Books on Uzbekistan
355 - (25/07/10)
What happens next?
Uzbekistan is beset by many a problem. Not least is the succession to the
president who, according to rumour, is dying.
He would undoubtedly wish one of his own to succeed. President Islam Karimov's
daughter Gulnara Karimova serves as the country's ambassador to Spain as well as
performing as a pop star. Her songs are rotated on state television. She is his
But these rumours of his imminent demise have been going on for years. Yet he
Russia peers into Kyrgyz Void
It would seem that the Uzbek government’s handling of the mid-June refugee
crisis, in which roughly 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan fled to
Uzbekistan, has given President Karimov’s administration a significant boost.
Foreign observers in Tashkent have generally lauded the Uzbek government’s
response to the humanitarian crisis. In particular, the Karimov administration’s
restrained political stance played an important role in keeping the violence in
southern Kyrgyzstan from spreading, observers believe.
The government’s actions also have caused some Uzbek citizens to view the
government, which has had the reputation of being one of Central Asia’s most
repressive, in a new light.
The influx of refugees posed a logistical challenge for Uzbek officials that
required an unprecedented marshalling of resources. Over the course of a few
days in mid-June, between 80,000 and 100,000 – mostly women, children, and
elderly – crossed into Uzbekistan and required emergency assistance.
In recent years, the Uzbek government has been widely portrayed as bloated,
heavily corrupt, and vastly inefficient. Of late, Karimov’s administration has
faced international scorn for its continuing reliance on child labour in the
But foreign observers found the Uzbek response to the humanitarian crisis to be
strong. A functioning chain of command, involving national and local government
officials, helped coordinate the handling of the refugee surge. Foreign visitors
to the Fergana Valley were “surprised at the quality of service for refugees at
the border,” said a long-time foreign observer based in Tashkent.
Government officials set up triage stations near the border. Officials directed
refugees to shelters at schools, summer camps, cotton collection facilities,
dormitories, sanatoria, and the Andijan stadium. Some refugees melted away into
homes of relatives or others who simply opened their homes to those in need,
confirmed a UNICEF official.
In addition, local Uzbeks spontaneously provided food and other forms of
assistance to refugees, international observers noted. Appeals broadcast on
state-run media, as well distributed via text messages, helped galvanize public
support for the refugees.
From the start of the crisis, the Uzbek government seemed aware of the
possibility that violence could spin out of control and spread across the
border. In an apparent effort to tamp down tension, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs issued a statement on June 12 saying the violence against ethnic Uzbeks
in Kyrgyzstan was perpetrated by those seeking to provoke confrontation. It did
not stem from ancient ethnic hatreds, the statement stressed.
During the early days of the crisis, there existed a strong desire for revenge
among refugees, according to numerous observers. One visitor to the refugee
camps noted that many survivors reported that “they were waiting for just one
word from the president [Karimov] to exact revenge.” It never came. Karimov
seemed preoccupied with keeping the violence contained. Authorities closed the
border to Kyrgyzstan from Uzbekistan to lessen the chance of Uzbek nationals
travelling into Kyrgyzstan bent on seeking rough justice.
To a certain extent, the Karimov administration’s effort to keep the mood for
revenge in check was motivated by a self-preservation instinct. Many Uzbeks
revile the government for its interventionist economic policies and its
heavy-handed crackdown on personal liberties. Public dissatisfaction with the
government over the years has sparked protests, and played a prominent role in
the 2005 Andijan massacre.
Accordingly, officials in Tashkent certainly have no desire these days to see
Uzbeks on either side of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border get their hands on guns.
Officials remain concerned that ire focused on Kyrgyzstan today could be one day
redirected toward the Karimov administration.
To date, there have been no reports of acts of retribution against the sizable
Kyrgyz population in Uzbekistan’s portion of the Fergana Valley, and many
Uzbekistan nationals seem to share the official view that the ethnic strife was
stirred up by “outsiders” and was a by-product of dysfunctional Kyrgyz politics;
Kyrgyzstan is often disdained in Uzbekistan for its chaotic, unstable polity.
The Karimov administration’s actions fostered a sense of pride among many -- in
both the president personally and in his government. “I am proud of my
president,” said an Uzbek national who was studying at a university in Osh and
who spent five days in hiding before being able to make his way back home. His
response was typical.
Refugees themselves have complained that Uzbek authorities pressured them to
return to Kyrgyzstan before they felt it was safe to do so. But such complaints
have not resonated widely with Uzbeks in Uzbekistan.
Some foreign observers say the refugee crisis caused the Uzbek government to
open up. Prior to June, as the long-time foreign observer based in Tashkent
noted, government efforts to relate its point of view had been virtually
nonexistent. The observer described the government’s communications strategy as
stuck “in the Soviet period.”
“There is no communication, no nothing,” the observer said. “They just don’t
However, during the height of the refugee crisis, the Uzbek government appeared
to embrace candour. Officials invited foreign observers to visit refugee sites,
including delegations from the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF,
the World Health Organization, and the OSCE. In perhaps the most surprising of
shifts, the British Broadcasting Corporation was invited to film at refugee
camps. The operations of the BBC and virtually all other foreign media outlets
were shut down in Uzbekistan following the 2005 Andijan events.
“It’s a new attitude,” said the Tashkent-based observer. “It’s the first time
the government started to communicate.”
Whether the government can build on this shift – which another longtime resident
described as “transformative” – will be known only with the passage of time. It
is also an open question as to whether Tashkent would again open its borders to
ethnic Uzbeks, if Kyrgyzstan experienced another bout of instability.
10th SCO Summit Opens in Tashkent
Whatever Westerners think of it, the regime in Tashkent counts in Asia. The 10th
annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) opened in the Uzbek
capital of Tashkent in mid-June. The summit focussed on the strengthening of
regional security, economic development and the war on terror.
Leaders from six member countries were joined by other non-member states such as
India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan as observer nations to discuss the problems
and challenges that the region is facing.
The summit was officially opened with a statement by the President of
Uzbekistan, who among other issues pointed at the threat of terrorism and
narcotics that continue to endanger the region. The response, he suggested must
be a collective and a unified one involving all countries in the region.
Speakers primarily touched upon the current situation in Central Asia,
Afghanistan, the fight against narcotics and terrorism as well as transnational
organized crimes as the issues of common interest.
Leaders of the SCO member states unanimously agreed that it was a collective
obligation of all to help Afghanistan and expand their role through a
strengthened SCO Afghanistan contact group.
On the issue of peace and stability for the region, participants were of a
common view that peace in Afghanistan means peace in central Asia and in the
entire region and suggested that solution for the problem in Afghanistan went
beyond military means and requires enhanced economic assistance and stronger
Addressing the gathering of leaders, President Karzai thanked President of
Uzbekistan for hosting the summit and for the hospitality and thanked SCO member
states for the continued attention to the issues of Afghanistan.
On the challenges and the problems Afghanistan has been facing, the President
described how the three decades of war and destruction has contributed to the
growth of narcotics and insecurity in Afghanistan.
The President said Afghanistan’s ability to ensure a lasting solution to the
issues fully depended on our neighbors’ willingness to fight terrorism and
On the need for elimination of narcotics, President Hamid Karzai said it was
important first to ensure an enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan, an
intensified fight against international networks of drug mafia and the ability
on the part of other countries to make sure chemical precursors are prevented
from coming to Afghanistan to convert opium to heroin. The President warned that
if there is not enough cooperation, the threat Afghanistan is facing now will
spread to the countries in region. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
is an intergovernmental mutual-security organization founded in 2001 by the
leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. These countries
are the members of the SCO. India, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan also participate in
SCO work under observer status.
It was agreed at the summit that the next annual meeting of the SCO member
states be held in Kazakhstan.