Andijon & Beyond

by Nathan Hamm on 5/16/2005 · 21 comments

Uzbek troops apparently have put down a protest in Pakhtabad, a town about 20 miles from Andijon. Local human rights groups say 200 people were killed. The rights group cited in the story is the only source I’ve seen for the story.

Kara-Su appears to be well outside of government control though the town is surrounded. On the BBC last night, people in the town sounded motivated primarily by a desire to re-open cross-border trade. One leader was quoted as saying he could care less if Karimov quits–so long as he leaves them alone and lets them make a living, they will leave him alone.

Dee has an interesting quote from Andijon.

I’ll be busy today. Feel free to post updates and links in the comments.

Update: Favorite line I’ve seen in the comments so far:

All this Islamist stuff aside, any government that says you can’t sell strawberries to your neighbours on the other bank of the river is going to find people on the streets sooner or later.

Courtesy of David.

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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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david l May 16, 2005 at 7:52 am

In a telling comment on what most people in the region are really concerned about, is reporting that today Uzbeks are now selling strawberries one and a half times as cheap as in Kyrgyzstan at a makeshift bazaar at the reconstructed bridge in Karasu. All this Islamist stuff aside, any government that says you can’t sell strawberries to your neighbours on the other bank of the river is going to find people on the streets sooner or later.

Schwartz May 16, 2005 at 8:01 am

I’ve been away for a few days and am just getting back into this. Wow! What the heck is happening over there?

I agree with your analysis in an earlier entry: this appears to be inspired more by quality of life issues than ideological or “quality of mind/spirit.”

Yet, these events have suspicious timing, for the Tulip Revolution was not even two months ago. Perhaps *some* individuals or factions are trying to create a “colour revolution” in Uzbekistan, or at least make it appear that this is what is happening (a strategy to scare the Karimov government onto a new economic course.)

Also: perhaps this has been mentioned before, but is there any ethnic/religious connections between the folk of Kara-Su and Kyrgyzstan?

Just some initial thoughts and wonderings, some of which may have already been addressed in priour discussions.

Keep up the excellent coverage!

david l May 16, 2005 at 8:21 am

Best leave the conspiracy theories to the russians – they’re so good at it! As for connections – yes there are ethnic uzbeks in Kyrgyz Kara-su who are often related to uzbeks in Uzbek Kara-su. But for the last 2 years they have had to travel 20 km around to the nearest border post after uzbek authorities pulled down the bridge that connects them.

jonathan p May 16, 2005 at 8:27 am

I’ve been on the road for a couple days, so practically my only source of info was CNN/Fox, et al. I have to say that the cable news networks’ tendency to dismis this thing as a case of Islamic extremists raising hell makes me sick.

Granted, there may have been some people of that ilk who got involved in the protests (and may have even tried to use it for their own purposes), but to oversimplify the whole thing by mentioning “Islamic militants” in the same breath as “hundreds of protestors killed” makes me angry.

Nathan and co. are justifiably reluctant to get behind claims that upwards of 700 people have been killed. I also understand and agree with Nathan’s caution in regards to developing a strong opinion about the root causes of these events (Islamist, economic, familial, ethnic, criminal, etc.). Both the causes and the effects are likely more complicated than we’ll ever fully understand. I commend Nathan for his coverage and restraint on this developing story. I look forward to reading his analysis at a later time.

That said, I’d like to play devil’s advocate a bit (those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while, will understand what I mean in a moment) by pointing out that there are, of course, people who are oversimplifying the whole story from the opposite viewpoint.

For example, I have found many of my local Uzbek friends are turning to for information on the events in Andijon. This is a very opinionated site, and often posts articles that say things like this:

“This brutal massacre was carried out by the regime of President Islam Karimov, one of the Bush administration’s closest allies in Central Asia. His military forces that executed the mass killings have been trained, supplied and aided by the Pentagon.”

The author of the above is a “Socialist” and so you can take what he says for what it’s worth in your book. But I think it’s interesting that his opinion would be on

Also, I found this commentary from a the left-leaning’s Juston Raimondo to be entertaining/interesting. I realize this guy is about as far from Nathan’s point of view as could be imagined, so let me say that I’m not trying to tick Nathan/Lawrence/etc off by posting this. I just thought posting some of what he said (and his source material) would be one way to broaden the discussion a bit. He says things like:

“The unrest is spreading fast, and its present course is not predictable, but of one thing we can be sure: if President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus – that “outpost of tyranny,” in Condoleezza Rice’s phrase – mowed down 500 civilian protesters, the White House surely would not be urging restraint on the part of the demonstrators. Instead, they would be calling for Lukashenko’s ouster, all the while pouring money and resources into yet another one of their color-coded coups. They’d have the Belarusian bully up on charges before the International Criminal Tribunal so fast his head would spin, but Karimov – who isn’t just a bully, but is now a mass murderer – is highly unlikely to meet such a fate.”

I know it’s not that simple, but what he says above is sadly true for the most part.

OK, I’m done. Don’t kill me for posting this stuff. I just thought it was interesting to see some other viewpoints.

jonathan p May 16, 2005 at 8:34 am

Yes, david, the Russians definitely have a way, don’t they? The Russian foreign minister said today that “Talibs” were behind uprising in Uzbekistan.

According to a story at RIA Novosti
Sergei Lavrov “suggested the UN Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee, the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Anti-Terrorist Committee, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization should be engaged in the investigation.”

That pretty much tells you what Russia’s take on this is going to be.

david l May 16, 2005 at 8:49 am

But some OK stuff from independent Russian journalists – Arkady Dubnov at Vremya novostei one of the best informed. As for, of course hardly the most objective source, but a useful take on what radicalish Muslims will make of this. And yes, like it or not, they’re going to blame the US. There’s no doubt that Uzbekistan’s failure to make it into the Rice list of tyrannies (even Egypt made the last one) doesn’t look terribly evenhanded. And there will be questions in Congress about whether counter-terrorism training is such a great idea for Uzbek security forces if this is their idea of ‘terrorism’. Time for some smart thinking in the White House…

jonathan p May 16, 2005 at 8:55 am

Right you are, david.

Here’s something interesting about Kara-Su from Itar-Tass at

“Police patrols and details of troops appeared in the streets of the Uzbek part of Kara-Suu for the first time over the past two days. This notwithstanding, local residents do not take any destabilizing actions,” sources noted. They claimed that there were no firing engagements in the city, as claimed by some mass media.”

jonathan p May 16, 2005 at 8:59 am

And here’s something even more interesting: “Uzbekistan to allow diplomats to Andizhan” reads the headline at Reuters.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw “said Uzbekistan’s foreign minister informed Britain’s ambassador he was prepared to organize a visit to Andizhan on Tuesday for ambassadors,” says the story.

Matt W May 16, 2005 at 10:28 am

David– You are, of course, right to be cautious of conspiracy theories for Andijon, but:
1) societies of conspiracy theorists (and that includes the Uzbeks, probably even more so than the Russians) breed conspiracies
2) the beginning of this and, as far as I understand, the one organized armed attack by non-government militants in Andijon City proper, was a jailbreak, in which a lot of rich kids and other influentials locked up in the last chistka escaped– that’s not the mark of a spontaneous revolt sparked by general economic conditions (like the the Qo’qon revolt probably was– they attacked the tax police, MVD, etc.)

I think the Kara-Suu question deserves some more attention, BIG money there– as far as I remember, the Kara-Su bazaar is “managed” by an influential Osh businessman (an informal survey I did a couple of years back had a good portion of respondents listing him as one of the ten most influential people in Southern Kyrgyzstan). Not sure if he’s ethnically Uzbek or Kyrgyz and whether or not he has ties to influentials in Uzbekistan. I’m sure some of our Kyrgyz participants can shed much more light. A little help here?

I’m not saying the whole thing was orchestrated, there’s obviously a huge mass of people who weren’t planning to be involved in this the morning before it happened. But I DO think the jailbreak and some of the border activity is too organized and concentrated to be spontaneous.

roya May 16, 2005 at 10:31 am

Man even when things go down in Uzbekistan Afghanistan is forgotten. Come on Nate! Just kidding. I’ve blogged on both of late.

david l May 16, 2005 at 11:12 am

Matt – you might be right – I was thinking about nonsensical ‘international’ conspiracies, either ‘its all the Americans’ (seen on several Russian websites) or its some deep al-qaida/taliban plot planned in Kabul (Lavrov et al). Local planning is different – accounts of the jailbreak still differ, so its hard to say, but the fact that this happened on the day the sentences were supposed to be announced (but were then delayed) gave an initial impression that there was some planning. But subsequent accounts are more confused.

As for the bazaar theory, Karasu was doing pretty nicely anyway, you could say – it was Uzbeks in Andijan, rather than Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh/Karasu that were suffering most from the border regime. Also not clear that Karasu owners – Kyrgyz as far as I know – Bayaman Erkinbaev (and maybe Murat Malabaev still has a stake? our Osh correspondents can confirm) and so on really would be interested in this kind of upheaval. Seems more likely that this was the Akramiya businessmen (however they prefer to be labelled) and their supporters, who were simply fed up with the court proceedings. You can’t exclude some struggles among regional elites. But there are always different layers. Start unravelling them all, you go a bit crazy.

Eric May 16, 2005 at 11:44 am

I can just see the students at Andijon institutes getting today and tommorow off for subotnik so they can “tidy up the streets” for the important guests…

As to the jailbreak, it certainly seems possible to me that the break itself was organized by family/clan/money/faith connections who, perhaps cynically, thought that the supporters in the street could be used as cover. That is the only rational I can think of for an act that desperate. (Although, frankly, were I a defendent on a Stalinist show trial, I wouldn’t think that such a bad idea at all.)
However, reguardless of the actual motivations for the jail break, even if it was a cell of battle hardened, Taliban trained, IMU fighters fueled up on vodka (they are Uzbek afterall), that doesn’t bring 10,000 people out to hang out and listen to speaches around the ugly Bobur statue. There may well not be 10,000 extremists in the whole valley. Blaming the attack on terrorists can do nothing to detract from the immensity of that much public solidarity for change.
The Boston Tea party was, afterall, about tea, taxes, and business. The motivation for the fires spark is inconsequential if your house is burning.
There is nothing that Karimov or the Russian government can say against that picture of Andijon’s centeral roundabout packed with squatting people who won’t sit on the pavement because its cold, who haven’t brought anything to sit on, but all insist on staying. It still shocks me.

Nathan May 16, 2005 at 11:48 am

Eric, I just gave this a closer read, and it nearly convinces me that the protesters themselves were the ones who stormed the prison and did so because the SNB had been arresting people outside of the courthouse on the 12th. It sounds like it just snowballed into seizing the whole town. Which, honestly, sounds more plausible to me than a number of other ideas I’ve had about the situation.

Eric May 16, 2005 at 12:01 pm

Yea, good stuff from IWPR as always though. I wish the vagueness could be cleared up about “moved towards military bases”. Starting to arrest the crowd would certainly be a trigger but that doesn’t really explain the guns. Sure, most Uzbek males know their way around a Kalashnikov but it seems so odd that it came to that. It wasn’t exactly the Bastille.
Unless there is some clear explanation for the presence of assult rifles (“they on had the rifles after seizing the place” “there were a number at the check point into the building”) and a reason why they took the step of using them (“There were physically threatened” “someone snapped”) then the authorities will always be able to spin it as premeditated and terrorist-ish. People just don’t have guns in Uzbekistan.
Thus my insistence that it really dosen’t matter.

Nathan May 16, 2005 at 12:10 pm

From what I can tell, she was told that they had no guns until they took them from the military base. It seems they didn’t start firing until they went for the SNB.

My primary concern is to make sure that readers in the West don’t buy the Uzbek government’s story without thinking long and hard about what we actually know. Some people on my side of the ideological fence seem way to quick to chalk the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle up to a fanatical mob trying to turn the country into a Taliban clone. On the other side, there are too many people who are eager to label the protest a kumbaya, “can’t we all get along and be democratic?” get-together. We won’t know all the details for a while if we ever do, but suffice it to say that the situation isn’t easy to fit in a box.

Eric May 16, 2005 at 12:39 pm

Certainly. Sparks aside there is much more on the line. I am deeply thankful to Jack Straw for esentially making policy of your stance, “Something aweful happened, the world has a right to know. Show us.”
It is simply reprehensible for the American government to have not only not agreed, but said nothing at all. An American statement similar to Britain’s would help focus American media in a useful direction.
One positive of finishing my Peace Corps service in April is that I don’t have to be there now answering questions from my friends in Andijon about what my country is doing for them in their time of desperate need.
But others are being asked this right now.
One way or another Bush and his boys are going to have to decide if they value Order and Stability over the unknown quantity of Human rights and democracy.
I am not saying it will be an easy choice.

david l May 16, 2005 at 12:40 pm

An interesting report/rumour on (for those who can’t get it) claiming the Uzbek government may be preparing universal conscription/mobilisation. They would have to be mad to try it of course, and I don’t really think lack of manpower is the main problem for the army. Possibly a way of getting angry young men off the streets I suppose, but taking them off the streets and putting them in garrisons with lots of guns doesn’t seem the best way to avoid an all-out armed revolt.

Eric May 16, 2005 at 12:49 pm

Unrelated comment:
Nathan you made the Guardian:

I would like to remind any reporters, if they wish to use the comments of a Peace Corps volunteer to please ask they if it is ok first. Considering the status of Peace Corps in many countries in the world it is essential the Peace Corps, and its volunteeres, remain non-political. Dee may well not mind her comments appearing on that site, but it would be responsiblel to ask. Thanks.
Views expressed by volunteers are, obviously, not those of Peace Corps.

Nathan May 16, 2005 at 12:58 pm

Thanks for the heads-up Eric. I think I might put up a note for the press. Dee just went through and deleted a lot of content and has expressed earlier to me that she is somewhat afraid that Peace Corps will be upset with her.

Lyndon May 16, 2005 at 6:01 pm

Excellent discussion, guys. I did post some of Dee’s content, but I asked her first and she said she was OK with it, plus I’m not really a “journalist,” right? On second thought, maybe I’ll ask her if she wants me to take that post down.

I liked reading these comments all the way down – just about every item that I thought should be responded to was responded to (remarkably, usually in a way similar to – or even more insightful than – what I was thinking of saying) by someone as I scrolled down, so the only remaining thing I wanted to mention was that there are ABSOLUTELY independent Russian journalists who have reasonable and in some cases very insightful views on this. Vremia Novostei has a couple of articles, I think, and one thing which has put up is a partial transcript of Yulia Latynina’s radio program (full transcript in Russian is here –
) from the other day where she makes some pretty good points, in my opinion, but then I’ve always been a Latynina fan –

In all seriousness, though, just because a journalist is Russian or writes in Russian doesn’t mean that they back the Russian government’s policies (Putin’s guys are working on that, but they aren’t quite there yet – and I know no one commenting here has made a blanket statement about all Russian journalists, but sometimes it’s too easy to generalize), and I’ve seen Russian commentators be even-handed and even some who are more critical of the Uzbek authorities than this site generally is. I wish I had more time to translate stuff, but tragically I have to work to pay the rent. And the free internet-translation software that I’ve seen just doesn’t cut it on Russian -> English, unfortunately.

Oh, and that Raimondo piece? He doesn’t impress me with his sharpness of wit, so I’m going to say something unverifiable (like so many of the things we’ve been reading these last few days) and say that he ripped off the Belarus comparison from me:

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