Tuesday, 07 June 2016 00:00

The May 2005 Andijan Uprising: What We Know Featured

By Jeffry W. Hartman

May, 2016, pp. 68

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Executive Summary

On May 13, 2005, in the Uzbek city of Andijan, an armed confrontation took place between Islamic militants and troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In the course of the ensuing melee close to 200 persons from both sides were killed. There is no doubt that the militants initiated the confrontation by attacking local government offices and a maximum security prison, and that the appalling number of deaths was due to deliberate actions and poor judgment exercised by both sides. However, specific details on the day’s events were lacking at the time and, on some points, remain unclear and in dispute down to the present day.

These grim events occurred at a delicate moment in the relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Government of Uzbekistan had offered logistical and basing support to NATO’s Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Thanks to this, the Pentagon stationed U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps forces at the Karshi-Khanabad airport in southern Uzbekistan, whence they conducted operations in nearby Afghanistan. Many Americans supported this arrangement as an appropriate form of cooperation among friends. Others, including activists from various non-governmental organizations, criticized it as inappropriate collusion with a government they considered repressive and hostile to the human and civic rights of its citizens. A similar polarization of opinion occurred in Europe.

This situation all but guaranteed that every piece of information emanating from Andijan would become the object of fierce contention in America and Europe.

Three further factors caused the volume of these ensuing debates to rise still higher, and their tone to grow ever more bitter. First, caught off guard and not experienced with dealing with the international media, the Uzbek government was overly reluctant to release information that might have clarified points of contention. On many key issues it was itself doubtless seeking evidence and clarification, and was not in a position to provide the instant reporting that reporters sought.

Second, the government’s reluctance to wade into the mounting controversy over Andijan was due in part to a confrontation with the western organization Human Rights Watch that had occurred only eleven months earlier. In May 2004, a jailed murder suspect named Andrei Shelkovenko died while in police custody in Tashkent. Human Rights Watch promptly announced that his death had been caused by torture. However, the Uzbek Ministry of Internal Affairs accepted a suggestion by Freedom House for an independent investigation, consisting of American and Canadian experts. By the end of May the commission concluded that the death was a result of suicide and that there was no evidence of torture. To its credit, Human Rights Watch prominently issued a press release acknowledging its error, but by this time the damage was done. Few, if any, western media took note of Human Rights Watch’s mea culpa, nor did western governments. This episode goes far towards explaining the Uzbek government’s cautious and defensive response to requests for information and its opposition to requests for site visits to Andijan and for the establishment of another international commission.

In the end that reluctance proved counterproductive, but it is to some degree understandable.

A third factor contributing to the volume and bitterness of the debates that followed the events of May 13 was the evolution of the media itself at the time. On that date no major American newspaper or TV channel had a reporter any nearer to Tashkent than Moscow. Of those reporters for major outlets who filed stories on Andijan, none knew the Uzbek language and all were heavily dependent on reports from civil society organizations. Some of these provided accurate and useful information. But with barely a handful of representatives in the region, weak command of local languages, and an institutional agenda to advance, many did not.

Competitive pressure among such groups and between them and mainstream media assured that much baldly inaccurate information was disseminated and repeated.

Ten years after that tragic day in May, 2005, the Government of Uzbekistan once again maintains correct and positive relations with both the United States and the European Union. While they disagree on some points, all three parties acknowledge that they share important strategic and economic interests and are eagerly advancing them in a low-keyed and constructive manner. Neither the Government of Uzbekistan, the United States’ State Department, nor the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council chose to mark the decennial of the 2005 events. For perfectly understandable reasons they prefer to let the matter lie, to look forward rather than backwards, and to allow a process of healing to continue in their mutual relations.

Why, then, issue two Silk Road Papers in 2016 on the subject of Andijan and its coverage in the West? The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center had no plans to commemorate the Andijan events until Jeffry Hartman, former U.S. Defense Attaché to Uzbekistan, submitted his study of the Andijan events for publication. The draft reflected both extensive research and careful analysis. After vetting it with colleagues, we decided to accept it for publication. But in our view the Hartman study stopped short, because it did not follow the complex story of how the American and international press treated the May 13 events. We therefore engaged Dr. John Daly to prepare a companion paper on the evolving coverage of Andijan.

The purpose of both of these related papers on Andijan is to deepen our knowledge of what actually occurred on that day and the process by which it was reported in the American and western press. Unfortunately, this was not the first instance of Islamic radicalism in Central Asia or of a governmental response that elicits criticism in the West, whether just or not. We have seen the same in every country of the region, including Afghanistan. Nor is it likely to be the last. Without some understanding of these events, and the process by which they enter the consciousness of Americans and Europeans, neither Americans, Europeans, nor Uzbeks are unlikely to advance beyond their actions and responses back in 2005. None of the many people involved in the events in Andijan, in the press coverage of them, or in official or unofficial foreign responses, covered themselves with glory. All sides made mistakes. These two studies are offered in the spirit of Edmund Burke’s admonition that “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Because the authors and editors of this report respect the wish of Tashkent, Washington and Brussels to look forward rather than backwards, we have waited a full year beyond the decennial to issue these two papers. We do not assume that either of these reports will be the last on the subject, or that they should be. New information will continue to surface and new perspectives will continue to arise over time. The authors and editors of these papers welcome them both. Their sole hope, and admonition, is that those bringing them forward will do so in the constructive spirit in which the present papers were undertaken.

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  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53


  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.


    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.


    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   

    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018




    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018




    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online


    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online




    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:



  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict


    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:


    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.


    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here


    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.