Igor Rotar: Chained Hostages in Andijon

by Laurence on 8/24/2005 · 12 comments

Ferghana.Ru has published a letter from expelled journalist Igor Rotar–no friend of the Uzbek government–describing chained hostages in Andijon on May 13th, and disputing accounts of “peaceful” protesters.

And this is how I came by information on the hostages (policemen and officials) bound together by wire in the first place. I was not present in Andizhan when all of that was happening. I came there in late May. Azimzhon Askarov of Justice (a human rights organization from Dzhalalabad) was the first to tell me about the hostages chained together. A human rights activist from the Kyrgyz town of Bozor-Kurgan, Askarov is an ethnic Uzbek with close friends in Andizhan. He visited Andizhan several days after the tragic events. Since Askarov condemns pitiless suppression of the rebellion, it is impossible to call him prejudiced. When I was in Andizhan in late May, at least a dozen independent sources confirmed what Askarov had told me. I also met [a former] hostage with markings on his body left by torture.

I’d like to emphasize as well that it does not really matter whether or not the hostages were chained. What counts is that gunmen did take hostages, and that is something even devout human rights activists admit. The reports that it was some sort of peaceful demonstration in Andizhan do not check with the fact that on the eve of the massacre some “peaceful” protesters easily overtook the second most heavily guarded prison in the Commonwealth to release several hundreds inmates including criminals and proceeded to smash (quite professionally) a unit of the regular army.


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{ 12 comments }

Nathan August 24, 2005 at 11:25 am

I honestly don’t know anyone well-informed about Andijon that disputes this though or that naively calls those assaulting the prison, etc “peaceful.” Or who hasn’t heard this before for that matter.

The protests during the week leading up to the assault were peaceful, and anyone who conflates the two–whether to deflect blame from the violent protesters or to bolster the government’s case against its critics–is doing a great disservice to honest debate about Andijon.

For most critis of the Uzbek government’s behavior, I don’t think the issue has been that they reacted to the violence or anything about the protesters but about how the government responded.

Matt W August 24, 2005 at 12:56 pm

Yeah, neither the HRW nor the ICG reports– probably the best examples of criticisms of the Uzbekistani government’s behavior– disputed the fact that there was a prison break or that there were armed, violent people in the crowd in addition to a number of peaceful, unarmed protestors. They actually go into great detail on this. So why hyperbolize? I don’t understand these people who come up with some fictional point of view just to present themselves with an easy target.

As for the hostages– it’s really hard to say without an independent investigation, isn’t it?

Brian August 25, 2005 at 12:03 am

I agree with both Matt and Nathan, however I just want to hypothesize something. Igor Rotar emphasizes the fact that a heavily armed base and heavily defended prison were stormed, the implication being that the force attacking them must have been very large, well armed, and well trained. However, look at the situation pre-Andijan in Uzbekistan: people rarely talk-back to the authorities, and even when they are abused by police they just grin and bear it… Uzbeks often refer to each other as behaving like tame sheep. So in this condition, is it possible that this base and prison were completly caught unawares by the attack? I mean, the thought of Uzbeks arming themselves and storming a prison and military base is rather astonishing… and the IMU hasn’t been active for years.

What I’m basically saying is that I suspect that it may have taken far less effort to overrun an Uzbek military post (at that time) than one may think. I may be wrong, though.

david_walther August 25, 2005 at 2:12 am

Brian,

I agree with your point completely, though it’s only speculation from our part. I’ve seen several times what happens when someone stands up to a police officer… they are so surprised, they really don’t know how to handle it. The ‘tame sheep’ metaphor usually works quite well, and when people actually confront them, they really have no idea what to do.

I remember a month or two ago, I was walking off a metro train and up the stairs somewhere in Tashkent, and a policemen slid up next to me and said, “show me your documents.” I just looked at him, shrugged my shoulders, and told him in English “I don’t have them.” He didn’t understand, looked at me questioningly, and I just shook my head. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. I just shrugged my shoulders and walked away, leaving him standing there like that.

I could quote a lot of stories along those lines, personal or from friends, or overheard, and though there are certainly some hard ass cops here (as one would assume the guards would be at one of the biggest prisons in the country)
I think your general theory holds quite true.

Last year during the string of bombings against police targets in late March, I remember people laughing (privately)at the policemen who huddled together in clumps around the city, visibly scared, too nervous or intimadated even to stop people and check their documents as they were supposed to be doing. Within a few days, once it was clear that the plot was not as big or as powerful as feared, and once the trained special forces won the firefights that went on just outside the city, everything was back to normal, but I remember very well that look on their faces. I sympathized with them at the time, thinking they knew full well that anyone in the crowd could want to kill them, and that the rest of the crowd would not sympathize or defend them.

Brian August 25, 2005 at 4:33 pm

David,

Yes, I compeltely agree with you, and your observations about the people’s reactions during those bombings is really interesting. Yes, I remember the first time in Central Asia that I flatly refused to pay a bribe that was demanded (my second day there) and how the police backed down so quickly. From then on my policy was to pay not a single bribe to a police officer. I didn’t, and I had lots of fun with it. I was so disobedient to the cops it was great. They’d tell me to sit down, “no”, tell me to empty my pockets, “no”. It was so sweet. I’d actually look forward to it, because as a law-abiding citizen I never refuse police here at home. Good times, good times.

Nathan August 25, 2005 at 7:14 pm

I was the same way, Brian. Interestingly though, bribery never came up with me. I did refuse to show identification to a cop once unless he showed me his.

Brian August 25, 2005 at 11:48 pm

Ummm… I don’t remember if I was ever explicitly asked for a bribe in Uzbekistan, but I was “asked” in Turkmenistan (at the airport), Kyrgyzstan (actually they blatantly stole money before I demanded it back) and Tajikistan, and also Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Tajik consul in Tashkent wanted a bribe. Oh wait, nevermind… at the OVIR office in Bukhara I was pressured pay a “fine”. I think at that time, though, police in Uzbekistan might have been more reluctant to solicit bribes from foreigners than other central asian countries… but of course locals aren’t extended that courtesy.

Brian August 25, 2005 at 11:54 pm

Hey this is completely off topic, but I just remembered this. Have any of you heard of allegations of corruption at the U.S. Embassy and Soros foundation scholarships? It may only be a false rumor, but I remember someone told me that there was a guy named Alex working at the US Embassy in Tashkent who was selling visas. This guy told me that one of his friends got a visa to America buy paying this guy $3000, I think. I was kind of shocked, but I don’t know if it’s true or not, or even if there was named Alex working there.
Other people have told me that people get Soros or Accels scholarships buy paying off the judges… but that may just be rumor and/or sour grapes.

Anyone else hear of this?

david_walther August 26, 2005 at 12:21 am

Hey Brian,

This might be a late post, since this is travelling down the page… but yes I have definately heard the rumors about buying US visas, only I heard it was something like $7000.

I got pretty angry at the person who was “informing” me of this, because I doubt very much that it is or was true. For that kind of money (and considering the ample salaries that the embassy guys make here, and no local employees have control over who gets issued visas) I can’t imagine that anyone would possibly take the risk of selling visas. Especially after September 11, selling a visa to someone in a moslem country high on the terror alert warning scale would come with an awfully long jail term—definately not worth two weeks of your salary (at $3000 or so), I just can’t see that happening.

Soros is gone, so I haven’t heard anything about them, but I now that local people are concerned about whether Accels is on the level or not. I have been asked by several people, but not had an answer. I can only hope it’s legit… but yes, certaily the rumors go about anything like that.

I think if I added up all the serious rumors I have heard here from more than one source, the track record so far has been that about 1 in 10 turn out to be even partly true. I’d be interested to hear what other rumors people have heard…

Brian August 26, 2005 at 9:08 am

David,

Yeah, rumors fly like mosquitos in Central Asia. That’s why I never followed up on it. But the fact that he had a name (Alex) of a guy at the embassy gave him a bit more credibility, and supposedly this happened before 9/11. Still, who knows? It may all but just the central asian assumption that everything that can be corrupt is corrupt. I’d like to assume my embassy is honest, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time people have sold their soul for small money.

The first time I was in Central Asia I talked to a banker of an Irish development bank at a bar in Bishkek when he told me that they give nice “gifts” to government officals to get their way (he was very drunk). Kinda like bribery.

As far as the (former) Soros / Accels scholarships, I never heard any evidence of corruption, just claims. One problem I think is that I found people assume that the students who speak the best english will be chosen; while I think that it’s also about leadership skills and general smarts.

roshi August 29, 2005 at 12:15 am

The fact that the hostages were bound together with wire actually supports the Akramists’ claim that they had very few guns. If they’d been armed to the teeth, they could have just held their “wall” (as they called it) at gunpoint.

Azjon February 12, 2006 at 2:18 am

To Brian
“Good times, good times.” well it only works if you are from the “West”. If Uzbeks try to do the same they better be ready to name some “big” names or take a beating. I think that Andijon is the “good” example of what happens if one stands up to FUCKING regime. At the same time I’m happy that you were able to make fun of stupid Militsia.

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