Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anniversary of Andijan Massacre

Three years ago today in Andijan, Uzbekistan, government troops fired on unarmed civilians who had gathered in the main town square to protest ongoing government repression and discrimination against the muslim population by the government of Islam Karimov.

The precipitating event occurred earlier that day when a group of men broke in to the local prison, located not far from Babur Square, the gathering place of the protesters, to free 23 local businessmen who had been imprisoned on charges of belonging to a militant Islamist group, Akramiya. There is little evidence that these businessmen, all of whom were local and successful, belonged to either Akramiya or to Hizb ut-Tahrir, the separatist Pan Islamist organization trying to establish a caliphate in Central Asia, of which Akramiya was supposed to be a local version. The interests of the men and the concerns of the crowd were local and economic.

People gathered throughout the day, including women and children, and the crowd swelled to several thousand. Later that day, the government, fearful in the wake of the various so-called color revolutions that swept the region in the months previous, acted forcefully and without warning, opening fire on the gathered crowds who had been prevented from leaving the immediate vicinity by government-erected barricades. Troops placed armored personnel carriers along Navoi Prospekt to the south, Komil Yashin St. to the west and Kizil Bailok St to the East, drawing the crowd down Cholpon Prospekt, where soldiers fired from the rooftops, and where armored peronnel carriers moved in, and there were even reports of choppers, though much of the information was hard to get at the time, in the beginning, and especially in the days and weeks afterwards.

The official government body count stands at under 200, though I've seen reports as high as 700 and some estimates over a thousand.

In his just-published book Islam After Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia, Adeeb Khalid discusses the causes of the Andijan massacre in the context of a wider view of the clash of Bolshevik ideology and Muslim life in the region. In speculating why the government suddenly became so concerned about Akramiya to the point that they persecuted and arrested 23 of their members, Khalid writes:
So what triggered this sudden burst of persecution? Religiously conservative businessmen who display philanthropy may be significant pillars of American society, but in independent Uzbekistan, they can be threatening to the established order. At the very least, the state saw the businessmen as ideological competitors, but it may have had other reasons for their persecution as well. As we shall see below, the regime has sought to keep the control of much of Uzbekistan's economic activity in the hands of a select few. The success of the Andijan businessmen was unacceptable to those who domiated the city's economy; the men's philanthropic activism made them suspect in the eyes of a state that seeks control over all public life; their piety provided the best possible pretext to frame them. Here is an extreme case of the state's construing unsanctioned piety as a threat and persecuting it.

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