It is with a heavy heart that I write to you about the activities of Shirin Akiner in acting as a propagandist for the Karimov regime of Uzbekistan. I am very reluctant to do so because I am a passionate believer in academic freedom and the right to express even the most unorthodox of views. However I feel that in her activities in attempting to justify the Andizhan massacre, Ms Akiner has entered the realm of deliberate dishonesty, and demonstrably departed from standards of academic method in a way that SOAS cannot ignore.
Ms Akiner has lied about the origin of her visit to Andizhan as a guest of the Uzbek government. She claims she was in Tashkent anyway, and accepted an unexpected invitation issued on the spot. In fact the Uzbek Ambassador to London, Mr Riskiev, had told a British businessman in London many days before this that the Uzbek government was countering the possible imposition of sanctions by sending Shirin Akiner to produce a report to give credibility to the Uzbek government’s version of the massacre. The businessman immediately told me, so I knew of her visit to Andizhan before Akiner alleges that she did.
On the question of academic method, Akiner operated under the direct supervision of Uzbek government officials. She only spoke to alleged witnesses in the presence of government officials, and indeed I believe it was almost always the regional governor himself, the Hokkim of Andizhan, who was with her. The idea that in a totalitarian state evidence of an alleged government atrocity can be gained by allowing the government to produce the witnesses, and interviewing them in the presence of government officials, is ludicrous, as any decent academic would recognise. It seems to me that on this particular point there is evidence for SOAS to speak to Ms Akiner.
Her account of what happened agrees perfectly with the Uzbek government’s account, which is unsurprising in the circumstances. Her account contrasts sharply with the excellent report by Human Rights Watch, compiled after decent individual interviews with twenty times as many individuals as Akiner interviewed individually, and in the case of HRW, interviewed without the presence of government officials. Akiner’s account also differs from those of journalistic eyewitnesses, including that of Galima Burkabaeva, a reporter for CNN I have known well for three years who was present throughout the events in Andizhan. Galima is now a postgraduate student at Columbia University, and I discussed these matters with her last week.
Burkabaeva says that Akiner’s account is completely incompatible with the truth. In both Washington and New York I found that my audiences – including Columbia University, the American Bar Association and the Brookings Institute – were simply astonished at the propaganda tour of the United States Akiner recently undertook. With the exception of a tiny number of the most extreme neo-conservatives, everyone asked me – literally scores of people – why SOAS was working for the government of Uzbekistan. I do not believe you are aware of the damage Akiner is doing to the reputation of your institution.
Let me be quite plain. I am not seeking to stop Akiner supporting the Uzbek government. Her political views are her own business. I am accusing her of deliberate abandonment of academic method in her Andizhan investigation, in order to produce a desired propaganda result. I presume that she preaches the resulting falsehoods not only in the States, not only on Channel 4 News last night, but also to your students.
I should be most grateful if you would refer this email to the SOAS ethics committee.
One final question. In Uzbekistan everybody, no matter what subject they are studying and at what level, is required to study the works of President Karimov. This starts at elementary school and extends up to PhD. I met one brilliant mathematician who had just submitted their mathematics PhD, but was very worried about the compulsory examination where they had to reproduce and praise passages of Karimov’s books.
I was recently told that Akiner curried favour with Karimov some years ago by securing SOAS funds and other resources for translating Karimov’s execrable books into English. I should like to know if that is true.
UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan 2002-4