obedient international organizations and NGOs continue to exploit the fallout from the failed plan to bring off an armed coup in Uzbekistan in order to justify their step-by-step imposition of the so-called 'project to advance democracy.'"
Andranik Migranyan is a political analyst in Russia who has written widely in this vein. In a 13 July article in "Komsomolskaya pravda," he described the U.S. presence in Central Asia as a "destabilizing factor...after the Americans' actions to stimulate 'colored' revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and after the recent events in Kyrgyzstan." Before Andijon, Migranyan writes, "the blueprint for the opposition to come to power that was tried in Serbia worked flawlessly in Georgia, Ukraine, and, to a certain degree, in Kyrgyzstan." But Migranyan has hope: "It was in Uzbekistan that, for the first time in the post-Soviet world, 'colored' revolutions received a short, sharp shock." And Migranyan sees even greater things to come after this turning point: "It seems that U.S. foreign-policy expansion has reached its limit and we are entering the era of the gradual decline of the American empire."
Where Migranyan and the Uzbek Embassy in Kyrgyzstan come together is in a peculiar understanding of the "project to advance democracy" as a vast conspiracy fomented by the United States through "obedient international organizations and NGOs." This is also the common ground on which the Uzbek and Russian ruling elites would like to make their stand against what they perceive as a clear and present danger.
Dangers Of Democracy
How clear and present? In a recent poll that surveyed 2,100 people throughout Russia, the Public Opinion Foundation found that 42 percent of respondents agreed that preconditions exist in Russia for the sort of mass unrest that took place in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, gazeta.ru reported on 15 July. Thirty-two percent said that such conditions do not exist. Respondents displayed a certain ambivalence about the causes of revolution, however. Echoing the remarks quoted above, 55 percent of respondents felt that events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan occurred as a result of meddling by outside forces. But when queried about Russia, 42 percent said that forces within the country are capable of organizing mass protests, while only 5 percent felt that outside forces could do so. Moreover, 18 percent of respondents listed as possible causes of unrest "dissatisfaction with living conditions" and the "further impoverishment of the masses."
We lack poll data for Uzbekistan, but the recent unrest in Andijon speaks volumes. And while independent observers have more often than not pointed to socioeconomic tensions as the underlying threat to stability in Uzbekistan, that does not seem to be the conclusion the ruling elite, led by President Karimov, has drawn. Their fears are of the "puppeteers."
The chief conclusion this confusing picture implies is that explanations derived from the 19th-century Great Game, or 20th-century Cold War rivalry, are of limited use in clarifying 21st-century jostling in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has wiggle room amid greater powers, as long as it wiggles well, and Uzbekistan and Russia may be drawing once again into an embrace, but it is not a colonial, or even a postcolonial, one.
How, then, to explain the zone of geopolitical turbulence Central Asia appears to be entering? Bearing in mind recent events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan; leaving aside conspiracy theories in favor of domestic concerns; and scrutinizing the ambiguous achievements of the past decade and a half, the root cause of the trouble is not great-power push-and-pull, but rather the ossification of post-Soviet ruling elites and the decay of the ad hoc political systems they shaped for their convenience. (Originally published on 19 July 2005.)KAZAKHSTAN: EU QUESTIONS ALMATY'S BID FOR OSCE PRESIDENCY IN 2009
By Ahto Lobjakas
The European Union used a meeting with Kazakh officials in Brussels on 19 July to cast doubt on the country's bid to assume the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009. EU officials indicate they do not believe Kazakhstan meets the necessary standards on human rights and democracy to chair the OSCE. The two sides also discussed regional issues in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, as well as bilateral economic cooperation.
Kazakhstan has indicated it intends to put forward its candidacy for the 2009 OSCE chairmanship. The chairmanship rotates among OSCE members on an annual basis.
Michael Leigh is a senior external relations official at the European Commission. After meeting with Kazakh officials including the country's deputy prime minister, Leigh said significant political reforms are still needed in Astana.
"We're giving the very clear message that an application for OSCE presidency implies behavior in accordance with OSCE principles and we do think that this does provide additional pressure and additional leverage on them to behave in accordance with OSCE rules and that point was made extremely clearly," Leigh said.
According to an EU source speaking to RFE/RL, the EU told the Kazakh delegation that it is "not clear to the EU" that the country remains committed to democratic reforms and other OSCE standards.
Among other issues, the EU told Kazakhstan recent developments "do not point in the right direction" when it comes to election laws, tolerating political opposition, ensuring compliance with human rights standards, media freedom, and the rule of law in general.
In particular, the EU side regretted the continuing harassment of independent media in Kazakhstan, and the recent closing down of several opposition newspapers, on questionable legal grounds.
The EU will also be watching the conduct of the 2006 presidential election as an important test of Kazakhstan's commitment to democratic reforms.
Leigh said the Kazakh side indicated it understands the EU position, but he added that the measures Astana has already taken and those it is planning are still not enough.
"On the whole, they gave the reply that they were forthcoming, they mentioned a number of innovations that they had introduced -- an ombudsman and other such steps. So I mean, they gave the impression that they had got the message, but at the same time we delivered a very firm message indeed that there is a lot more that still needs to be done," Leigh said.
The EU side in particular condemned recent violence against opposition members, urging the Kazakh government to thoroughly investigate attacks last spring against Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, an opposition candidate for president in the 2006 elections.
The two sides also discussed the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces in Uzbekistan in May.
British Europe Minister Douglas Alexander, who represented the current EU presidency, said the EU had sought to focus on the need to develop the rule of law and democratic reforms in the region. He suggested that in the light of its application for the OSCE chairmanship, Kazakhstan is expected to show regional leadership in the field.
Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov said his country attributes the causes of recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to poverty and unemployment.
"For us it is very important to follow events in out neighboring countries, Kazakhstan considers this very important. We've already spoken about this before, that the problems that arise there are caused by unemployment and the low income levels among the population. These are the same events that took place in Kyrgyzstan, with which we have had neighborly relations for a long time, just like with Uzbekistan, there's a lot that our nations have in common. All of these events, we would want that they lead to a good outcome," Yesimov said.
Yesimov indicated he does not think that political upheavals were a desired outcome.
The two sides also discussed a range of economic issues. They signed an agreement on steel quotas for Kazakh exports to the EU from the end of 2006 onwards.
The EU and Kazakhstan also reviewed the latter's preparations for World Trade Organization (WTO) membership.
Commission representative Leigh said that the attempts at regional economic integration, spearheaded by Russia, must comply with WTO rules.
"We have no objection to regional economic cooperation within the area of the former Soviet Union, provided its voluntary and provided its compatible with the participants' other commitments. In the case of WTO accession, clearly, any undertakings they enter into must be fully compatible with that. If they go beyond a free trade area in order to negotiate a customs union, we'd have to look in great detail at the individual specifications to see that it's compatible with WTO," Leigh said.
The EU also told Kazakhstan the curbs it operates against Western civil aviation companies -- among them a requirement to limit their service to Astana -- violate WTO rules and must be dropped before Kazakhstan can join the trade body. (Originally published on 19 July 2005.)UZBEKISTAN: LEADER OF ANDIJON PROTESTS SPEAKS TO RFE/RL
By Gulnoza Saidazimova
"Bloody Friday" is the name Uzbeks have given to the events in the eastern city of Andijon on 13 May. But despite the many written and spoken accounts of what happened that day, the truth remains unclear. Uzbek authorities tell their story; human rights activists, political oppositionists, and protesters give another account. Qobiljon Parpiev was among the protesters who seized the regional administration building in Andijon on 13 May and held negotiations with Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov. He escaped shootings by Uzbek forces that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians, and fled Uzbekistan. Parpiev recently spoke to RFE/RL with his version of events.
The 42-year-old said he fled five or six days after the bloodshed and has had to hide in different places, moving several times a week to escape police -- first in Andijon, then in southern Kyrgyzstan. He said he later sought refuge in another country after Uzbek President Islam Karimov cited his name during a visit to Moscow earlier this month, saying "the leader of the Andijon rebels" was hiding in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
At present, Parpiev said he is outside Central Asia and asked RFE/RL not to disclose his location.
An engineer by education and an entrepreneur, Parpiev is married with five children. His oldest daughter is in the Suzaq refugee camp in the Jalal-Abad region of Kyrgyzstan. Parpiev says his oldest son also had to flee Uzbekistan.
In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, Parpiev said security remains a major concern for him and his family. The other concern, he says, is the truth.
Parpiev wants people to learn the truth about what happened on "Bloody Friday."
He has worked in various positions, including with the government. A few years ago, Parpiev served a prison term on charges of religious extremism. He says he knew the 23 businessmen from Andijon who had been on trial until 13 May, when clashes between protesters, mainly relatives, and former employees of the businessmen, and government troops erupted and led to hundreds of deaths.
The 23 men were accused of belonging to the banned Islamic group called Akramiya. They deny the charges.
Parpiev says the trial was aimed at eliminating a group of wealthy people in Andijon who practically created a system of governance parallel to the state system. They had their system of collecting taxes and distributing the proceeds to pensioners, women on maternity leave, as well as other charitable activities.
"All of them were entrepreneurs, they provided people with jobs. Different government bodies, including the Union of Entrepreneurs knew about their activity. If foreigners came to Uzbekistan, those people were introduced to foreigners as the best representatives [of Uzbek business circles]. They were involved in social activity. They organized free medical service, pension funds, payments for maternity leave, for children under 2 years old. It brought results very quickly. The number of their employees was growing. People wanted to work for them. I believe the government perceived them as an opposition," Parpiev said.
Parpiev said he was among many people who protested against the trial as unfair outside the courthouse in Andijon. After the trial's last day on 11 May, it was suspended. Parpiev said that on 12 May, Uzbek police began arresting protesters and confiscating their property. He also received warning from a friend that police were seeking to detain him.
On the night between 12 and 13 May, a group of people reportedly attacked the city's military garrison and a police unit, and obtained weapons and attacked a local prison to release inmates, including the 23 businessmen. Parpiev said it was act of provocation by the Uzbek authorities.
"On 12 May, troops from other regions were deployed [to Andijon]. Clashes started late at night. [Protesters] didn't get weapons from the garrison. Weapons were taken from soldiers during clashes on the streets. It was a conspiracy, a provocation. Information about attacks on the garrison and prison was a provocation. The scenario of events was made in advance," Parpiev said.
Parpiev claims he was not among attackers and did not have a weapon.
After taking part in seizing the regional administration building, Parpiev held negotiations with Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov. Parpiev said the conversation was not a negotiation.
"He said we should leave [Uzbekistan]. He said he deployed 20,000 troops in Andijon. He said he could easily raise the number up to 65,000 if needed. He said he wouldn't stand any objections, any talks. He said: 'Take everyone you want and go to Osh [in southern Kyrgyzstan], we are going to give you a corridor.' I felt that he was lying and if we would take buses as he suggested and try to go to Osh, they would just kill all of us. I felt so and we decided to disperse people, to run. He didn't ask whether we had any demands," Parpiev says.
Uzbek authorities claim the protesters were terrorists who received assistance from abroad and they used peaceful civilians as human shields while trying to escape. Parpiev denied that and called on the international community to arrange an independent probe into the Andijon bloodshed.
"I tell one story, the government tells another story. The two stories are going to contradict each other. [I say] there was no foreign involvement whatsoever, neither from Hizb-ut-Tahrir nor any other group. The only way out of this situation is to conduct an independent investigation as foreign states and the OSCE insist. I say the same thing. An independent probe must be conducted. There are still many eyewitnesses. They will tell a lot," Parpiev said.
Parpiev said his family members, including his wife, a sister, and a 75-year old father who stayed in Andijon face pressure from Uzbek authorities demanding they disclose Parpiev's location.
He said he has not applied for a refugee status with the United Nations. He says he plans to do so now that he's left Central Asia, "where the influence of the Uzbek security service is quite strong." (Originally published on 19 July 2005.)UZBEKISTAN: IS RUSSIA HELPING TASHKENT CLEAN UP AFTER ANDIJON?
By Julie A. Corwin
On 25 July, a criminal trial against two local employees of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Internews will begin in Tashkent. The two employees are accused of "conspiracy to engage in production of videos and publications of informational materials without the necessary licenses." According to the organization's press release of 5 July, the criminal charges followed "a year of harassment and 'fishing expeditions' by various branches of Uzbekistan's investigatory organs." If convicted they could spend six months behind bars, according to Reporters Without Frontiers.
The pressure on Internews is one part of a concerted campaign to discredit Western media following the 12-13 May Andijon uprising in which hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed after Uzbek troops opened fire on demonstrators. Soon after the Andijon events, Uzbekistan's authorities began a crackdown on the country's tiny cadre of independent journalists. Also targeted were Russian and Western journalists. The OSCE issued a report last month detailing several examples of harassment by Uzbek authorities during and after the Andijon unrest.
Despite the international attention accompanying the report, the harassment has continued. On 6 July, two unknown assailants beat Rajabboy Raupov, a freelance journalist who works for a number of media outlets including Radio Free Europe, with an iron bar, leaving him in a critical condition. Five days earlier, another correspondent for RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau, Lobar Qaynarova, was beaten unconscious. Qaynarova, who was three months pregnant at the time, had just been interviewing human rights campaigners and opposition activists. Her interviewing materials were confiscated. On 26 June, Ghafur Yuldoshev, another RFE/RL correspondent was picked up by police and interrogated for four hours. His materials were also confiscated.
The campaign against journalists has not been limited to physical assaults. Damning words, insinuations, and accusations about lack of patriotism can be found in any number of recent articles. A new website, c-asia.org, which has turned out to be one of the few sites that is never blocked by local ISPs, published an article on 30 May attacking Gulasal Kamalova, another RFE/RL correspondent for Radio Svoboda. According to the article, her reports "have for a long time created the impression that her interests were not of a patriotic character." Her reports, according to the site, are characterized by "lies, slander, unproved facts, [and] far-fetched theories."
Freeuz.org, the website of the Tashkent-based Committee for Free Speech and Expression, noted on 16 June that the republican newspaper "Pravda vostoka" has been publishing anonymous material against those persons calling for an investigation of the Andijon events. On 15 June, the newspaper published a letter from a pensioner, complaining that foreign mass media started "a programmed massive attack on Uzbekistan and its leadership accusing it of all deadly sins." According to the website, the previously unknown pensioner has been remarkably prolific lately, contributing any number of missives to Uzbekistan's newspapers.
Writing on freeuz.com on 16 June, analyst Sergei Yezhkov argued that the assault on Western media had become both more "aggressive and professional" and suggested that perhaps Uzbek authorities are getting help from their Russian neighbors. He noted the arrival of a delegation of Russian spin doctors and journalists, including Politika head Vyacheslav Nikonov, former "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor Vitalii Tretyakov, among others, to Tashkent in mid-June, and their subsequent trumpeting of President Karimov's version of events in Andijon upon their return to Moscow. Writing in "Trud" on 8 July, Nikonov argued that Andijon was an "armed rebellion" led by "300 well-prepared, indoctrinated, and partly armed youths." According to Nikonov, the official casualty figure of less than 200 deaths better reflects what happened than the opposition figure of more than 700 deaths.
"Why is it impossible to suggest that Mr. Nikonov, Tretyakov, and pals flew to Tashkent in order to agree upon a joint policy in the information sphere to support Islam Karimov with the recruitment and deployment of smart journalists and their pens?" Yezhkov writes. "It is not as impossible as it may seem at first glance. Uzbekistan, judging by the evidence, has always paid highly for positive PR, created beyond its borders. And today the creation of a positive image of the Uzbek leader is in Russia’s interest."
Writing in "Vremya novostei" on 29 June, Arkadii Dubnov sounded a similar theme. "The U.S. and EU are insisting on an independent investigation of Andijon, which Tashkent with the support of Moscow is categorically refusing. As Russian political analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov expressed recently, the West is proceeding with a "presumption of guilt" with regard to the Uzbek president.... Not surprisingly, official Tashkent is grateful for Moscow's support. According to Dubnov, a "well-informed" expert on Russian-Uzbek relations speaking on the grounds on anonymity, told the daily that "Tashkent will have to pay for such support."
Whether or not Russia is playing a role in the Uzbek authorities' handling of the domestic and international fallout from Andijon, the United States, for its part, appears intent on continuing to try to influence Tashkent policy. This week, U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith (Republican) announced that he has introduced legislation that would halt both military and humanitarian aid to Central Asian governments that fail to democratize or respect human rights.
So far, Uzbekistan has not appeared to react to Congressman Smith's effort. But two weeks ago, speaking from Moscow, President Islam Karimov signaled that the campaign against the Uzbek media has support at the highest level. He accused Western journalists of arriving in Andijon prior to the unrest in order to "occupy convenient positions for reporting," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying on 28 June. "This was a professional, thoroughly prepared operation," Karimov concluded. (Originally published on 15 July 2005.)