Andijan, You Are Remembered
Author: Muzaffar Suleymanov
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 05/24/2006
There was no official mourning ceremony last Friday, May 12, 2006, not a single word from a state, nothing related to the civilian deaths on Uzbek TV or printed media… Emptiness, like the one after the workers’ massacre at a train station in Garcia Marquez’s Macondo – emptiness, as if nothing happened, as if even those 187 civilian deaths (as counted by Karimov’s regime) do not deserve to be remembered by the state on the anniversary of the Andijan tragedy/massacre/terrorist act/ international plot – whatever you decide to call it. Not a single word. Yes, the Uzbek public has been officially informed that the Uzbek leader, however ironic his title might sound now, paid an official visit to Russia where he met President Putin and welcomed Russian investors to participate in the privatization of Uzbek strategic industries.
So Russians are welcome in Uzbekistan now – they are best friends, brothers and sisters of the Uzbek people! Now Uzbekistan has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Russia, and Vladimir Putin is a best friend, a savior, an example if you want to put it this way (déjà vu, Mr. Bush?). Last year Putin did what only Chinese leaders had the guts to do later – he embraced Karimov and gave him his fullest support, approved his actions, and backed the version Karimov was trying so hard to sell: “Islamists, destabilization attempt, terrorist act, failed democratic revolution, and etc…” Now they are great friends and Karimov has paid a visit, which interestingly enough happened to be on the anniversary of the Andijan events.
Given the post-Soviet history of the Uzbek-Russian relationship one has only to wonder, what does Putin actually think of his Uzbek colleague? Since 1991 Karimov and his regime have been distancing themselves from Russia, and President Karimov himself has often referred to Russia as a colonizer and historical aggressor that despite the collapse of the Soviet Union never parted with its imperial ambitions and wanted to claim back its former possessions in Central Asia. (Don’t believe me? Check the modern Uzbek history books and browse speeches of the Uzbek President made before 2003 – there is plenty of evidence). At the turn of a new century the gap between these two countries with many things in common had widened. After 9-11-2001, Karimov made it to the White House and signed a strategic partnership agreement with Mr. Bush, which among other things was perceived as a hope for better life, for positive change, for less repression and more economic cooperation, as well as the possibility of development.
Andijan changed everything. Although conditions were worsening prior to Andijan, repressions never actually saw an end, and economic development was seen by few rather than many in Uzbekistan despite the strategic meeting in Washington. But still people were waiting, waiting with the hope. And then came May of 2005, and with it a point of no return… Karimov could return neither to Europe nor to the US, could be labeled neither as an anti-terrorism ally nor as a “son of a bitch”, and the Uzbek refugees – those that were lucky to escape and cross the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border – saw no return for themselves. And for many – 187 as the Uzbek statistics put it or more than 500 as human rights activists claim – there was no return from the Bobur square and the Cholpon street, as well as the places they were ambushed in – there was no return, no traditional funeral ceremony, no vigil, no state condolences, no mourning ceremony a year later. Even those officially recognized 187 dead do not matter – their lives turned into a mere statistic in the official Uzbek history – just a number.
Yet whatever the regime does, whatever its servants say, Andijan is in the people’s hearts and its victims have been remembered in the world. This first anniversary of the Andijan massacre there were conferences, vigils, and protests, taking place in numerous locations including Bishkek, Osh, Tashkent, Istanbul, Kiev, Moscow, Oslo, Kalmar, Stockholm, Warsaw, Brussels, Berlin, London, New York, and Washington. There were vigils in the hearts of people who remembered Andijan and protests in the minds of those who demanded both truth and justice, who wanted official mourning and international investigation of the events. Andijan, you are in my heart.
Mark Twain once noted that, “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”… All three types are now present in Uzbekistan in regards to Andijan, and there should be an end to that. Whoever is responsible has to be held accountable – for the sake of the peaceful future of the state, for the sake of reconciliation, for the sake of remembrance for those who will never return. Whatever the state and the state-controlled media say regarding last year’s events and their aftermath, there are still many questions to be answered, and if those who support the state version are confident enough in what they say and believe in, then there should be no fear of an independent jury. At least there should be no problem with two questions – why there was no official mourning ceremony even for those 187 victims that the state investigators have acknowledged during the Andijan trials? And why didn’t the Uzbek president mourn on the anniversary of the tragedy as his new friend Mr. Putin does on the anniversary of the Beslan school siege?
Bio: Muzaffar Suleymanov holds a Master’s degree in International Peace Studies from the University for Peace.