Andijon, Akromiya, & Jihad

by Nathan Hamm on 5/4/2006 · 19 comments

Bakhtiyor Bobojonov of the Institute of Oriental Studies in Tashkent addressed an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Tuesday and discussed Andijon and Akromiya, calling the group a threat to Uzbekistan. Bobojonov’s conclusions are based on a short interview with Akrom Yuldoshev, review of some of his works, and videos from Andijon. Bobojonov served on the expert group the prosecutor’s office assembled to investigate events in Andijon. The event summary provides a history of the organization and its activities.

One of the more important points Bobojonov raises is that Yuldoshev had called for jihad against the Uzbek state shortly before Andijon.

Leaders of Yuldashev’s group often hid the religious basis for their activities, claiming to be reporters or human rights advocates. Their motives were always religious, however. Yuldashev’s commentary to the 61st Surah, written just six weeks before the Andijan violence, contains a call for jihad. I considered the possibility that the commentary could be a fabrication. But when I spoke with Yuldashev he confirmed his authorship. He also said he had overestimated the split in society and called too soon for jihad.

In the beginning only a few Akramia members knew of the group’s political activities. They talked about politics mostly in hints and allegories. While they wanted a caliphate, it was an abstraction for them. There were no plans for an uprising, though they considered it a “delayed duty.” “The Path to True Faith,” written in 1992, does contain hints about fighting.

Considering the sum of Yuldoshev’s statements on Akromiya, one runs the risk of becoming only more confused about the organization. (Background on Akromiya can be found here.) It seems that, at the very least, Yuldoshev himself does not have an altogether too well thought out idea of what he stands for. According to the RFE/RL report on Bobojonov’s talk, Yuldoshev has now determined that his calls for an uprising were premature.

The RFE/RL report is interesting though because it only mentions Bobojonov as having presented Andijon as an uprising planned by a well-trained Islamist organization hoping to spark wider attacks on the government. Julie Corwin does point out that the list of caveats on Bobojonov’s conclusions is a mile long. (It seems that there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of every last person commenting on Andijon.) But for some reason, Marina Barnett’s comments on videos of Andijon are not mentioned in the story. In the CEIP summary, Barnett says,

From these videos it is clear that the Andijan protests were not a spontaneous outburst. Akramia provided meals for people in the crowd and had spokesmen on hand in Western suits. The group had its own security team, which pretended to be a government security force.

The protest was not meant to be peaceful. The video shows the Akramia members were well armed and trained in the proper use of their weapons. One group of youths is shown making tens of Molotov cocktails.

Akramia attracted people to the square in Andijan by setting several buildings on fire, then took the firefighters hostage and would not let the crowd leave.

I really do find it curious that Corwin presented the story as a baggage-laden Bobojonov making these claims alone. I am not entirely convinced that what he claims is 100% true, but from the CEIP summary, he comes off as both serious and not entirely alone in his claims.

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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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Laurence May 4, 2006 at 1:27 pm

Nathan, Thank you for posting this. I hope that Carnegie will make a full transcript and/or audio recording of the event available via the internet. It would also be interesting to see what Registan readers, especially those in Central Asia, might have to say in relation to this account.

Brian May 4, 2006 at 4:27 pm

If Akromiya indeed is a Jihadist organization, I find it odd that they haven’t published a mission statement yet, or publically bragged about the attack on the prison and the turmoil they caused and such. It figures that groups such as these generally wish to make the biggest fracas they can… certainly they don’t deny being a jihadist group like many have.

Nathan May 4, 2006 at 4:43 pm

Some of the denials started to ring a bit hollow after Parpiev’s kind of-sort of call to arms. (More here)

I think it would make sense that they wouldn’t have done much public bragging. They more or less don’t exist anymore. And they already had a mission statement of sorts even if vague.

Brian May 4, 2006 at 5:21 pm

Yes, but even in this he dienied that they’re seeking a jihad. It certainly sounded like he had a bit of a preponderance to violence, but it didn’t sound like an organized jihaddist movement with all the trappings of islamic extremism.

Nathan May 4, 2006 at 5:24 pm

I don’t think it necessarily need be to be jihadist in a narrow sense. There are plenty of extremist groups the world over who don’t have things very well thought out and aren’t very big. What seems to be the difference here, according to the information that Bobojonov gives, is that Akromiya was able to grow at least locally because adherence offered actual benefits. Still, they don’t seem to have ever been very organized and I don’t think everyone’s on the same page.

James May 4, 2006 at 10:05 pm

Nathan points out that Akromiya does not have a completely coherent message together, and there are pretty good reasons for the ambiguity. Add up the following factors:

- As a ground-up organization, Akromiya didn’t exactly have a business model set out when it started, so naturally its message will change over time and depending on who is saying it.
- The Uzbek government has a strong incentive to villify the group. Therefore, there will be government propoganda mixing into the signal we get.
- Yoldashev has been in prison, Uzbek prison no less for the past seven years. Its amazing we are getting any signals from him at all, coherent or otherwise.

Put those points together, and I don’t see how anyone can rationally make a strong argument regarding Akromiya one way or the other. Western academics are working with limited and distorted information, and Uzbek academics like Bobojonov don’t have a choice of position. That fact doesn’t make the position wrong necessarily, but it does mean that we can’t trust it.

I can’t believe I missed that talk…

Nathan May 5, 2006 at 12:01 am

For the record, I agree with what James says 100%. I don’t have a very strong opinion either way because there’s not enough indisputable evidence.

Rustam May 5, 2006 at 3:12 am

I disagree with Mr. Bakhtiyor Bobojonov and with Miss. Barnett.
The reasons:
1. As James has perfectly pointed out “alleged” leader of so called Akromiya former Andijon mathematics teacher Mr.Akram Yuldashev was arrested in 1998 when the infamous “law enforcement” planted drugs and arrested him and since then has been “enjoying” his time in prison as a inmate charged being Islamic wacko, to whom as we know there is a special treatment in the Uzbek penitentiary system;
2. The process in Andijon started neither in spring nor in winter of 2005, it all started in June of 2004, with the arrest of the 23 businessmen – Rasuljon Ajikhalilov, Abdumajit Ibragimov, Abdulboki Ibragimov, Tursunbek Nazarov, Makhammadshokir Artikov, Odil Makhsdaliyev, Dadakhon Nodirov, Shamsitdin Atamatov, Ortikboy Akbarov, Rasul Akbarov, Shavkat Shokirov, Abdurauf Khamidov, Muzaffar Kodirov, Mukhammadaziz Mamdiyev, Nasibillo Maksudov, Adkhamjon Babojonov, Khakimjon Zakirov, Gulomjon Nadirov, Musojon Mirzaboyev, Dilshchodbek Mamadiyev, Abdulvosid Igamov, Shokurjon Shakirov, and Ravshanbek Mazimjonov. They all were charged under Articles 242 (organising a criminal organisation), 159 (undermining the constitutional basis of the republic of Uzbekistan), 244-1 (preparing or distributing documents that contain a threat to public safety) and 244-2 (setting up, leading, and participating in extremist religious organisations) of the Criminal Code. They went to trial on 11th of February of 2005 and all this period, for almost a year they were in prison and court did not hear their case.
3. On 25th of March 2005, 350 people signed a petition calling for their President Mr. Karimov to intervene in the lawless actions of “law enforcement” (how naive) and release these businessmen because 1000′s were left unemployed and they were genuinely helping the population by organizing charities and paying good wages;
4. On April of 2004, human rights activist M. Tadjibaeva currently in prison also wrote a petition addressing it to Karimov, Supreme Court, SNB and others, warning that situation is getting out of hand and the lawless actions of the “law enforcement” does not seem to have limits.
So the point is that everyone knew what is going on, no one cared to listen to the cries and screams of these people and add to this the fact that all other peaceful means of opposition are banned, that neither ERK nor Birlik parties are allowed to participate in the elections, if you protest in the streets you are picked up by a police unit, the corrupt judicial system and dormant parliament, and when people have tried everything they could (pleas and the rest) what do you expect people to do, men who received the blessings and approval from their parents, men whose average age is around 25? And all this talk of “Akromiya” is a bullshit because what Yuldashev did was that he wrote a theological pamphlet “Yimonga Yul” (Path to faith), in which he does not even speak about politics, what he does is that he talks about general moral issues, things like if you follow Quran your life will be excellent, which reminds me of a rabbi saying if you follow ten commandments and Torah then you will have a perfect life.
OK, and even if we agree that their actions were wrong, then why are not we talking about the response of the government, why are not we talking about the massacre of innocent bystanders?
As to the words of Miss. Barnett – why she is so sure that “Akramia attracted people to the square in Andijan by setting several buildings on fire”? Does she have evidence that we do not have?
If the government is speaking the truth then why they are so afraid to let the international team headed by the UN to go in and see what really took place?
And why we are fighting against the NGOs and those in the country who want to have a democracy and justice, instead of supporting secular opposition abroad to win the elections. I know that one can speak of this championing of the cause of the government by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a multiplicity of views but it steers the debate into totally wrong path.
If we will not do anything to win the support of the population in Uzbekistan and in Ferghana Valley, if we will not offer secular alternative to the Islamic approach then we will lose Uzbekistan. After Andijon opposition is using religion as well as social causes as its platform, it is turning like a HAMAS, with its charities and healthy portion of religion. What happened with HAMAS everyone knows, the scenario might be played out in Uzbekistan as well, all the ingredients are there.

Brian May 5, 2006 at 1:39 pm

It does seem a little odd that Yuldashev would have such intimate details of what supposedly happened in Andijan (buildings set on fire to attract people, food served to people to make them stay, etc.) when he’s sitting in a maximum security Uzbek prison. And if he indeed had such details, and if he was indeed so involved, why tell someone so connected with the government so openly? And if he indeed orchestrated this, then why hasn’t he been put on trial along with the others? After all, he did just confess.

And to me, the fact that this particular story has a ring of credibility to it does not give added credibility for the litany of silly conspiracy theories forced out of defendands in the Andijan trials (ie. the US embassy paid Islamic radicals and the BBC supported them). So if the Uzbek government was able to force those people to make absurd confessions, what does that say about their credibility in other things related?

Yet then again, Uzbekistan has had attacks by Islamic radicals all they way till March 2004. And a group of people did overrun a police/military outpost and a prison. And Pariev’s comments did make it sound like violence was on their minds. But journalists at the scene reported a largely secular protest. So what’s the truth???

For lack of knowing any better, it leads me to believe that the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. A violent group, perhaps an Islamist one, probably started things off that day, but the government probably did shoot a whole bunch of people that didn’t deserve to be shot.

What I do know is that it’s a real shame that I don’t trust the Uzbek government one bit because I’d really like to get an honest account of what happened. And what I do know is that the Uzbek government doesn’t seem to be taking and steps to make Uzbekistan a more stable or more livable place.

Nathan May 5, 2006 at 2:22 pm

It does seem a little odd that Yuldashev would have such intimate details of what supposedly happened in Andijan (buildings set on fire to attract people, food served to people to make them stay, etc.) when he’s sitting in a maximum security Uzbek prison

That’s from the videotape. And the impression I get is not that he planned it, but that his followers did in the wake of his comments on the 61st surah.

I think your in-between description is what happened, and I also think that such an explanation is consistent with what’s described to be in the videotapes, first-hand reports, and comments by folks like Parpiev.

Laurence May 5, 2006 at 2:54 pm

I appreciate Rustam’s comments and hope we can get more responses from Uzbekistan. BTW, With regard to HAMAS and USAID, there was an interesting article in the Washington Post on Sunday, with some background information:

In an effort to pressure the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel, the United States has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority. But fortunately for the new Hamas-led government, its cabinet boasts well-trained economists, engineers and planners ready to tackle the fiscal straits. Where did they get that training? Start with Iowa.

Of the 24 cabinet members, four attended college or graduate school — or both — at U.S. institutions, and a fifth had a postgraduate fellowship here. Two other senior Hamas political leaders also earned advanced degrees in the United States.

They were among the hundreds of Arab students drawn to U.S. campuses in the late 1970s and 1980s, a time when the United States was trying to prevent the spread of the Iranian revolution in the Middle East. Some received subsidies through the U.S. Agency for International Development, and others won scholarships through the largely Saudi-funded Arab Student Aid International.

Brian May 5, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Nathan, oh ok, I see. Has anyone here actually seen this video or read this 61st surah?

Laurence, if you’re implying that USAID may have funded Uzbek Islamic radicals because we trained Hamas members in the 70′s and 80′s then one needs only remind themselves of the fall of communism and 9/11. I’m not saying that the US doesn’t do shady things, I just think it’s not plausible that we would have paid Islamic radicals to overthrow a secular government last year. In the 80′s sure, but what worked for our own “best interests” in the 70′s and 80′s doesn’t work today.

Alexander May 5, 2006 at 4:32 pm

“Akram Yuldoshev himself told me it seemed to him it would only take a lighted match to put the whole situation on fire,” Bobojanov said.

And I wonder why that might be? Why did hundreds of people gather in the square at Andijan, because they had read an obscure theological pamphlet, or because they were thoroughly pissed off with the Uzbek Government for closing the border with Kyrgyzstan, or simply because they were curious? Either way, I don’t think they deserved to die. We are no closer here to establishing the identity or numbers of the victims, and I do not for a moment believe the Uzbek Government’s claim that all those killed were ‘terrorists’, or even a majority of them. What may have begun as an attempted coup by the Akramiya turned into a general public protest against the brutality and incompetence of Karimov;s rule – and most of the crowd were unarmed. If you suppress all peaceful opposition to your rule, and criminalise dissent, that’s what’s going to happen. My sympathy is, to say the least, limited.

This is difficult, because I am familiar with Babajanov’s work, and have a lot of respect for him as a scholar. I don’t think he’s lying, and he’s not actually parrotting the absurd Government line (namely the BBC/CIA/Bin Laden conspiracy theory). I just don’t think this information really changes anything. I can’t pretend to much special knowledge, but I did vist Andijan and Kara-Su in 2002, before the border with Kyrgyzstan was closed. I stayed with a local businessman called Farkhat Ismailov who seemed to be running rackets of one kind or another in several bazaars around Kara-su, and I saw the cheap Chinese manufactured goods which had come in from Kyrgyzstan, and they appeared to be a mainstay of the local economy. When Karimov closed the border all that trade would have disappeared. Factor in the arrest of most of the Andijan region’s major employers as ‘extremists’ (and we still don’t know if they really were members of the Akramiya or any other ‘extremist’ organisation), the general crapness of life under Karimov, and the brutal suppression of dissent, and you have a situation where people don’t need to read about ‘Jihad’ or have a religious inspiration in order to revolt. If what Babjanov says is true, they saw the Akramiya’s attempt at a coup d’etat as their opportunity for redress, and understandably so. And, predictably, but not understandably, hundreds of them were shot, and hundreds more became refugees. So what’s new?

Laurence May 5, 2006 at 5:22 pm

Brian, I was taking up Rustam on the HAMAS question, not making any other claims…

Tashkent resident May 5, 2006 at 10:25 pm

Brian said: “What I do know is that it’s a real shame that I don’t trust the Uzbek government one bit because I’d really like to get an honest account of what happened.”

I have yet to find a single citizen of Uzbekistan person who trusts the government here.

Peter N. May 7, 2006 at 9:44 am

Has the March 2005 essay that Bobojonov quoted been made available anywhere? Or, for that matter, the “supplement” to the Path to Faith in which Bobojonov stated Yuldashev presented a five-stage plan for overthrowing the Uzbek government? The copies of the actual “Path to Faith” pamphlet that I have seen have seemed politically innocuous…more like a self-help manual or devotional than a subversive pamphlet. For that reason, I would be interested in any contradictory evidence.

I must admit to being a bit skeptical when so many of Bobojonov’s claims cannot be verified (documents which have not been made available, an interview arranged by the Uzbek government with no outside corroberation.) In addition, some claims seem contradictory — would Yuldashev’s followers have been so detached from Islam to accept the watering-down of the Five Pillars, yet so sophisticated in Qur’anic analysis to pick up hidden references to unquoted suras?

I think it is right to say that Akromiya, whatever that means, was a loose enough organization that could be taken in several different ways, including those (by people like Parpiev) that advocated violence. At the same time, much of what Bobojonov claims seems a bit too close to the official Uzbek government smear campaign for me to not be skeptical.

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