Let the Revolution Be Archived

by Sarah Kendzior on 4/7/2010 · 36 comments

Like many readers of Registan following the events in Kyrgyzstan, I have spent the last few hours watching a revolution online. I watched militsiya forces fire into a city street and protesters tip over a police car on YouTube; I saw a devastating photo collection of the violence and its victims on LiveJournal; and I have read constant updates from witnesses of and participants in the events on Twitter — to say nothing of the blog posts and articles from RFE, EurasiaNet, Ferghana.ru, BBC and other media sources.

I have little doubt that the Kyrgyz protests, like those in Iran last summer, are going to be described as a “Twitter Revolution” — a hyperbolic term coined to describe the role of social media in battling authoritarian regimes. While I am skeptical of this take — the internet, I would argue, aggravates suspicion and distrust among opposition forces just as much as it brings them together — it is worth comparing the role of the internet for the current protests in Kyrgyzstan versus the 2005 “Tulip Revolution” — or, more strikingly, the massacre that same year in Andijon, Uzbekistan.

It has been five years since the Uzbek military shot to death hundreds of citizens in Andijon, and still the dominant question surrounding that event is — “What happened?” No one knows what really went down in Andijon, only that it resulted in the deaths of, by the Uzbek government’s count, 187 people, or, by most accounts, at least 800 protesters and innocent bystanders. Like the current protests in Kyrgyzstan, the Andijon events were covered online — but not nearly with the breadth or scope of the current protests in Kyrgyzstan. There were no YouTube videos, no Twitter updates, no Facebook posts from Uzbek witnesses — most reports came out of foreign media bureaus (such as BBC) scrambling to get to the scene before Karimov kicked them out of the country. The longest and most famous video of Andijon is in fact a propaganda video made by the Uzbek government which shows images of armed protesters and nothing of the shooting of civilians that occurred afterwards — a monopoly on information that stands in stark contrast to the videos from Kyrgyzstan available on YouTube today.

In the months after the Andijon events, there were numerous reports online about the violence that had occurred — many of them written by intrepid journalists thrown out of the country, and many of them written only in Uzbek. On online forums, Uzbeks posted their thoughts, stories and even poems about the events. I began to archive these in 2006, and later used them for two articles I wrote about Andijon and its aftermath. Now, in 2010, when I look for these materials online, many of them are gone. In fact, one of the key documents in understanding the Andijon events, the Uzbek-language version of Akrom Yo’ldoshev’s “Iymonga Yo’l”, was removed from the internet in 2005 by government censors. It was only because I had saved it that I was able to use it in 2006 for my own research. (Yo’ldoshev’s treatise is now widely available online and in book form.) In 2007, I casually archived some of the pages of a new Uzbek publication, “Siyosat”, run by an Uzbek journalist from Kyrgyzstan named Alisher Saipov. In October 2007, Saipov was murdered, likely by Uzbek government agents, and his website closed down. But because I had archived his site with SnagIt, I was able to use it later to better understand the Saipov affair.

The information coming out of Kyrgyzstan is not always reliable. It is often biased, short-sighted, confusing and contradictory. But it is giving us a view of Kyrgyzstan that demands our attention — not only now, but in the months and years to come, when we look back on these events and try to piece together what happened. Unlike with the Andijon events, we might actually be able to do so. But in order for that to happen, we need to create a record of these materials. We need to preserve them before they are wiped away — not necessarily by the Kyrgyz government, but by the true foes of revolution: apathy and neglect. Many of the Uzbek materials that I archived are gone simply because those tending to them let them go. The massacre became a memory, hopelessly unresolved. This is one of the reasons that “Do not forget the Andijon massacre!” has become a rallying cry of Uzbekistan’s political opposition. As the world’s interest in Kyrgyzstan fades — and, believe me, it will — so too will the desire to preserve the narrative of the events.

I am therefore asking those of you invested in the events in Kyrgyzstan to archive what you are reading. Save the Twitter posts and the YouTube videos, the photos and the articles. Print them out if you need to — just hold on to them somehow. Right now your goal might be to simply keep up with the information. But later, we are going to want to look back. And if the block on internet access is ever lifted in Kyrgyzstan, it is likely that the Kyrgyz are going to want to take a look too.

Sarah Kendzior is a PhD candidate in anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis. She can be reached at kendzior@wustl.edu.

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– author of 21 posts on Registan.net.

Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who studies politics and the internet in the former Soviet Union. She has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University. Her research has been published in many academic journals and media outlets, including American Ethnologist, Central Asian Survey, Demokratizatsiya and the Atlantic. She is currently an instructor at Washington University, where she teaches a course called "The Internet, Politics, and Society." Follow her on Twitter.

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Nathan Hamm April 7, 2010 at 8:03 pm

If someone can help me extract the data from twitter like this, I’d be extremely grateful.

DE Teodoru April 7, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Boy, how the Moldovan issue drove so many of us with ties there into debate. A decade of hopes and disappointments suddenly came to a screeching halt when the April 2009 fires filled our laptop screens. THEN, afterward, appeared the videos of the militeni beating the youths. Look at Moldova now, the worm has turned and everyone there wants to know from everyone here: where stands Obama? Why? Because they think, one way or another, Obama (or EU, or Soros Foundation) is a meal ticket out into a career Foundation funded Masters degree or even a PhD so you can send home money to make grandma feel better. So many “idealists” really only want out. But how many consider what Ukraine had to do with their April fires?

I remember those obligate “Theory” courses that university students had to take under Communism. They were taught by a Masters in “Activism.” The key thing to understand is not just the facts and figures of how Communism made life so wonderful since WWII but what “parasites” are American capitalists. I always found the use of that fascinating biologic term, “parasite,” fascinating. There’s one parasite that gets into foraging ants. Invaded ants are like any other ant until dusk. Then, infected ants, instead of having the urge to head for the ant hill like the others get an irresistible urge to climb. So these ants climb blades of grass as a result of parasitic chemical manipulation of their nerve-cord brains. Now it happens that dusk is when sheep love to graze. And so, an ant at the top of a blade of grass gets eaten by sheep, the last host where this parasite’s life cycle unfolds. Another parasite gets into rats. Its neurotoxic effect is to remove a rat’s fear of cats I guess in the amygdala). As a result, infected rats usually get eaten by cats. Cats are the last hosts of this parasite.

The point is that corporate parasitism has brain altering effects on only some people in a society and these people become corporatized; back home they were called “Mr. Engineer (whatever their name)” like Haqmatyar who deep down always seems to be someone else’s man. If the US chooses to manipulate the local apparatchik equation so that these infected local creatures come to power, people come to associate the US with the parasite. Central Asia did not see Russians as much as parasites as it did as poor mentors (at least back when I observed it), but leaders nevertheless. I don’t recall in Central Asia hearing as much anti-Soviet sentiments as I heard in East Europe. This may relate to the cultural rather than national character of the “Soviet Republics” as opposed to the “People’s National Republics.” But what the US corporate parasites did to a lot of Central Asians– people considered well educated by the Russians– will become more and more seen as US Gov puts corporate parasites infected leaders in power in these countries. Consider that in East Europe the 1989 joys of “liberation” from Communism, within a year, over the 90s, turned into concern about “slave colonization” by the Americans and EU. My grandfather spoke about that in the interwar years as a motor for national socialists. So bit by bit, as in the Western and Southern “near abroad” forces are lining up choosing between Islam retroversion and American parasitic infection, the Russians will seem to be the “good doctors” who check you out for ova & parasites. The ambiguity is turning to polarization and Kyrgyzstan is a case in point. Those who turn to Jihad will be few, those who turn to the Russians will be somewhat more. But those who will turn to America as shamelessly wishing to be infected will make us identified as the parasite. When the Chinese parasitologist comes to help the Russian one, we may be in a worst position than we thought. Every turn of the Central Asian worm might be to our disadvantage now that we are a GLOBAL entity in a globe full of little primitives with big pretensions seeking corporate parasitic infection.

Nathan April 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm

I can’t emphasize enough how unnecessarily long that comment is, DE. I’d respond, but I didn’t read it. Sorry.

Brian April 8, 2010 at 12:37 am

Now there’s someone who like to hear himself talk. How’s about trying to keep things a little more on-topic, DE?

Ian April 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm

This comment has a neurotoxic effect on my amygdala.

Michael Hancock April 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I read the comment, and I think there are some interesting elements to be considered – namely, the essentialization of the Kyrgyz population into distinct “pro-Russian” “pro-US” “pro-Islam” type groups. I’m not sure that kind of rhetoric is useful, and it serves to define the situation too concisely.

Kyrgyzstan is said to suffer from a serious North/South divide, but neither group is inherently pro- or anti- US or Russian – they merely go with the flow, courting and shunning foreign attentions to their benefit.

Dafydd April 8, 2010 at 6:20 am

Save the html source & email to me & i’ll see what I can do

DE Teodoru April 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm

My point was that the Apil 09 Moldovan conflagration was very similar except that “Colors” ran into eachother as Ukraine intervened. So issue is sort of replaying (think of what all the outside forces from the region are up to) and with every swing of power change it is the American corps that are seen as parasitic element forcing locals in power to behave against national interests resulting in US paying for their corruption because of its logistic dependency not because it promotes true national “democratization.” Then, with every turn of the worm the change becomes more Moscow controlled while attempting to be the opposite of what preceeded it and more prone to see US presence as invasive– think Georgia. It might matter little– a la Western “near abroad”– but in the case of CA it could mean a lot strategically to US now, causing it to be drawn in ever more. Where that leads can be seen from past examples. Recall the role of prices-rising in all “near abroad” cases and consider Sino-Russo role in that. Does anyone think that World Bank will make things any better there?

DE Teodoru April 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

sorry for the biologic parasitism allegory, I thought some of you might like it. I should better learn the prototype.

Nathan April 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm

No, it’s brevity that’s the key.

Noah April 7, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Great post, Sarah. I kept remembering today what it was like to try to follow Andijon events in 2005, and how agonizingly long I had to wait between news stories, and how long it took before any pictures were published at all. Even the events in Talas were so much more publicized this time (albeit it took about 24 hours for the world to start to pay attention), it is amazingly different.

Kelcy April 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Very insightful perspective on the need to archive information as it comes out on these kinds of events. Too bad there is not some place that we could safely store it for all to see and use in the future.

Toaf April 8, 2010 at 6:46 am

Wikisource? Or something similar, perhaps?

cxw April 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Nathan, I’m trying to get transcripts for various hash tags on Twitter from http://wthashtag.com/, but it appears there’s a problem with encoding for Cyrillic. If I have any joy with it, or find any other solution, will be happy to share the info with you and anyone else.

Sarah, great post and agree with you. In case you haven’t seen Elena Skochilo’s accounts, take a look at her blog posts on http://morrire.livejournal.com/ as she has been aggregating information and creating timelines.

Bokhodir April 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Sarahon, juda yahshi maqola yozibsiz. Sizga katta tashakkur.
Good job, keep going! Thank you!

Liz April 7, 2010 at 11:21 pm


Excellent article and excellent point. I hope that many people will do just as you suggest so that the explanation can be pieced together over time.

Metin April 8, 2010 at 2:45 am

there is a huge difference between two cases. In Uzbekistan police reached its aim, successfully crashing military (paramilitary) group who used civilians (mostly misguided) as human shield, though at heavy costs of civilians deaths. Kyrgyzstan is completely different story with impotent government and anarchist masses raging ‘regime changes’ which so far have not changed anything in essence.
The article is less analytic, more political.

davejon April 8, 2010 at 3:25 am

I don’t agree with Metin that the article is political. It is neutral, and calling for action to researchers. Also, it is not pushing people to think in a certain way.

It might sound political to you, Metin Bey, because it is against your political stance of let’s not care about what is going on there. Your comment is political because it is forcing us to think in a certain way about Uzbek events. Your terminology – paramilitary, human shield, impotent, anarchist – is charged and biased. With the position like yours (and that of Shirin Hanum) we do not know what really happened in Andijan.

Grant April 8, 2010 at 3:38 am

Not only do I have to agree with davejon, I also have to mention that all information that I trust suggests that there weren’t any militant elements involved. Certainly I don’t know of any damning evidence produced by Uzbekistan and the Bush administration (not known for pushing ‘stans on human rights) felt a need to condemn it.

Metin April 8, 2010 at 4:30 am

I also have to mention that all information that I trust suggests that there weren’t any militant elements involved.

some people believe in sources saying the earth is flat. The video which was labelled in most human rights sources as ‘government propaganda’ (understandably because facts in it, though partial, do not fit with their story of events) proves that not everything was that peaceful.

Metin April 8, 2010 at 4:19 am

well, you might be right that my comment is as political as that presented in article. However, you can’t deny that two cases are different, and elements of ‘impotence, anarchy, manipulation of masses, as well as armed protesters’ are clearly visible.
I really feel sad that ‘human rights’ promoters have such a media coverage that they are able to twist events to serve their interests. Interestingly they do it especially well when it comes to poor countries. I wonder if they would have had the same success if Uzbekistan had the same influence as say Israel.
The case you mentioned about Shirin Akiner is a good example of how a person daring to go against mainstream gets marginalized by media which is influenced by those who have big power.

davejon April 8, 2010 at 11:09 am

note the difference, i am not saying that this article is political, because it is not. i am saying your comment on its quality is out of context. Also, what does Israel’s influence has to do with the topic discussed here?
The pressure by human rights promoters is based on real facts. In fact, if there were no abuses, those organizations would remain without work, but uzbek government feeds them with more abuses. But are the human rights organizations to blame for reporting abuses of the state?!
on the differrence between two countries: are you suggesting that if the kyrgyz government would (successfully) crash on the protesters (anarchist masses) and kill them, suppress their dissatisfaction with the authoritarian state abuses of power (raging regime changes), it would become a potent government?..hmm, like uzbekistan?..are you hearing yourself what you are saying?

Metin April 8, 2010 at 11:57 am

you seem didn’t get the point. I felt sad that image about Uzbekistan in english speaking media is formed by (in most cases by fake) human rights activists who report about government boiling dissidents to death, Christians being harassed, Muslims being rejected to pray, children forced by government to work, all trees being cut out of surface of the country etc.
The point about poor country like Uzbekistan being targeted differently from say powerful country like Israel where sometimes demonstrators people get killed by police (not sure about their count) find understanding in media.
Potent government means it can guarantee rule of law in its territory. In Kyrgyzstan obviously that was not the case. I never wish this happened in my country, I can live with slow changes but can’t bear anarchy.

Brian April 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm

^ Metin. You can probably live with slow changes because you’re probably living rather well off. Say to the people I know that had were forced to pick cotton as kids that it’s fake.

Metin April 9, 2010 at 2:47 am

well, re-read the original article and now think it is not political as I wrote. But I still think the part about Uzbekistan says just one side of story, but not the whole.

Grant April 8, 2010 at 3:35 am

Ironically this is somewhat frustrating for me. Currently I’m finishing several months work of an article outlining the elites in Kyrgyzstan and it looks like it’s about to become obsolete. I’m glad that the people of Kyrgyzstan have the ability and will to protest and demand change, but would it have been too much trouble to do it a year ago?

davejon April 8, 2010 at 11:12 am

You can still publish such an article. Actually it has become more current now. It gives many the idea of why such events are happening, and will help forecast the future through analyzing elite relations of the past.

Jeffrey Renz April 8, 2010 at 11:49 am

It won’t be obsolete. I assume that your draft tracks the elites along family-clan-tribal lines. Those are still intact. What we have in the Kyrgyz Republic at the moment is not a revolution. It is a transfer of power from the South to the North–from southern tribes to northern tribes.

Grant April 8, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Effectively what I argued, sadly I wasn’t able to get into any useful detail beyond what you can find in any article on Central Asian Survey, but going over the leading figures and how jobs and positions are decided it seemed clear that it was a matter of family ties (which actually is generally true for much of the world). My ambition is to actually travel across Kyrgyzstan after I’ve furthered my studies and to look at how far democracy actually matters to the people protesting.

On another note, I noticed that Russia was quick to state that it had played no part in the protests, and that it was quick to recognize the new government. Are they looking for a good deal or did they get burned recently?

DSPinCAR April 8, 2010 at 11:47 am

Thanks, Sarah. Very interesting things to keep in mind – I wouldn’t have thought of archiving this stuff otherwise.

In the meantime, as an expat based in Bishkek, living this experience by the hour, I just want to add that the psychological support of having Twitter (and a miraculously-uninterrupted internet connection) to follow what is going on in the city has been immensely beneficial. I know that this is a bit off-topic from your very reasonable argument (of which I will digest more after the gunfire stops outside), but I thought it was worth driving home: while analysts will study what we’re posting and sharing through various froms of new media when all is said and done, right now, it’s helping us all to cope and keep our sanity. If you can take that into account in your post-analysis, please do ;o)

reader April 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Excellent post, Sarah, so simple and yet profound. It is a practice anyone who deals with internet information from the former USSR should know. I save any and all info I come across. I never thought of this as a chronicling practice, however.

Chris Merriman April 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Whilst not perfect (it can take a while to initially “find” and store a page, sometimes there is a large gap between new versions of a page being saved, and not all domains are covered), can I recommend checking out the WayBack Machine? It can sometimes be a bit like looking at a Google cached version of a page, as not all elements are saved, but text-wise, I’ve found it very useful in the past.

DE Teodoru April 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm
冯三七 April 9, 2010 at 1:12 am

Zotero http://www.zotero.org/ is what many people use here in China for preserving valuable information which pretty quickly can be assumed will have a low chance of survival.

The collaboration tool could amplify these kinds of efforts, where most people use Zotero but by default keep it stored away out of public access. To go slightly off-topic, some sort of p2p integration with Zotero would go a long way not only toward making Internet censorship in places like China redundant, but also in making the work of archivists, journalists, historians and other academics easier.

Unfortunately, current anti-censorship efforts (and funds) only seem fated for marginally useful circumvention tools…

Sarah Kendzior April 11, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Alexey Sidorenko attempts to “archive” the revolution. I think he did a great job and there are a lot of useful links here:


Ian April 14, 2010 at 3:10 pm

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