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Uzbek Blockbuster Tells State's Side Of Andijon

The state-backed studio Uzbekkino has released a film that manages to sell the approved take on Andijon -- without mentioning it by name for 2 1/2 hours.
The state-backed studio Uzbekkino has released a film that manages to sell the approved take on Andijon -- without mentioning it by name for 2 1/2 hours.

Even if Uzbekistan is officially reluctant to mark the 10th anniversary of the Andijon massacre, it is working hard behind the scenes to tell its version of the bloody events that unfolded in the eastern city in 2005.

Months ahead of the anniversary, the state-backed studio Uzbekkino released a high-production film that manages to sell the approved take on Andijon -- without mentioning it by name for 2 1/2 hours.

But it doesn't take an expert to see what Sotqin, or Traitor, is getting at.​

The plot centers on two 20-something brothers from a provincial town who are each unhappy with the injustices they see around them. But the two have vastly different ideas about how to improve things.

Sarvar, the university-educated journalist with secular ideas, has great faith in the Uzbek government and believes in "taking power by starting political parties and winning elections."

Ghulom and his religiously devout father, however, believe power should be seized through Islamic "jihad."

Other significant characters include a provincial police chief who admits he is guilty of "small" crimes, and a "foreign spy" disguised as a wealthy businessman.

WATCH: The trailer for Sotqin

Backed by "foreign governments" and involved in drug trafficking, the powerful spy has a plan to destabilize Uzbekistan through local "Islamic extremists" and criminals.

A chief in the security services is intent on stopping the spy, but warns that he must be caught red-handed. Otherwise, the chief says, "nongovernmental organizations and foreign media" would make a huge fuss and accuse them of arresting an innocent man.

Under the influence of his older brother and father, Sarvar sadly quits drinking and becomes religiously conservative, demanding that his wife wear the Islamic hijab.

The religiously devout father and his eldest son experience shock and disappointment when the spy they had been led to believe was a faithful Muslim starts talking about drug trafficking, weapons, and his interest in women.

The climax comes when Gulom and a small group of local "extremists" set free their imprisoned associates and take over the provincial administration building after the spy provides them with weapons smuggled from neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

The foreign spy, meanwhile, uses his contacts to organize "peaceful protests" before the event turns bloody.

Andijon is not mentioned until the movie's closing credits, when a number of municipal and law-enforcement bodies located in the city are listed.

Sotqin, which was released in March and has been screened in movie theaters across the country, stars several prominent Uzbek actors and was among Uzbekistan's most popular films ahead of the May 13 anniversary of the 2005 massacre.

Its producer, Rustam Sagdiev, says the film depicts current realities in Uzbek society and aims at "raising awareness among young Uzbeks."

But Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, sees something else.

"It's interesting the government does seem to be anticipating this 10th anniversary," Swerdlow says. "It wants to provide its own narrative -- a quite strident, assertive narrative that Andijon for us is closed and any violence that was committed -- or any harm that was done -- was done by outsiders, not by us."

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier contributed to this report
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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