The Uzbek Revolution? Part 3.
I shan't bother to run through Uzbekistan's recent political history again, beyond recalling that the country's president, Islam Karimov, rose to power during the days of the Soviet Union and has remained there through the utilisation of measures familiar from the dark days of state socialism. If you're interested in the background, try searching this site (using either the Google search in the top left corner or the Technorati search to the right). Alternatively check out George Monbiot's article on the country which originally fuelled my interest in developments there and remains perhaps the best introduction to the Karimov regime and the hypocrisy of western foreign policy towards it. Anybody looking for something more detailed and less polemical could do far worse than checking out this article by Michael A. Weinstein looking at the country's geostrategic interest to the great powers (as part of what Ahmed Rashid called "the New Great Game").
The protest in Andijan appears to have been triggered after the trial of 23 men in the city's court. The prosecution accused them of being members of Akramia, apparently a branch of Hizb-ut Tahrir (HUT), a group who wish to see an Islamic caliphate set up accross Central Asia. Galima Bukharbaeva reporting for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), however, suggests that "for the thousands of people waiting outside the courtroom, the sentence was a foregone conclusion." The defendants and their supporters insisted that they were succesful businessmen innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, indeed they argued that "Akramia" didn't even exist and had been concocted by the authorities.
After hearings on May 10-11 the court adjourned to consider its verdict. According to those who had been outside the court, National Security Service (SNB) personnel started arresting those who had been their immediately after the hearing. They even confiscated cars belonging to relatives of the defendants which had been parked nearby. Arrests continued through May 12 and that night it was decided that people would try to get their firend and family members released. Bukharbaeva reports, "They started at the traffic police offices, and as numbers built up they moved towards a military unit based in the city, where they forced troops onto the defensive and seized Kalashnikovs." Later they headed towards the SNB's headquarters in the Andijan region. Apparently there was gunfire as SNB personnel sought to hold off the crowds, with around thirty people being killed according to "protest leaders". At one in the morning, protesters stormed the Andijan regional government building which they managed to take and hold until armoured personnel carriers rolled in the next evening.
Protesters expected that the authorities would respond with force and had improvised barricades out of furniture and even safes dragged from the government offices. Inside men prepared molotov cocktails. Supporters numbering between 10-30,000 came to the street outside and young people who joined the protest organised themselves into an informal militia and policed the roads into the city-centre in a five-kilometre radius. The APCs appeared out of nowhere in the early evening. While the first column passed by without engaging the demonstrators the second opened fire, without evn stopping to take aim, sending protesters, intrigued passers-by and journalists running for cover. Helicopters circled above, presumably picking out targets.
According to eyewitnesses, in the aftermath of the initial assault vodka was distributed tlo soldiers who then proceeded to move amongst the dead and wounded summarily executing anyone who was still alive. The following morning authorities apparently carted of most of the bodies in three trucks and a bus, although Bukharbaeva and Matluba Azamatova report that a number of bodies remained in the city centre and the main square which were awash with blood, while "body parts, brains and other internal organs along with personal items and children’s shoes were scattered within a radius of two to three kilometres of the square where the shooting began."
Karimov of course sought to underplay the whole thing insisting on May 14, "We do not shoot at women and children," and giving official casualty figures as 9 dead and 34 wounded. He claimed that the uprising had been orchestrated by HUT (as he does most acts of violence and dissent in Uzbekistan), insisting, "They wanted to repeat the Kyrgyz [March revolution] scenario in Uzbekistan. Their actions were managed from the territory of Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan." This version of events is disputed by those who attended the rally who insist that it was not overtly religious. Indeed Kabuljon Parpiev, one of the "protest leaders" insisted that the demonstration was not even making political demands. Shortly before the government assault he told reporters, "We only want freedom, justice and protection of human rights. Also, we want the release of Akrom Yuldashev [the man accused of forming of forming Akramia] from prison."
In the aftermath of the assault a number of Andijan residents fled to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Although the Kyrgz government quickly sought to close the border they did allow the refugees to wait on a nearby strip of neutral land between the two countries and apparently beyond the reach of Uzbek security forces. Many of the fleeing Andijans report being attacked by Uzbek forces as they tried to get into Kyrgystan and a number insist they will not return until Karimov is deposed, although Kyrgyz officials say they cannot rule out the possibility of refugees being sent home.
This run through of events hardly brings us up to today and is very limited in its scope. There have also been protests in other towns and cities including Korasuv, where reports suggest 500 people gathered, 80 of whom were arrested. Unfortunately I can't hope to cover everything going on in the country, indeed there is much it is difficult to find out. Whether this is the beginning of the end for Karimov remains to be seen. We can only hope.