Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 291- (29/03/05)
Fears of the 'Kyrgyz infection'
Navruz, the festival of spring, is a traditional time of merriment for Central
Asia's Muslims. This year, however, Navruz is a time of worry for President
Islam Karimov's administration in Uzbekistan.
During the run up to the holiday, Uzbek authorities tightened security in the
capital Tashkent. Police closely monitored the movement of people heading in and
out of the capital, closing public areas, and limiting attendance at official
Several factors were contributing to the heightened sense of precaution
maintained by Karimov's administration. Officials, for one, were well aware that
the first anniversary of a four-day uprising by Islamic radical forces is
approaching. More importantly, however, Uzbek leaders are worried about the
fallout from the political upheaval in Georgia and Ukraine, where mass protests
pushed incumbent authorities from power, and from the turbulent situation in
Kyrgyzstan next door.
Concerns among officials in Tashkent were greatly heightened by the continuing
confrontation in March in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where anti-government
protesters appear to have wrested control of southern provinces away from
President Askar Akayev. The Kyrgyz tumult has potentially profound ramifications
for Uzbekistan, given that the twin centres of revolutionary ferment in
Kyrgyzstan - Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces - border restive Uzbek regions in the
Ferghana Valley. Southern Kyrgyzstan is also the home to a substantial ethnic
Uzbek minority. There is an ethnic overspill in the Fergana valley between
Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Tajiks, dating back for generations, which long precedes any
ideas of state boundaries between these three political entities.
In response to the revolutionary impulses coming out of Georgia and Ukraine,
Uzbek authorities introduced measures designed to discourage the ability of
people to congregate in public places, and to increase the ability of officials
to monitor the movements of citizens. In late 2004, reacting to burdensome
government regulations, merchants rallied in several large and heated protests
in provincial bazaars. To help prevent such unrest in Tashkent, law-enforcement
officers have kept the open-air section of the Chorsu Bazaar closed since
November. Authorities attribute the closure to the construction of a bridge
located several hundred meters away from the bazaar. The bazaar was the scene of
suicide bombings during the late March 2004 Islamic radical uprising.
The security measures have created new opportunities for corrupt practices. In
the case of the Chorsu Bazaar, what was once a bustling social centre for
peddlers and shoppers has since been reduced to a fenced lot containing a
handful of merchants who can afford to pay bribes to the police.
Throughout Tashkent, police have intensified enforcement of the propiska
(residency permit) regime. The system, implemented by Joseph Stalin during the
Soviet era, limits freedom of movement by imposing a residency requirement on
those seeking to work legally and gain access to social services in a particular
town or city.
In July 2004, following a series of suicide bombings outside the Prosecutor
General's office and the US and Israeli embassies, police and mahalla committees
swept the city and expelled those not officially registered as residents of
Tashkent. A similar security sweep was carried out in Tashkent as Navruz
Possibly in response to the major role played by student activists in the recent
revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, the Karimov administration seems keen to
keep students from gathering in public in the capital. Usually packed with buses
of students from around the country, the parking lots and streets surrounding
the Alisher Navoi Garden were nearly empty during this year's preparations for
Navruz. The Navruz Pavilion, in the centre of the Garden, was active with
preparations for the official concert and dancing celebration, but
groundskeepers and event staff said that in comparison with previous years, this
year's event would be much smaller.
Even for foreign diplomats and dignitaries, invitations from the Tashkent city
government were few and far between. Only a few Americans diplomats received
invitations, not, it may be noted, British ones, after a significant diplomatic
rumpus between London and Tashkent.
Play of Murray's story to open on the London stage
Uzbekistan is a grim Central Asian dictatorship, the convolutions of which
are often difficult to fathom. There is one Westerner who claimed to have done
so, the former UK ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray.
The experiences of Britain's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, who was ousted
after false allegations that he offered visas for sex, drove an embassy car down
a flight of steps and drank to excess, are to be turned into a play by a leading
Max Stafford-Clark is planning a dramatic reconstruction of Craig Murray's
treatment by the Foreign Office for the London stage. The play, Talking to
Terrorists, a co-production between Stafford-Clark's London-based company Out of
Joint and the Royal Court Theatre, is expected to open in 2005. It is hoped that
Jack Straw and prime minister, Tony Blair, will be invited to the First Night.
Edinburgh-born Murray was suspended from his post in Tashkent after condemning
human rights abuses by the Uzbek government. He was recalled to Britain last
year and charged with 18 disciplinary offences. Although subsequently cleared of
all allegations, he is still facing misconduct charges for speaking publicly
about the dispute.
"Craig has talked publicly about violence by the state against people, so
it would be fascinating to have him talk about that," said Stafford-Clark,
former artistic director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and London's Royal
Court. "We hope to meet him to discuss his experiences - what he says could
be used as a text in the play, possibly with an actor playing him."
Murray is suing the Foreign Office, claiming that he was falsely accused of
trading visas for sex in an attempt to force him to resign. He has hired Gareth
Peirce, the human rights lawyer, who will work alongside lawyers from Matrix
Chambers, Cherie Booth's legal firm, on a no-win, no-fee basis.
He plans to force Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, to appear in court to
explain his involvement in the case and to establish whether the American
government put pressure on Downing Street to get rid of him. "I am more
than happy to speak to Mr Stafford-Clark and give him some real life incidents
he might want to put into his play, although there's something scary about the
idea of someone playing me," he said.
The diplomat, who spent his childhood in South Queensferry, has suffered a
nervous breakdown and a pulmonary embolism in his lung, which has resulted in a
serious heart condition.
He was recalled to Britain last year and charged with 18 disciplinary offences.
Although subsequently cleared of all allegations, he is still facing misconduct
charges for speaking publicly about the dispute. The diplomat intends to sue the
Foreign Office for bringing the "vexatious" disciplinary charges as
part of a smear campaign to make him resign.
He admitted to having an affair with Nadira Alieva, a 22-year-old Uzbek
hairdresser. Fiona, his wife of 20 years, left him and returned to Britain with
their children, Jamie, 15, and Emily, 9.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Craig will know our rules about
outside employment and it would be normal for him to contact us about things
that he does outside the office. This is the first we have heard about this.
Once we have full details we can look into it."
Cotton and the child labour scandal
That Craig is right that appalling things are going on in Uzbekistan is
shown by a harrowing story that has recently come to light.
When Fazliddin Akhrorov was ordered by officials in the Central Asian republic
of Uzbekistan to give up his studies and pick cotton for three months, he at
first refused. Threatened with expulsion from his institute, he was taken away.
Within three weeks the healthy 16-year-old was dead.
The authorities claimed Akhrorov, an agricultural student, had suffered a liver
disease, but when his body was returned to his family it had bruises on the face
and shoulders. Two years later his mother, Ugoloy Igamkula, still does not know
what happened. She received no apology and no compensation.
In the past two years several children and university students forced to work in
the country's vast cotton fields have died in mysterious circumstances. "My
son died at the hands of the state," said Igamkula. "He was either
beaten to death or died because he was made to handle pesticides without proper
protection. At first the authorities sought to cover up his death. I was told he
was in hospital. I cooked him a meal and rushed to his bedside only to find out
that he had already died."
A damning report, issued by International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think
tank, claims that every year thousands of schoolchildren, some as young as
seven, are forced into the fields of the former Soviet central Asian republics
to pick cotton later sold to big western traders.
The practice is most widespread in Uzbekistan, the world's fifth largest cotton
exporter and one of the world's most repressive regimes. Illegal child labour is
also present in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. "All three countries outlaw
child labour, and occasionally they issue declarations denying it exists,"
the report, The Curse of Cotton, claims. "Yet, during any given harvest,
the cotton fields will be full of children, some very young."
Often the children are forced to spray dangerous chemicals with no protection
and left to drink contaminated water. In many cases they are not paid. Those who
are receive less than £50 for the entire season. Anyone refusing to take part
can face fines, expulsion from school and beatings.
A spokesman for Cargill, a US company with offices in London and Liverpool that
buys cotton from Central Asia, said that to its knowledge children who picked
cotton did so to help their parents during the harvest. Thomas Reinhart, who
runs a Swiss family-owned company that is one of the biggest traders in Central
Asian cotton, said he had never heard of the use of child labour in the region.
"We buy our cotton from government agencies and don't know what happens out
in the fields," he said.
Ignorance is bliss.
Gazprom signs gas contracts with Uzbekistan
Russian gas monopoly OAO Gazprom and Uzbekistan's Uztransgaz have signed
contracts to transport Central Asian gas through Uzbekistan and to buy five
billion cubic metres of Uzbek gas in 2005, New Europe reported recently.
Gazprom said these documents were signed during a visit to Uzbekistan by a
Gazprom delegation headed by deputy CEOs, Yury Komarov, and Alexander Ryazonov.
Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz last year signed a strategic cooperation agreement
that envisions long-term shipments of Uzbek gas for 2003-2012, joint projects in
gas production under production sharing agreements, and also the development of
gas transport infrastructure in Uzbekistan and the transportation of Central
Asian gas through the republic.
A pilot gas production project is a PSA for the restoration of gas production at
the Shakhpakhty field in Ustyurt region, which will open the way for larger gas
"The conditions of the contract to buy gas did not change compared with
2004, and the transit contract conditions remained at practically the previous
Gazprom also said that the sides agreed to expand cooperation between Russia and
Uzbekistan in the gas sector in line with an agreement on strategic cooperation.