Editor's note: The reader should be made aware that the source of this article is a U.S. propaganda agency.]
Prague, 23 December 1997 (RFE/RL)—Uzbekistan's government last week officially laid the blame for the murders of four members of the militia in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan on members of the Wahhabi sect.
It's not the first time the Wahhabis have been accused of causing problems in the Fergana Valley region—not even the first time in December. Kyrgyzstan, too, is watching the activities of Wahhabis in its own section of the Fergana Valley.
But the Uzbek government's allegations against Wahhabis go beyond
the undesirable presence of a
fundamentalist religious group
proselytizing on its soil. This time the charge is murder. But the
case, as presented so far, is rather weak, and events in neighboring
Tajikistan likely play a much as a role in the campaign against the
Wahhabis as any crimes in Namangan.
The Fergana Valley has the richest agricultural land in the area once called Russian Turkestan and later Soviet Central Asia. It is also the location of many of the region's oldest cities: Osh in Kyrgyzstan, Khujand in Tajikistan and Andijan and Namangan in Uzbekistan.
Khujand for example was once known as
Alexandria the Far named
for Alexander the Great, whose troops made their way well into the
Fergana Valley. When Islam arrived with Arab invaders in the eighth
century, it rooted deeply in the cultures of the area and has since
maintained a strong influence on the peoples of the valley. This made
the region a natural starting point for religious groups who appeared
to spread their word in the wake of the Soviet Union's
collapse. One such group is the Wahhabis.
The Uzbek government has kept a close eye on the Wahhabis who have
arrived in the Fergana Valley. The sect's insistence on total
adherence to its' interpretation of the Koran has earned it the
Kyrgyz Security Minister Feliks Kulov termed the Wahhabis as fundamentalists only yesterday, and warned of the groups growth in southern Kyrgyzstan near the Tajik border. Since the sect is usually traced to Saudi Arabia, the governments of the Central Asian states are put in a difficult situation of monitoring the sect's activities without doing anything which may offend Saudi Arabia, a leader in the Islamic world and home to the holiest shrines of Islam.
At the beginning of December, a group of masked men killed a highly
placed official of the automotive inspection committee (GAI),
decapitated him and hung his head in a bag outside the apartment of
another police official with a note reading
you are next.
The government in Tashkent responded by sending troops from elite security units to the area. Hundreds of people were brought to militia headquarters for questioning, but no one was held. Then, December 17, security forces located a suspect, Sohib Kholmatov, a Wahhabi, and a gunfight broke out in which three members of the security force were killed, along with Kholmatov.
In the aftermath of the gun battle, the militia and security forces detained hundreds of people again, but were targeting Wahhabis.
There are alternative explanations for the recent events in eastern Uzbekistan. First, while the Wahhabis may be undesirable elements to the governments of the region, they are not known to resort to violence and certainly not the kind of violence seen in the first murder. But, why a group, which knows it is being watched, would kill an official of the automotive inspection committee would seem to call for an explanation eventually.
The decapitation and death threat are more consistent with mafia activities, and Namangan does indeed lie on a well-known drug route. The Uzbek government has always portrayed the country as the most stable in the region, so a mafia war or fight for control of power between local officials, would not be publicized by Tashkent.
Another possible explanation; the upcoming transfer of some government positions in Tajikistan to the government's former enemies—among whom are members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP)—long banned in Uzbekistan.
The power-sharing deal, part of the peace accord signed in July, has
never been to the Uzbek government's liking. Tajik-Uzbek relations
have soured this past year, and the introduction of IRP members to the
Tajik government is not likely to improve the Dushanbe
government's view of its western neighbor. Nor will the
government, which has been in power through the Tajik civil
conflict—mostly former Communists—be in a position to keep
Islamic activity in check within Tajikistan. Once they were fighting
Islamists—now, they must govern with them.
The Fergana Valley is a vast area where the borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan all meet and ideas spread quickly across these borders. For both the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments, this may be the last chance to bring perceived opposition groups, and not only religious groups, under some form of control, before these new influences make their way to the northern areas of Tajikistan.
Other observers have raised the possibility that the problems in
Namangan are the work of
someone in the north, meaning
Russia. This would seem to be rather far fetched but still, Uzbekistan
has done much to keep some distance between itself and Russia, in
every way possible. Uzbekistan's success at doing just this has
been noticed by the neighboring countries, who often are in conflict
with Moscow's policies in the region.
There is a virtual news blackout in Namangan now. The Uzbek government's censorship of the media leaves little hope for obtaining the facts through official channels.
Beyond the killings, the only sure thing is that
people have been taken into custody by the authorities. Wahhabis
are the stated target, but no reports qualify who comprises these
hundreds of people arrested.
In the meantime, the Uzbek government has poured special troops into
its eastern area, and Kyrgyzstan is creating a special committee to
extreme religious groups in its southern
area—in both cases, regions far from the capitals—which
have already proven troublesome for the two countries'