No Comment — May 9, 2007, 2:42 pm

“Strength is Injustice”

In the center of bustling Tashkent, in what was once the colonizers’ half, a typically Russian provincial city which lacks the distinctive character of the ancient Central Asian cities like Samarkand and Bukhara, stands a monument to Amir Timur, and just to the north of it is Amir Timur Museum, with an enormous turquoise dome. In the rapid process of national myth-making that followed the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, every state had to scramble to invent its past and to identify its historical father-figures. For Uzbekistan, that meant Amir Timur. It didn’t matter that he was a Mongol, nor did it matter that he made a name for himself by slaughtering the Kipchak forefathers of the modern Uzbeks by the tens of thousands, he fit the bill—a proud autocrat with a streak of authoritarian ruthlessness and a determination to spill blood whenever the shock value of the act would enhance his power. Amir Timur could, of course, be rendered into English as Tamerlane.

Inside of the Amir Timur Museum, scrawled around the dome, are great sayings of the great man. Among them I saw this: “Strength is injustice.” No doubt there should have been some space between “in” and “justice,” but I fancy this was done by a sign painter with a dissident streak—or a sense of humor. And indeed, it seems much more appropriate as written.

I recalled my last visit to the museum this morning when I read the account of the prosecution of human rights defender Umida Niyazova. She had been supporting the work of the Tashkent office of Human Rights Watch, an important beacon of light in a pitch-black space. Human Rights Watch documented the massacre of Uzbeks in the Ferghona Valley city of Andijon under the direction of that Amir Timur wannabe, Islam Karimov. The evidence and the story are compelling, but Karimov quickly set about constructing an alternative history and persecuting anyone who dared to challenge it with the truth. There is no mystery as to why Niyazova was prosecuted. It was an act of intimidation against human rights defenders. After trying and convicting her—she was sentenced to six years in prison for disseminating the truth about the massacre in Andijon—she was permitted to go free. First, however, she had to make a confession in open court and denounce her employer.

On these points, we see not the influence of Tamerlane, but of Uzbekistan’s more recent past—to be precise, the legacy of Josef Stalin and his chief prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky. As Arkady Vaksberg teaches us in his masterful book, Stalin’s Prosecutor: The Life of Andrei Vyshinsky, Comrade Stalin was convinced that the essence of any prosecution must be the accused’s confession. Indeed, care must be paid to the exact working and dramatic delivery of the confession. So at times, Comrade Stalin would pick up a pencil and work through the proposed confession texts himself, carefully editing for dramatic effect. And reading this account, I wondered: so how much of this was actually scripted by Karimov?

This is centuries ahead of anything that Amir Timur ever did, he would prefer the terror that emerges from random acts of violence. But no doubt that Amir Timur he would approve of all of this. And after all, there’s a little bit of him in every wannabe dictator—as Kurt Tucholsky’s old Weimar-era cabaret song goes:

Mir ist heut so nach Tamerlan zu Mut—

ein kleines bißchen Tamerlan wär gut

(I have such a longing for Tamerlane today—

A tiny little bit of Tamerlane would be good)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
“Here, a long finger of snow replaced by gray patches of dirt and rock; there, a grayish blob of ice the texture of corduroy, where once a vibrant white patch of snow lay.”
Photograph by the author
Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans

Number of British women killed last fall by lightning conducted through their underwire bras:

2

British women wear heels for fifty-one years on average, from the ages of twelve to sixty-three.

Thousands of employees of McDonald’s protested outside the company’s headquarters near Chicago, demanding their wages be increased to $15 per hour. “I can’t afford any shoes,” said one employee in attendance, “and I want Versace heels.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today