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Uzbekistan: Voices From Andijon

Soldiers in the streets of Andijon following the 13 May violence Forty days have passed since the bloody events of 13 May in Andijon. The 40th day after a funeral is traditionally a time for grieving and remembrance. But, as RFE/RL reports, the living mourn the dead uneasily in Andijon today.

RFE/RL was able to speak to several Andijon residents on the condition of anonymity. Outwardly, life goes on, with people filling the streets as they go about their daily business. But soldiers still man checkpoints on the roads into the city. And fear is a constant presence.

"We're afraid to talk," one man told RFE/RL. "The neighborhood committee and the police keep track of everything. In Andijon today, neighbor spies on neighbor. It's been 40 days since the events in Andijon, and informers are at work in all of the city's neighborhoods. When the police come to homes where someone was killed, they interrogate family members and call them Wahhabis or some other kind of religious extremist. I myself was called in by the police and interrogated."

"Wherever you go, the police block your path," a second man told RFE/RL. "It's bad everywhere. The police don't let anyone open their mouth. If you say one word, they'll say, 'Do you realize who you're trying to argue with?' Troops come into people's homes. They have no compassion. In the Boghishamol neighborhood, 15 of them burst into a house. They trampled everything and searched through everything, took the people away, and beat them up. I have a younger brother who has a car. He was taking five or six people to the old city in his car when the police stopped them. They impounded the car and took him into custody. They beat him for 15 days."

Information is scarce, and rumor has stepped in to fill the vacuum. "I can't say with any confidence that Andijon has returned to normal," one woman said. "These days, you sometimes hear rumors that unnerve people. Then these rumors turn out to be partially true. Today we heard that top police officials had closed up their offices and gone out to neighborhood committees. There were security services officers and commanders on our street. This made people nervous. Instead of a gradual return to calm, we have military vehicles driving all over the place. Eleven days after the events, tanks were still going around and frightening people."
"Why lie like this? Karimov can tell lies and engage in deception. But we, the people of Andijon, saw this with our own eyes. He said that nine people were killed. But they can't get their numbers straight. Now they say 174 people." - Andijon resident

A man who lives outside Andijon said that the roots of unrest in the region lie in difficult economic conditions. "We keep saying that we wish the best for our leader," the man said. "Everyone here is poor and hungry. One of our neighbors gets a [monthly] pension of 6,000 sums [$6]. What can you buy with that? It's not enough for anything. The collective farm got a 6 million-sum [$6,000] loan from the state. Its land is in a hilly area. Each hose that pumps water to the fields costs 50,000 sums a day. There are 20 or 30 of these hoses. The debt for this runs into the millions. People keep working even though they don't get their salaries. All the money goes down the hose."

"You reap what you sow," the same man added. "President [Islam] Karimov talks about religious extremism and groups like Hizbullah and the Wahhabis to prove to the international community that he's pursuing the right policy. There were never any extremists here. He says there are Chechens, Afghans, Kyrgyz. There's no one like that here. It's all a lie. The supporters and relatives of the 23 people the government calls members of the 'Akramiya' movement held protests in the streets for several days. Everyone saw it. I saw it myself. Why lie like this? Karimov can tell lies and engage in deception. But we, the people of Andijon, saw this with our own eyes. He said that nine people were killed. But they can't get their numbers straight. Now they say 174 people. A bit later [Prosecutor-General] Rashid Qodirov will probably add another three or four people."

"Everything has good and bad sides to it," yet another Andijon resident told RFE/RL. "What happened here opened people's eyes. People saw the true face of a government that had been deceiving them. The worst thing is that there is no more faith in the government. There was plenty of deceit before. But there was no bloodshed on such a large scale. If the situation keeps on as it is, if the repression continues, if the government stays as nervous as it is, the people will be just as tense. This will bring about another terrible event somewhere and the blood of innocent people will be shed."