Neutralization of student disturbances in Tashkent in 1992: what it was like
RECALLING A NOT SO DISTANT PAST
Some incidents remain in the focus of public attention for years and decades even though information on what really happened is relatively scarce. One of the most acute events of the early 1990's took place fourteen years ago, on January 16, 1992, when student riots on the campus in Tashkent were brutally crushed. Several young men were killed (nobody knows how many), many others wounded and arrested.
Whenever information is not available, any mass disturbance eventually becomes a legend. It acquires a widespread interpretation; sometimes it is even remembered as an event opposite to what really happened in the first place - depending on the political moment and other suchlike circumstances. For example, Kazakh nationalists' riots in 1986 are viewed nowadays as an example of patriotism, and woe betides whoever dares challenge this point of view.
Student riots in Tashkent have not been set in inflexible molds of ideologic postulates so far. Little is known of the incident despite its unquestionable importance. (After all, this was the regime's first experience in dealing with its adversaries by force. Moreover, the episode resulted in a drastic rearrangement of the whole framework of higher education on the republican scale.) The subject is a taboo for the Uzbek media. That is why the incident is interpreted by whoever chooses to mention it - the authorities or the opposition - in whatever manner suits him best.
The opposition is convinced that it was "a revolt of the noble youth" (to quote Muhammed Salikh, a distinguished Uzbek oppositionist). President Islam Karimov's followers maintain in their turn that the stiff measures prevented mass disturbances from happening and perhaps leading to unpredictable consequences. Even the people who are fairly neutral on the subject believe all too frequently that Karimov was correct in sending special police forces (OMON) against the crowds in this particular episode. They claim furthermore that the police opened fire because students were throwing rocks and some policemen were injured. That fire was opened in self-defense, in other words.
Before trying to decide what really happened on the campus in January 1992, let's try and recapture the spirit of the era. It was a period of dramatic escalation of national self-awareness of titular nations in all Soviet republics. Ethnically speaking, tempers were extremely short then. Disintegration of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku, Tajikistan, Meskhetian Turks, Osh, Chechnya... In Uzbekistan on the other hand, it was a period of certain pluralism - drawing to its end, that is.
Students involved in the disturbances on the campus were politically active, the spectrum of their convictions and slogans varying between chauvinistic and radically democratic. It should be noted that young men being energetic by nature, slogans and unsolved problems are frequently viewed as an excuse to kick up a tumult just for the fun of it. That is why the contraposition some Uzbek oppositionists use (since Karimov is a tyrant, then the students must have been okay) is hardly appropriate. A crowd of students (and particularly in the period we are talking about) could not be a progressive crowd - and it wasn't.
It is clear as well in the meantime that the authorities should not have ordered the troops to fire at the rioting students. We are talking of disturbances here, not an armed rebellion. Furious at encroachment of their rights, young men were not doing anything worse than what soccer fans do when their favorite Pakhtakor loses another game nowadays. It makes the execution of students a crying outrage.
Since this is one of the major events of the early 1990's and since the recent events in Andizhan lend a somewhat new perspective to it, Ferghana.Ru news agency approached some men who lived on the campus then or who witnessed the incident personally.
Journalist Dmitry Alayev, former student of the Tashkent State University
The campus in Tashkent was the largest center of education in Central Asia and one of the largest throughout the Soviet Union. Students from Third World countries, say, Asia and Africa, studied there too. There were lots of Uzbek students from the provinces, and even some Russian-speakers as well.
Relations between them were always complicated. Russian-speakers and young men from Tashkent maintained contacts among themselves and with foreign students. Young men from the provinces concentrated on contacts within their own groups and on contacts with their fellow men from Karshi, Ferghana Valley, and so on. As for foreign students, very many of them came from wealthy families and it was families, not their respective countries, that were paying for their education. It means that these foreign students were fairly wealthy here in Tashkent, while Uzbeks from the regions and provinces had only their scholarship to exist on. Their families could not help them. On the contrary, it was frequently students themselves who sent to their families the money earned in annual cotton-harvesting campaigns.
All of that was taking place against the background of a price-rise and growing impoverishment of students. Karimov's government upped prices once again after the New Year celebration, and that sparked student protests. There is even the assumption that the impetus was provided by some sort of conflict between foreign and Uzbek students which deteriorated into a conflict between students and the authorities. I suspect that Uzbek students were psychologically prepared for something like that even though they were not aware of it consciously. Whenever the discontent is all-encompassing, arousing a crowd is not really a problem. If I'm not mistaken, a year before that an acquaintance of mine, an Uzbek, had confidently predicted that the nation would rise (I do not recall against what exactly) and defend its interests brandishing hoes soon. I took it lightly then and said that hoes were useless against automatic rifle fire. These words proved prophetic...
When the news of the disturbances reached us, my friend and I went to the campus to find out what was happening. Actually, I was scared then because it was a period of acute "ethnic self-awareness" someone behind the scene was cunningly orchestrating and directing against the Russians more often than not. Well, my fears proved groundless. The protesters on the campus were demanding a meeting with Karimov and a solution to their social problems. The authorities sicced the troops on them.
I do not know the conflict's prehistory or true motives. In any case, everything ended in anti-government disturbances no matter what the initial causes had been. Moreover, as long as the aggression was directed against wealthy foreigners with the Russians fearfully waiting to become the next target, the government did nothing. The riot was crushed only when the crowd turned anti-government.
Journalist Rauf Orudzhev, former student of the Tashkent State University
The way I see it, it was a riot of the starved that evolved into a political event. I remember how I myself was struck by the prices when I went out to get a loaf of bread. There was a mob in front of the store, 300 people or so. People were embittered, and first and foremost the matter concerned students' social problems. I mean that prices were upped but their scholarships remained unchanged. And it was nearly a month before the next scholarship was due.
The highway across the campus leading to the so called Medical Campus was nearly blocked by the crowd. Bread price was all everybody was talking about. At first, that is. Eventually, demands for a free and fair election of the president were made. Someone even tried to turn the crowd anti-Russian and screamed "Julkosin usurslar!" or "Away with the Russians!" but he was promptly shut up. After that, several thousands marched down to the Medical Campus. They failed to enlist support there and came back.
The following day, tutors strongly advised Russian-speakers and foreign students to spend the night at their friends' somewhere else. I remember telling everyone I was going to sleep at my parents' friends'. All my friends left the hostel but I eventually decided to stay at Hostel No 85. I was sharing a room with foreign students, you know, and was convinced that should something begin, the cops would be ordered to leave these floors and rooms alone. By the way, students on the campus were not hostile either with regard to foreigners or the Russians at the moment.
Some sort of hush descended on the campus in the afternoon but everyone could see that something was about to happen. I remember coaches driving in and pulling over. I remember how the police in helmets with plastic visors formed a line and advanced in the direction of hostels, hitting their shields with truncheons. I viewed all of that from the side, walking in the same direction. I remember some defiant screaming from the upper floors of nine-story hostels (one of the Faculty of Philology and the other that once belonged to the Faculty of Journalism, this one known as Hostel No 89), and rocks and empty bottles hurtled at the advancing police. One police unit immediately turned in this direction and forced its way inside. No, I do not know what happened inside... Seeing things turn definitely nasty, I darted to my own hostel.
I spent some time at the entrance, watching cops approach closer and closer. Some of the Uzbek students around me brandished metal rods. We eventually retreated inside and barricaded the door. I ascended to my room then and proceeded to boozed up with Mohsen, a Yemeni. He lived in Tashkent ordinarily but for some reason had chosen to spend this night on the campus. The Yemenite I shared the room with, another Mohsen by the way, was away. He had been smart enough to join other Yemenites in some other hostel.
And so Mohsen and me were still hitting the bottle two hours later when it was already dark and when we head some firing and screams outside. Street lamps did not give enough light for Mohsen and me to see anything outside. All we knew for sure was that something was happening. We eventually grew bored with standing by the window and returned to drinking some more of this horrible stuff from a plastic bottle with the label proclaiming that it had been made in China.
We did not hear anything else save for a couple of single shots. For some reason, the police did not even try to enter our hostel (probably because of foreigners inside). In the morning, however, we heard that there had been loss of life (some said one student had been killed, others that two). We even heard that cops had thrown one of the students from the upper floor of a hostel.
Oleg Shostakovich, President of the International Association For Democratic Changes and Rights of Ethnic Minorities in Uzbekistan, former student of the Tashkent State University
There had been student protests even before that. I was working for Sovetsky Pedagog, a newspaper of the Teacher Training College, approximately six months before the incident on the campus. I noticed that something was wrong at the office one fine day. I looked out the window and saw a demonstration of 200-300 students of the Teacher Training College. They met at the main entrance and set out for the College of Choreography in order to make it to the city center nearby.
Needless to say, I rushed out to take photos for an article because this was the first time I ever saw something like that. The police set up cordons around the college in no time at all. Some policemen approached me and told me to expose the film. The demonstration was dispersed. I wrote an article and took it to Komsomolets Uzbekistana. Its editor-in-chief almost flayed me alive and said in no uncertain terms that I had better forget everything. He told me that nothing worth mentioning, much less writing an article on, had happened.
I cannot say if the demonstration was organized in advance or was an impromptu action. I only remember that students were protesting against impoverishment. Price-rise at student canteens sparked the demonstration because new prices made hot meals something most students could not afford. Well, prices were cut down some afterwards...
As for the incident on the campus, I hear it was sparked by bread prices and friction with foreign students. We made several attempts to visit the campus that day but were turned back by fairly aggressive law enforcement agencies every time. There were cordons everywhere. We eventually abandoned our attempts. For some reason, I was convinced that since there were so many cops involved, Karimov should come in person and settle the conflict. He did not come - nobody did - and the students were ruthlessly neutralized. I remember how shocked I was to learn of it.
Of course, their protests were not a progressive demarche as we know them now. There had been disturbances in the past of course, but I do not think anyone so much as tried to settle this conflict by peaceful means. As I see it, it was a justified protect action the authorities could have coped with by civilized ways and means, without killing anybody.
If I'm not mistaken, two students were killed. If their names are known to anyone, then it is only to a very narrow circle. Needless to say, nobody was prosecuted for their deaths. Criminal charges were pressed against students themselves. Some ringleaders were identified and prosecuted - as a message to others. The authorities made it plain to all students throughout the country that they would not hesitate to crush any protests like that.
I hear that Birlik activists participated in the action too. In fact, it is logical. Birlik was the talk of the day then, the only force that openly challenged the regime then.
I remember that Dzhabbarov's commission shop on the campus was closed after the incident. A major of the police turned up and said, "That's it. Close down. Students cannot afford a loaf of bread while you here are rolling in dough." And that was that.
Iron fences were set up on the campus perimeter then. They are there even now, you know. Students were sent on an unscheduled vacation, and the ones from the provinces never came back to the campus again. They were transferred to local colleges. One student painted a sign, "There is only one beast who devours his brood - Islam Karimov!". He was identified and prosecuted.
Here is an excerpt from Albert Musin's [Musin is editor-in-chief of Nezavisimy Yezhenedelnik, a newspaper financed by Birlik - Ferghana.Ru] article on the incident on the campus
Riots on the campus in Tashkent, the traditional bulwark of the opposition in the vicinity of the university, were brutally suppressed in January 1992, soon after election of the president. Several students were killed, others arrested (some of the latter were released from jails last year). Hostels were raided and smashed up, students sent home (there had been about 30,000 students and advanced students on the campus before that). Karimov was quoted as saying then, "What imbecile amassed so many students there in the first place?" Junior students never returned to Tashkent again. They completed their studies at provincial teacher training colleges hastily transformed into "universities". The campus was fenced off, classrooms and hostels of the Tashkent State University became practically vacant. Men who know what they are talking about say that Tashkent is no longer the center of education it used to be.
Terrorist acts against the opposition followed. For example, several "unidentified persons" all but murdered Abdurashid Sharipov [an oppositionist and correspondent of INTERFAX news agency - Ferghana.Ru] in front of the office of the Union of Writers where Birlik had its headquarters then...
Journalist and businessman Rustam, former student of the Tashkent State University
I regularly wrote for Komsomolets Uzbekistana then. I remember how Editor-in-Chief Pukemov turned down Senya Novoprudsky's articles. Novoprudsky offered the materials to Izvestia or Komsomolskaya Pravda (I don't remember which) and they were accepted and published. What happened in January was not the first such episode. There had been an episode near Hostel No 5 not long before that, when students beat a whore, a Kazakh girl, tore her clothes into pieces, and left her naked outdoors. The mob demanded that all foreigners were driven out. Some foreign students were assaulted, several windows shattered, and hostels raided. That was the first time when OMON units were used against students. It happened in late 1989, I think.
Students had acquired some protest experience by then. They always attended the rallies staged by Birlik. There was also a protest action against the military department of the university once. The department was boycotted, you know. The episode with Hostel No 85 persuaded a lot of foreign students to go home for good or at least to get transferred to other cities. The atmosphere was tense. The events in the Ferghana Valley were still fresh in everyone's memory. Chauvinistic students did not even try to conceal their dislike of foreigners and Russian-speakers. I saw them assault and beat a girl, student of the Faculty of Russian Philology on a bus stop once. Were it not for a local Komsomol activist (he was of the Komsomol Committee of the University, and his name was Alisher) who interfered, things would have been really bad for her.
By the way, there were lots of students of the Faculty of Journalism among the raiders. Ordinarily, they were our pals. It was only in the mob that they became beasts. I remember how scared foreign students were then. The authorities evacuated them to some resorts in the mountains, and they began leaving afterwards. Practically all of them left - save for the Afghanis, that is, who did not have anywhere to go to.
The authorities began opening the so called regional universities by the next academic year, and all students of the Tashkent State University from the provinces were transferred there. I do not know if these universities exist now.
I repeat: the events in front of Hostel No 85 and the events of January 1992 were different. The latter were thoroughly covered by journalists of Erk and Nezavisimy Yezhenedelnik. (This latter, a newspaper sponsored by Birlik, was printed in the Russian language somewhere in Russia and mailed to Tashkent.) These newspapers of the opposition could be openly bought then.
If you ask me, a whole number of factors made all of that possible. First, we should consider the very atmosphere of the period and the considerable protest potential. Ideas of the perestroika and revolution were extremely popular then. Second, somebody manipulated students, most of the latter from the provinces and even from God-forsaken villages. Last but not the least, blame should be pinned on the authorities that failed to keep the situation in hand. In short, it reminds me of the events in Andizhan, just on a smaller scale.
Journalist Khabib Adolatov, former student of the Tashkent State University
My friend and me were returning to the campus on January 16, 1992. Students of the Faculty of Journalism, we had part-time jobs to augment our income some. It was in the afternoon already, at about 6 p.m. or so, when we got out of the coach and saw a crowd of students. I'd say that there were several hundred in it. Being amateur democrats, my friend and me immediately joined the crowd. I must say that we did not know what it was about, and probably would have never cared had we known, but the temptation was too strong to resist because we saw that someone else (many people, in fact!) were dissatisfied with Karimov and ex-communists too - just the way we were...
We were told that the crowd was protesting against new bread prices and some coupons that were in short supply, and that the protesters were demanding bread, nothing more!
All of that was happening soon after the presidential election which had been a major disappointment for us. Students from the faculties of journalism and philology voted for Muhammad Salikh. Our group included but a dozen young men, no more. We did not support Salikh because we viewed him as a politician or something (in fact, we did not know the first thing about politics then - and did not want to know). We supported him because he was a poet, so unlike all other familiar faces. He was a kind of hero, someone of the caliber of Viktor Tsoi or even Boris Grebenschikov [Russian rock singers - Ferghana.Ru]. We were young then, we were naive students who wanted to change the world and needed a hero. Like these days, heroes were in short supply in Uzbekistan then. And so we idolized Salikh. He had began publishing his poems in the 1970's. He was the only poet who was not a communist and who did not dedicate a single line to Lenin or Stalin!
Back to the events in question. We joined the crowd and somebody in it said that I should make a speech and began nudging me to the makeshift podium. I had read several book on India by then, and so I decided for some reason (do not ask me why, OK?) that we should call a sit-down strike and demand another election of the president instead of bread. Needless to say, this was not what students wanted as they did not exactly share our political romanticism. (By the way, very many in the crowd were from the Polytechnic College.)
Some oppositionists turned up and were shouted down too. Somebody announced then that several hundreds protesters from the Medical Campus had undertaken to join us but were prevented from doing so... There were the calls to set out for the Independence Square as well. Well, we opted to march down to the Medical Campus. The crowd set out for the Medical Campus, throwing rocks at shop windows and chanting some slogans... When we finally reached our destination, we discovered that nobody had been waiting for us. In fact, students there did not even know that something was happening on the campus. We decided to go back - there were a dozen of us, I think. Approaching the campus, we saw people running and heard gunshots.
We were frightened and decided to detour to Hostel No 85. I saw at least five students with gunshot wounds. One of them, he was very pale, staggered by whispering "Uldirishayapti..." or "They are shooting to kill...". His left arm and neck were dripping blood. There was noise and commotion all around. We made it to the hostel, got into the room, locked the door, and began discussing what we had just witnessed. We numbered fifteen (several others had joined our group), and we decided to call a hunger-strike. But we also decided that we needed the opposition to be involved in our protest action too. We wanted Erk activists with us.
My friend and me went to see Salikh the following morning. He had an office nearby, not far from the Radio Committee and Maternity Hospital No 6. I told Salikh that we had decided on a hunger-strike and that we wanted another presidential election and that we needed his advice. "Thanks for coming," Salikh said, "but we do not want Karimov to think that we orchestrated this riot..." In other words, he did not want to become involved. So, fourteen of us called a hunger-strike. We asked for a media coverage, and we asked for whoever had given the order to fire to be identified and prosecuted. Well, our hunger-strike lasted 26 hours. We were arrested and taken to a police station. Cops screamed at us and threatened us, but they let us go eventually...
I cannot say I'm sorry I participated in the disturbances even though it did not do us any good. Us or students nowadays, for that matter. Things only deteriorated, but at least we were not as scared then as we are nowadays.
Journalist Semyon Novoprudsky, former student of the Tashkent State University
It was after this episode that the campus in Tashkent became a separate Student District. It had belonged to the Sabir-Rakhimov District before that. The report on the disturbances I wrote together with Natalia Lominogina, another Molodyozh Uzbekistana correspondent (she married and took her husband's family name, and she lives in Togliatti, Russia now, or so I think) and a photographer. I think it was Viktor Miroshnichenko, but I'm not sure. The newspaper being a weekly, we were sent to get the material only after the event. That is why we were compelled to try and reconstruct the events from witnesses' and participants' testimony. The hypotheses they ventured differed. Some said that there had been agent provocateurs among the students protesting against a price-rise for bare necessities and first and foremost bread. That these agents provocateurs began throwing rocks at the police cordons. Others said that students themselves had been mustered and organized by secret services. The third said that it had been students who began throwing rocks and thus provoked the police...
What is beyond doubt is that the authorities ordered free use of firearms which were deployed out- and indoors. We saw with our own eyes a room with marks left by bullets on the walls and blood stains. We were told that two occupants of the room had been executed by the police. Judging by what we saw, they must have been shot right in their room.
Upper echelons of the Tashkent State University disassociated themselves from the events. Nobody we approached had seen the dean or his assistants.
As for the report we came up with, its story is fairly interesting too. Either our editorial office sent the material to the presidential press service for authorization on its own initiative, or the presidential press service demanded the text... In any case, a conference took place where the decision to publish the article or table it was made. The text did not include any political conclusions or anything, it was just an impartial reconstruction of the events. It was tabled all the same. I was told afterwards that votes split almost evenly and that whoever was against the publication won by a single vote only. In any case, Izvestia ran the whole story the following day. I do not know how it made there. I can only assume that someone must have shown the text to Shakhobuddin Zainutdinov, the then correspondent of Izvestia in Uzbekistan, and he flashed it to Moscow. As a result, at his press conference a couple of days later Karimov accused us of collaboration with foreign secret services. Fortunately, no steps were taken against Natasha or me.
Abdumannob Pulat, one of the founders and leaders of Birlik
There had been student riots before January 1992, but without loss of life or traumas. A group of students assaulted and beat several foreigners on the campus on April 22, 1989. The commotion was caused by the episode when some girls were encountered and judged to be hookers on their way to foreign students. Some of the girls were Uzbeks. There were other motives involved as well. Foreign students enjoyed certain privileges all others were denied. For example, once a month they were permitted to buy meat at 2 rubles a kilogram when meat at every bazaar went at 5-6 rubles. Besides, local students viewed foreigners as arrogant profiteers who brought certain commodities with them to Uzbekistan and sold them here at a profit. Dozens, perhaps, hundreds students participated in these events.
There was also a march of Afghani students from the campus to the center of Tashkent in 1987 or 1988. Little is known about it. The march was sparked by some fight with Uzbek students, or so it seems. Dozens participated. There used to be clashes between students from the so called FANO region (Ferghana-Andizhan-Namangan-Osh) and SyrKash one (Syrdarja-Kashkadarja) before the era of glasnost.
As for what happened on January 16-17, 1992, I talked to a lot of witnesses and participants, and saw some of the events with my own eyes. Student protests were sparked by the following.
One. Bread prices were up (the initiative belonged to Yeltsin and Gaidar in Moscow). Karimov had recklessly called bread the main food in Uzbekistan and promised not to raise its price even though it was fairly clear that he would not be able to keep his word.
Two. Coupons were introduced. Whoever wanted to buy some foods and commodities that were cheaper in Uzbekistan than anywhere else, had to produce coupons. For some reason, however, students (and not only students for that matter) were not given any coupons.
Three. The baker's shop on the campus (on Chimbai Street, that is) stopped selling bread without coupons that day (January 16), and students did not have any coupons.
Four. Fifty students or so were blocking the entrance to the shop, pleading to be sold some loaves without coupons. In the meantime, loaves of bread were sold - without coupons, of course - quitely and behind the counter. As soon as they discovered it, students turned hostile. Harsh words were exchanged. Some students departed for the hostels to muster others.
No professors turned up to discuss the matter with the enraged students and somehow solve the problem. The police someone summoned told students to go home. Several students were shoved into police cars and taken away. They may have been beaten for all I know. Some other students began collecting rocks. All of that was followed by a march to the Medical Campus and hostels there. The marchers returned to the main campus afterwards.
I spent the day on the premises of Birlik's unofficial national office at the Union of Writers. Returning home at about 10 p.m. that night, I saw the police near Biruni Metro Station. I asked them what the matter was. "Students are rioting," two policemen told me. "We are with them." (They probably had no information on what was already happening on the campus.)
As I lived in the house near the Nukus (that's a movie theater), I rushed to the campus and saw two mobs on Chimbai Street. One comprised students, the other policemen. These latter hid behind their plastic shields because students were throwing rocks. I approached the students but did not recognize anyone. Some students, however, recognized me. The police began firing in the air. Because I had seen a policemen hurt by a rock, I said, "Stop it. They might get upset and open up on you." "They are firing blanks. Do not worry," was the reply. "Are you sure of it?" I said, "because I'm not..."
I approached a police officer then - either major or lieutenant colonel, I do not remember. I introduced myself as a tutor which I was but did not give my name or my position with Birlik and said, "Permit me to come here with some students so that we will hear them out, see what they want, and ameliorate the situation." "They should stop throwing rocks first," he said. Students refused to stop throwing rocks and demanded the release of their arrested friends.
I went home to leave the papers I was carrying. There I encountered several other tutors some of whom I knew sympathized with liberal ideas, Erk, and Birlik... Three of us returned to students and the police. To no avail. Neither side would meet with the other for negotiations.
Two friends and neighbors literally dragged me out then. They said, "Come on, it's too late now. Nobody is listening. And if they discover what you are, Birlik and you will get all the blame as organizers." The reasoning sank in, and we went away back to our block of flats. Tutors were still there, conversing in small groups. We heard some noise and screams but what it was I do not know. Several students approached us then. Not one of us knew them by names or recognized them for that matter, but they certainly looked and behaved like students from the campus. They carried canisters with them and they asked to be given gas. There were cars parked near the building, you know. Their request denied, they said they would burn all these cars and departed.
Noise subsided when it was already dark, and we all went home. A student called me on the phone that night and asked me if I was in human rights activities and if I was then perhaps I'd be interested to know what had happened, how students had been beaten and fired at... I walked to the hostel this student had called me from. A graduate from the Polytechnic College and several students were waiting. Marat Zakhidov came soon - or was he already there? I do not remember. Zakhidov was a people deputy of Uzbekistan then. We entered several hostels together and were told of the student of the Polytechnic College who had sustained a serious gunshot wound in front of a hostel. Either an ambulance collected him or the police did. Other students were convinced that he had not survived. (That he had not was confirmed in the morning. The authorities acknowledged his death and even arranged Moslem rites - with condolences, reading of the Koran, etc. in the hostel afterwards.) We were told as well that another student had been wounded in the head. (He died several days later.) I put down the names of these two and some other students who we were told had been wounded and beaten.
I returned to my place with this information and called Express-Chronicle in Moscow that had two editors manning telephones every night. I gave them a short account of what had happened. Express-Chronicle published a daily news bulletin every morning and a newspaper once a week. I also telephoned Nezavisimaya Gazeta (also in Moscow, it had a news agency and a newspaper published three times a week, one of the most popular newspapers in Russia and all over the former Soviet Union then) and, I think, some other news agencies in Moscow (France Press and Reuters).
Before leaving the campus, Zakhidov and I reached an agreement with the students to meet again at 9 a.m. in the morning. An impromptu protest rally began the following morning, on January 17. The protesters demanded release all of arrestees and establishment of a special panel for investigation, a panel including representatives of students. We asked Zakhidov to go to the parliament (the Supreme Council then) and the government, to the presidential office, with our demands. Envoys were sent to Birlik and Erk. A special invitation was extended to Muhammed Salikh because a lot of students had voted for Salikh in the presidential race 20 days before that.
I ran a part of this protest rally for about five hours. On several occasions some students tried to organize a march into Tashkent ("To Karimov" was how they put it) but the campus was cordoned off. There were coaches with the police all around the perimeter. My helpers (students themselves) and I managed to dissuade them. I knew that any attempt to break through the cordons and march to the city center would end bad.
Birlik sent several activists but as for Erk, I do not know because I did not see anyone. I discovered later that my brother Abdurakhim Pulat, Birlik leader, had told our envoys that there were enough representatives as it was. He meant me and some other Birlik activists.
Salikh came at 2 p.m. or 2.30 p.m., accompanied by the then Prosecutor General Buritosh Mustafayev and Tashkent Khokim Adkhambek Fozilbekov. When Salikh, Mustafayev, and Fozilbekov began addressing students, it was clearly too late for that. Students began throwing rocks at all of us. Mustafayev said that investigation of the death of the student and deployment of firearms was under way, Salikh said that the parliament was setting up a commission, but the hail of rocks only intensified.
Seeing the futility of all attempts to settle the matter by talks, I walked away. I was going home when the man accompanying the prosecutor general tried to detain me. I broke free and went to be friends' instead. He lived nearby. No shots were fired that day, but students were assaulted and beaten, some of them right in hostels.
Thousands of students were involved in the protests. At least two of them paid for it with their lives. I do not remember their names anymore. Nobody was prosecuted for these deaths so far as I know. Someone may have been reprimanded, but that's all. Criminal charges were dropped, proceedings curtailed.
Vacation for students began on January 18. The authorities decided soon enough that most students should continue their studies in regional centers. Local teacher training colleges were called "universities", new colleges and branches of Tashkent-based universities and colleges were established...
I would not call what happened (student protests and the forms they took) a progressive or constructive phenomenon. It deteriorated into mass disturbances but the authorities should have prevented this deterioration. Neither should the authorities have ordered the troops to open up on students, even the ones throwing rocks. Yes, some policemen and OMON servicemen were injured - no use denying it. But some students were killed and very many were beaten. Some were wounded. I'm convinced that the police and OMON detachments should not have opened fire, there was really no need to. They had their shields and truncheons. They could call for reinforcements and use non-lethal means - like teargas and suchlike means used in civilized countries.
Students were the best active and organized part of society. They were the human potential of Birlik's peace marches and demonstrations in 1989, and Birlik's and Erk's in 1990-1992. The speed with which a peaceful demonstration of students deteriorated into disturbances compelled me to revise some slogans of the democratic opposition.
Charges of "encroachment on the dignity of President Karimov with the use of the media" were pressed against me, Albert Musin, and Anvar Usmanov several days later. The matter concerned the slogan Birlik had published in Nezavisimy Yezhenedelnik. It could be seen, hand painted, at the protest rally on January 17 for a short time. It stated in the Uzbek language, "Uni sailaadingiz, u endi kursatadi. Shundai khaivon borki, uz farzandlarini eidi" [He was elected to show you all. There is a beast who devours his brood!] It was painted in red, and Karimov's portrait had a beard dripping blood painted in. There was this poster indeed, but I did not have anything to do with it or with its appearance in the newspaper. In fact, in civilized countries posters like that are not even viewed as a crime or something. Besides, I said in my speech at the rally that we did not have proof that the order to open fire had been given by Karimov. I asked the protesters to take away the poster but nobody listened (but that's a different story).
I was on the run after that, I was kidnapped in Bishkek after the international conference on human rights in Central Asia. I spent 52 days in three jails in Uzbekistan. I was found guilty (well, the regime had to save face and justify my abduction in Bishkek), sentenced to three years behind the bars, and amnestied by the Supreme Court. When I returned home, a student I knew visited me and admitted that he had painted this poster. I said that had I known, I might have succumbed to the pressure and fingered him... I'm glad I did not know then...
by Aleksei Volosevich with help from International Association For Democratic Changes and Rights of Ethnic Minorities in Uzbekistan
Ferghana.Ru will welcome contributions from witnesses and participants of the events in question and from whoever else having anything to say on the subject