15 september 2019

Central Asia news

Uzbekistan: echo of the Kagan explosions reverberates throughout the Bukhara region (see photo)

12.01.2009 09:25 msk

Ferghana.Ru news agency

Uzbekistan

Photos by Ferghana.Ru (made in summer 2008, right after the explosions)

Artillery supply depot in the Kagan district (Bukhara region, Uzbekistan) went off six months ago. Ferghana.Ru sources in law enforcement agencies claim that the investigation is over now. Unfortunately, ordinary Uzbeks are unlikely to be ever acquainted with its findings despite President Islam Karimov's promise to do so.

Consequences of explosions in Kagan
Consequences of explosions in Kagan

Fire engulfed the artillery supply depot on the night on July 10, 2008. Ordnance inside predictably detonated, killing 3 (according to the official estimate) and wounding 24. The explosions damaged nearby blocks of apartments. Several buildings were completely destroyed by the fire.

Independent observers and witnesses meanwhile give different estimates and say that between several dozens and several hundreds were killed and injured. Fast Response Group - Uzbekistan (FRG), an organization denied official registration, maintains that 27 perished in the explosions and the fire. FRG even planned to publish the list of casualties but reconsidered its options fearing for victims' families. Secret services began harassing them when informed that the list of casualties was to be published.

One of the victims
One of the victims

All of Kagan was cordoned off after the very first explosions. Practically all locals were evacuated on June 10. Inmates of the prison located nearby were essentially all who were left in the dangerous area.

The Uzbek authorities were upset that information on the incident immediately reached foreign media. (All information on army depots and military budget is classified.) When the explosions started, all media outlets in the Bukhara region were informed that the incident was off bounds and that they had better refrain from sending correspondents and camera teams to the site. In any event, explosions in Kagan became hot news all over the world but in Uzbekistan itself. A brief statement UzA news agency released at 12:57 Tashkent time remained the only acknowledgement of the incident for twenty-four hours.

Kagan: After the fire
Kagan: After the fire

The artillery supply depot in Kagan used to be one the largest munitions depots in Uzbekistan. According to what information is available to Ferghana.Ru, it contained ordnance of the Afghani war period and more sophisticated munitions, ready for use nowadays. Located on nearly two square kilometers, the facility included buildings on the surface and underground ones, the latter with sophisticated ordnance like airbombs in them. The latter were eventually utilized on a site 20 kilometers from Bukhara in November 2008.

"Forget all these speculations on how it was but an incident because they are a laugh. The military knows that facilities like that are heavily guarded and that incidents of this sort are never allowed there. Act of sabotage is a hypothesis the investigation never dismissed," a source said. "Matter of fact, there are reasons to believe that some ordnance from the facility was sold in the black market. Not all of the ordnance there was earmarked for utilization, you know."

Military hostel
Military hostel. The authorities claim that the explosions spared the building

Military experts suspect that safety regulations were ignored in Kagan and that this neglect resulted in the tragedy. Karimov visited Kagan on July 17 and pinned the blame on the Soviet engineered who had built the facility even without waiting for completion of the investigation. The Defense Ministry got its share of blame too. Karimov mentioned the necessity to maintain proper order and enforce discipline at facilities such as this. He also said it was necessary to choose commanders of suchlike facilities with better care.

"Findings of the investigation will be published. We are after the truth. Moreover, we aim to prevent any similar incidents in the future," Karimov said. General public is still waiting for the information.

Kagan: After the fire
Kagan: After the fire

Lots of senior officers of Bukhara law enforcement agencies lost their jobs in November even though they have never had anything to do with ordnance utilization programs of the Defense Ministry. What happened? Ferghana.Ru sources believe that most of the sacked officers were suspected of looting the evacuated Kagan. When the population was evacuated, police officers were assigned to every abandoned tenement building to prevent looting. It never helped. When the people were permitted to return to their homes, law enforcement agencies found themselves bombarded with complaints that most valuable items had been removed from locked and supposedly guarded tenements.

Reclamation work in Kagan continues. Lots of unauthorized shacks and structures near the artillery supply depot were torn down to be replaced with playgrounds. Some buildings in Kagan were repainted after the explosions, shattered windows in the tenements looking on the official route leading to the railroad terminal were replaced. The government of Uzbekistan earmarked funds for the victims without saying how much. Some of the latter, however, have never seen the money.

Kagan: After the fire
Kagan: After the fire

"We repaired our house without any help, financial or otherwise, from anyone. I happen to know that funds from the government were only used to restore facades of the buildings along the central avenue, and that was all. I do not know of anyone who got any financial assistance from the authorities," a local living on Ferghana Street commented.

A girl by name of Svetlana said she had had a visit from the mahallya (local) committee. "They supplied construction materials like glass and plaster instead of money," she said. "So, I got construction materials free and did the whole job all by myself." Other sources meanwhile said that new housing projects will be built along Bukhara Highway, for the people whose apartments perished in the explosions. Some of the are the Gypsies (Lyuli tribe) who lived near the artillery supply depot. Unfortunately for them, they lived there without authorization, so the matter of their recompense remains open.

Kagan: After the fire
Kagan: After the fire

Residents of Bukhara and Kagan hear explosions from the ordnance utilization site 10 kilometers from the nearest settlement every Monday. When the last artillery shell is utilized is anybody's guess.

The Lyuli Gypsies lived in tents like that after the explosions
The Lyuli Gypsies lived in tents like that after the explosions

Каган, Узбекистан
Shells