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Qishloq Ovozi

Thursday 5 September 2019

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Activists from Oyan Qazaqstan (Wake Up Kazakhstan) marched in Almaty on August 30.

Members of the Oyan Qazaqstan (Wake Up Kazakhstan) movement and others rallied in Almaty, Nursultan, and Shymkent on August 30, Kazakhstan’s Constitution Day. They called for changes in Kazakhstan, particularly constitutional reforms.

There have been a number of small demonstrations, often involving only one person, in Kazakhstan since former President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who led Kazakhstan since independence, announced he was resigning at the end of March. And it is mostly young people who are organizing and participating in these public actions.

RFE/RL's Media-Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir moderated a discussion on these demonstrations, the youth groups that are playing such a central role in them, and where this could be going.

Our guests were all from Kazakhstan. From the Oyan Qazaqstan movement, we had Assem Zhapisheva. From the Qaharman human rights initiative, Aliya Izbassarova joined the discussion. And the founder and head of the media outlet The Village, Asiana Ashim, also took part. I had some comments, but also some questions for our Majlis guests.

Majlis Podcast: Will Kazakhstan's Youth Wake The Country Up?
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President Shavkat Mirziyoev (right) meets with police in Tashkent. (file photo)

For more than 25 years, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (SNB) was the most feared law enforcement body in Uzbekistan. So when Shavkat Mirziyoev took over as president and soon moved to not only rein in the SNB but criticize and humiliate the security service for years of abuse, the people of Uzbekistan welcomed the SNB's relegation.

But a new state body has seemingly emerged to take its place. The long-dormant National Guard of Uzbekistan has been reformed, and its powers are growing to the point where it may already be a more formidable institution than the SNB ever was.

Uzbekistan’s National Guard was formed in 1992 and was part of the country’s armed forces. Its tasks were to guard strategic objects and protect “especially important people." There were believed to be some 1,000 members of the National Guard.

In August 2017, Mirziyoev issued an order removing the National Guard from the military and giving it independent status. Since then, successive orders, decrees, and amendments to the criminal and administrative codes have broadened its mandate.

The National Guard's website shows that it's still responsible for the “protection and defense of objects of state importance, vital facilities, diplomatic, consular and other representative offices of foreign states” but also the “property of individuals and legal entities.”

But there is much more.

The National Guard now provides “assistance in ensuring the protection of public order and security in cities and towns” and participates “in the prevention of acts of terrorism and extremism.”

And not only that.

The National Guard now also takes part in “ensuring the territorial integrity and defense of the country” and controls the “import, export, purchase, storage, and the use of firearms and hunting weapons.”

Following amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in July, the National Guard can conduct pretrial investigations, detain people, bring them to a National Guard branch, and hold them.

Even if their numbers were around 1,000 just two years ago, they are many thousands now. Members of the National Guard are on duty throughout the country.

During the recent protest over home demolitions in Uzbekistan’s western Khorezm Province, the National Guard and the police arrived to try to disperse a crowd of hundreds that was blocking a main highway. Some protesters noted the police urged the demonstrators to leave the road while members of the National Guard were physical in removing, and in some cases detaining, people.

So who is overseeing this mighty new security body?

The head of the National Guard is Bahodir Tashmatov, a former deputy defense minister, chief of the Joint Staff of Uzbekistan’s Armed Forces and briefly head of Uzbekistan’s Security Council.

His deputy is Batyr Tursunov. Tursunov’s career in security services stretches back to the 1980s, when he was in the KGB. After independence in 1991, Tursunov became chief of Uzbekistan’s counterterrorism department within the Interior Ministry. During this time, Tursunov had a reputation for putting rights activists and opposition figures in prison.

Tursunov is also the father of Oybek Tursunov, who is married to Saida Mirziyoeva, the president's eldest daughter.

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, contributed to this report.
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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