Law-enforcement agencies from Osh district in southern Kyrgyzstan are continuing to investigate the possible involvement of Kyrgyz citizens in the May 10 armed uprising in Andijan, an Uzbek city near the border with Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek authorities have given a list of names of the 33 suspects to their Kyrgyz counterparts.
When the bloody riot erupted in Andijan, more than 30 Kyrgyz citizens crossed from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan along with a wave of 500 Uzbek refugees. Initially, all the Kyrgyz citizens were allowed to go home, as they claimed that they simply happened to be in Andijan on that unfortunate day. Later, however, Kyrgyz police arrested two men who had returned from Uzbekistan, and the government launched an inquiry against the rest of the refugees.
One of the arrested men is a Middle East studies expert affiliated with a higher education institution in Osh. There are witnesses who claim they saw him in Andijan fully equipped with military gear.
Tashkent is accusing the 33 Kyrgyz citizens of terrorism and attempting to overthrow a foreign government. The Prosecutor’s Office for Osh district told Vecherny Bishkek that the Kyrgyz citizens would be tried in their own country, if the troubling accusations were confirmed.
However, most of the Kyrgyz suspects have gone into hiding from Kyrgyzstan’s law-enforcement agencies. According to information from local analysts, the refugees who returned home represent only a small portion of the number of Kyrgyz citizens implicated in the Andijan events. Scores of Kyrgyz citizens, followers of radical Islamic movements, have illegally slipped into Uzbekistan in recent weeks (Vecherny Bishkek, July 12).
Ethnic Uzbeks make up over 30% of the population of the Osh district of southern Kyrgyzstan. Islamic radicals in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan maintain close links with each other and operate jointly against the secular-minded authorities of both countries. The relatively milder treatment of Islamic radicals by Kyrgyz authorities partly accounts for the fact that main hubs of Islamic radicals, who control their followers both in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, are located in this country. For example, the unofficial Central Asian headquarters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (an international Islamic organization aiming to establish a Caliphate uniting all the Muslims of the world) is located in Karasuu. Uzbeks live in the Fergana Valley on both sides of the border, both in the Andijan district of Uzbekistan, and in the Osh district of Kyrgyzstan.
Rafik Kamaludin, an imam at the central mosque in the Kyrgyz part of Karasuu, told the Jamestown Foundation, “During the Soviet period, Karasuu was one city, but now it is divided by the border into two parts: Kyrgyz and Uzbek. The softer policy of the Kyrgyz authorities forces many Uzbek Muslims to move to the Kyrgyz part of Karasuu. Perhaps that is why our city is called the capital of Hizb-ut-Tahrir.”
“The Andijan events have exacerbated the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan,” reports Samsibek Zakirov, a representative of the Osh administration for religious affairs. “It is not a secret that the majority of the followers of radical Islam are ethnic Uzbeks. Today, Islamic radicals from Uzbekistan will try to find shelter with their sympathizers in our country.” According to Tursunbai Bakir Uulu, a human rights advocate and candidate in Kyrgyzstan’s recent presidential elections, a great wave of refugees — perhaps one million people — will rush to Kyrgyzstan and other neighboring countries if Uzbek President Islam Karimov does not stop suppressing popular protests with extreme force.
The problem is complicated by the fact that the post-revolution situation in Kyrgyzstan is far from being stable. The continuing weakness of the new authorities is especially evident in southern Kyrgyzstan. On June 13, a shoot-out involving automatic rifles took place in central Osh. At almost the same time, residents of the Kyrgyz part of Karasuu, home to the largest market in Central Asia, staged a protest against one of the owners of the market, Bayaman Erkinbayev. Traders accused the businessman of introducing an illegal surcharge for renting a stall at the market (see EDM, June 14, 20).
“The situations in the Kyrgyz and Uzbek parts of the Fergana Valley are interrelated. We live in one and the same ethno-cultural region,” commented Sadikdjan Mahmudov, chairman of the Osh-based human rights organization Luch Solomona. “Therefore, it is simply impossible to exterminate an Islamic underground movement in just one republic. According to my knowledge, underground cells of the organization Akramiya have emerged in southern Kyrgyzstan.” It was the arrest of Akramiya members that originally triggered the uprising in Andijan.