TASHKENT -- Efforts by Uzbek authorities to address the judicial railroading of anti-Soviet insurgents in the 1920s and 1930s have angered Russian pro-Kremlin commentators.
Uzbekistan's Supreme Court earlier this month rehabilitated 120 victims of Soviet-era repression, a move that Russian media have condemned as "anti-Russian".
Those exonerated by the court on January 6 took part in an insurrection against Soviet authorities known as the Basmachi movement, which was active from the 1910s to the 1930s.
In December, the Supreme Court examined six criminal cases from the period in which the majority of the defendants were sentenced to exile or to execution by Soviet secret police (OGPU) "troikas". The three-person courts rapidly issued harsh sentences, including execution, often in absentia and without the possibility of appeal.
The defendants in question included groups of Uzbeks whom the troikas convicted in 1925 and 1930 of "participating in armed resistance".
The troikas' judgments contravened international legal standards, said Anora Sodikova, a journalist who participated in the Supreme Court hearings.
"It was a human rights violation ... All of their judgments are illegal, and the given defendants are eligible for rehabilitation," she told Caravanserai.
Last August, the Supreme Court examined six other criminal cases and rehabilitated 115 defendants who were executed or sent to the Soviet gulag in the 1920s and 1930s.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in October 2020 ordered the creation of a national working group "On Additional Measures for Deeper Study of Victims of Repression's Legacy and for the Perpetuation of Their Memory", which has since created a list of victims of repression.
A complete list of defendants rehabilitated thus far is posted on the website of Uzbekistan's Supreme Court.
They represent just a fraction of those whom Joseph Stalin's regime executed, imprisoned or exiled, according to Sodikova.
The Russian archives have many criminal cases and considerable work remains, she said.
"The relatives of the victims of repression have gained a chance to file claims for financial damages if they have the appropriate documents," Sodikova told Caravanserai.
A resistance movement
The Basmachi movement sought to oust the Soviet regime from Central Asia and to create an independent state there. The word "basmach" comes from the Uzbek word "basma", which means an armed ambush or attack.
Ibragimbek Chakabayev, also known as Ibragim Bek, was one of the leaders of the movement.
From 1919 to 1931, he led organised resistance against the Soviet regime in what is now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, launching cross-border raids from Afghanistan.
The OGPU captured him in June 1931 and shot him two months later. He was 42.
In the early years of the post-Soviet era, some historians began raising the issue of reinterpreting the Basmachi movement, though few seriously pushed for the rehabilitation of its members.
The Basmachi movement should be viewed as a resistance movement against the Soviet regime, said Mavlon Shukurzoda of Tashkent, who has researched the group.
"Although the Basmachi were a heterogeneous group, this was a people's liberation movement that wanted to free its homeland from the Bolsheviks and gain independence," Shukurzoda told Caravanserai.
The rehabilitation process should focus not only on the Basmachi insurgents, said Shukurzoda.
"We also need to rehabilitate the dispossessed kulaks who were sent to other regions of the Soviet Union," he told Caravanserai, referring to a class of prosperous peasants killed or exiled by Stalin.
Modern history textbooks are "behind the times", according to Sodikova, the journalist.
In the post-Soviet period, Uzbek authorities created a "new history of Uzbekistan", but it does not devote enough attention to the Basmachi movement or Stalin's repression, she said.
"Young people know little about the Russian Empire's conquest of Turkestan in the second half of the 19th century, or about the bloody wars that took place in the Emirate of Bukhara and the Khiva and Kokand khanates," she said, referring to the Tsarist seizure of Central Asia.
Young Uzbeks "need to know how our ancestors resisted the Russian conquerors", Sodikova said.
The rehabilitation in Uzbekistan comes as the Kremlin increasingly is attempting to control not only Russia's present but its past as well.
Last December, Russia's Supreme Court ordered Memorial International, an organisation devoted to rehabilitating victims of political repression under Stalin and later, to close its doors over alleged violations of a controversial "foreign agents" law.
Meanwhile, some Russian media outlets are interpreting the Uzbek court's rulings as an anti-Russian act.
"Uzbekistan's decision to rehabilitate the Basmachi who fought against the Bolsheviks in the 1920s is anti-Soviet and, it goes without saying, partially anti-Russian," Vladimir Lepekhin, director of the EurAsEC Institute, told Vzglyad in an article published September 7.
He made his remarks in response to the earlier court ruling in August.
Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin website Rhythm of Eurasia in September claimed that the Basmachi movement was version of Wahhabism in the 1920s, citing alleged British intelligence support for Ibragim Bek.
"The decision by the country's Supreme Court insults the memory of those who fell at the hands of the brutal bandits who cloaked themselves in Islam's slogans," according to an unsigned column on the site.