Andijan Remembers the Dead

IWPR contributor speaks to residents about the loved ones they lost and their anger at those who gave the order to shoot them.

Andijan Remembers the Dead

IWPR contributor speaks to residents about the loved ones they lost and their anger at those who gave the order to shoot them.

Andijan is in mourning for its mothers, fathers and children.

The dead have been buried – washed carefully according to Muslim custom - but the families I visited on May 19 seemed to have no relief from their grief and anger at the shooting of a largely peaceful crowd.

It was a day of remembrance in Andijan on the day of my visit; I attended 12 funerals during my visit.

Heavily-armed soldiers were guarding the roads into the city, but we found a taxi driver who knew the side-routes where there were no checkpoints.

When we got to the central square – the main focus of the massacre – we found it still closed off and patrolled by soldiers. The military had been pulled out and replaced by police for the showcase visit by foreign diplomats on May 18, but by the time I got there they were back.

From there, I was able to use back streets to travel around the city, Uzbekistan’s fourth largest, where I spoke to people whose eyes were filled with hatred of the authorities, but also with fear.

One man I spoke to had just buried one of his sons. Another son is missing, but the father refused to give his name or description, afraid that if he is still alive, saying too much could jeopardise his safety.

Some, however, spoke out openly because they want the world to hear the truth about events in Andijan.

Uzbek authorities claim 169 people died on May 13, most of them “Islamic extremists”. But activists like Muzaffarmirzo Ishakov, head of the Human Rights Society in Andijan region, say the real figure is closer to 700, overwhelmingly civilians.

The activists say some members of their group have received threatening phone calls and others beaten up as they tried to collect the names of victims.

The people I interviewed confirmed earlier reports of refugees and other eyewitnesses that troops opened fire on innocent civilians. The core group of so-called extremists were inside the regional government building, and escaped when troops moved in.

It was those standing outside on Babur Square, many of them simply curious bystanders, who bore the brunt of the shooting.

One man I spoke to had lost his brother and nephew. His brother went out to look for his son and never returned, and my interviewee found him in the morgue with a bullet wound to the heart, while the 22-year-old son was discovered in the street, shot in the head.

If that is not enough, this man is still awaiting news of two of his sisters-in-law and three other nephews. He harbours hopes that they are still alive, because they are not among the corpses at the temporary morgue at Andijan’s School No. 15.

Eyewitnesses have told other IWPR contributors that after the initial assault, the security forces went round methodically finishing off the injured.

Some of those I interviewed said their loved ones had been shot in the back of the head, including a father of three who died when he went out to buy bread. His body was found by his father in a flower garden at the side of the road, about one kilometre from his home.

The father of a lad who would have turned 18 in June discovered his body at the morgue of Andijan Medical Institute. Two bullets in the leg and, again, one in the back of the head ended his life.

I met one man from the city of Kokand who was taken by local authorities to the Boghishamol cemetery to identify his brother from a photo. Because the corpses were decaying, they had been photographed then quickly buried, officials said. The man recognised his brother only by his teeth.

He also saw another 20 fresh graves, all unmarked, along with lists naming 72 people from the Fergana valley who were killed.

I also met someone who told me how an Andijan policeman complained to him of the disquiet he felt after three days gathering corpses. He now dreams about the dead, and curses those who shot ordinary people.

Mansur Karimov is a pseudonym for an IWPR contributor in Uzbekistan. The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their safety.

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