Friday, April 18, 2014


Transmission

Silly Dictator Story #7: 1,000 Weddings In Uzbekistan (Whether You Like It Or Not)

Gulnara Karimova at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, one of her many international engagements.
Gulnara Karimova at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, one of her many international engagements.
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Gulnara Karimova is already a singer, composer, fashion designer, professor, diplomat, philanthropist, and businesswoman. Now, the daughter of Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov can add wedding party organizer to her overflowing list of "achievements."

2012 has been declared the “Year of a Strong Family” in Uzbekistan, and Karimova is lending her party planning expertise to the government’s family-oriented campaign through the “1,000 Weddings and 1,000 Circumcisions” project organized by her charity organization, Fund Forum.

Partnered with high-profile organizations like UNESCO, UNDP, and the British Council, Fund Forum says the mass weddings and circumcision events are organized for the sake of orphans and young couples from low-income families. At one such ceremony in March, a total of 123 couples were married and 200 boys circumcised in mass ceremonies in Uzbekistan’s Navoi and Kashkadarya regions.

The mood is not all festive, however. People have begun to complain about being forced to hold ceremonies under threat of losing pensions and other social services, and local officials and businessmen claim the elaborate celebrations are draining local community coffers -- making such payments impossible anyway.

Twenty-six-year-year-old Arazdurdi Toshmatov -- who lives off disability benefits and is married with a four-year-old son -- told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that he was coerced by local officials into participating in one of the mass weddings.

1,000 Weddings and 1,000 Sunnat-Tuy (circumcisions)”i
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July 10, 2012
A mass wedding ceremony took place in Andijan, as part of Fund Forum's "1,000 Weddings and 1,000 Sunnat-Tuy (circumcisions)" project.

“When I went to the mayor’s office to ask for help and complain about my poor life, they forced me to participate in the wedding organized by Fund Forum,” says Toshmatov. He explained that the administrators at the mayor’s office told him that if he didn’t participate in the ceremony his monthly disability benefits would be cut.

In the end, Toshmatov did not receive his benefits anyway. “We didn’t get payments for June and July,” he said. “The bank told us that all the money was spent on the wedding party. It’s a waste of money, the wedding was good but it would be better if it was paid for.”

Toshmatov is not alone. On June 4, Adham, a retired 76-year-old man from Andijon told RFE/RL that when he went to the post office to pick up his monthly pension they told him it would be delayed. The reason? The officials told Adham that the mass wedding ceremonies organized by Fund Forum had exhausted their funds.

Fund Forum acknowledges that local municipalities are partners in the events, but the offices are listed among several corporate and state sponsors. Although the organization boasts of giving “clocks, Gulnara-designed stylish amulets, and other items as gifts,” Toshmatov explains that in his case the carpet, wall clock, and TV set he and his wife were given were actually gifts from a local businessman.

Founded in 2004, the Fund Forum organizes activities ranging from kids’ fashion shows to art exhibitions -- and of course weddings and circumcision parties. It also boasts an impressive array of partners, including (according to them) The Louvre Museum. Gulnara Karimova serves as chairwoman of the organization’s board of trustees.

The exact origins of Karimova’s fortune remain a mystery, but she has long been tied to Zeromax, a holding company that was taken over by the state in 2010 after years of acquiring majority stakes in almost every important industry in Uzbekistan. A Swiss taxpayer, she has an estimated net worth north of $600 million.

For some, the Fund Forum is a sophisticated and well-financed PR machine for Karimova back in her native Uzbekistan, where her image is -- according to leaked diplomatic memos -- less than flattering.

According to Amnesty International's 2011 report, Uzbekistan is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights where torture, religious persecution, and strong censorship laws are the defining hallmarks of the Karimov regime. Fund Forum, it seems, aims to change that image.

The organization had received only modest attention until May, when Karimova was linked to a star-studded fundraiser (actor Billy Zane was there!) for foundations run by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Prince Albert of Monaco.

The event featured showings of Karimova’s “Guli” fashion and accessory lines which, according to the Fund Forum website, “represent a particular conceptual approach to jewelry, which consists in [sic] rejecting classical norms in the art of jewelry; Guli seeks to combine previously incompatible aspects, to blend cultures and to come up with impeccable quality in Swiss polishing.”

Karimova has been "able to turn her beauty, charisma, and charitable projects into state-level affairs,” and now Uzbeks can be fashionably attired and married under her banner -- whether they like it or not.

-- Deana Kjuka and RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
July 12, 2012 07:58
No Wonder why Uzbekistan is under developed.

Mass circumcision is non-sense when things can be cut privately what is the point in wasting public money.


The money should be used for development of Educational infrastructure for the kids.

by: Justin from: UK
July 12, 2012 11:31
I would like to object most strongly on behalf of British Tax Payers whose money provides support to the British Council. It has associated itself with one of the worst regimes in the World.
In Response

by: BC alumnus
July 13, 2012 09:05
I am not sure about associating with the regime - on the countrary!
BC is one of the few Agencies, that let the "fresh air" and democracy ideas get into the country. Without such Agencies, the local population would only brew in itself, not knowing that actually the life can be different. The the regime would only prosper if such Agencies would ever leave...
In Response

by: Justin from: uk
July 13, 2012 11:37
I am aware that BC is only following FO nad political agendas to 'keep in' at whatever cost. I am also very aware that BC is one of the very few organisations of a democratic nature still permitted (at a price) to operate in Uzbekistan. Gulnara Karimova has taken over many of the good works created in the past by the BC and others and is now turning them to her own ends. This is very obvious to anyone who cares to look.
I would be inclined to say that the Regime is prospering immensley from the presence of the BC and one or two other 'credible' organisations by using them as a whitewashed frontage to everything else that is going on. In the long term a very misguided policy.

by: CJ from: Canada
July 12, 2012 18:34
This sort of things is madness. It's a shame one bimbo has so much power and contol over a mass of people. Such a joke I'm at a loss for words.

by: Anonymous
July 13, 2012 10:18
the bridegrooms and the brides do not look very. merely one bride is smiling. strange.

by: Kora Kuz
July 14, 2012 03:45
"The exact origins of Karimova’s fortune remain a mystery.." - really? I don't think it's a mystery, as well as all her titles...

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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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