Tuesday, 07 June 2016 00:00

Rush to Judgment: Western Media and the 2005 Andijan Violence Featured

By John C.K. Daly

May, 2016, pp. 85

Read full text




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.

Read 14136 times Last modified on Tuesday, 07 June 2016 15:34





  • CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr comments on "Preparing Now for a Post-Putin Russia"
    Friday, 03 November 2023 18:30

    Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

    WASHINGTON -- U.S.-based diplomats from Central Asia, a region long dominated by Russia and more recently China, say they are eager for more engagement with the United States.

    Many American foreign policy experts agree that a more robust relationship would be mutually beneficial, though U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations express deep concerns about human rights and authoritarian rule in the five countries: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

    Michael Delaney, a former U.S. trade official, argued in favor of greater engagement this week at a webinar organized by the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce.

    He noted that three of the five republics are World Trade Organization members and the other two are in the accession process — a goal actively encouraged by the U.S. government.

    "I've always believed that this is a geographically disadvantaged area. There are relatively small national economies," he said. But, he said, collectively the region represents a potentially more connected market, about 80 million people.

    Key issues

    In this virtual gathering, all five Central Asian ambassadors to Washington expressed eagerness to work on issues the U.S. has long pushed for, such as water and energy sustainability, security cooperation, environmental protection and climate, and connectivity.

    Kazakhstan's Ambassador Yerzhan Ashikbayev said that despite all factors, the United States does not want to leave the field to China, its global competitor, which actively invests in the region.

    "Recent visit by 20 companies to Kazakhstan as a part of certified U.S. trade mission, including technology giants like Apple, Microsoft, Google, but also other partners like Boeing, have shown a growing interest," Ashikbayev said.

    The Kazakh diplomat described a "synergy" of economies and diplomatic efforts. All Central Asian states are committed to dialogue, trade and multilateralism, he said. "As we are witnessing the return of the divisive bloc mentalities almost unseen for 30 years, it's in our best interest to prevent Central Asia from turning into another battleground of global powers."

    During his first tour of Central Asia earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, meeting separately with the foreign ministers of all five countries.

    That was deeply appreciated, said Meret Orazov, Turkmenistan's longtime ambassador, who also praised the regular bilateral consultations the U.S. holds with these countries.

    Uzbek Ambassador Furqat Sidiqov sees the U.S. as an important partner, with "long-standing friendship and cooperation which have only grown stronger over the years."

    "The U.S. has played a significant role in promoting dialogue and cooperation among the Central Asian nations through initiatives such as the C5+1," he said, referring to a diplomatic platform comprising Washington and the region's five governments.

    "This is where we address common concerns and enhance integration," said Sidiqov. "We encourage the U.S. to bolster this mechanism."

    Tashkent regards Afghanistan as key to Central Asia's development, potentially linking the landlocked region to the markets and seaports of South Asia. Sidiqov said his country counts on American assistance.

    'Possibility of positive change'

    Fred Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Washington, ardently advocates for the U.S. to adopt closer political, economic and people-to-people ties with the region.

    In a recent paper, he wrote that among dozens of officials, diplomats, entrepreneurs, experts, journalists and civil society leaders interviewed in Central Asia, "even those most critical of American positions saw the possibility of positive change and … all acknowledged that the need for change is on both sides, theirs as well as ours."

    This is the only region that doesn't have its own organization, said Starr, arguing that the U.S. could support this effort. "We have not done so, probably because we think that this is somehow going to interfere with their relations with their other big neighbors, the north and east, but it's not going to. It's not against anyone."

    "Easy to do, low cost, very big outcome," he added, also underscoring that "there is a feeling the U.S. should be much more attentive to security."

    "Japan, the European Union, Russia, China, their top leaders have visited. … No U.S. president has ever set foot in Central Asia," he said. He added that regional officials are left to wonder, "Are we so insignificant that they can't take the time to visit?"

    Starr urges U.S. President Joe Biden to convene the C5+1 in New York during the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September. "This would not be a big drain on the president's time, but it would be symbolically extremely important," he said. "All of them want this to happen."

    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

    What do most Russians think of this deal? It leaves them bereft of the normal rights of citizenship but free from its day-to-day responsibilities. So instead of debating, voting, and demonstrating, Russians store up their frustrations and then release them in elemental, often destructive, and usually futile acts of rebellion. This “Russia problem” leaves the prospect of change in Russia today in the hands of alienated members of Putin’s immediate entourage, many of whom share his vision of Russia’s destiny and are anyway subject to Putin’s ample levers for control. Thus, our “Putin problem” arises from our “Russia problem.”

    Click to continue reading...

  • CACI director Svante Cornell's interviewed on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election
    Friday, 19 May 2023 00:00

    Listen to CACI director Svante Cornell's recent interview on the 'John Batchelor Show' podcast regarding Turkey's 2023 presidential election. Click here!

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