Jan 24

Uzbeksistan Has More than Torture to Worry About

From the RFE/RL today:

Dozens of women recently took to the freezing streets in eastern Uzbekistan in the first public demonstration in Andijon since security forces fired on protesters eight months ago. In May, Andijon’s residents and the international community were shocked when authorities used automatic weapons to disperse the crowd. Like in May, desperate residents are facing crushing social and economic hardship. But this time, protesters were seeking nothing more than regular gas and electricity supplies. And fear of official reprisal kept their demonstrations limited — and exclusively female.

This story is actually a couple of days old, but goes to illustrate just how bad things are in Central Asia.

I was part of the group that the Peace Corps sent back to Uzbekistan after the evacuation in October of 2001.  I lived in the capital and for the most part, I lived okay.  I had a loving host family that let me eat some very good food, and I acquired an apartment that had both hot and cold water for about 48 weeks out of the year.

Most volunteers there weren’t as lucky, and the local people there (of all nationalities) had it either much better or much, much worse.  The people that had it the hardest were those living in the far east and far west of the country.  In the east lies the Ferghana Valley, a supposed “hotbed of terrrorism.” In the far west is Karalkalpakstan, the scene of one of the most horrible environmental disasters in the world.

I have been almost everywhere in this country and I have seen the way people live.  Villages without potable water for years, children forcibly conscripted year after year to pick cotton by hand, no gas in the winter and no water in the summer. There are rampant diseases that are simple to fix if the government weren’t negligent. Yes, there is torture there too. But which problems should we try to fix first? And how? They are such a hard questions to answer.

When I saw that people were again trying to make a difference there, it was heartening.  The government of Uzbekistan took out many of the non-governmental oranizations sent to help. They took out the Peace Corps and the American base there.  Everyday, the government tries to take the hope from a people who are known most for their hospitality and generosity.

But still, they fight for their families. They will take to the streets not a year after a massacre, despite being disregarded.

They fight to come in from the cold.

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