A month ago Zakir Almatov was commanding the troops crushing the revolt in Andijan and then he took journalists for the excursion of the “battlefield.”
The Clan’s Warfare
Uzbekistan lost head of Interior Ministry
In the end of last week the Interior Ministry of Uzbekistan announced that its minister Zakir Almatov is sick and in a hospital outside the republic’s territory. Not long before that, local media reported that Almatov had a stroke. This is the man who was directing the operations of crushing the revolt more than a month ago in Andijan. He was also considered to be one of the most likely successors of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. However, Almatov’s disappearance from the political arena could possibly mean that the Andijan events themselves were just a part in the local clans’ fight for power. It looks like the Interior Minister lost this struggle.
Only a month ago, Zakir Almatov was holding in his hands all the main power levers in the country. He was the one who commanded the operation of crushing the revolt in Andijan. It was he who took the journalists on the guided tour into the defeated city. There was information that Karimov asked Almatov to have a “talk” with “Akramists” (the Islamic organization that started the revolt), which were barricaded in the Andijan khokimiyat (municipality). Later, the Interior Minister in the name of Uzbek authorities was giving official information about the number of the victims.
The rumors that something happened with the powerful minister started to circulate in Tashkent last week. Zakir Almatov disappeared in the beginning of June and nobody from the general public had an idea what happened to him or where he was. The information agency Fergana.ru was one of the first media that came out with a guess (although based on info from Interior Ministry sources), that the minister had a stroke and wsa recovering in the Kremlin’s hospital. In addition, the sources said that Tokhir Mulazhanov, former deputy of the Interior Minister, is currently taking Almatov’s position. Not so long ago, Mulazhanov left his deputy minister position for a job in the National Security Service (NSS) in Uzbekistan.
The most powerful organization in Uzbekistan usually does not react to publications in the independent media. However, last Friday an official from the ministry hurried to reject rumors about Almatov’s stroke. The official statement did not help to get rid of the suspicions. It confirmed that the minister had been outside of Uzbekistan for some time already. The ministry official was insisting that the minister has a pinched nerve instead of stroke and that he is not being treated in Moscow. The end of the statement only added to the confusion by announcing that Almatov is not expected to be back in the nearest future because he is on a “short-term vacation.”
Several weeks before the Andijan events Zakir Almatov got involved in a pretty strange scandal. That incident was largely unknown outside of Uzbekistan but made a lot of ruckus among the local independent journalists and human rights activists. In April of this year, one of the Internet sites started to publish letters signed by somebody named Safar Abdullaev. The author did not hide that his pen name is not the same as a real name. He was also saying that under the pen name was hidden some high ranking official from the Uzbek Interior Ministry “who changed his mind.” In 10 published letters Abdullaev was telling about the plan of repressions called “2005-2007” that was targeting all Uzbek oppositionists, independent journalists and human rights activists. This plan was born deep inside of the Interior Ministry. The author also described the brutality reigning within the ministry and the cruel character of the minister who was participating in tortures of political prisoners. Moreover, Abdullaev reported that the Uzbek President, Islam Karimov, is terminally ill (poisoned by Almatov) and the head of the ministry decided to seize the president’s office. Finally, the letters showed the “blacklists” of journalists and human rights activists who would be the target of the ministry “clean up operation” this summer.
After the Abdullaev letters, all the journalists from the blacklist wrote an open letter to Almatov, and he, to everyone’s amazement, responded. The reporters from the top of the lists were invited to the Interior Ministry and received by Almatov’s deputy Alisher Sharafutdinov. The deputy minister told journalists that all Internet letters were no more than a disinformation and that ministry is not planning any political repressions.
The publication of the letters ended in a dramatic way. In of the last letters, the author confessed that the ministry’s leadership is trying very hard to establish who leaks the information out of the organization and might soon find out who “Abdullaev” is. “In the order to save himself, Almatov might try to liquidate in the next few days all the officers from four special departments (237 people), who had access to the secret plans “2005-2007,” the letter said. A final publication started with the words:”If you read this, it means, we’re all dead already.”
The Internet serial “Safar Abdullaev” was finished a few days before the Andijan tragedy and looked pretty impressive and trustworthy except for one moment. The author was showing too obvious a confrontation between the Interior Ministry of Zakir Almatov and the National Security Service headed by Rustam Inoyatov.
“The Interior Minister was always jealous of his main rival, Rustam Inoyatov, because the latest one was able to keep the best cadres from the KGB times, which are more tolerant to the problems of the Uzbek people,” wrote Abdullaev. In his description, NSS was a highly professional organization with honest and educated officers. Half of the officers were Russian-speaking citizens of Uzbekistan. “This Russian-speaking staff of the security officers is the only barrier for the repressions prepared by Almatov’s clan. These “experienced security officers, who are just pretending to play the game of the authoritarian state but are overridden with the sense of guilt” are standing alone against Almatov’s “servants with only nine years of school,” wrote Abdullaev. “If Rustam Inoyatov is neutralized or removed from the NSS, Zakir Almatov will have no obstacles left to conduct his repression in awful scales,” Abdullaev warned in his “posthumous” letter.
It was true that Rustam Inoyatov was always considered to be a main rival of Zakir Almatov. The head of the Interior Ministry was occupying his post from 1990 and the Director of NSS - from 1995. Inoyatov was representative of the Tashkent clan and Almatov was a front man of the Samarkand clan. According to the opinion of several independent Uzbek analysts, in the beginning of the year these two politicians and two clans started a decisive battle for the “inheritance” of Islam Karimov. For instance, the “Abdullaev’ letters” could be a part of the game, which NSS started against the Interior Ministry.
According of one of the versions, the Andijan tragedy happened with a silent blessing of the security services. A lot of eyewitnesses of the events insisted that the “Akramists” weapons were loaded with blanks. Moreover, Andijan rebels, who escaped to Kyrgyzstan, said that the jail was not stormed at all. The cells’ doors were open by wardens. Right after the tragedy, the streets of Andijan and Tashkent were full of rumors that everything was a provocation from the law enforcements. Many of the Uzbek human rights activists were using such arguments: “Why did law enforcement do nothing all night, while “Akramists” were taking control over Andijan? Why did nobody prevent the takeover of the jail, military base, or police battalion when the law enforcements were battle ready a day before?”
Thus, NSS could be blamed for the beginning of the Andijan revolt because the security service did not warned about the turmoil. However, the government did not make any conclusions. Instead, Almatov’s position started to crumble despite the effective crush of the rebellion. Soon after the Andijan events, there was an announcement that the Interior Ministry’s Special Forces – the most elite regiment in the organization -- was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry and NSS.
It seemed that Almatov had to be rewarded for saving the country from turmoil, but instead, he got totally discredited. Even his own policemen lost all respect to him because a lot of them died during the Andijan events: the troops were shooting at everything that moves including their own. It is evident that in the nearest future Almatov will be pointed out as a main culprit of Andijan tragedy. This “finger pointing” will definitely increase the rating of the ones who weren’t “involved” and the head the NSS will get more power leverage.
They say that Zakir Almatov “got sick”. Although, independent of his real health situation, the almighty head of the Uzbek Interior Ministry and contender for the throne in Tashkent, most likely already died as a politician.
All the Article in Russian as of July 04, 2005