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Qishloq Ovozi

People pray near the bodies of victims of a massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijon in 2005 that left hundreds dead.

On the morning of May 13, 2005, a group of armed men -- some of them recently escaped from prison -- stormed into Uzbekistan's eastern city of Andijon.

They killed some government officials and took others hostage.

A peaceful protest involving hundreds of locals had been going on in Andijon for several days prior to May 13.

Order broke down and the armed group, the peaceful protesters, and curious residents of the city all mixed in the streets.

Just seven weeks before, Central Asian leaders had watched with great concern as Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev had been ousted from power in a popular revolution in late March.

Determined not to allow a repeat of those events in Kyrgyzstan, authoritarian President Islam Karimov called in the military to restore order in Andijon.

It was a bloodbath.

The Andijon Massacre -- What Happened?
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According to the Uzbek government, 187 people were killed, most of them soldiers and insurrectionists. Civilian deaths, only about 60 according to the Prosecutor-General's Office, were attributed to the insurrectionists.

But eyewitness accounts pointed to a civilian casualty figure that was many times higher, with some estimates putting the figure well over 1,000 killed, with reports of mass graves being dug and bodies being flown to Russia. International calls for an independent investigation were rejected.

Mentioning The Unmentionable

Uzbek officials closed the book on the incident long ago and have avoided talking about the violence since.

But an unlikely person just brought up the Andijon violence and admitted there were "mistakes."

Deputy Prosecutor-General Svetlana Artykova gave an interview to the Uzbek news agency Qalampir on February 7.

Artykova, who participated in an investigation of the Andijon violence, said "innocent" people were shot in the city on May 13.

It was the first time an Uzbek government official had made such an admission.

She added: "communications were bad, the commanding officer either didn't hear the orders in time or misunderstood them; there were no proper preparations...we made mistakes."

Without naming anyone specifically, Artykova said some of the military personnel responsible for the massacre had been imprisoned and, "having served their sentence, returned to their normal lives."

Deputy Uzbek Deputy Prosecutor-General Svetlana Artykova also served in the country's Senate. (file photo)
Deputy Uzbek Deputy Prosecutor-General Svetlana Artykova also served in the country's Senate. (file photo)

Asked why she was providing this information now, Artykova replied that Uzbekistan had changed in the last three years since Karimov had died and Shavkat Mirziyoev became president.

"Back then [in Karimov's time], Uzbekistan was closed," Artykova said. "Now it is a new Uzbekistan. Now there is a new style of politics. Now there is a new political will."

Artykova did not provide much more information about the Andijon events in the interview. But it is significant that she was the person who raised the topic after all these years.

Artykova has spent her entire career in the prosecutor's office going back to the Soviet era when she worked in the prosecutor's office in the city of Namangan, not far from Andijon. She was later a parliament member and prior to her appointment as deputy prosecutor-general, Artykova was the deputy chairwoman of the Senate, Uzbekistan's upper house of parliament.

In May 2005, Artykova was the press secretary for the Uzbek prosecutor-general and she made many of the public statements about what happened and who was responsible in the days after the violence in Andijon.

That's why Artykova's comments to Qalampir cannot be viewed as a slip of the tongue by a careless bureaucrat.

A New Willingness?

Many are wondering if her statements signal a new willingness by the Uzbek government to come to terms with the Andijon events.

There are still many questions about what happened in Andijon.

The rights groups and others who have called for years for an independent probe of the deadly events cited general dissatisfaction with the results of the Uzbek government's investigation right after the violence.

Artykova noted in the interview that she was part of that investigation.

Though Karimov died in 2016, some officials who were involved in Andijon in 2005 are still alive.

Zakir Almatov was Uzbekistan's interior minister in May 2005. Many blame him for the actions of the troops in Andijon. Almatov retired for health reasons a few months after the violence in Andijon but he resurfaced in February 2018 when he was appointed as an adviser to the interior minister.

Rustam Inoyatov was the head of the State Security Service in May 2005. He was dismissed from that post in January 2018 and now, at age 75, is semiretired.

Uzbekistan's prime minister in May 2005 was Mirziyoev, the current president.

At the least, it seems Artykova may have opened the door to discussion of the Andijon killings after all these years of silence.

Though there are still many questions about what really transpired on that day in Andijon nearly 15 years ago, Uzbek officials may not yet be ready to provide the answers.

The deployment of S-300PS in Kyrgyzstan would be a significant upgrade for the country's air defenses. (file photo)

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov announced on February 11 that a modern air-defense system would be sent to the Russian military base in northern Kyrgyzstan.

Although some questioned the motives for the move, Moscow and Bishkek have been discussing it for several years and placing the system at the Kant military base -- some 40 kilometers from the capital, Bishkek -- is a rather logical step in creating a unified air-defense system for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Or perhaps it's all being done for another regional security organization.

Along with being in the CIS, Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Kazakhstan and Tajikistan are also CSTO members.

In 2015, Kazakhstan received the S-300PS air-defense systems and in 2019, Russia's 201st Division, which is stationed in Tajikistan, received S-300PS air-defense systems.

Of course Kyrgyzstan lies between Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and was lagging behind.

Kyrgyzstan still has quite outdated SA-2 and SA-3 air-defense systems. The SA-2 air-defense missile (also called the S-75 Dvina) was first deployed by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. The SA-3 systems (also known as the S-125 Neva/Pechora) were used in the 1960s.

It seems an upgrade is definitely in order.

The S-300PS system was first deployed in the mid-1980s and would represent a significant improvement in Kyrgyzstan's air-defense system though, as yet, Russia has not said exactly which system Kyrgyzstan would receive.

Who Is The Enemy?

An interesting question, however, is against whom the new system is being deployed in that part of Central Asia?

The S-300PS system is designed to defend against aircraft and cruise missiles.

The biggest security threat to Central Asia comes from stateless militant groups who do not have warplanes or cruise missiles. But it must be noted that Russia also plans to repair the runway at the Kant air base and will reportedly station upgraded Su-25SM3 attack aircraft and drones there.

Those weapons would certainly help in a campaign against militants.

The countries close to Central Asia that have advanced warplanes and missiles are Iran, Pakistan, India, and China. But the latter three are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (along with Uzbekistan and Russia).

But Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan also all border China.

The SCO was originally the Shanghai Five (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) when it was created in 1996 and its initial purpose was to have all of the countries pull back troops and weapons from the former Soviet-China frontier.

That worked so well that they decided to expand the agenda of the organization.

Yet since 2015, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and soon Kyrgyzstan will have all upgraded their air defenses, which is still in keeping with original agreements to withdraw forces from the border areas.

But it also hints that there is less than total trust in these agreements.

Of course, Moscow might also just be ensuring that Kyrgyzstan has Russian-made, air-defense systems.

Interestingly enough, the other Central Asian states -- Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- are not CSTO members but they, too, have improved their air-defense systems by purchasing China's HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, a Chinese version of the S-300.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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