The Andijan massacre a year after


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N: A year after the massacre in Andijan, a city in the eastern Uzbekistan, there is still no exact data how many demonstrators were killed by the government troops and where many of the bodies were hidden.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Acacia Shields said that the first thing the Uzbek government did after the massacre was to try to cover it up and to conceal the real number of killed.

A Acacia: We have estimated that several hundreds killed at least during the massacre. We have heard reports about thousands killed. But until there is through investigation, it is just impossible for us to know the real numbers.

N: Human rights organizations based their reports on eyewitness accounts. In the after-records conversation with a journalist high ranked Uzbek police officer said soldiers killed 4,500 people and concealed bodies in mass graves.

And Andijan physician Gulbakhor Turaeva told BBC what she saw the day after the massacre.

A: The courtyard of the school number 15, next to the Cholpon movie-theatre, was full of bodies. I counted myself about 500 corpses.

N: Uzbekistan is one of the former Soviet republics. Its president is Islam Karimov, a former communist, who has ruled the country since before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country borders on Afghanistan and after the 9/11 attacks Karimov's government became a strategic partner of the United States in the war on terror. Uzbekistan allowed the US forced to use an airbase for the war in Afghanistan.

Robert Templer of International Crisis Group, said that Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive governments in the world.

A Templer: It is more like a mafia then a government in the sense how it is exists to extract as more wealth as possible from the poorest people in the society. The repressions are not just about of crushing a dissident poet or journalists; it is about crushing a woman, who is selling onions in the bazaar. You see so much potential for the violence across the country.

N: The violence erupted in Andijan, on May 13, 2005. It was a citywide uprising provoked by the trial of 23 local businessmen, accused of Islamic extremism. On night on May 12 their relatives and friends took to the streets.

By morning thousands of Andijan citizens gathered in the Bobur square in a huge pro-democracy demonstration. I arrived in the early afternoon to cover the demonstration. There were at least 10,000 people surrounding the statue of Bobur - Mongol Emperor, descendant of Chingiz-han. It became a podium of free speech.

A Man1 In Uzbek: Today we will stay here. We will not go anywhere, for our motherland, for our people and for our future, for the better life of our people. We should stand and do our best today.

N: The man and his fellow countrymen could for the first time talk freely about their problems. Speaker after speaker condemned the poverty of their lives and government repressions.

A Man2 in Uzbek: Our salaries, to be honest, are not enough, even for the public transport. Ask others, it is true, isn't?

N: People in Andijan also talked about luck of freedom in Uzbekistan, that when they try to defend their rights the government accuses them of terrorism and Islamic extremism.

A: You are vahabbi, you are terrorist, you are extremists, we are ordinary people, working people, look at our hands. What we need is truth.

N: It was a sunny spring day, the atmosphere was one of happiness and excitement. Many protesters came with their wives and children. Rumors circulated in the crowd that president Karimov was in the city and might come to listen to their demands.

But the president Karimov did not come. Soon after 5pm a convoy of Armored personnel carriers appeared from one side of the square. Without warning soldiers on the APCs opened fire on the crowd.

AMB: shootings.

N: On each APC several special soldiers were sitting and firing heavy machine guns on everyone who was on the square at that time on women, children, men, the elderly and journalists.

AMB: Sounds of shootings and panic.

N: People in a panic and fear were shouting and imploring troops not to shoot at them: Otmanlar - do not shoot in Uzbek.

AMB: Shooting and people creaming

A saw at least a dozen people fall around me. As the shootings continued a helicopter appeared, it circled overhead, watching as people fled into surrounded streets.

AMB: Sound of a helicopter

N: I run to the narrow street and managed to get to my hotel. A large group, about 2,000 people fled in the opposite direction. In Cholpon street, about a mile away, they run into a trap. Human Rights Activist Lutfullo Shamsuddinov was among them. He said two APCs were blocking the road and soldiers opened fire.

A Lutfullo: They were waiting for us. When the demonstrators met with them, they suddenly opened fire, shooting on people. At that scary, terrible place, I saw about 300 people were killed.

N: Shamsuddinov was able to flee. But many protesters were surrounded by soldiers and began to pray.

AMB: Sound.

N: There is no God but Allah, protesters were praying.

AMB: Pray and shootings.

N: This recording was made thanks to Sharif Shakirov, one of the trapped protesters. He was talking to the BBC on his mobile phone when the shooting started. The mobile phone remained on as the massacre unfolded.

AMB. Pray weaker

N. The praying grew weaker.

AMB: last otmanlar.

N: Sharif still holding mobile phone, was hit and lay dying. The phone connection remained open and captured the sound of his last breaths.

AMB: Last breaths.

N: A few days later Sharif's family received his body; it was without one arm, with a bullet hole in a head. Many other bodies were found with similar head wounds. Lutfullo Shamsuddinov said he heard many shots during the night.

A Lutfullo: What that was, I found out day, soldiers were asking wounded, is any need help? People thought they came to help them to take them to a hospital, answered, yes. And after the soldiers shot them, executed.

N: In the day and weeks after the massacre the Uzbek authorities began a campaign to erase all evidence of the massacre. Acacia Shields of Human Rights Watch.

A Acacia: The government of Uzbekistan went into immediate action, to cover up the wrong doing by its forces. Hundreds of people in Andijan were arrested and further tortured into giving false testimonies about what happened in the day of massacre.

N: The United States and the European Union have called on Uzbekistan government to allow an independent investigation on the Andijan events. The Uzbek authorities refused. At the press-conference next day after the massacre president Islam Karimov said the violence that day was started by a group of Islamic terrorists.

A Karimov: I can claim that it was one of the branch of Hizbut-Takhrir, which in Andijan has a name Akromia. Their final aim is to unite all Muslims and to build Islamic Khalifat.

N: The Uzbek government claims that only 189 people were killed, all of them were killed by the Islamic extremists.

The events in Andijan have damaged previously close relations between the Karimov government and the United States. In November last year Karimov expelled the US troops from Uzbekistan. The European Union imposed sanction on Uzbekistan, including the visa ban for 12 Uzbek officials.

Human Rights organizations, however, advocate a stronger coNdemnation.

A: We have to make sure that we are in the West on the right side.

N: Robert Templer of International Crisis Group, said that the Western countries should be consistent in their claims. They should coNdemn the massacre in Andijan and start supporting pro-democracy people in Uzbekistan.

A Templer: When the government will change and it will change, people of Uzbekistan have to look to the West, to the United States and say they all were on our side and did not support for decades our dictator.

N: Most observers say that the complete regime change is the only condition to bring justice to the victims of Andijan, to punish those responsible for the massacre and find out the exact number of killed on May 13, 2005 in Andijan

I am Galima Bukharbaeva, Columbia Radio News.