Uzbekistan: 10 Years Later, Andijan Silent on Massacre
Andijan is a town on the move. People don’t linger; everybody has things to do, places to go, right through the late evening. On the surface, it’s booming – it certainly has more of a business-like feel to it than does Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s sleepy capital.
But there’s an invisible wound here, a place no one wants to go.
It’s common knowledge what happened 10 years ago today, on May 13, 2005. But few will discuss it. Try to talk with local residents, or Andijonliklar, about the massacre and they politely change the subject. If they do talk, they condemn what happened with apolitical generalities – “it was a tragedy” – and change the subject.
They know that all around them there are snitches, informants. And then there are the spooks. It’s enough to make people police themselves.
I attract a lot of attention carrying a camera here. So I get stopped a lot.
When it’s the secret police, who don’t wear uniforms, they demand my passport and write my name into their little books.
The uniformed police tend to be a bit more polite. When I asked one what the problem was, he sounded almost apologetic: “Look, I just have to do my job,” he said. He was scared, too, clearly. He needed to show his bosses that he’s working, so he writes my name in his notebook, plays the bureaucracy game.
Another, at the giant Jahon market, told me he had asked for my papers because he thought I was a foreign journalist. “We’re searching for them,” he said, revealing official unease about the anniversary.
Overall, in two days wandering Andijan with a camera I was stopped 14 times.
Other than refusing to talk about the massacre, Andijonliklar are easygoing people – generally open to being photographed, unlike in other Uzbekistani cities, where people shy from the camera.
At the statue of Babur – Andijan’s most famous son, founder of India’s Mughal dynasty – newlyweds pose for photos. The shooting started 10 years ago today under this statue. Babur’s statue has since been moved from the central square to a location near the railway station, which helps muddy the memory of that terrible day a decade ago.
On the side of the central square, like everywhere else in Uzbekistan, loads of listless men hang around. Some say they are workers who have returned from Russia, where the economy has nosedived thanks to stricken oil prices and Western sanctions. One taxi driver in a button-down shirt told me he’d returned from Moscow and rented a car to drive as a taxi because there is no other work, neither here nor there.
A cop says these men are driving up the crime rate. “People don't know what to do. They don’t have work. So they look for any way to survive,” he said.
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