Books on Uzbekistan
Update No: 309 - (26/09/06)
Karimov apparently has political clans in hand
Uzbekistan's political landscape has been shaken recently by a series of shocks,
notably the bloody repression in Andijan in May, 2005, in which hundreds died.
Through it all, President Islam Karimov has sought to maintain balance among the
political clans that make up the country's power elite. He also appears to have
further consolidated his hold on power. But alienating prominent individuals who
might be tempted to seek his ouster could carry risks for Uzbekistan's
His ruthless manoeuvring during a decade and a half in the presidency, since
1991, has also allowed him to keep potential rivals off-balance.
The Chatham House viewpoint of James Nixey
James Nixey, who heads the Russia and Eurasia programme at the London-based
think tank, The Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House, says
Karimov's tight grip on power and frequent government reshuffles have prevented
other senior officials from accruing public sympathy.
More recently, Nixey says, Karimov has succeeded in weakening the clans, and
does not appear vulnerable to a palace coup. "I very much doubt that
Karimov is taking his eye off the ball to such an extent that he would let [a
palace coup] happen," Nixey says. "And the changes in the upper
echelons of Uzbek politics which we have seen relatively recently indicate that
the tried old method of switching one's ministers around -- ensuring that nobody
gets too settled in one place, nobody becomes too powerful -- does ensure that
the Karimov regime may well last for as long as he lives."
"There were a couple of hundred very wealthy families who really benefited
from the system. That circle has got smaller and smaller and smaller as Karimov
narrows it down toward his immediate family," Nixey said.
Observers also tend to rule out any popular uprising like the one that deposed a
president in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in 2004.
Nixey says the Uzbek public learned a lesson when a minor uprising in the
eastern city of Andijon led to the deadly crackdown in May 2005 already
The views of former UK ambassador, Craig Murray
Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Tashkent and an outspoken
critic of Karimov's regime, says ordinary Uzbeks and government officials alike
fear bloodshed similar to that seen in Andijan.
"If people take the decision to remove Karimov by violence -- and there are
plenty of indications that there are quite a number of people in the [state
security service], in the military, [and] in the Ministry of Interior who might
well support such a move -- but any move is going to have to be prepared very,
very carefully. Because what nobody wants are more 'Andijans,'" Murray
One of Karimov's early challenges came from a powerful politician and former
mentor from his own Samarkand clan, Ismoil Jurabekov. But Jurabekov's political
career came to an abrupt halt when he was dismissed as a presidential adviser in
2004 under a cloud of criminal allegations.
The Samarkand clan suffered another political blow when Interior Minister Zokir
Almatov resigned in late 2005, citing poor health. Almatov had been the
longest-serving minister in the government, and police backing made him a
Karimov appointed a deputy director of the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB)
to replace Almatov. The move was a bold political stroke, since the SNB is a
rival institution to the Interior Ministry -- and also a power base of the
Karimov further weakened the Tashkent clan by forcing Defence Minister Qodir
Gulomov to resign in November 2005. In May, authorities tried him behind closed
doors and sentenced to a suspended prison term -- reportedly on charges of
fraud, corruption, and abuse of office.
Gulomov's resignation came soon after the dismissal of his close relative and a
onetime leader of the Tashkent clan, Timur Alimov, from a presidential advisory
Shrinking Circle, thinks Murray
Former ambassador Murray tells RFE/RL that a dwindling number of people
exercise any real power in Uzbekistan.
"There are a lot of people who used to be in the oligarchy," Murray
says. "There were a couple of hundred very wealthy families who really
benefited from the system. That circle has got smaller and smaller and smaller
as Karimov narrows it down toward his immediate family," Murray said.
Murray says economic capital has been concentrated mainly in the hands of
Karimov's eldest daughter.
Gulnora Karimova is believed to control major businesses in Uzbekistan --
including in oil, gas, and telecommunications.
But Murray, who authored a book titled "Murder In Samarkand" that
chronicles Karimov's reign and his own tenure as ambassador to Uzbekistan,
argues that the situation has led to the emergence of discontented politicians
who are now seeking to remove Karimov from office. Unlike some others, Murray
does not dismiss the risks of a violent ouster.
"There are a lot of people I call 'the new losers,'" Murray says.
"And if you look at the people who were very close to Karimov a few years
ago, many of them have now been thrown out; and, in particular, their economic
interests and assets have often been diverted to Gulnora. And there now are a
lot of people who used to be very important who now have an interest in seeing
Karimov go. So, one definite possibility what we might come to is the palace
coup -- where he simply gets a bullet in the back of the head."
Bahodir Musaev is an independent sociologist based in the Uzbek capital,
Tashkent. He agrees that Karimov's system of absolute power poses a danger from
within, albeit in arguably less stark terms.
"He is in fact absolutely lonely -- nobody likes this person," Musaev
says. "And I think if his health worsens, his family will be torn to
But there is a threat from quite another direction.. This is made clear in the
Leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Tahir Yuldashev threatens
presidents Karimov, Bakiyev, and Rahmonov
A speech believed to have been made and recorded by Tahir Yuldashev, leader
of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was delivered to e-mail addresses of the
BBC, RL, VOA broadcasters and Ferghana.Ru news agency. The Number One Terrorist
in Central Asia made the speech on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist act in
New York on September 11, 2001.
"We appeal to all Moslems... in the light of the event that dramatically
changed world politics five years ago, on September 11, 2001. A strike at
America, the fortress that had considered itself impregnable, changed politics
throughout the world... Bush launched a war on Afghanistan," Yuldashev
According to Yuldashev, activists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who had
found shelter in Afghanistan fought forces of the coalition side by side with
the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Field commander Juma Namangani and some other
activists perished in the American offensive.
Yuldashev maintains that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has not given up and
would not give up.
"The mujahedin haven't forgotten the Moslems executed in Andijan last year.
We will avenge Moslems in Central Asia or in Russia. We insist that all regimes
in the region put an end to the practice persecution of Moslems, the practice of
harassment and terror... Karimov, Rahmonov, and Bakiyev had better remember...
that they will be punished for the crimes they are committing," Yuldashev
Pakistani secret services maintain that the leader of the Islamic Movement of
Uzbekistan is hiding in the so called Tribal Zone in the mountains between
Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no saying when the speech was recorded.
Uzbek government ignores labour migration issue
As many as one out of every nine Uzbeks is believed to be a labour migrant,
spending at least part of the year outside Uzbekistan, working mostly in menial
jobs for meagre wages. In the coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of Uzbeks are
expected to make their way across the border to Kazakhstan, where they will help
harvest a variety of crops.
Uzbek labour migration is being fuelled by a combination of economic stagnation
at home and steady demographic growth. According to the Uzbek State Committee
for Statistics, the country's population stands at just over 26 million, and is
growing by about 300,000 per year. Job creation is clearly not keeping pace,
thus experts believe the pressure on Uzbeks to seek employment opportunities
abroad will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
According to unofficial data, Uzbek migrant labourers remit about $500 million
home to their relatives. Pinpointing the number of Uzbeks working abroad is
hampered by a lack of reliable governmental data. Most Uzbek labour migrants are
believed to lack proper work authorization, and thus are not recorded in
Uzbekistan's Ministry of Labour has fixed the number of labour migrants at
700,000. But independent experts believe the actual number is many times higher
than the official estimate. Russia has traditionally been a magnate for illegal
migrants from across Central Asia. According to the Russian RIA Novtosti news
agency, there are roughly 1.5 million illegal migrants in the Moscow Region
alone, and Uzbeks are thought to comprise about 25 per cent of that total.
In recent years, Kazakhstan has become an increasingly attractive destination
for Uzbek labourers, due in part to the relatively high wages paid and the
geographic proximity. Migrant farmers in Kazakhstan can earn between US$150-300
per month, far more than the roughly US$30 per month that unskilled workers can
expect to earn in Uzbekistan.
A report in July published by the Kazinform news agency, estimated that up to 1
million Uzbeks were working in Kazakhstan, adding that only a small portion of
Uzbeks migrant labourers entered Kazakhstan legally. Those lacking proper
documentation are "vulnerable to the influence of criminal elements,"
the report stated.
During a state visit to Kazakstan that concluded September 4, Uzbek President
Islam Karimov and his Kazakstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev signed seven
agreements aimed at expanding bilateral economic relations. But there was no
indication that Karimov raised the labour migration issue with Nazarbayev during
Illegal migrants say they routinely are subject to harassment and extortion. One
of the most highly publicized instances of abuse involving Uzbeks occurred
during the summer of 2004, when a skinhead arson attack left two migrant
labourers dead. For many Uzbeks, such as Anvar, a labourer from Samarkand who
declined to give his last name, the migrant labourer experience is one that they
would prefer to forget. Firuza recently worked as a labourer in Russia's
Voronezh Province. His difficulties there began when he was severely beaten by a
group of local thugs. Unable to continue working, Firuza's employer summarily
fired him and refused to pay him US$500 that he contends he was owed. He ended
up returning to Uzbekistan penniless.
Hamid Rahmonov, another Samarkand native, has encountered better luck working
abroad. Two years ago, he said, he found work in the Russian city of Tomsk as a
packer at a rubber footwear factory. Working two shifts, he said he could earn
upwards of US$300 per month, over US$200 of which he would send back to
Uzbekistan. Even so, Rahmonov said he lived in constant fear of police
shakedowns and skinhead attacks. "We have no rights," Rahmonov said.
"Uzbekistan does not protect us. It all depends on the attitude of local
bosses and militia."
Central Asia: Japanese premier visits energy-rich region
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi travelled to Central Asia on
August 28th for the first visit to the region ever made by a Japanese head of
The visit to Kazakstan and Uzbekistan is the culmination of more than a decade
of effort by Japan to forge stronger links with the Central Asian republics.
Tokyo's policy of economic engagement, coupled with low-profile political
encouragement, has won praise from Central Asian leaders, leading Uzbek
President Islam Karimov to describe Japan as a role model.
Japan has given well over US$2 billion in economic and social aid to Central
Asia since those republics gained independence from the Soviet Union.
Energy From A Stable Source
Of course, Japan's great need for energy resources makes Central Asia an
attractive area to court. "Japan is very reliant upon imports of fossil
fuels, oil, etc., and Japan has to look for as many markets as it can, to ensure
that it can continue to have a good flow of resources, and these [Central Asian]
nations obviously provide a further opportunity for that," notes
Christopher Hood of London's Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Presently, some 80 per cent of Japanese oil comes from the Middle East, a region
threatened by war and instability.
Japanese Ambassador to Kazakstan Tetsuo Ito has made clear Japan's preoccupation
with Central Asian energy, saying, "We attach great importance to the
abundance of natural resources in this region as a stable source of energy
Tokyo realizes that in order to secure resources successfully in the long term,
it needs stable conditions in the exporting countries. Koizumi has shaped
Japanese policy with this in mind, encouraging regional cooperation among
Central Asian countries to increase their prosperity and therefore their
Beating Out Asian Rivals
Analyst Hood sees Koizumi's trip as part of Japan's effort to be in a good
position as competition increases with China and South Korea for Central Asian
oil and gas.
"Japan is trying to get in early to develop good relationships, so that
basically it will not have all its eggs in one basket," he says.
Tokyo is also interested in the possibility that cooperation in Asia could in
future years lead to the formation of an Asian common market, like that provided
in Europe by the European Union.
"The creation of a common market in Central Asia is very profitable for
Kazakhstan especially, and for other countries, including Japan,"
Ambassador Ito added..
Also, analyst Hood says the diplomatic row that has broken out between Japan,
China, and the Koreas over Koizumi's visits to a World War II shrine has left
the Central Asian states undisturbed.
"I don't think they feel themselves to be threatened in the same way [as
China and the Koreas] by a strong Japan, and I think in many respects that they
probably benefit more from a strong Japan," Hood says.
Japan Takes Independent Path
It's notable that Koizumi is going to Uzbekistan, despite the poor
international standing of that country since the bloody events of May 2005 in
the city of Andijan, where security forces allegedly shot down hundreds of
protesters. The government denies those reports, saying that it put down an
Since then, President Karimov has had frosty relations with Washington, which he
accuses of interference in Uzbek affairs, and has withdrawn permission for the
US military to use an Uzbek air base to supply its troops in Afghanistan.
Koizumi's Japan, a close ally of the United States, obviously seeks to remain
engaged with Tashkent in the interests of enhancing regional stability.
Political analysts, in fact, see Tokyo's engagement with Central Asia as a
possible counterweight to the growing influence of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO), the regional grouping comprising China, Russia, and all the
Central Asian states except Turkmenistan.
Although lacking the long-time influence of Russia over Central Asia and the
immediacy of China's presence, Japan has the leverage of its economic and
financial power and is determined to secure a share in the region's natural
resources, which would dilute China's possible dominance of the oil and gas in
Tokyo also aims to help swing the delivery possibilities for Central Asian
energy southward -- away from Russia and China -- with pipelines planned through
Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean.
Koizumi visited Kazakstan on August 28th, where he had talks with President
Nursultan Nazarbayev and other officials. He then went to Uzbekistan, where he
met President Karimov and others.
Koizumi was due to relinquish his post in late September.