Before Entering the Other World
Translated from Russian by prof. Michael Reynolds
Safar Bekzhan was born in 1961 in Kazakhstan in an exiled family. The family returned to its homeland, to Horezm in 1968. After finishing high school Safar Bekzhan served in the Soviet Army. In 1982 he arrived in Tashkent where he found work at the publishing house ³Uzbekistan.² In 1983 he entered the literature department of the Tashkent Pedagogical Institute. He began writing poetry in 1976. He has been published in Uzbek republican publications.
Safar Bkezhan has been politically active since 1988. In 1993 he was arrested while serving as a member of the Central Council of the ³Erk² party. He was freed in 1996. In this book Safar Bekzhan describes his life in imprisonment, and also the political activities taking place in Uzbekistan during the last ten years.
I dedicate this book to my friends-defenders of right and to my spouse Kurbana who plead for me during my imprisonment.
In the Name of God the Merciful the Compassionate
I write this in the name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate, with hope for His blessing. Creator, direct me to the true path, and do not allow me, your servant, to deceive, amen.
The events described in the book, resemble adventures, but this is not an adventure novel -- I had to live through all of it. The book was composed in sections in various places, but most of it was written in prison in Uzbekistan from 1993 to 1996, and then when I was freed, I added to it and edited it.
Everything in here is true, even the names of those people mentioned herein are unchanged . And it is possible that this will not make them happy. But the reasons that caused me to write the book are much more serious than the desire to distress or please someone.
Today the people of Uzbekistan suffer from a totalitarian regime. There are individuals who are trying to deliver them from these sufferings, and the book was written so that they will not be forgotten, and when the time comes their efforts will be properly appreciated. On the other hand there are also those who consciously aid this regime. I think that they too necessarily will answer for their activities. They should remember that it is possible to foregive treason , but it is impossible to forget it.
It may seem that these two reasons for writing the book are insufficient. Perhaps books are written for more important motives. But for me the most important thing is to say who ‘s who in Uzbekistan in the struggle with the oppressors.
27 September 1993. The prison of the Interior Ministry. It was built in 1976. Then Minister of the Interior Haidar Iakhiaiev personally oversaw its construction. In an irony of fate, in 1984he himself ended up in this prison located twelve meters underground and spent several years in it. There are twenty cells in it, including two single cells and two doubles with remaining cells intended for four and ten prisoners.
I spent two months alone in the second cell, a double, and out of boredom busied myself with composing complaints. I knew that it was useless but persisted nonetheless. It was still better than doing nothing. But my activity, it seems, annoyed the prison administration and one day the window in the iron door opened and in it appeared the smirking face of a guard:
-- So, trouble-maker, you¹re still alive? Today we¹ll transfer you to another cell and deprive you of your ³walks,² so be prepared.
Is it necessary to explain what those ten minutes of fresh air meant for a person who has been sitting underground for two months, especially all alone?
After a half an hour the door again opened and two guards and one man dressed in civilian clothing entered the cell. The latter said:
-- Safar Bekzhan, I know your habits. Your politics or other affairs don¹t interest us. We are doers, and now you will not be able to call an ambulance with the excuse that you have a stomach ³ache² or something else. Now you will not raise a fuss for all the world through the doctors and send out all sorts of appeals. You are not any sort of medical patient, understand?
According to the unwritten rules of the prison, the prisoner is supposed to listen silently when the authorities speak. Questions and talking can turn out badly. However, knowing that I would object all the same, the authorities tried to withdraw immediately. And this ³guest² also attempted to leave, but I was quicker:
-- Citizen Chief, if you are not afraid of anything, why don¹t you at least give your name?
-- You constantly write to me with your complaints and still you ask who am I? Maybe you are mocking us? I am the Chief of this prison, and for you I will be Shurat-aka ! -- he said in a raised voice.
The effort to demonstrate himself as a fearsome chief in front of his subordinates flashed in his eyes. Turning around he ordered one of them:
-- Transfer him to cell eleven!
-- It will be done, Comrade Colonel! -- answered the guard.
I was happy that I was saved from loneliness until they led me to cell eleven. I didn¹t have time to look back as the door was shut loudly. After the bright light in the hallway it was difficult to make out anything in the half-lit new cell. When at last my eyes adjusted, I discovered to my great disappointment that all six beds in this cell were empty, as if there were no other prisoners in this world. Nonetheless I gained a little satisfaction from the move. For all that the two month protests yielded fruits of some kind: the previous cell was one and a half meters wide and two and half meters long. This cell was twice as large. It meant that here ³shuffles,² i.e. walking until exhaustion, was possible. Otherwise, in a place where from all six sides concrete and dampness surround you, you will inevitably get sick.
Less than a half hour passed when the door opened again and the chief of the superintendents on duty, a police captain, whose face let it be known that he spoke Uzbek well.
I knew him: among the superintendents he was the best. I had called for an ambulance precisely on his watch because he allowed me, at least for a minute, to remain with the doctor eye to eye. Making use of this, I asked the doctor to call a certain phone number and report my condition. As it later became known, this worked. My family and comrades, who for more than a month after my arrest didn¹t know in which prison I was and what was happening with me, were at last able to find out. In a word, may God reward this policeman for doing a good deed for me, willingly or unwillingly.
-- Well, politician, come out, you will meet with the prison government, -- he said.
-- What, the prison even has its own government?
-- We ask the questions here, make your bed quickly, -- answered the captain.
Moving through the hallway, which did not resemble a prison hallway (if you do not consider the iron doors) we came to a cell on which was written ³No. 18.² Along the entire corridor a carpet was laid down. This was done so that the steps of the superintendants would not be heard and so that they could approach the cells unnoticed and observe what the prisoners were doing through the window. For this purpose there various devices placed in the hallway.
Door eighteen opened and, barely before I could enter, it shut with a bang. The dull light of a small lamp above the door allowed me to see two people sitting in the corner. I greeted them. ³Greetings, guy,² said the one who sat on the shkonka, the iron bed. The second one, who was kneeling before him and was prostrated in some way, did not utter a single word.
I froze in the middle of the cell with a mattress rolled up under my arm, and watched a scene which until then I had seen only in the movies. The man who was kneeling looked as if he had placed his head on an executioner¹s block, the role of which a metal stool played. The executioner lacked only an axe and mask.
- Why did you plant yourself, guy, the show still hasn¹t begun. You can seat yourself on any free bed that you like. What frightened you, ³cop witness?² -- the one sitting on the bed spoke again.
-- Friend, I am not any kind of ³cop witness,² they put me in for political reasons, -- I said indignantly.
-- Guy, you¹re not on the street here, you have no ³friends² here. Only ³guys² or ³chaps² eat here. You didn¹t recognize me? I am Yadgar Agzamkhuzhaev. Both here and on the street they call me ³Yadgar the chap.² And they also call me ³thief in the law,² maybe you¹ve heard? Now we¹ll listen to you.
My name is Safar... . Just as I began the man who was kneeling suddenly stood up and dashed to the door, and began to bang furiously on the door and shout,² Guard, guard, open the door!²
But none of the guards, who usually came running at the smallest noise, paid attention to his cries. When Yadgar got up from his place and approached the man shouting, he hid behind my back, shouting as loud as he could.
-- Don¹t shout, the door will not open. Your death is necessary in order for them give that man death penalty -- Yadgar pointed to me, -- on account of such a midge like you they should should shoot a thief in the law and a politician. Don¹t shout, bastard, even Karimov himself doesn¹t make me play those games. We¹ll settle accounts with you in the Tashkent prison! -- Yadgar shouted.
I stood, shaken by what I had seen, but I did not understand anything. Yadgar walked up to the door and started to shout: ³Almatov, take him and play better, if you are playing! I know you are in your office waiting and how it will end! You can freely declare ³Yadgar had mercy on his canary!² Right then a siren sounded in the hallway, the pounding of people running was heard and the door of our cell flew open. Two guards burst in and led out the man who was hiding behind my back. When they left, Yadgar said:
-- Tell Zakir, not to spoil my mood, otherwise I¹ll raise the zones! And not to hold back the food and cigarettes that they bring me!
The guard, looking at me, gnashed his teeth and quietly closed the door.
-- Big guy, sitting in prison is also politics. Well, I have sitting here since age fourteen. I was released when I was twenty-six and had just become a thief in the law when they put me in prison again. The most famous people of Uzbekistan were at the celebrations of my receiving this title. They gave me seventeen automobiles. Guests arrived from Moscow, Georgia, and even Italy. The famous Odessa thieves worked as servants for us for three days. I¹ll explain what happened here, let it be a lesson to you. Behind the iron door our authority begins. That authority was always against any policy. We are in opposition also to those who call themselves ³democrats,² such as yourself.
At that time the door opened and a paper bag was held out. Yadgar put the bag on the iron stool and continued his speech as if nothing had happened:
-- They brought the man you saw here ten to fifteen minutes before you. He¹s the closest man to Almaz who now has pretensions to the title ³thief in the law.² Almaz is my enemy. He ruined all of Tashkent. That man testified against me in court. According to thieves¹ laws I am supposed to kill him now. The reason for bringing you here was precisely so that you would become a witness to this murder. But according to prison laws testifying against a thief means to condemn yourself to death. In a word, they wanted to destroy you and me with one blow. Therefore I didn¹t murder him, but I¹ll get him in the Tashkent prison, or my people will absolutely do this in any zone. Of course, now they will harm me, saying that I didn¹t kill my ³canary,² but that is temporary. I don¹t want to lie -- understand that acted thus not at all out of pity for you. It would be much worse for me if were tried for one charge with a politician.
During twelve years of imprisonment I have seen not a few like you. Have you heard of Vlasov, Kantariya, Yesinbaev, who first flew the flag of the USSR over the Reichstag? I sat together with Yesinbaev¹s son, Albert. They sentenced him for devising a plan for breaking up the USSR. Sitting in my cell, he wrote it again. I helped convey it to the outside. They accused him of killing several people in Alma-Ata. He graduated from the law department of Moscow State University. To convict someone like that is just not easy. His trial was interrupted three times -- because he declared that Lenin was an executioner and murderer. He rehearsed his speeches at the trial in front of us. Finally, his father, a Hero of the Soviet Union, and his mother, a People¹s Teacher of the USSR, disowned Albert in writing. In 1984 he was condemned to death and then shot.
I sensed that Yadgar wanted to make the impression he also understood politics.
-- The present situation differs from the one that was then, -- I said.
-- We¹ll talk about the present situation later, -- he answered as he opened the paper bag.
There were five to six blocks of Marlboros, butter, chocolate, scones, and salted dried fish. Spreading out everything on the table, Yadgar began to tear open one of the fish, trying to find something. Finally he found what he wanted, to judge by his satisfied look. In his hand there was a small onion. Cutting it with a knife, he pulled out of it a tiny plastic bag and opened it. Inside it there was a white powder, similar to flour, which Yadgar immediately began to sniff. Gradually his severe, worried face became more lively, a smile flitted on it, his eyes shined. Only now I noticed that he was still young, tall, broad shouldered and clearly had been an athlete at one time.
Yadgar snorted the cocain.
-- Welcome to the table. Forget all those Tashkent customs and take what you want. Take advantage of the Zakir Almatov¹s generosity. Unfortunately, I fell in with a circle of those who specially introduce drugs into the criminal world. The Moscow wisemen invented this insidious trick. We also have enough of our own, so be careful, they might hook even you to drugs.
-- I¹ll already went through this. They kept me in this kind of cell for a month. In the first basement of the Tashkent prison there is a certain cell, 003-8. In it there were informants who tried to get me hooked to drugs, but they didn¹t succeed. Finally they beat me up, and after the incident they had to transfer me here.
-- I read about you in the papers and in general I know enough about you. Ulugbek from Chinaza is in cell six and he told me about you. It turns out that democrats are very naive people. The Communists, unlike you, know the customs of prisons. They don¹t even trust their own mothers here.
-- They are atheists, -- I said.
-- The issue isn¹t whether you believe in God or not. The issue is whether you can believe in man. For example, I do not bow to God. He who fears anyone or anything cannot become a thief. The Communists also don¹t fear anything. They are their own God and law. They sat in prison with their mouth closed. Recently ³democrats² have begun to appear here. They are so simple that they reveal everything to the first person they meet.
-- We don¹t have any secrets which we have to hide from someone so that they didn¹t talk aboout us, -- I said.
-- Listen, take for example among those sitting here in prison with us that same Ulugbek: there are four men in the cell. Among them, at a minimum, is one informant. He specially provokes you into an open discussion and reports your every word or he even has a special microphone.
Even now they are listening, but what we are saying is uninteresting. Ulugbek cursed Samandar Kokanov and sobbed that he suffered because of Muhammad Salikh. According to prison customs, you must not say that you are in because of someone. If they put you in, it means you yourself are guilty. Don¹t drag anyone after you! That Ulugbek became noisome with his chattering, whether they asked him or not. They had to beat him and, it seems, he understood and no longer chatters.
-- It would be good to take a look at yourself. Uzbekistan has become the estate of racketeers and car thieves. Its become normal to kill a man for some petty thing, to steal, to gunfight. It was natural that the State would declare war on you.
-- In fact those around Gorbachev artificially stimulated the growth of crime in order to discredit him in the eyes of society and bring him down. They wanted to bring a ³stern hand² to power, justifying this with the need to restore order and fight crime, Yadgar said.
-- You want to say that the thieves are actually humanists?, -- I asked.
-- The thieves were always independent of the state apparatus. A society without thieves doesn¹t exist. Let the state struggle with us, however it should obey the very laws it established and not slander us. The Tashkent criminal groups sprang from the Interior Ministry, pay a ³share² to it and are controlled by it. As a result they were able to launder their ³illegitimate² capital and put it into legal business and they practically became legitimate.
-- Yadgar, why do you talk, since if they are listening to us the consequences will be bad? -- I asked.
-- I am saying this for them too. They can¹t hold us together in one cell. If I behave like this, they will be forced to remove one of us, answered Yadgar.
-- I think that something else is being prepared ³up top.² I want to begin a hunger strike.
-- Alright, first lets eat what we were able to receive despite the wishes of Zakir, and tomorrow we will declare the beginning of the hunger strike, Yadgar pointed at the table.
In the morning we handed over the remains of the food to the guard and gave the prison adminstration our statements on the beginning of the hunger strike -- mine with political demands, Yadgar¹s in connection with his criminal case. Thus began the first day of our hunger strike.
I first learned about the ways and rules of leading a political hunger strike from the Crimean Tatars. I read the notes of their leader Mustafa Jemilev about prison customs and about their hunger strikes. I got hold of them during the hunger strike of the students of the Crimean Tatar Department of the Nizami Tashkent Pedagogical Institute. At that time I was studying in night school in the Department of Uzbek Philology of that institute, and during the day I was working in the publlishing house ³Uzbekistan.² With the certification of this publishing house you could enter even the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. The students of the Crimean Tatar Department undertook their hunger strike in connection with the clsoing of their department. They locked themselves in one of the rooms of the department, located on the fourth floor of the Pedagogical Institute on Glinka street, and six of them were ready to jump from the window.
I came to class in the institute and saw that the police, who surrounded our department as well, were not letting anyone by and were annoucning that there would be no classes. Using my red certification card I passed through the police cordon to the doors of the department. There I found a bunch of papers which the hunger strikers distributed and palced it into my bag and entered the building. But in the hallway one of the teachers grabbed me by the arm and said, ³Leave immediately, otherwise you will be blacklisted.² Together we left the building and, upon arriving home, I read the the papers and admired the courage of the Crimean Tatars.
Then I saw how the authorities feared political hunger strikes. In general, I began to form my ideas about prisons from the stories of my grandfather.
My grandfather returned from imprisonment in 1969 and immediately occupied himself with bringing me up. Despite the fact that I had already reached the age of eight, I still had not begun school. Everything changed with the arrival of my grandfather. I began to go to school, formerly unknown relatives appeared, the kolkhoz gave a house standing in a picturesque garden to my family. The meaning of what was taking place became clear to me later. It turns out that in that year we had been rehabilitated, although unofficially. To be more exact, the charges of political unreliability, put forth back in the 1920s because my great grandfather had been the prime minister of the Emirate of Bukhara and therefore had been repressed together with his closest relatives.
I began studying immediately in two schools: in a regular state school and with my grandfather. What my grandfather taught completely contradicted what I was taught in school. The result became known in the seventh grade. On September 1, the first call was sounded, and the next day school was canceled and everyone was sent to harvest cotton. However they brought our class to a field treated with the chemical ³merkaptofos.² My grandfather had told me that this chemical was exceptionally harmful to human health, and therefore when the teachers left to drink tea, I gathered my classmates and explained to them the possible consequences of working in this field. As a result the whole class quit working and went to their homes.
When I arrived home unexpected ³guests² were already sitting there -- the school principal, a policeman, several people unknown to me, and my father.
-- My life was spent in front of prison gates worrying about your grandfdather, and now you too want to add to this? -- he said and without warning hit me in the face.
-- That¹s still too little for you. If they boxed your ears more often, you would keep your tongue in check, -- said the policeman.
The school principal was a relative. ³We¹ll talk about the rest ourselves,² he said and led the ³guests² out.
That was the first and last boxing of my ears. After that incident they never let me near a cotton field.
In 1978 they destroyed a nearby building built by German prisoners of war. In the basement they found a metal chest in which were books written in the Arab and Latin alphabets. I was a ³book junkie² and therefore took as many books as I could and showed them to my grandfather. Taking a look at the books, he said that the people who wrote them had been repressed.
I later wrote an article ³Questions of Critical Realism in Uzbek Literature² based on these books. The article was dedicated to art of Chulpan, Fitrat, Khamza, Usman Nasyra and Abdulla Kadyri. I sent it to the journals Shark iulduzi (Star of the East) and Gulistan . I gave one copy to my mentor in literature, Nigmat Salaev. While reading the article, the expression on his face changed and he asked, ³Who else has read this?² I said that I had sent two copies to the Tashkent journals. He grabbed the phonebook and beagn to call somewhere.
-- Teacher, can you take one lad? He is from Urgandzhi. Okay, master.
Putting down the phonebook Nigmat-aka turned to me:
-- Do you know Urgench well?
-- Not very.
-- To right or the bazaar is a technical school. Near the school is Pioneer street, ask for the house of Bolta Davlatov. Everyone knows him.
In this way I met Bolta Davlatov and later learned much from him. Overall, the above mentioned article helped me come to know the characters of many people. For example, from the journal Shark iulduzi I recieved an answer signed by Shkura Kurban which said, ³Your article will not be published in the journal, guess why if you can, but continue your research.² From the journal Gulistan came a panicked letter written by Akhmad Agzam. He advised me to no longer write on such things.
At that time thegurzhums -- large trees which grow only in our regions and provide the coolest shade -- began to whither everywhere in Horezm. The saying that ³if every tree withers, the oasis will be covered with sand² circulated among the populace. My grandfather said that ³Moscow did this in order to resettle the population of Horezm in Tiumen.
Towards the end of the 1970s the ecological tragedy in the Aral region roused the creative intelligentsia which had been silent for many years. Not only exclusively professional problems but social ones as well became the topics of discussion in literary circles. Moreover the conversation usually was about the works of the poets of Abdulla Aripov, Rauf Parfi, and Erkin Vakhidov. I myself preferred to focus attention on the poems of Muhammad Salikh, a then little known poet. Most of them did not understand, but there were also those who were interested. At one of the meetings in particular, I met the poets Matnazar Khakimov and Shakir Bek. They both graduated from Taganrog University and recently arrived in Horezm. Having spent several years in the Ukraine, they were thoroughly penetrated by a spirit of national liberation and anti-imperialism that was also passed on to me.
Grandfather tried to school me in eastern literature, but I had difficulty. It was much easier to read and understand western literature. Gradually I began to publish in the local, regional, and then republican press.
I was not able to enter the journalism school of Tashkent University in 1979. The next year I was conscripted into the army and I served in the internal forces for two years. Military service also became a great schoolso far as as it helped make clear the true face of the Soviet system. One soldier saw me hand to an accused man a letter from a relative and reported it to his commanders. After that they transferred me from Moscow to Tula. There we guarded the prisoners in one of the ³rehabilitation centers,² as it was accepted to call places of imprisonment in the Soviet Union. Of course, then I could not imagine that I too would become a prisoner after some time. The fact that I learned at least a little something about prisons helped me after my arrest. But it was impossible for me in prison to say that I served in the interior forces. In a word, thirteen years later, that is September 28, 1993, I was sitting in the prison of the Interior Ministry of Uzbekistan, and it was the first day of our hunger strike.
-- How long have you been sitting? -- asked Yadgar as he continued to sniff his ³medicine.²
-- Today is the start of he third month.
-- The third month? -- laughed Yadgar. -- Probably you were sitting earlier as well?
-- No, I wasn¹t sitting, but they opened a criminal case and held me for a week in a detainment cell.
-- Big guy, I spent three years in solitary, and not just anywhere, but in the ³White Swan² -- said Yadgar.
-- Is that the prison in the Baltic Sea? -- I asked.
-- How do you know that?
-- I read about it in books.
-- What you read about in books I had to suffer with my own skin. They sent me there when I declared that I wanted to become a ³thief in the law.² The most terrible prison in the world is there. State criminals and dissidents were held there in single cells. Even Gorbachev¹s glasnost didn¹t reach there. There were poeple there who long ago should have been freed, but they declared them deadŠ
Glancing sideways at the door, Yadgar muttered, ³They changed the supervisor,² and continued:
-- My father is a Phd, a professor. He, of course, didn¹t like it that I went on another path and he wrote in the papers that he disowned me. He never devoted himself to his family. His whole life he served only the state. It turned out, of course, that the authorities needed only his knowledge and intelligence, and when he became ill with tuberculosis, he became unnecessary and they forgot him. Now he is in critical condition, and my people are treating him, on my money. The authorities don¹t fear old scholars, they fear force. So, you are sitting two months -- have they even once brought you any news?
-- No, I don¹t even have permission to meet with an attorney.
-- There, exactly, they don¹t fear you. They fear me because I have money, people. This past July in the building of the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan there was a shootout. I set up this ³settling of accounts.² Almaz, who they also sentenced -- is a KGB man. He put the blame on me for the things that his group did, and ordered them shot. That nit got away, but his main, important people died. Then, they didn¹t sentence him, but they say that he is afraid to appear on the street and prefers to sit in the basement of the KGB. If he were a real ³chap,² he wouldn¹t sentence himself. The guy who was supposed to die yesterday also was his man. Moreover, his brother is up top. He has an important position, -- Yadgar pointed upwards to where the Interior Ministry building was located.
-- You mean yesterday they wanted to sacrifice their own man? -- I asked.
-- Yesterday¹s game wasn¹t Zakir¹s business. Aliev, the chairman of the National Security Committee, organized it.
-- If they are listening in on this room, why don¹t they then remove you or me from here? -- I inquired.
-- Its possible that our declaring a hunger strike upset their plans. If the strike spreads through the whole prison someone will lose a stripe. In January we did this in the Tashkent prison. Afterwards they began to kill fewer suspects.
In fact, torture, right up to murder, was often used during investigations. But the authorities succeeded, and still succeed, in hiding this from international society, and even in misleading it. For example, after visiting already prepared ³example-demonstration points,² a delegation from the French police academy which Karimov specially invited declared that prisoners in Uzbekistan are treated perfectly wellŠ .To recall, a delegation headed by Roman Rollan played an analogous role in the 1930s. At the same time as millions of Turkestanis were dying from starvation, the French intellectuals announced that ³Uzbekistan is prospering.²
The first day of the hunger strike passed. I do not pay attention to the desire to eat. I can quietly give myself to reminiscingŠ
I arrived in Tashkent in the fall of 1982. I had to get ready for beginning my studies and finding work. I had met the poet Aman Matchan back in Horezm and he had promised to help when I arrived in Tashkent. He worked in the Gafur Guliam literary publishing house. I visited him. He introduced me to Muhammad Salikh and the circle of his friends which included the poets Rauf Parfi, Akhmad Agzam, Ibragim Khakkul, the artist Isfandier Khaidar, the scholar Bek Tashmukhammedov and other intellectuals.
At this time hard times hit the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. They died one after another: in Moscow Suslov, Brezhnev, Chernenko; in Tashkent Rashidov. Then the usual ³strong arm² headed the Soviet state -- Andropov. A campaign was begun in the Soviet press accusing the Uzbeks of taking bribes. Usmankhodzhaev, taking the place of Sharaf Rashidov, appealed to ³the Great Russian brothers² with a request for help in purging the republic¹s cadres at the sixteenth plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. Shortly thereafter a team of ³purgers² arrived from the office of the Procurator of the USSR, first headed by Karakozov and then by Telman Gdianom. Something terrible began. But in fact this was not a punitive measure against thieving Communists, but against the people.
The people gathered around Muhammad Salikh began to discuss more often not issues of literature and art but socio-political problems. This phenomenon was not planned -- the rising national consciousness caused it. Leaflets appeared with the following content: ³Stop accusing the Uzbeks of taking bribes. The nation is not guilty if several Communists took bribes.² The young poet Dilarom Iskhakova posted these leaflets around even the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan.
Apparently after this incident the KGB got involved. Its agents, under the guise of literary criticism, fell upon the work of Muhammad Salikh, and tried to destroy him, above all, as a creative figure. One after another, articles subjecting each of his works to withering attack began to appear in the Uzbek press. The result this produced, however, was the opposite of what was expected. In Moscow, the Baltic republics, in the Ukraine and abroad they began to translate and publish his poetry. In this situtation the KGB preferred not to create a dissident among the Uzbeks, and began to work on his colleagues, scaring them individually and trying to destroy the group. But the group survived all the same, although its numbers declined severely.
The second day of the hunger strike began. No results have been felt, just my head hurts a little. This morning some kind of noise was heard in the hallway. They let the prisoners out to exercise. Yadgar walked up to the door and, assuming the pose of a soccer player getting ready to kick the ball, beckoned to me with his hand. Surprised, I went, and he pointed his finger at the hole in the iron door. While I was trying to figure out what was going on, the eye of a supervisor appeared in the hole and immediately a loud noise rang out: Yadgar had kicked the door. He burst into laughter, and from the hallway was heard the supervisor¹s cursing.
Laughing like a child, Yadgar said while looking at the door:
-- Chief, will you let us out to exercise? Let us see the light of day too!
-- We¹ll let you out, but end your hunger strike. You won¹t achieve anything anyway, it¹ll be worse for your ownselves -- they answered from the hallway and added:
-- The supervisor will now write up a report to the procurator about how you wanted to poke out his eye!
-- Tell the supervisor that before he gets home they¹ll cut off his ear and put it in his hand! -- Yadgar said loudly.
The guard was silent and, apparently understanding that they did not succeed in frightening Yadgar, left.
-- Big guy, can you speak on the telephone? -- asked Yadgar.
-- On which telephone - the one on the outside? -- I now asked.
-- No. Forget about the outside, I mean that one, -- he answered, pointing to the sleeve of my jacket.
-- Take it off and place your ear to the inside of the sleeve, -- he said.
I did what he asked.
-- How does it sound? They call that ³the telephone,² -- Yadgar whispered, putting his mouth to the open end of the sleeve.
Then, putting the sleeve to his ear, he now asked me to talk. I laughed:
-- The Uzbeks have a saying, ³A thing done in a sleeve.² It seemingly reflected our situation most precisely.
-- There are a couple of things I should tell you only in this way. If I don¹t do this and die from drugs or seven grams of lead, these things will go with me, -- he laughed.
Thus the second day of the hunger strike passed.
It seems that I am beginning to get used to this terrible basement.
I first heard about the SIZO (investigative isolator) of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Uzbekistan from the secretary of the democratic party Erk, Atanazar Arifov. This man sat in there for six months when he was sentenced for the first time in the famous ³Milli mezhlis ² criminal case.
Atanazar Arifov was born in 1937 in the Tashauzsk oblast. He is a doctor of physics and mathematics and professor. His father, Ishan Arif, was an imam well known throughout the Aral region. He died in 1996 at an age of 90, may God have mercy on him. In the 1930s Ishan Arif was arrested, suffered persecution, and his father, Atanazar¹s grandfather, was shot without a trial or investigation. Atanazar-aka, an exceptionally modest and principled man, never told anyone about this. A philosopher, who arrived at God through science, he really does match his name ³Arif,² which means he who knows truth. He diligently obeys the practice of the five daily prayers.
He was the Erk party secretary from its founding, but never told anyone that he holds an academic degree and title and is the author of ten books on nuclear physics. American political scientists call him the ³Uzbek Jefferson² because he drew up a draft Declaration of Independence. At the same time that ambitious scholars and others, calling themselves big politicians, chased after the heels of foreign social and political actors, Atanazar-aka¹s home became a guesthouse, because the visiting foreigners themselves sought him out. There is already enough written about this man, and, I think, still more will be written.
I want to discuss one, still ³undisclosed² episode in the fabricated criminal case of the ³Milli mazhlis ³ which became the reason for the arrest of Atanazar Arif and others.
The presidential elections which took place in December 1991presented Karimov with an unexpected result. Despite the fact that at every speech he stressed that ³the people gave me eighty-six percent of their votes,² Karimov could not deceive himself. The Erk party and its chairman Muhammad Salikh picked up many more votes than was officially reported. This greatly distressed Karimov. After three to four months, when he already had a stronger grip on the throne, he decided to make short work of such a dangerous opposition. The appearance of the action committee for creating the ³Milli mazhlis ³ proved to be quite opportune for realizing this idea.
Karimov charged a state secretary, Mavlon Umurzakov, with carrying out the plan for crusing the opposition. The national security service, as the KGB of Uzbekistan is now called, was supposed to justify the punishing of the opposition before international society. They accused the action committee of ³attempting to overthrow the state² and sentence it. However they were not able to realize the plan in full, since the provocateurs could not get their teeth into the Erk party, the main strength of the opposition.
I am not taking this information from out of the air: Karimov¹s former friends, who also ended up behind bars for not sharing bribes with him, told me thisŠ
The third day of the hunger strike.
The scraping and squeeking of the door woke me up. Yadgar is standing in front of it with his hands on his hips.
-- Chief, today is the third day. If you don¹t answer my declaration, I¹ll have a ³run-through² for the whole ³basement,² and tomorrow everyone will be hunger striking.
The guard did not answer and closed the door.
It seemed that the cell was colder and rawer than usual, and there was an unpleasant smell from my mouth. It meant the fasting was making itself felt.
Yadgar continuously walks about the cell. I watch him, thinking about his sad fate, about how this still young man has spent his whole life in prison. I cannot understand why he considers his fate differently.
-- First time you have fasted? -- Yadgar asks, continuing to move.
-- Its the second. In August I fasted three days when I was in a two-person cell. Then they put some guy in with me, but he did not participate in the hunger strike. I think they sent him specially.
-- Who was he? -- Yadgar asked.
-- He was about sixty years old, swarthy, teeth turning black. He called himself Abduraim. He said that he was caught with two counterfeit ten dollar bills. I advised him to ³say that you were begging, and some unknown foreigners gave you the dollars, but that you didn¹t know they were counterfeit. Then they will let you go.² In the evening they called him in for interrogating. Afterwards he says that bills were hundred dollar bills, and adds ³They should let me go because I told them how to find the ones counterfeiting the money. You look like a rich man, if you hid something from your wife and children, you can tell me. Man to man I promise -- I¹ll pass it on to your family, don¹t worry.²
-- In fact he was planted, -- agreed Yadgar.
-- I understood this definitively when heopnely advised, ³You have got to do everything that the investigators tell you, you too tell them about everything they ask.²
-- ³Up top,² apparently, they thought you were a fool -- laughed Yadgar.
-- Whatever happened, I was forced to end the hunger strike. The provocateur sat with me three days and every day he passed upwards the fables I made up.
-- Can we too hear them? -- asked Yadgar with a smile.
-- Among the opposition President Karimov loathes and fears Muhammed Salikha most. By March 1992 Salikh had gathered around himself the whole opposition. Moreover, thanks to the financial aid of our supporters, our partya began to stand on its feet. This provocateur clearly wanted to find out about our financial base, but he did this very primitivelyŠ
-- Tell a fable! -- Yadgar interrupted me.
-- A fable is like this: Muhammad Salikh has a lot of money, he left it to us for party activities. Its kept in his office, in three-ton, imported safe. The safe¹s lock has a code, and the code consists of ten numbers which only Salikh knows. He controls the safe through a sattelite link-up, and the safe gives out the amount of money he orders, etc.
-- That fable probably reached even Karimov¹s ears, -- Yadgar said.
-- Whether it reached Karimov or not, I don¹t know, but they were probably wanted to know where they make such fantastic safes, -- I said and we both burst out laughing.
-- After they understood that I was leading them by the nose, -- I continued, -- they transferred me to special basement number one of the Tashkent prison, to cell 003-8 and, as I said earlier, they tried to force me to use drugs, but they didn¹t succeed: one of the prison employees, a supporter of Erk, informed my wife about everything and she passed it on to the world community.
-- According to prison regulations, a prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for three days is given a special status, -- said Yadgar, demonstrating his knowledge, -- this means that they should give him a special medical examination and that the prosecutor should meet with him. Those, who are up top, don¹t need political prisoners on hunger strikes. It was that way in the days of the USSR. They didn¹t even curse at a prisoner before trial. All the misery began after the trial. A number of prisoners were seen for the last time during the trial, then they dissappeared without a trace, as if they vanished into thin air.
-- There is no need to compare the USSR with Uzbekistan, -- I said. Well, millions dissappeared in the Siberian forests, but just don¹t have those kinds of spaces. Karimov must take that into accountŠ
Engrossed in conversation, we did not notice how time flew by. The captain of the guards, starting on the evening shift and taking count of and receiving the prisoners, asked us if we are continue to fast and wrote something down in his notebook.
About an hour later the door opened again and despite the guard¹s saying ³Go in one by one,² four men burst into the room at once. They stood for some time, adjsuting to the darkness, then they fixed their gaze on me, then on Yadgar, and throwing the bed that they had brought with them on the floor, they suddenly jumped to hug him.
-- Brother, how are you? How lucky we are that we found your cell! -- said one and kissed Yadgar like a relative.
-- Brothers, the cell declared a hunger strike, and they imprisoned this man because he cursed Karimov, -- Yadgar informed them, pointing at me.
- There was man in the Tashkent prison named Abdumannov. He also cursed Karimov. But he fooled all of us. He swore: ³Due to a lack of medicines people are dieing here, if I am freed, I will arrange for aid from international organizations.² He wrote Karimov a request for a pardon and they let him go. It turns out that he leaves in America, but he doesn¹t even send matches here. In a word, he is not a man. You too are probably the same type, -- said one swarthy man with curly hair and racing eyes as he looked at me.
-- He¹s telling the truth, don¹t be offended, -- said Yadgar to me. He then turned to his ³brothers² and said in a loud voice:
-- You who are dieing from disease! You who the kill during interrogation! You, whose children and relatives are poor! We have both money and power! Well, brothers, tell me -- what is our first principle?!
-- Not to submit to the authorities! -- the brothers cried out in a chorus.
Standing up, Yadgar questioned them again: ³Our second principle?!² All four proclaimed still louder, ³We get together at will, we eat in prison!²
-- Well, brothers, tell me, what do you say to my hunger strike? -- Yadgar asked them while looking at me expressively.
-- Where our brother is, there we too are! -- they sang out fiercely.
-- The supervisors and the guards, who responded quickly to the smallest sound, paid no attention to these shouts.
Yadgar liked this small crowd which lifted him up.
While watching this picture, I remembered how a crowd which at first enthusiastically raises its leader up in its hands can then simply trample him under. It seems that my cell mate, trying to make an impression on me, still had not experienced that.
A crowd always remains a crowd, no matter who it is made up of. In 1989 in Fergana and Parkent and in 1990 in Osh the crowd did not recognize even its own blood brothers and countrymen. It is impossible to rely on a crowd, no matter what banner it gathers under, no matter what uniform -- military or police -- it wears. The crowd that raised its clubs against its own brothers in the Samarkand oblast over water did not mutter a word against the eight year dictatorship of Karimov. And today no one wants to gather a crowd in order to be trampled by it later. There is a wise, old saying:
³Know that everything that seems good has also bad
Know that everything that seems bad also has some good.²
Three years of imprisonment had changed my perception of the world. Not just criminals sit in prisons. During three years of imprisonment I saw not a few innocent inmates -- simple people, representatives of the intelligentsia, religious figures. The latter saw their imprisonment as an ordeal of fate and a thing pleasing to God, and they even considered their death here a holy martyrdom. And, in fact, the fate of the great martyrs befell several of them. May God forgive their sins and grant them a place in heaven, amen!
Sometimes I ask myself: ³Why didn¹t I die?² At times my health reeached such a state that the other prisoners who were looking after me cried as they, seemingly, bid me farewell forever. On the day that I was freed, they said, ³We didn¹t think that we will see you leave here alive and standing on your own feet.² May God confirm their words.
Sometimes completely dark thoughts entered my head.
In order to escape from pessimism more quickly, I thought, in the manner of the ancient philosophers, this world itself is a big prison. The earth was for Adam and Eve its own form of a correctional-labor institution created by God. For the man who thinks it amkes no difference if the prison is large or small. Behind bars you begin to understand that time is the most valuable thing in the world. If the prison is the size of the Earth, you can lose yourself in it. But a cramped, one-man cell is another matter. You understand time, life, and morality as much as your patience allowsŠ
-- Brother, why aren¹t they taking us out for exercise. Maybe we¹ll raise a ³khai ?²-- asked one of the recently arrived as he turned to Yadgar.
-- No, sit quietly. Today a Kazakh will be on guard duty. Ask him to take us to the sauna. Let someone prepare a mulka (a letter, communique, etc.). Whoever has ³air² should also prepare. The Kazakh-captain might request it. Whoever has ³karakhan² give me some. Mine ran out -- said Yadgar.