17 May 2005, Volume 5, Number 18
NOTE TO READERS:
UNREST IN UZBEKISTAN: Get the latest info about the government crackdown in eastern Uzbekistan at RFE/RL's dedicated webpage: http://www.rferl.org/specials/uzbek_unrest/
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON UZBEKISTAN'S BLOODY FRIDAY?
By Daniel Kimmage
The horrific bloodshed that occurred in Uzbekistan on 13 May breaks down, on closer examination, into two interconnected events that raise two separate issues. The first was an attack by armed men on a military garrison and prison, with the subsequent liberation of prisoners and seizure of the regional-administrative building in Andijon. The second was the use of deadly force against demonstrators who gathered on the city's central square near the occupied regional-administration building. President Islam Karimov and his government have presented official explanations for both events. But independent reports paint a somewhat different picture of the first event, and a radically different picture of the second.
1. The Assault
At a news conference in Tashkent on 14 May, President Karimov provided a detailed account of the assault by armed men on the night of 12 May and morning of 13 May first on a police unit, then on a military garrison, and finally on a prison. After this, they seized the regional-administration building and made unsuccessful attempts to storm the regional offices of the National Security Service and Interior Ministry. Karimov focused on losses among security personnel and stressed that the attackers were Islamic extremists from an offshoot of the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. He also stated that phone intercepts showed that the militants consulted with "masters" in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Independent accounts of this first event differed from the version presented by Karimov less in the factual details of the nighttime assaults than in the motivation imputed to the armed attackers. In a clear reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir, Karimov described the attackers' goal as "setting up a caliphate in Uzbekistan...which will allegedly include Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and all other countries," Uzbek Television reported. While independent reports did not dispute the attackers' decision to resort to violence, they did not uncover any specific statements indicating sympathy with Hizb ut-Tahrir's aim of establishing a caliphate ruled by Islamic law, nor did they suggest a more general Islamist context for the violent action.
Sharipjon Shakirov, who had served a four-year prison term for involvement in what the government describes as the Akramiya Islamist group (see below), was one of the men who occupied the regional-administrative building in Andijon. In telephone communications from the building, he told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 13 May that "repression and slander" drove him and others to violent action. He added, "We do not have any connection with those groups [banned Islamic groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir]." He continued: "We have only one demand. [The authorities] should release those people who were imprisoned based on slander, including Akram Yuldoshev." On his own time in prison, Shakirov commented: "We want all those imprisoned on false charges to be released because there are many political prisoners in Uzbekistan. I know this because I served a prison term myself." RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported that Shakirov was among those killed later on 13 May.
Akram Yuldoshev, whose name serves to denote the "Akramiya" group, is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence on terrorism charges. In February, 23 businessmen from Andijon went on trial on charges of involvement in Akramiya. The armed men who began the violence in Andijon on the night of 12 May were apparently their supporters. At issue in the cases of Yuldoshev, the above-mentioned Shakirov, the 23 businessmen, and their supporters is the credibility of the Uzbek government's claims, as represented in criminal convictions and charges, that they were religious extremists with links to the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses the creation of a caliphate throughout Central Asia and the implementation of Islamic law, although it eschews violence (and has specifically denied any involvement in the events in Andijon). For if these official claims are to be believed, the role of religious extremists in starting the violence would seem indisputable.
The problem is that the Uzbek government's record on this score is anything but encouraging. The U.S. State Department's 2004 report on human rights in Uzbekistan, published on the agency's website (http://www.state.gov) on 28 February, details numerous instances of rights violations, many of them involving individuals accused of Hizb ut-Tahrir involvement. The report states that "authorities treated individuals suspected of extreme Islamist sympathies, particularly alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, more harshly than ordinary criminals, and there were credible reports that investigators subjected persons suspected of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir to particularly severe interrogation in pretrial detention, in many cases resorting to torture."
The report also notes, "Local human rights activists reported that police and security-service officers, acting under pressure to break up Hizb ut-Tahrir cells, frequently detained family members and close associates of suspected members, even if there was no direct evidence of their involvement. Authorities made little distinction between actual members and those with marginal affiliation with the group, often persons who had attended Koranic study sessions with the group." Addressing the issue of fair trials, the report states: "Defendants often claimed that the confessions on which the prosecution based its cases were extracted by torture. In many cases, particularly involving suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the prosecution failed to produce confessions and relied solely on witness testimony, which was reportedly often coerced. Typical sentences for male members of Hizb ut-Tahrir ranged from seven to 12 years' imprisonment."
Against this backdrop, Shakirov's statement about "those imprisoned on false charges" gains weight, as does the bitter complaint by Yuldoshev's wife, quoted by Forum 18 on 14 February, "They're not content that my innocent husband is locked up in prison, but are trying to make out of him some kind of bin Laden." The same holds for Forum 18's report that "local people Forum 18 has spoken to reject Uzbek government and foreign press allegations that Akramiya was set up by former Hizb ut-Tahrir members, dissatisfied by the organization's professed rejection of violence, as a means to achieve the aim of an Islamic caliphate."
The preceding does not mean that the participants in the initial violence -- the attack on the military garrison and prison; the seizure of the regional-administration building -- were or were not extremists. What it means is that there are ample grounds to doubt Uzbek official claims of extremist involvement in the absence of hard evidence to back up those claims. Thus far, none of the independent reports of events in Andijon on 12-13 May indicates that the armed men on the antigovernment side employed extremist rhetoric or symbolism. An individual identified as a Western journalist who was in Andijon on 13 May told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR): "This rebellion has nothing to do with religion. I did not hear cries of Allahu Akbar, and none of the rebels inside the regional-administration building mentioned anything about an Islamic state."
Contrasting evidence may come to light, but for now, the most that can be said is that the armed men committed violent acts. Independent reports, such as the BBC's account of the initial violence, support that much of the official version; they do not, however, provide any corroborating evidence for the official claim that the attackers were religious extremists.
2. The Massacre
The second issue is -- an important point -- not directly related to the first: it involves the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians. On this point, the official version put forward by President Karimov directly contradicts the reports of independent journalists on the scene as well as virtually all recorded eyewitness accounts.
In his news conference on 14 May, Karimov stressed that after talks with the rebels broke down, "they broke into three groups, left the [regional-administration] building and began running away in three directions. A chase began." On the death toll, he said: "A total of more than 10 people, including the military, police, and innocent people, were killed. There are far more killed on their side" -- the rebel side, presumably -- "than the other." Karimov denied that he or anyone else had given an order to shoot. He told journalists, "I know that you want to know who gave the order to shoot," Reuters reported. "No one gave such an order." The implication is that rebels shot first and were responsible for civilian deaths.
Independent accounts paint an entirely different picture. After the rebels seized the regional-administration building, a large demonstration ensued in the central square of Andijon. (A photograph of the crowd, showing many women and children, can be found here: http://www.newsteam.ru/reports/index.html?1,562,8.) Correspondents for Reuters and IWPR were on the scene. Reuters reported, "Troops then opened fire on a square in [Andijon] where protesters had massed and stormed the [occupied regional-administration] building." IWPR reported: "The eight-wheeled armored personnel carriers, APCs, appeared out of nowhere, moving through the streets at speed, past the people on the outer fringes of the rally. The first column of vehicles thundered past without taking any aggressive action. But a second column arriving five minutes later suddenly opened up on the crowds, firing off round after round without even slowing down to take aim."
Eyewitness accounts recorded by IWPR, Reuters, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, "Kommersant-Daily," fergana.ru, "The New York Times," and other news organizations also indicated the troops fired indiscriminately at unarmed demonstrators. Moreover, some accounts indicated that when troops directed their fire, they targeted the wounded. A woman identified as Muqaddas told IWPR: "[Military servicemen] got drunk, and in this condition they shot and killed the wounded. In my presence, they shot down a woman with two small children." A man identified as a 31-year-old cobbler told Reuters, "I saw soldiers killing several wounded with single shots to the head after asking 'are there any wounded around?'"
The death toll from the events of 13 May remains unclear. Several eyewitness accounts stated that 500 were killed in Andijon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). The unregistered Uzbek opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) has sent representatives door-to-door in Andijon and Pakhtaobod, a nearby town where unconfirmed reports speak of a brutally suppressed uprising after the violence in Andijon, to collect the names of the dead, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 May. At present, the list contains 745 names, 542 from Andijon and 203 from Pakhtaobod.
BLOODY FRIDAY IN THE FERGHANA VALLEY
By Daniel Kimmage
Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley, the country's most densely peopled region and the heartland of its discontents, careened into violence on Friday, 13 May, as government forces opened fire on demonstrators in the city of Andijon in a bloody close to a day of unrest. Yet even as Uzbek President Islam Karimov eliminated any doubts about his willingness to use force to crush threats to his rule, he raised the frightening prospect of spiraling retaliatory violence in Central Asia's most populous country.
The unrest in Andijon, a city of 300,000, unfolded against the backdrop of the trial of 23 prominent local businessmen on charges of involvement in an Islamic extremist group. Forum 18, a Norway-based organization that covers issues of religious freedom, reported in February, when the trial began, that the men denied any extremist involvement and insisted that they had merely tried to integrate Islamic ethical principles into their business practices.
But prosecutors alleged that the men were members of a group called "Akramiya," so called after its founder, Akram Yuldoshev. According to a 5 April article on centrasia.ru by Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, head of the Andijon-based human rights group Appelyatsiya, Yuldoshev was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir in 1986-88. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses the establishment of a caliphate throughout Central Asia and the implementation of Islamic law, officially eschews violence, but its radical aims, virulently anti-Jewish and anti-American rhetoric, and conspiratorial structure have led many to define it as an extremist organization. Today, it is banned in all Central Asian countries except Kazakhstan.
Yuldoshev left Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to Zaynabitdinov, as a result of unspecified differences of opinion. Yuldoshev went on to write a pamphlet in 1992 called "The Path to Faith," which Zaynabitdinov has translated into Russian and made available on the Internet (http://news.ferghana.ru/archive/yul.doc). The text deals primarily with ethical issues and does not contain any overtly political passages. But Yuldoshev fell afoul of the Uzbek authorities in the 1990s, and in 1999 he was sentenced to 17 years in prison for involvement in a series of bombings in Tashkent in February 1999, Forum 18 reported. For their part, the businessmen on trial have said that they were influenced by Yuldoshev's thoughts on Islamic ethics, but denied the existence of a group called Akramiya, terming it a fabrication of overzealous prosecutors.
Human rights activists in Andijon told RFE/RL on 11 May that the defendants in the Akramiya case may have fallen victim to local rivals who coveted their business assets. Melissa Hooper, an American lawyer in Tashkent who has worked with the defense in the trial, told "The New York Times" on 14 May, "This is more about [the businessmen] acquiring economic clout, and perhaps refusing to pay off the local authorities, than about any religious beliefs." Andrei Grozin, the head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department of the Institute of CIS Countries, told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" in a 14 May interview that the trial was simply an attempt to "take away the business of several entrepreneurs under a clearly trumped-up pretext."
As the trial drew to a close, peaceful protests by up to 4,000 relatives and supporters of the businessmen took place in Andijon on 10-11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 May 2005). Then, on the night of 12 May, events in the city suddenly spun out of control.
Because there were few reporters in Andijon when the unrest erupted, the picture of what happened there on 12-13 May is incomplete. But the overall outlines, along with many corroborating details, are clear in the numerous reports filed from Andijon by correspondents for the BBC, fergana.ru, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), and Reuters. The following condensed account is based on those reports.
At around midnight on 12 May, a group of approximately 100 relatives and supporters of the accused businessmen attacked a military garrison and a prison in Andijon, seizing weapons and freeing up to 4,000 prisoners, including the Akramiya defendants. They went on to seize the regional-administration building in Andijon, where a protest meeting soon drew thousands of residents to the city's center.
As these events unfolded, President Karimov arrived in Andijon from Tashkent to direct personally his government's actions, as official news agency UzA later reported. Special forces and army units took up positions. Negotiations began but led nowhere. Sharipjon Shakirov, who had served a four-year prison term for membership in Akramiya, told RFE/RL from the regional-administration building in Andijon that the protesters' only demand was that the authorities release "people who were imprisoned on slander, including Akram Yuldoshev."
In the early evening, government forces opened fire on the demonstrators and stormed the occupied building. Correspondents for IWPR and fergana.ru described horrific scenes, as guns mounted on armored personnel carriers spit bullets into the terrified crowd. Evening brought heavy rain, uneasy calm, and uncertainty over the fate of the armed insurgents in the regional-administration building. Reports of sporadic gunfire continued through morning, until fergana.ru finally reported on 14 May that insurgents had left the building accompanied by soldiers.
The only official report on casualties, issued before the escalation in early evening, listed nine dead and 34 wounded. But Reuters, the BBC, and fergana.ru all reported that dozens of protesters had been killed. The BBC later said that some Andijon residents put the possible death toll in the hundreds. Fergana.ru's correspondent reported that he personally counted 30 bodies heaped on the ground outside a movie theater. He quoted eyewitnesses as saying that "hundreds of unarmed peaceful residents were struck by automatic-weapons fire. At first, they shot them from machine guns mounted on their vehicles, and then soldiers followed on foot mercilessly finishing off the wounded, including women and children."
Official news agency UzA's report on the events of 13 May began as follows: "In connection with the events that took place, Uzbek President Islam Karimov arrived in the city of Andijon early on the morning of 13 May. The head of state, after studying the situation from all sides, gave concrete instructions and directions to the appropriate organizations and agencies to end the situation. In the evening, President Islam Karimov returned to Tashkent." The report went on to lay the blame on "gangsters, hiding behind women, children, and other hostages they took, [who] refused a compromise resolution of the conflict." It provided no information on casualties.
Crushing All Dissent
In 1982, Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad ended a confrontation in the city of Hama between his government and the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood by turning his army loose on the city. Thousands were killed. The brutal crackdown evoked a muted international response, for its purported target was an Islamic extremist group, and al-Assad, having established a fearsome reputation for himself at home, ruled undisturbed until his death in 2000.
Though the scale of 13 May's events in Andijon does not match the slaughter in Hama, the logic behind President Karimov's actions appears similar -- to crack the whip and cow any would-be challengers.
The purported peril of religious extremism is a key plank in this strategy, and Karimov has consistently justified his tough policies with the need to defend Uzbekistan from an imminent Islamist threat. But the evidence does not seem to support such a view of the bloodshed in Andijon. For one, the "Islamist" link to the Akramiya defendants is tenuous, relying on Akram Yuldoshev's onetime membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. More importantly, none of the statements attributed to protesters in credible reports conformed to Islamist models in form or content. In fact, several reports noted that protesters focused on such pressing economic issues as poverty and unemployment, taking pains to distance themselves from any hint of religious extremism. Finally, as Sharipjon Shakirov confirmed to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, the insurgents appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to act as a mediator, an unlikely choice for committed Islamists.
But at the core of the Hama strategy lurks a different variety of extremism -- extreme force to demonstrate the utter futility of resistance. The result is a political arena in which force becomes the ultimate arbiter of disputes. And since this force must eventually be administered in the form of violent actions, it not only leaves losses in its wake, but also brings with it the possibility of equally violent reactions.
WESTERN REACTION TOUGHENS TO ANDIJON KILLINGS, CRACKDOWN
By Grant Podelco
Western reaction to this week's bloodshed in Uzbekistan is intensifying after muffled criticism in the days immediately following the unrest. Britain is calling on the Uzbek government to provide international officials and journalists with immediate access to Andijon, the center of the unrest, where security forces are reported to have killed as many as 500 people. The United States says it is deeply disturbed by the reports coming from Uzbekistan and condemns the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians.
Britain is taking the lead in applying Western diplomatic pressure on Uzbekistan following bloody clashes between government troops and protesters in the eastern city of Andijon.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the violence a "clear abuse of human rights" and sayid reports of troops firing on unarmed civilians "cannot be justified." He has asked for immediate access to Andijon for humanitarian officials, diplomats, and journalists.
"If a visit [to Andijon] can take place in which EU ambassadors and journalists are able to see for themselves the situation on the ground, that obviously would very greatly assist," Straw said.
Britain says its embassy in Tashkent has been told such a visit will be allowed to take place on 18 or 19 May. The delegation will be composed of ambassadors and representatives from the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the media.
Luxembourg is the current president of the European Union, but it does not have a diplomatic presence in Uzbekistan. Britain takes over the presidency of the European Union in July and is spearheading the EU response.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has blamed the violence on Islamic militants. Straw said Britain accepts the need for "firm action" to deal with terrorism. But he said this must be done in a context in which there is respect for human rights and progress toward democracy.
The unrest in Uzbekistan -- and the government's response to it -- puts the United States and Britain in a delicate position. Both countries recruited Uzbekistan as an ally in the war against terrorism following the attacks of 11 September 2001. Tashkent has permitted the United States and coalition troops to use an air base at Karshi-Khanabad in southern Uzbekistan for regional military operations.
Straw rejects claims that criticism of the Andijon crackdown means that Britain is changing its policy toward Tashkent. Instead, Straw said, "there is now a sharper prism through which our concerns are being heard."
After days of relative diplomatic quiet, the United States yesterday also reacted strongly to the bloodshed in eastern Uzbekistan.
"We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Uzbek authorities fired on demonstrators last Friday [13 May]," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We certainly condemn the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians and deeply regret any loss of life. We have urged -- had urged, and continue to urge -- the Uzbek government to exercise restraint, stressing that violence cannot lead to long-term stability. And we've made that point with senior Uzbek authorities in Washington and Tashkent."
Boucher also condemned the actions of armed civilians who attacked a military barracks and prison in Andijon and occupied a regional administration building in the city. He said nothing justifies acts of violence or terrorism. And he said Washington remains concerned that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the United States recognizes as a terrorist group, had escaped or been freed.
He said Washington has been disappointed by the pace of reform in Uzbekistan. "The stability in Uzbekistan ultimately depends on their government reaching out to the citizenry and instituting real reforms -- political reforms, economic reforms, the rule of law -- and addressing its human-rights problems. We're disappointed in the degree of progress we've seen, and we will continue to work with the Uzbeks to address all these areas," Boucher said.
Last summer, the United States announced it was withholding up to $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan due to its poor human-rights record.
Speaking to reporters on 16 May on her way back from Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington is still trying to understand what happened in Andijon. But she said Uzbekistan is "too closed." She said Washington has been encouraging the Karimov government to become more transparent so that people can enjoy a "political life."
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for restraint from all sides. He asked for compliance with humanitarian law and for cooperation with UN teams that have been sent to the region to deal with refugees fleeing the violence.
The OSCE says it is deeply concerned about events in Uzbekistan, a member state, and encourages all sides to settle their differences peacefully. Chairman in Office Dimitrij Rupel said the OSCE accepts that the Uzbek government believes it is dealing with terrorists, but said "one side appears to have employed lethal violence in a disproportionate or reckless fashion."
A spokeswoman for Jean Lemierre, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), said the Uzbek violence only confirms the bank's worst fears.
"This is what we have feared for a long time," she said. "What we see in our region is that openness matters. We've been saying this all the time. Good governance and engaging people is crucial for growth and as important as privatization and other technical reform."
The EBRD suspended most of its funding for public sector projects in Uzbekistan last year, saying it had failed to meet democratic and human rights reforms required by the bank's charter.
International human rights groups have also condemned the events in Andijon.
Amnesty International is calling on Uzbek authorities to allow an open investigation into the events.
"Amnesty International was very shocked by the reported use of excessive force against civilians in Andijon and really very strongly condemns this indiscriminate use of force against civilians," Maisy Weicherding, a researcher on Uzbekistan, told RFE/RL on 17 May. "We call on the authorities really to allow a prompt and independent investigation into these events, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice."
She said Andijon is cut off from the outside world and that Amnesty fears government forces may be taking advantage of the situation by acting with impunity.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said the bloodshed calls the legitimacy of the Uzbek government further into question.
"In many respects, the regime hasn't been legitimate for a long time because the regime is known to use torture, to apply the death penalty in cases where confessions are obtained under torture, to violate all kinds of civil and political rights, to violate the freedom of conscience, to persecute people on the basis of their religious beliefs, to suppress political pluralism of all kinds. It's a dictatorship," Rhodes said. (Originally published on 17 May)
WHERE DOES UZBEK CRISIS GO FROM HERE?
By Charles Recknagel
Dozens of questions surround the recent events in Uzbekistan, from who was behind the violent 13 May protest in Andijon, to why security forces opened fire, to how many people were killed. Those questions may take more time to answer fully. But one certainty is that the violence poses one of the toughest challenges yet to Uzbekistan's authoritarian ruler, Islam Karimov.
Karimov has been quick to blame the troubles in eastern Uzbekistan on Islamic radical groups.
Speaking on 14 May, one day after the bloodshed in Andijon, he said Uzbek authorities already had identified those involved as Islamists determined to overthrow the government.
"We have practically all the family names, and they are members of a current within Hizb ut-Tahrir that in Andijon is called Akramiya," Karimov said. "Their main purpose is to turn over the existing constitutional structure, to turn over the power in different places and found what is called a caliphate -- which would unite all Islamists. The movement was categorically against all sorts of constitutional institutions, against a secular development of the events. That is their purpose."
But many observers question Karimov's characterization of the events in Andijon as part of a longstanding confrontation between Tashkent and armed Islamist groups.
Daniel Kimmage, an RFE/RL regional analyst, says that no convincing evidence has yet been made public that proves Islamists organized events in Andijon.
"We know that the spark was provided by people who did take weapons in their hands and did attack a military garrison and a prison, so they were willing to engage in violence," Kimmage said. "That's a fact. But we don't have any convincing proof at this point that they were members of a Islamic radical organization. The ties between the businessmen who were on trial and known radical organizations are very tenuous, I haven't seen any convincing evidence that linked them to that."
The violence in Andijon on 13 May began with a group seizing arms from a garrison and then attacking a prison to release inmates -- including the 23 prominent local businessmen who were on trial on charges they belonged to the banned group Akramiya.
Several thousand other people massed in the central square around a seized building to protest against Karimov's political and economic policies.
An as-yet-uncertain number of people were killed by fire from security forces. The government says 30 died, including police. But witnesses and human rights groups put the number of civilian deaths as high as 500.
Olivier Roy, a regional expert with the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that he also sees aspects of a grassroots movement in the events.
"I don't know about the real agenda of these groups," Roy said. "But it is clear that the demonstration has been waged by parents and families of the prisoners. So I think the first motivation of the people who went against the authorities was to free the prisoners. They did attack the jail. They didn't attack the government buildings first. So I think it is more some sort of a grassroots movement -- a protest from families of prisoners -- more than a really politically motivated movement."
RFE/RL's Kimmage says that if the Andijon protest was an expression of popular anger, it would be a major escalation of economically motivated protests in Uzbekistan in recent months.
"We have certainly seen several instances, even in the last year, where people have come out and they have protested primarily for economic reasons and this event that recently took place represents a quantum leap forward in that context, of course, with the qualifier that the spark here was over a specific incidence -- it was over a trial of people for alleged religious extremism," Kimmage said.
He notes that Andijon, the largest city in eastern Uzbekistan and located in the densely populated Ferghana Valley, is in a region that is experiencing worsening economic problems.
Many there believe that Karimov's policy of preserving a highly centralized, command economy little changed from the Soviet-era concentrates power in government circles and generates too few new jobs.
Key questions now are whether the events in Andijon will be seen elsewhere in Uzbekistan as a popular movement or an Islamist-inspired rebellion -- and whether the government's use of force will discourage or spark further such protests.
Kimmage says that the crisis will further deepen debate inside and outside Uzbekistan over whether Karimov's government is protecting society from the threat of insurrection or -- by using such overwhelming force -- is adding to just that danger.
"His argument has always been that we face a threat that is so pressing and so perilous in Uzbekistan that we need the harshest measures to deal with it, whereas his critics have always said that it is precisely these harsh measures that radicalize people who otherwise would form a constructive opposition in the country. And this particular clash brings this conflict to a head," Kimmage said.
Adolat Najimova, the head of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, says that despite that debate she sees little prospect Tashkent will change its policies toward those seen to challenge the government.
"Karimov basically doesn't have an exit strategy," Najimova said. "He is stuck, he is a victim of his own harsh policy and he might anticipate that the resentment of the Uzbek population toward him is pretty high. So, should he lose his power the implications could be unpredictable."
In Tashkent on 16 May, the prosecutors' office said a formal investigation has been launched into what it called the "murders and the organization of mass unrest" in Andijon.
The Interior Ministry announced that 70 people had been detained so far in connection with the 13 May violence in the city. (Originally published on 16 May)