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    Central Asia
     May 17, 2005
Islamic blame game
By B Raman

The violent uprising of the people of Andijan in Uzbekistan on May 13 has drawn a strong response from Uzbek authorities, resulting in the death of hundreds of people, according to some reports. The anti-government elements which organized the uprising claim to have captured 30 Uzbek soldiers and to be keeping them in their custody.

The uprising was preceded by a raid by supporters of the banned Hizbut Tehrir (HT) on a local prison in which the authorities had detained a group of 23 Muslim businessmen whom they had arrested on June 23, 2004, and accused of belonging to an Islamic extremist organization called the Akramia group. The raiders were reported to have forcibly got the so-called Akramia group members released.

On coming to know of their release, a large number of local residents came out onto the streets and captured a number of government buildings. The Uzbek security forces, after heavy fighting, managed to free the buildings from the control of the supporters of the so-called Akramia group and the HT.

The arrested Muslim businessmen, whose trial started at Alatankul on the outskirts of Andijan in February, had formed an Islamic mutual fund to help poor Muslims and to undertake charity work with its earnings. The authorities suspected it of being a front organization of the HT, a charge which was vehemently denied by the businessmen. They contended that they had no links with the HT and that their objective was purely philanthropic, with no political agenda.

Despite this, the authorities filed a charge-sheet against them under Articles 242 (setting up a criminal organization), 159 (undermining the constitutional basis of the Republic of Uzbekistan), 244-1 (preparing or distributing documents that contain a threat to public safety) and 244-2 (setting up, leading and participating in extremist religious organizations) of the Criminal Code.

The names of the arrested businessmen are: Rasuljon Ajikhalilov, Abdumajit Ibragimov, Abdulboki Ibragimov, Tursunbek Nazarov, Makhammadshokir Artikov, Odil Makhsdaliyev, Dadakhon Nodirov, Shamsitdin Atamatov, Ortikboy Akbarov, Rasul Akbarov, Shavkat Shokirov, Abdurauf Khamidov, Muzaffar Kodirov, Mukhammadaziz Mamdiyev, Nasibillo Maksudov, Adkhamjon Babojonov, Khakimjon Zakirov, Gulomjon Nadirov, Musojon Mirzaboyev, Dilshchodbek Mamadiyev, Abdulvosid Igamov, Shokurjon Shakirov, and Ravshanbek Mazimjonov.

Bakhrom Shakirov, father of Shokurjon Shakirov, said in an interview on February 18:
The detainees are not members of any underground organization. They are devout believers and entrepreneurs. They set up a mutual benefit fund and tried to help one another in commercial matters, following Islamic teachings. They used the money in the mutual benefit fund to carry out charitable work and regularly transferred money to children's homes and schools. A broad-based social welfare scheme was set up at the companies run by the detained businessmen. Staff at the companies received material help when they married (staff were often even provided with an apartment) and when they were ill the employer paid in full for all the medicines and sick leave. Any employee at the company knew quite well that if anything went wrong the company management and his colleagues would always come to his aid. The Islamic businessmen worked out a genuine minimum subsistence wage in Andijan (which was several times higher than the official minimum wage) and agreed to pay staff a wage that was higher than this figure. It's true that Muslim prayers were read out at these Islamic companies, but this was a voluntary matter. They didn't demand that workers should be believers, but people at these companies gradually came to understand the truth of Islam. These Islamic companies gradually became famous throughout Andijan, and the local media regularly carried positive reports about the charitable activities of the businessmen who are now under arrest. Even now, while the businessmen are in prison, local television is showing glowing reports about their charitable work. It is the popularity of these Islamic companies among the population that has provoked the authorities' harsh response. The state has begun to see these businessmen as ideological competitors, because their activity has truly demonstrated the superiority of Islamic economics.
The authorities described the arrested businessmen as belonging to the Akramia group, meaning that they were the followers of Akram Yuldashev, presently in jail after having been convicted on a charge of terrorism.

In 1992, Yuldashev, then a 29-year-old math teacher of Andijan, published a pamphlet titled "Yimonga Yul" (Path to faith) on what he projected as the superiority of Islamic moral values. This brought him many supporters, and his pamphlet was widely read. In 1998, the authorities arrested him on a charge of possessing narcotics and he was jailed for 30 months. However, he was prematurely released in December 1998. At the time of his arrest, he was working in a furniture company owned by the Shakirov family. He was again arrested in February 1999 following explosions in Tashkent, accused of participating in acts of terrorism and sentenced to 17 years in jail. The charge-sheet filed against him described him as the head of the Akramia, whose objective, it was alleged, was to convert Uzbekistan into an Islamic state ruled according to Sharia law.

The wife of Yuldashev, in an interview, denied that her husband had any links with the HT or the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and accused the authorities of falsely projecting him as the Osama bin Laden of Uzbekistan.

The speculation in Andijan was that the so-called Akramia group was either a front organization of the HT or had been formed by dissidents from the HT, who were dissatisfied with its policy of not resorting to terrorism. The members of the group denied that they called themselves the Akramia group. They said they belonged to a birodari (brotherhood) group without any political agenda. According to them, their only objective was to propagate the true values of Islam, make Muslims better Muslims and help poor Muslims.

No stopping the Hizbut Tehrir
The HT has been operating in the Central Asian region since 1995, when it was brought to Uzbekistan by some members of the Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom. In fact, a HT office was set up in Uzbekistan five years before its appearance in Pakistan itself. Severe government suppression forced its members to move to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Since 2000, the HT has reportedly become the largest fundamentalist organization in the Central Asian region. It is now trying to spread its activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Xinjiang region of China. It has been banned in all the Central Asian Republics and Pakistan. The ban has had no effect on its activities and its ability to attract followers. It has a strong presence in the Ferghana Valley.

The HT was formed in 1953 by Sheikh Taqiuddin an-Nabhani al Falastini, a judge of the Shariat Appeal Court in Jerusalem. After Nakhbani's death in 1979, Abad al-Qadim Zalum, a Jordanian, took over as its leader. The party's headquarters are in London, where it operates legally. Its multi-language website is also reportedly operated from London. The London headquarters is headed by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, a 42 year-old Syrian, who reportedly supervises its activities in the Central Asian republics, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.

The HT, which says it abjures violence and uses agitprop (agitation-propaganda) methods for propagating its ideology, concentrates on the penetration of the student community, the armed forces and the security agencies. It has also managed to build up a large following among Muslim medium and small-scale entrepreneurs. It advocates what it describes as the Islamic democracy in which Allah and not the people will be sovereign and an Islamic version of the free market economy in which private entrepreneurs accept a moral responsibility for the welfare of their employees. The enterprises are expected to serve the cause of religion and the community. Every member of the HT is required to contribute 10% of his or her earnings to the organization. Its other sources of funding are not known.

In view of its emphasis on propaganda, it tries to invest in printing presses and publishing houses directly or through intermediaries. Two modern underground printing presses of the HT were discovered by the police at Hudzhand in Tajikistan in 2003. According to Uzbek sources, it has the largest following in Uzbekistan, with about 20,000 members, of whom about 7,000 are in prison. The HT of Uzbekistan is led by one Vahid Omran. Its striking progress in recruiting members in Uzbekistan is attributed to the poor economic conditions there and the brutally repressive nature of the regime.

It is a largely clandestine setup, organized in a large number of autonomous cells of five members each. Each cell and its members are supposed to know the identity of only their immediate superior and not of others.

The HT has not come to notice for its control of any madrassas (seminaries). It recruits its student members from all educational institutions - religious or secular, government or private-owned. It also advises its clerics to avoid attracting attention to themselves. They are discouraged from keeping long beards and advised to trim them and even to dress themselves in Western clothes.

Many suspect the HT to be a political front organization of al- Qaeda. Both advocate an Islamic caliphate, but their road maps to achieving this objective are different. Al-Qaeda advocates resort to terrorism, but the HT does not. Al-Qaeda speaks of the right and the religious obligation of Muslims to acquire and use, if necessary, weapons of mass destruction, but the HT does not - at least openly. Since the HT has a large number of educated followers in Central Asian nations, which were important centers for research and development in the nuclear and missile fields in the erstwhile USSR, there is a greater possibility of the HT being able to attract to its ranks Muslim scientists of Central Asia well versed in nuclear and missile technologies.

The two main fundamentalist organizations of Uzbekistan are the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is a member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front and the HT, which is not. The IMU has a large proportion of Muslim soldiers of the ex-Soviet army, who had fought against the Afghan mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980s. They went to Afghanistan as convinced communists and returned to their homes as converted jihadis inspired by the example of the mujahideen. The HT, on the other hand, has a large proportion of post-1991 students, business entrepreneurs and security forces personnel with very little exposure to the jihad of the 1980s.

It is remarkable that within 10 years of its emergence in Central Asia, the HT has made long strides in the area, particularly in Uzbekistan. Apart from the poor economic conditions and the repressive policies of the governments of the region, this is also attributable to the fact that the Islamic faith and loyalty to the religion have always been important motivating factors in the Ferghana Valley area, right from the days of the first Andijan uprising of Muslims against the tsar's army in 1898.

The post-1991 resurgence of Islamic yearnings in Uzbekistan and its neighbors was first noticed and exploited not by local religious leaders, but by those who came from outside, mainly from Pakistan. In the Caucasus region (Chechnya and Dagestan), it was the indigenous Muslims who started the Muslim rights movement and took to jihadi terrorism, and foreign jihadis subsequently joined them. But, in the Central Asia republics, it is the foreign jihadis who started the movement, which subsequently attracted locals in large numbers.

Two other organizations in Uzbekistan have come to notice for their jihadi activities - the so-called Akramia group, to which a reference has already been made, and the Hizb an-Nustra (the Party of Victory). Some Uzbek analysts describe them as dissident groups of the HT, consisting of members who left the HT because of its policy of not resorting to terrorism.

After independent Uzbekistan came into existence in 1991, the authorities followed a liberal policy towards Islam. They permitted the reopening of many mosques, which had been closed down by the Soviet government before 1991, and the construction of new mosques in Andijan, and let the local Muslims go on pilgrimage to their holy land in Saudi Arabia. There was a mushrooming of new mosques funded by Saudi money. But after the emergence of the HT in 1995, they reversed this policy.

Since 1998, the anger of the Muslims of the Ferghana Valley has been aggravated by the refusal of the authorities to give permission for the construction of new mosques in Andijan. The authorities even converted the main mosque in the town into an art museum, and another into a center for the welfare of women and children.

In 1998, the government of President Islam Karimov passed a new law requiring all existing mosques to re-register. Fresh registration was refused to a large number of mosques. Out of about 2,200 mosques in Andijan, only 42 were re-registered, and the remaining were forced to close down on the grounds that they had been started without authorization. In Namangan, another town in the Ferghana Valley, only 240 of 1,000 mosques were re-registered, and the remaining forced to close down.

When Muslims started praying in the streets in response to calls of the HT, the police arrested them and accused them of being Wahhabis. Abduvali Mirzoev, a prominent imam who was Andijan's best-known Islamic leader, was arrested and allegedly sent to a labor camp. The HT followers alleged that he had been illegally kidnapped by the Uzbek security service while he was on his way to the airport to catch a flight to Moscow. Since then, the HT has observed every year the anniversary of the day of his alleged abduction as a day of protest in Andijan.

In a recent pamphlet, the HT said:
Sheikh Abduvali Qori made a great contribution to the growth of Islam in Uzbekistan. Thanks to God, the number of Muslims unbelievably increased in Uzbekistan due to his efforts and lectures. He schooled a lot of students and educated the people on the teachings of Islam. His vast Islamic knowledge won him a reputation both at home and abroad as a great Muslim scholar. The government of Uzbekistan, which is fiercely fighting against Islam, has become increasingly alarmed by this situation and therefore attempted several plots against Sheikh Abduvali Qori. One of the government plots against the Sheikh Abduvali Qori involved a terrible arson. As a result, his house and property were completely destroyed. The people who witnessed this tragedy remember that the sheikh cried about his books, which he had collected all his life and treasured a lot. It is a disgusting fact that the Uzbekistan government exercises ransom, abduction and other kinds of terror against Muslim scholars instead of honoring them. But, all of these inhuman acts of terror failed to stop and prevent him from continuing to educate the people on Islam.

The incredibly increasing popularity of the sheikh among the people both at home and abroad indeed frightened President Karimov and his entourage. After it failed to find a single reason to arrest him, the government resorted to abducting the Sheikh Abduvali Qori. Afraid of causing unrest among the Muslims who loved the Sheikh Abduvali Qori more than their own fathers, the government used its NSS [National Security Service] officers to commit this crime covertly. On August 29, 1995 the government of Uzbekistan abducted the Sheikh Abduvali Qori and his accompanying student, Ramazon Matkarimov, in Tashkent airport when they were boarding to fly to a World Islamic Symposium that was to be held in Moscow.
The repression of the followers of the HT and the IMU intensified after February 1999, when 16 people were killed in explosions in the capital Tashkent, for which the authorities blamed Islamic extremists. Thousands of suspected members of these organizations were arrested. They continue to be in detention without trial.

The only madrassa in Andijan, founded in 1990 by Adiljon-Haji Abdusalamov, a respected religious leader, was ordered to be closed down in 1998 on the ground that its management had violated laws relating to public health. He was arrested and jailed for two years. Thereafter, the government has not permitted the opening of any school for religious instruction.

In a statement issued on June 17, 2003, Dr Imran Waheed, of the HT based in London, who allegedly coordinates the activities of the HT in Uzbekistan, said:
Tens of thousands of Uzbek Muslims have been unlawfully arrested, thousands have been tortured and dozens have been killed in extra-judicial executions. Uzbek Muslim women have been threatened with gang rape during interrogation. Muslims in prison report that they have been subjected to continuous and cruel battery, repeated anal rape and the insertion of metal bars in the anus, incarceration in basement cells in conditions intolerable for any human being and the injecting of HIV infected blood for adhering to their Islamic prayer rituals and refusing to seek clemency from President Karimov.

The most recent example of this onslaught is that of Orif Eshonov, a 38-year-old member of the non-violent Islamic political party Hizbut Tahrir and father of four young children, who was detained by the Uzbek security services in Karshi in early May. After being held incommunicado he was brutally killed in custody on May 15. His body had heavy bruising to the arms, shoulders, upper chest, legs and soles of the feet. There were open wounds to one arm and his back. Several ribs had been broken and needles had been inserted under his fingernails. The campaign against independent Muslims continues with the blessing of the US government and the silence of European governments - last year Uzbekistan received $500 million in US aid and in a May 14 document the US State Department reported that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting human rights and democracy commitments. While [US President George W] Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair fete Karimov for his allegiance in the "war on terror", tens of thousands of Muslims continue to languish in the dark and dingy dungeons of Uzbekistan. America's ally, Karimov, has waged an intense and relentless campaign against Muslims in Uzbekistan. Muslims will never bow down their heads before this arrogant, tyrant ruler - the increased oppression will be an incentive to further intensify the work for the removal of such tyrants.
Since 2003, the HT has organized a series of demonstrations by women in Andijan to protest against the continued detention and alleged torture of their relatives by the local authorities, and since February it has been organizing protests against the detention and trial of 23 Muslim businessmen. It was this protest movement which triggered off the violent uprising of May 13.

The HT keeps up a virulent campaign not only against the Uzbek government and the US, but also against the Jewish community and Israel. It often refers to Karimov as a Jewish stooge. During World War II, more than 200,000 Jews escaped extermination in West Europe by fleeing to Central Asia. Anti-Semitism was not prevalent in the Central Asian republics of the erstwhile USSR to the same extent as it was in the Slav republics of the USSR.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Islamic fundamentalism made its appearance in the region through Pakistani organizations such as the Tablighi Jamaat, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and through the HT, which came from the UK via Pakistan. This led to anti-Jewish feelings on the one side and anti-Slav feelings on the other. The Pakistani organizations spread the Wahhabi ideology, which led to the republics becoming a hotbed of jihadi extremist/terrorist activities in pursuit of the objective of an Islamic caliphate.

The deterioration in the economic conditions consequent to the collapse of the USSR also led to inter-ethnic tensions among Muslims themselves. In 1989-1990, there was a massacre of Meskhetin Turks in the Ferghana Valley area of Uzbekistan. There were frequent instances of anti-Armenian and anti-Jewish violence in Andijan and there were violent clashes between Uzbeks and Kirghiz in the Osh region.

As a result of these developments, there was a decrease in the Jewish population from about 150,000 in 1989 to about 22,000, of whom about 12,000 were in Uzbekistan, 8,000 in Kazakhstan, 1,500 in Kyrgyzstan and the remaining 500 in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

B Raman is additional secretary (retired), cabinet secretariat, government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and distinguished fellow and convener, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. Email: itschen36@gmail.com

(Copyright 2005 B Raman)



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