Andijon A Year Later (Updated)

by Nathan Hamm on 5/13/2006 · 13 comments

[Updated to include “Tragedy of Andijon” video distributed by Uzbek Embassy]

As one might expect, there are quite a few stories on Andijon coming with tomorrow’s anniversary.

A small protest took place in Tashkent demanding an independent investigation into last year’s protest and crackdown in Andijon.

Authorities today tore down banners that had been unfurled by the handful of protesters reading, “Shame on Uzbekistan, Shame on [President] Islam Karimov.”

More protests took place around the world. The Congress of Democratic Uzbekistan held one in New York and Erk held one in Istanbul.

Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan who wanted to hold rallies in commemoration had their efforts blocked by Kyrgyz officials.

“Unfortunately, we cannot hold a protest tomorrow because, according to Kyrgyz law, we don’t have the right to stage political actions,” Mukhtarov said. “According to Kyrgyz law and the UNHCR, refugees cannot participate in any political meetings or protests.”

Mukhtarov and other organizers were summoned today to the Immigration Department in Osh. Mukhtarov said he expected authorities there to ask Uzbeks to sign letters pledging not to hold any political rallies as long as they are in Kyrgyzstan.

The report mentions that there will be attempts to hold a demonstration in Qorasuv. RFE/RL has another story on planned rallies in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbek efforts to keep things under control in Andijon.

“You see, no one [in Uzbekistan] will mark May 13,” Razzakov says. “Quite the opposite. [Authorities] have begun holding concerts of Andijon performers in the stadium. They want to brainwash the youth [and] the people, and turn a day of sorrow into a holiday.”

Israiljon Kholdarov, the chairman of the Erk party’s chapter in Andijon Province, is another recent arrival in Kyrgyzstan. He says authorities in Andijon have warned relatives of those killed last year to limit traditional ceremonies for the dead to strictly private affairs.

“According to Uzbek custom, there is a wake on the first anniversary of a relative’s death,” Kholdarov says. “There are two [security-service] officers and one militiaman outside the homes of every family in which a relative died [last year in Andijon]. They are telling the families not to invite people to [mark] the anniversary, and the mahalla [neighborhood] leaders are supporting it.”

RFE/RL also reports that Qorasuv has experienced a mini-economic boom in the last year after Uzbeks built makeshift bridges so they could trade in the bazaar on the Kyrgyz side of the border.

One woman credited the one illegally built bridge that authorities left standing with providing a lifeline for jobs and families separated from their loved ones.

“The best thing is that they opened this bridge,” she said. “A lot of people earn money this way [and] they’re happy. They earn enough from this work. Those who work here don’t complain. It’s good here. Everything has gotten better. There are many people who have relatives in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and by opening this crossing it helps them [to see one another].”

One Uzbek woman expressed her anger at Uzbek President Islam Karimov for what happened in Andijon and what happened to those who later built such bridges. She also questioned the shiny gloss that many of her fellow Uzbeks were putting on commerce in Kara-Suu.

“I can say that I’m not afraid of Karimov; I’ll say it openly,” she said. “The people who built this bridge were put in jail, and people here are able to work because of their labors. They should let them out of jail. Those people should be here, creating conditions for us to work.

IWPR reports that allowing the bridge to stay open is one of a number of signs that the Uzbek government understands and is taking some steps to address the roots of popular anger.

RSF issued a press release drawing attention to how press freedom has suffered over the last year. EurasiaNet comments on attacks on critics of the Uzbek government that have appeared more commonly in the Uzbek press since Andijon, noting an irony in the attacks.

By attacking its critics, the Uzbek government is violating a cardinal rule of advertising: never mention your competitor. For example, the UzReport web site recently criticized a Freedom House report on Uzbek media. But in attacking it, UzReport also called its readers’ attention to the report. All it forgot to do was provide a hyperlink to Freedom House’s site.

Likewise, the Uzbekistan prosecutor general likely brought to a wider audience Amnesty International’s report on the death penalty, when he quoted from the report that “Uzbekistan’s inadequate justice system enables a wide range of legal mistakes, and sentences are often passed based on unfair court proceedings,” before saying this statement is unfounded, in a report distributed by the officials Russian RIA Novosti news agency.

I am far more hesitant than them to suggest that this could be evidence of Uzbek journalists subverting the system by “finding ways to provide both sides of the debate,” but it is interesting to note nonetheless.

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reports marking the anniversary. Reuters offers the condensed version.

Gulnoza Saidazamidova has a story summarizing Andijon’s impact on international relations.

Given tomorrow’s anniversary, one cannot help but be somewhat alarmed by this story.

“An unidentified armed group of more than six people attacked a border post near the village of Lakkon, which is in the Isfarah district of Tajikistan’s Soghd province, from Kyrgyz territory,” Assozadeh said. “They shot and killed two of [our] border guards and wounded another. They also seized 19 automatic rifles and one heavy-caliber machine gun before [returning to] Kyrgyzstan and heading toward [Kyrgyzstan’s] Batken region.”

Isfara is to the east of Khujand on this map.

Kyrgyz officals claim the fighters came from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan and that the attack was preceded by an attack on an Uzbek border post. This has not been confirmed by the Uzbek government.

Tashtemir Eshaliev, who heads the security and defense department in Batken region, subsequently told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that the group was believed to comprise Tajik citizens with suspected links to Islamic militants. He linked the attacks to the Andijon anniversary and said the alleged militants suffered losses while battling Kyrgyz troops.

“They are citizens of Tajikistan, from the town of Kanibadam in Sogdh Province,” Eshaliev said, adding: “Their aim is to aggravate the situation in connection with [the May 2005] Andijon events [allegedly in support] of terrorists. This is why they came. These [people] used to work with members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir [radical Islamic grouping] in Uzbekistan. One of them has been arrested and another one had died. We’re trying to find the rest of them.”

More reports are sure to be found at RFE/RL’s Andijon page and elsewhere over the weekend. I’ll be away for the weekend, so please feel free to post links to any reports that you might find to be particularly worth reading.

For old coverage, see the article I wrote for openDemocracy last year, the May 2005 archive and the Andijon archive (which is light right now, but I’m going to try to recategorize some of the better posts from last year to make them easier to find).

UPDATE: Brian managed to find a video distributed by the Uzbek Embassy in Belgium called “Tragedy of Andijon.”

I am fairly confident it’s the video mentioned here, but I have to wonder whether or not it is the one that Bobojonov talked about.

New links on the anniversary are going into the News Wire.

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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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Jim Hoft May 13, 2006 at 6:34 am

Nathan- What a terrific piece you put together here on this horrific event in Andijan. YOu are truly the expert. This is a very sad day to remember.

Jonathan May 13, 2006 at 9:01 am

Nathan – great article. The Uzbek response to demonstrations, but the Kyrgyz is lamentable – it stands in stark contrast to their heroic efforts immediately after the massacre. The US did renew its call for an international investigation, but still not enough is being done.

Brian May 13, 2006 at 12:43 pm

The Kyrgyz response is lamentable, but I think understandable, given the precarious nature of their country right now. UNHCR is right, I think, to have a general policy of discouraging overt political activity while awaiting a pending refugee status.

Regarding the embassy video, as I’ve mentioned to Nathan previously, considering what I’ve read about it before, it’s actually less revealing than I’d thought it would be. We already knew that there was a prison break, we knew a bunch of guns were stolen, and we already saw pictures of gunmen, so I don’t think this proves anything new (if you just go by the video footage and not the narration or the seemingly scripted confessions). Also, to me what this highly edited video doesn’t reveal is interesting. This was mainly a video created by those ‘terrorists’ themseves, and yet there’s little to suggest to me that these were organized international Islamic militants, save for one 2-second shot of some people saying ‘allah-akbar’, for which we don’t get any context.

It doesn’t show the demonstrators gathering in Babur Square, nor the aftermath of that. It’s just a series of short clips with a lot of narration. Maybe I’m being naive, but we already knew that a prison was busted and a lot of criminals probably did get get a lot of guns, and a lot probably weren’t particularly friendly fellows that surely caused violence. However, IMO it still doesn’t contradict the numerous eyewitness acounts of what happened that day.

I’d suggest first watching the video without audio.

Lyndon May 13, 2006 at 4:23 pm

The “Andijan Tragedy” video, or something that sounds very much like it, is going to be shown next Tuesday in DC at an event jointly sponsored by CACI at Hopkins-SAIS and the Hudson Institute. The email (jointly from CACI and from the Hudson Institute) announcing the screening bills the video as something “made available to us by the Uzbek Embassy in Washington DC that shows clips recorded by members of Akromiya (Hizb ut-Tahrir splinter group) during the uprising in Andijan, Uzbekistan on May 14, 2005.”

The email goes on:

“Notwithstanding the severity of the Uzbek government’s response, this video demonstrates that the organizers of the uprising may not have been, as some have claimed, ‘peaceful Muslims.’ Following the screening we will hold a discussion on U.S. policy in Uzbekistan.”

So this looks to be a bit of an attempt at image management that’s being put out by Uzbek Embassies around the world.

Spanky McBean May 13, 2006 at 8:52 pm

It is despicable that Freddy Starr, Zany Baran and the CHUDson Institute are doing Karimov’s billing in Washington. Even if there were some armed men in the crowd, indiscriminately shooting heavy machineguns into a crowd that includes unarmed men, women and children is a horrendous crime against humanity. Those who apologize for such crimes are immoral scoundrels. The Uzbek Embassy in DC must be paying their shills well on this anniversary. Their video is an appalling (and classic) manipulation pieced together by low-budget morons who can’t even dub decent English.

Alexander Morrison May 14, 2006 at 2:38 am

Interesting to see the new Uzbek official line (slightly toned down from previous wild allegations of CIA and BBC involvement) in this video. I agree with Brian – it shows us nothing we didn’t know before; I notice they couldn’t resist a dig at international Aid and Human Rights Organisations by intercutting images of two westerners with footage of the drama theatre on fire, and alleging that they had ‘arranged’ this to attract attention to the incident. Also, what on earth was that doctor going on about when he alleged that “even Nazis and Mensheviks” never killed medical personnel: a pretty strange juxtaposition. I don’t think that any of the “confessions” are likely to be reliable, but above all the film fails in convincing us of perhaps its most important contention: that civilians were rounded up into the square by force and used as a human shield, thus placing the blame for their deaths squarely on the “terrorists” rather than the security forces. There is nothing in any of the footage to suggest this, and that’s before we even get on to what has probably been cut out. So long as no independent inquiry is allowed, the Uzbek regime can’t expect anyone other than fellow-travellers such as Starr and Akiner to swallow such blatant propaganda (and by the way, wasn’t it funny to hear ‘demure, petite’ Professor Akiner dubbed into English with a growly, heavily-accented male voice? It renders her cringe-making interview on Akhbarat even less convincing than before).

Laurence May 14, 2006 at 9:17 am

Nathan, Thank you for posting these links…

Rustam May 14, 2006 at 9:41 am

Alexander – I have not seen the film but I know what that doctor was saying. These killers in SNB who made this film were responding to what people wer saying, ordinary people who were shot close to the Teshik-Tash, border with Kyrgyzstan, this part makes it clear that the film is compilation of exact demands set out by the SNB, argument against the argument, not what really happened.
Do You remember Mahbuba Zokirova’s testimony at the Stalinist trial of alleged “terrorists”?
All this what this doctor is saying is a kind of an answer to what she said on her testimony and which was heard by many foreign HR organizations and other NGOs, SNB had to insert this to lessen the devastating affect of that testimony.
Exactly to this part of her testimony – “When we reached the town of Teshiktosh on the border, no one had any weapons. There were women, old women, pregnant women, and children. They took headscarves and made a white flag. The men said, “They won’t shoot. We’ll send you, the women, across [the border]. If they shoot anyone, they’ll shoot us.” When we went, they didn’t pay any attention to the white flag. The worst part is, even Hitler didn’t shoot people who raised the white flag. They fired. I saw it with my own eyes. I swear on my four children — they fired.”

Rustam May 14, 2006 at 9:44 am


Rustam May 14, 2006 at 10:26 am

Brian – as You said watched the video without audio.
The “Terrorist ARMY” according to the video was at most 30 people, armed with AK-47 and Dragunov sniper rifles. The response to it from the Government side could be seen in these pictures
or these
In the film it repeatedly shows the burning theatre, today posted the report of “EZGULIK” Uzbek HR NGO on the events of Andijon, in it one eye witness for 100% confirms that the Theatre was set a light by a yonger brother of his friend, Shuhrat, who works for the MVD (police), he is sure of it because he saw him in a civilian clothe with a canister of petrol, he went into the theatre and came out and run away, this guy stood there unable to capture what is going on and then saw flames smoke coming out from the roof.
Shirin Akiner – no comment on her!!!!!!
The reason why it makes an accent on the fact that several of these defendants are from Kyrgyzstan and “beautiful” life of Andijon is the fact that Karimov wants to say that it is not my dictatorship but “evil forces” from Kyrgyzstan, foreigners are the reason. But it is stupid and directed towards those who don;t understand the Central Asia and Uzbekistan, all of these citizens of Kyrgyzstan are as much as Uzbeks as anyone living in Tashkent, and they are there at that time beacause his relatives were among those who were put into jail. And did You notice that most of them normal, ordinary, cecular people, members of the same family, neighborhood. They just do not fit the typical stereotype of Bin Laden type terrorist, they look too civil, one can not imagine them living in Tora Bora, their look is not so evil as one would like it to be.

Brian May 14, 2006 at 11:58 am

I think we should be careful not to get too passionate so that it will cloud our objectivity. However, after I saw the video I was like “That’s it?”. This was a video that the ‘terrorists’ themselves made. Where were the speeches against secular rule or diatribes quoting Quaranic scripture? These are the wahabbis that want to establish a caliphate across all of central asia, right? This video doesn’t rule that out, but certainly doesn’t establish it, in my opinion.

Azjon May 15, 2006 at 5:27 am

How predictable, first they(the government)slaughter innocent people and than they explain us why all the killings were necessary.I meet with refugees every week and they tell me somewhat different story. Also, that’s the worst video ever made.

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