In the newest history of Turks in Central Asia, which is also known by its old name Turkistan, two most important movements against colonizers took place in the end of the 19th century: an uprising under Dukchi Eshon and the Jadeedism movement, which established the Kokand Autonomy in 1917.
Temur Khoja, professor:
In 1910, they – Munavvar Qori, Bekhbudi, Abdurauf Fitrat and Usman Khojayev – returned to Tashkent and opened “jadeed” schools throughout the Bukhara Emirate.
The Jadeedism transformed into a political movement; parties were established one after another. Today’s Erk party under Muhammad Salih’s leadership was established in Gorbachev’s times. However, a party with the same name has already existed back in those days.
Their unifying goal was to establish the state of Turkistan. They spoke out against dismembering Turkistan by the Soviets into today’s Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. They rejected notions of “Uzbekhood,” “Kazakhhood,” and/or “Turkmenhood”. They fought with the claim “We are natives of Turkistan, and we want freedom and independence for Turkistan.”
Professor Temur Khoja’s words are supported by the fact that Mukhamedzhan Tinishbayev, a Kyrgyz Turk, was appointed as the prime minister and Mustafa Shokay, a Kazakh Turk, was appointed as the minister of defense in the government established by Jadeedism supporters in the Republic of Turkistan.
But professor says that Jadeesm movement and the Dukchi Eshon movement were suppressed by the Russians. A popular movement tagged “basmatchi” (anti-Bolshevik movement in Turkistan in 1917-26) in Soviet history books was then launched, however, it had also failed.
Seventy years of silence of the Soviet empire’s rule had befallen upon Turkistan after these three failures. We see sparks of national revival only by the end of 1980’s in the heartland of Turkistan – Uzbekistan.
Ruth Diebler, an American scientist, says the following in this regard:
“When Perestroyka changes have occurred, writers throughout the Soviet Union, including Uzbek writers, have played an important role in expressing the desires and opinions of people. A modern-day writer of this kind is Muhammad Salih…
Poet Rauf Parfi’s words are noteworthy in this context:
“The first strong shock Muhammad Salih inflicted was his poetry which praised the idea of Turkistan, reviving Turkistan; the poetical art in his poetry is the art of feeling Turkistan.”
Poet and writer Abdulkhamid Ismail says:
“Muhammad Salih was a poet who fully realized his ideals, the idea of his people, the idea of Uzbekistan and the idea of Turkistan already in late 1970s and early 1980s.”
Rauf Parfi discusses Muhammad Salih’s ideological platform:
“Muhammad Salih started leading a new generation in Uzbek literature in 1960s-70s. Our literary heritage was neglected for half a century. The primary goal Fitrat, Chulpan, Kadyri and many other poets pursued was Turkistan. And the very idea of Turkistan seemed hostile to the colonizers. Muhammad Salih was able to revive this idea after Chulpan and Fitrat, which was literally torn away from our souls.”
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit descbires Muhammad Salih:
“There are very few poets among politicians in the West. But in the East, in Turkic states particularly, a big number of poets served as politicians, statesmen and rulers. Muhammad Salih is one of the brightest examples of modern Turkic poet-politicians. He is a notable poet of Uzbek Turks and the leader of the Erk party of Uzbekistan. He wrote his poems even during harshest repression times. Although the Soviet Union had collapsed and Uzbekistan was declared independent, repressions still rage on. Only true masters are able to keep the torch of freedom up high in such times. Muhammad Salih continues to keep the torch up even facing pressure from one of the most repressive regimes. He and his supporters are still “smashed against the ground” by the regime’s propaganda machines. And Salih responds with a poem:
‘If none smashed me against the ground,
Who’d give me strength to jump to skies?!.’
“As a poet, Muhammad Salih jumped to skies long time ago, and I believe that Erk party under his ruling will soon be victorious too.”
Turkish Prime Minister Necmittin Erbakan:
“We have had many conversations with Muhammad Salih during international meetings and discussed global issues. As one concerned with the national idea, Muhammad Salih is our brother who is fighting for independent and prosperous Uzbekistan. I hope this fighter’s activities progress. I also hope the Muslim world will be able to embrace a fraternal country – Uzbekistan – with his assistance. Uzbekistan is a country with a greatest culture which was home to our pride – globally renowned Muslim scholars. We are very proud of Uzbekistan.
“Uzbekistan is a country that deserves a good leader both from historical and strategic points of view. The issue of Uzbekistan is the issue of saving the whole humankind. For reaching this goal, it is necessary for Muhammad Salih and his supporters to come to power in Uzbekistan. Muhammad Salih is a politician who had reached great achievements in Uzbekistan. He is our brother who is just the right person to help Uzbekistan be a great historical country. We always remember Muhammad Salih with respect and wish him success in his work.”
Muhammad Salih was born in Khorezm on 20 December 1949. His father, Madaminbek the son of Bekzhanbek, became an orphan when he was 10. Soviet authorities confiscated Bekzhanbek’s possessions and property in 1924 and later executed him. In 1942, his son Madaminbek volunteered to join the army to fight in the World War II. In 1943, he came home badly unjured during the war but rejoined the army following his recovery in 1944 and returned home decorated with medals in 1946.
Muhammad Salih writes about those days in “Yo’lnoma” (Course of life):
“I used to ask my dad: ‘Why did you join the army and fought for these authorities who had executed our forefathers?’ And he would respond: ‘There were only women left in the village and there was nobody I could talk to.’ My mother, Kalandar Saryk-kyzy Akila hanum, used to strictly observe religious rites although she did not have any religious education.”
Muhammad Salih graduated from high school in 1966 when a local newspaper, “Pakhtakorlar Ovozi”, was already printing some of his poems.
In 1967, Salih came to Tashkent and applied to the faculty of belles-lettres at Tashkent State University but failed to collect enough points and was admitted to the evening course. But Salih did not want to do the evening course and returned to Khorezm.
He was conscripted to serve in the army in 1968 and was initially deployed in the Hungarian town of Székesfehérvár. We see Salih in the avant-garde of the Soviet military contingent which entered Prague to suppress the “Prague Spring” uprising in August, 1968.
According to Salih, Czechoslovakia was the turning point in his spiritual life. People’s fight for freedom, even sacrificing lives, had changed Muhammad Salih’s view point on life.
“Young men, apparently students of an artillery college, approached us and gave leaflets urging us to stop occupying sovereign Czechoslovakia. Men and women approached us and would ask us ‘What did you do with our Dubcek ?’
“We did not know what to say and did not know that their Dubcek was in Moscow ‘paying a visit’ to the USSR KGB by that time.
“Young ladies with long legs in short dresses would distribute leaflets which read that we were lied to by our commanders; the leaflets said we were occupies, not liberators.
“They urged us to leave for home where our next of kin and loved ones were waiting. They called on our consciences and urged not to raise arms against unarmed people. The people were indeed unarmed and this fact disarmed us, since we were young and sentimental soldiers from far and away countries where our loved ones were and those leaflets reminded us about them.”
The Soviet propaganda against “contras” had thus subsided and Muhammad Salih no longer believed it.
“The ‘counterrevolution’ suppressed in Czechoslovakia had unnoticeably got to my head,” says Muhammad Salih.
“I realized that one can resist army while being unarmed. I could feel the freedom which was different from that of a man with arms. It was the freedom of an urmed man,” he says.
The incomparable Equality exists – we call it a Foot,
Frienship exists – we call it a Rhyme
Boundlessness exists – we call it a Table,
There is Freedom in this world – we call it Poetry.
Upon completing military service in 1970, Muhammad Salih entered the school of journalism at Tashkent State University. Although Salih was only 20 years old at the time, he felt himself like a veteran who had borne all hardships of military service. His experience in dealing with literature was quite rich as well and he already had studied works of Remark, London and Hemingway.
The first poetry collection by Muhammad Salih was called “The fifth season of the year” and was published in 1977. Although this little book did not bring much fame to its author, it was encountered with an extraordinary interest of literary critics and intellectuals. The book bore an absolute novelty both in form and content. This had alerted the wardens of social realism and they were quick to label Muhammad Salih an imitator of Western styles.
Rauf Parfi supported Salih and wrote in the foreword to the “Moon in the well”, the second book by Muhammad Salih, that:
“It would be wrong to say that Muhammad Salih’s search is a result of Europeanism’s impact on him. Sources of this impact are to be searched in the historical legacy, the millennial history of the Uzbek literature.”
Poet and writer Abdulkhamid Ismail:
“Let me recite a poem by Muhammad Salih.”
A branch in winter
No leaves. Bare. Bitter.
What other words does one need to describe its loneliness? What else do you need?
Did you lose in your life what which this branch lost?
But you stubbornly strip the word, and strip the branch. Mercilessly.
And here it is,
More of an orphan than the word “loneliness”,
Thinner than the word “hunger”,
It is a lash shakingly hanging on the tree!..
“Muhammad Salih uses poetical symbols in these poems. The Uzbek poetry is based not only on words, but also on phrases and word combinations.
“Words sometimes lose their main goal in the mist of beauties of phrases. And this is exactly where Muhammad Salih proved to be a poet who cleared, maintained and “removed” the Uzbek poetry away from lies and unnatural anomalies. He is one of those poets who returned to words their true meaning.”
Poetess Gulchekhra Nurallayeva: “In the late 1970’s, a new generation of talented youth joined ranks of Uzbek men of letters. Muhammad Salih was their leader. Salih’s poems are unique, they do not imitate anyone else’s style and bear something absolutely new. He was both understood and not understood. Those who understood his poetry welcomed him; those who did not would ironically asked to explain his poems”.
Vyacheslav Akhunov, a famous artist-conceptualist and the author of the portrait of Chulpan, which he was brave enough to paint in the years of stagnation: “In the second half of 1970s, I have suddenly discovered a wonderful poet. His poems were very metaphorical which was not characteristic to Uzbek poetry. It was something new. Later I was introduced to the poet–that was Muhammad Salih.”
Arif Ocal, a former advisor to the president of Azerbaijan and a docent at the Bilgi University in Istanbul: “Muhammad Salih was very young in those days. But despite his youth, he still was one of those very few Uzbek men of letters who enjoyed fame outside of Uzbekistan – among men of letters and arts in Moscow, Ukraine and Baltic states. He was renowned not only as a poet but also he was respected as a poet, his knowledge of history and philosophy, his social position and personal qualities. Literature was undergoing some kind of a crisis in those years, and Muhammad Salih appeared on the stage as a leader of a new generation after Rauf Parfi. Muhammad Salih is a representative of intellectual poetry in the Uzbek literature. There are a number of young poets who grew up reading Muhammad Salih’s poetry who now want to follow his poetic path.”
Back in 1985, Muhammad Salih wrote in his “My mother says” poem, which were dedicated to Chulpan:
You, too, took the same path
I said “Come back”, but you did not. Too late.
The charming chant (of poetry) enticed you
The outcast (poet’s) spirit enticed you
You still took your own path,
Which led you not towards flowers but thorns.
And you shall wonder in the world like that spirit
And will forget your language in those foreign lands.
You, too, took the same path
Bravely looked into the dark cave.
Alas, you, too, will find your fate there
Where the spirit found its destiny…
The poem was written in 1985 and became a reality for Salih himself in 1993 – he became an outcast and his poems were banned in his homeland, just like those by Chulpan.
(Ozodlik Radio broadcast on 15 December 2004) “I think books by Muhammad Salih are not sold in Uzbekistan any more and they are taken off bookshelves. Personally I have not seen them in bookshops or libraries.”
Anorkhon Khamdamova shares a case she witnessed when books by Muhammad Salih were removed in a provincial library: “There are no [books by Muhammad Salih] in libraries nowadays. I have personally witnessed one case: I saw these books in a dire condition in the building of the provincial education department. My brother saw they were being sorted out and even thrown away. He asked for 20 copies of the “A citizen of dreams” and brought them to us, we took 10 of them.”
Poet Rauf Parfi is joining us: “The history of the Uzbek literature in the 20th century cannot be considered a history of the Uzbek literature if Muhammad Salih is not mentioned. He is not mentioned, although everyone realizes this fact.”
Muhammad Salih became famous as a poet after an article entitled “Explain your poems” by a literary critic Ibrahim Gafurov was printed in the Uzbekiston Adabiyoti and San’ati newspaper in 1983.
The critic compared Salih’s literary hero to Hamlet: “What does he actually want? He is always sad and depressed. What else does he want from this wonderful life we are living?” One such article was enough to display Muhammad Salih as someone discontented with the Soviet regime. Publication of this article was the beginning of a dissident life for Muhammad Salih.
In 1984, policies employed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan became a test of national unity for Uzbeks.
The Central Committee policy of discrimination against national, cultural and religious values of the Uzbek people. A letter appeared in these uneasy times and was labeled “The letter of 53”. It was addressed to the political bureau of the party by 56 young poets and writers. The letter spoke of the anti-popular policies imposed by the Uzbek Central Committee of the party. It was sent to the Kremlin in early 1985 and the administration of the new Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev responded in May. But the issued response was not addressed to those who complained, rather to the secretary of the Uzbek Central Committee. The Committee summoned the young mutineers and urged them “to take the right path”. But the urge had no effect and only three co-authors retreated, whereas the rest 53 remained steadfast. These very 53 people would later become the core of the national liberation movement. The Uzbek opposition was established in the Writers’ Union under the leadership of Muhammad Salih although it was yet to be called an opposition.
Muhammad Salih, the author of “The letter of 53” and was therefore put on top of the “black list” of the Uzbek Central Committee secretary. But that did not stop Salih and he became more outspoken about problems of the Aral Sea and health of Uzbek women along with other writers like Emin Usman.
Abdulkhamid Ismail: “Muhammad Salih also contributed to the Uzbek literature with his social and political journalism and he had done this work at highest quality levels. His articles in the genre of polemics in 1980s and 1990s were written at a new quality level.”
Gulchekhra Nurullayeva: “We can now see new aspects of Muhammad Salih’s talent – he is now speaking out as a respected and talented publicist. He is touching upon many issues and problems in the Uzbek society both in his speeches and articles where he uses logical and well-grounded arguments. This is what brought him closer to his people.”
Even his poems in western style were unable to bring him that much fame.
Literature expert Bakhtiyar Isabek: “What is the peculiarity about Muhammad Salih’s poetry? It is the metaphorical thinking that is characteristic to real poets. It was said back in those days that it was difficult to understand Salih’s works. But those who said it were people who couldn’t think metaphorically.”
Professor Temur Khoja: “I was always excited to read his poems. His metaphors are among strongest metaphors used in Uzbek literature. Chulpan used metaphor more than anyone else. Others also resorted to it, but the metaphor in Muhammad Salih’s poems is the strongest among all.”
An attentive reader could see the pain for the nation and rejection of the current regime behind these poetic maneuvers. Muhammad Salih wrote the following poem back in the years of stagnation:
These fields are so dull
Empty cotton boxes are staring at skies
Just like the peasant’s empty palms!
Anyone with poetic perception is able to understand that these verses mean cotton did not belong to farmers despite the fact they cultivated it.
In 1988, the Writers’ Union elected its first non-communist secretary in its history – Muhammad Salih. This was the beginning of a crisis to befall the Writers’ Union as an ideological centre of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Writers’ Union now had a different task – leading a popular movement. The Birlik popular movement was established on 11 November 1988.
Gulchekhra Nurullayeva: “Uzbek authorities were not happy with such developments. They used their henchmen, like Khisamov and Kruzhilin, to write a series of slanderous articles about Muhammad Salin in the Uzbek press.”
For a long time, the KGB was at a secret war against intelligentsia, which wanted to break away from Moscow. The secret war acquired characteristics of an open one following an article called “Honest Muhammad’s double standards”. Muhammad Salih was tagged as “a traitor of Motherland” for his interview with the New York Times on growing cotton only and colonization by Moscow.
“A small group of Uzbek writers and economists have begun to openly question the republic’s role as Moscow’s cotton plantation. ‘Everything comes down to the Stalinist demand for self-sufficiency in cotton’, said Muhammad Salih, a poet and secretary of the oficial writers union. ‘That has been Uzbekistan’s enslavement’.”
Human rights activist Vitaliy Ponomaryov: “I have met Muhammad Salih for the first time in December 1988. Of course, he had left a strong impression; it was clear that this man had a bright political future in Uzbekistan and that he was a strong political figure. Muhammad Salih was among that small number of people who considered themselves an opposition already in the times of the Soviet Union. I have always had a great respect for such people. They were like a breath f fresh air, a light in a dark road.
Gulchekhra Nurullayeva: “These attacks did not discredit Muhammad Salih in people’s eyes as the initiators expected; on contrary, they only strengthened people’s respect for him.”
The political turmoil in Fergana, which was staged against local Meskhetian Turks in 1989, presented a real political challenge Muhammad Salih had to face.
(TV) “The situation in the Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley remains extremely tense.”
The aggression against local Meskhetian Turks was one of first fruits that the cooperation between the KGB and local mafia yielded. Local authorities accused Birlik of staging the atrocities, but Muhammad Salih arrived there and uncovered the slander in the Literaturnaya Rossiya newspaper the same day.
Muhammad Salih: “We landed in Fergana at around 1130 hours and traveled to one of the hotbeds – the village of Tashlak. The situation was indeed tragic when we arrived there. Authorities didn’t command any respect there.”
Troops were in every street in Margilan and Tashlak, since major forces of the interior ministry in the Fergana Valley were deployed here. When trouble shifted onto Kokand and Namangan, authorities proved to be weak to deal with such disaster.
“Rafik Nishanov arrived from Moscow on the second day and General Rakhimov, the minister of internal affairs, was with him. There was a crowd of about 2,000 men on the square in front of the bus station in Margilan. They demanded to see local authorities. Nishanov asked me to go there and said ‘General will join you, and you need to calm the crowd down’. The crowd was aggressive indeed. I said ‘Write your demands and we will try to meet them.’ Somebody in the crowd shouted out: ‘Why is the general silent? Let him speak too!’ The poor general didn’t speak Uzbek. He whispered: ‘Please tell them something.’ The same provocateur shouted out again: ‘Let him say something now! Why is he running away?’ And the crowd started closing in on us.”
The people did not know what they were doing. Their dissent was unleashed after years of constraint. There was bitterness, anger in the air and these people did not know where to channel this emotions.
The Soviet ruling elite and its most significant source of support, the KGB, realized they were doomed, and staged these vents in Fergana in order to remove Gorbachev.
Declaration of independence
Muhammad Salih left Birlik in early 1990 and established Erk Democratic Party.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva shares her memories about the ideological differences between ERK and Birlik: “I was in Uzbekistan in 1990. […] So I’ve arranged to Muhammad Salih. We had a very interesting conversation. This is what he told me. He said ‘we and Birlik have the same roots: we established Birlik together but we are having some differences now. And the major difference is that they are saying ‘first democracy and then sovereignty’. Whereas I believe there should be sovereignty in a state before it becomes a democratic one, because only sovereign nation can establish a democratic state.’
“He believed Uzbekistan had the potential to become a member of the civilized world, democracy etc. And I think he remembers this with sadness. I mean you can see sufferings he bore because of his views. He was an outcast and people who were close to him were put in prison.
“He also said: ‘We do not pursue the goal of being in power. Let the people choose who they want. I only wish that Uzbekistan gains independence.’ Here, they did! His fight for independence backfired. There is a saying: idealists make revolutions, but rascals enjoy the fruits.”
In March, Muhammad Salih was elected as a member of parliament – Oliy Kengash – of Uzbekistan. The Erk party summoned its first assembly on 30 April 1990. Authorities were hopeful this party would become an ally in the opposition ranks. But Muhammad Salih’s speech at the assembly brought these hopes to naught. It became clear that thisparty had new programme and its mission was nothing less than leading a movement towards total independence of Uzbekistan. Immediately after Muhamamad Salih’s speech, all local and Moscow-based journalists have left the assembly as if ordered to do so. There was no information on the establishment of a new political party in Uzbekistan.
Artist Vyacheslav Akhunov: “I saw him talking to other people, taking them to streets, his manners in dealing with crowds, his ability to convince that Uzbekistan needs independence. Yes, Muhammad Salih had made a great, great contribution to this movement.”
Sociologist Bakhadyr Musayev: “To my mind, Muhammad Salih is not only a herald of freedom and independence in Uzbekistan, but also he is the one who established the secular opposition.”
Nadya Duke and Adrian Karatnitski, American analysts, describe the situation in the Writers’ Union of Uzbekistan in 1989: “Muhammad Salih, the secretary of the Writers’ Union of Uzbekistan, has emerged as a leading spokesman for the Uzbek people: «There is a direct link between the deteriorating ecological situation in Uzbekistan and the cotton monoculture. We have lost not only our lands and waters, we have forfeited the health of our people». Asked about Uzbekistan’s new first secretary Islam Karimov, Salih said: «He is said to have very democratic views, so we have hopes for him. We’ll see. We can only hope. Apart from hope we have nothing else.
Muhammad Salih spent whole of 1989 working with grassroots. The new leader of the Communist party of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, Islam Karimov, summoned all famous people in the country and took a solemn oath to cooperate with them until the end of his days for the prosperity of Uzbek nation.
“I would like to once again take an oath in front of you that I will do for you whatever is needed; I shall not spare myself and I am ready to sacrifice my life if needed.”
Karimov has always used his ability to appear genuine to the maximum of its efficiency. He never wrote “unique and distinctive programme”; he would use his opponents’ ideas and would impudently claim they were his. Reporters of the Wall Street Journal wrote on 31 August 1998: “Mr. Salih and Mr. Karimov are old acquaintances. In the period of Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule, Mr. Salih was a leading member of the Uzbek writers’ union, a proponent of pan-Turkic ideas and an advocate of independence. By contrast, Mr.Karimov was a leader of the Uzbek Communist Party and Moscow’s satrap in the republic; as the Soviet Union began to collapse, however, he adopted some of Mr. Salih’s popular pro-Turkic ideas.”
For instance, Karimov’s slogan “Turkistan is our common home” was literally copied from a speech delivered by Muhammad Salih in late 1980s. However, unlike Muhammad Salih, Karimov did not believe in the viability of the idea. Aggressive actions against neighbours showed that Turkistan was a home for Karimov only. Karimov wanted to bring the Salih-led party to his own side. But after becoming an MP, Salih started openly speaking about separating Uzbekistan from the USSR. The new party, Erk, as it name suggests, was established with the idea of achieving complete political independence. By summer of 1990, Erk members moved from speeches to real action: they presented a declaration of independence prepared by Atanazar Aripov at a session of the Oliy Kengash on 20 June. Panic befalled upon communists. As soon as discussions of the declaration started, Karimov disappeared behind presidium curtain. But despite his resistance, Uzbek parliament voted for the declaration.
This photo was taken in Muhammad Salih’s home several days before the session. Centre: Muhammad Salih, a Turkish guest to his right, poet Miraziz A’zam next to him, another Turkish guest to his left, writer Rejabboy Ataturk, Rauf Parfi and Azeri President Elchibey’s advisor, Arif Ocal.
Arif Ocal: “I will never forget the discussion of the new flag of Uzbekistan. There were several models presented. Muhammad Salih said there was no need in coming up with a new flag, since the flag of Turkistan could be adopted instead. This speech was one of most important and startling ones among those I have seen in political literature and political life.”
But the flag was rejected at Karimov’s order.
After the declaration of independence of Uzbekistan, the Baltimore Sun wrote: “The giant of Soviet Central Asia declared its political sovereignty in June, and people agree that it is on the brink of dramatic change. But what kind of change? Nationalist dictatorship or Western-style democracy? Revolution or ethnic civil war?
“Intellectuals debate the probabilities over shish kebab in the private cafes that abound in the one-story neighborhoods that survived the 1966 earthquake. ‘There’s a feeling of uneasiness, of uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring. The genie of nationalism is out of the bottle, and no one’s going to get it back in’ said Mirzaakhmed Alimov, Uzbekistan correspondent for «Komsomolskaya Pravda». Alimov is close to the Communist Party leadership. ‘Our people were enslaved on the cotton plantation,’ said poet Mohammad Salih. We say to the Russians, «Stay here, but on equal terms. We have to work on a percentage basis». Now, most of the good jobs are held by Russians, while ethnic Uzbeks are unemployed».
Declaration of independence has put Karimov in a state of panic. He immediately left for Andijan. He decided to watch Moscow’s reaction from there. Karimov was not alone in his concerns about Moscow’s reaction to the independence. Muhammad Salih told an interview with the New York Times: “We’re in a much worse situation than the Baltics, which have many defenders while we are our only defender».
Everyone in Tashkent was anxiously waiting for the declaration of independence. But neither TV nor radio said anything about it that day. Residents only heard a few words in the Moscow-hosted Vremya news bulletin. Muhammad Salih contacted Prime Minister Mirsaidov and warned him that mass rallies would be launched in Tashkent if they failed to announce independence immediately.
Karimov telephoned Muhammad Salih straight away and promised to promptly declare independence of Uzbekistan. But the announcement came only the next day and in a distorted form. This was a treachery of the historical document which was signed by people’s representatives; it was a betrayal of people.
Moscow was concerned about the further deterioration of the political crisis and started to attempt to save the USSR via granting the republics more autonomy. “For reformed Union” referendum was announced in March.
The Erk party was going to vote against the USSR preservation. In this regard Muhammad Salih said: “We live between two tyrannies: Moscow and local authorities. We should first get rid of the bigger tyrant – Moscow; then we will rid ourselves of the local one.”
Communists understood they were unable to save the USSR and attempted to preserve the empire via coup d’etat. But the State Committee for the Extraordinary Situation (GKChP) junta’s power lasted only for three days.
Karimov was in India in those days and sent a congratulatory telegramme to the head of the GKChP Yanayev off the board of the plane. He declared that he fully supported all of the decisions adopted by the GKChP. Prime Minister Mirsaidov ordered all mass media to print the GKChP decisions. Communists, speaking on TV, assured Moscow that seeds sown in Tashkent were yielding fruits. The Erk party was the only political organization in Uzbekistan to speak out against the GKChP on 19 August 1991. Leading global mass media outlets published and aired the party’s appeals and statements. Erk summoned a special assembly and demanded local authorities to restore declared independence which was revoked after referendum in March.
Muhammad Salih: “Uzbekistan must make its own choice. Either complete independence, or…”
Erk’s assembly brought Karimov back to his senses; the dynamics of events took him by surprise. Five days after the Erk assembly, Karimov had to summon members of parliament and declare Uzbekistan’s independence.
In September 1991, Erk and Birlik were officially registered with the ministry of justice of Uzbekistan. Erk newspaper was launched and soon reached the circulation of over 100,000 copies which was was an unprecedented event in Uzbekistan. But Karimov’s fate as a president still depended on the parliament. A group of several MPs attempted to relieve Karimov of the post at a session in October 1991. But lack of organization and indecisiveness led to failure and Karimov survived.
Uzbeks enjoyed a brief life of political independence between the Yanayev-staged putch in August and the presidential elections in December; the euphoria lasted for four months. The parliament announced the presidential elections would be held at the end of December. Erk nominated Muhammad Salih as a candidate. But Karimov was worried about alternative candidates. Twice he sent people to Muhammad Salih requesting him to withdraw from the presidential race. But Muhammad Salih was determined to fight til the end.
The international community’s interest in the elections was very high. The USA sent a group of observers headed by Senator De Consini. Karimov prohibited central electoral committee to allocate funds for Salih’s campaign, even though it was envisaged in the law. Meetings with Salih would take place either under an immense pressure or would be cancelled at all.
Mass media outlets would praise only one candidate – Islam Karimov. Muhammad Salih was able to speak on TV only once following a rally near tTashkent TV which was organized by those who disagreed with the current state of affairs. Ten days before the Election Day, authorities announced early break and sent university students back to their respective native towns and villages because they supported Salih. Despite that foreign observers were pleased with the status quo in the country.
“Thank God that there are no people with Kalashnikov’s in hands wandering in streets and killing each other. Although unfair, but did not elections still take place!” they said. This is how the Western policy of double standards started in Central Asia. Elections took place on 29 December 1991. Uzbek radio announced preliminary results of the elections on 30 December. According to it, Muhammad Salih received 33% of votes. However, several hours later, the same radio station announced that there was a mistake and Muhammad Salih received 15% of the popular support, not 33%. The next day, it was announced Karimov received 86% of votes and Muhammad Salih received 12.7% of the popular support. Karimov was so excited on the day of his first inauguration that he had to repeat the text of the oath two times making mistakes and in different attire.
Karimov: “I take an oath to strictly respect the constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan.” “I would like to once again take an oath!”
Students staged a rally in Tashkent on 16 January 1992. More rallies rook place in small town and protesters were shot at. Many were wounded, two young men died. This was the first bloody retaliation against young opposition during the first three years of Karimov’s rule. By shooting at students he hinted that he would do the same with anyone who would disagree with his policies. Killing of students alerted the opposition. There was a need in uniting and eliminating spontaneity in ranks. Muhammad Salih was first to take the initial step: the Forum of Democratic Forces of Uzbekistan was established in March 1992. It consisted of Erk, Birlik, Movement for Democratic Reforms, Turkistan movement, Tomaris, Young Teachers of Uzbekistan and other organizations. The first assembly was chaired by Muhammad Salih.
Several activists raised the issue of Milliy Majlis [The National Council] in the summer of 1992. Erk Party Secretary Atanazar Aripov, Salavat Umurzakov, a member of the presidium, and Khazratkul Khudoyberdiyev, Birlik member, were arrested for participating in the Forum for Democratic Change. Although Muhammad Salih did not participate in these activities, charges were pressed against him. He has written an undertaking not to leave the town in the autumn of 1992. But he did not stay at home: he traveled to Kazakhstan and wrote the “State Secrets” book in two months. The book was a bitter pamphlet against the authorities. Muhammad Salih published it in Almaty with a circulation of 20,000 copies and managed to distribute it around in Uzbekistan.
Following the elections, Karimov issued an order to finish with the opposition. There were two reasons for that. First, despite all falsifications, the opposition candidate still received 12.7% of votes. This meant over 1.115.000 people voted for opposition. If not yet properly formed opposition gains that much support in semi-fair elections, what will be the number of votes for them in fully fair elections? This question stirred many concerns among authorities. Secondly, there was a threat of a unified opposition. Karimov invited Muhammad Salih for lunch on 5 May 1992, and offered him one of the two top positions in the country and several ministerial positions for the Erk party.
Muhammad Salih: “Karimov asked me to dismiss the Forum of Democratic Forces of Uzbekistan in exchange for these positions. I told him its dismissal was not in my hands. I said ‘On the contrary, you should come to the Forum and announce that you are ready to cooperate in the name of prosperity of our people. Let us be a constructive opposition and you will be a constructive government.’ But Karimov did not heed. He said ‘I prepared two decrees with your name, choose one of them and I will sign it right here.’ I did not accept his offer. After this conversation, Karimov launched a war on different fronts and destroyed all our achievements.”
During Olii Kengash session on 2 July 1992, Salih asked for the floor – he wanted to criticize the repressive policies iof the government, but he was not given the chance. Salih announced he was withdrawing his status of an MP.
Gulchekhra Nurullayeva: “During the process of dealing with the government of Uzbekistan, Muhammad Salih has learned the nature of these authorities and therefore refused to maintain his status of an MP.”
Muhammad Salih: “Of course, it was a radical decision, but I had to say ‘no’ once and for all to the growing violence. I thought that if I were not given the floor then, it would never be given again. If I submit to their will, I will become mute and submissive just like communists sitting next to me.
“I inclined towards the microphone and asked for the floor for the third time. But the microphone was already turned off.
“Suddenly the Council Chairman Yuldashev shouted out: ‘Comrads, a break!’ Although, there were another 40 minutes until the recess. Islam Karimov had immediately directed himself towards curtains. He almost ran away. And when I was at the rostrum, there was no one on the presidium, of course. I addressed my colleagues and said ‘Comrade Members of Parliament, as you can see, dictatorship is established in Uzbekistan as of today. I protest and declare my resignation.
“I then turned around and threw my MP identification and badge on the empty table of the presidium.”
This is made Salih realize that his dream to build a constitutional state with people’s participation was unrealistic as long as communists were there. He no longer hoped to have a dialogue with authorities.
American journalist Scott Malcolmson wrote about those times: “Erk is working on a new constitution and an alternative economic plan, as well as building its own party structures. Conditions are less than ideal. The government printing house — the only printing house — reduced Erk’s newspaper’s press run from 100 000 to 12 000. And now Erk’s leader has left the parliament, which most people still call the Supreme Soviet.”
The major publication of the party, the Erk newspaper, was closed by the end of 1992. Difficult days were near. Most “clever” ones have “changed minds” on time. Akhmad Azam, one of the party secretaries, was among those first ones. Muhammad Salih was summoned to the KGB in December and interrogated regarding Olii Kengash. Muhammad Bekjan, a newspaper employee, was also interrogated by the KGB.
The Sunday Telegraph wrote on 10 January 1993: “Muhammad Salih was sitting glumly in his office last week. Telephone lines had been cut off repeatedly for three weeks and he has been told that ERK will have to leave its premises. The KGB renamed into the SNB in Uzbekistan, needs to prove they they are needed by watching such people as opposition leaders.”
The Baltimore Sun wrote: «Uzbekistan’s internal crackdown has sharply intensified this month, driving even the moderate opposition nearly to desperation. ‘We are pressed to the wall. And we have only one way to carry on’ said Muhammad Salih, ‘Now it is time of confrontation. The time of dialogue is over.’ After making that declaration, Mr.Salih was hauled in for a series of police interrogations, during which he was told he would be killed.”
Thus, the circle around Salih was closing in on him.
“I am Dilorom Iskhakova, the press service of the Erk party. Using this opportunity I would like to touch upon several persecutions against the Erk party. The government is applying every effort to completely stall Erk’s activities. Professor Atanazar Aripov, the party secretary, is imprisoned based on charges of “Attempting a coup d’etat”. What kind of a coup can we be possibly talking about when copies of all documents concerning Milliy Majlis are submitted to the presidential administration and the Oliy Kengash? Aripov’s office was searched on 22 December, and Milliy Majlis-related documents were found. If one can be imprisoned for retaining documents on the Milliy Majlis, then one can easily confine everyone in the presidential apparatus and the Oliy Kengash [the parliament], since they also have copies of all those documents. [What we see] today is repressions, prisons, exiles and persecutions but all this will pass. And Erk will continue to live on!”
Western researchers described those days: “Many Uzbeks are eager for change had pinned their hopes on Salih, a tall man of 43 who generated euphoria with his calls for free Islamic worship and free enterprise. Today Karimov’s regime has shut off the power at ERK headquarters, banned its newspaper and imprisoned several leaders. Members of opposition parties are forbidden to congregate in groups of any significant size. Salih was not permitted to speak in parliament, and security police placed him under house arrest to prevent him from appearing at the international human rights conference. In January, thugs in a screeching car without licence plates tried to run him down on the street. Salih said in a recent interview: ‘After an active start, the democracy movement was stopped. Now it is a question of its life and death. Our aim is just to survive.’ Salih attributes persecution of ERK to Karimov’s government blackmail of businesses and blocade of economic recovery. Ministers are getting rich on bribes, and the people are getting poorer,’ he said.”
“Dear friends! I want to address you. I am not asking you to help the Erk party because you need help. I do not wish to complain to you, since you have too many reasons to complain. On the contrary, I urge you to stop complaining and shedding tears, because our fate is only in our own hands. Neither America nor Europe can help us and they will not save us. We are the only helpers we have.
“I want to urge you not to put up with tyranny. Do not worship anyone but Allah. We are born free. We were granted human rights not by the constitution, but the Almighty Lord.
“In order for us to understand ourselves as a nation, every single one of us must understand himself. It is now time to understand that a human being is not a worm. How can one value a nation’s freedom if he does not value his own freedom and dignity? It became fashionable to speak about order and stability. We also talk about them. But talking about order, I do not mean an order like in prison; when I am told about stability, I do not wish to understand it in the context of stability in graveyards. And when somebody speaks of tranquility, I refuse to understand it as silence of a crowd which swalled tongues out of fear to tell to the truth.
“I understand stability as harmony in hearts instilled by the Supreme justice. That is equality of rights of each individual and social group, their concordance with each other. This is my understanding of order and stability.”
Muhammad Salih was arrested and taken to the basement of the ministry of internal affairs in early April. The goal authorities pursued was distancing Muhammad Salih from the population for some time because the population’s level of poverty was increasing rapidly and they were ready to rise. But authorities were not able to keep Salih away for too long. The global community had applied an immense pressure and authorities had to release him.
Several friends visited Salih in his home following these events and asked him to leave Uzbekistan for some time. Salih remembers them in this Yo’lnoma: “I did not want to leave Uzbekistan. I was woken up again closer to dawn. Again those friends. Mamadali Makhmud said ‘You will not be able to do anything in prison. But it is possible to do something abroad. If you are convicted other guys will be discouraged. The party will die.’ Can you imagine that the person who told me these words is imprisoned now? Mamadali’s sincerity was stronger than me. I left Uzbekistan.”
“I spent two days in Kazakhstan. Then bought a ticket for Baku and met with Abulfaiz Elchibey there. He said: ‘The most optimal way in your case is acting from abroad. I will provide any assistance to your activities as a president’.”
Arif Ocal: “Elchibey was very familiar with Muhammad Salih’s works. I had translated his poems from Uzbek into Azeri one time and gave Elchibey the manuscript of the Turkcha Gapir (Speak Turkic) poem’s translation. He would often recite verses of these poems saying ‘This is how close should a poet be to his language, to his people’.”
Muhammad Salih: “I spent a week as Elchibey’s guest. After that, I traveled to Turkey at the invitation of Turkish President Turgut Ozal. A friend of mine, the Azeri council and poet Abbas Abdulla, came to meet me in Istanbul.”
Authorities started to act after Muhammad Salih’s departure. Sadykzhan Yigitaliyev was formally leading the party and he was summoned to the presidential palace. He was told “if you summon an assembly and remove Muhammad Salih from the party leadership, all of the party’s property will be returned and you will receive a position in the presidential palace.”
Some other party leaders supported the authorities’ games but the majority opposed it. However, a party assembly was still summoned. The National Security Service (NSS) understood perfectly well that although Muhammad Salih was not present physically, it still had been difficult to remove him from leadership; so they started to discredit him. They contacted someone who had once given a coin from a museum to an Erk member, Safar Bekzhan; the person’s testimony resulted in Bekzhan’s arrest in July 1993.
Yigitaliyev visited Bekzhan in basement cells of the interior ministry and asked him to sign a testimony reading “Muhammad Salih asked me to buy the coin”. Bekzhan was promised an immediate release in exchange. He refused to sign the false testimony and was convicted to 3.5 years of imprisonment.
Authorities launched a campaign of slandering Muhammad Salih called “Muhammad Salih is a coin thief”. The campaign lasted for a month. The last article entitled “Who is the thief?” was printed in the Uzbekiston Ovozi newspaper three days before the party assembly. The assembly’s sessions started in the Palace of Textile Workers on 25 September 1993. But delegates have again unanimously voted for re-election of Muhammad Salih as the Erk party leader. It was a total failure of authorities who now started retaliating against Erk supporters and members. Criminal investigations were launched against two members of parliament who participated in the assembly, Nasrullo Saidov and Imam Fayziyev, and their MP mandates were withdrawn. Elomon Shukur who spoke at the assembly was arrested and later killed in prison.
DEPORTATION IN EXILE
A famous poet and a Turkish prime-minister, Bulent Ecevit, and Alparslan Turkesh, a well-known politician and a supporter of the Turkic nations’ unification, had a great respect for Salih.
Once settled in Istanbul, Muhammad Salih started publishing Erk and Forum newspapers. He also published his Oydinlik Sari (Towards Brighter Days) book. He expressed his political vision and ideas in these publications.
Karimov was horrified by these actions and blackmailed the Turkish government for a year to force them to deport Salih from Turkey. In May 1994, Karimov recalled the Uzbek Ambassador in Ankara Ubay Abdurazzakov. Then he ordered 2,500 Uzbek students in Turkey to return home. Turkish President Suleiman Demirel recommended Salih leave for Germany and so he did.
Karimov was trying to improve his relations with the USA after banishing opposition from the country. The US National Democracy Institute hosted a seminar in early 1995 to achieve a compromise between the government and opposition of Uzbekistan. Muhammad Salih and Abdurahim Pulat were invited from Frankfurt and Istanbul respectively to participate in the seminar. Minister of Justice Alisher Mardiyev represented the Karimov administration at the event. Karimov also sent another separate delegation under the leadership of a presidential advisor, Murad Muhammad Dost. Another friend of Salih, Erkin Azam, was also in the delegation. The negotiations were held in famous academician Sagdeyev’s villa in outskirts of Washington – the antique mansion of his father-in-law, President Eisenhower.
But this unofficial diplomacy failed as well. Karimov only wanted to demonstrate to the West he was ready to negotiate with the opposition. Following these unsuccessful attempts, Karimov’s surrounding advanced another charge against the Erk party – “Scheming a coup d’etat in collusion with the Turkish intelligence service.”
The ground for such an accusation rested on the fact that 11 young men in groups of 3-4 people brought copies of the Erk party newspaper into Uzbekistan. Atkham Rozikov, an agent of the Department 7 of the internal affairs directorate infiltrated into the Erk, reported on young men and they were arrested later, tortured and forced to testify against Salih.
In 1996, the leader of the Turkish party for national movement, Alparslan Turkesh, wrote a letter to Karimov with the goal of reconciling him with Muhammad Salih.
The letter was written in a very fine diplomatic language and Turkesh underlined that the ability to forgive was characteristic of strong and great personalities. Turkesh wrote that he would like to see Karimov among strong leaders. In the end of the letter, Turkesh asked Karimov to appoint Muhammad Salih to the position of a state advisor and sent a copy of the letter to Muhammad Salih with an accompanying note:
Dear Mr Muhammad Salih!
I am enclosing a copy of the letter addressed to President Karimov. I hope you will share your thoughts after you read it.
Muhammad Salih writes his response on margins and sends it back to Turkesh:
Dear Mr Chairman!
It would better if you omit the part reading “request to appoint Muhammad Salih as a state advisor”. I do not want anything from this dictator.
Karimov’s response was the following:
“Dear Alparslan Turkesh!
I have read your letter full of wise words dated 4 August 1996 with great interest and attention. The letter was received via the ambassador of Uzbekistan in Turkey.
The fifth anniversary of our independence and the popular support of our unique and distinctive way once again prove the correctness of our policies to strengthen Uzbekistan’s position on the global arena and consolidate our society.
“There were some people who fought for the path we have chosen. Whereas some others did not believe us and some even made mistakes. If they have realized their mistakes by now, no one is depriving them of the right to dedicate their life to Uzbekistan’s future.
As far as Mr Muhammad Salih is concerned, he can too choose this path. But it is wrong to advance conditions before anything.
Highly esteemed Alparslan Turkesh, as you understand, every action should be in line with the constitution and laws of Uzbekistan.
With deep respect,
President, the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Muhammad Salih arrived in Istanbul from Frankfurt in the autumn of 1997. The Uzbek embassy in Ankara started complaining that Karimov’s enemy arrived in Turkey. In November 1997, Ankara evicted Muhammad Salih to Bulgaria ahead of Karimov’s visit to Turkey. The Turkish society’s reaction was full of anger. Salih spent a month in Sofia and then secretly returned to Istanbul. He was sent to Romania in March 1998 where he spent a little less than a month. He arrived in Kiev in early April and met Vyacheslav Chernovil, the leader of the Rukha popular movement of Ukraine. The Ukrainian oppositioner promised all kinds of support to Salih. Salih arrived in Moscow after Ukraine. In May, Salih was interviewed by the Literaturnaya Rossiya and Lyudi I Vlast publications. He arrived in Switzerland for three months at the invitation of the mayor of Basle. Here he wrote his memories called “Yo’lnoma” (Travel Notes). He arrived in Baku in November 1998, then Moscow where he met General Aleksandr Lebed. He returned to Istanbul in December.
A group of the Uzbek KGB officers led by Colonel Anvar Salikhbayev arrived in Ankara on 13 February 1999. Salikhbayev requested Turkish authorities permission to locate his agents in Turkish airports in order to prevent extremists from traveling to Uzbekistan. Similar events took place in Tashkent the same day. From 13 to 15 February, Uzbek special services stepped up the surveillance of houses belonging to Erk Secretary Atanazar Aripov, human rights activist Mutabar Akhmedova, writer Mamadali Makhmud, Salih’s daughter Nigor and three of his brothers – Kamil, Jumanazar and Rashid Bekzhanovs in Khorezm. Owners of these houses were arrested immediately after the explosions. Authorities did not arrest even one culprit, but were quick to announce that Muhammad Salih and religious fanatics organized the explosions. The political hidden motives were apparent from the very beginning of this staged show.
Muhammad Salih: “It is an undisputable fact that Karimov’s regime organized those explosions on 16 February; it can be proved by such people as a political prisoner Zayniddin Askarov.”
Zayniddin Askarov: “My name is Askarov Zayniddin Rasulovich. I am charged for carrying out explosions on 16 February and I am convicted for 11 years of imprisonment. […] Now, the trial. I was promised that the six people, including Bakhrom Abdullayev, convicted to capital punishment would be not executed. The president would pardon them. I agreed. I promised and said ‘OK, I will play this role and testify against Muhammad Salih.’
“He [Salih] told us before ‘If you end up in the tyrant’s hands, insult me if you have to, since people know the truth, they know it well’. I hoped that Muhammad Salih would not be hurt and slandered him: ‘He has connection with [events] on 16 February! He gave 1,600,000! He sponsored Takhir Yuldash!’
“I played the role in tears and wailing. Personally I had a goal of saving Bakhrom Abdullayev, Abduvali Qori Mirzayea and all of other religious scholars. Interior Minister Zakirjan Almatov had personally talked to me and promised ‘If you testify against Muhammad Salih, if you play this role, these [people] will not be shot. It will be a relief for yourself as well – you will be released in the court hall.’ Therefore, and Allah is my witness, I had to do what I did to save others, not myself. But they did not release them and they did face the capital punishment because they knew the secret and they were killed exactly because of that – they knew the secret. But they told us those secrets, so and so. Therefore, I would like to offer my apologies via your radio station primarily to the leader of the Erk party, Muhammad Salih, for slandering him. We are guilty before the nation of Uzbekistan for lying because we believed the tyrant dictator’s promises and played a role and discredited Muslims. We ask the Uzbek nation to forgive us. I swear to Allah, Muhammad Salih has absolutely no connection whatsoever to terror and terrorists. It was only our political blindness, naiveness and trustfulness in false promises of [the interior minister] Zakirjan Almatov. If they kill us after these words, then we will die as martyrs. If human rights organizations will be able to defend us, then we will continue living. But whether one defends us or not, we are not retreating from our words.”
Muhammad Salih: “The very claim that the explosions were reportedly carried out to kill the president of Uzbekistan proves that this is a lie. Because how can it be possible to kill one person with explosions in five different locations in the city; no-one could explain it.”
The first strike in the aftermath of the events on 16 February targeted members of Erk, whereas the next target was opposition-prone and loyal population. Arrests took place throughout the CIS. Muhammad Bekzhan and Yusuf Ruzimuradov, an Erk activist, were arrested in Kiev on 15 March. According to some information, the Karimov regime arrested about 2,000 people after the events on 16 February. A question then arises: “What should have had a president done to his people if he suspects this many people want to kill him?” An information campaign against Muhammad Salih was launched since the very first day after the explosions.
The following words were published in the Protecting Human Rights and Liberties journal in an appeal by famous Russian writers, politicians and public activists: “A flow of mendacious charges against Muhammad Salih is pouring off newspapers, magazines, redevelopments remind of the gloomy days of Soviet totalitarianism and harassment against Academic Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.”
The opposition in Azerbaijan, including Abulfeyz Echibey, Isa Gambarov and others well-known activists, issued a similar statement in protection of Muhammad Salih. Thirty six MPs of Ukraine’s Verkhovnaya Rada also issued a statement in protection of the Uzbek opposition. Mustafa Jamil and Rufat Chubarogly, leaders of Krimean Turks, were among those who signed the letter. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees granted Muhammad Salih and his family the status of political refugees and the Salihs traveled to Norway in April 1999.
A SCANDAL IN ISTANBUL
The scandal took place before the summit of the OSCE in Istanbul. Muhammad Salih was among those invited. Karimov started breaking telephones and plates in the palace once he learned about it. In order to calm the President down, Uzbek Foreign Minister Kamilov notified the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs that Muhammad Salih’s participation in the conference can lead to further deterioration of bilateral relations. He then sent an official protest to the OSCE head quarters against the invitation of Karimov’s enemy to such an important meeting.
The Cumhuriyet newspaper wrote about the scandal on 11 November 2001: “Upon learning about the invitation to the OSCE [conference], Uzbekistan forced the OSCE and Turkey to prevent Salih’s arrival. Consequently, the OSCE revoked the invitation sent to Salih at the request of official Ankara.”
The Radikal newspaper: “Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s anti-democratic policies cast shadow on the OSCE summit in Istanbul. Karimov threatened Turkey that he would not participate if Salih attends the meeting. Ankara canceled arrival of Muhammad Salih. Because of Karimov’s threats, the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs contacted Norway and warned Turkish authorities would have to deport Salih if he arrives.”
Salih was stopped from participating in the summit, and Karimov arrived in Istanbul. But he did not stay until the end of the summit: he took umbrage at Prime Minister Ecevit and flew back to Tashkent.
Karimov, still resentful after Istanbul, called up the chairperson of the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan and ordered him to sentence Muhammad Salih. On 30 October 2000, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan sentenced Muhammad Salih to 15,5 years of imprisonment along with some religious opponents of the regime. But even that seemed insufficient; Karimov ordered to physically eliminate Salih.
ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT AT PRESIDENT’S ORDER
Please watch fragments of the “Our version, top secret” programme on TV Centre.
Mikhaih Markelov: “I am your host Mikhail Markelov. The 3rd issue of the the “Our version, top secret” programme is on air.
“The story which we want to tell you today could seem improbable at first glance. Nonetheless, I want to warn that characters and events are real.
“Today, we will tell about methods used in Uzbekistan to fight opposition. In 2000, an Uzbek businessman and a former officer of the Uzbek ministry of interior, Bakhrom Muminakhunov, who works in Moscow and has a cotton-related business, traveled to Tashkent with his Chechen partners.
“He was summoned there by his former colleagues who invited him to the office of the National Security Service and later to the Interpol office in Tashkent.
“Chechens also knew Muhammad Salih personally. The Uzbek NSS officers asked our hero Bakhrom Muminakhunov to organize a meeting with a group of Chechens. He fulfills Uzbek security officers’ and Interpol officers’ request.
“Who were these people whom you took to Uzbekistan?”
“They were Chechens and, apparently, had connections with Muhammad Salih. In the end, they told me at the airport: ‘You know, they offered us to physically eliminate Muhammad Salih. They are offering money for that’.”
(Two million US dollars were collected from Uzbek criminal leaders for this affair. Half of the amount was meant for the Chechens whereas the other half was to be divided between Makhmud Haitov, the director of Interpol in Uzbekistan, and Botir Tursunov, the head of the department for combating terrorism under the interior ministry.)
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “After their departure, I was summoned by some of those initial people and officers of the NSS and interior ministry. They told me: ‘Well, you understand, there are problems. He is terrorist number one for Uzbekistan which organized all those explosions in Uzbekistan. We are offering you, as a citizen of Uzbekistan, to tackle the problem…’
“What does ‘tackle the problem’ mean?”
“You mean, excuse me, you were offered to be a broker between Chechen executors and customers who ordered to kill Salih? Do you see direct interest of or commands issued by the Uzbek president?”
“Of course; because the minister of interior or the NSS chairman cannot adopt such a decision on their own. This could not have been their initiative. And they did not try to conceal that it was an order of the Top Person which had to be fulfilled and in a timely manner.”
(The chief of the group of Chechens, Hasan Chergizov, informed Muhammad Salih of the offer. Salih told Chergizov to “continue the game”. He was planning to unmask the regime’s crime this way.)
Safar Bekzhan: “This man, i.e. the hired assassin, arrived here in Switzerland. I went to meet him. He spent about a month here. He learnt all the details. We asked him to record all of his conversations with the Uzbek ministry of internal affairs and the NSS and provide us with that evidence. And it was done so.”
Thus, the executors agreed to fulfill the order.
Mikhail Markelov: “I would never believe that Interpol in Uzbekistan is involved in coordinating political assassinations. It is an unbelievable.
“You will now hear two conversations over the phone between Bakhrom Muminakhunov and Uzbek Interpol Director Makhmud Khaitov. In the first conversation, the talk is about the money, i.e. payment for the job. In the second conversation, Khaitov demands Muminakhunov proves and confirms Salih’s death. The Interpol director mentions “a document” in the conversation. “The document” means a dead body, i.e. the dead body of the opposition leader Muhammad Salih.
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “They are worried about the money. They are saying it will be about three hundred and fifty…
Makhmud Khaitov: “OK…”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “… they want cash… hello…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “In Moscow, right?..”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “Yes, in Moscow… the rest should be wired to the account…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “OK, no problems. Calm them down. I will go now to visit the boss at 5 o’clock. I will tell him there… It is already found, right? So… we can give five hundred in cash?..”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “Five hundred in cash?..”
Makhmud Khaitov: “Yes… actually, it makes no difference for us…”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “OK, I understood.”
Махмудом Хаитов: “Is the document found?..”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “Yes…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “Good, that’s very important…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “When I say a document, I mean a human, you understand that, right?”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “Yes, I understand…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “I do not mean that we are receiving some paper… when they go to the scene… they find… competent bodies get engaged… right…”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “Yes…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “Competent bodies… they learn the identity… you know, like we have militia here, they have police…”
Bakhrom Muminakhunov: “Yes…”
Makhmud Khaitov: “They check the area… It… The document will not just lie around somewhere for ever, right?.. It should be returned… to the owners… so the owners… would lock it in the safe…”
Mikhail Markelov: “We have exact dates and names of officers of National Security Service and Interpol in Uzbekistan who flew to Moscow on the eve of President Karimov’s official visit. All of these agents, so to speak, stayed at Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel. They all met with the forced broker Bakhrom Muminakhunov to discuss ways of transferring money to the Chechens. The deal was not made because Muminakhunov failed to produce proof of Salih’s death. Although, according to Uzbek Interpol officers’ words, President Karimov was already notified of the elimination of the opposition leader. They guys were just a little a hasty…
“I am talking about the Uzbek special services participating in organising a political assassination. Karimov’s entourage has eliminated disliked ones several times already. Several years ago, Belorussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko told me a rather hortative story. The recording remained in our archives for 4 years. We doubted that such an occurrence could have really happened. But there can be almost no doubt in it now.”
President Aleksandr Lukashenko: “Karimov told me that some journalist criticized him. He worked for an agency, or he was most probably Moscow-based… I don’t remember. So, he either lunged him or what… That he was not here… He [Karimov] says: ‘We got hold of him in Moscow and poured [some earth on him] in Tashkent…’ That is horrible…”
The journalist in whose killing Karimov confessed to Lukashenko was Sergey Grebenyuk. Uzbek secret service officers abducted him in Moscow and killed in Tashkent.
TEST IN PRAGUE
On 28 November 2001, Muhammad Salih flew from Amsterdam to Prague at the invitation of the Radio Liberty. He was arrested at the Prague airport at the demand of Uzbek authorities. He was taken to the Pankras prison, the place where Julius Fucik and later Czech President Vaclav Havel were imprisoned.
The Associated Press wrote on: (quote) ???? а где цитата
The New York Times wrote on 1 December 2001: (quote) “Norway is very concerned about Salih’s fate and launched negotiations at the level of ministries of foreign affairs.”
The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten wrote on 3 December 2001 (quote): “On the fifth day following the arrest, Norwegian Ambassador Lasse Saym meets Salih. The ambassador assures Salih Norway will apply every effort to release him from prison and not bringing the case to court. ‘The threat of extradition still exists’ the ambassador said. But Salih refused to leave the prison and decided to wait for the court to rule. The ambassador had once again tried to convince Salih about the situation’s precariousness, but Salih was unshakeable. He said a court ruling was the only opportunity to plead non-guilty of the Uzbek regime’s libel.
“I am ready to wait as long as it is necessary. Let the Uzbek side provide proofs of my guilt and let court adopt a ruling based on them,” said Salih.
The international community’s pressure on the Czech Republic was growing. President Havel was forced to speak on the Radio Liberty: “I am certain he will not be returned to totalitarian leaders. I find this situation as a very sad one. This is damaging the image of our country.”
But there was no hope Muhammad Salih would be released.
The New York Times’ own correspondent, Peter Green, wrote about his meeting with Salih in the Pankras prison (quote): “A well-recognized poet was sitting behind a shaky table in the meeting room of the Pankras prison, wearing threadbare prison uniform of purple color. A piece of a cloudy sky was seen through the fence over his head. His crime was challenging the communist regime in Uzbekistan; his fate is serving term in a prison where Czech President Vaclav Havel once served term.”
Finally, on 10 December, President Havel informed press of his conversation about Salih with Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and said Salih would soon be released from prison.
On 11 December, the Reuters agency reported (quote): Muhammad Salih hosted a news conference in the hall of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Salih stated that any decision the court adopts will have an impact on democracy which will be greater than his own life.
“President Bush wants to uproot terrorism and we can show where its roots are. That is dictators’ regimes,” he said.
President Havel said he would meet Salih in the Prague Palace on 12 December. During the conversation with Salih, Czech President asked about the situation in Uzbekistan and Salih’s plans. Salih presented the president with the essay he wrote in prison. Salih answered journalists’ questions in the end of the meeting. On 14 December, the city court found all the documents presented by Uzbekistan as politically motivated accusations and acquitted Salih.
David Holley of The Los Angeles Times wrote on 15 December 2001: “Justice prevails” said Muhammad Salih as he leaves the court room, “there are thousands of people tortured and persecuted for their beliefs.”
Vaclav Havel invited him to meet on Wednesday.
“Authorities charged Salih with crimes he did not commit. In fact, he is a real democract and a fighter for human rights,” said President Havel.
HOMESICK ABOUT TURKISTAN…
Muhammad Salih likes to spend his leisure time, when he is free from political life, reading religious literature. He has completed a very important work lately – he published a four volume The History of Prophets book series in the Uzbek language. The leader of the opposition is a supporter of upbringing youngsters based on pure sources which are not distorted by religious sects. Muhammad Salih believes the situation in which believers find themselves in Uzbeksitan is very upsetting.
Muhammad Salih: “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: ‘A day shall come when you will have to keep your religion as a burning piece of coal in your hands.’ Uzbek Muslims’ condition today is exactly how the Prophet foretold. Muslims’ belief is undergoing a great examination.”
Despite repressions and persecutions, Erk can still be considered the only political organization which has a clear ideology that capable of uniting the nation. There are farmers, workers and religious activists in its ranks along with intellectuals. These qualities are a reflection of Erk leader’s personality. Muhammad Salih is an intellectual and a deeply religious person who is well aware of agricultural life.
It is possible that religious radicals would not exist in Uzbekistan today, should the Erk party govern in Uzbekistan. They [radicals etc] would have had integrated into the socio-political life before even shaping as a movement and would thus adapt to the society’s life. And stability would reign in Uzbekistan resorting not to bayonet like today but resorting to an authentic and geniune national unity.
Gulchekhra Nurullayeva: “The only goal Muhammad Salih pursues is being able to see the Uzbek nation happy and rid of tyranny. He continues to maintain a persistent and uncompromising fight to reach this goal. It is the Uzbek nation’s happiness that there are such sons as Muhammad Salih.”
Temur Khoja: “Chulpan wrote in a poem:
‘Cry not, my people, for spring is not here today.
Your star shall rize in the days to come.’
Muhammad Salih is one of such stars.”
Muhammad Salih had always spoken of his pain for his nation wherever he spoke either at rostrums or meetings throughout all these years of test both in homeland and in exile. He did not become discouraged even in most worrysome days and never complained but only thanked the Creator for his fate. Even today he and his family are fully thankful to the Almighty.
Muhammad Salih is a politician and poet who dedicated his life to Turkistan.
I write not tourists’ poems
Like others in trips.
For rhyme and rhythm leave me at once
As I step beyond my homeland.
To water my eyes,
And to fill my heart with inspiration,
I need the piercing sun
And the sharply continental climate.
So, tell me not about azure seas,
Lure me not with odoriferous forests,
For I am a strange tree that can grow
Only on the lands of Turkistan.
video from www.turkiston.tv/