Rumors, Lies and the Uzbek Internet: More on a Facebook Suicide

by Sarah Kendzior on 12/10/2011 · 60 comments

If the story of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova is not real, who benefits?  Ever since Uzmetronom released a report claiming that Abdujalilova  – the Uzbek emigre who allegedly committed suicide after being interrogated by the Uzbek police — does not exist, observers have speculated on who created her, and why. One Eurasianet reporter echoes Uzmetronom’s claim that the story may have been planted by members of the Uzbek opposition; another Eurasianet reporter dismisses that claim, suggesting instead that the story was planted by the national security services. In the comments section following my original article, Registan reader DW makes a convincing critique of Uzmetronom’s unprecedented foray into investigative journalism, urging us to subject the stories supposedly disproving her death to as much scrutiny as the original.

None of this tells us much about Gulsumoy Abdujalilova. But it reveals a great deal of how rumor operates on the Uzbek political internet. The assumption that all information is unreliable, and all sources biased, has had the perverse effect of ensuring that all rumor is taken seriously. This is not to say all rumor is believed – on the contrary, most information is received with skepticism – but that it is shared, parsed and discussed to a degree belying its dubious origins. The result of ubiquitous paranoia is not disbelief. It is credulity.

This is not unique to the Gulsumoy Abdujalilova case. Rumor shapes the Central Asian political landscape, online and on the ground. Where the Gulsumoy Abdujalilova case differs is that it is difficult to figure out who would benefit from such a gruesome farce. Let’s review the options.

The Gulsumoy Abdujalilova story was planted by the Uzbek opposition. In this scenario, the opposition created Gulsumoy in order to “smear the Uzbek government.” Leaving aside the fact that one hardly needs to invent stories with which to smear the Uzbek government, let’s pretend that the ruse is successful. What would be the result? One could argue that the Abdujalilova story showcases the brutality of the national security services. The downside of this, of course, is that it showcases the brutality of the national security services. That is, it would confirm things about the NSS that everyone already suspects, heightening public awareness of state violence and potentially making apolitical Uzbeks more fearful and less likely to join dissident groups or human rights causes.

The Gulsumoy Abdujalilova story was planted by the NSS. In this scenario, the NSS created Gulsumoy in order to make Uzbeks afraid to support dissident causes, especially online. What would be the result? One could argue that the Abdujalilova story showcases the brutality of the national security services.  The downside of this, of course, is that it showcases the brutality of the national security services. That is, it would confirm things about the NSS that everyone already suspects, heightening public awareness of state violence and potentially making apolitical Uzbeks outraged and more likely to join dissident groups or support human rights causes.

There is no real way to lose. Or to win.

When I looked at Gulsumoy Abdujalilova ‘s Facebook page, I could have gone two ways. I could have assumed that because her only link to the opposition was her Facebook profile, that it was her Facebook profile that led to her interrogation in Uzbekistan. Or I could have assumed that the Facebook profile, which dates back to July and was not particularly active, inflammatory, or unusual, was part of an elaborate five-month plan devised by Uzbek political operatives to manipulate an audience accustomed to rumor, deception, and lies.

Both options, in this political environment, are plausible. I’m still going with the former.

The last Facebook post written by Gulsumoy Abdujalilova was an Uzbek proverb that translates roughly as “You learn who your real friends are when you are in trouble.” Let’s think about this before we accept claims that a woman who committed suicide did not exist. Let’s think about this when we consider the innumerable Uzbeks whose tales of the NSS remain untold as Gulsumoy’s story — disturbing no matter which version you believe — enters infamy.


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This post was written by...

– author of 22 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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{ 60 comments }

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Sarah, I realize you have a big insight here, that in a closed society where everything becomes suspect, it’s actually very easy to use people’s shrewd suspicion of either the organs or the dissidents and in fact plant various disinformation campaigns very easily. Closed societies — and we are all unfortunately in one in dealing with Uzbekistan — are very brittle and vulnerable to rumour. But we do have one thing going for us that breaks us out of this binary situation — we can keep forming and debating various hypotheses, even if wrong, and try to reach some truth.

And there’s also just common sense and logic which are fairly universal. You haven’t come up with any new news and nobody seems to have been able to do that yet. It’s ok to ask questions like:

o where’s the full text of the suicide note?
o where’s that sister, Mohlara?
o where is somebody who actually saw Gulsumoy in RL in a German university, and didn’t just talk to her on Skype or IM her on Facebook?
o where’s the statement from the German university or German authorities?
o where’s the police report of either a detention or a death?

I don’t suggest these things are easy to get, especially the last one. But the journalistic questions have to be asked.

As I noted before, I think it’s more likely than not that she existed, but that there are either deliberate or accidental fabrications attached to her story.

A hypothesis: she could be a student who studied abroad, got pregnant from a fellow student, and made up a sort of Tawana Brawley kind of story to cover up what might be shameful facts to her community — and then it all went horribly wrong. Or her sister manufactured such a story. Or the bit about Salih got grafted on to what was a more banal narrative, accidently, or on purpose, but not by intelligence agencies, by either the sister or by human rights activists, although Urlaeva was careful to tell the story as she got it, and make clear where her own interpolations were about the PMU.

Another hypothesis: she got in deeper than she wanted to or could handle with the PMU, got interrogated, and decided to have her sister fake a suicide as a way to leave gracefully without having to hurt anybody’s feelings.

We have ample proof that harassment of people abroad, torture and rape and cover-ups occur in Uzbekistan. So we don’t “need” this story to be true to serve as a vehicle of explicating these themes for us. But those who want those themes to go away might have a motive to create a story that spreads confusion and also discredits the PMU or by extension all opposition groups.

Thus, the NSS involvement could take the form of either a totally-fabricated story from top to bottom, to make sure every Uzbek journalist, human rights activist and supporter abroad is discredited up and down and only uzmetronom.com is portrayed as a savvy streetwise news outlet we should all trust *cough*. OR it could take the form of manipulating some facts of a half-true story that then makes the PMU and Urlaeva look bad.

Right now, Urlaeva, who has been one of the most consistent and systematic voices of truth about the regime’s brutality in recent years, as so many others were arrested or forced into exile, is the one most affected by this story as being “gullible” and transmitting allegedly “false” information. The authorities have threatened her in recent weeks with psychiatric detention. I hope you can feel as bad about her situation as you do about a hypothetical woman who may not exist, or at least, about whom we know very little.

Who benefits if the story if it is not true? First and foremost, uzmetronom.com at a time when the regime may be shaky and in turmoil with dismissals and Karimov’s succession, and looking to shore up confidence in this discredited outlet.

Who else benefits? The NSS, because the story doesn’t show how brutal the NSS is, it shows how all those people who were ready to pounce and show how brutal the NSS is, are wrong.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Some more from Urlaeva — she went back to Kurgantep and got a meeting with the police chief and she felt he was lying and hedging when he claimed there was no such person as Gulsumoy. She could find no other information:

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64674

Grant December 10, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Unfortunately it isn’t easy to say if the story is true from the West. It might be, it might not be.

Metin December 11, 2011 at 2:53 am

sounds like old people’s gossiping… one should have apologized for misinforming readers here. Instead, we have more rumors and speculations.

AS December 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm

lol @ cfitzpatrick’s “hypotheses”…why anyone would think she provides intelligence insight in Central Asia I’ll never know…

Will December 11, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Hmm. Two things. First, DW’s critique of uzmetronom is NOT convincing. I explained it already under DW’s comment. I repeat here, all you need is a connection at uzbek government (ministry, law enforcement, customs, etc.). The details uzmetronom uncovered can be found out within 24 hours or less, not leaving one’s office. All you need is a phone and a right person to talk. Second, you can contact the German university (ozodlik.org seems to know which one) where she studied to check if they have a student under the same name. I doubt the university will decline to discuss the issue out of privacy concerns if one of its students has been murdered.

Regarding Catherine Fitzpatrick’s article on eurasianet, as I read Urlaeva’s story there I have more and more questions to ask. Why did she go there on weekend when government offices may be closed? She seems to know what school Gulsumoy attended. Then why not start the investigation from there instead? She could have talked to teachers and other school officials to confirm the existence of Gulsumoy. Next, she could have asked the people in neighborhoods around the school to find out if Abdujalilov’s family live in the neighborhood. This is totally different from the West, where you may not know who is your neighbor, but in Uzbekistan with its community-dependent culture (“makhalla”), people know hundreds (if not several thousands) of people in their neighborhood and know each other very well. After all, Kurgantepa is not a big city like Tashkent. In the end, I am left wondering whether Urlaeva genuinely tried to find things out or just went there to make some money.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Uzmetronom.com has consistently revealed itself to be a portal for leaking power ministry stories, some true, some fake. Why is that disputed? It is what it is.

If you’re a jaded Soviet journalist who has a lot of connections to the MVD and NSS because they need you just as much as you need them for kompromat operations — because that’s what Soviet journalism *is* — then sure, you can call up people and get answers in 24 hours. But it was still awfully fast, and the call to the German border police just don’t seem plausible. How were these confidential ties to German border police established, anyway?

Interestingly, two can play at this game. Urlaeva finds out that the driver of the car she hires to go to Kurgantep district has a brother in the MVD, and he tries asking and finds nothing and she reports that. Given that she also had a police tail, I do wonder how she happened to get this driver, whether he’s an accident, and I also wonder if the brother really could come up with information so fast.

Police stations aren’t closed on weekends. Prosecutor’s offices aren’t either, because she did get the meeting, although they seem to have a later workday start or something. Urlaeva says her purpose in making this trip was to lodge a complaint to try to get a formal reply.

She explains that she didn’t have the address of this putative sister — remember, this sister called her, and all she had was a phone number. She explains that she *did* ask around for information about this family, but the town, near the Kyrgyz border is bigger than you indicate, and she didn’t have an address.

That’s a great idea to go look around the school neighbourhood, but maybe she didn’t get that address right away, maybe she didn’t think about it; she seemed determined more to get to the prosecutor’s office, which is the body that has oversight over the police, and lodge a formal complaint — and see what they said.

She gets no answers, but feels they are giving rehearsed responses and are lying. We have no way of knowing if any of this is true.

But sure, let’s make this about drilling a beleaguered human rights activist, already harassed by the regime, and not about questioning the nature of uzmetronom.com, that “banned in Uzbekistan” news site with servers located in Germany but with a “privacy please” cover-up of the domain registration, and whose phenomenal traffic claims (40,000 or 80,000 views of articles often) are out of sync with what Alexa reports (and I don’t need a lecture about Alexa, but it’s what’s available, and it’s useful for triangulation).

Make some money?! What’s that all about?

And to return to Sarah’s original question, “If the story of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova is not real, who benefits?”

I don’t believe Urlaeva or any other human rights activist “needs” this story to be true — they have hundreds of other cases. But yet they do believe it to be true, and that’s something.

Will December 12, 2011 at 1:25 am

I am not disputing uzmetronom’s association with power ministries because I don’t know. The call to German airports is suspicious, I mentioned this before. But one doesn’t have to be a “jaded soviet” journalist to find out things that fast. A mid-level government official, not necessarily at power ministry, has a lot of connections across different branches of government and the information can be gathered that fast.

I read Urlaeva’s story about her trip to Kurgantepa. The town of Kurgantepa (administrative center of Kurgantepa district) has a population of about 20K, while a Kurgantepa district, which includes the town and several other towns,village communities, has a population of 160K. Apparently, Urlaeva went to Kurgantepa town and the town is small. Gulsumoy’s address (with her picture and other family information) is already published on some other sites as Hamza Street 49, Kurgantepa town. So I was puzzled why Urlaeva wouldn’t go there in the first place. The story may be true or not, but obviously they are looking for the answer at the wrong place.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Inquiries to the German university and German authorities are being pursued by human rights groups, I’m told. I don’t know what the laws on privacy in Germany are like, but if you were to try to find out what happened to a US citizen overseas in the US, even as a relative, privacy laws might be cited and you might not get anywhere. Even so, for this big a case, given its implications, I hope that someone will persuade German officials to confirm or deny the existence of this student — I don’t accept uzmetronom.com using their “confidential channels” to German border guards as credible.

Either town, whether 20,000 or 160,000, wouldn’t be one in which you could necessarily quickly, in a day, find a person, having only their name and maybe the school they used to attend. As for the address, maybe she didn’t have it? You can’t assume everybody trying to get to the bottom of this story knows every detail that has purported to come out about it. It sounds like Urlaeva will never be a reliable source for you in any event, no matter what strenuous efforts she makes.

And what Urlaeva appears to have focused on is not that sort of search, but instead, seeking a meeting with officials who would be in a position to answers this authoritatively, and also, to lodge a formal complaint to get the system to respond. So that’s what she did. I don’t think it’s a proof of her evasiveness, or her “being in on an opposition plot” that she didn’t keep searching and following up with other leads. When she left the police office, she had a tail of two plainclothes policemen. Maybe it’s hard doing things with a police tail on you like that, it can be unnerving.

I hope either uznews.net or fergananews.com or some other independent investigative operation will work on this story. I don’t know why they haven’t covered it further. I don’t know whether it’s just too hard, or too dangerous, or whether allegations of rape and torture of young female students are just so common or just not compelling that they don’t bother.

BTW, I see a number of different spellings, Kurgantepa, Kurgantep, Kurgan-tep, Kurgan-teppa. Anyone know which one is definitive? I realize there are differences as to whether you transliterate from Uzbek or Russian.

Will December 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm

It is Qo’rg’ontepa in Uzbek (that is what makes sense) and Kurgantepa (in Russian due to the lack of uzbek “q”, “o’ “, and “g’ ” sounds in Russian, and “o” becoming “a” like in TOshkent->TAshkent), not Kurgantep or other variations. Andijan governor’s website:
http://www.andijan.uz/ENG/Xokimliklar/korgon.shtml
There is Qurghanteppa (or its variations Kurganteppa, Kurgan-Tyube) in Tajikistan.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Thanks. I’m not going to be using any transliteration that says Qo’rg’ontepa. As a translator, I believe less in academic fidelity and more in making transliterations able to be pronounced by speakers of the target language. If you give English speakers a word like Qo’rg’ontepa, they start trying to say “kw” when they see a Q, and don’t know what the apostrophe is for, etc. “Q” is not used for “K” in English.

I’m well aware of how “a” becomes “o”. But I also hew to the AP stylebook and NYT style which says “Tashkent,” and not “Toshkent” and “Andijan” and not “Andijon” (and that’s what is used at rferl.org and eurasianet.org.

I’ve seen UPI and other news services use “Kurgantep”.

Kurgan-Tyube is the Tajik version.

So I’ll go with Kurgantepa, not because of “Russification” because it enables the English reader to pronounce it easily.

Nathan Hamm December 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm

“Q” isn’t used for “K” in Uzbek, either.

You asked for authoritative. Nothing is moreso than the original. I agree with you on making it simpler, but I’d go with Kurgontepa to simplify it for English readers and make it closer to the original name.

Will December 13, 2011 at 1:44 am

Qo’rg’ontepa is in uzbek latin, so “q” is a throat “k”, not English “q” (kw). For English readers better not use the uzbek-latin version.

Bek December 12, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Here in Uzb not all common senses work.
But it is true the regime uses torture openly among citizens in order to suppress public outrage. But they do not want to show this outside world in order to avoid negative image.
In this case it is clear that Uzb government has organised events very well in order to suppress opposition. Uzb special forces work in and out of the country, you only could hear their stories which they want you to hear.

Realist Writer December 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Why do you have to resort to major conspiracies? I would easily suspect that Gulsumoy Abdujalilova was a fake account created by a “third party” not affiliated with the government or the opposition, who wanted to, for whatever reason, walk away from the facade. So the “third party” faked Gulsumoy’s death. End of story.

It’s even possible the “third party” is actually a troll just trying to manipulate people and get attention for the lulz, but if so, we should see confirmation of that in the near future, possibly a mention of a “social experiment” (as that is what trolls usually claim their actions to be).

Metin December 13, 2011 at 2:04 am

Hypothesis: given the extensive coverage of obviously fake story, ‘third party’ could well be some of registan.net users. That fits well with the question asked in this thread – ‘who benefits?’. Who would spend so much time on flimsy story without a reason after all?

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm

@Realist Writer we’ve all made that point, it could be a fake story. But given how seriously uzmetronom.com took it in order to instantly and efficiently debunk it and set up the human rights groups and the opposition as looking naive or manipulative, it seems like it’s a fake story with somebody with an agenda.

In any event, I understand that the university where Gulsumoy was alleged to have studied is not confirming her existence, but a girlfriend outside the country claims to have the suicide note. The whole “a byla li devushka” type saga may continue thus for ages. I’m trying to confirm some more details on this and hope to post something soon.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 13, 2011 at 9:31 am

A key feature that makes Registan such an unpleasant place that often feels unreliable is that there are always anonymous, unaccountable people available in the comments to write something nasty as if they were working for the Uzbek regime, or as if they were importing Youtube or Gawker.com comments despite being intellectuals or academics. The purpose seems to be to drive most people away so only the most hardy will post, or at least, only those in an pre-cleared clique.

@Metin Why would “some of the readers” have anything to gain?! It’s not like any of us trying to get to the bottom of this story somehow “benefit” if it turns out one more story of torture is true in Uzbekistan, or one more story of rape is true, or one more story of a disappearance. There are plenty of other stories, and that’s the tragedy already. That kind of impugning of bad faith to people who are in fact acting in good faith is another hallmark of Registan (an Internet sites with anonymous posters in general) that makes it unpleasant.

@Will Elena Urlaeva says today in a post that she had the address “Hamza 49″ and went to the street, but there was no house no. 49. So she tried in good faith to follow up information, and she reports accurately when it doesn’t add up (in her story of the trip the other day, she immediately said the policeman who was the driver’s brother did *not* find the name). Yet because she has several sources persistently pushing their concerns about the story, she’s following up. It doesn’t look as if the story is going to add up. But in any event, people will be left with concerns and questions, and that’s normal. It’s normal if you start in good faith with the premise that a woman calling you urgently to help get her sister out of prison isn’t playing a role in an elaborate plot concocted by the opposition, but just a woman with a sister in trouble.

@Will I get it that “Q” is a throat “k” not a “kw” and I get it that “q” isn’t used for any aspirated “K” in Uzbek. We don’t write “Kworan” after all, but “Koran”. “Qoran” is not standard usage. “Q” is not a letter used in the English language without a vowel and when it is the first letter of a word, it doesn’t signal a pronunciation of “K”. So it’s odd, and I’m not for using it for that reason.

If you’ve already opted to use a Western stylebook that has “Tashkent” and not “Toshkent,” and “Andijan” and not “Andijon,” you can’t have “Kurgontepa” but have to put “Kurgantepa”.

Nathan December 13, 2011 at 9:44 am

The purpose seems to be to drive most people away so only the most hardy will post, or at least, only those in an pre-cleared clique.

Gabba! Gabba! We accept you! One of us! One of us!

Payne, Thomas Payne December 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

Catherine,

Just wanted to add that even though the throat Q is used in modern Uzbek language it is foreign to it and does not have Turkic/Uzbek roots. The throat Q was introduced into Uzbek by the Arabic language which became the language of arts and sciences in the area after the Arab conquest of Central Asia. For example Samarqand was Samarkent before it was conquered by the Arabs.

But Arabic failed to do the same impact on the Uzbek language in those parts of modern Uzbekistan where populated was dense and they had a deep established Turkic culture, like Khorezm. People in Khorezm do not pronounce the throat Q but they use K.

The Uzbeks will write with Q but it is not pronounced the same everywhere. Some places use K because K is natural to Uzbek language not Q. Needless to say Central Asia has been influenced by Iranian, Greek, Arab, Russian and even Chinese culture and languages which is why it is common to see a lot of loanwords (40% of Uzbek vocabulary has Persian or Arabic roots) and pronunciation that reflect the history of the region and its proximity to other cultures in that part of the world.

If you are a native English speaker you can draw the same parallels in English which is a Germanic language but has a lot of words with Latin roots in it. When you write you may use words with Latin roots to impart eloquence to your writing, like “my vision is deteriorating” for example, but when you speak, when you are really yourself, you say “my eyesight is getting bad”. It is the same thing in Uzbek.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 14, 2011 at 12:55 am

The latest report from Urlaeva, who went back to Kurgantepa and in fact visited the street again, as well as School No. 5, hospitals, morgues, cafes, mosques, etc. — and came up with absolutely no evidence that Gulsumoy ever existed. She talked to the school directors and chief physicians at length and no one could confirm any suicide of this nature.

I certainly have even more respect for Urlaeva, who pursued the facts even though they didn’t fit what she originally believed, and who was just trying to help a family she thought was in trouble.

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64689

Will December 14, 2011 at 3:37 am

The story, according to bbc uzbek service, was first reported (concocted) by former imam Abutov who lives in Sweden. He has even posted a picture of Gulsumoy, which is later found by bbc uzbek service to belong to someone else. I from the beginning inclined to believe uzmetronom’s story because if the story turned out to be true it would have discredited uzmetronom.com.

Metin December 14, 2011 at 6:12 am

” I certainly have even more respect for Urlaeva…”

Interesting logic – a person who misinformed others gets credit. It won’t be surprising if more such stories will follow.

Nathan December 14, 2011 at 7:54 am

But she’s pursuing the story and providing information that the story is wrong. That is honest. And it does deserve respect.

Sarah Kendzior December 14, 2011 at 9:47 am

I am preparing a longer follow-up story now that the case has been confirmed as a hoax. But I wanted to echo Nathan and Catherine’s point about Urlaeva. She reacted to the story with honesty and compassion. The sincere desire to help other people should be applauded, not condemned or tarnished with cynicism.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 14, 2011 at 9:58 am

@Will, I saw the BBC story, too. There isn’t any evidence that Abulatov “concocted” it, and BBC doesn’t say that, he may have passed it on in good faith.

It isn’t that he “posted a picture that was found to belong to someone else”. It’s that he used the picture that was in the purported Facebook account of Gulsumoy, which was used there. As has been noted, it’s possible for people to use FB photos that aren’t their own. Then *a different* picture was sent into RFE/RL last week, and of course all of us studying this noticed the discrepancy but alone it wasn’t proof of a concoction (although certainly raised red flags).

I don’t know Abulatov and I have no need to somehow exonerate him or back up his story if indeed he’s deliberately faking it, and as I’ve reported myself that human rights activists on their own have followed up and believe it to be fake, I also have no need for the story to be true. I just point out that actions taken in good faith don’t necessarily have to get the sinister spin on them that you keep giving, in clearly bad faith.

Meanwhile, there’s never any reason to assume credibility with uzmetronom.com, because time and again, they’ve merely served as a leaker or a sounding board for law-enforcement agencies, and generally when they need to serve up kompromat on some other agency or official. I read them, I cite them, but I point out their nature. When uzmetronom.com tells us that the MVD had a late-night meeting to discuss the railroad explosion and called it a terrorist act, I believe that’s exactly what happened — they did meet and they did say that. But I don’t believe that it *was* necessarily a terrorist act because it could be a story where “they did it to themselves” — and uzmetronom.com will not be pressing further as other media like Asia Plus has done.

There’s absolutely no credibility in the claim to have contacted German border officials and gotten a lightning-speed answer about the movements of a purported Uzbek citizen.

As for the speed with which they got police to answer, that’s suspect as well, when they can’t name any details, and even the name of the agency — by contrast, note how Urlaeva carefully gives us the name, rank, and department of every official she talked to. Sure, uzmetronom.com may have their speed dials to the MVD and NSB, but it still bears questioning because their motives, other than publishing scandals for the sake of scandals, generally tends toward supporting the regime, particularly Karimov.

Urlaeva did every single thing you suggested should be done by anyone researching this story in earnest. Yet it’s not enough, and Melin even badgers her for taking up the story in the first place, which is simply wrong — she took up the case because she’s a human rights activist trying to help, and that’s ok.

I’m glad at least Nathan is willing to admit Urlaeva’s honest deserves respect.

@Nathan I don’t keep up with popular culture always as I don’t have a TV. Is Gabba! Gabba! something related to Star Wars? Or Nick at Night Jr.? In any event, I’m not interested in belonging to the club.

Will December 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I have nothing against Urlaeva, and agree that she deserves credit for following up her investigation.

PMU and Abutov (never heard of him before) were either using Urlaeva hoping for some kind of protests in Uzbekistan or someone was trying to discredit Abutov. Though I am more inclined to believe to the former due to the things that don’t up in their story and Abutov’s strong belief in the case. Also, in PMU’s website, they have a story praising Gulsumoy’s heroism, but written in a tone that is intended to humiliate uzbek men. I don’t think you understand uzbek, but anyone who understands uzbek well will see that PMU’s story was a call for uprising by uzbek men. They are calling for uzbek men to man up while themselves sitting in their comfortable homes in Sweden. That is what upsets me.

Regarding uzmetronom.com, it is not my only source of information. Its frequent leaking of confidential information, which may have never been uncovered by others, is still valuable.

Will December 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

“…I don’t think you understand uzbek…”
May be you do if you have read BBC’s story.

Sarah Kendzior December 14, 2011 at 10:09 am

A brief comment to correct some factual errors in Catherine’s post and Eurasianet article:

1) The photo was not from Gulsumoy’s Facebook page. Her page did not have any photos except a shot of a Turkish model. I’d like to stress that this doesn’t make her page an obvious fake. Many Uzbeks (and non-Uzbeks) do not use real photos of themselves on Facebook.

2) Gulsumoy’s address was also not on her Facebook page. It was printed on Abutov’s website. I do not know where he got that or the picture.

I am not going to speculate any further on who is behind this until I know more, but one should keep in mind the possibility that someone may want to discredit Abutov, who is a controversial figure in Uzbek opposition circles, and that Urlaeva — a credible source and trusted advocate of human rights — was merely a patsy, not the prime target.

Sarah Kendzior December 14, 2011 at 10:18 am

OK, fine, one final point. When evaluating this case, you need to keep in mind that the Facebook profile and online interaction began in July. You should think about political events happening in July and why a profile would be created at this time, and why it would be released now. This hoax is extremely unusual in Uzbek politics. Usually deception revolves around accusations and defamation of character (so-and-so is actually a secret agent of the NSS, etc), not outright fabrication. You should also keep in mind that there are many internal conflicts within Uzbek politics that go beyond the “NSS vs. opposition” binary.

Turgai December 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

The latter is very true. For a start, within the opposition, there is the old Salih versus Polat thing, and the human rights scene in exile also has tacit rivalry for international patrons and attention. Then, there are serious faultines within the regime (e.g. within the MHK/NSS, the tacit but strong resentment among some parts of the elites and personalities towards the role that Karimov’s daughters have, … ). I think that at the end of the day, the internal cracks in the regime are going to be much more significant in its downfall than the opposition.

Metin December 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Nathan might have the point – a person followed the story, found out it was hoax, and reported it – and therefore deserves respect. What’s problematic is why uzmetronom which did the same gets bashing by ‘hardy’ users here, but not a respect.

The story is obviously nothing but irresponsible reporting. One should have done homework before making silly allegations. This in no way deserves respect.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 15, 2011 at 1:06 am

@Sarah,

On 1), you’re not making sense. The Gulsumoy account used the photo of the Turkish model on that account. The Turkish model’s photo was where a real photo would normally go. So that account used the Turkish model’s photo, and that did come from her Facebook page. We can all see the link. We get it that many people don’t use their real photos. But it didn’t say that. And we can’t be expected to instantly recognize a Turkish model’s photo. It was made to appear as if it was *her photo*. So I don’t see anything to correct here. The Gulsumoy Facebook account used this photo that subsequently, people found to be a Turkish model’s photo.

2) I thought it was awfully odd that someone would put a home address on a Facebook page! Who ever does that?! Not even Scoble. But somehow in the back and forth on this the impression was created that it came from the page. I will make that correction.

I agree that someone may have wanted to discredit Abutov. Given how eventually the story got debunked with just some basic investigative work, asking police, searching hospitals and morgues, checking where Facebook pictures may have really come from, asking at the German university, I can’t believe the opposition themselves did this.

The Mirziyoyev account on Facebook was created in July, too, and there is debate about whether that is real (and I don’t find newurasia’s claim that they’ve found it definitively to be false to be persuasive because the answer they claim to have gotten from the PM’s office was ambiguous).

Muloqot was created on September 1, launched in connection with the 20th anniversary of independence.

I think the other Facebook accounts could likely have been part of that effort to control the social media space around that time. It may not be necessarily some specific event in July.

Yes, Sarah, I do realize that I will never know as much about Uzbekistan as you do. But I do get it that there are many internal conflicts that don’t fit the binary NSS vs. opposition narrative. Even so, as I pointed out in my previous posts and in a piece on EurasiaNet, this story line of the agent sent abroad to kill an opposition leader, who then turns against his commanders and tells everyone about his mission in order to gain sympathy is a very old story, and one practiced many times by the NKVD/KGB. And that definitely bears pointing out.

That story line has been used for a 100 years. That there wasn’t a fabrication on social media could merely just be a function of the fact that there wasn’t as great an interest in or presence on social media from Uzbeks until the last year or so.

I’m also aware of the rivalries among opposition group, Salih vs. Polat etc. And sure, it’s possible one did it to another. But I really do not believe that any opposition group or human rights group in exile would pull this stunt because it’s so obviously easily debunked. One call to the German authorities and it’s over. One call to the morgue, and it’s really done, unless you’re going to posit that the German government and the morgue officials in Andijan are in collusion, and of course, anything’s possible…

@Metin, no uzmetronom doesn’t deserve respect, because they glibly claimed to have used “confidential channels in Germany” which was a completely non-credible claim. They claimed to reach Uzbek officials — but couldn’t supply a single name. If the goal was to exonerate the police or NSS, they could have been only too happy to give a name or have the usual spokesmen say, this is crazy, it’s not us.

I don’t believe it’s irresponsible to report an allegation made by credible human rights leaders that have this much detail. Ordinarily, people don’t call up human rights group and say their sister has been tortured for 4 days and then has committed suicide. So it’s perfectly fine to report a story like this about something which is similar to what has occurred — people *are* tortured and they do commit suicide sometimes as a result. You have to report the news as you see it to the best of your ability, especially if the purpose is to report on what media are saying, not to perform investigative missions, which aren’t generally possible for foreign journalists anyway.

Sarah sounded the alarm first about this story’s connotations — that what it meant, if true, was that every student and every exile and every person on Facebook from Uzbekistan had better watch out. People took it seriously out of the best of intentions. Uzmetronom did not have the best of intentions in debunking it.

Sarah Kendzior December 15, 2011 at 7:39 am

Catherine, the photo that Abutov has been posting is not the one from the Facebook page. It is a photo of a different woman, and there are a lot of questions about who that woman is.

Sarah Kendzior December 15, 2011 at 9:21 am

In light of this new Ozodlik report, I proclaim that the Gulsumoy case has gone off the rails:

http://www.ozodlik.org/content/article/24421076.html

This story is now so bizarre that I’m going to join in the speculation. The key figure of interest seems to be Xurshida Jo’rabaeva:

1) Xurshida appears to be the person who called Elena Urlaeva.

2) Xurshida provided the death certificate and suicide note and pictures of Gulsumoy to media outlets.

3) Xurshida’s Facebook page is the only page I could find where Gulsumoy left a comment. However, this does not mean there were not others.

4) Gulsumoy’s page and Xurshida’s page are similar in content, style and spelling, most notably in the unusual use of umlauts on certain Uzbek vowels.

Unfortunately, Gulsumoy’s Facebook page is now gone. Someone should look into whether Facebook removed it as a fake (or as a death) or whether the person behind it took it down. I saved copies of it before it was removed.

Keep in mind I’m not implying anything about Xurshida either way, just listing some facts in the hopes that others might find them useful.

Will December 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Ozodlik’s latest investigation sheds light on a lot of things.

@Catherine Fitzpatrick, the photo was not taken from the facebook page, it was provided by Khurshida Jurabaeva.

@Sarah Kendzior, don’t you think Xurshida (Khurshida) is lying? She provided the photo of “Gulsumoy” who happens to belong to her friend Iroda. Iroda confronted her during ozodlik’s online conference, provided them with a new photo of hers in the same exact clothes Gulsumoy was in the photo. Khurshida would not recognize her. Strangely, Khurshida thinks Iroda does look alike Gulsumoy. How is this possible? You see the photo of a real person with the exact clothes as “Gulsumoy”, and still hesitate to imply anything about Khurshida?

A lot of other details in her story also don’t add up. She has provided the non existing address, the photo that belongs to someone else, the fake photocopy of a death certificate (person who signed the death certificate does not work in Kurgantepa registration office). Her relatives left Uzbekistan after 2005 Andijan events. This may explain why she is doing this. She may be trying to get asylum in Germany or taking revenge against the Uzbek government.

Sarah Kendzior December 18, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Hi Will. The reason I’m not speculating more about Xurshida’s motives is because of the level of misinformation and deception in this story is unbelievable. It is hard to tell who is the antagonist and who is the victim. For example, you mentioned that initially you thought Abutov might be behind it (logical based on the information you had), and now it seems that Abutov was the target. Similarly, some initially blamed Uralaeva for bad information; now it is clear she was the victim of a hoax. I agree with you that Xurshida’s story is bizarre and should be looked at carefully. But I don’t want to speculate further without more information. Many people in this case are vulnerable, and I am trying to be careful not to harm anyone’s reputation with what I say, especially since this is the only English-language forum where this subject is being discussed and people who don’t speak Uzbek seem to be getting their information from here.

steve December 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Hi Will – can you email me at steve (dot) featherstone (at) gmail (dot) com

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 18, 2011 at 1:52 am

@Will and @Sarah

Once again, I don’t know why you keep saying that the photo is “not taken from the Facebook page.”

Go and look at the Google cache of the Facebook account purporting to be one Gulsumoy Andijon:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:NqBVnDab-O8J:https://www.facebook.com/Gulsumxon+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

There’s the picture link, too:

http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-snc4/275667_100002633307876_4327873_q.jpg

This is the Facebook page you first wrote about, and that’s the photo I’m talking about — the profile photo (I’m not talking about any other photos in any photo section — I’m talking about the profile photo.)

That picture is a Turkish model. You can find that exact same picture of the exact same woman here:

http://al-azhar.ru/node/697

and here:

http://vkontakte.ru/club7386370

and elsewhere.

So it’s one that the Gulsumoy account used as a placeholder, in keeping with what people do on Facebook.

Meanwhile, pictures of not the Turkish model, but a woman purporting to be this Gulsumoy were published on rferl.org and also here by the PMU (different photos):

http://tayanch.com/2011/12/08/appeal-of-the-peoples-movement-of-uzbekistan-pmu-to-the-international-community-in-connection-with-death-of-gulsumoy-abdujalilova/

Those pictures were said to be from “a girlfriend”. Likely Kurshida.

Yes, I heard the story of Kurshida surfacing and giving the
interview to Ozodlik. But I agree the story really has gone off the rails and it’s hard for me personally to justify time on it when there are so many other cases that are real needing attention and other pressing stories.

And it doesn’t add up, and it could be anything from an intelligence operation, an effort to make up a story for Kurshida’s asylum application, or perhaps a case of Internet histrionics. But…if Kurshida is trying to get asylum in Germany, how was she able to travel both to Russia and Turkey recently? What passport is she using and how does she get around so effortlessly?

@Will, how did you find out that the death certificate is signed with a name that hasn’t been verified as a person who works there?

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 18, 2011 at 2:05 am

Also to clarify, when I wrote this Dec. 14, “It isn’t that he “posted a picture that was found to belong to someone else”. It’s that he used the picture that was in the purported Facebook account of Gulsumoy, which was used there.” — I thought you were talking about the profile picture used in the account (easily visible in Google’s cache, and on the other sites I linked above), and I thought your point was that he used the profile picture. But you mean the other pictures, yeah, I get it that those are different people.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 18, 2011 at 2:15 am

No, Will, I don’t read Uzbek. I’m sorry I’m unable to learn *another* language for this region. I work with an Uzbek translator, however, so I see regularly what is on Ozodlik, BBC, etc.. I do speak and read Russian fluently, however. Do you? And that’s pretty useful. Especially for seeing through uzmetronom.com, for example.

And while I appreciate that everything from the way people use their umlauts and the way they are dressed and tones they use that are intended to humiliate Uzbek men are all special Uzbek things that we non-speakers can’t ever hope to understand, I do think it’s important to note that the good old-fashioned shoe-leather work on this story was done by a Russian, Elena Urlaeva. And I think she pretty much got the story: this person doesn’t exist, at least under that name, with that narrative.

I don’t mind if Uzbek emigres sit in comfortable homes in Sweden instead of being tortured in Uzbekistan for their dissent. That’s ok. Yes, it seems unseemly if they provoke others to take risks that they themselves no longer take, but that’s the life of emigre organizations. Not a new story. The seething resentment of them for having…fled certain torture and imprisonment…doesn’t make sense to me. Why don’t they get to do that? If somebody can really show that Abutov (whom I don’t know) or the PMU (relatively new but made up of older orgnaizations) or some other emigre figures cooked all this up, by all means, do so. I don’t need this *not* to be true. I just don’t see any sign of it yet. I see them putting out the story like everyone else in the chain.

And there’s an important discrepancy: the Facebook account said she “worked at the PMU” as if it were like a job, in the job spot on Facebook. But the PMU itself put out a statement covered on fergananews.com that said she was “not a member” of their organization. Now, did they do that after the fact, in the belief that would protect her? Or is this in fact a marker for the fact that they didn’t make up the story, somebody else did?

Speaking of manning up, do you have a last name? I personally don’t find it so effective to keep sparring with anonymous Internet people who insist they always know more than me, where I provide my full name enabling easy googleable affiliations and background information, but you don’t. Unless, of course, perhaps everybody already knows Will here, and I just missed the memo. Oh, and unless you’re doing highly sensitive in-country type work that requires keeping a pseudonym.

Sure, it’s possible that the PMU or some opposition group that you obviously find reprehensible just by their nature, cooked this thing up as a gambit to discredit Karimov. It’s possible. But knowing how easy the story would fall apart the minute somebody went to the school, home address, hospital, and morgue to check, why would they risk that?

Perhaps it’s just amateur hour on their part — possible, but somehow I don’t think the case — or some hoax gone bad for some personal motive (the Google cache of the page now shows the word REVENGE for some reason) — or it’s an intelligence operation to distract everybody at the time that Human Rights Watch is putting out their massive report on torture, to discredit the human rights movement.

That would be my diagnosis.

Will December 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Just before ozodlik.org’s investigation, I thought it was Abutov who cooked this all up because he was very ADAMANT to state that he has known Gulsumoy very well, talked to her over the internet for a certain period of time, and he was sure to prove the person existed, thereby hoping to discredit uzmetronom. I find this very odd given that he has never seen Gulsumoy personally. Then Sarah and I followed up with ozodlik’s story which sheds light on everything (see my last comment). Did you read it? Then why are you continuing to speculate as if I am the one who is blaming Abutov or PMU for the story’s cook up? Abutov has since taken down the story from his website and wrote a poem about how he was fooled.

For me and, I believe, for majority of uzbeks, it was not *Russian* Urlaeva who convinced me about the nonexistence of the person, rather ozodlik.org who organized an online conference with all the parties involved in the story. You can’t rule out the possibility that a given address was wrong. Also, it was not me but ozodlik.org who contacted the Kurgantepa registration office and found out that the person who signed the death certificate doesn’t work there.

Regarding PMU, I don’t think anybody resents them just because they fled the torture and imprisonment (where are you getting this?). They are afraid they may be imprisoned or killed if they return to Uzbekistan, but are APATHETIC to the possibility that anyone who protests the regime can also face the same fate. This deserves resentment. Perhaps, you should ask your uzbek translator to translate comments section of ozodlik.org on latest report on Gulsumoy to have some background on the issue.

Speaking about “why would they (PMU) do that”, it is no longer about them (read my 1st paragraph). However, oddly enough you didn’t raise the same question wrt uzmetronom’s story. Everyone here seemed to know about uzmetronom’s connections, but noone raised the question “why would they do that” if its investigative story can fall apart the minute by visiting the address and verifying the other details of the story if the person really existed? I don’t NEED someone to prove or disprove uzmetronom’s link with the NSS, I care about ACCURATE reporting of the story, which is done by investigating the story first, as did uzmetronom.com, while others just speculated.

Regarding posting anonymously, perhaps, you should allow comments under your eurasianet.org blog, so that people with last names can post their opinions. Last time I checked registan.net doesn’t require one posting under a real name. “Will” is my pseudonym and I wouldn’t be posting here, like any ordinary uzbek, if it was not anonymous. Yes, I do have a last name, but why do you need it? If I say I am the real “John Doe”, will it make me more credible than “Will”? Even if I post under my real name, I will still remain a stranger to you like “Will”, don’t you think? Similarly, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick doesn’t increase the credibility of a story just because she is C.A.F., unless she provides us with facts and not speculations (just reread you last paragraph).

steve December 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Hey Will – I’m a journalist and I’m looking for someone who can explain the content on the Uzbek-language websites you’re referencing (mainly, Ozodlik). Seems that the best stuff is there, but us non-speakers/readers are only getting brief snatches of what those websites have reported. You can email me in confidence, if you wish, at the email address I listed a few posts above (steve.featherstone(AT)gmail.com.

Will December 19, 2011 at 2:55 am

Sorry, I can’t help you. Even posting here is taking too much of my time and I am really busy. But you can visit uzbek forums (uzforum.com, uforum.uz, etc.) and ask there to help with translation. I am sure someone would be interested.

steve December 19, 2011 at 11:29 am

Thanks, Will.

steve December 19, 2011 at 11:31 am

Actually, could you do all the interested non-Uzbek speakers one last favor? Could you post links to all the Uzbek-language websites you’ve read concerning this story? I could at least then print them out. Again, thanks for the comments.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm

@Will

Look, I’m not the one who ran with this story first. I let it age some days. Others published it, and Sarah Kendzior who ran a particularly emotional tribute to Gulsumoy here at Registan.net first, and who stuck to the story for some days.

Just because Abutov talked to her *on the Internet* doesn’t mean that he’s somehow wrong in genuinely believing Gulsumoy to be real. Lots of people you meet and talk to only on the Internet. Don’t you believe most if not all of them are real? Why is it “odd” for someone to believe that a person he’s only talked to on the Internet is real?

You indeed *were* the one blaming Abutov and implying the story was cooked up by the opposition, and have been doing that for days by exalting uzmetronom.com and impugning Urlaeva. You’ve been consistently citing uzmetronom.com, even though their instantaneous “research” raised many questions (not to mention their reputation). Why don’t you scroll back? No amount of investigating by the human rights activists was good enough for you.

Urlaeva took up the story in the first place, on good faith; she then followed it up and debunked it. She did all of this in Russian, which enabled at least some foreign outsiders (like myself) to follow along and then report on it in English. What’s wrong with that? Indeed, it’s a public service! Indeed, if there were less animosity to good Russians, and less animosity toward the Russian language, not only by Uzbeks but by foreign radio broadcasters and international aid providers who believe in promoting only native languages as a bulwark against the Kremlin, there might indeed be a lot more communication and a lot better press coverage of this region.

I realize that your animosity toward Russians makes even the best work by an honest Russian human rights defender somehow non-credible for you, but that’s your problem. You claim you had “nothing against her,” but now you say you couldn’t be convinced by her; only a native Uzbek will do it for you. Further, you could only see her as “being used” by others, not someone taking a story in her own right as credible, then debunking it in a credible fashion.

No, I haven’t *read* Ozodlik but only had it summarized and I’m waiting for a translation, like anyone else who has the misfortune not to know Uzbek — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Urlayeva went to the hospitals and the morgues and learned that no such person had died — in person. It’s great if Radio Ozodlik later debunked the fake death certificate — but the story was already disproven by someone whom you evidently didn’t believe *merely because she was Russian*. I think it’s great Radio Ozodlik organized the online conference with the parties to try to get to the bottom of the story with them present — but it was in Uzbek, so the rest of the world couldn’t follow along. BTW they could have reported on Urlaeva’s trips days ago — why didn’t they?

You yourself said you found the PMU disreputable: “They are calling for uzbek men to man up while themselves sitting in their comfortable homes in Sweden. That is what upsets me.” So could you please take ownership for your slams and not pretend they don’t exist and they’re my problem? I don’t know if you really can back up your claims that the PMU is “APETHETIC” about people being arrested. And seriously, I don’t have any reason to exonerate the PMU one way or another — one of their leaders denounced me when I wrote a perfectly normal article about the assassination of their leader because he felt it didn’t do enough to promote their cause.

Don’t worry, Will, Uzbeks read plenty of stuff and send us comments in English or Russian constantly and we have translators that translate relevant stuff like this. I’m not in a big hurry to do *yet another* story on the Gulsumoy saga because I’ve already done *four* — and that’s four stories about a person who doesn’t exist, when I have other people who *do* exist whose stories have to be told. Eventually I will post something about the Ozodlik story, but it’s very much in the weeds — it’s already been established that Gulsumoy doesn’t exist by Urlaeva, and Hurshida’s reasons for putting out this story aren’t clear.

It’s great Abutov took down the story and said he was fooled. So why is anyone then blaming the opposition for this story, eh?

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 18, 2011 at 9:34 pm

@Will — re: uzmetronom

I don’t see at which point Abutov is “trying to discredit uzmetronom”. Uzmetronom was discredited long before by the nature of its stories. A journalist running the law desk at Pravda Vostoka is a journalist close to law enforcement agencies, even if not one of them (and we can’t know that). He has been soft on Karimov for a long time and selective about which officials he does criticize, seemingly in keeping with this or that kompromat campaign. He is cynical about human rights activists — or worse, essentially deliberately colluding in their harassment by officialdom. To take but one example, compare and contrast the way fergananews.com wrote about Birdamlik’s recent action, for example, and the way uzmetronom.com did (and pointing this out doesn’t somehow justify the notion of an unlawful lottery).

Uzmetronom would lose nothing by declaring a person as non-existent if they really did exist IF they were confident that the secret police could cover up the trail and keep any inquiries going cold. How many people are disappeared in Uzbekistan, Will? There was the Uzbek secret police fellow whose story surfaced a few weeks ago claiming “hundreds” of people had been killed and disappeared by a death squad. I couldn’t find any human rights group claiming there were that many disappeared, so I questioned the story, but the guy did exist, was in prison, did seem to have some kind of narrative that might be true, and many people took a serious look at it, including OSCE. This source had a number of plausible explanations of how people disappear — for example, people are tortured, then released after confessing, then killed after they leave the prison, on their way home. Their relatives go on believing they are lost in the prison system somewhere.

If you REAAAALY care about accurate reporting, Will, you would have accepted Urlaeva on day two of her investigation. Uzmetronom.com did *not* investigate the story. They didn’t go and find that the address was bogus or that the school had no record. They didn’t go to the morgues or hospitals. They called their pals on their speed dials in Tashkent who told them what to say, and their “confidential sources” on the German border (!). You curiously don’t question *that* obvious canard.

You’re still not showing enough curiosity about why and how this story got started and who would go to all the trouble of making fake Facebook and Skype accounts complete with pictures of…somebody…not just Turkish models. If Abutov said he was sorry he ever believed it then…whom are you blaming, exactly? And how are you *now* explaining the story?

My comment about anonymous posting regards to this blog, not eurasianet.org. A policy of allowing anonymous comments only makes for a high degree of nastiness and manipulation by all kinds of special interests — whether conniving intelligence operatives or bitter emigres or just contrarian obnoxious types, is anyone’s guess.

Eurasianet.org’s policy about comments isn’t mine to decide, if it were up to me, I’d turn them on and not worry about them, and use a Facebook log-on. But I think the job of moderating comments and responding to them can be a big one, and the editors would rather concentrate on producing news stories.

I don’t “need” anyone’s identity to be outed if it endangers them inside of Uzbekistan. But anyone who continues to incite mistrust of human rights activists, defend obvious intelligence-related news sites, and heap scorn on the opposition is going to look like they are serving the regime unless they divulge their real name and affiliation as otherwise. It doesn’t matter if someone’s name is common or meaningless. It doesn’t matter if you in fact came by these views honestly and independently. If you put a name and an affiliation and you can be Googled for your works and take responsibility for your writings, then that makes it less likely that you will be mistaken for serving some other interest.

The net effect of all your posts here is this, Will: to try to make us believe in the sterling nature of uzmetronom.com Instead, all you’ve done is make it look it — and yourself — more suspect. affiliation and you can be Googled for your works and take responsibility for your writings, then that makes it less likely that you will be mistaken for serving some other interest.

The net effect of all your posts here is this, Will: to try to make us believe in the sterling nature of uzmetronom.com Instead, all you’ve done is make it look it — and yourself — more suspect.

Will December 19, 2011 at 5:12 am

@C.A.F., if you read my posts, please read my follow ups too. Here is what I said above: “PMU and Abutov (never heard of him before) were either using Urlaeva hoping for some kind of protests in Uzbekistan or someone was trying to *discredit* Abutov” (emphasis added). I was not 100% sure if it was them, though Abutov was *firm* to prove the story and discredit uzmetronom.com (in his own words). If someone is so adamant in their assertion, I expect them, at least, to have seen the person over the Skype. It is Abutov himself who made himself a suspect. Then I followed up with ozodlik.org’s story which tells us who is really behind the story. So this removes my suspicion from PMU/Abutov. That’s why I don’t need you to bring this up again and again.

But this doesn’t lessen my resentment of PMU for calling uzbeks for protests. Of course, they didn’t say directly that they are “apathetic” about people being arrested, but they implied it. I can’t prove it to you now since ozodlik.org removed that section of the comments where Tulkin Koraev (PMU member) posted and received angry responses. I believe their call actually backfired, so they removed it from both ozodlik.org and their own website.

Why are you blaming me for animosity toward Russians? Where I exactly said something against Russians. If you are referring to my emphasis of Urlaeva’s nationality, it was sarcasm since you keep pointing out her nationality as if it is relevant here. I said she deserves credit for her follow up with her investigation, but I read ozodlik.org’s investigative story *first* and that was convincing enough for me. Together with Urlaeva’s investigation, it left no doubt. However, have I read just Urlaeva’s follow up, it would still have left me with questions like “what if the address is wrong?”

Regarding uzmetronom.com, I don’t need lecturing about their credibility. They may be soft on Karimov or employed by law enforcement agency, but there are also many other news sites funded by the U.S. government (rferl.org, eurasianet.org, ozodlik.org, Voice of America, etc.). I have no problem with that as I get my information from many sources and uzmetronom is only one of them. On other hand, ferghana.ru often exaggerates its stories and ozodlik.org showed signs of its links to Uzbek opposition. But I still read them, just like you read uzmetronom.com.

I may have left an impression as I am somehow defending uzmetronom.com. No, I don’t need to show their “sterling nature”. What I did is to question the skepticism about the speed of uzmetronom’s investigation. Their speedy investigation doesn’t raise red flags for me (except the German airports part) because, unlike foreign journalists, I have a better understanding on how things work within uzbek government. You are not the only one to see me a NSS officer, but this is normal because I am anonymous and beg to differ sometimes.

I will not post any further, it is dragging me into never ending discussions.

Catherine A. Fitzpatrick December 21, 2011 at 3:45 pm

For those who want to see the Radio Ozodlik reporting now summarized in English, here’s RFE/RL’s report today which has all the main highlights:

http://www.rferl.org/content/the_curious_case_of_uzbekistans_abdujalilova/24429309.html

And here’s my roundup:

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64747

@Will, I read your follow-up posts obviously, which is why I called out your claim that Urlaeva was “used”. I put it differently: she responded in good-faith and then did due diligence and deserves a lot of credit for that. You indeed floated the hypothesis that the “PMU and Abutov…were either using Urlaeva hoping for some kind of protests in Uzbekistan” — a version I never supported because it wasn’t credible. Your notion that a story like this “helps spark protest” is entirely your own — in the Uzbek setting, in fact it can make people more afraid to do anything rather than riot. If what you claim is true, on day one of the hoax, we would have seen angry Uzbek students in both Germany and Andijan picketing officials. We didn’t.

Furthermore, you float the hypothesis that “someone was trying to discredit Abutov”. But in both these versions of the story, you put the blame squarely on the opposition — “somebody” is trying to discredit “some other” opposition member. You won’t say who. You won’t accept that a legitimate hypothesis is that indeed, it is the Uzbek NSS that would have every reason to do this. So why you don’t “need me” to bring this up “again and again,” I have to, precisely because you refuse to acknowledge that a legitimate hypothesis is that this is all Uzbek intelligence doing it. (And yeah, we get it that it might be just some girl trying to get asylum, and we’ll never know, but the question of “who profits” does have an answer here.)

Despite your claim that you now no longer blame the PMU or Abutov, you admit that this “doesn’t lessen my resentment of PMU for calling Uzbeks for protests’. Why don’t they get to do that? There’s lots to protest in Uzbekistan. Wael Ghonim called on his fellow Egyptians to protest from abroad, in his comfortable job as a Google engineer. And why not? That’s how it works.

You don’t need to “prove” something or fish out removed comments from Tulkin Koraev. This is more a matter of principle. Why can’t you accept that an opposition to Karimov gets to exist, gets to form organizations abroad, and gets to call for opposition to the regime? These are all basic human rights. We should only urge that they not incite violence, and their call for “insubordination” doesn’t strike me as exactly coterminous with traditional peaceful civil disobedience, so that has to be analyzed. But by and large, there isn’t any reason for an opposition to Karimov not to exist, and peacefully use their universal human rights to oppose oppression.

As for Russians, gosh, you may not have found Urlaeva convincing for various reasons, but you obviously don’t have any animosity to the Russian language per se because you readily believed uzmetronom.com, which is in the Russian language. So…there’s Russian, and then there’s Russian. The only reason I pointed out her ethnicity and the language she used to check and tell the story accurately here, is because there’s an implication from a number of posters that only Uzbek speakers can authentically penetrate to the bottom of the region’s complex stories. And I reject this notion. Knowing a lot about Uzbek culture and the Uzbek language is really helpful in understanding a story like this, but it doesn’t protect you from hoaxes any better than knowing English or Russian.

In another thread, a poster talked about the problem of seeing one’s region as “a special snowflake” that is never the “plaything of the great powers”. In think in this one story there is some of this: everybody is ready to blame the opposition, everybody is ready to blame human rights activists for being fooled, but they are reticent about calling out what is obvious: that the Uzbek security services had every reason to perpetrate this story, it has its fingerprints all over it (the meme of the turned agent, the technique of making emigres fight each other), and it’s therefore a likely hypothesis.

We now have an additional point of information, such as it is: Khurshida is telling everyone that the NSS made her fake up the story (see rferl.org)

Maybe *that* is fake, too, and the gal just needs to travel all over, get attention, and maybe get asylum. But she bears hearing out.

As for your claim that you “read ozodlik’s.org’s investigative story *first*” — you’re not keeping track of your dates — Urlaeva’s stories came first, then came Radio Ozodlik’s Skyped conference and story debunking the hoax. First came Urlaeva’s first story, which I discussed. Then you set up all sorts of contentions about that story and her work. Why didn’t she visit the school? Why didn’t she go to the address given? Then she did cover all that, *and it wasn’t enough for you*. This was before Ozodlik’s expose.

Urlaeva’s second story, which I covered in full, wouldn’t have left you with the question “what if the address is wrong” since she checked all over that street, neighbouring streets, with the head of the malhalla, with the hospitals, with the morgues, with the mosques, with the cafes. If the doctors in the hospital don’t have a person by that name, and not even a suicide like that person, that’s pretty sold evidence it’s fake.

There’s a big difference between uzmetronom.com, which is indeed soft on Karimov and selective in its kompromat releases, and which the author claims is a kind of hobby, i.e. not subsidized by anyone, with very sketchy reporting and sourcing, and RFE/RL, Ozodlik, and VOA, which are funded by Congress, but which have editorial and reporting standards far and above those of uzmetronom.com They are not morally equivalent. A comparison of any dozen major stories you care to name would establish that.

EurasiaNet.org is not funded by the US Government. As it states (and makes clear in many articles), it is funded by the Open Society Foundations.

Yes, it’s good to triangulate sources and read lots of different ones. But I don’t think it’s fair to say fergananews.com “often exaggerates” its stories. It doesn’t. It may be selective in coverage that shows the regime in a bad light, and doesn’t report on bringing in the wheat and cotton harvests. So what? read gazeta.uz and UzA.uz if you need that sort of thing. As for Ozodlik “showing signs of its links to Uzbek opposition,” that’s an old accusation made of many RFE/RL sections, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny – these services have US managers and lots of vetting and checking. And one thing that Ozodlik does really well, better than any of us, is that it picks up the phone and makes cold calls. It calls over and over again trying to get officials to say something — and sometimes they do. It also tries to talk to ordinary people, outside the opposition and human rights circles.

It’s not about “being an NSS officer,” an uncheckable status. It’s about whether or not you can add to the list of culprits in this story *the NSS, too*. Indeed, they should be at the top of the list.

steve December 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

To Will or anyone else following this — is anybody keeping copies of the Uzbek-language websites where, it seems, all the best commentary is happening? I feel like I’m watching a foreign film with no subtitles. I can sort of guess what’s happening, but I’m getting NONE of the nuance. Will referenced one particularly interesting discussion, now lost, in his last post:

“…since ozodlik.org removed that section of the comments where Tulkin Koraev (PMU member) posted and received angry responses. I believe their call actually backfired, so they removed it from both ozodlik.org and their own website.”

Arggh!

Metin December 19, 2011 at 12:44 pm

@steve,
if you want translation of in particular discussion in Uzbek, just leave a reference link here. I am sure there will be someone for help with interpreting.

Will December 19, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Besides ozodlik.org and bbc.co.uk/uzbek, I came upon these websites by google searching after Gulsumoy’s story emerged: sahwii.com and uzxalqharakati.com .
Sorry, I neither keep copies of their websites, nor interested to follow them. Perhaps, Sarah may have them, if I am not mistaken she mentioned this somewhere above. Also, I am very impressed by her uzbek skills (from reading her comment on ozodlik.org). May I ask, are you a journalist and where?

Sarah Kendzior December 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Rahmat Will! Registanga xush kelibsiz. Bir haqoratli izohchiga e’tibor bermang iltimos. Men ham bu kabi tarbiyasizligini tushunmadim. Bu yaxshi sayt. Fikrlaringizni o’qiganimdan xursandman.

Metin December 19, 2011 at 2:14 pm

though addressed to Will, i read what you wrote in Uzbek.

Your Uzbek is excellent. Where did you learn Uzbek, Miss?
I like your style in English, it feels like reading a novel. Though, I had an impression that there was a bias when it comes to facts – always depicting things in predictable way, in white and black. The latter is everything related to government in Uzbekistan, the first being anything against the first (even when non-credible).
Anyway thank you for interest in Uzbekistan.

Sarah Kendzior December 19, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Sizga ham rahmat, hurmatli Metin! It is always interesting to read your comments, even though we don’t agree most of the time.

steve December 19, 2011 at 3:10 pm

The trouble with Googling for pages in another language is, of course, getting your search terms correct. Second, it’s impossible to judge relevancy of the of the search results. Third, with pages like those on Ozodlik, the comments go beyond the initial page and you have to log-in to get ALL the comments where the good stuff is happening.

I can only hope that Sarah is keeping copies of everything (as she has called for Registan readers to do in the past with other subjects).

tomas December 20, 2011 at 8:30 am
steve December 20, 2011 at 11:20 am

Thank you Tomas! Now all I have to do is learn Uzbek before Christmas ;-)

Sarah Kendzior December 20, 2011 at 8:55 am

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