Piecing it Together

by Nathan Hamm on 5/23/2005 · 3 comments

The Independent published a story this weekend that attempts to piece together the events of May12-13 in Andijon.

It’s not entirely clear how they pieced it together, and I would by no means take this as a final, authoritative account. I have some qualms with their use of the term “insurgent” and their gratuitous “use” “of” “nonsensical” “quotation” “marks.” Not that those who stormed the prison couldn’t be understood as insurgents in one way or another, but it is quite a loaded term even if the authors clarify it to essentially mean religious Muslims who had taken a liking to the ideas of Akram Yuldashev.

If their account is accurate–and it certainly may well be–it should give pause to those who cast what took place as helpless democracy protesters versus a cruel and violent government. There appears to have been brutality on both sides, though he government’s response was undeniably disproportionate. Also, this reconstruction of events is true, I can’t help but agree with the lack of enthusiasm to take sides on the part of the US. Neither Karimov’s government nor those who seized the prison and reportedly executed all the guards (and more that can be found in excerpts below) are the kinds of people we should be too excited about.

On the massacre:

Two key witnesses interviewed by this newspaper – an “insurgent” who played a key role in the “uprising” and a pro-government former policeman taken hostage by the insurgents – have filled in other gaps in horrifying detail. The crowds, it has been established, were mown down by powerful coaxial 7.62mm machine guns mounted on two Russian-built BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers. Such cannons can unleash 2,000 rounds barely pausing for breath before they need to be reloaded.

A military helicopter was used for reconnaissance purposes and Uzbek troops armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles opened fire on the demonstrators creating a deadly field of fire with the BTR-80s from which there was no escape. The soldiers made sure they had done their work well. After the shooting had finished they went from body to body delivering “control shots” to the back of people’s heads and scoured the town’s streets for survivors to finish off. Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov contends that nobody gave the order to open fire.

The attacks on the prison and other buildings:

The IoS has managed to piece together the most complete sequence of events assembled so far. The “uprising” began in the early hours of Friday morning when at around 12.30 a group of around 30 insurgents attacked a police station seizing weapons. An hour later they attacked a military garrison capturing more weapons and equipment – Kalashnikovs, Makarov pistols, hand grenades and even an army lorry.

Their next stop was the local prison where they released up to 2,000 inmates including 23 prominent local businessmen accused of Islamist extremism. The businessmen’s trial was a key trigger for unrest. Sentence had yet to be passed but the insurgents, some of whom were friends or relatives, were sure they were going to be given stiff jail terms, which they considered unjust.

But at the prison the insurgents did their own killing, murdering guards many of whose weapons were actually unloaded, a government-ordered precaution to prevent them from falling into inmates’ hands. Taking hostages along the way they then tried to seize three key local buildings, Andizhan’s administrative headquarters, the local branch of the Interior Ministry and the office of the National Security Service. They succeeded in occupying the administrative headquarters but met armed resistance at the other two buildings and were repelled. When inside they phoned relatives telling them to join them and that was when crowds that would later swell to several thousand began to form in central Andizhan.

A man who took part in the attacks told the authors that the assault on the prison was not spontaneous, but he refused to say how long the attack had been in the works.

He was among the crowd that at around 5pm on Friday 13 left Andizhan’s central square and wended its way north along Prospekt Julpan. An army helicopter buzzed overhead and two BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers appeared. The crowd, which numbered around 2,000 people – not the 10,000 or more widely reported – presented a strange spectacle. It included armed men, but also unarmed demonstrators, including women and children.

They had tied the hostages in rows of five and ordered them to walk in front for protection. Buttheir path was blocked by the two armoured personnel carriers flanked by Kalashnikov-toting troops. Other soldiers had taken up positions on the overlooking roofs. At that point the Prospect is narrow and when the shooting began it was hard to take cover. “Nobody thought that they would shoot at us,” says the insurgent who walked in the middle of the crowd. “But they did. And everyone dived for cover. Someone next to me was immediately killed.”

The machine guns clattered away remorselessly for two hours and people hid beneath dead bodies in a desperate attempt to avoid the wall of bullets. By the time darkness fell the insurgent had been shot in the arm. He collapsed next to a wall and fitfully fell asleep. When dawn broke he heard more shooting and saw two soldiers combing the dead for survivors. “I closed my eyes and prayed to Allah, that they would spare me.” He described how they weeded out survivors. ” ‘Are you the only one still alive?’ they shouted. ‘Get up. Faster!’ ” Then a shot would ring out and so it went on.

Interestingly, this is corroborated by a human rights activist who the protesters seized as a hostage.

Khodirjon Ergashev is a former policeman who has become a human rights activist for an organisation said to be close to the government. Ergashev was one of those taken hostage by the protesters. When he left the police nearly 10 years ago, he was head of Andizhan’s criminal police department. He was taken hostage when he turned up to try to document the events in his capacity as a human rights activist.

He says his hands were bound behind his back and that he had a conversation with one of the insurgent leaders, Sharifjon Shakirov, a brother of two of the freed businessmen. “He explained to me that the only thing they wanted was justice. He assured me that they would not use their weapons but only peaceful means.”

He and the other hostages were presented to the crowd, bound together by rope strung around their necks. “The terrorists started to accuse us, especially the judges, of having abused our offices. After that the mob started to beat some of the hostages. One of the men stabbed me in the backside with his knife.”

Like I said, this account is by no means gospel truth. Parts of it I recognize from elsewhere, and other parts certainly look like they come from only a couple people. It does highlight the need to an investigation of some kind to get a better idea as to what actually took place that day.


See also the LA Times and the New York Times.

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This post was written by...

– 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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nyjlm May 23, 2005 at 10:13 am

My sister reports that access to registan.net is now blocked in Tashkent.

thanks for providing so much info on Uzbekistan.

Andy May 23, 2005 at 10:55 am

The Sunday Times (London) also had an interesting report, describing how people were ambushed in a few chokepoint streets as they tried to escape.

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