Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 292- (26/04/05)
The Kyrgyz trauma
Events in Kyrgyzstan are having a profound impact in Uzbekistan. Uzbek leaders
are worried about the fallout from the political upheaval in Georgia and
Ukraine, where mass protests pushed incumbent authorities from power; but the
fall-out from the revolution situation in Kyrgyzstan next door is what really
has them scared now. A massive breach has been made in Central Asian tyranny,
while Afghanistan, however turbulent, is moving in the democratic direction too,
with elections earlier this year.
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.
The GUUAM factor
Uzbekistan is a member of a very salient body called GUUAM, whose members are
Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Its most recent meeting
was on April 22nd in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.
It must have been in the minds of all the participants that since last year's
meeting Ukraine has been added to Georgia as a member that has had a democratic
revolution. Moldova has recently re-elected its communist party to government in
reasonably fair elections. Only Azerbaijan in October 2003 and Uzbekistan just
recently have indulged in patently rigged elections, the former to the
presidency, the latter to parliament. Are they the next in line for democratic
Both the Georgian and Ukrainian media have been speculating that GUUAM should be
given a direction towards spreading democracy. Saakashvili, the Georgian
president, even talked about the organisation having 'one more country' in its
sights, by which he most probably meant Belarus under its notorious dictator
Lukashenka. But this sort of talk must be alarming for the Azeri and Uzbek
regimes, not exactly renowned for their liberalism and democracy.
The Uzbek regime is battening down the hatches. There will be no let up at
all in its highly repressive course. It has certainly concluded that Akayev's
mistake was to be too liberal. The Kyrgz president was indeed wooed by the West,
with some success. US NGOs, such as Freedom House and the Soros Foundation
played a vital role in the revolution. Tashkent is not going to put up with that
sort of activity in Uzbekistan. Woe to its dissidents should they try anything
on - prison and torture await them for sure.
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. Its
anniversary in March this year was the occasion for a particularly tight
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
theatre producer in the west.
He was recalled last autumn, but is opposing his former boss, Jack Straw, in his
Blackburn constituency on May 5th, standing as an independent in the British
general election. His chances are slim; but the hustings will give him the
chance to clear his name and show up his opponent as, indeed, a Man of Straw.
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 publicly
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."
For all his nervous disposition, Murray is clearly a fighter. Having embarrassed
the Uzbek government, he intends to embarrass the British government, especially
Straw and the Foreign Office.
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.
China and Uzbekistan forge hydro power plant agreement
The China National Electric Equipment Corporation (CNEEC) is to supply equipment
for the construction of three small hydroelectric power plants in Uzbekistan,
Interfax News Agency reported.
The terms of the supply of the equipment to the Tupolang, Andizhan and
Akhangaran hydro plants are currently being negotiated. It is expected that the
contract will be signed in the second half of 2005. Uzbekistan will seek loans
totalling US$39.9m from China for the construction of the three plants,
including US$25m for the Tupolang plant, US$8.5m for the Andizhan plant and
US$6.4m for the Akhangaran plant.
Zeromax to build 2 trunk gas pipes in Uzbekistan
US company, Zeromax LLC, is to build the Gazli-Sarymai and Gazli-Kagan trunk gas
pipelines in Uzbekistan at a total cost of about 120m Euro, a source in
Uzbekneftegaz said, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to the source, the new gas pipelines will connect the
Bukhara-Khivinsky gas region with the northwest of the republic. The aim of the
project is to increase exports of Uzbek gas to the north, particularly to
The Gazli-Sarymai pipeline will be 159km and cost about 100m Euro. Construction
should begin this year and be completed in two years. The Gazli-Kagan pipe will
be 48km and cost about 23m Euro. Construction began in April and should be
completed by the end of this year. The source said the Uzbekneftegaz signed a
contract with Zeromax LLC for this project at the end of last year. The project
will be financed using Uzbekneftegaz funds. The total length of the trunk
pipeline system in the republic amounts to about 13,000km.
MINERALS & METALS
Uzbekistan to offer 22% of steel mill to investors
Uzbekistan's State Property Committee has decided that only 22% of Uzmetkombinat,
the country's only steel mill, will be offered to foreign investors instead of
an originally planned 33%, a committee source said recently, Interfax News
Uzbekistan offered the 33% at a tender in March last year for 51.28m Euro, but
the tender was called off towards the end of 2004 because no competitive bids
had been received. The source said further attempts would be made to sell a
stake in it to a foreign investor this year. According to the source, the
government would retain a controlling 51% of what it believes to be a strategic
enterprise instead of 40%. An international consortium led by Austria's CA
Investmentbank AG has been advising the government on the Uzmetkombinat sale.
Uzmetkombinat, which smelts scrap metal, has the capacity to produce 750,000
tonnes of steel per year. It smelted 602,160 tonnes of steel in 2004, up 24%