The government sees Islamists behind the unrest and is afraid of exporting the revolution from Kyrgyzstan
Central Asia does not come to rest (In all three countries, the changes have been "from above" initiated). Only two months after mass protests toppled the government in Kyrgyzstan, unrest has broken out in neighboring Uzbekistan in recent days. Unlike in politically liberal Kyrgyzstan (Revolution, the Third …), however, the confrontations in authoritarian Uzbekistan have been more severe.
When several thousand people gathered in the eastern city of Andijan on Friday to protest against the government, soldiers opened fire. According to eyewitness reports, up to 200 people were killed in the massacre. The government in the capital Tashkent justified the use of weapons with the actions of the demonstrators. The latter had stormed a prison and arrested an estimated 2.000 prisoners freed. Among the escaped prisoners there were also 23 Muslim businessmen. They are accused of membership in the Akramija, a splinter group of the banned Islamist party Hisb-ut-Tahir (Liberation Party).
Illegalization of the Islamist Opposition
According to the government of President Islam Karimov, these Islamist groups are responsible for the escalation of violence. "They wanted to carry out a coup d’etat", said the politician at a press conference on Saturday in Tashkent, "in order to establish a state of God." In addition, activists from neighboring Kyrgyzstan were among the organizers of the protests. Fear of exporting the revolution is rife in Tashkent.
The Karimov government has played its part in the escalation of the situation. For although Hezb-ut-Tahir still used peaceful means in its open political work, despite its totalitarian views, it was banned under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Thus driven into illegality, its activists now found themselves actually working alongside terrorist groups such as the "Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan" again, a militant Islamist group whose fighters have been dispatched to armed combat in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan in recent years. Hisb-ut-Rahir denied any involvement and stressed that they wanted the government, "that has tortured and imprisoned thousands of innocent people", using peaceful means.
Social causes of the protests
Within the framework of Karimov’s uncompromising anti-terrorist policy, any opposition or criticism is meanwhile met with the "Islamist threat" equated. While the head of state interprets the events in Andijan in this way, the few reports from foreign correspondents speak a different language. A reporter for the AP news agency, for example, saw the demonstrators’ motivation primarily in the social misery of the Central Asian country:
One by one, they take to the podium to bemoan the mismanagement of the economy and unemployment. (…) Only a few years ago demonstrations had been unthinkable, but the frustration in Uzbekistan grew more and more. Small demonstrations and protest rallies became more and more frequent.
From the AP report of Bagila Bukharbayeva from Andijan
In her report, the AP correspondent also accuses government forces of culpability in the current escalation. Only after the soldiers attacked the demonstrators did they take shelter in a building of the regional administration, she writes. The government had cited this occupation as a justification for further military action. In view of this situation, more and more people decided to flee. Round 4.000 Uzbeks are said to have asked for entry into the neighboring country at the border with Kyrgyzstan. The situation remains tense.
Abroad, the political escalation in Uzbekistan was received rather reservedly. The EU Commission went the furthest with its verdict that the government in Tashkent was partly to blame for the escalation. The current crisis, it was said in Brussel, was a "Result of lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law". The U.S. government showed itself to be concerned for the sake of form "concerned" – especially since Friday’s storming of the prison included suspected members of the "Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan" should have been released. Moscow, meanwhile, approved of Tashkent’s tough stance:
The Russian side supports the leadership of the friendly Uzbekistan in these difficult minutes.
From a statement by the Russian government
The tendency restraint to the brutal actions of the Uzbek government, which remains up to 7.000 political prisoners, has a simple explanation. Europe, Russia and the U.S. maintain their own military presence in the strategically located state. The Bundeswehr also uses an airport in Uzbekistan and has soldiers stationed there to supply troops in Afghanistan. And apparently no one wants to mess with the host.