Staunton, May 14 – A small group of demonstrators assembled yesterday at Tashkent’s Courage Monument to mark the 13th anniversary of the Andizhan massacre in which the government killed hundreds of people and then incarcerated more than 3,000, many of whom are still in prison or psychiatric hospitals.
This year, the Uzbek police came, took the names and passport information of participants, but did not arrest or forcibly disperse the group, a marked contrast to earlier years when those who marked this anniversary were mistreated and charged with crime (fergananews.com/news/29908).
This year’s protesters called on the Uzbekistan government to release all those still held, including in particular Dilmurad Saidov who has been in a psychiatric prison since 2005, to drop charges it lodged against people in Andizhan, to end the pursuit of Uzbek activists abroad, and to bring to justice those responsible for the crackdown 13 years ago.
On the one hand, the official response to the protest this year may be nothing more than a scene setter for Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to Washington, D.C. American officials and human rights activists have sharply criticized his predecessor Islam Karimov’s actions in Andizhan.
But on the other, official Tashkent’s new more tolerant approach to those who want to focus attention on one of the most sensitive issues in Uzbek life given that Andizhan presaged a broader crackdown on the population there may prove to be one of the most significant breakthroughs under Karimov’s successor.
If there is an honest accounting of what happened in Andizhan 13 years ago, that could go a long way to healing the wounds of Uzbek society and, perhaps even more important, make it far more difficult for any Uzbekistan regime to go back to the repressive approach it used throughout Karimov’s tenure.
According to Tashkent officials at least up to now, the Andizhan events included an effort by radicals, variously described as nationalists or Islamists depending on the audience, to seize the local prison and government offices, actions that the authorities put down forcefully but justifiably with an unfortunate loss of 187 lives (fergananews.com/andijan-2005).
But according to Uzbek human rights activists and various international human rights groups, the people of Andizhan were protesting the misuse of charges of Islamist extremism against local businessmen and were then attacked without provocation by government forces with no fewer than 700 and possibly as many as 1500 killed as a result.
The ents cast a dark shadow over Uzbekistan until the end of Karimov’s time as well as Uzbekistan’s relationships with CIS countries where Uzbek government agents actively pursued, sometimes with local help and sometimes not, those Tashkent viewed as involved in the Andizhan events, a category that became increasingly expansive over time.