BHHRG

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The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Who Supports and Who Opposes Karimov?
HITS: 2678 | 24-08-2005, 23:41 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

No-one inside Uzbekistan and few outside is the answer to the first part of this question if you believe the Western media, and almost everyone in Uzbekistan opposes the regime according to the same interpretation. The idea that “Everyone”, or at least everyone in Uzbekistan apart from his henchmen opposes the President is simplistic propaganda. Things are much more complicated than anti-Karimov propaganda suggests. There is a lot of evidence that Uzbek society is not as unanimous as glib media reports of The People versus The Tyrant suggest.
The Russian Central Asian analyst, Andrei Grozin, argued that the Karimov regime had structural supports as well as opponents: “The system that has developed since Uzbekistan gained independence is not a superstructure, which is not inherent to Uzbek society. The regime would not have maintained itself on guns alone and on the will of Islam Karimov, if it did not have the wide support of considerable groups of society. I am very skeptical about democratizing Uzbekistan and the Fergana Valley in particular. Mass consciousness there is for the large part is not disposed towards modernization. Values accepted worldwide are often not applicable here.”[1]
Even the argument that only certain privileged clans provide the basis of support for the current Uzbek government tends to overlook the implications of such an analysis which implies that a revolution in Uzbekistan could trigger a civil war. Fear of conflict is one idea frequently quoted in conversations with Uzbek citizens aware of the bloody civil wars in neighbouring Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Regional rivalries may well simmer below the surface in Uzbekistan.
For a start, the Uzbek government’s insistence on a single Uzbek nation in its state-building process reflects insecurity about the country’s national identity. Uzbekistan’s shape and contours, ranging from desert in the north-west to mountains and valleys in the south-east along with specific regional identities and ethnic/linguistic minorities make it a far from homogenous country. Such diversity need not be the cause of disintegration but it creates the possibility of tensions. In the pre-Soviet past, modern Uzbekistan was composed of several Russian protectorates (Khiva, Bokhara and Khokand) as well as Russian imperial territory (e.g. Tashkent). Seventy years of Soviet and post-Soviet statehood may have created an identity with the republic’s boundaries but as international borders and tariff barriers they are new.
The other Central Asian republics face the problem of having borders that divide ethnic groups and clans as well as the broader problem that there few natural borders in the region. This poses a problem for Russia to the north and Afghanistan and China to the south of the Central Asian states.
Internal ethno-linguistic diversity provides a potential weapon for both government and opposition in a civil conflict. Even anti-Karimov reports suggesting that troops were brought into Andijan from outside the Ferghana Valley to do the regime’s dirty work suggest that at the very least dangerous antagonisms lurk below the surface of Uzbek society which a collapse of order could release in full. See claim that soldiers from outside Andijan, perhaps from Bokhara were brought to suppress the people.[2] The BBC’s Jenny Norton got “a shocking glimpse into Andijan's hidden horrors” when “a policeman… tells us he is from another city, and that has been here for a week. ‘We caught some of the terrorists on Friday night,’ he says with a smile. ‘We beat them so hard that even their own mothers would not recognise them. We beat some of them to death.’…”[3] The boys from Bokhara seem pretty brazen about their attitude to Andijan’s dissidents, but if that is true the risk of internal civil conflict is considerable and it would be irresponsible of Westerners to stoke the fire from outside.
Sometimes such claims by locals in these circumstances that in effect “our people could not do that” are defensive mechanisms to explain away the reality that local police or soldiers shot at protestors. People have to get on living together, particularly when the cause of the conflict was not necessarily a simplistic conflict between Good and Evil, or The People and a tiny minority of the tyrants’ henchmen.
Maybe the Uzbek government has the same sort of psychology. It accuses outsiders of fomenting trouble. Uzbek TV accused “outsiders” and “foreigners” of being the main troublemakers. It broadcast local residents making statements supporting this interpretation: “[Munnavvorhon Ikromova, captioned as director of school No 27 in Andijon, in Uzbek] These activities were mainly carried out by agitators who came from outside the country. A meeting with those arrested was organized the day after the events took place. I attended this meeting. We saw people who were speaking in a different language from ours and who came from either Afghanistan or other countries. When we asked them why they had come here, they said that they had been paid to come here.
[Alisher Yoldoshev, specialist at the Andijon town educational department, in Uzbek] We saw many of them and their faces. They are trying to portray themselves as people from Andijon but the fact that they were speaking in a different dialect and language clearly proves that they are not from Andijon.”[4]
Even in alleged opposition strongholds in the Ferghana Valley, popular opinion does not seem uniform. The Uzbek authorities appear to have relaxed border controls and to have tolerated demonstrations in Kara Su on the Kyrgyz border since they restored their authority there. AFP reported on 21st May, “Several hundred soldiers and riot police stood by [emphasis added] as the protestors blocked the road leading to a bridge to the Kyrgyz side of the town, over the Sharikh Khansai canal.” It is striking that after the regime’s alleged willingness to slaughter hundreds of civilians only days earlier, its forces should be so tolerant of such criticism which might after all spiral out of control. One reason may be that the protestors’ cause was not reaching entirely sympathetic ears. AFP reported, “The protestors tried to get traders crossing the bridge to join them, with one young man smashing the window of a car that was trying to get to the bridge, witnesses said. They held placards proclaiming the innocence of the Islamist leader, a cattle farmer called Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, and the wrestler, Dilmorod Mamajanov.
"We don't want anything but the freedom of these two -- we have no other demands," said one of Rakhimov's relatives, named Anakhan.
"They are suffering for you so you can cross, why don't you stand here with us?" another woman shouted at a passer-by.” [5] Apathy, fear or even hostility to the anti-Karimov forces may explain the unwillingness to back the protestors.
Whatever may be the case inside Uzbekistan, it is clear is that Western governments and Western-controlled institutions like the EBRD and World Bank have been distancing themselves from Tashkent for some years. 9-11 provoked a brief respite for Karimov but it was a blip in the general development towards Western governments’ search for a more pliable ruler in Uzbekistan.
Russia is presented as a key supporter of the Uzbek government and determined to maintain regional influence but Russia’s failure to activate any channels of influence to resist or reverse the Rose, Orange and Tulip Revolutions in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004 or Kyrgyzstan (2005) suggest that the Kremlin’s clout exists only in the fevered imagination of neo-conservatives echoed by the NGO community in the pincer attack from left and right which predominates in Western media coverage of events in the post-Soviet space.
Islam Karimov pointed out in January, how moribund the Russian dominated post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States had become. “The Commonwealth has never made a statement explaining its position while the confrontation in Ukraine lasted. At the same time, just about everybody was there, in Ukraine, trying to turn the tables. We cannot help being interested in what is happening in Ukraine. Ukraine is a fully fledged member of the Commonwealth.”[6]
Although the Russian Foreign Ministry backed the “anti-terror” strategy of Tashkent, the Russian media and think tanks were in the front rank of the critics of Karimov. The New Russian elite is already preparing for “after Putin” and needs another revolution in the ex-Soviet Union to accelerate the sense that Putin is yesterday’s man so that his supporters will come over to the oligarch-reform camp.
It was therefore not by chance that President Karimov went ahead with his first foreign trip after the Andijan events by carrying out a planned state visit to China. Chinese officials had publicly endorsed his repression of what Beijing saw as “the three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism."[7]
Even though China’s booming exports threaten the economic stability of Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian republics who cannot compete, China has its own reasons to support President Karimov’s regime. Just as it backed the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 because the Taliban had permitted Uighur rebels to train there (like the anti-Karimov IMU), so now China sees a pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic movement in Uzbekistan as a threat. Even though 120 miles of Kyrgyz territory divide China from Uzbkistan it is the Ferghana Valley which might provide a safe haven to Uighur insurgents who could train there before crossing Kyrgyzstan’s ill-patrolled territory into China.
Although Uzbekistan does not have the energy resources or potential of its neighbours Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, China sees access to any extra fuel supplies as valuable for her development. Given the US stranglehold on sea routes bring oil from the Middle East or Latin America, Beijing wants overland access via pipelines or rail to Central Asian and Russian energy sources in case a future conflict with America cuts China off from its fuel supplies. For the same reason hawks in Washington want to shift Central Asian oil westward via the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline regardless of the costs and the lack of economic logic.
In this scenario, even though Islamic militants might be anti-American, they would be more anti-Chinese since China is their near neighbour/enemy while America is far away and much less vulnerable to a renewed wave of Central Asian fundamentalism.
As this Group’s observers noted at the time of the parliamentary elections in December, 2004, many ordinary Uzbeks complained about low wages and other economic issues. Their access to foreign satellite media gives them an exaggerated picture of living standards or human rights abroad. For instance, anyone seeing the CNN coverage of Georgia on 10th May, 2005, at the time of President Bush’s visit to Tbilisi would not have known that unemployment was sharply up since the “rose revolution”, that power cuts and water outages were routine, that the prison population had doubled, or that even government officials freely admitted that torture in police custody was routine Georgia today. Instead only upbeat rhetoric about freedom and prosperity in the new Georgia.
Distorted perceptions of one’s own relative poverty play a big role in discontent. But foreigners often misunderstand locals’ complaints. When they complain about lack of jobs, for instance, in post-Soviet societies what people mean is not that they are without work but that the state no longer offers enough secure places in its bureaucracy. In Uzbekistan and across the ex-Communist world, this Group’s reporters have repeatedly met hoteliers and restaurant-owners who say, “I have no work”, but mean “I have to do this sort of job rather than sit in an office.” One North American contributor to the BBC News website expressed his contempt for self-employment: “I have been to Uzbekistan several times, and during each visit, I found people's lives were getting worse and worse. Many educated people were forced to be self-employed because there were no jobs available. Almost every one in Tashkent is a self-employed, businessman. They are struggling to put food on the table.”[8] In other words Horatio Alger should have looked to a Federal office-job as his road to self-improvement. Small business is often the engine of economic and political change when undertaken by the Andijan 23 but when a way of making a living for thousands it becomes reactionary and oppressive inn this way of thinking.
Economic discontents, real and imagined, are a threat to the stability of any regime, but ironically it is further impoverishment which generally offers the route to stability. Take Georgia again: Shevardnadze ruled for eleven years as things got worse, only to be toppled by his protégés who used discontent to provide the crowds in November, 2003, only to plunge the population into worse poverty afterwards – though President Saakashvili is careful to boast that he had “increased salaries 10-fold” for the police![9] In despotic un-reformed Uzbekistan, no Western sugar daddies are paying for such lavishly-endowed police. According to Radio Free Europe, “, Bahodir Musaev, a Tashkent-based independent sociologist, says there are many policemen dissatisfied with their monthly salary of around $60.”[10] Come the revolution, those policemen who don’t get killed by the indignation of The People may well get a Georgian-style salary hike – to keep the people in their place once the crowd has served its purpose in legitimising change for Western television viewers.


[1] See http://www.mosnews.com/interview/2005/05/27/uzbekistan.shtml,
[2] See
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1486933,00.html,
[3] See
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/4576585.stm,[4] See Uzbek Television first channel, Tashkent, in Uzbek 1530 gmt 20 May 05 @ BBC Mon Alert CAU 200505 vpa/fm,
[5] See “Unrest simmers in Uzbek border town” @
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20050521/ wl_afp/uzbekistanunrest_050521162515&printer=1,
[6] See
http://enews.ferghana.ru/detail.php?id=73749875131.501,799,16921274,
[7]Quoted @
http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050525/ap_on_re_eu/ uzbekistan. It is striking that before the crisis President Karimov refused to attend the GUUAM conference in Kishinau earlier in May, 2005, maybe because he did not want to rub shoulders with Georgia’s rose revolutionary president or Ukraine’s orange president, or even Moldova’s “free market” Communist Voronin, or maybe he knew that something was brewing in Uzbekistan. Ceausescu went to Iran in December, 1989, for two days fatal to his regime,
[8] Nurtai, New York, USA
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4544441.stm,
[9] See Mikheil Saakashvili, “Five core principles for the world’s reformers” in Financial Times (26th May, 2005),
[10] Quoted @
http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/04/51d08217-f03f-4906-9cc7-6224a3cff08b.html.

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