The Latest on Andijon

by Nathan Hamm on 5/15/2005 · 19 comments

For more, see Scraps of Moscow, Ben Paarmann (especially this post), Publius Pundit, and Gateway Pundit

News seems to have slowed down. RFE/RL reports an uneasy calm. Bagila Bukharbayeva reported yesterday that anxiety is high as people try to learn what happened in the midst of the news blackout.

In the densely populated valley, word travels fast, even if incompletely.

Some people believed the government version that terrorists had seized Andijan and refused its entreaties to negotiate. Others suspected that the soldiers’ firing into a crowd of protesters was unjustifiably brutal.

A policeman at a checkpoint on the Andijan city border asked reporters what happened on the city’s main square Friday night. He shook his head disapprovingly as he listened.

“Blood only causes more blood,” he said.

Dee Warren has an update with news from people in the Andijon area. Read the whole thing, but this part–especially the section I emphasized–stuck out to me.

In his home town of Alamushuk, he saw trucks of soldiers passing by, some of them in “very a bad mood” and some of them crying. He said that he saw dead soldiers, too, but couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me the numbers. He also reported that there is now free movement between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan at the reconstructed Kora-suv border – border guards no longer present there.

She mentions fighting in Teshik Tash (the news was passed by taxi drivers, one of the country’s organic news conduits). Zaman has a report on the fighting. The town is on the border with Kyrgyzstan, and witnesses say that armed men killed 8 soldiers.

[Update: See here for more from Uzbekistan]

RFE/RL confirms that border at Kara-Su is open now and that people are waiting to cross into Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, Uzbek troops have blocked Andijon’s central square.

RIA has a story that I recommend taking with a grain of salt claiming that militants including Taliban soldiers were massed on the Uzbek border just before the attack on the prison. Perhaps, but I’m not quite sure…

Still in the realm of official exaggeration, this story reports that President Karimov has drawn a connection between the Islamists he says hijacked the situation in Andijon and the collapse of Akayev’s government in Kyrgyzstan.

Mr. Karimov told a press conference after returning from Andijan to the capital Tashkent that the unrest had been planned by Islamist militants linked with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, who wanted to replay the Kyrgyz scenario of overthrowing the Government in March.

“The scenario was identical, they wanted to repeat the coup in Kyrgyzstan,” Mr. Karimov said. “However, their plan has fallen through.”

It’s good to see that the Western media is getting wise to the roots of unrest in Uzbekistan. It appears that everyone is using local or regional reporters, and as a result, the quality of the reporting is much higher than in the past. Reuters in particular has caught my eye with something in this story.

“The tragedy happened because life is so unbearably difficult. There are not enough jobs and people are outraged,” one man, who declined to give his name, told a Reuters correspondent.

This isn’t too shabby either.

“After what happened in Andizhan, all I know is that if change in Uzbekistan is possible only through violence and blood — then I don’t want that kind of change,” Khamid, a calm man in his sixties, said as he kept an eye on his makeshift stall.

“We do want change, we do want our country to be strong and prosperous,” he said, waving towards crowds of busy shoppers drifting through the dusty maze of dimly lit market passages.

“But after what happened, I really don’t know.”

I highlight these two things because they fly in the face of conventional wisdoms (and yes, I think there are two unique ones on the region). The first is that the roots of unrest in Uzbekistan lie in Islamic traditionalism or fundamentalism. Sorry, it’s mostly the economy and the country’s fairly secular–two things that can be divined by paying attention to what Uzbeks have to say. The other is not so much a wisdom as a blind spot that is largely a product of the human rights industry. Whether an error of comission or omission I’m not sure, but it does exist. It is way too often forgotten when talking about Uzbekistan and what path the country should take that most Uzbeks are very worried about social chaos whether it be from economic or political reforms or from popular demonstrations. As strange as it seems, it is not uncommon for someone to abhor Karimov yet support him for creating stability and predictability.

That people are willing to turn out in large numbers to protest his government and call for his resignation is a clear sign though that he’s failing to maintain the stability to life that Uzbeks demand. And that he’s willing to push back instead and blame unrest on external forces rather than figure out how his policies are eroding economic stability screams that even if calm returns to Andijon, we can expect demonstrations to continue to pop up around the contry.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 18 comments }

Ben May 15, 2005 at 1:37 pm

Re the connection Kyrgyzstan – Andijon drawn up by Karimov, Olesya Ryzhova has just sent in her initial reactions from Tashkent.

He is the one who we have to watch closely because everything will end up the way he wishes it to. From what I know nothing similar to the Kyrgyz scenario is likely to happen here, at least not in the near future, for as he said: “Akayev was a weak-willed leader who failed to implant democracy in Kyrgyzstan” and he also asserted that he would never let the situation develop into something as serious as a nationwide revolution.

Also, kudos for the whole coverage. Registan is evolving into a major newssource for Uzbeks these days!

No CNN, no BBC, no Russian TV, etc. It’s good that at least some of the English websites are not under attack yet since I’ve been able to read accounts from Registan.net and the like.

Jim Hoft May 15, 2005 at 2:05 pm

Nathan- You are doing an outstanding job with the sad news that we are hearing. This man in charge sounds ruthless! I was figuring that if there were around 500 bodies at the school as we are now hearing, then that would be somewhere between “1 in 4” or “1 in 8” dead at the protest. That is an absolute bloodbath! Correct me if I am mistaken.

Nathan May 15, 2005 at 2:12 pm

Thanks.

I’m not sure the number is actually as high as 500. There are some great comments about the number on this post. I’m more comfortable with putting it at 200.

Also, I think the number of people at the protest when troops opened fire was at least 10,000.

I don’t think we’ll actually ever know the right numbers. Suffice it to say that opening fire on the crowd was a disproportionate response to the situation and I could see this biting Karimov in the ass in the future.

Onnik Krikorian May 15, 2005 at 2:58 pm

Do you think that at the very least, Karimov might at least try and resolve the problems that resulted in this situation (if only to save his own neck in the future because troubles will not go away and will probably be worse next time around) or should and does it require serious engagement from the international community, especially the US?

Lyndon May 15, 2005 at 3:02 pm

Nathan, you are doing a great job on this. Keep it up – your blog is the gold standard of the blogosphere for thorough coverage on Central Asia.

As you know, I don’t usually focus on this part of the world, but I have become caught up in following these events – at first I was just interested to know what happened, then I realized the extent of the media blackout and the fact that I was getting hits from people in Uzbekistan, which has motivated me to spend more time on this than I would have otherwise. I am probably going to scale back after today (especially since the situation seems to have stabilized, although who knows what else might happen), but I will definitely be coming back to Registan when I’m in need of an update.

Watch out – you’re getting mentioned by sources that Karimov’s guys may be monitoring (and I’m sure they know about your site already). I guess you’ll know you’ve arrived and are getting the same level of respect as CNN and the BBC when you’re banned in Uzbekistan. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens – though I hope it doesn’t – to be honest, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet, since I think your site is pretty well-known.

Katy May 15, 2005 at 3:34 pm

Don’t forget to spread to friends in UZ that are alumni of U.S. State Department programs that they can go to any IATP center to get unfiltered internet access: http://www.iatp.uz/

Lyndon May 15, 2005 at 3:46 pm

Wow, I have always had a lot of respect for the IATP program, and the fact that it provides unfiltered access when other access points in the country are being filtered is very impressive. How can they guarantee that? Agreement with the country(ies) receiving the aid? A type of connection that somehow differs from the ones in the rest of the country? Very interesting.

praktike May 15, 2005 at 4:11 pm

Nathan, to me, the most telling sign that this isn’t some kind of Islamist uprising is all of the photos of the women involved.

Nathan May 15, 2005 at 4:26 pm

Good point praktike.

Lyndon, if I remember correctly, they just don’t go through the government’s servers like all the private services do. Some little shred of memory in my brain tells me I once knew how it worked, but it is, alas, gone.

Nathan May 15, 2005 at 4:28 pm

Oh, and Onnik, I don’t think he’s going to take care of the problem in this case because I’m not sure he realizes what the problem is or has the ability to tackle it. He’s really caught between a rock and a hard place on the economy. The local prosecutors tried to address the proximate cause of the situation–the charges against the 23 men–but we don’t know how that would’ve played out.

Katy May 15, 2005 at 9:07 pm

Lyndon, the orgs that faciliate IATP for the U.S. State Department get independent sources for incoming internet, often satt communication. Either that or they work out an agreement with their ISPs. It really depends on the country.

IATP is a part of the aid packages that are put together.

Hope this helps a bit!

Bertrand May 16, 2005 at 12:14 am

I live in Uzbekistan and have multiple sources for information here — including local citizens. However, Registan.net has become a must view for me because of its inclusion of a broad range of information.

As authorities here are attempting a news blackout regarding Andijon, it is entirely possible they will at some point try and block Registan.net. You may want to post information on how to use proxy servers in case that happens.

david l May 16, 2005 at 12:57 am

First decent international response is from the Brits. “Jack Straw, said he was ‘extremely concerned by reports that Uzbek troops opened fire on demonstrators in Andizhan.’ and a fairly strong hint that UK presidency of EU will take a tough line. Full statement on fco.gov.uk

Comical Uzbek response:

Uzbekistan was surprised by the statement from UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who, despite being thousands of kilometres away from Andijon, is so well informed about the details of the clash in this town,” the document says.

How did Mr Jack Straw know that the law-enforcement agencies ‘started shooting demonstrators’ if nothing of this kind ever happened?

and so on, in typical MFA surreal style..

uzari May 16, 2005 at 12:59 am

Also here in Uzbekistan. Thanks very much to both Registan and Scraps of Moscow for providing information that is blocked here. We’ve been checking you guys several times a day.

IATP sites, are, unfortunately, subject to many of the same filters as the rest of internet access in Uzbekistan. Some users know ways to get around the blocking, but it’s the political reality nonetheless.

Lyndon May 16, 2005 at 2:47 am

If you’re in Tashkent and can go to this memorial rally today – http://scrapsofmoscow.blogspot.com/2005/05/minute-of-silencemourning-scheduled-in.html – it would be interesting to hear a report on how that goes.

David L., thanks for putting up those comments. It looks like the Uzbek authorities are confident in their ability to keep the real story from coming out. Their mentality seems to be, “if we say it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen” – very Soviet – and “if we keep all journalists out of the area, who are you say it happened?” (those are not actual quotes, just my impersonation of the mentality)

Katy May 16, 2005 at 5:52 am

I think that IATP filters against adult content, but as far as political blocks, it shouldn’t be. Or at least that is the goal.

Lyndon May 16, 2005 at 6:42 am

Uh, in that last comment, I meant – “who are you TO say it happened?” The lack of new news from downtown Andijan confirms the Uzbek authorities partial success at keeping a lid on information for the time being – I’ve translated from Russian some fresh reports from Monday midday Moscow time here – http://scrapsofmoscow.blogspot.com/2005/05/reports-on-number-of-dead-arrested.html – these weren’t in the western media at post time (maybe because of credibility issues with the information provided by the Uzbek MVD).

Schwartz May 16, 2005 at 8:05 am

I’ve been away for a few days. This matter in Andijon (that’s a very French spelling, isn’t it?) is flaring up…

A quote from the Wikipedia: On September 1, 1991, Uzbekistan reluctantly declared independence. While the Baltic States led the fight for independence, Central Asian states were afraid of it. “The centrifugal forces pulling the Union apart were weakest in Central Asia. Well after the August 1991 coup attempt, all Central Asian leaders believed that the Union might somehow be preserved,” wrote Michael McFaul in Russia’s Unfinished Revolution.

Our Uzbekistan special editor Olesya has made many remarks in the same fashion: stability stability stability at any cost.

But there is an irony in this: were “something big” to happen in Uzbekistan, it would be due to this (cycloptic?) desire for peace and quiet…

Just a thought.

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