Tashkent has long worked hard to erase Uzbekistan’s Soviet legacy. But the process, it seems, is far from complete. Authorities have ordered another 240 street and place names in the Uzbek capital renamed, the olam.uz website reports.
Having run out of Bolshevik leaders to purge, municipal authorities have turned to the artists and international heroes that once made Tashkent’s cosmopolitan residents proud. For example, a street named after Soviet Uzbek theater director Mannon Uygur became Gulobod (Flower Garden), while Anna Akhmatova Street, named after the Russian poetess, became Nemat (Blessing) Street, according to the recent order.
For some, the campaign to rename squares, streets, parks and subway stations looks like a politically motivated effort to erect a new political culture. That was understandable when the process started, soon after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. But many now wonder when it will end.
Among the first victims of the campaign 20 years ago were the capital's landmark Lenin Square (now Independence Square), which was home to a giant Lenin statue, and Revolution Square (now Amir Temur Square), a leafy park that marked the geographical center of the city with a bust of communist demigod Karl Marx. Lenin was replaced with a globe showing Uzbekistan at the center of the world, and Marx relinquished his seat to a monument of Amir Temur, better known in the West as tyrant conqueror Tamerlane whom President Islam Karimov has reinvented as an Uzbek hero.
Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov delivered his annual Army Day message on January 11, and along with the predictable encomia to the country's armed forces, Karimov made a few interesting statements vis-a-vis how he sees Uzbekistan's geopolitics. (Speech translated from Russian by BBC Monitoring)
As he has frequently, Karimov says that the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan will pose a threat to Uzbekistan:
In the current difficult circumstances, the international community is particularly concerned about the danger of the spread of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction as well as about growing confrontation, political and religious radicalism and extremism, and the ongoing conflicts in the immediate vicinity of our borders; in the first place, tension is growing in connection with the forthcoming withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan before and after 2014.
But this is an interesting addition:
The situation is seriously being exacerbated by rivalry of external forces in the region. Serious challenges and threats are emerging due to the intensification of activities by armed gangs and subversive and terrorist groups in border areas, as well as because of social and economic problems, political and interethnic conflicts that could lead to destabilization of the military-political situation.
It's not clear what he means here by "rivalry of external forces," but my best guess is that it has to do with Russia's plans to give a huge military aid package to Kyrgyzstan, and a somewhat more modest one to Tajikistan, with the intention of countering what it sees as U.S. influence in Uzbekistan.
A second hostage crisis in a week has amplified concerns about ethnic tensions in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Police in Osh Province say a fight between locals and Chinese workers in the village of Kurshab on January 8 left dozens injured. The brawl reportedly started when Chinese workers, possibly intoxicated, accused a local resident of stealing a mobile phone. A fight ensued and the Chinese reportedly took a group of Kyrgyzstanis hostage. Some reports say local police were among the 28 injured in the fracas. All Chinese from the district have been evacuated to Osh city for their safety, KyrTAG reports.
The Chinese were working on a high-profile power line that will connect parts of southern Kyrgyzstan with the north. Due to the fight, the launch of the line has been delayed, said Musazhan Makelek, head of China’s TBEA energy firm in Kyrgyzstan. Makelek told 24.kg that the fight had nothing to do with the $208 million project, which is being financed by China, and blamed both sides.
Thousands of Chinese nationals work in Kyrgyzstan, most on infrastructure projects such as high-voltage electricity lines and roads, and as traders. Beijing has promised hundreds of millions in loans and assistance in recent years. But the Chinese presence and largesse is not without controversy. Many Kyrgyz are deeply suspicious and worry the giant neighbor could swallow their tiny country.
A Ferghana Valley border clash this weekend yet again highlights the potential for violence in Central Asia’s most densely populated and ethnically diverse region.
Several hundred residents of the Uzbek enclave of Sokh reportedly attacked a Kyrgyz border post and took Kyrgyz citizens hostage on January 5 and 6, according to local news wires. Sokh (also spelled Soh) is an island of territory controlled by Uzbekistan and entirely surrounded by one of Kyrgyzstan’s poorest provinces, Batken.
Though Sokh is populated mostly by ethnic Tajiks, a minority in both countries, the episode is an unsettling reminder of the fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan that left hundreds dead in 2010.
Presidents of all CSTO member states at the group's summit in Moscow. Absent: Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov.
For months, Uzbekistan's erstwhile allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization have been discussing in public what they intend to do in regard to Tashkent's suspension of its membership in the group. When the CSTO finally held its summit meeting last week in Moscow, the group did the only thing it really could: accept the inevitable and try to put the best face on it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tashkent just before the CSTO meeting, saying "It is Uzbekistan's sovereign choice [to leave the CSTO]. We regret it, but the decision has been made... However, Uzbekistan, remains our ally, our strategic partner."
The CSTO did suggest that Uzbekistan can't just float in and out of the group, as it did once before, reported Russian newspaper Vedemosti:
“"Regrettably, it did certain damage to the image of the organization," admitted Russian Representative to the CIS CSTO Igor Lyakin-Frolov. "All I can say is that the door back remains open. Membership is Tashkent's for the asking." President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko meanwhile said that certain terms of the renewed membership had to be met... if it ever came to that. "Uzbekistan will have to ratify all our decisions and agreements first," said Lukashenko. When Tashkent returned to the CIS CSTO in 2006 after the suspension in 1999, it never bothered to ratify guideline documents of the organization..
As a probe into allegations of shady payments in Uzbekistan by a Swedish-Finnish telecoms firm continues, fresh accusations have surfaced linking the deal directly to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of President Islam Karimov, whose name has repeatedly emerged in connection with the controversy.
Swedish broadcaster SVT -- which this fall broadcast the exposé that sparked the opening of a corruption investigation in Sweden involving TeliaSonera’s acquisition of the rights to operate in Uzbekistan -- says it has interviewed two senior TeliaSonera executives who linked Gulnara Karimova to the agreement allowing the company to enter Uzbekistan’s lucrative cellphone market.
“To reach a deal with Gulnara was a prerequisite to the whole deal,” one executive (both requested anonymity) told SVT’s “Uppdrag granskning” program. The executives said TeliaSonera officials traveled to Uzbekistan in 2007 to negotiate with the president’s daughter, who has extensive economic interests in Uzbekistan. (One WikiLeaked US Embassy cable describes her as a “robber baron.”) Karimova, who casts herself a sultry pop diva and fashion designer, and is her country's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has not commented on any of the corruption allegations.
One of the sources linked Karimova to Bekhzod Akhmedov, formerly a major player on the Uzbekistan’s telecoms market and currently the prime suspect in a separate money-laundering probe under way in Switzerland.
Authorities in Uzbekistan have instructed television executives to keep the local version of Santa Claus off the airwaves this holiday season, the Associated Press reports.
Throughout the former Soviet Union, the robed Father Frost – Ded Moroz as he’s known in Russian – is the beloved figure who appears with gifts on New Year’s Eve, a entirely secular holiday.
Independent news website UzMetronom reported Monday that President Islam Karimov's authoritarian government imposed the informal ban on Father Frost and his snow maiden sidekick. […]
The ban is similar to the semiofficial 2005 ban on celebrating New Year's Eve.
It all looks like part of Karimov’s ongoing effort to shield his 30 million people from any foreign influences, and invent an entirely Uzbek "culture." As part of the campaign, high school students are subjected to lectures on "Uzbek national values," which demand they to submit to authorities.
In March, legislators, acting out of concern for children's “moral health,” mulled a vague ban on foreign toys that did not conform to these "national values." And earlier this year Karimov's government called off Valentine’s Day:
Uzbekistan has cancelled concerts marking the holiday and instructed young people instead to celebrate the birthday of a local hero—Moghul emperor Babur, who was born in Andijan in 1483 and conquered much of South Asia. The Associated Press recently cited an Uzbek newspaper article calling Valentine's Day the work of “forces with evil goals bent on putting an end to national values.”
With a pinch of of whataboutism, President Islam Karimov says Uzbekistan is democratizing in its own way, and no one should rush it.
Speaking on state television on December 7 to mark the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s constitution, Karimov said his country is rapidly developing into “a modern sovereign country with democratic, social, political and civil institutions that view human rights and freedoms as real values.”
Most EurasiaNet readers will scoff at the suggestion that one of the world’s longest-ruling autocrats, who throws critics into prison while his family seems to seize anything not nailed down, has much belief in values like the rule of law or protection of private property.
Nonetheless, the speech, though nothing unusual for Karimov, will give our readers a taste of the verbose spin the 74-year-old employs. Much of it sounds as dated as he is – which may help explain why he views things like the Internet and Western video games as such a threat.
Karimov – who has run Uzbekistan for 23 years – paints himself as a reformer. Democratization “is a long and continuous process that is not limited to a certain period of time, and we are certainly aware of that,” he said of the “Uzbek model” of development.
Transcript and translation provided by BBC Monitoring.
[We are] implementing a blueprint for evolutionary development, making sure that the economy is free of ideology, introducing democratic reforms gradually, ensuring the supremacy of law, recognizing the state's role as the chief reformer and further increasing its influence during the transitional period, and taking into account our country's unique features, conducting a strong social policy.
Human rights groups are calling on Uzbekistan’s government to use a Constitution Day amnesty to release political prisoners, not just petty criminals.
Authorities often mark Constitution Day, December 8, with a mass prisoner release, freeing convicts accused of minor crimes who are not considered a threat to national security. However, those jailed on politically motivated charges are rarely released as part of these amnesties.
“Journalists, rights defenders, writers, and opposition and religious figures held solely on account of their peaceful activities shouldn’t be in prison in the first place,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a December 6 statement signed by nine groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Fiery Hearts Club. “Freeing political prisoners for Constitution Day is an opportunity for President Islam Karimov to show Uzbekistan’s people and international partners that he’s willing to take a genuine step toward reform.”
Last week, a leading activist said Uzbekistan is holding more than 2,000 political prisoners.
Nadejda Ataeva of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, one of the signatories, described how, when political prisoners’ terms are almost up, they often are charged with new transgressions. Ataeva pointed to the the case of Murad Juraev, a former member of parliament who has been jailed since 1994 and is reportedly gravely ill with tuberculosis:
His fourth term expired on November 13, but was not released. Between October 10 and 22, he was held in solitary confinement near the town of Almalyk, on a disciplinary charge.
Juraev’s lawyers have not been given access to his case files in 18 years. It’s possible there’s no evidence there.
Although Pakistan reopened its border with Afghanistan of U.S. and NATO military back in July, traffic there is still moving so slowly that the coalition forces haven't even moved all of the goods that had backed up there -- meaning the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia remains the key means of supplying foreign forces in Afghanistan. That's according to Air Force Col. Robert Brisson, chief of operations for U.S. Transportation Command, in a recent interview with Military Times.
U.S. military officials have spent the past five months wrangling with the Pakistanis over a formal legal agreement and also working to clear out the roughly 7,000 shipping containers that were stalled in transit when the Pakistanis abruptly closed the border crossings in November 2011.
Coalition forces are only able to get between 10 and 50 cargo trucks per day across the border, compared to around 100 before the border was closed, Col. Brisson said.
“We haven’t booked any new cargo into the ports of Karachi and Qasim to move northbound, nor have we started moving new cargo heading southbound out of Afghanistan,” Brisson said.
New cargo may begin moving in late December or January, he said.
The U.S. and Pakistan are still working out the terms of the new agreement to ship goods through that country, and apparently the biggest sticking point is the question of transit fees.