WASHINGTON, May 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In the days ahead, the attention of many in the international media will turn to the bloody events that unfolded last May in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon. The government's crackdown, which ended with at least 187 dead, has been condemned by human rights groups around the world and the government's secrecy about the events that day -- and its subsequent repression of the political opposition, suppression of the media, and expulsion of international organizations -- have drawn criticism from, among others, the European Union and the United States.
But, as no independent international inquiry has ever been carried out, full details about what happened on May 13 last year remain uncertain. They may never be known.
"A certain example for Akramiya were events in neighboring Kyrgyzstan."
Nor is much known about a religious group central to the events in Andijon, or about the movement's founder and leader, Akram Yuldoshev. It was anger at the trial of 23 men accused of belonging to the group, Akrimaya, that prompted a series of demonstrations in the city, and the bloody events of the day began when some of the accused managed to break out of the local jail.
One man with a claim to know more about Akramiya and its leader is Bakhtiyor Bobojonov, who says that last November he spent 30 minutes talking alone with Yuldoshev in his cell.
Bobojonov told an audience at a U.S. think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that his time with Yuldoshev confirmed him in his view that Akramiya's philosophy poses a serious challenge to the idea of a secular state in Uzbekistan.
Bobojonov said on May 2 that the Akramiya leader personally corroborated that he had written an essay in March 2005 -- about a month and a half before Andijon -- in which he stated that Akramiya was in the process of "waging a jihad against oppressors and infidels."
Bobojonov said the commentary contains "a very clear call to jihad," which Yuldolshev interpreted "as an armed uprising."
The essay also argues that the "death of a shahid [a believer] is the dream of a Muslim" and that death "in the way of Allah" is "not death but a return to your Lord."
Bobojonov's view broadly reflects the position put forward by the Uzbek government, which argues that it quelled an attempted revolution led by militant Islamists.
The similarity in opinion is perhaps no surprise as Bobojonov, a scholar of Islam at Tashkent's Institute of Oriental Studies, gained access to Yuldoshev as part of a government-appointed team asked to investigate the events at Andijon.
Bobojonov also served as an expert witness for the Uzbek government in trials of some of those arrested for alleged involvement in the unrest.
From Jihad Theory To Practice
A scene from the unrest in Andijon (epa)
Bobojonov believes that Akramiya's advocacy of a jihad turned into a concrete plan for an uprising, contending that "a certain example for Akramiya were events in neighboring Kyrgyzstan," where President Askar Akaev was ousted by a national uprising.
"Akram Yuldoshev himself told me it seemed to him it would only take a lighted match to put the whole situation on fire," Bobojanov said.
Videos shown by Bobojonov include shots of several armed men and of a group assembling Molotov cocktails.
Bobojonov said the pictures were taken by Akramiya members before government troops moved in and indicate that Akramiya members had brought weapons to the square on May 13.
He also suggested the group was well-trained. A number of policemen and soldiers "were shot between the eyes," he claims. "I think only professionals can shoot like that."
Bobojonov says Yuldoshev now acknowledges that he overestimated the potential for an uprising in Uzbekistan and that his calls for jihad were premature.
Bobojonov did not explain why Yuldoshev should have been so candid with him.
Bobojonov argues that while Akrimaya seeks to present itself as a secular movement, its motivation is purely religious.
He traces Yuldoshev's emergence back to 1991, when Yuldoshev, who was born in 1963 in Andijon, was introduced to the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir by a fellow student.
A little more than a year later, Yuldoshev left to establish his own group, which later became known as Akramiya.
Hizb ut-Tahrir representatives claim the group pursues its aims exclusively through peaceful means, but the governments of Central Asia consider the movement to be militant extremists.
Yuldoshev said after being amnestied in 2004 following a second term in jail, Akrimaya did not have a political agenda and stated that one of the purposes of his organization was to divert young people away from groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.