Communication is Limited after Protest in Uzbekistan Leads to a Violent Confrontation
Friday, May 27, 2005 12:40 PM

Andijan, located in the poverty stricken Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan, recently experienced a dramatic upsurge of violence. Demonstrators gathered in the town center during the week of 9 May 2005 to protest the arrest of 23 Muslim business men who they claimed were wrongly detained for having ties to radical Islamic groups. Nine people were killed when these demonstrators stormed a police station and a military barrack to gather weapons. The demonstrators then freed the business men, along with hundreds of other inmates. The day after the prisoners were released thousands gathered in the town center for another protest. Government forces fired upon the demonstrators.

There are differing claims about the particular details of the confrontation. The government, under the leadership of President Islam Karimov, claims that its actions were justified because the violence was initiated by extremist Islamic groups, with support from international terrorist organizations. Reporters, human rights activists, NGO’s and those who participated in the protest explain that the demonstrators were protesting the poor economic conditions and the repressive practices of Karimov’s regime, nothing regarding religion. The government released a statement indicating that 169 people were killed during an exchange of gunfire between government forces and the rebel group that had taken over a government building. An opposition group and various human rights organizations estimate that the number of people killed is actually over 700.

The violent events have placed the government on guard. Karimov has rejected calls for an international investigation into the incident and has effectively shut down virtually all communication from the area. Journalists based in Uzbekistan were told that their security cannot be guaranteed if they remain in the country. Many have left. NGO’s and human rights activists have been silenced as well. Out of fear for their personal safety, human rights activists and organizations have stopped working, gone into hiding or left the country. The Uzbeki government is keeping tight control over the media. Local Uzbeks have access to limited information. All television newscasts from outside of the country have been cut off. Internet communication is limited. Those who have sought information about what happened have been deterred or arrested. Some have been killed. Police are attempting to round up all men who are connected to those who organized the protests. Many who do know what happened in the town center on 13 May 2005 are scared to speak.

Over 1500 Uzbeks have sought refuge in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. About one-third, including 53 women and 21 children, are living in tents set up near the border by Kyrgyz authorities. International organizations are providing relief, but the Krygyz provisional government has indicated intent to comply with the Uzbek government’s request for the return of the refugees. There is fear in the region and in the international community that the unrest in Andijan will spread to nearby countries if something is not done soon.

Journalists and activists indicate that based on past performance and the government’s present policy it is unlikely that the current government will find a solution. Karimov is reportedly in poor health and the recent violent developments have intensified the view that Karimov must be ousted from power. Over the last two decades, Uzbekistan has experienced the formation and growth of radical Islamic groups, which may affect the power structure of country going forward. There are democratically-oriented groups in the country, but reports indicate that they are fragmented and are unlikely to be able to provide a leader should Karimov fall. Eurasia Insight identifies three main candidates who are ready to take on the leadership role, the secret police chief Rustam Inoyatov, the Interior Minister Zakir Almatov, and the presidential advisor Ismail Jurabekov. “All these figures are considered even more ruthless and dangerous than Karimov.”

Compiled from:

• Darya, Kara. “Uzbeks Assail Government’s Crackdown.” The New York Times. 26 May 2005.

• Saidazimova, Gulnoza. “Uzbekistan: Spontaneous Popular Uprising in Andijan or Terrorist-led Upheaval?” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 25 May 2005

• Norton, Jenny. “After the Violence, fear in Andijan.” BBC News. 24 May 2005

• “Displaced Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan Face Difficult Living Conditions.” 18 May 2005.

• Kimmage, Daniel. “Uzbekistan: What Really Happened on Bloody Friday?” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 17 May 2005

• Rashid, Ahmed. “Uzbekistan: On the Slippery Slope.” 17 May 2005

• Baigin, Shamil. “Uzbek Troops Open Fire in Protest Town.” Reuters. 13 May 2005