AEI Andijan Panel Video Now Online

by Laurence on 8/17/2005 · 4 comments

You can watch in realtime as Leon Aron moderates Fred Starr’s verbal confrontation with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol over American policy towards Uzbekistan at the July 28th AEI panel. There are also interesting presentations by Chris Seiple, Martha Brill Olcott, and ICG representative Jennifer Leonard–as well a lively audience question-and-answer session, in which former Freedom House specialist Margarita Assenova’s discusses evidence of Islamist guerrilla warfare tactics in Andijan–here.

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Matt W August 18, 2005 at 8:06 am

Interesting for those who have two hours to watch it, plus download time. Generally decent and productive. Some critical observations:

Karimov gets called a “patriot of Uzbekistan” by the guy from the religious group.

Minute 62 has Starr reasserting his ridiculous accusations of Human Rights Watch illegally hiding bodies (though this time he doesn’t finger HRW specifically, he seems to be sticking to his guns in using this example as central to his discrediting of Western human rights organizations in general)– goes into less detail than I remember him doing at the hearings last summer when he appeared in front of the U.S. Congress and actually accused HRW employees (of which there were two in Uzbekistan at the time) of hiding Shelkavenko’s body at their homes. It no longer appears in the revised transcript, so HRW probably succeeded in getting it struck (if anyone has the initial transcript that first appeared, the one with all the sternographer’s phonetic spellings, I’d appreciate the link– this should have the transcript without retractions).

Starr, in justifying Uzbekistan’s reluctance to allow an international investigation on Andijon, also states that HRW was unconvinced after the independent Shelkavenko investigation and took issue with the Canadian forensic scientist. This was part of a “bad experience” with international investigations that Starr uses to explain Uzbekistan’s current aversion to an independent Andijon investigation. However, HRW actually issued a retraction after the Shelkavenko investigation (see- for the full text) and commended the Uzbekistani government for, in this case, doing the right thing.

There’s also a discussion, started by Starr, and continued by Olcott of a supposed outright refusal of U.S. NGOs to work with official Uzbekistani political parties (minutes 108 to 111). Pretty surprising that two experts on Uzbekistan-U.S. relations would make such a statement. NDI and IRI at the very least repeatedly approached official political parties and continually invited them to democracy and other trainings. Additionally, I’m fairly certain that at least NDI has worked directly with official political parties in addition to opposition parties. Less comprehensive, but still significant cooperation with official parties and with the Oliy Majlis in general, at least before Andijon, was fairly common with other U.S. NGOs. Just one example: Urban Institute helped the Oliy Majlis conduct a roundtable on housing policy reform. It’s really the reluctance of the Uzbek side that stops us from working on democracy training, etc. with official Oliy Majlis parties.

David August 18, 2005 at 4:35 pm

Matt you’re right on NDI and hte official parties. The OSCE has also worked with them, as have various European funds, particularly the Germans. But they really have little interest in western approaches to political party building – its not as though they have to go out and get people’s votes or represent their constituents in any real way. Here Starr’s comments are simply way off beam. But in general I thought his position was very isolated in a rather broad panel. His thoughts sounded like those of a man who has been out of touch for too long. Very 1997 or something. Fatuous question from some UZbek working for something called the Open Forum for Human Rights Dialogue, anyone come across this organisation? Sounds like a new Uzbek govt front of some kind.

Bertrand August 19, 2005 at 5:36 am

It’s not all that surprising, but a lot of misinformation was imparted during this discussion, the great majority of it coming from Fred Starr.

Starr’s characterization of Islam Karimov of an almost powerless individual trying to “emancipate” himself from superior forces really stretches credulity. Starr remains Karimov’s strongest apologist in the western world.

Other Starr-isms:

— The attack on the prison came “at a very peculiar time.”

What was so peculiar about the timing? The trial of the businessmen was nearing (a pre-determined)conclusion and there had been peaceful demonstrations- in support of the accused – outside the courthouse for several days, in fact growing in number each day.

— Uzbekistan’s “official” political parties have “taken root.”

What is the evidence of that? The outcome of the December elections was more or less also pre-determined and the parties still don’t seem to be clear on the concept of constituents.

— A new party “surged” so powerfully Karimov had to show them “indirect” and “oblique” support.

One assumes he’s talking about the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, formed in December of 2003. The LDPU was formed specifically on the orders of Karimov. That doesn’t seem all that “indirect” or “oblique.”

Many business people joined the LDPU because they were promised incentives, or in some cases, threatened, which accounts for much of the “surge” Professor Starr observed.

As far as Starr’s and Olcott’s claims that U.S. and other western organizations have not “engaged” the official parties, I think they are misinformed. I agree with Matt and David in being pretty sure that NDI and others have worked with the official parties.

What Starr and Olcott failed to mention is that last year the Uzbek government adopted a law making it almost impossible for Uzbekistan’s political parties to get any form of assistance – including conferences and trainings – from other countries or international organizations. While apparently some ways were found to squeeze around this, it’s not like the Uzbeks are seeking assistance.

As far as Andijan, Starr’s claim that a “commission” involving eight countries is “investigating” what happened is pure nonsense. That group is investigating nothing. They are only hearing and seeing what the Uzbek government chooses to show them and tell them, mostly through the general prosecuter’s office. The U.S. and other western nations correctly refused to participate in what they knew would be – and is – a complete and total sham.

Starr really trips himself up when he uses the example of the independent investigation of the alleged torture death of a prisoner. The Uzbek government WELCOMED that investigation and, far from being “burned” by it, were extremely pleased that it more or less vindicated them on that single incident.

This starkly points out the contradiction in Starr’s position. The Uzbek government is refusing an independent investigation simply because they have so much to hide. If they didn’t, they would welcome one. One wonders why Starr would use an example that destroys his own argument.

As far as not knowing enough about what happened in Andijan, Kristol is right, ICG is right. Starr is whitewashing. To be sure there are many unanswered questions, but enough is known that judgments can indeed be made, as the ICG report, and many others, point out.

Professor Starr had his centuries-old, obscure quotation. How about this one:

“It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits, and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible”.

— Aristotle

Fred Starr is actually right about some things – including the fact there are people with real reform instincts inside the government. His overwhelming desire to protect Karimov, however, destroys his credibility. When it comes to Karimov he is absolutely blind to the truth, apparently hoping to once again write the forward to another Karimov book. Who knows…maybe even ghost write the book?

Finally, the organization mentioned by David is called Open Dialogue. It is not an Uzbek government front. It’s actually funded by USAID. They are trying to foster dialogue between the Uzbek government and those outside the government – not such an easy thing to do in the current environment. The question/statement was a bit odd though.

David August 20, 2005 at 5:30 am

Ah, yes, is Open Dialgoue the outfit run by Mjusa Sever, the former director of Freedom House? She seems to have been ‘moved on’ after her meeting with Karimov, who said he really appreciated all her work – a rather unwelcome recommendation, I suppose. I’d like to hear a bit more about what they’re doing. Are they bringing together victims’ families in Andijan and the people who were shooting at them for some ‘dialogue’? I wonder if USAID should look a little more closely at what they’re funding.

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