“We are in a real sense culpable” – Craig Murray on the aftermath of the Uzbek massacres

The Financial Times Magazine – Comment piece from Craig Murray: I have lost count of the number of journalists who have asked me ‘Do you feel vindicated?’ My replies to that one have been unprintable. How can you feel vindicated by several hundred dead people? Mostly I just feel miserable. I think we are in a real sense culpable. It is Western support for Karimov that gives him such arrogant assurance in gunning down his opponents.

Ever since I heard ‘ by email about three weeks ago – that street protests were taking off in Andizhan ‘ I had been longing to be there. I would never get a visa, but was speculating about getting over from Kirghizstan on a smuggler’s route. Once the massacre happened sections of border were out of control for a few days. I desperately wanted to go. Annoyingly, I have to go into hospital tomorrow for a heart operation on Monday. I have been trying to convince myself that I have done more good by media work here.

That desire to be there did not entail a longing to be British Ambassador again. At least, not until Wednesday, when I saw reports of the pathetic trip by diplomats to inspect the scene. I had predicted on ITN that this would be ‘a nauseating propaganda charade’. It was. They travelled in a tightly controlled convoy on a sealed off route. The blood had been hosed away. The government dictated who they could meet. The only civilian was the father of a dead soldier. This charabanc trip ended an hour and a half before they expected ‘ Karimov doesn’t just get the buses to run on time, they even run early. The bulk of the time was taken in a formal banquet.

My successor, David Moran, bleated ‘Can we not meet some people?’ Of course you can. At that moment I wished I was back in his shoes. You just walk out, pushing past the soldiers, down to the bazaar, and talk to people. One of my more delightful memories was of Clare Short doing exactly that in May 2003, to the huge consternation of the regime. You, David, are one of the tiny number of people in Uzbekistan they can’t shoot. No-one physically forced you to spend the bulk of your precious time in Andizhan on your arse.

I have been keeping up with events both from phone and email contacts to Uzbekistan, and via the internet. I see The Australian has reported I had a habit of manhandling obstructive Uzbek officials (how did they know?). I wouldn’t call it a habit, but you do sometimes have to show in a totalitarian state that you are not going to be obstructed in your work. To be fair to David Moran, his semi-protest showed at least some backbone; it was more than most of my senior ex-colleagues would have done.

The next day we had the Uzbek Prokurator General announcing that 170 people had, after all, been killed but that they were all armed rebels. I did feel vindicated by the sheer disbelief that greeted this. Here is why.

In March 2004 there were a series of explosions and shootings in Tashkent, in which at least thirty people died. I dashed round to the scene of each incident, arriving within hours or even minutes, accompanied by Giles Whittell of the Times who had just walked in to the Embassy to interview me.

Suicide bombers from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, linked to Al Qaida, had carried out a series of attacks on security forces. That remains the internationally accepted version of events. But it isn’t true.

I attended the briefings the Prokurator General gave to journalists and diplomats. His claims were completely incompatible with the facts I observed. He said suicide belts had been used each with the force of two kilos of TNT. But at the sites there just wasn’t the physical damage. Not so much as a cracked paving stone, let alone a crater. The first ‘bomb’ had been in a roughly triangular courtyard thirty metres wide at maximum. Allegedly six soldiers and a suicide bomber had been killed. Not a pane of glass was broken in the buildings overlooking the courtyard, not a branch or sprig torn from the tree in the centre.

My reports that the Prokurator General was lying through his teeth brought me startled reproof from my management in London. You see, the attacks by Islamic terrorists fitted our narrative. So I feel a personal relief that the lies are at last being exposed.