Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 288- (01/01/05)
Signs show Uzbek stability buckling under economic stress
Uzbekistan's social order is showing signs of buckling under economic stress.
Authorities in Tashkent have consistently insisted that international terrorists
are responsible for the spasms of violence that have shaken the country this
year. But recent rioting in the Ferghana Valley shows that discontent over the
country's sclerotic economy is prompting ordinary Uzbeks to vent their
In what was the most serious expression of popular discontent in recent memory
in Uzbekistan, thousands of Uzbeks staged protests in Ferghana and Kashkadarya
provinces on November 1-2. The most serious rioting occurred in the Ferghana
Valley city of Kokand, where a crowd estimated at about 6,000-strong burned two
police cars and beat three tax inspectors and a police officer. Less violent and
smaller protests were reported in other cities in the valley, including in
Margilan and Ferghana City.
The disturbances were sparked by official efforts to crack down on small-time
entrepreneurs, mostly traders who operated in open-air bazaars. New legislation
requires traders to obtain a government license to sell their goods, while
prohibiting them from obtaining goods from intermediary wholesalers. The
imposition of these new regulations, heaped on top of an already burdensome
tariff policy, is seen by most traders as threatening their ability to operate.
Adding to the outrage, tax inspectors, in their attempt to enforce the new
rules, reportedly engaged in the widespread and arbitrary confiscation of goods.
A more serious confrontation in Kokand may have been averted by Mayor Maruf
Usmonov's pledge to address the rioters' complaints. However, the region's new
governor, Shermat Nurmatov, has taken subsequent steps suggesting a forceful
response could meet future expressions of popular discontent. Nurmatov
reportedly removed seven district chiefs, installing in their place, in most
instances, officials with experience in the state's law-enforcement apparatus.
The recent rioting undermines repeated assertions by President Islam Karimov's
administration that unrest is solely the product of an international terrorist
conspiracy. In particular, the government has maintained that a global Islamic
radical network was responsible for four days of street fighting in March, and
for a series of suicide bombings in late July. In both cases, officials have not
produced concrete evidence to substantiate their allegations. Many political
analysts contend that the root causes for Uzbek violence are primarily domestic
Over the past five years, Uzbek authorities have conducted a campaign to
eradicate unsanctioned forms of Islamic religious expression in the country.
Human rights groups estimate that at least 7,000 believers have been imprisoned
in connection with the crackdown, which has intensified in the wake of the March
and July incidents. A particular target of the crackdown is Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an
underground group that espouses the non-violent overthrow of Karimov's
Uzbek courts in recent months have sentenced dozens of alleged Hizb members to
lengthy prison terms for attempting "to overthrow Uzbekistan's
constitutional order." The crackdown, however, does not appear to be an
effective in containing the movement. Some political observers suggest that the
government's restrictive policies do more to fill the movement's ranks than they
do to deplete them. One Hizb representative, a Tashkent resident who identified
himself only as Ulugbek, predicted that a popular backlash to the crackdown
could eventually consume the government.
"More and more people join us," Ulugbek said. "They are
desperate. They want justice. They have little left to lose and they are
starting to lose their fear."
There is circumstantial evidence suggesting that the country's economic distress
is developing into a source of terrorism. Specifically, mostly anecdotal data
shows that Uzbekistan is experiencing a significant rise in its suicide rate - a
phenomenon that many experts link directly to the country's economic decline. At
the same time, suicide bombings featured prominently in the March and July
violence. This has prompted some political analysts to speculate that Islamic
radical groups - regardless of whether they are home-grown or foreign in origin
-- may be trying to harness what is largely economically related despair for
political ends. One sociologist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
Uzbekistan now has no shortage of candidates to become suicide bombers.
During a news conference in September, Karimov himself voiced concern about the
phenomenon. Without offering any proof, the Uzbek leader claimed that Islamic
radicals were operating "camps [devoted to] training suicide bombers."
Officials deny that the suicide rate in Uzbekistan is a cause for concern.
Feruza Alimova, a top official at the Ministry of Health, fixed the rate at 7.8
per 100,000, according to figures compiled in 1999. By comparison, recent
statistics show the suicide rate in neighbouring Kazakhstan approaches 40 per
100,000. Russia's rate is close to that of Kazakhstan's.
Independent experts believe Uzbek official figures to significantly undercount
the number of those taking their own lives. Getting a precise reading on the
suicide rate in Uzbekistan is virtually impossible, as the government has deemed
such data to be a state secret. However, a review of police reports for the
first seven months of 2004 in Angren, a city of roughly 160,000 near Tashkent,
found that there were at least 34 deaths ruled suicides during that timeframe.
The data indicates that the local suicide rate far exceeds 30 per 100,000.
Even if Islamic radicals are unable to exploit those with suicidal tendencies to
carry out future bombing missions, reports on the sharp increase in the suicide
rate should serve as a warning to Uzbek authorities that societal unrest is
brewing. Karimov's administration, however, has steadfastly refused to recognize
any connection between government policy and expressions of popular discontent.
Uzbekistan Khavo Iullari passenger transport up 11%
Uzbekistan Khavo Iullari, the national airline, carried 682,200 passengers in
the first nine months the last year, up 10.7 per cent for the same period in the
previous year, the state statistics department said recently, Interfax News
Passenger turnover was up 19.1 per cent to 3.412bn passenger-kilometres.
Uzbekistan Khavo Ilullari is the airline monopoly in Uzbekistan. Cargo transport
shrank 3.5 per cent to 4,500 tonnes and cargo turnover increased 27 per cent to
87.5m tonne-kilometres. Turnover was up due to increased cargo transport on
international flights. The commercial load ratio was down 1.4 percentage points
to 4.3 per cent. The airline carried 822,200 passengers in 2003, down 3.7 per
cent from 2002. Passenger turnover was up 1.1 per cent in 2003 to 3.956bn
Karimov, Niyazov sign cooperation treaty
The presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Islam Karimov and Saparmurat
Niyazov respectively, signed a treaty of friendship, cooperation and
confidence-building measures, Interfax News Agency reported.
The signing ceremony took place following talks between the two countries'
delegations in Bukhara recently.
In addition to the treaty, two inter-government agreements emerged introducing
simplified travel regulations for citizens living in border areas and people
working at enterprises along the border. Among other issues, the agenda for the
negotiations included prospects for Uzbek-Turkmen cooperation, regional
security, the fight against international terrorism, and the situation in
Central Asia and Afghanistan, the presidents said.
Karimov also presented Niyazov with a car produced by the UZ-Daewoo joint
venture. Commenting on trade and business ties between Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan, Karimov said representatives of the two nations would hold trade
talks in the near future.
"We want Uzbek products to be sold in Turkmenistan and Turkmen goods to be
available on the Uzbek market," he said. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
established diplomatic relations in January 1993, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry
said. More than 100 bilateral documents have been signed between the two
countries. Their commission for bilateral cooperation was set up in 1996. Last
year's trade turnover between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan stood at €89.5m.
This figure totalled €146.5m in the first nine months of last year.