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Kyrgyzstan And The Uzbeks


People pray over the bodies of casualties of the government crackdown in Andijon, in eastern Uzbekistan, in May 2005.

People pray over the bodies of casualties of the government crackdown in Andijon, in eastern Uzbekistan, in May 2005.

Inspired by national uprising resulting in the change of government in Kyrgyzstan, "The Independent's" Shaun Walker 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 Bakiev 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."

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.

So if Kyrgyzstan's Tulip Revolution was fueled as much by alcohol as conventional wisdom has it, I 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. We Uzbeks also have evolved the way who we are -- prone to patience and hope without action regardless of oppression and tyranny.

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."

The parallel between then and now is clear. But if my theory of Uzbek evolution proves wrong, I would be more than happy to accept it.

-- Alisher Sidikov

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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