Prague, 22 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In accordance with Muslim tradition, Uzbeks set aside the 40th day after a loved one’s death to devote themselves to grieving.
Relatives and friends visit the home of the deceased, where women’s wailings are heard. Men wear the doppi, a four-cornered cap, and women cover their heads with a scarf. The family often slaughters a sheep and serves a rice-and-meat dish known as palov in honor of the lost family member.
As residents commemorated the 40th day since what has become known locally as “Bloody Friday,” the number of casualties from the violence in the Ferghana Valley near Andijon on 13 May remains unknown.
Authorities insist that 176 people died, including many police officers and troops. But human rights activists say the death toll may be as high as 1,000 and includes many women and children.
The New-York based Human Rights Watch says the government troops massacred hundreds of peaceful civilians who gathered on the central square of Andijon, some demonstrating for a change of government. Authorities have denied firing on unarmed civilians and blame Islamic radicals for the violence.
“The armed action was carefully planned and coordinated, supported from abroad...aiming at a takeover of power in the region, with further destabilization of the situation in the rest of Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a whole." - Uzbek commission statement
The continuing controversy could be seen in yesterday’s mourning ceremonies.
Witnesses say relatives of slain protesters had to keep a low profile and be cautious, slipping quietly into the homes of those who had lost their loved ones. They also had to be reserved in their wailing and crying.
Unlike them, relatives of dead police and security officers were able to express their grief in public and felt free to talk to correspondents.
The Associated Press spoke to Adil Khashimov, whose 30-year-old son, Mashal, had been gunned down during an overnight attack on a police unit during the Andijon violence. “My son died a hero, protecting people, protecting the country from Islamic radicals,” Khashimov said.
In the capital Tashkent, rights activists held a ceremony to commemorate the Andijon events by laying flowers at the Matonat (Braveness) monument. They were holding placards that read “Children of Andijon, we remember you,” “Karimov will answer for his acts in court,” and “Andijon mothers, we mourn with you.”
But soon, police broke up the meeting, detaining some participants. Toshpulat Yuldoshev was one of them. “Around 11 am, I approached the Matonat monument to commemorate the deaths of people," he said. "When I was getting out of my car, three men came and said: ‘Toshpulat, you should follow us’. They took me to [a van] and locked me in it.” Yuldoshev was released a few hours later.
Human rights activists Surat Ikramov ended up spending several hours in a police station. He spoke to RFE/RL’s Tashkent-based correspondent from the station. “My wife and I laid a wreath and returned home," he said. "They [policemen] were standing in front of my door and waiting for me. They told me their boss from ROVD [district department of Interior Ministry] summoned me. They brought me here. I’ve been here for two hours.”
No charges were brought against Yuldoshev and Ikramov.
On the same day that Uzbeks marked the 40th day of mourning, an Uzbek parliamentary commission revealed the preliminary findings of its investigation into the events in Andijon. The Uzbek parliament is composed of members of five parties that have officially declared their support for President Karimov.
Commission head Mukhammadilkhon Yuldashev said that what he called the “mutiny” in Andijon was planned outside the country in advance. Yuldashev said the organizers aimed to eventually overthrow the government and seize power.
“The armed action was carefully planned and coordinated, supported from abroad...aiming at a takeover of power in the region, with further destabilization of the situation in the rest of Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a whole,” the commission said in a statement issued late yesterday. The commission offered no evidence.
Yuldashev also said the investigation had uncovered negligence and irresponsibility on the part of some officials. Yuldashev did not say which officials. And he said another group of foreign diplomats would soon be allowed to visit Andijon.
A group of foreign diplomats accredited in Uzbekistan including those from Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, and the four other Central Asian nations, were taken to Andijon on 18 May. However, during the few-hours-long visit they were not able to talk to Andijon inhabitants without officials present. They were not allowed to visit a school that was used as a morgue during the uprising, or the houses of those killed or wounded. U.S. representatives refused to participate in the group, saying the probe could not be a substitute for an independent international investigation.
So far, Uzbek authorities have rejected calls from the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union to conduct an international probe into the Andijon events.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also asked the Uzbek government for access to Andijon. Raffaello Mueller of the ICRC says negotiations with Uzbek authorities about getting access to those wounded in Andijon have not been successful so far.
“We have access to the region. We didn't have direct access to the wounded. For the moment, we are still dealing with the authorities to get direct access to the victims, whatever they could be,” Mueller said.
The team of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been in Kyrgyzstan since 15 June to investigate the Andijon events and meet with Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan’s south. However, they were denied a visit to Andijon by the Uzbek government.
(RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)For more on these events, see RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: Unrest in Uzbekistan