Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 310 - (26/10/06)
Unesco award for Karimov
Human rights groups have strongly criticised the UN's cultural body, Unesco, for
giving a prize to Uzbek President Islam Karimov. In a bizarre affair, indeed,
Unesco's Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, presented a cultural heritage
award to Mr Karimov when he visited Tashkent in September.
Karimov has been condemned by the UN itself for a bloody crackdown in May 2005.
Just over a year ago, the UN condemned Mr Karimov for staging what it called a
"massacre" in the city of Andijan in the Ferghana Valley, where
government troops opened fire on demonstrators, killing hundreds of protestors.
More recently, the UN high commissioner for refugees accused the Uzbek
government of kidnapping refugees from Andijan who were hiding in neighbouring
Kyrgyzstan, and persecuting people connected to the events of last year.
Rights groups called the Unesco award "scandalous, shocking, absurd and
inappropriate". Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Paris-based Reporters
Without Borders have all expressed their concern at the award, which Unesco said
was in recognition of Mr Karimov's preserving his country's cultural heritage.
A Unesco spokesperson told the BBC that the medal was a "gesture of
courtesy". According to the Uzbek press, Mr Matsuura also thanked the
president for his role in strengthening friendship and cooperation between
nations and developing cultural and religious dialogue.
A murderous regime
In fact Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive post-Soviet states. It is
not exactly known for its concern for 'cultural and religious dialogue.' The
Uzbek government is known rather for absolute intolerance of any sort of
opposition. Torture and maltreatment of a vile kind are the 'religious dialogue'
with its radical Islamicist victims. There is evidence of people being boiled
alive and the like.
Yet Karimov tries to maintain the charade of multiparty democracy by having five
state-funded political parties competing for representation in the parliament.
The only problem here is that all five are so called "pocket" parties
controlled by Karimov, while truly independent political parties have never been
able to register.
The result is that the only real opposition comes from the Islamic radicals, the
fiercest enemies of Karimov, who is, nevertheless, watering the soil on which
they thrive. When there is regime change eventually in Uzbekistan, it would be
no surprise if it took a radical Islamicist turn.
Kyrgyz-Uzbek Relations: Harmonious Now, But Trouble Looms
Its next-door neighbour, Kyrgyzstan, has handled things better. It had a
sort of revolution eighteen months ago in March 2005, introducing a measure of
Despite ideological differences, converging interests have prompted Karimov and
his Kyrgyz counterpart, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, to become political best friends They
share a strong aversion to radical Islam. But their newfound alliance could
prove short-lived. Being neighbours can cause problems.
Bakiyev travelled to Uzbekistan on October 3rd-4th for talks with Uzbek
officials, including Karimov, as well as a little sightseeing in Samarkand.
After the talks, Bakiyev indulged in hyperbole as he described the current state
of bilateral affairs, speaking of the "eternal friendship" of
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. "Uzbeks and Kyrgyz will never be
separated," Bakiyev told Uzbek television on October 4th. "They should
live together, as well as grow and develop together." They do of course
live together in some profusion, in the crowded towns of the Ferghana valley
along with ethnic Tajiks - a hold over from the days of the USSR and its
artificial political boundaries.
While not inclined to make rapturous predictions about future cooperation,
Karimov was equally pleased with the outcome of Bakiyev's visit. The Uzbek
leader characterized the talks as a "fruitful exchange" taking place
within a "trustworthy atmosphere." He called attention to a joint
statement that reaffirmed both states' commitment to a 1996 friendship treaty,
and hailed the shared commitment to combating Islamic radicalism in Central
Asia. With Uzbek assistance, Bakiyev's administration in recent months has
cracked down on suspected Islamic radicals, especially in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbek state media outlets offered an unusually extensive and favourable coverage
of Bakiyev's visit. One Uzbek State TV broadcast commented: "For centuries,
the people of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have lived in friendship and agreement,
and contributed to each others' culture and art. Today too, the commonness of
history, culture and traditions, language and religion continues to serve as a
strong foundation for our cooperation."
The most significant outcome of Bakiyev's trip was a bilateral agreement lifting
visa requirements for citizens of both countries for travel between Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan. In addition, Karimov and Bakiyev agreed to open a new
border-crossing point in the Ferghana Valley. For Karimov -- who has tried to
seal Uzbekistan off in the hopes of preventing the further penetration of
radical Islamic ideology -- opening the frontier to Kyrgyz nationals is the
ultimate sign of approval of the Bakiyev administration's efforts to root out
militants in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Citizens of both countries cheered the suspension of visa requirements.
Cross-border shuttle trading, a vital source of income for many in frontier
areas, has withered due to the Karimov administration's increasingly restrictive
policies. Uzbeks and Kyrgyz citizens interviewed expressed hope that visa-free
travel will greatly reduce instances of harassment and extortion at the border.
Kosimjon Hamrakulov, an Uzbek resident, told EurasiaNet: "I have many
relatives in Kyrgyzstan and it makes it easier for us to visit each other."
Less than 18 months ago, Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations were marked by acrimony
generated by Kyrgyzstan's acceptance of refugees who fled Uzbekistan in the
aftermath of the Andijan massacre. Bilateral antagonism dissipated, however,
with the growth of security cooperation. Domestic political factors played a
major role in prompting both Karimov and Bakiyev to set aside previous
differences and engage each other.
Both leaders have seemed eager to shore up outside political support for their
respective administrations. Bakiyev has faced considerable pressure throughout
2006 from political rivals in Bishkek. Karimov, meanwhile, remains obsessed with
the Islamic radical threat to his administration. He had long viewed southern
Kyrgyzstan as a haven for Islamic militants, and was quick to act on the
opportunity to work with Kyrgyz leaders to undertake a security sweep of the
area. In addition, Karimov's approval of visa-free travel may be designed to
relieve the building pressure on the Uzbek economy, which at present is
stagnating amid the government's efforts to tighten control over all aspects of
In extending an enthusiastic welcome to Bakiyev, Uzbek officials were also
seeking to send a message to another neighbour Tajikistan: cooperate with us and
you will be rewarded. Uzbek-Tajik relations, chilly since the Islamic radical
threat first manifested itself in the late 1990s, have experienced a frost in
Kyrgyz-Uzbek ties may be exceedingly harmonious now, but that may not be the
case for long. Bakiyev and Karimov, some political analysts point out, avoided
discussing the divisive issue of energy supplies.
Kyrgyz officials had hoped that increased security cooperation with Uzbekistan
would secure generous Uzbek export terms for natural gas needed for the
fast-approaching winter heating season. Members of the Karimov administration,
however, seem disinclined toward such generosity. One Uzbek official who
requested anonymity told EurasiaNet: "We should separate political issues
from economic issues. Uzbekistan cannot provide gas at reduced prices because it
would harm its own economy."
Uzbekistan intends to supply Kyrgyzstan with gas at US$55 per 1,000 cubic meters
(tcm) until the end of this year. But starting in January, the Uzbek government
is expected to seek a price of up to US$100/tcm.
Such a price hike would likely create a domestic crisis in Kyrgyzstan. According
to KyrgyzGas, a state company that imports Uzbek gas, Kyrgyzstan's demand is
projected to reach 900 million cubic meters of gas in 2007, roughly a 20 percent
increase over this year's consumption level. In addition, Kyrgyz Minister of
Finance Akylbek Japarov said recently that the country lacks the means to
subsidize gas prices for low-income consumers, who constitute a large segment of
the Kyrgyz population. Thus, Bakiyev's administration stands to face extreme
political pressure from his constituents, if Tashkent raises the export price as
The potential repercussions would also likely hurt Uzbekistan, as Kyrgyzstan
would undoubtedly try to ease a wintertime energy crunch by releasing large
volumes of water from reservoirs to generate extra electricity. Downstream areas
of Uzbekistan could experience ruinous flooding, and Uzbek farmers could well
find themselves without sufficient water for irrigation during the agricultural
Tajikistan's ambitious energy projects cause tension with Uzbekistan
Tajikistan's efforts to develop its hydro-power sector and to boost
aluminium production are causing a spike in tension with neighbouring
Uzbek authorities have used punitive measures of late to express their
displeasure with existing Tajik policies, as well as future plans. For example,
Tashkent is continuing to prevent the delivery of Kyrgyz electricity to one of
Tajikistan's major industrial concerns, the Tajik Aluminium Plant, located in
the southwestern city of Tursunzade.
On September 28, Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov sent a letter to the Uzbek
government seeking to resolve the supply issue. Uzbek authorities curtly
informed Oqilov that a response would not be forthcoming before October 9, the
Avesta news agency reported. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan cut off natural gas supplies
to Tajikistan in late September, and wouldn't re-open the pipeline until
Dushanbe repaid almost half of its outstanding US$4.5 million debt for earlier
Adding to the bilateral acrimony was a late September incident involving Tajik
and Uzbek border guards. Tashkent accused Tajik border guards of opening fire on
Uzbek forces "without warning," supposedly to protect a group of Tajik
civilians trying to cross the border illegally into Uzbek territory, the
AVN-Interfax news agency reported. The Uzbek soldiers were reportedly trying to
take the Tajik trespassers into custody when the shooting began near the Khavast
border post. The deputy chief of Tajikistan's State Committee for the Protection
of the State Border, Lt. Gen Safarali Sayfulloyev, dismissed the Uzbek
allegation as "not corresponding to reality," Avesta reported.
Earlier, Sayfulloyev said Tajik border guards took an Uzbek soldier captive
while disrupting an Uzbek effort to unilaterally establish a security buffer
zone in a disputed area of the frontier. "This sort of border incident
happens very often," Sayfulloyev told Avesta. Only about one-third of the
almost 1,000-mile-long Tajik-Uzbek frontier has been demarcated.
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have had a contentious relationship for years, driven
in large measure by perceptions in Tashkent that Tajik President Imomali
Rahmonov's administration was not strong enough to deal adequately with Islamic
radicalism, which emerged as a regional threat in the late 1990s. As Central
Asia's most populous state, and possessing the region's largest army, Uzbekistan
has routinely bullied Tajikistan. But some regional observers believe the
dynamic governing bilateral relations could shift significantly if Tajikistan
manages to implement its economic development vision.
Tashkent tends to view Tajik development efforts as a threat to Uzbekistan's
leadership role in Central Asia. Water politics has long been a source of
regional discord. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan provide the overwhelming share of
the region's water, while Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are major consumers. An
enhanced ability to harness its water reserves would potentially give Tajikistan
considerable negotiating leverage in its dealings with Uzbekistan.
Uzbek officials appear especially concerned over RUSAL's investment in
Tajikistan. After the Russian conglomerate announced plans to modernize the
Tursunzade aluminum smelter, Uzbekistan initiated a massive media campaign,
complaining that effluvia generated by the Tajik plant was causing widespread
environmental damage to Uzbek agricultural lands.
Tajik experts and policymakers believe Uzbekistan's present move to disrupt
electricity supplies to the Tursunzade plant is connected with a desire to
hinder the facility's modernization. Many in Dushanbe also say Uzbek officials
are exerting pressure directly on RUSAL to scale back the company's investment
plans. They suggest that Tashkent may be behind a disagreement between
Tajikistan and RUSAL over the height and type of the Rogun dam. Immediately
following a meeting between RUSAL chief Oleg Deripaska and Uzbek President Islam
Karimov, the Russian company revised its dam plans, saying it wanted to build a
280-meter-tall dam, instead of one 335 meters tall as originally projected.
Central Asia declares itself a nuclear weapons free zone
The five countries of Central Asia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have signed a treaty creating a nuclear weapons free
zone in their lands. Semipalatinsk, the former Soviet nuclear test site in
eastern Kazakstan, was the scene for the treaty's historic signing on September
8th, New Europe reported.
Under the treaty, the five countries have committed themselves to ban the
production, acquisition and deployment of nuclear weapons and their components.
The treaty does not prohibit the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
"This is our contribution to global security," Kazakstan' Foreign
Minister, Kasymzhomart Tokayev, said. "It will become an impetus for the
coordinated efforts of the world community in non-proliferation and prevention
of the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. It will
undoubtedly become an important step in the development of peaceful nuclear