Eyewitness Details Protest Violence in Uzbekistan
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Hundreds of people are dead in the city of Andijan, Uzbekistan, following Friday's bloody suppression of protests. The government has denied killing civilians, but Galima Bukharbayeva, a trainer with the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, has a different view. She was in the square in Andijan when the violence began. Bukharbayeva says she believes dissatisfaction over poor economic conditions had drawn thousands of people to protest. Then she says government tanks came in and without warning started shooting into the crowd.
Ms. GALIMA BUKHARBAYEVA (Institute for War & Peace Reporting): I was just running, and you hear these sounds, like (imitates gunfire). And you just can feel that these bullets, they're just around you. And that time I saw that a few people, they fell down. And I found one, like a hole, and jumped there, and lied on the ground. And I was just lying and screaming because the shooting was continuing, and you don't know when these bullets will, like, reach you.
I lost my sister--she was also a journalist--and my friends. And I found my friends, and still couldn't find my sister. When the second shooting started, I saw around me there were five dead bodies already. And I found that one bullet, it went through my rucksack, which was on my back. And my notebook and also my press card, it was with a big hole. So I was very lucky that I was not killed at that moment.
NORRIS: So your--the backpack that you were carrying...
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: Yeah.
NORRIS: ...carried your notebook and your press card. And all three of those things were punctured by a bullet?
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: Yeah, mm-hmm.
NORRIS: Galima, there is quite a bit of disparity in terms of the numbers of those killed, but most of those killed were shot. And President Islom Karimov has denied that troops opened fire on the crowd. In fact, he said that his troops do not shoot at women and children. You were there. From your vantage point, who was doing the shooting?
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: I was really surprised and really shocked when I heard this lie from president. And I can say that it is absolutely true and all Andijan city, they can be witnesses of these bloody events, that they opened fire. And it was no warning. They could come to the square and say, `Listen to us. In 10 minutes, we will open fire. Now leave the square.' At that moment, at least children and women and just people who were there just occasionally, they could leave the square. But they didn't warn people and started to shoot.
NORRIS: But it was clear to you that government troops fired those shots?
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: Of course. It is absolutely clear.
NORRIS: Uzbekistan's top prosecutor said today that some 169 people were killed in the violence in the past weekend. And of that number, at least 32 of those victims were government troops. Do those numbers ring true to you?
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: According--our sources, at least I think that people up to 1,000 or 1,500 people were killed. And I believe when you shoot like this, hundred people and thousand even people can be killed. And we know--for instance, one my source, a doctor, pathologist in Andijan, she counted herself 500 bodies, just only men. And the government people--as Karimov said, `We did not shoot women and children.' And they hide the bodies of women and children. Many witnesses were saying that at the first tank wave died children, because they couldn't run. And how it is possible to say, `We do not kill children or women'--do you choose people when you're just shooting everybody from tanks? One bullet was almost--in my rucksack, almost close to me, but--a woman. You were shooting to women, fired at me.
NORRIS: Did you find your sister? You were separated from her in the crowd?
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: Yeah, we separate, and just late in the evening, I found out that she's OK. She was also under fire, and she was very lucky that one very nice Andijan guy--he decided to protect her. He said, `I couldn't take weapon, I couldn't take Kalashnikov. And I decided for myself that I will save the life of one journalist, and after she will write a truth about what happened in Andijan. So it's really amazing.
NORRIS: Well, Galima, thank you so much. Please stay safe.
Ms. BUKHARBAYEVA: Thank you. OK. Bye.
NORRIS: Galima Bukharbayeva is a trainer with the Institute for War & Peace Reporting in Uzbekistan. She joined us from Baku, Azerbaijan.