Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Remember Andijan?

Author: Paulo Coelho

I read this article yesterday in Herald Tribune. Today, while walking with a friend of mine, I was thinking: shall I post it in my blog? Being a former prisioner of conscience (see the photo above), being arrested three times, and brutally tortured, I cannot – and I will never – close my eyes to the abuses we see every day, everywhere – from Guantanamo to Burma.

The article speaks by itself – I decided to edit it for the blog, but you can find it, for free, in International Herald Tribune website. During the military dictatorship in Brazil, the same thing happened; economical interests were more important than human lives.

I knot that there is little we can do, but this little makes the difference.

Remember Andijan
By Galima Bukharbayeva

On May 13, 2005, Uzbek security services opened fire on a peaceful rally staged by thousands of people in the eastern city of Andijan, killing about a thousand people, including women and children.

I saw the raw violence firsthand and watched as my own country’s Interior Ministry troops rode into the town square on armored personnel carriers and mowed down people indiscriminately, using both light and heavy machine guns.

Uzbekistan had always had an appalling human rights record, but after that day, President Islam Karimov’s repression against his own people reached new levels. Witnesses and their families were harassed and tortured to produce forced confessions portraying the Andijan events as a jihadi insurgency. Many, like me, had to flee the country or risk the worst imaginable consequences.

I recall the words of one of Karimov’s ideologues, who forecast soon after the massacre that there was no need to worry because whatever protests Western countries were making, they would all court the ruler once again and “even beg him on their knees” for renewed ties.

How sadly right he was. In the weeks and months after the massacre, the United States condemned the extreme use of force against civilians. In response, Karimov kicked the Americans off their military base at Karshi-Khanabad in southern Uzbekistan.

The European Union went a step further, implementing a series of targeted sanctions against the regime, including an arms embargo and visa bans on 12 Uzbek officials involved in the massacre. But right from the start, Europe didn’t take its sanctions too seriously: The day they took effect in November 2005, one of the people on the visa ban list, Interior Minister Zokirjon Almatov, was actually enjoying medical care at a clinic in Hanover, Germany.

By 2006, the visa ban list was reduced from 12 to eight. In 2007, the sanctions were suspended for six months. In April of this year, they were suspended again, and they now look set to expire completely in October.

As one of the few journalists who covered the massacre, I remember how residents of Andijan helped me and my colleagues and how they agreed to drive us around even though they knew they could be killed or tortured for helping us. They took the risk so the world would know the truth. They believed the West shared their belief that human life is priceless and that such crimes by the state should not go unpunished.

What can I now tell those people now? That no Western politician even utters “Andijan” any more?

Galima Bukharbayeva, who covered the massacre in Andijan, now lives in Duesseldorf, Germany, and is editor-in-chief of the online news service

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