69 minutes of video were taken by two cameramen in the Babur Square in Andijan on May 13, 2005. We are providing the complete version of the film.

 Click here to view the film.
English-language subtitles translated by Carnegie. To see the subtitles: on your Windows Media Player, click “play” in the menu bar, choose “captions and subtitles,” and select “uz.”

On May 13, 2005 the Uzbek government lost control of parts of the densely-populated city of Andijan, located near the border with Kyrgyzstan.1 Weapons stores of military units were attacked, and a prison holding 23 businessmen allegedly tied to an unsanctioned religious group Akramiya,2 who were on trial for organizing and participating in illegal religious organizations, was “liberated” by armed gunmen. Those allegedly responsible for these acts, then took control of the main government building in the city and held a large public rally in front of it. In the course of the day, two theaters near this square were set on fire, shootings occurred, and the demonstrators took hostages from among the police and firefighters. At the end of the day Uzbek authorities dispersed the demonstration by force, leaving untold numbers of civilian deaths, with reliable estimates in the hundreds.

It may be years before we have an authoritative account of what went on in Andijan on May 13, 2005, one that includes accounts of both the Uzbek government and of the demonstrators. Given Uzbek authorities' refusal to allow an international inquiry by either the U.N. or the O.S.C.E., the task may fall to historians of some future generation.

There have been several efforts, based on eyewitness accounts,3 to describe the events, and it is not our intention to try and compete with these efforts, or in any way to comment on the similarities or inconsistencies among them.

Our task is a much simpler one: to make public materials relating to Andijan that have come into our possession. These include a 69 minutes of video taken by two cameramen in the square in Andijan, and a commentary to the as-Saff Surah of the Quran allegedly written by Akram Yuldashev, the founder of Akramiya. This material was given to the Carnegie Endowment by Bakhtiyar Babadjanov, an internationally known scholar working at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Tashkent, who has served as a consultant for the Endowment on a project on the roots of radicalism in Islam in Central Asia, and who has also provided expert testimony to the office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Uzbekistan.


The Film

We are providing the complete version of the film (click here to see the film) with English-language subtitles.4 The subtitles on the original film were put there by the Uzbek authorities. We are doing this as part of an effort to provide a visual, albeit very incomplete, record of the events that unfolded on May 13, 2005.

To the best of our knowledge, the film is a montage of several videocassettes seized by Uzbek authorities, and is based on materials of two different cameramen, both from among the demonstrators. The cameramen were alleged by the Uzbek government to have been supporters of Akramiya. The 69 minute film, which includes a lot of overlapping footage because it was recorded by two separate cameras, has obviously been substantially edited, beginning and ending abruptly, and is obviously designed to portray the demonstration in the worst possible light. It seems to have been intended as evidence in the trials of the alleged organizers of the Andijan events. We found no evidence that the audio on the film was edited, or voiced over.

The film only partly answers the questions about the nature of the demonstration. While it is consistent with the Uzbek government claim that the organizers of the demonstration were trying to overthrow the government of Uzbekistan by force, it does not prove this. Many of those featured in the film were blunt in their call for a change in government, but this provides very little evidence as to the goal of the majority of those gathered in the square. The demonstrators seem to have offered an open microphone to any who wanted to speak, and at least two freed prisoners with no ties to Akramiya took advantage of this opportunity,5 but the film contains no speeches by the businessmen themselves, although one is shown exchanging greetings in the crowd.6

The Uzbek government editing is designed to leave the viewer with the impression that this was a religiously inspired protest, and here too the film is merely suggestive rather than conclusive. At several points in the film, the men in the crowd chant “Allah Akbar” (God is Great), while the women chant “Azadlyk” (freedom). Is this a single chant, “Allah Akbar Azadlyk” (God is Great Freedom), implying that the chanters want a state in which respect for Islam and its teachings is the basis of the government's legitimacy? That is what it sounded like to us, but others listening to the tape have drawn a different conclusion.

It does support the Uzbek government claim that at least some of the demonstrators were armed, as it clearly shows armed men in the crowd of demonstrators, demonstrators seizing hostages by force, and demonstrators on the edge of the crowd making Molotov cocktails. It is unclear how much military training the demonstrators had, or whether they were trained gunmen, who had received formal paramilitary training in advance of the attack. Based on the footage in the film in our possession, at least some of the gunmen appear to have at least some rudimentary training, although it is impossible to know whether they acquired this while serving in the Uzbek armed forces, or as the result of training received in some sort of “terrorist” camp.

But the most critical part of the story is missing - the ending. The film provides no footage on the last part of the demonstration, so demonstrators' claims that they were attacked without warning can not be confirmed. We do see the demonstrators urging the crowd to remain in the square, even when some bystanders were urging them to leave, but it is impossible to know whether these scenes occurred before or after the government's negotiations with the hostage-takers had broken down. For from that time on the use of force by the government seemed virtually assured.

The film also does not decisively answer whether the use of force, and more specifically its timing was justified. The overwhelming majority of the demonstrators were unarmed, but it is impossible to know from the film what actions, if any, the armed demonstrators were contemplating, and how immediate they were. But the question is not simply whether the government was justified in the use of force, but whether the application of force was excessive. Once again, there is nothing in this film to suggest why there should have been hundreds of civilian casualties sustained in the retaking of downtown Andijan.


Commentary on as-Saff (Surah 61)

We have also obtained a copy of commentary on as-Saff, Surah 61 of the Quran, which we are also making available (click here to read the document). This text, allegedly written by Akram Yuldashev, was given to us by Bakhtiyar Babadjanov, who was given this text to analyze by the Prosecutor General of Uzbekistan. Dr. Babadjanov also had the opportunity to meet with Akram Yuldashev in prison, at which time Yuldashev acknowledged authorship of the document. The translation and commentary on Yuldashev's text is our own. Babadjanov's own views were presented in a talk that he gave at the Carnegie Endowment (click here to read the event summary). This commentary is dated March 2005, and to us, its connection to the events in Andijian does not seem accidental.

Akram Yuldashev's commentary on as-Saff can be read as a call to his trusted lieutenants to begin “jihad.” According to Babadjanov, Yuldashev never intended for this text to be widely distributed. It was to go to trusted “brothers” in his organization, although Yuldashev's supporters asked for his permission to share the document with worshippers in mosques sympathetic to Akramiya.

According to Babadjanov, Yuldashev seems to have been concerned that the widespread distribution of this letter would be inconsistent with the group's public relations goals to continue to be regarded in the foreign press as a wholly peaceful movement, headed by competent and socially responsible businessmen, that sought social justice through the gradual return of Uzbek society to its Islamic roots, preferably through the religious guidance offered by Yuldashev in “Iymonga yu'l” (“A Path to the True Faith”), his 1992 essay.

The choice of as-Saff for a call for “jihad” is a somewhat unusual one, as it is a text more often associated with the spiritual side of jihad, jihad as personal renewal in the acceptance of the faith, than it is with armed jihad, jihad as the defense of the faith against the incursions by enemies of Islam.

Yuldashev may have chosen as-Saff partly because it its name, “the Ranks.” In his commentary to ayat 4 Yuldashev writes: “Lo! Allah loveth those who do jihad 7 for His cause in ranks, as if there were a solid structure,”8 and makes reference to “some of our brothers standing in ranks at their trial,” a clear reference to the 23 businessmen in Andijan.

In the Arabic original, the word “battle” (al-katalu) appears, in 61:4, but Yuldashev uses jihad, which is consistent with the Uzbek translation of the Quran (by Alouddin Mansur, which he told Babadjanov he used).9 

The choice of as-Saff as the Quranic verse designed to mobilize Yuldashev's supporters to action also seems appropriate to the circumstances Akramiya confronted in Uzbekistan. To be successful they would have to both bring their potential supporters to the faith and launch a successful attack against the state. But this too was a challenge that the supporters of Muhammad faced in his lifetime, something which seems to have given Yuldashev strength to believe that his mission was a plausible one.

Yuldashev hopes that the [ungodly] state will weaken and collapse of its own accord, and in his reference to al-Qalam 68:44, he expresses his preference for a victory of Islam that is attained without war. But the remainder of his commentary makes clear that Yuldashev does not believe that this will occur.

Akram Yuldashev writes of the need to free those in prison, although it is unclear whether he is calling for their freedom to be bought, or obtained in some other way. But the choice of Quranic passages he offers as he begins to draw his commentary to a close strongly suggests that he was pressing his supporters to armed struggle.

He begins with al-Taube (Repentance) 9:13-15, one of the frequently cited Surah with relationship to calls for armed jihad, and then follows this immediately with al-Nisa (Women) 4:74-76, again texts that are often used in justifying the use of force against the enemies of Islam.

Professor Reuven Firestone's commentary on al-Nisa 75 is very interesting in this regard, as he claims that its reference is to the fate of those followers of Muhammad who remained in Mecca after Muhammad's flight to Medina. Rather than ensuring their safety they wound up being harshly persecuted, a fate worse than befell most that fled to take up Islam's cause.10

The parallels that Yuldashev would have seen to the situation in Uzbekistan are clear. He was telling his supporters to oppose an unjust state, or face a fate worse than death in acquiescence.

“Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a large reward. (O ye who believe!) How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: ‘Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!' Those who believe do battle for the cause of Allah; and those who disbelieve do battle for the cause of Satan. So fight the minions of the Satan. Lo! the Satan's strategy is ever weak.” [al-Nisa 4:74-76].


Some Concluding Thoughts

In the end we do not know what effect Yuldashev's letter had on the men who launched the attacks on the night of May 13, 2005 and assembled the crowd in the Babur square in Andijian the next morning. Babadjanov was told that several copies of Yuldashev's commentary (maybe as many as ten) were found among those subsequently arrested.

It is certainly plausible that some of the young men shown in the film saw themselves as fulfilling the obligation of jihad, and if they did, they would have been willing to risk civilian casualties. As Yuldashev's commentary reminded them, death in the service of Allah was a path to everlasting life.

But we cannot prove that these men were Jihadists, or had been formally trained by either local or international terrorist groups. The existence of Yuldashev's commentary, and some of the scenes from the film we present make this explanation more plausible than it would otherwise be, together with the information that has been part of the public record about the events in Andijian to date.

Those reading the accompanying text and watching the film will have to draw their own conclusions. Our own view is that the search for “truth” in the events of May 13, 2005 cannot be a simple one. That innocent lives were lost is without question, but the motivations of those who came to the square that day were certainly varied. Many undoubtedly wanted simply to vent their frustrations about the social, economic and political failings of the Uzbek regime. They may have hoped for some remedy from the authorities, or that somehow better authorities might emerge to take their place. But others may well have had more sinister motives and goals that would have led Uzbekistan even further away from the goal of becoming a secular democracy than under the Karimov regime.

1 For the map of Uzbekistan see Attachment 1.

2 Akramiya ( also known as Iymonchilar and Khalifatchilar ), founded in 1996 in Andijan, is an Islamist group, banned under the current Uzbek government. Its founder, Akram Yuldashev, is currently jailed on charges of establishing an unauthorized underground organization and serving his sentence at a correctional facility in Tashkent region. Yuldashev, who previously belonged to the radical Islamist political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, is the author of “Iymonga yu'l” (“A Path to the True Faith”) essay.

3 OSCE/ODIHR Report on “Preliminary Findings on the events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, 13 May 2005,” Warsaw, 20 June 2005, at http://www1.osce.org/documents/odihr/2005/06/15233_en.pdf ;

Human Rights Watch, ““Bullets Were Falling Like Rain” The Andijan Massacre, May 13, 2005,” June 2005, Vol. 17, No. 5(D), at http://hrw.org/reports/2005/uzbekistan0605/ ;

Shirin Akiner, “Violence in Andijan, 13 May 2005 : An Independent Assessment,” Silk Road Paper (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS, 2005) at http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/inside/publications/0507Akiner.pdf.

4 To see the subtitles: on your Windows Media Player, click “play” in the menu bar, choose “captions and subtitles,” and select “uz.”

5 These two prisoners were Nasima Salieva, convicted of manslaughter and dealing drugs, and Doniyer Akbarov, convicted of manslaughter. Salieva and Akbarov, together with a group of other “liberated” prisoners, fled to Kyrgyzstan, but were soon extradited to Uzbekistan by the Kyrgyz Ministry of Internal Affairs.

6 Shakir Shakirov.

7 Yuldashev used the Uzbek translation of the Quran, published by Alouddin Mansur, an independent cleric from Kara Su (Kyrgyzstan ), in 2001. There were two editions of the translation: the first one, published in 2001, was sharply criticized for overly literal interpretation of jihad and removed from libraries and distributors. The second edition, in which Mansur replaced the word “jihad” (Uzbek Jihod ) with “battle” (Uzbek Jang ) in the 4th ayat of the As-Saff Surah (the 11th ayat remained unchanged), was published in 2004.

8 The English translation of the Quran is from The Glorious Qur'an: Text and Explanatory Translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, Publisher: Muslim World League, 1977.

9 Our ability to authenticate this part of Babadjanov's reported conversation with Yuldashev adds credibility to the rest of Babadjanov's account.

10 (P. 79-80), Reuven Firestone, Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1999), pp. 79-80.