Reassessing Andijan: The Road to Restoring U.S.-Uzbek Relations
The events in Andjian’s Babur Square in Uzbekistan on May 13, 2005 immediately excited fierce passions that have yet to be resolved. Human rights activists worldwide were quick to label the tragic occurrence an unprovoked brutal massacre by the security forces of President
Islam Karimov, while Tashkent maintained that it had in fact crushed an uprising organized by radical Islamic terrorists. Every element of the incident is hotly disputed. Even the number of dead and injured is unclear—Tashkent maintains that less than 200 died; Western human rights groups place the death toll in the hundreds; and Hizb ut-Tahrir claims that up to 10,000 were killed. Many elements have contributed to making uncovering the truth about what happened difficult, not the least of which is the paucity of primary source material available in both Uzbek and Russian.
Into the breach has stepped AbduMannob Polat. Polat, an Uzbek, was the Director of the Central Asian Human Rights Information Network of the U.S. NGO Union of Councils, former chairman of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan and former member of the Birlik political party. In December 1992, Polat was abducted in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan by Uzbek security forces because he was a co-sponsor and director of an international conference on human rights in Central Asia, organized by the Union of Councils. Back in Uzbekistan, Polat was sentenced to three years of imprisonment, but released because of strong international protest. He subsequently emigrated to the United States, where he currently resides.
Polat’s background makes the thoroughness and objectivity of this paper all the more remarkable. Two years after the events on that tragic day in Uzbekistan, Polat’s study is by far the most comprehensive and diligent investigation of the tragedy, and will quickly become the standard source of information about the event for the foreseeable future.
The paper places the events in Andijan in a broader context, starting with Uzbekistan’s independence after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and progressing onward with the development of indigenous political movements and the post-Soviet rise of Islam in Central Asia.
Polat gives an in-depth description of events both preceding and following the demonstrations, armed attacks and subsequent government response quelling the disturbance. No topic is too sensitive, from government policies to the statements by the leaders of the unrest themselves. Every available piece of open source evidence, from interviews to videos as well as a number of studies by Western specialists in the aftermath of the insurrection, has been painstakingly analyzed and incorporated into this paper.
The study unearths many previously unknown facts surrounding the events and evaluates the commentaries from all sides, including government officials, eyewitnesses, journalists and academics. In every instance, what shines through most strongly in this study is the author’s persistent ambition to uncover the truth, while remaining as objective as possible—an accomplishment made all the more remarkable by his previous experiences. No one who reads this report, from U.S. and Uzbek government officials to human rights activists, will fail to be informed and educated about many hitherto unknown facts about those pivotal events in the Ferghana Valley. The study concludes with the author’s recommendations, placing the events in a rational, dispassionate context, which aims for the resumption of dialogue and rapprochement between Tashkent and Western governments, most notably the United States.
For all of the reasons enumerated above, this remarkable work should be essential reading for those wishing to understand the dynamics post-Soviet Central Asia and its relations with both regional and Western governments.
Glen E. Howard
The Jamestown Foundation