And the square itself, which had been littered with the bodies of hundreds of townspeople killed by Uzbek security forces during a protest, is now just a pleasant small town scene with groups of teenagers talking quietly and families with children on bicycles and babies in strollers lingering under the soft electric lights. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The City Hall, which was badly damaged in the attack, is completely restored. The movie theater, which was destroyed, has been rebuilt.
But under the surface, the wounds are still fresh. Most people approached on the square are polite, but answer even the gentlest questions about what everyone calls "the events" of May 12-13, 2005, with one-word, vague answers. Finally, one thirty-something man, walking through the square with his tiara-clad daughter, opens up.
He says he was at the protest, and describes what he saw. "There was so much shooting, people ran in every direction. I saw people shot in the forehead, people shot in the chest. I saw little children killed."
Most of the people who were here were protesting against the government, he said, adding; "people are too afraid to protest again. The government controls everything here now."
"Anyway, we've had enough protests, too many people have died."
The Andijan tragedy in 2005 helped cause a rupture in relations between the United States and Uzbekistan which, while formalized in a strategic cooperation agreement, were already rocky because of Uzbekistan's poor human rights record. After Washington demanded an independent investigation into the Andijan events, Uzbekistan shut down the airbase in Karshi-Khanabad that US forces had used as a logistics hub for operations in Afghanistan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Nevertheless, it's apparently a common belief in Uzbekistan that the United States provoked the attacks in Andijan that led to the violent government response. Most people who are even lightly challenged on this point quickly acknowledge that it doesn't make much sense. The initial justification that the Uzbekistan government gave for its harsh response was that the attacks were by religious extremists bent on installing a radical Islamist government hardly the sort of thing that Washington supports. But the logic of conspiracy theories is usually convoluted, and this one is no exception. As one person explains: "If the religious extremists take over the government in Uzbekistan, then we'll develop badly and be weak and then the United States will be able to take our resources."
The Uzbek government appears to be encouraging the circulation of such theories. A government-published book on display at my hotel in Andijan, called "Andijan Today," includes an account of the events that implicitly blames the United States.
"In the last years, some destructive outside forces began to display unfriendliness towards Uzbekistan which has an important strategic location," the book states. "Using different methods, they try to realize their improper intentions. Now it's publicly known that
Joshua Kucera is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. He is presently traveling through the Caucasus and Central Asia to write a serial travelogue for EurasiaNet.