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Uzbekistan Through a Mirror Darkly

Women sitting in protest in AndijanThrough the Looking Glass, a film by Monica Whitlock about the scandalously controversial events in Andijan, Uzbekistan in May 2005, was shown at Indiana University on September 14, 2011.  Ms. Whitlock herself attended the screening and was available for Q&A afterwards.

A correspondent for the BBC in Uzbekistan in 2005, Monica Whitlock covered the events that unfolded that year in Andijan, from the arrest of a group of local businessmen to the “silent protest” that developed in opposition to their extended and apparently corrupt trial.   For many, the protests that spring in Andijan turned tragic: hundreds, if not more, were ultimately killed by Uzbek government forces following a violent prison break and a massive demonstration in the city’s central square. 

Although she had left Andijan before the protests there turned bloody, Ms. Whitlock remained riveted by the story and ultimately chose to make a full-length documentary on the events leading up to May 13, 2005 and its aftermath.  In the process, she worked with a group of former Andijan residents closely involved in the events of 2005, but now living abroad, primarily in Sweden.   Her film, a mix of archival video from the non-violent protest leading up the May events, cell-phone footage from the day on which hundreds died, and interviews with eyewitnesses in Sweden, is a striking and often heartbreaking portrait of a situation spiraling further and further out of control.

At IU, Ms. Whitlock was gracious enough to stay after the showing of her film and discuss the events shown in her documentary.  The audience, drawn from across Indiana University’s many departments and schools, showed a keen interest in Ms. Whitlock’s story; many present turned out to have been from the Journalism school and took the chance to speak with an accomplished and professional journalist to heart.  “The questions were really very good,” said Ed Lazzerini, Director of the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center and the film showing’s principal organizer, “and Monica herself was exceptional throughout the Q&A in my opinion…she was very smart and at ease with the audience.” 

The discussion following the film did become at times quite heated, with some audience members contesting the validity of some of the claims made in Ms. Whitlock’s documentary, as well as the basic credibility of those interviewed.  After all, this question-and-answer session provided many the rare opportunity to debate the merits of both the government’s version of what happened in Andijan, as well as that presented by dissidents and those interviewed in Through the Looking Glass.  Craig Perry, a US Army Major and Foreign Area Officer who was placed at the US Army’s Office of Military Cooperation in Tashkent from February to June 2011 and who is now pursuing a M.A. at IU in Russian and East European Studies, pointed out that “With as little is as known about the incident, it is valuable to keeping the unresolved issue open as a discussion.”  In particular, Major Perry recalled, “One gentlemen stated that the film was too one-sided and did not provide any of the criticism that exist about the originally arrested group of men.”  This comment, Perry thought, was notable not only because it brought in information that he hadn’t previously known – but also for how it showed the simultaneously intense but yet affable discussion that was taking place on an important, but  often forgotten topic.

Monica Whitlock’s documentary, Through the Looking Glass, is currently being shown at universities in America, Britain, and Europe.  It is also available for rent from the IAUNRC.