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Uzbek Activists Upset By Plan To Demolish Andijon's Ancient Minaret

Many in Andijon are dismayed by government plans to tear down a centuries-old minaret in order to make way for a new development.

Activists and historical preservationists in the Uzbek city of Andijon are angered by government plans to demolish a more than 700-year-old minaret and Muslim prayer room in the city's old town.

Human rights activist Saidzhakhon Zaynobiddinov told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that workers have already begun clearing the area around the historical structures and could demolish them "in a day or two."

The minaret and prayer room -- which are part of a historical religious complex in central Andijon known as Musalla -- were built in the second half of the 13th century.

Officials have released plans showing how they will redevelop the Musalla area after demolishing the two ancient structures. A fountain is set to be built where the minaret currently stands.

Joining the existing mosque and madrasah on the site will be a youth center and an art and literature museum.

The construction on Andijon's new square -- to be structured in a way similar to the world-famous Registan (square) in the ancient city of Samarkand -- is set to begin in March.

Activists and others opposed to the removal of the Islamic structures have sent a protest letter to Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev calling for the buildings to be spared the wrecking ball.

But they said they have not received a reply and are worried that Mirziyaev, who has reportedly approved the plan to demolish and rebuild on the site, will not change course on the issue.

A historian in Andijon -- a city of some 340,000 people -- told RFE/RL dejectedly that "despite our resistance, they still want to demolish" our oldest historical monuments.

Activists say that, based on information from the Uzbek Culture Ministry's General Directorate for the Protection and Use of Cultural Heritage, the removal of the ancient Muslim structures would be illegal because they should be protected as historical monuments and part of the country's heritage.

The historical minaret has stood in Andijon since the 1200s. (click to enlarge).
The historical minaret has stood in Andijon since the 1200s. (click to enlarge).

A source in the Andijon city administration who requested anonymity told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the proposal to demolish the minaret was made by Shukhrat Hashimov, the deputy chairman of the State Committee for Architecture and Construction.

Hashimov is said to have justified taking down the minaret by claiming it would collapse if a major earthquake were to hit the region, which experiences minor seismic activity.

But an activist in Andijon told RFE/RL that Hashimov's committee ignored an official examination of the minaret that showed it to be structurally sound and able to withstand a powerful earthquake.

Uzbekistan's National Committee for Architecture and Construction refused to comment to RFE/RL about the demolition plan.

The Musalla area that is due for the makeover was also the home mosque of Abduvali Qori Mirzaev, a prominent imam who disappeared in 1995 at Tashkent's international airport before he was able to fly to Moscow for an international conference.

He has not been heard from since.

Mirzaev's relatives believe he was detained by the Uzbek security service and likely tried and executed.

Andijon was also the site of a massacre by security services in 2005 in which hundreds of protesters were slaughtered.

Such tragic recent history in Andijon may be why Uzbeks are unlikely to pour onto the streets and demonstrate against the demolition of two of their city's most prized buildings.