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When It Comes To Andijon, Don't Ask -- And Certainly Don't Tell

Back to normal in Andijon? A file photo shows a family watching television in the eastern Uzbek city.
Back to normal in Andijon? A file photo shows a family watching television in the eastern Uzbek city.

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By Farangis Najibullah
The fifth anniversary of a bloody uprising that destroyed hundreds of lives in eastern Uzbekistan, on the eastern fringes of the volatile Ferghana Valley, is on many people's minds as May 13 approaches. But you wouldn't know it by asking.

"People don't talk about those days anymore, at least not in public," says Sohibjon-Ota, an Andijon resident who gives only his first name. "The media are not free in Uzbekistan, and they don't discuss those events."

Discussing the antigovernment protests that were brutally suppressed by government forces in May 2005 remains taboo in Andijon, where media, officials, and even local residents seem to prefer not to mention the event at all.

"It's as if nothing happened here in 2005," Sohibjon-Ota says. "Many people have forgotten about it. Only families directly affected remember those days. As for other people, they don't know anything, they don't feel anything."

"Those days" began with peaceful antigovernment protests in which Andijon residents initially demanded the release of 23 local businessmen imprisoned on religious-extremism charges related to their membership of Akramiya, a group banned by the government as extremist. Protesters also voiced their discontent with their economic situation.

Events turned bloody when a group of men attacked a military garrison and reportedly seized weapons there, then raided Andijon's jail and freed prisoners, including the local businessmen.

In the course of their rampage, they killed prison guards and took over official buildings, prompting government troops to descend on the city by tank and helicopter. Eyewitnesses say soldiers then fired into crowds of protesters on Andijon's central Bobur Square and surrounding streets.

Official government figures claimed that 187 people, including many soldiers, were killed. But rights groups and government opponents place the number of those killed that day closer to 1,000.

Moving On With Life

Five years later, life -- at least on the surface -- has returned to normal for the city's 360,000 residents, who rely mainly on their expertise in local handicrafts and trade to make a living.

"I'm content with my life," says 26-year-old Farrukh-Bek, who runs a butcher shop in downtown Andijon. He, too, will only give his first name, but adds, "If you work hard and pay your taxes, you won't have any problem here."

"The city is expanding and improving. New buildings and parks were built in recent years. Roads are being renovated," says Andijon doctor Abduqodir Sattorov. People's living standards are improving, he adds.

The city -- especially in its central areas where the protests took place -- looks very different from its more modest state in 2005.

The provincial government's office that was taken over by protesters has been completely rebuilt. It's now a modern, fortified building surrounded by a cast-iron fence.

Bobur Square, where the protesters were gathered, no longer exists in the same form. A newly built complex of fountains surrounded by flowers stands on the now-unnamed site in front of the provincial government office. The name "Bobur Square" is reserved for a separate location near the city's railway station, far from the city center. There, too, stands the statue of Bobur, a 15th-century Andijon-born king that "witnessed" the May 13 bloodshed.

It seems authorities are determined to ensure that people put the city's bloody experience behind them and move on with their lives.

Andijon Taboos

Andijon residents say local media never mention the city's uprising. After initially blaming religious extremists for the bloodshed, closely scrutinized local radio and television stations no longer discuss the massacre that took place five years ago.

Some Andijon residents insist the reason behind the silence is a climate of fear in the city. Local human rights activists say the public and the government are still highly suspicious of each other.

WATCH: RFE/RL Uzbek Service Director Alisher Sidikov describes the security measures that contribute to the atmosphere of unease in Andijon:

Flash Analysis -- Security After Andijoni
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May 12, 2010
RFE/RL Uzbek Service Director Alisher Sidikov explains the measures used by President Islam Karimov to quash possible unrest in Andijon, the site of a brutally crushed uprising in 2005.


Sohibjon-Ota, two of whose sons are serving "long" prison terms on charges of plotting to dismantle the constitutional system, suspects he is "on the authorities' blacklist."

"I have a lot to say, but I am afraid," he says. "The authorities check on me once a month. They visit my place, asking questions about my sons. I want to talk about it, but honestly, I wouldn't dare. I fear for my life. They paid a visit yesterday, too. Every newly appointed neighborhood police officer comes to my house once."

'Infectious Precedent'

During the recent antigovernment unrest that prompted President Kurmanbek Bakiev to flee neighboring Kyrgyzstan, hard-line Uzbek President Islam Karimov declared that, contrary to some media reports, "in Uzbekistan no one is delightedly following the actions of the freedom-loving Kyrgyz people."

But the actions of authorities in Andijon belie such public pronouncements. In the days after Kyrgyzstan's eruption, local police summoned several Andijonis for questioning, most of them regarded by neighbors as deeply religious men and women without any known ties to political activities.

The city of Andijon is located some 30 kilometers from the Kyrgyz border. The 2005 uprising in Andijon took place less than two months after the so-called Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan toppled the government in Bishkek.

President Karimov, speaking on a visit to Moscow last month, voiced his concern over the "infectious precedent" of "colored" revolutions. He said such events created "the illusion that it is very simple to overthrow any legal from of leadership or government."

"It is our government's policy, the government wants us to be silent," says an Andijon resident who describes himself as a 70-year-old retiree. He, too, withholds his name out of fear of official retaliation. "Government control has been tightened here," he says. "I don’t see any other changes in the city. Only government control has increased."

Every May, the city remembers the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II with official gatherings in which war veterans receive gifts and financial aid. There are no such gatherings in Andijon to remember those killed in the city just five years ago.

"I heard last month that the new Kyrgyz authorities are paying financial compensation to the families of the Bishkek protests' victims," says Barno-Khon, an Andijoni teacher. "In Andijon, however, officials don't even want to acknowledge that antigovernment protests took place here, let alone pay compensation to victims' relatives."

RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Mehribon Bekieva contributed to this report

Torture In Uzbek Prisons

This letter was secretly passed from strict penal colony No. 64/33 (near the city of Karshi in the Kashkadarya region) in July or August 2009 and received by the group Human Rights in Central Asia in December 2009:

From Colony No. 64/33 we write, those who were imprisoned on false charges and sentenced according to Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

There are 121 prisoners here imprisoned according to Article 159. We all ended up here in different years. We are all different people. Our characters are also different, but our destiny is the same. Our destiny has been pleased to see what man could never have imagined.

Looking at these masters and jailers it is hard to believe that they were born to women. Born a human being should remain a human being. And they are wild creatures and inhuman monsters. The pain they caused us is impossible to describe. They rape us with a club (stick), enema syringe with a red pepper; and beat on the heels till they bleed.

These are the methods of violence they like. This all seems not enough to them, and they come up with various new methods of torture. They rape with sticks those who suffer from AIDS, and use those same sticks to rape other prisoners. They laugh and say with a jeer: "You all pray, call each other 'brothers,' and aren't you ashamed to infect each other with AIDS?"

In the medical unit for healthy people, they use syringes that were previously used for patients with AIDS. A prisoner called Holmirza, who expressed indignation, was forcibly given the blood of a prisoner with AIDS. Then Holmirza was transported to another colony, and it's still not known to which one.

Dear friends! Mothers! Fathers!

Our torments are increasing, not diminishing. The torturers threw aside all restraints and became violent. They know that they will not answer for this under the law, but do not know that they will have to give an answer before God and his judgment. For certain reasons known to you, we do not write our names. Consider that the letter was signed by 121 prisoners.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Zoltan from: Hungary
May 12, 2010 16:20
Death to Karimov!

He should be taken to the Haague International Tribunal.
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar
May 13, 2010 10:02
From the start, a trial in The Hague will turn into a joke. Let him and his daughter rather end like the Ceaucescus or Mussolini and Petacci.

by: Professor Aftab Kazi from: Washington, DC
May 13, 2010 15:15
It was unfortunate that the Andijon events were biasedly covered in Western Media. The author of this article and many like him do not mention that after the breaking prison and capturing prison officials and other prisoners, Akramia militants tied them in chains and forced them to march to the Bobur Square. That they also captured the city government office killing many in the process. The Uzbek government spend the entire day neghotiating with militants. Only after the negotiations failed, ordered to shoot as a measure to restablish law and order. Even the stories of 1000 casualities (at the time of incident reported as approximately 1500, at least now the media has agreed to reduce the number) was exaggerated. The study by Dr. Shirin Akiner that she completed almost immediately after the incident with painstaking effort despite her senior age, and follow up studies by Dr. John Dally and Mr. Abdul Manon Polat (three years or so ago completed by jamestowb Foundation) refute everything that Western media reported at that time. Even those academics who offered neutral opinions were aattacked by some media reporters unaware of the actual profeessional background of those highly respected academicians. It is a pitty that those who fail to understand the nature of the political culture of Uzbekistan in particular and Central Asia general have been allowed to exaggerate about almost everything -even good- that the CA governments try to do in order to maintain law and order or to contain the mance of terrorism. Unfortunately, it has become a custom to criticize President Islam Karimov and his daughters Gulnara and Lola, which in my opinion is violation of journalistic ethics. Critics often do not know that even the election issues in Uzbekistan were locally oriented, yet they would judge electoral processes comparing them with other non-Central Asian societies. Central Asia, hence the entire Eurasia has a unique geopolinomic culture, which over centuries have developed in different processes of complimenting geopolitical changes region-wide from Eurasian East to West and that it will bound to remain different in sociopolitical culture that the rest of the world. Of course, such phenomena has never been considered in the West either by academicians or journalists. Mind those accustomed to accuse President Islam Karimov and his daughters that President Karimov is the father of modern Uzbekistan and is popularly respected by the Uzbek citizens. Those accustomed to malign his daughter Gulnana must know that if a Harvard educated woman does not engage herself in businesses, who else will?! Of course, if being the daughter of a president, she is privileged, that is not a crime, because even in the West, many daughetrs of presidents have used such privileges. Gulnara has been a successful diplomat. It is hers and the talent of other Uzbekistan diplomats that the Western governments are finally realizing the accuracy of Uzbek government's Andijon version, yet are hesitating to acknowledge it publicly.

I believe that critics of Uzbekistan government would benefit by respecting the journalistic ethics.
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar
May 13, 2010 16:31
OK ladies and gentlemen, what do we conclude from professor Kazi's lecture?

1) Either we have a typical academic who lives in outer galactic and has no clue about reality in Uzbekistan. Or else 2) we have an activation of the Karimovs' online agitprop squads.
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar
May 13, 2010 16:46
BTW, Prof. Kazi, if you are an academic indeed, what do you think about Shirin Akiner's methodology? I mean, it's basically written in the report that the reseacrh was facilitated by the government and that locally the lady was accompanied by people from the hukumat... Of course the observations and findings were heavily filtered and twisted.

It's a pity because Shirin Akiner published good stuff too (e.g. on gender and civil society in Tajikistan) and it's quite strange that Akiner got involved into this knowing well that the study would serve propaganda purposes. Personally, I don't believe that Shirin Akiner was paid the the Uzbekistan embassy in the UK as some claim, but rather that she was out of touch with reality and sincerely believed the mantra that Karimov is a firewall against 'fundamentalism'.
In Response

by: Professor Aftab Kazi from: Washington, DC
May 14, 2010 13:42
Sirs: Even if the government of Uzbekistan facilitated the research for Dr. Akiner, it was a right thing to do amid the then sea of one-sided alleged accusations and anti-Uzbekistan propaganda. Mooreover, I have known Shirin for the last 25 years or more. She is very objective and a principled academician and command respect worldwide. The most important is the fact that her findings were further confired by additional studies by Dr. John Dally and Mr. Abdul Manon Polat (an opposition figure). None of the critics of Uzbekistan ever bothered to challenge their conclusions. I would have appreciated, if my critics had responded according to the very points I discussed in my comments. Of course, I am a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Scholars job is to struggle for the maximum possible objectivity and we have tried to do so at our best. I can speak only for my opinions and I believe that the world media has done injustice to the government of President Islam Karimov, ignored his reforms carried out gradually, ignored his achievements in sociopolitical and economic fields, his attempts to gradually create the political culture that would help establish in time stabilized Western styled democracy, his utmost respect for multiculturalism and secularism, his struggle to contain the problems of terrorism, etc. Let me remind you that we at the institute, I can speak only for myself have opined objectively before the policy-makers, even if the opinion did not confirm official policy. Isn't the human rights situation almost similar in almost every state of the world? Why make Uzbekistan an exception? I suggest my critics and those of Uzbekistan to review the various legislative reforms on the subject being implemented in Uzbekistan. Having be solely criticized, the government of Uzbekistan has taken every single criticism seriously in order to make the life of Uzbek citizens better.

Perhaps, an indepth look into the political culture of CA would clarify the nature of the post-Soviet political developments in the region and that why the CA leadership is determined to implement democratizetion gradually from an evolutionary perspective. I will quote a statement by President Islam Karimov, which said that you cannot break and leave your old house until the new one is built.
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar
May 15, 2010 19:25
I believe that advocates of Uzbekistan government would benefit by not functioning as what Lenin called 'useful idiots'.
In Response

by: François Bovy from: Brussels
May 13, 2010 19:41
Not suprisingly, Professor Aftab Kazi works for the think-thank of S. Fredrik Starr, the well-known lobbyist for repressive CA regimes.

by: Haroon Choudhry from: Uzbekistan
June 08, 2010 07:59
I am really impressed with the opinion of Dr Aftab Kazi and want to wish him well because it is very difficult to write the true analysis of the Situation when so many people are active on the net either paid or misguided fools.
People of the CIVILIZED? world has always advised to every body respect to the other's opinion but in fact they have never tolerated opposite oppinion as is clear from the replies of so many fools.
They can also call be an idiot because of what I will write below.
I am no agent of President Islam Karimov nor have any benefit to get. What I am writing now I have written in the past also. I was Kidnapped and kept for 124 days in Detention facility by the Uzbekistan Security Agencies from 10th December 2009 to 12th April 2010.
I am a Pakistani national of 53 years old, Mphil. in Economics.
I was not allowed to contact Pakistan Embassy in Tashkent, Nor allowed any advocate, nor any contact with my friends. Actually I was kept like a dead meat for 124 days in Tashkent Detention facility. Kept hungary, not allowed even to wear my eye sight glasses and actually made bank rupt after living and working in Uzbekistan. I have a house, a company and many other things to settle but every thing lost and definitely some security official would benefit and make money. Uzbekistan is a country with out law and law and constitution exist only on paper but all the people and specially foreigners are living as long as they do not get attention of the Security Agencies.
But Sr Aftab Kazi is right in his opinion 100% and if you want to make an opinion about zbekistan then you need to know Uzbekistan. Do not just use rubbish language gainst a sincere analysis. www.harleytourism.com/haroonchoudhry.shtml

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