Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Uzbekistan: Grisly Finds in Fergana Canal

Uzbek killers are believed to be dumping the bodies of their victims in a major regional waterway.
By Nigora Sadykova

Police in Tajikistan have become increasingly alarmed by the grisly sight of decomposing remains of Uzbeks flowing into the country along a major man-made waterway.


Many of the rotting bodies found in the Grand Fergana Canal are believed to be the victims of crimes in the Fergana region of Uzbekistan close to the border with Tajikistan.


So far this year, Tajik law enforcement agencies say they’ve discovered ten corpses, but canal cleaners in the area insist they’ve fished out scores in recent years.


The Tajik police say they were forced to bury the bodies they found in the Soviet-era canal - the largest in Uzbekistan - after the Uzbek authorities failed to respond to their request to collect and identify them.


The Fergana region’s prosecutor’s office, however, has denied that it received such a request. “ If they had sent an official letter to us, then of course we would have replied and dealt with the situation,” said spokesman Murodil Fozilov.


Fergana officials acknowledge that they’ve found bodies on their side - ten in the first six months of this year - but insist that a net stretching across the waterway at the point it crosses into Uzbekistan prevents those they’ve missed from flowing into their neighbour’s territory.


However, some local observers point out that the net is raised when the canal is being cleaned, allowing cadavers to slip through into Tajikistan.


Canal cleaners say the problem is much more serious than the Uzbek authorities are prepared to admit. Norkozi Ahmedov and Holmat Gaziev, who work on a stretch of the waterway on the Tajik side close to the town of Kanibad, told IWPR that over the last two years they have fished out 30 corpses over the last two years.


Some analysts have suggested that the Fergana authorities’ apparent reluctance to deal with the problem stems from Tashkent’s insistence on a 100 per cent success rate in clearing up crimes. Since most of the bodies that end up in the canal are so badly decomposed, making identification difficult and an investigation even more so, officers are unlikely to want to admit to the scale of the problem, the argument goes.


The theory is given some credibility by suggestions that many of the people whose bodies were discovered in the canal died in suspicious circumstances.


Fergana writer Mutal Kodir says the waterway is a good place to conceal crimes. “When writing my books, I often consult the law-enforcement bodies for facts, and they confirm they have discovered corpses in the canal. They say that most are victims of crimes.”


There have also been several recent high profile murder cases in Uzbekistan in which victims were dumped in the canal.


In 1999, a court established that Bahtior Mamarsulov and his wife Zieda Valieva from Fergana killed three drivers, threw them into the waterway, then dismantled their cars and sold the spare parts. Mamarasulov was sentenced to death and Valieva to 20 years’ imprisonment.


And in 2002, a military court in Uzbekistan sentenced three National Security Service officers from the region to between five to fifteen years’ in jail for the murder of Alimuhammad Mamadaliev, suspected of belonging to the outlawed Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. His body was later discovered in the canal.


Villagers living along the Fergana section of the canal, however, suggest rather more prosaic reasons for the corpses ending up in the waterway.


According to Himoyathon Jamolova, a resident of the Besharyk, many of them are the victims of tragedies resulting from people’s carelessness.


“We have seen various cases when parents force their children to fish out logs drifting by, and the children have drowned. Victims are also people who argue or fight next to the canal [and fall in],” she said.


Orifhon Saifutdinov, a resident of Kuvin, says some of the bodies are suicide victims. “Recently my acquaintance Marufjon threw himself into the canal. His body turned up in the Tashlak region. But most of the time, bodies are not found, and people say they are carried downstream into Tajikistan.”


Nigora Sadykova is the pseudonym for a journalist in Fergana.


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