The Shadow of Andijon

by Sarah Kendzior on 4/13/2010 · 30 comments

In May 2005, military forces dispatched by the Uzbek government shot and killed hundreds of people in Andijon, Uzbekistan, many of whom were protesting the economic deterioration and repressive social conditions of the region. Within weeks, a joke began to circulate around Uzbek internet forums. It went something like this:

Q: Can an Uzbek participate in a demonstration in Uzbekistan?
A: Yes, but only once.

The joke, of course, was that in Uzbekistan, your first protest may well be your last. This was true for the protesters in Andijon in 2005 and holds true today for citizens of Uzbekistan, who fear any public expression of their grievances will be met with gunfire. There has not been a large-scale protest in Uzbekistan since 2005 — not because people in Uzbekistan are content with their government, but because they are terrified to speak out against it. The Andijon events saw the Uzbek people’s worst suspicions confirmed and President Karimov’s most horrific promises kept: “Such people must be shot in the head,” he warned in a 1998 speech about Islamic extremists, with the unstated caveat that in Uzbekistan, anyone can be labeled an Islamic extremist. In Andijon, Uzbeks finally learned how far their government was willing to go.

In Kyrgyzstan, President Bakiev recently announced that if the interim government attempts to arrest him, “this will only bring huge tragedy to the country. We will drown in blood if they opt for physical elimination. If they use force, then those people surrounding me will not let it happen, and this will mean bloodshed.” This statement came in the aftermath of events that, as many observers have noted, were far more violent than the previous uprising in 2005.

Will Kyrgyzstan have its own Andijon? I have no idea. Like the rest of you, I am piecing together bits of contradictory information, and it is difficult to tell at this point where the conflict between Bakiev and the interim government is headed. (Although it doesn’t look good.) What I wonder is how the violence of the past week will affect the future political behavior of Kyrgyzstanis — both the demonstrators and their targets. In 2005, former president Akayev ordered officers to storm a building in Kochkor filled with protesters. Military officers refused to do it, saying that they did not want “another Aksy”. (Aksy is a town in southern Kyrgyzstan where in 2002 Kyrgyz police fired on unarmed demonstrators, killing six of them.) What will military officers do now, as videos of their overturned vehicles play in a continuous loop on YouTube? How will Kyrgyzstanis judge whether protest is worth it, as the relatively peaceful events of 2005 are superseded by the chaos and violence of 2010?

There is a pervasive cynicism to Central Asian politics, and for good reason. In fact, what is often referred to as cynicism is less a default mode of dismissiveness than an astutely critical interpretation of one’s world. Kyrgyzstanis are understandably cynical about how their 2005 “revolution” played out, as one regime of corruption and misrule was replaced by another. But now we have a revolution marked not just by frustration and anger, but by horror at the violence that took place, and grief over the many lives lost. It is possible that citizens of Kyrgyzstan will come to fear, like their neighbors in Uzbekistan, that their first act of political protest may be their last.

Lest this be taken as a call not to protest, I would like to state emphatically that this is not my point. There may be few protests in Uzbekistan, but the violence of the Karimov regime continues — systematic and unrelenting, a price paid not only in blood but in the psychological toll of living in a police state. Protesting may not change anything, but not protesting does not change anything either. My point is only that the emotion over the April uprising in Kyrgyzstan will remain long after things are “resolved”, and will likely impact political behavior all over Central Asia for years to come. It will impact how Central Asians see their governments, and, more ominously, how their governments see their citizens. After all, it was only a few weeks after the Tulip Revolution that Uzbeks took to Bobur Square to protest in Andijon. The outcome of that revolution seemed to be on the mind of many of those in attendance — and was likely on Karimov’s mind as he ordered military forces to fire into the crowd.

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This post was written by...

– author of 21 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

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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Grant April 13, 2010 at 7:29 pm

In these situations the strength* of the government and the loyalty of the military to the governing officials are the most important concerns. We’ve heard that the military is under the control of the new government, but do we know where the loyalties of the mid-ranking officers lie? It would seem that at least it wasn’t totally with Bakiev if he was driven out of the capital.

*By strength I don’t mean necessarily the number of supporters so much as the political strength of the government relative to the will of the protesters. Many authoritarian governments have handled protests without needing to resort to Andijon or Tienanmen tactics.

Toryalay Shirzay April 13, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Don’t you think you ought to have your facts straight before writing a post here?? Armed militants and other foreign backed thugs attacked government buildings in Andijon who also used their civilian relatives as human shield and all this provoked a strong government response which led to many deaths.No government would tolerate people with guns attacking public buildings,do that in the US, you will be shot as surely as 1+1=2.Also the Kyrgyz people gained nothing out of these uprisings except death,destruction,looting,burning,lawlessness and etc,etc.What the people of Central Asia need at this moment of their transition is stability,security,economic development and prosperity and law and order.They don’t need civil war as in Tajikistan or destructive uprisings as in Kyrgyzstan.With this mind,the Uzbek government has been doing a reasonable job in trying to achieve security and economic prosperity.Could they have done a better job? Of course,there is always room for improvement and they deserve credit for curtailing corruption by arresting big shots who get away even in the the good ol USA.

Brian April 14, 2010 at 1:31 am

True, Uzbekistan has had more stability than Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, but for how long? Karimov is 72 and may or may not be in poor health. Thanks to Karimov no one has any clue what’s going to happen to the country when he dies. Things could get nasty, might even get violent. Uzbek stability may in this case be an illusion.

Laurence Jarvik April 14, 2010 at 7:53 am

Toryalay, US “experts” never let the facts get in the way of their theories. They simply apply what their teachers have told them–or parrot the approved line put out by the US Government and NGOs. That’s how they get fellowships, tenure-track jobs, grants, and contracts. And why Russia is resurgent in Central Asia right now…

michaelhancock April 14, 2010 at 11:53 am

Et tu, Laurence? Care to name some specific “experts,” or are you damning all US (and I assume English-language) Academia equally?

In case you haven’t noticed, 99% of ALL strategy is a continuation of the past, or a reiteration of past successes. Everyone parrots their teachers – that is what teaching means. Hopefully people reach a level of education where they become skeptical of the accepted truths of their teachers, but even more hoped for is they reach a point where they stop throwing out accepted truths out-of-hand, merely because they are old-school.

Russia is resurgent in Central Asia because it never left, and the US has bigger fish to fry than worrying about Russia’s back yard. What’s worse is your assumption that Central Asia has no agency for itself, that it must remain a place for either Russia or the US to be “on the rise.” Neo-colonialism much?

Sarah April 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I’m not sure I want to get into an argument with you about this, but for the record, when it comes to my research, I follow my own path. I have no idea what “teachers” you think I am emulating. My conclusions about Andijon are based on my own research, and I have never worked with anyone else studying this topic — which, for the record, is not particularly well-covered in academic literature.

Grant April 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Amen to that last part.

Paul April 14, 2010 at 9:56 am

@Laurence: Is the irony of bemoaning people who don’t rely on “facts” in the middle of an ad hominem attack intended, or is it just a product of the sloppy reasoning evident in the rest of your comment?

Laurence Jarvik April 14, 2010 at 5:38 pm

MichaelHancock, I was just talking about US “experts.” Not UK or elsewhere. I don’t want to name names because it doesn’t matter. You can find the party line recycled in Human Rights Watch/Soros/RAND/CIA/State Department/Wilson Center/CSIS/Brookings/AEI/EurasiaNet/FreedomHouse/RFE-RL stuff.

Perhaps there are some dissidents whom Torayalay might find of interest in the US, but I haven’t seen any of them as keynote speakers at CESS meetings, and I went for a number of years. There, they tend to sound a lot like Ms. Kendzior. I’m surprised she didn’t have any teachers, though I don’t want to get in any arguments with her, either. I have nothing against her, just trying to explain to Toryalay where this appraoch comes from: Benningsen (there, I’ve said a name). It’s pure Cold War thinking, and you can find it all over the US policy and academic establishment.

The only exception to the herd mentality in the USA whom I know of is Alexander Cooley at Columbia University (hope this doesn’t end his career). He’s a military strategy guy who published an interesting book called “Base Politics.” He argues that democratization, human rights, etc. grandstanding may undermine the strategic interests of the USA in Central Asia.

michaelhancock April 15, 2010 at 12:16 pm

What Party Line? You’re giving far too much credit to our shadow leaders – you think we get a missive or a memo once a week about what we’re supposed to think?

I think you’re upset for the same reasons we’re upset — you don’t like people seeing the same stories you’re reading and drawing completely different (and wrong?) conclusions from them. That’s life. It’s not the party line. It’s the product of the reality of information – that there’s no way for people who have read a different set of sources, or the same sources in a different order, to reach an agreement on what all of those sources mean.

When we deny the validity of differing arguments, we sound fundamentalist, and violent words, thoughts, and actions can ensue. A la “DON’T YOU READ THE FACTS BEFORE YOU POST HERE!?!?” – obviously we haven’t read the “facts” that this person is referring to, or we have and reached different conclusions.

I don’t know why I’m trying to explain myself, other than my sense of fairness keeps telling me that we can eventually reach consensus and agreement as long as we’re still talking with each other.

Sarah April 15, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I agree; this is one of the most amusing — and perversely flattering — portrayals of academic life I’ve read in awhile. What an elaborate agenda we have! So many parties and agencies involved, all working in harmony towards our evil goal…truly impressive. I hate to disappoint you, but much like the media, academia is far too fractious and disorganized to orchestrate a conspiracy. And while there are certainly instances of “groupthink” in academia, they rarely revolve around issues of Central Asia. In fact, I would put Central Asian issues in the “nothink” category — that is, they are rarely considered by anyone not explicitly studying the region.

Turgai Sangar April 15, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Jarvik is basically stuck in World War 2 paradigmas. To his credit, unlinke many pundits writing about the region he has spent time in southern Eurasia.

Metin April 15, 2010 at 12:44 pm

…the herd mentality in the USA…

thought this is the case in totalitarian regimes only; turns out you have in USA too.

Laurence Jarvik April 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm


I won’t say any more than this: Facts are stubborn things, yet one needs to have an open mind to recognize them. Ideological or theoretical blinders make them difficult to perceive, on the other hand.

For example, Ms Kendzior stated: “My conclusions about Andijon are based on my own research, and I have never worked with anyone else studying this topic — which, for the record, is not particularly well-covered in academic literature.” I have done a quick Google Scholar search for the phrase “Andijan massacre” with 531 hits. To me, that number represents a topic “well-covered.” I don’t know what criteria Ms. Kendizor had in mind, or how many scholarly citations she would require to meet her definition. Numerically, Andijan has been very well-covered indeed in the scholarly literature.

That is why I say the problem in Central Asian Studies in the USA is both ideological and theoretical. People cannot see facts staring them in the face. In this case, I would assume Ms. Kendizor should be familiar with Google Scholar listings, since the first article that came up is hers: “Inventing Akromiya: The Role of Uzbek Propagandists in the Andijan Massacre.”

Paul April 15, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Yes, and does that mean there are 1,080 scholarly articles specifically about “Beef Stroganoff”, and—more to the point—620,000 devoted solely to the topic of “ignorance”, or is that maybe not how search engines work…?

Nathan April 15, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Laurence, facts are facts. But, don’t get confused about how your neurons are firing about this yourself. Once one transitions from descriptions of events to characterizations of events, one’s moved from facts to analysis. To illustrate, we can say “x number of armed individuals were occupying the administration building on Bobur Square in Andijon on 13 May 2005” and call if a fact. But to say “x number of armed Islamic extremists were occupying the administration building on Bobur Square in Andijon on 13 May 2005” is to blend in analysis. There’s no problem with doing that, but one needs to make an evidence- or assumption-based case.

If someone is going to dispute that Akiner’s report is the authoritative final word because, to name one reason, there were serious problems with her sample and the way in which she administered her interviews, isn’t to dispute facts. It’s to dispute the case that supports her analysis of the facts.

Ian April 16, 2010 at 6:08 am

From now on all scholars should limit themselves to the resources available on Google and only publish their research on Google, since we can now establish definitively the state of research on a topic by checking the number of Google hits.

Come now.

Sarah April 15, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Laurence, this is getting very silly. How many of those 531 “hits” are actually research articles about the Andijon massacre and not mentions of the term in an article about a completely different topic?

Laurence Jarvik April 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Sarah, I didn’t complain about a putative lack of coverage. You did. In my opinion Professor Shirin Akiner’s report was definitive enough, all by itself, to categorize Andijan as a “well-covered” event. Since you’ve complained about a shortage of coverage, you would need to define the terms of analysis in order to make a convincing truth claim. It’s your problem, not mine…

Paul April 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

In my opinion Professor Shirin Akiner’s report was definitive enough all by itself, to categorize Andijan as a “well-covered” event.

Ding, ding, ding — we have a winner!

You have to be kidding.

Metin April 15, 2010 at 4:10 pm

whatever happened in real one thing is very clear – real losers in Andijan were western interests: US lost its base, NGOs were kicked out, the West lost any leverage on Uzbekistan.
Moreover overreaction on Andijan in English media did a very bad job for yet forming elements of democracy. It led the country closer to more repressive regimes like Russia and China.
By the way, it happened as predicted in Prof. Akiner’s report.

I find Prof. Akiner’s report is more useful than mainstream coverage trumpeting about “massacre” or “firing into crowd”.

Paul April 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Well, it’s nice to finally know for sure where you and Laurence are coming from, I guess. May I submit that the “real” losers in Andijan were the people shot dead in the street? Then the Western interests. In that order.

Metin April 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I thought better discuss ideas than people.
“Real” losers are those who didn’t reach their aims. You know who they are for sure.

Dolkun April 16, 2010 at 8:25 am

It’d been a while since I’d given much thought to CSI: Uzbekistan, with chief forensics expert played by Shirin Akiner. Her report is so much more interesting than, say, the OSCE’s: reports written by committee are so dull. And her ability to search for shell casings — none found! — and examine the flowerbeds — intact by Jove! — on the site of the, ahem, disturbance, certainly sets her apart from the amateurs.

Thanks for the rerun.

Laurence Jarvik April 16, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Nathan, You’re fighting a straw man. It’s not about Akiner, it’s about what is needed to satisfy a truth claim about whether Andijan was “well-covered.” You have directed your objection to me, but you’re shooting at the wrong target.

I cited Akiner in order to set a very low bar to answer the question, and give a precise number. Maybe I’m right (since as Metin says, events have unfolded as Akiner predicted), or maybe I’m wrong. I don’t care and it doesn’t matter in this regard. Maybe you like Fiona Hill’s account, or Craig Murray’s or one or more of the 561 citations in Google Scholar.

The point is that one ought to test a truth claim against something other than a tautological belief-system. It should be, as Karl Popper says, “falsifiable.” By leaving the number open, the question becomes un-falsifiable, therefore unverifiable, therefore unscientific, therefore a matter of faith…which leads us back to the role of theory and ideology

So, perhaps Akiner’s not to your taste, yet I’m sure you would agree that Andijan has been a “well-covered” event by any reasonable standard; not just among scholars, but of course here on Registan; since you were editor at the time, and have posted a considerable number of accounts of the event. Indeed, I could have said the event was “well-covered” by Registan, but it is not considered a scholarly site. Akiner is a bona fide scholar, and her work is scholarly, like her or not…

To conclude (I’ll exit this thread after this statement): If Andijan has not been a “well-covered” event, I don’t know what Central Asian event would be.

Brian April 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm

tautological – now there’s a word you don’t hear everyday
1. of, relating to, or using tautology
2. using repetition or excessive wordiness; pleonastic or circumlocutionary

Ian April 16, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Laurence’s claims that CESS is ideological and that Central Asian studies in the US insist on a party line are a perfect example of a falsifiable argument, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term.

Also, the rhetorical-literary term for what Laurence is doing now is “changing the subject because my original point was not very good.”

I can only hope that in the future Laurence starts a blog dedicated to intense debates over the well-coveredness of various world events, with post titles like “Argentina currency exchange: not well-covered” or “Vanuatu beach erosion: Enough already!”

Metin April 17, 2010 at 5:49 am

Coverage of Andijan events has been surely mostly ideological. I also agree with Nathan it is one thing to say “Andijan events”, but it is blend in analysis to say “Andijan massacre”.
I saw nowhere in post of Sarah Kendzior mentioning about armed militants attacking the government; neither did I see any hint to those who might have been behind those events (for sure armed people did not come from vacuum; timing of events, after Tulip revolution, is not coincidence as well). If someone unfamiliar with the those events (as most Americans are) reads this s/he gets an impression as if peaceful demonstrators protested against economic hardship for which they were massacred by the government. The message is obvious – Uzbek government is authoritarian and savage, needs to be isolated/toppled. Isn’t this ideological ?

Sarah April 17, 2010 at 10:33 am

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Metin. I don’t think we are ever going to agree, but it is nice that we can have this debate. I know many Uzbeks who attempted to have a similar debate on the Andijon events in Uzbekistan and were jailed, tortured or exiled for their efforts.

Andijon is a story of competing narratives. No one, including me, is completely sure what happened. I think the best thing we can do is read as broadly as possible, talk to as many people involved as possible, and try to form our own opinions. In the aim of doing so – and to settle what I mean by “academic literature” on the events – I offer the following bibliography of research articles on the Andijon massacre.

Akiner, Shirin. 2005. “Violence in Andijan, 13 May 2005: an independent assessment”

Fumagalli, Matteo. 2007. “The Andijan Events: State violence, popular resistance and the rhetoric of terrorism in Uzbekistan”

Hill, Fiona, and Jones, Kevin. 2006. “Fear of democracy or revolution: The reaction to Andijon.”

Ilkhamov, Alisher. 2006. “The Phenomenology of ‘Akromiya’: Separating Facts from Fiction”.

Kandiyoti, Deniz. 2005. “Andijan: prelude to a massacre”

Kendzior, Sarah. 2006. “Inventing Akromiya: The Role of Uzbek Propagandists in the Andijon Massacre”

Kendzior, Sarah. 2007. “Poetry of Witness: Uzbek Identity and the Response to Andijon”.

Khalid, Adeeb. 2007. “Conclusion: Andijan and Beyond” in Islam After Communism

Megoran, Nick. 2008. “Framing Andijon, narrating the nation: Islam Karimov’s account of the events of 13 May 2005”

Many of these articles, while important, are quite short. I do think that the Andijon events have not been adequately examined in academic literature, but this is due less to a lack of researcher interest than to the oppressive conditions in Uzbekistan which make it impossible to conduct research there.

Other important perspectives on the Andijon events can be found in Islam Karimov’s “O’zbek xalqi hech qachon, hech kimga qaram bo’lmaydi”, in the other works on the topic issued by the Uzbek government, in the various reports from groups like ICG and HRW, and in the many news reports and analyses (I personally recommend Transitions Online and available online.

This is my final comment on this post. I encourage others interested in the Andijon massacre to do their own research and come up with their own views. I also encourage readers to add to this bibliography if they feel I have left something out.

Metin April 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

there were very interesting views made on stereotypes (brought by Reuters) in another thread. It would be good to recognize that most of ‘research’ on Andijan suffers from similar stereotypes as well.
It was a good attempt to rerun the old topic, which has obviously lost its ‘hotness’ today. According to, US think-tank expert Thomas E. Graham (not sure for English spelling) thinks ‘temporary halt in US-Uzbek relations over Andijan events is now irrelevant, and there is clear trend of improvements in relations’. If this statement is true – that’s certainly good news for Uzbekistan. Dealing with US will make the country more integrated to the World and will bring more democracy and market economy to Uzbekistan.

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