By Rob Jones, CWI, Moscow
As many as 700 people were brutally massacred by government troops in Uzbekistan over the weekend. Accurate information is hard to come by, as even before the shooting Uzbekistan was one of the most dictatorial states in the world. Now there has been a further clamp-down, with foreign and local TV transmissions blocked.
However, the trouble started when a group of armed people after having demanded the release of thousands of prisoners decided to storm the city prison in the town of Andizhan, early on Friday morning. Hundreds of prisoners were released and went on to protest outside the city mayor?s office. Troops then opened fire killing hundreds in Andizhan and repeated the massacre in other cities, as people joined the protests.
Uzbekistan?s President Islam Karimov claims that this was an uprising organized by Islamic fundamentalists. But for years he has used the threat of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the region, and particularly in the Ferganna Valley as an excuse to clamp down on any form of opposition to his dictatorial rule. It is hardly surprising that in one of the poorest nations of the world, the patience of the masses would eventually run out and there would be big protests.
Tragically, the recent street protests ended in this brutal bloodbath. Working people and the poor in Uzbekistan desperately need mass organizations capable of leading the opposition to Karimov?s rule, fighting for democratic rights and for a fundamental change to the system.
Initial reports indicate that the protesters demanded that Russia be asked to be an intermediary in negotiations. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry quickly expressed its wish that the dispute be solved by whatever means necessary, and calling the Uzbek regime ?soft?.
Britain and the US also share a large degree of the blame for what has happened. Islam Karimov has been an ally of the US, as part of its Iraq war ?coalition? and in the so called ?war on terror?. They have, therefore, ignored Karimov?s dictatorial methods.
The Blair Government recently even sacked Craig Murray as British Ambassador to Tashkent for being too ?outspoken? in his criticisms of Karimov. Murray explains that the Western powers accepted Karimov?s repressive measures because he has allowed the US an airbase in the country and the powers are interested in the country?s energy resources. Now the US merely requests that the two sides work out their differences ?peacefully?.
It is undoubtedly true that Islamic fundamentalists are building a base in the region and many of those who have fought in neighbouring Afghanistan were Uzbeks. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ferganna Valley, the most densely populated area in Central Asia, was home to many fundamentalists.
But, it is the extreme poverty that has resulted from the restoration of capitalism in the region, and the repressive policies of Karimov, that have caused the despair that drives people to support the fundamentalists.
There are, however, also reports that part of the Karimov ruling clique have secretly encouraged the fundamentalists. They believe that, sooner or later, Karimov will be overthrown by Uzbekistan?s own version of neighbouring Kyrghizia?s recent ?revolution? and are, therefore, preparing the ground, so that they end up on the side of the victors.
But, for now, it is inevitable that, until a class force that can lead the struggle for the genuine liberation of this region from capitalism emerges, there will be more such clashes and brutal repression.
Further articles and analysis of events in Uzbekistan, and their regional and international repercussions, will be posted on socialistworld.net over the coming days