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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

Books on Uzbekistan

Update No: 352 - (25/04/10)

The Kyrgyz trauma
Kyrgyzstan has erupted in revolution yet again. It had the Tulip Revolution in early 2005.

But the neighbouring Uzbek regime reacted viciously when an upheaval occurred in Andijon in the Ferghana Valley, an area that stretches into Krygyzstan, on May 13 of that fateful year. It had hundreds of people shot. Trouble ended.

An insight from way back could help us here. Russian ethnographer Vladimir Nalivkin wrote in an 1813 essay contrasting "Stan" nations -- including the "settled" Uzbeks and the nomadic Kyrgyz:

"The Khan treats settled people like a herd that he allows to graze, mercilessly beats, and incessantly shears. These people have lost any traces of belligerence; they realize their weakness and silently resign themselves to this tyranny. On the other hand, the Kyrgyz are freedom-loving and belligerent, so that from time to time they have rebuffed and inspired fear even within the Khan's army."

Contrary thoughts
Writing 197 years later in the UK newspaper, ‘The Independent’ Shaun Walker thinks otherwise.

Inspired by the national uprising resulting in the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, he has suggested that the next "Stan" to blow up -- "and where if turmoil does come it is likely to be the bloodiest" -- is Uzbekistan.

His argument is essentially that many of the complaints that the Kyrgyz people have against ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev are also on people's minds in Uzbekistan, only in an even more exaggerated form. The collapse of the Kyrgyz administration might therefore "put thoughts of revolution into the heads of Uzbeks," according to Walker:

"In Uzbekistan, a similar process has been under way. The president's daughter, Gulnara Karimova, is a glamorous, Harvard-educated socialite based in Geneva, and, according to Mr Murray and others, controls the regime's billions of dollars of assets through the Zeromax Company. She has her own jewellery and fashion lines, and occasionally releases saccharine pop songs. She is also said to have provided the money for one of the regime's biggest vanity projects – the Bunyodkor football club, based in the capital Tashkent. The side, which plays in the obscure Uzbek League, has paid millions to lure stars such as the Brazilian Rivaldo to play for them, and last year recruited former Brazil and Chelsea boss Luis Felipe Scolari to manage the team, giving him the highest salary of any football manager in the world.

Amid all of this, ordinary Uzbeks live in crushing poverty, with no free press and in fear of the rapacious security services. The country's border with Kyrgyzstan has been shut off since the unrest began last week, and the Uzbek authorities have ensured that local media do not cover the uprising. Nevertheless, the fear for the Uzbek regime will be that news of the collapse of the Kyrgyz regime may put thoughts of revolution into the heads of Uzbeks."

Yet further contrary thoughts
But invoking the Kyrgyz experience to explain Uzbeks rings hollow.

It's not that Uzbeks are afraid of a few broken windows or cars set on fire. It's just that if there is any notion of revolution in Uzbek heads, it is crowded out by the events of May 2005, when Karimov's troops killed hundreds of demonstrators in the eastern town of Andijon, as we have mentioned already.

So if Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution was fuelled as much by alcohol as conventional wisdom has it, one can wonder how much Uzbeks must drink to overcome their fear of Karimov's brutality. His regime has been annihilating the opposition and freedoms for some time, and the result of that evolution is a situation that is difficult to change. It's about more than just President Karimov. Uzbeks have also evolved the way they are -- prone to patience and hope without action regardless of oppression and tyranny.

The Uzbek path of repression
One of the most totalitarian and repressive countries in the world is trying to form its own definition of cultural progress. Recently, the authorities in Uzbekistan have been arresting not only human activists, but also religious minorities, artists and health practitioners on the grounds of "disrespecting Uzbek culture and people".

This begs the very basic question, what is culture? One of the most accepted definitions, found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines culture as "the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations."

Historically, this pattern for the transmission of knowledge in Uzbekistan has been incredibly rich. An important location on the Silk Road route, the territory of Uzbekistan has been home to artists and spiritual leaders such as Alisher Navoi (15th century), famous for the cyclical collection of poems, The Hamsa; historians such as Abu Rayhan al-Bruni (11th century) who wrote a pioneering study on India; and leading medics like Ibn Sina (11th century), who wrote The Cannon of Medicine. Once porous to the ideas and information that the Silk Road carried, the World Heritage Site cities of Buhkara and Samarkand attest to the fact that Uzbekistan was a land where ideas were born and arts flourished: a haven for intellectuals.

Since President Karimov came to power in 1991, however, the Uzbek intelligentsia has been virtually deprived of the freedoms inherent in cultural development. Citizens cannot form associations without prior approval from the government, which is often restricted on a number of politically motivated grounds. Since the Andjian Massacre of 2005, where the government opened fire on protesters and killed as many as 500 people, more than 300 NGOs have been forced to close operations. And this is despite the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protecting the freedom of association, was the first international legal document which Uzbekistan signed after proclaiming independence.

The legal barrier to freedom of association restricts the ability of groups of people to form organisations which can receive grants, conduct activities, and express a collective voice and positions on issues ranging from government elections to healthcare to gardening. Numerous religious minorities such as the Hare Krishnas, Baptists, and even minority Islamic sects have been refused registration again and again, essentially prohibiting alternative spiritual rights development in the country.

Besides restricting the development of collective thought and action, the Karimov regime has kept tight reins on the type of information which can flow inside the country. The media is fully censored, and websites such as the BBC World Service and Wordpress are unavailable, making it extremely difficult for Uzbek citizens to exchange information with the outside world. Even inside the country, the media is forced to practice a form of self-censorship, muting any remotely oppositional points of view for fear of closure and arrest. Any perceived political opposition is subject to heavy surveillance, arbitrary short-term house arrest, and compromise of phone lines and email inboxes.

In the past year, persecution of independent thought has spread over into non-political spheres. One no longer needs to be in opposition to the government to fear persecution. It is enough to be in some way perceived to be in opposition to the culture of Uzbekistan, to be viewed as enemy of the state. Recently, the arrests of an ethnological photographer and sex education worker on such grounds have demonstrated that the culture of contemporary Uzbekistan has no space for the flow of new information or generation of knowledge for the improvement of future generations.

A clear example of this is the case of Umida Akhmedova. In February 2010, Akhmedova, an Uzbek photographer, was found guilty of "libel" and "insult" charges for her photographic and cinematographic work documenting the lives and culture of the Uzbek people. Her works featured the Uzbek countryside, contrasts between the modern and traditional, and life in the streets. The court decided, with the help of "expert testimonies", that her art essentially did not portray the country in the right way. Although Umida was granted presidential amnesty, in large due to international pressure, the verdict set a new precedent for the Uzbek intelligentsia. No longer can artists exercise their freedom of expression without an overarching fear that the government may decide that their work is "insulting" to the culture of Uzbekistan, and is therefore grounds for imprisonment.

In another case, a health practitioner, Maksim Popov was sentenced to seven years in prison apparently as punishment for his work to raise public awareness on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Popov was the leader of NGO Izis, which focuses on work with drug addicts, sex workers and on HIV prevention. He is also the author of the book HIV and Aids Today, which was published with the support of UNICEF and Population Services International. This book, explaining STD prevention, was deemed "illegal" by the criminal court of Tashkent, based on the findings of a commission of experts that it is disrespectful to the national culture and the Uzbek people.

These examples are indicative not only of the fact that the clampdown on civil society in Uzbekistan is increasing in both severity and breadth, but also that this form of repression is compromising the socio-cultural evolution of the country. While socio-cultural evolution theories abound, the common agreement amongst academics and practitioners is that cultures and societies change over time, incorporating changes in the external environment along with internal changes, and the cultural heritage of the past. Culture is dynamic, and restricting its growth will only negatively affect the development of the society. In looking back at the cultural richness during flow of information on the Silk Road route, one can only hope that the Uzbekistan of today will allow its artists, academics and social workers to exercise their fundamental freedoms, in order to carry the country's cultural legacy into modern times. 

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