Fear and Resentment Persist One Year on

Voices from Andijan speak about the continuing repression designed to stifle any debate on the May 2005 killings.

Fear and Resentment Persist One Year on

Voices from Andijan speak about the continuing repression designed to stifle any debate on the May 2005 killings.

A year on from the Andijan massacre, many families are quietly commemorating those who died when Uzbek security forces opened fire on thousands of demonstrators in central Andijan last May.

The blood was washed off the streets and the bodies spirited away the day after the violence of “black Friday”, May 13, but the memories remain fresh.

“It’s like a nightmare,” said 75-year-old Khadicha Usmonova. “I will never again see my grandson, who was just 19. His parents and I had great hopes of him. That day he just went out, and a few days later we saw the corpse of our innocent boy.”

There has been no independent investigation, and the authorities are sticking to their story that less than 200 people died, most of them government forces or armed extremists.

Over the last 12 months, they have done their best to strangle alternative sources of information by driving out foreign journalists, arresting local ones, jailing human rights activists, and making it clear to Andijan residents that they will face dire consequences if they tell their stories.

The mood in Andijan is thus permeated with fear as well as resentment. The enforced silence only compounds the psychological trauma caused by so much bloodshed.

Relatives of the dead say that soon after May 13, police and security agents visited them and made them sign statements that those who died had been shot not by the army or police, but by members of Akramia, an Islamic organisation on which the authorities have pinned all the blame.

Ask people about President Islam Karimov’s statement that 187 people died that day, and you will get a variety of responses. Some say nothing, or merely “let’s not talk about that”, for fear of reprisals.

Others curse politicians and the state-controlled media for parroting the official line without question.

Compiling an accurate body count is well-nigh impossible in such an atmosphere of intimidation and official denial, but estimates from eyewitnesses, reporters, and human rights groups range from several hundred to over 1,000.

In the wake of Andijan, the government stepped up surveillance and arrests, all designed to isolate critics and silence the population as a whole.

“Andijan citizens might have risen up against Karimov’s regime again, but officers of the Uzbek National Security Service keep careful track of people with anti-Karimov views, throwing them in prison or forcing them to leave the country,” said university lecturer Anvar Rahmatullaev.

One reason why the authorities need to keep a close eye on things is that whereas in previous years people might have held middle-ranking or senior officials to blame, popular resentment is increasingly gelling around the figure of President Karimov himself.

“By putting down the Andijan insurgents with force of arms and thus intimidating his own people, Islam Karimov has achieved his goal,” said Halima Koraboeva, who was in the crowd last May 13. “He has taught us a lesson, demonstrating clearly to anyone with plans to mount a revolt or raise their voice against the regime in future that any of them may fall into the meat-grinder.”

According to human rights activist Obid Kalonov, few people believe things will get any better. “The entire country is living in an atmosphere of fear, distrust and hopelessness,” he said.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that increasing numbers of people are leaving Andijan, and Uzbekistan as a whole, to work as migrant labour or to move abroad permanently.

Little is left of the hopes for a prosperous future that Karimov used to offer his people, under the slogan “Uzbekistan is a Future Great State”.

Instead, the regime seems likely to stagger along at best, propped up economically as well as politically by new alliances with Moscow and Beijing, since he broke with the West over its demands for an independent investigation into Andijan.

According to political analyst Akif Bahromov, the political backing Karimov gets from these less-than-critical allies, coupled with his scorn for the rest of the international community, means there is little chance the truth about what happened in Andijan will come out any time soon.

There is also a perception among people here that the measures taken by the international community have been too weak to have any real influence on the Uzbek government.

Yet human rights activist Aziza Abdirasulova insists that governments must always be held to account. “If the culprits remain unpunished, then it is likely that there will be a repeat of Andijan,” she said.

Rahmatullaev, too, believes that intimidating the Uzbek population into submission will not work for ever.

“It is unclear how long this can go on. Continued harsh policies directed against the people will eventually exhaust their patience. Consequently, spontaneous protests are inevitable, and their outcome is unpredictable,” he said.

Many people in Andijan are, however, resigned to Karimov staying in power for life.

“There is a beginning and an end to everything, there are certain milestones,” said 80-year-old Muidinjon Askarov. “You can evade responsibility by means of deceit, but you cannot cheat death. We believe death will come knocking on the door of our ruler. If he is not removed by the people, then God Himself will take him.”

Holmuhamed Sobirov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Uzbekistan. All names of interviewees have been changed out of concern for their safety.
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