They call themselves the Birodars. Akramians: a look from outside
Early March dotted all I's and crossed all T's in a certain scandal. A group of Uzbek, small-time businessmen from the Russian city of Ivanovo, had been accused of involvement with "extremist religious Akramia" and participation in the events in Andijan in May 2005. Investigation lasted eighteen months. When it ended, Russia turned down Uzbekistan's request for their extradition.
One of the former arrestees, Hatam Hajimatov, agreed to share his impressions of Akramia leader Akram Yuldashev and his followers (some of them his friends). Hajimatov himself never belonged to Akramia but he certainly knows what he is talking about.
Ferghana.Ru: A great deal of commentators and even some human rights activists used to say in the wake of the events in Andijan that Akramia was something invented by Uzbek secret services themselves.
Hatam Hajimatov: The organization existed all right. Its members called themselves the Birodars or Brothers. They were known elsewhere as Akramians, a derivative from the name of their leader Akram Yuldashev. The organization comprised dozes of businesses. The Brothers - thousands and thousands of them - pooled efforts to solve their social and economic problems. Needless to say, the organization never had official registration and never even aspired for it.
Ferghana.Ru: How did you meet them?
Hatam Hajimatov: My late friend Jurahon Azimov acquainted me with Yuldashev. Back in the early 1990's, Azimov was one of the leaders of the Andijani cell of Birlik [Unity]. Later, he joined the Brothers, got arrested, and died in Jaslyk colony. When we first met, Yuldashev was a teacher. Author of the book Way To Faith, he was preaching to accomplices. Yuldashev was a knowledgeable man. More importantly, he sincerely believed his ideas.
As it happened, I had both business contacts and just cordial friendly relations with his followers. Dealing with them was fine. They had a system of their own, quite successful a system. On the other hand, they were certainly different. I mean, they were special people. What Brothers I knew really believed in what they were doing and in their ideas. I was sympathetic but no more. My faith did not permit me to share their views.
The impression I got of their ideology was that it was a kind of combination of Islam and Communism, something in between. That was the main reason why I never joined the organization. I did help them, though. Harassed and prosecuted in Uzbekistan, the Brothers began coming to us in Ivanovo in late 2004. Our organization assisted political refugees, Akramians included. Needless to say, we all felt for the arrested businessmen, we all kept track of the court proceedings in Andijan. Some of these men were my friends, after all.
Ferghana.Ru: Did Yuldashev's followers take up arms indeed in Andijan? Who do you think attacked the garrison and overran the prison?
Hatam Hajimatov: Difficult to say. Yuldashev's ideology does not stand for violence, you know. The Brothers intended to change society step-by-step, establishing "islands of prosperity", recruiting new members, and indoctrinating them. That was why they went in for business and were so successful. Their companies turned out the best products and nobody else could match this quality. Offices of administrations and even the office of the Andijan hokim (mayor) were fitted out the furniture made by the Brothers' factories. Any visitor to Andijan could tell a cabby to take him to the Akramian cafe, and the latter would promptly take his charge to the famous Shinam Cafe. Akramians' confectionery was in high demand.
Their construction companies won a lot of contests. The Brothers guaranteed quality in whatever they were doing - that's their secret. They abided by the law and no inspector could find fault with their records. They paid their taxes, and so on. Of course, there was another side to their activities... or rather, there were activities of a different kind as well.
Ferghana.Ru: What do you mean? What activities were they?
Hatam Hajimatov: I mean their ideology. I did not find them particularly faithful Moslems, you know. The Brothers did not sport long bears, they did not always perform the namaz rite and did not always fast during the Ramadan. Neither did they make the trip to the holy Mecca and Medina. They thought that it was not exactly necessary because the community they said was but in the initial phase of formation of Islamic society. They believed that faith was something man should approach step-by-step.
Neophytes were not particularly interested in politics or ideologies. Solution to their problem was all they were interested in. They were prepared to pay lip service to their leaders' ideas just to retain their jobs. And yet, training courses were mandatory for all. Neophytes were ordered to study Yuldashev's book and that gradually changed their consciousness. The Brothers were great propagandists, and neophytes eventually became genuine Brothers. In other words, this indoctrination made them what Akramians thought were true Moslems. A Brother must obey his superior and carry out every order. A Brother who expresses his on opinion on anything is regarded as "ideologically immature". Men like that did not last long, I mean that they were quietly ousted from the organization. Nothing violent, of course. The man got lower and lower in the organization until he himself decided that enough was enough and quit.
Ferghana.Ru: How do you know all of that?
Hatam Hajimatov: I had friends in the organization. I saw how they lived and how their mentors treated them. Every man had a mentor, someone to be told everything about the man's life, family, troubles, problems. Mentor's advice was to be obediently followed. Discipline in the organization was really something.
The Birodars eventually became a closed sect, intermarrying only within it. I knew leaders of the organization, and the Brothers were quite open with me because they thought I was one of them.
Ferghana.Ru: Granted asylum in the United States and Europe, a lot of Uzbek refugees opted to go home. Why?
Hatam Hajimatov: I think the Uzbek government and Yuldashev made some sort of pact. Released from the Ivanovo detention cell, I moved to Ukraine where I met the leader of the Akramians living there. Well, this man told me in early 2006 that they might be returning home soon. He wanted to know whether I was going back on the strength of a special fetvah (religious instruction). I saw through the disguise of course and said that I certainly was. The man said he would inform his superiors. It convinced me that they had some plans of return to Uzbekistan.
The fetvah may be issued by Aka (this is how Yuldashev is colloquially known) or by his envoy. It does not matter. Yuldashev's followers trust him. Their have been brainwashed, you know. These people did abandon everything - their homes, families, and children - on May 13, 2005, and made it to Kyrgyzstan. Into the great unknown. They survived deaths and automatic rifle fire to get there. These days, they are ready to go back - regardless of the danger of arrests and torture awaiting them in Uzbekistan.