the Disillusioned kid: Samarkand Unrest
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Monday, August 22, 2005

Samarkand Unrest

Some apparently positive developments in Uzbekistan, with two protests (link via Registan) taking place in the city of Samarkand, the country's second largest city.

The first demonstration was triggered when authorities gave residents of around 100 homes in Bogimaydon, a village on the city's outskirts a weeks notice to leave before they're homes were demolished to make way for a highway-extension programme. They also complained that the compensation they were offered was far less than the market-value of their houses:
In response, the residents blocked the village's main road for several hours on 20 August, holding placards reading: "Don't demolish an old house before building a new one." It is a phrase familiar to the country's authoritarian leader, Islam Karimov. He uses the expression often during speeches, and has also used it as the title of one of his numerous books.

In a voice mail message left with RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau, a protester described the scene: "Several people who suffered a lot and were fed up took to the streets to say their houses were to be demolished. We blocked the road and were holding placards."
There are also concerns that the village is of considerable historical and architechtural significance. Residents and experts are worried that this may be threatened. Although the highway extension will not affect the historical part of the village Toshpulat Rakhmatullaev, an independent journalist and historian who lives in Bogimaydon, believes that such an intrusion should never have been allowed so close to a place of such value.

Local human rights activists were reported to be among the protesters. This, unfortunately, did nothing to mitigate the response of the authorities who roughly dispersed the crowd. According to one report (there only seem to be two on the incident at the time of writing) placards were wrenched from the hands of protesters and torn up and BBC correspondent Mustakhkam Tangierova had her equipment confiscated, although there seems to be no mention of this on the BBC site. One human rights advocate, Zhamol Mirsaidov, was so badly beaten by the police that he had to be hospitalised.

The second protest took place in Chuqurbozor, Samarkand's biggest clothing market. Merchants - most of them women - gathered to protest a decision by authorities to close the bazaar. Again they had been given little notice, this time the decision had only been announced the day before it was to come into effect:
Local police forces quickly blocked the area of the market where the protests took place. A BBC correspondent who was trying to get to the site was detained and held by police for several hours.

Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service the number of protesters may have risen as high as several hundred people.
Again this incident doesn't seem to have received coverage on the BBC site, despite apparent harrasment of their reporter (if this was also Mustakhkam Tangierova, mentioned above, you'd have to conclude she wasn't having a very good day).

RFE/RL suggest that these protests are the first since the violent crackdown on protesters in Andijan in May. This isn't strictly true; there was a rally numbering several hundred people in the town of Korasuv around a week after the Andijan massacre, indeed that massacre triggered an uprising in the city which saw authorities lose control for a time. There was also a rally in the city of Jizzakh organised by government supporters in order to counter the fallout from Andijan, although I'd be more than happy for such a display of servility to be missed off any tally of "protests". Regardless of the strict accuracy of RFE/RL's assertion, these protests are very significant. That people are prepared to face up to the threat of severe state repression in order to assert their rights is an inspiration to us all. It also offers a glimpse into a possible, better future for Uzbekistan.

Anybody interested in doing something to help (even if it's a very small thing) might care to consider this.

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