Skirmish in Tashkent. Attempt at live commentary
Photos © Ferghana.Ru
What information is available to Feghana.Ru indicates that a particularly intensive skirmish between the police and unidentified criminals took place on the territory of the so called Old Town of Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, on August 29.
The Kukcha mosque is located quite near the 1st Tashkent Hospital. The mosque and the hospital are separated by a two-storey brick house built in the early 20th century, kindergarten, and private households the locals call cottages. That was when the skirmish took place.
According to unofficial and so far unconfirmed reports, the police attempted to examine the two-storey building in the mahalla (district) but people inside opened automatic rifle fire. The curious recklessly rushed to the site of the gunplay to see what was happening but a wounded police officer expressly told them to stay away.
The Kukcha mosque
Armored personnel carriers turned up in no time at all and disgorged a SWAT team. The firing noticeably intensified (one of the locals later described it as "Something real horrible, you know.") Several ambulances appeared as well.
Some sources say that those resisting the police numbered four. Two of them perished in the skirmish and two were taken alive. Four police officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
The street and the adjacent territory right up to the Chorsu bazaar (the largest in the Old Town) were cordoned off. Eyewitness reports indicate that two armored personnel carriers blocked both ends of the road, preventing entry. They took off and drove away in the evening.
Some residents of Chilanzar housing project reported gunplay in the project's Districts 5, 6, and 7, near the Farkhad bazaar, and in Algorithm area. Considering that each of these areas is farther away from Kukcha than the previous one, it stands to reason to assume that the unidentified criminals got out of the besieged building and retreated along this route, chased by law enforcement agencies.
Policemen walked their respective beats in Chilanzar and warned the locals lingering outside to go home and stay there. Access to a certain part of Algorithm - presumably the one gunplay was heard from - was denied to the locals.
Other sources meanwhile claim that the skirmish intensified only when an old two-storey building in Kukcha-Darbaz and some nearby cottages were cordoned off. Escape through the tight ring of cordons was unlikely, so that the rumors on gunplay in other areas (Chilanzar and Algorithm) could be precisely that - rumors.
This correspondent visited the area today. Residents of the two-storey building that had been the hub of all activity last night were outside, quietly discussing the latest events. A police officer clad in a blue and green uniform questioned witnesses. The people would not talk to a journalist. One of them merely advised this correspondent to "Walk 50 meters or so closer to the cottages where it all happened." Unfortunately, the area was cordoned off by police lines to prevent interference with investigation. By and large, however, people in Uzbekistan are taciturn in situations such as this - undeniably for fear of being tagged as accomplices.
One woman agreed to talk to this correspondent and tell what she knew. As it turned out, however, she was not what would normally constitute an exclusive source.
"Did you see it with your own eyes?" she was asked. "Actually, I read about it on Ferghana.Ru web site. On my cell phone."
An elder passing by refused to talk too. All he said was that the people the police had dealt with were not locals (meaning that they did not live in the building).
Another correspondent who also visited the site told Ferghana.Ru that when they were discussing the last afternoon events, the locals identified some of the people the police had been after by names. It means that even if they were strangers in this particular mahallya, they must have lived somewhere close by.
One of the customers at Sharukh tea-house situated near the site of the skirmish said that the people had barely gathered there for the iftar or fasting the previous day when the police turned up and ordered everyone to stay inside. Gunplay began at twenty to seven p.m. and lasted twenty minutes or so. People stayed in the tea-house as ordered and ventured outside at least three hours later, when whatever it had been was over.
The Uzbek authorities made no official statement (probably still thinking about how to present the incident to general public). Neither is any information on casualties available. Surat Ikramov, Chairman of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists suggested that four or six police officers had been killed. Uzbek Human Rights Movement Veritas (non-registered) reported three people resisting the police killed. Its activists say that their bodies could be seen on the road leading to the Kukcha mosque after the skirmish.
It was the third incident of this kind in Uzbekistan this year. The first outbreak occurred when gunmen attacked the Khanabad checkpoint in the Andijan region on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border on the night on May 26 and organized several explosions in Andijan itself the following day. According to official reports, the suicide bomber was killed along with police traffic officer Captain Bahtier Kholmirzayev then.
The second incident happened in the Bakhmal district of the Jizak region in August when Uzbek border guards encountered a gang of gunmen. The third occurred yesterday, in Tashkent.