On October 24, 2007, one of the most prominent journalists in the southern Kyrgyzstan and the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley, Alisher Saipov, was assassinated in the town of Osh. The passersby, who were in the vicinity, said that Alisher was killed pointblank by three shots from either a pistol or a machine gun. On September 4 Alisher Saipov would have turned 27. The assassins of the journalist are still at large. In more than 10 months the investigation has produced no concrete results (Information agency www.fergana.ru, September 3).
Saipov worked with Voice of America’s Uzbek Service and about half a year ago was a representative of the website www.fergana.ru, which is very popular in Central Asia. More recently, Saipov issued the Uzbek-language newspaper Siesat (Politics). “Only about a week ago he complained to his friends that he could be killed precisely because of Siesat. The materials featured in the newspaper contained many critical pieces about the Uzbek leadership. The publication was illegally smuggled into Uzbekistan. This enraged the Uzbek authorities,” the director of the website www.fergana.ru, Daniil Kislov, told Jamestown a day after Saipov’s murder. It is difficult to disagree with Kislov’s point of view. Uzbek by birth and a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, Saipov was undoubtedly one of the journalists most hated by the Uzbek authorities. For several years, for instance, Saipov worked for the website www.fergana.ru, which in Uzbekistan is considered the most anti-government publication of all. Saipov also maintained a regular mail exchange with the leaders of the Uzbek opposition who are in exile abroad, including the Chairman of the ERK Party, Muhammad Solih (Saipov personally related this fact to Jamestown).
There is another version of Saipov’s murder, however. Saipov’s exceptional piety could have alerted the Uzbek authorities too. As a Jamestown correspondent witnessed, approximately a year before his death Saipov stopped drinking alcohol, grew a beard, and began to follow all Islamic rituals unconditionally. His marriage ceremony was also carried out in strict accordance with the classical tenets of Islam. No alcohol was served, no modern music was played, and women and men were seated in separate buildings. According to the Kyrgyz information agency www.24.kg, in May 2005 after the Uzbek authorities suppressed the popular uprising in the city of Andijon (a city in the Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan in close proximity to the border with Kyrgyzstan), Saipov secretly sheltered the leader of the uprising, Kabul Parpiev, at his home and even helped him reach Kazakhstan (Information agency www.24.kg, December 5, 2007).
The Uzbek authorities also could have been alerted by the fact that as a religious man, Saipov was unconditionally respected by all radical Islamic organizations that are outlawed in Uzbekistan. It should be noted that the Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan live together in the Kyrgyz portion of the Ferghana Valley. The valley itself is divided between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In the Kyrgyz portion of the valley Uzbeks constitute about 40 percent of the population. The Uzbeks residing in Kyrgyzstan represent an overwhelming majority of the members of the underground Islamic organizations in Kyrgyzstan. Osh is only about 40 km from the Uzbek city of Andijan, and both are located in the Ferghana Valley.
In some sense both the Kyrgyz and Uzbek portions of the valley are parts of one ethno-cultural region. It is therefore no surprise that the same underground groups operate in both southern Kyrgyzstan and in neighboring Uzbekistan: Hizb ut’Tahrir, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Akramiya. Rumors circulated that Saipov played the role of a messenger between the different outlawed Islamic organizations. It is noteworthy that practically all Western journalists who visited Osh and who wanted to meet with the radical Islamists received assistance from Saipov. It is interesting that despite such a seemingly active partnership with the West, Saipov’s approach to Western civilization was markedly skeptical. “I am forced to work with Western publications in order to feed my family. But, in actuality I think that the less the West knows about the underground Islamic organizations, the better,” Saipov told Jamestown in a confidential conversation not long before his death.
It should be recalled here that in the fall of 2006 in the same town of Osh in a joint operation by the Uzbek and Kyrgyz special services, Rafik Kamalov, another ethnic Uzbek, a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, and imam of the mosque in the Kyrgyz town of Karasu, was killed. Kamalov maintained active contacts with the Uzbek and Kyrgyz underground Islamic groups and, like Saipov, drew the anger of the Uzbek special services (Terrorism Monitor, November 30, 2006).
The version about the Uzbek connection in Saipov’s murder is more than obvious. Some experts, however, believe in a completely different version. Prior to this, the Uzbek authorities frequently abducted Kyrgyz citizens suspected of having ties to the Islamic underground from the territory of Kyrgyzstan, but they never dared murder them without the explicit sanction of the Kyrgyz authorities. Such an audacious terrorist act would hurt the image of the Uzbek authorities. This is why it cannot be ruled out that Saipov was killed by opponents of the Uzbek regime in order to besmirch the reputation of Tashkent.