Saturday, May 14, 2005


Yesterday I spoke to my colleague in Jalalabat. She lost one of her five employees to a sudden wedding.

“And another one was almost stolen this weekend,” she said.

I asked her about it and she told me that the young woman had been invited to a picnic by a former boyfriend. He’d asked her to marry him and she’d refused. They went very far away, hours from Jalalabat, and she started to get a bad feeling. When she became very worried, she and her friend ran away to the next village, then got a ride home from a local there.

“Good for her,” I said, that she escaped a possible kidnapping.

“Good for me,” my colleague said, thankful not to lose 40% of her staff in a single week.

Today I heard from our driver, Malan, that a prison full of prisoners were set free in Andijan, a town in Uzbekistan about 25 miles from Osh. Malik is usually my first source of local news. Later in the day, I heard more updates from Malan, followed by concern from our office manager, Gulnara, who’d read the news on the internet. Last of all, I received official warnings forwarded from the U.S. embassy in Tashkent and forwardings of articles in CNN and Russian news.

From what I heard, fifteen vehicles of armed men came to the prison, attacked the guards, and freed all the prisoners. They were upset about the imprisonment of 20 businessmen who were imprisoned on charges of extremism. They then demanded the resignation of the Uzbek president.

When I returned home, Nigora said she’d heard people talking in the market. She heard that prisoners had been freed, but didn’t know any details.

In the evening, I sat with Shavkat and Nigora around the outdoor table. They were both concerned.

“Uzbeks aren’t the type of people to start up protests,” Shavkat said. “There must be some provacateurs behind it.”

“The sickness crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan,” Nigora said.

“If there is a revolution in Uzbekistan,” Shavkat said, “it won’t end as quickly or calmly as it did in Kyrgyzstan. There are over 20 million people there. All of Kyrgyzstan is like just Tashkent. And in Kyrgyzstan Akaev decided not to use arms. But I don’t think that Karimov will take such a decision.”

It’s hard to know what the real situation is. On the one hand, Uzbekistan does have a lot of extremists and has a real reason to use strength to control them. On the other hand, I’ve heard that Uzbekistan is very hard on entrepreneurs and it’s possible that there were politically motivated imprisonments.

Nigora and Shavkat agreed that Uzbekistan had a problem with extremists.

“The worst place is Namagan,” Shavkat said, “and it’s only 50 miles from here. After the end of the Soviet Union they wanted to separate and form an Islamic state.”

“They would have been completely isolated from the world,” Nigora said. “They want people to not be able to turn on the TV or the radio, for women to wear full burqas. Even in Soviet times, religion played a very strong role there. My sister lives there and I used to go to visit here. On the street, old men would ask me why I didn’t have on a scarf or a long skirt and they’d hit me with their canes.”

“I would tell them, sorry, sorry, we’re guests and we don’t know your traditions,” Shavkat said.

Nigora said that when she goes there now, she always puts a scarf in her bag and wears a long skirt. “I’m afraid to go alone,” she said. “I always ask Shavkat to come with me.”

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