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Victims of Repressions Memorial

Shahidlar Xotirasi Memorial (in the memory of the victims of repressions) was opened on May 12, 2000 on the bank of the Bozsu near the TV tower. This new museum is devoted to raising awareness about repression during the tsarist and Soviet eras. The Memorial occupies 17 hectares. Uzbek historians maintain that the complex is located precisely at the site where "enemies of the people" were executed en masse in the 1930's. From 1920 to 1940 in Uzbekistan alone about 100,000 people were arrested, 13,000 of them were shot. Among the victims of Stalinist repression were such prominent figures as Abdullah Kadiri, Fitrat, Chulpon, Hamza. A park was established there afterwards. The building of the memorial resembles ancient mausoleums.

The complex consists of the park, museum and rotunda with the symbolic nephrite tomb. The tombstone bears the inscriptions in three languages Arabic, English and Uzbek: “The memory of those who died for their country will live forever.”

In the park there is an artificial river made in the form of meander, the Greek symbol of grief and the sign imaging inconstancy of fate. All you can see there is symbolic; all reminds the descendants of the worst thing that ever may happen to the mankind – the slaughter of congeners…  The park is planted with trees brought from various places where our compatriots were in prisons and camps for the repressed. Now it is a peaceful and quiet place of bitter memories…

The Memorial Museum of the Victims of Repressions decorated with the wood carving under the light-blue dome has a lot of window openings and internal lighting.  The Museum contains exhibits on the recent history of the territory that now comprises Uzbekistan, ranging from the first Russian incursions against the Khanate of Khiva (a powerful state from the 16th century until Russia conquered it in 1873) to the "cotton affair" of the 1980s. Many exhibits draw on information culled from the former KGB archives - offering the general public unprecedented exposure to the records of the former Soviet secret police.

Museum focuses mainly on the violent Soviet repression of the Uzbek people, starting with the elimination of the Basmachi uprising after the 1917 Revolution, through Stalin's purges to ethnic cleansing and the gulags. Though the curators are inevitably espousing a very specific message, the displays are informative and help to flesh out understanding of what was, until very recently, a particularly secretive aspect of life in Uzbekistan. The archives are widely used by academics, and the building in which the collection is housed is an attractive affair that incorporates various aspects of traditional Uzbek design.

The beginning of the exposition lacks any explanatory notes in Russian probably because it is dedicated to the period of Russian conquest of Central Asia. Only a brief resume is translated into the Russian language, a minor masterpiece of literature in the genre of the so called alternative history.

Here it is. "Predatory policy of the Tsarist army in the 1860's and 1870's with regard to the Kokand, Hiva, and Buhara emirates encountered ferocious resistance of our forefathers. The aggressors' military superiority enabled them to crush the resistance. The Turkestan province was formed and colonial regime established on the conquered lands. Pursuing its aggressive policy, the Russian Empire inevitably destroyed statehood of the conquered countries and transformed the latter into its colonies. Trampling on the conquered peoples' religious beliefs and national culture and violating their rights, the Tsarist Russia robbed the territories of everything. The best fertile lands were turned over to Russian settlers."

A thorough account of the anti-Russian revolt in Jizak in 1916-1917 is given in the Uzbek language. The uprising was fomented by the attempt to mobilize the local population for rear services in the Russian army fighting World War I. The mobilization was called during the sacred month of Ramadan. Excited by this sacrilege and the rumors that the Russian army was using the Asians as a live shield on the German front, the locals began protesting against the colonial administration and soon enough turned their wrath on the Russians in general.

Displays are arranged in chronological order. The first set of exhibits provides general historical information about the era of the "great game" played between the Russian and British Empires for control of Central Asia. In the next set of display cases, the purpose of the museum comes into better focus as individuals who participated in 19th century anti-tsarist uprisings in Tashkent and Andijon are listed by name, and their fate spelled out: Some were hanged, others exiled or sent to prison.

The bulk of Museum's space is devoted to the Soviet period, especially the Stalinist era. Documents are used to convey a sense of the cold rationality of the Great Terror. In a display on the "dekulakization campaign" of 1932, a chart clearly outlines the number of livestock and personal items "expropriated" from kulaks, or rich peasants. Other display cases show arrest warrants, execution orders, signed confessions, and pleas for family members. Visitors can see a models of a torture cell (2 by 1.5 meters) with droplets of blood on the stone walls, office of an NKVD (state security) investigator with mannequins of the investigator and suspect in it, 3D map of the GULAG camps.

Established by the Bolsheviks, the VChK [or All-Russian Emergency Commission, predecessor of the NKVD and KGB] pressed charges against 450,000 innocents in Uzbekistan between December 1917 and 1939. It was a period when very many people were sentenced to short imprisonment only and released afterwards for the lack of corpus delicti. In 1937 and 1938, however, the state launched a major campaign against enemies of the people, and very many of these people were taken in, tried, and imprisoned again," the note explained. It is these comments that cannot help causing certain associations...

The museum includes historic documents and photographs of that epoch. The central place in the Museum is assigned to the ominous symbol of those hard times, the prison-van of NKVD, the car which used to make people shake with fear. Among other things, you can see there many documents of judicial sentences and newspaper cuttings, imitated dugouts and vans in which convicted people were transported to the camps.

Two other displays merit mention: one concerning World War II - era deportees, including Crimean Tatars, Koreans, and other ethnic groups that allegedly collaborated with the Soviet Union's enemies; the other concerning Moscow's anti-corruption campaign against Uzbek officials in the 1980s, dubbed the "cotton affair." This exhibit also covers the damage done by Soviet central planning to Uzbekistan's environment and public health.

"The Soviet regime went on neglecting and abusing national interests of Uzbekistan. $36 billion worth of cotton and gold were shipped from Uzbekistan to the center in the last fifteen years of existence of the USSR. Sum total of natural resources taken to Moscow in this period exceeded $75 billion. In the 1980's, Compulsory introduction of cotton as the only plant to be cultivated proved to the undoing of the Uzbek people. Cotton fields expanded more and more under the pressure from the center. In the late 1980's, the totalitarian regime transformed Uzbekistan into a zone of its predatory policy through fabrication of the shameful "Cotton Affair" also known as the "Uzbek Affair". Using the methods once preferred by Stalin and Beriya, Gdlyan and Ivanov ruined hundreds of innocents. Charges were pressed against 25,000 honest workers. Of them, 4,500 found themselves facing criminal charges and 3,600 stood trial. It was the will and determination of President Islam Karimov that exposed these political games and machinations on the part of the totalitarian regime and that ended in rehabilitation of the innocents."