Uzbekistan

An eyewitness account from Andijan

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2005
Roads leading to the centre of Andijan and the Governor’s office were blocked by armoured vehicles.

By Reza Hossaini

UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Reza Hossaini recently visited Andijan, which had been the scene of a violent clash between protestors and Government forces. The following is his eyewitness account.

ANDIJAN, Uzbekistan, 24 May 2005 – After passing through a number of heavily armed security check points, we finally arrived in Andijan. Schools and colleges have been closed for a week. Most people are hesitant to talk to foreigners. It was clear to us that any movement inside – or for that matter, outside – the city was being tightly controlled.

Roads to the centre of the city and the Governor’s office were blocked by armoured vehicles. Still, we managed to get to the main square, where a peaceful demonstration had turned into bloodshed on Friday 13 May. Looking around, we saw three or four buildings clearly showing signs of having been on fire, including the Governor’s office.

The violence caught by surprise not only the Government, but also the people. The entire city remains in shock, still mourning lost loved ones. What had triggered the violence on that fateful day is still not entirely agreed upon.

What is known is that in the early hours of 13 May, the town prison was broken into. Hundreds of prisoners were released, and a large amount of arms and ammunition was stolen from a nearby armoury. And on that same day, hundreds of demonstrators quickly became thousands. A failure in negotiations ultimately left hundreds of people dead or injured.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2005
The bridge connecting Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the small border town of Karasou.

We visited the city’s emergency hospital. The hospital was under heavy guard by paramilitary personnel. A group of approximately 50 people, mostly women, were waiting at the front gate for any news regarding their relatives. We spoke to the hospital director who told us that 106 patients had been admitted here. When asked if there were any women and children among casualties, he flatly said “no” but did not allow us to go inside.

It was obvious that the hospital was stretched to its full capacity, barely able to cope with such a large number of patients. Basic surgical equipment, dressings and drugs seem to be badly needed. UNICEF is in the process of procuring drugs and surgical equipment to help alleviate the demand in the hospitals.
 
Karasou: A small bridge connects Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

Travelling across the valley from one city to another, one could clearly see that the unemployment rate is quite high. In addition, for a long time, the people of Uzbekistan were not allowed to trade with neighbouring countries.

We travelled to the small border town of Karasou. The town is divided by a narrow river; half of the town is in Kyrgyzstan, the other half in Uzbekistan. Almost all families in this tiny town have relatives living on the other side of the border. The only bridge connecting the two communities had been partially destroyed two years ago.

The town was calm, with no visible signs of police or military personnel. The people of Karasou, taking advantage of the situation in Andijan, had driven police forces out of the town, and had started making repairs on the bridge during the night. By the next day, the small bridge had suddenly become very busy.

An old man on the bridge with tears in his eyes repeatedly said, “This is God’s gift.” He told us he had not seen his daughter and grandchildren for many years, until the bridge was repaired. Many people, including women and young boys, crossed the border to bring goods into the market. Business seemed to be booming on both sides of the border.

It appeared to me that the entire aspiration of the people of Karasou was to keep that bridge open, to have free contact with their family members and to continue with their trading.

UNICEF in action

The crisis appears to be over, as the Government is now in full control of the situation. It is important for the world to know what happened here. It is just as important to ensure that the injured are well cared for, and that civilians and family members of those who were arrested, and those who took refuge in Kyrgyzstan, remain well protected.

UNICEF will provide support and assist with reunification for children who were separated from their families. There have been reports that during the crisis many children may have been arrested and detained in Andijan. UNICEF is in touch with law enforcement offices and working to ensure these children are released.

UNICEF is looking forward to the reopening of schools which were closed because of the fighting. Returning to school is the best way of restoring normalcy to children’s lives.


 

 

Audio

24 May 2005:
UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Reza Hossaini describes his recent visit to Andijan.

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