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An Uzbek Bazaar Where Water Is The Enemy

Uzbek authorities have targeted bazaars for what they perceive to be their role in spreading extremist ideas. (file photo)
Uzbek authorities have targeted bazaars for what they perceive to be their role in spreading extremist ideas. (file photo)

Authorities in Uzbekistan have hit a new low. A commission from Tashkent arrived at the Baraka Savdo Bazaar in Margilan recently, inspected the area, and then complained to the owners that on the premises of the bazaar there were facilities for washing.

I could probably just stop here, but I suppose there are a few details worth adding.

Merchants from Baraka Savdo told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, that members of the Tashkent commission first checked the documents of the sellers at the bazaar, inspected the conditions at the bazaar, and then went to the toilets. Not because nature was calling.

It turns out that what bothered the commission was that the bathrooms at the bazaar could potentially be used for “Taharat,” specifically Wud’hu, the ritual ablutions before Islamic prayer. One merchant speaking to Ozodlik called the commission’s operation “Taharat control.”

Members of the commission closed the toilets temporarily. They also confiscated suspect basins and teapots that could be used to hold water because that water could be used to wash hands and faces. And then those people might pray.

The commission ordered the market’s administration to disconnect all the water heaters from the sinks in the bazaar bathrooms. One of the commission’s members complained to the chairman of the bazaar, accusing him of “creating all the conditions for reading Namaz.”

A representative of the Baraka Savdo Bazaar confirmed to Ozodlik the visit of the commission and inspection but did not want to talk about the situation with the water. He did say, “No one on the bazaar grounds is reading Namaz. No one is making ritual ablutions. No one here wears religious clothing or hijab, there are no prayer rugs and no religious literature here either.”

A source in the Margilan administration told Ozodlik a group did come to Baraka Savdo Bazaar and said it was part of routine checks that go on at all bazaars. The source said bazaars were a frequent venue for people trying to spread extremist ideas and therefore anti-extremism announcements are regularly made through loudspeakers. The source said there is also special room with counter-extremist material set up in all bazaars. The source could not explain the interest in washing facilities.

This sort of attention is nothing new for Margilan. The city and Baraka Savdo Bazaar were among the areas targeted in the hudjum – or forcible removal of the hijab -- campaign of 2015.

Farruh Yusupov of Ozodlik contributed to this report.

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 the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

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


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