The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
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Andijan: Refugee flood or trickle?
HITS: 6078 | 24-08-2005, 20:14 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

Whatever happened in Andijan and elsewhere in the Ferghana Valley, it did not precipitate a refugee crisis. There was no mass flight even though the Uzbek authorities clearly did not control the border with Kyrgyzstan around Kara su. It was not Kosovo nor Darfur.
Accounts given to journalists over the border in Kyrgyzstan suggest that the refugees from Andijan were mainly directly connected with prison break out: either defendants or their rescuers. For instance, one defendant, 29 year old “[Shamshudin] Atamatov said he heard about 10 shots, then someone opened the door of his prison cell with a crowbar. He and another 11 inmates in the cell came out to the street.
Someone there, whom Atamatov said he didn't know, said: "Those who want can come with us to the governor's office." And so he went…”
After reaching Kyrgyz territory, Atmatov told reporters that he “estimated that 150-200 people died on the square when troops encircled it in late afternoon, and that many more were killed as they ran for their lives down a main avenue, Chulpon Shokh Prospect.” He went on an all-night trek across the Kyrgyz border, during which he said his mother was wounded and his aunt killed. Atamatov said his wife and his wife's mother and sister also made it to Kyrgyzstan but his five children remained in Andijan.[1]
Television and press pictures show mainly young men as the “refugees.” Ian MacWilliam on the BBC World Service reported from the Kyrgyz refugee camp that they were mainly participants in the prison break out which precipitated the crisis: “It doesn’t appear there is going to be a flood of refugees… It is most likely that people who aren’t directly connected [to the jailbreak]… would stay put.”[2] If that is the case, the use of the term “refugee” to describe them would be dubious. Certainly the visual images of the “refugees” fitted into the pattern of post-Communist crises which differentiates them so sharply from pre-1989 tragedies. In the past, refugees were rarely mainly young men. In fact, young men were the least prominent group among refugees – women, children and elderly people were the classic refugees. But in our media age, suddenly the pattern of refugees has changed – young men are prominent. On 23rd May, the fact that the overwhelming majority were men was reported from Kyrgyzstan: “Izzatull Rakhmatollayev, Chairman of the Osh Human Rights Foundation Law and Order, says that there are 490 refugees from Andizhan in the filtration camp for "shelter seekers" now, including 85 women and 21 child (3 of them infants and 19 schoolchildren).” [3]

How many died?

Scepticism about the Uzbek government’s eventual official death toll of 172 (169 on 12-13th May followed by the deaths of 3 further hospitalised policemen) has been widely voiced but the alternative much higher opposition figures of 1,000+ dead and 2,000 wounded lack credible sourcing.
Kyrgyz officials and international aid agencies did not match the high figures for would-be refugees reaching Kyrgyz territory. The disparity between the observable numbers of refugees and the claimed numbers cited by the opposition cast light on how reliable their casualty figures might have been for the events in Andijan.
If the Osh NGO is right and there were just under 500 Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan, then “thousands” must have been multiplied by four at least (2,000 being the minimum for “thousands”).Given that media reports talked of “thousands of terrified Uzbeks trying to flee into Kyrgyzstan”, perhaps the figures given by the Uzbek authorities for the number of dead were not so undercounted.[4] Multiply the official death toll by four and the result approaches the 750 casualties claimed by the opposition. Governments in this situation naturally want to deflate the casualty figures if possible, but the opposition has an equal incentive to exaggerate the death toll.
Opposition figures, including human rights activists, bandied ever growing figures for the number of victims of violence but were unable to provide even friendly Western journalists with supporting data. For instance, on 23rd May, AP’s Burt Herman reported, “Nigara Khidoyatova, head of the Free Peasants party, said workers from her group recorded 745 killed. However, despite repeated requests from journalists, Khidoyatova provided a list of only 43 names without addresses or any contact details, making it impossible to confirm the alleged deaths.”[5] Another – anonymous AP reporter who claims to have been beaten by Uzbek security forces – “visited 16 cemeteries — lying in overgrown fields on hillsides, behind makeshift brick walls and past iron gates — but found just 61 graves that cemetery workers said belonged to victims of the violence.” Despite the 1,000 dead, this reporter claimed, “There was no large concentration of May 13 dead at any cemetery in Andijan except for one, Bogi Shamol. The caretaker there said government workers came to bury 37 bodies in a nearby field without revealing their identities beyond saying they were young men.” The death certificate numbers some ranging as high as 328 are reported by local authorities to reflect the numbers from the start of the year, not on any given day or even in a week.[6]
Contradictions in media reports don’t disprove them but suggest that caution is wise before accepting grisly claims at face value. On 14th May, AOL News reported, “soldiers loaded dozens of dead bodies of those killed days earlier onto four trucks and a bus after preventing families from collecting them, witnesses said.” But the number of trucks fell by 17th May, when the BBC News website told “How the Andijan killings unfolded” claiming “ On Saturday morning, the authorities cart off most of the bodies using three trucks and a bus, according to witnesses.”[7] A bus seems an unlikely and inefficient way of moving corpses. Bodies can be dumped unceremoniously in trucks but have to be hauled in and out of buses. AP reported on 23rd May, “only at one cemetery did workers confirm a truck had deposited corpses.”[8]
On 24th May, a local AP reporter, Aziz Nuritov, quoted “an Uzbek activist, former physician Gulbakhor Turayeva,” as saying “that she saw about 500 bodies lying in the yard of Andijan's School No. 15 the day after the violence. She said she counted 400 bodies before guards chased her away and she estimated there were about 100 more. She said most of the dead were men. Turayeva said another activist, whom she declined to identify, reported seeing 50 bodies, mostly women and children, at a college building on the same day. Other residents said some bodies were buried secretly in several sites outside Andijan, she said.”
This is the first fully-cited eye-witness to many more dead bodies than the Uzbek authorities claimed. The authenticity of Turayeva’s impression of the number of dead may be strengthened by her report that Andijan’s city prosecutor was “killed by stones” thrown by demonstrators “as he sought to calm tensions before troops moved in.”[9] This would suggest that violence by the crowd that had stormed the prison and started to takeover the town preceded the shooting by the security forces.
The BBC correspondent in Tashkent, Monica Whitlock, told “Today” on Tuesday morning from the Uzbek capital, “There are still burials going on and very many. We talked to somebody yesterday in Andijan who said that there were funeral processions all over the city… Many people here believe the bodies are being released slowly so as to keep the death toll vague.” Yet only a few moments later, she said, “It is already Tuesday and the shootings happened on Friday. Uzbekistan is a Muslim country and people bury their dead before sundown on the first day.”[10]
Peter Boehm told readers of the Independent that as a sign of discontent in funereal Andijan, “Many of the activists were wearing black armbands and ribbons.” But the colour of mourning in Uzbekistan is not Western black, but white or blue for some Sunnis. If the report is true, it seems that the Uzbek mourners wanted their grief to catch Western eyes not local ones.[11] Television pictures of funerals showed bodies wrapped in white shrouds being placed in graves.[12] The presence of foreign reporters may encourage opponents of President Karimov to make propaganda as well encourage the timid to speak out.

[1] See

[2] Report on the “World Today”, BBC World Service, 5.35am (17th May, 2005),
[4] See Bagila Bukharbayeva, “Witness: Hundreds Dead in Uzbek Uprising” AP (15th May, 20005).,
[5] See Burt Herman “Questions remain about Uzbek death toll”, AP (2223rd May, 2005) @,
[6] Ibid.,
[7] See =collection&p=news&c=news &,
[8] See Burt Herman “Questions remain about Uzbek death toll”, AP (2223rd May, 2005) @,
[9] See,
[10] 7.35am, “Today”, BBC Radio 4 (17th May, 2005),
[11] See Peter Boehm in Andijan and Daniel Howden, “Army 'kills 200' in second Uzbek city as thousands head for border” in The Independent (17th May, 2005); for mourning’s local colours see &,
[12] E.g. BBC News 24, 3.25pm (18th May, 2005).



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