In the wake of a fresh boundary dispute, Uzbekistan has re-opened a border crossing with Kyrgyzstan and started allowing the passage of private citizens.
Uzbek news site Anhor.uz reported that the crossing began to operate normally on September 19 following telephone negotiations between the presidents of the two countries.
On the face of it, the move marks another surprising thaw over border issues, which had been strained intensely after a helicopter of Uzbek policeman last month occupied a Kyrgyz telecommunications tower on a disputed mountain and detained four technicians working there. The men have since been released and the telecommunications tower was abandoned by the Uzbek police officers over the weekend.
But Kyrgyz residents living near the crossing in question have told EurasiaNet.org that private citizens have not been able to get into Uzbekistan through that point for many years now, so claims the situation will revert to that before an earlier border dispute in March are highly confusing. The only relatively operational land crossing between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is in the latter’s Kadamjay district — a fact that all but cripples trade and communication between the two countries.
Despite the uncertainty, even the news of potential new border crossings is heartening Uzbek exporters, like Tahir in Tashkent.
Tahir exports cherries to China’s Xinjiang province and is eager to see the border working efficiently.
Three people in Uzbekistan’s Sirdarya region have been sentenced to 12 years in jail for committing fraud in the cotton business, according to a report by Russian state news agency Sputnik later relayed by local media.
Other people connected to the crime received less severe penalties, the agency reported.
Corruption in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry, whose profitability is known to be underpinned by a vast amount of rights abuses, is something that is widely suspected but little investigated or reported. Emergence of this relatively small case of malfeasance has shed some light on the irregularities that prevail in the industry.
“Sirdarya regional court ruled that the criminal group caused major financial damage to the government and embezzled more than 7 billion sum ($1.1 million) from the region’s cotton sector,” Sputnik reported, citing an unnamed courts official.
Sirdarya region neighbors the Tashkent region to the southwest and is around one hour’s drive from the capital.
Investigations into the fraudulent scheme concerned activities between July 2011 to May 2013 at a factory that collected and paid for deliveries of raw cotton from farmers.
“The criminals not only appropriated money provided by the government for the purchase of cotton, but they also in fact engaged in theft of this valuable commodity, selling it on the side,” Sputnik cited its source as saying.
While Sputnik did not dwell on the particulars of the embezzlement scheme, some insight was provided by an Uzbek journalist who has written extensively on the cotton industry for local outlets.
Police in Uzbekistan are reportedly on the hunt for people that they say spread unfounded rumors about the recent death of President Islam Karimov.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti cited Interior Ministry sources on September 9 as saying that they are looking for anybody that spread the gossip through social media, phone messaging apps and internet telephony services.
The witch-hunt is confounding even by Uzbekistan’s standards since most people, including the government in Tashkent, now agree that Karimov is indeed no longer alive. But the issue appears specifically to be all about the date on which the late president passed.
RIA Novosti’s source is cited as saying that the police are looking for “those social media users that spread the untrue information about Karimov’s date of death and that spread panic about a possible worsening of the country’s socio-political situation.”
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, said 12 people had been detained in the Namangan region for sharing news about Karimov’s presumed death through the Telegram and WhatsApp messaging services.
Ozodlik reported that middle school pupils and students at colleges in Tashkent and in the regions are now being forced to delete messaging apps from their phones for fear of more rumor-sharing.
What is particularly perverse about this frenzy of policing is that all evidence points to the fact that Karimov was indeed to all intents and purposes more dead than alive for days before his passing was announced, on September 2. As commentators have noted, the government did more to threaten stability by refusing to provide reassuring clarity about the situation than any social media user could have done.
Uzbekistan's new president has signaled that he will continue the country's isolationist foreign policy, promising to not join any military alliances and to not allow any foreign military bases in the country.
Shavkat Mirziyoyev was confirmed on Thursday as Uzbekistan's interim president, following the death of Islam Karimov, who had ruled the country since before the Soviet Union collapsed.
The same day, Mirziyoyev addressed parliament and laid out the broad strokes of the policies he intends to follow. In the military/foreign policy section of the speech there were no surprises, and he explicitly confirmed that he intended to to pursue the isolationism that Karimov developed over the period of his rule.
"The firm position of our country, as before, is to not join any military-political bloc, to not allow the deployment of military bases and objects of any other state on the territory of Uzbekistan, or the deployment of our soldiers outside the borders of the country," Mirziyoyev said.
The reference to the "military-political bloc" would preclude Uzbekistan rejoining the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which it left in 2012. Russia (which leads the group) has held on to hopes that Uzbekistan would rejoin; Uzbekistan's absence -- as the biggest country in Central Asia -- has hampered the CSTO's credibility in the region.
Mirziyoyev did, though, praise the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a group that served the interests of Uzbekistan. The SCO could be called a "military-political bloc," but its military component is secondary (or tertiary) and Uzbekistan has mostly not participated in SCO military activities, anyway.
Uzbekistan has released four citizens of Kyrgyzstan it detained last month during an ongoing border dispute standoff, ratcheting down the tension between the countries.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said on September 9 that that men were released by the Uzbek police following negotiations.
The four were reportedly in good health.
“Our health is fine. We are experiencing no problems and they looked after us well. Everything is good,” one of the released men, Zhenish Tashmatov, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service.
While that takes the sting out of the situation, the dispute that precipitated the men’s detention continues to rumble on.
Kyrgyz border guards have said around 20 Uzbek police officers are still occupying the telecommunications relay tower on Ungar-Too mountain where the four Kyrgyz men were detained. An Mi-8 helicopter carrying seven Uzbek policemen landed on Ungar-Too on August 22.
Ungar-Too is nominally one of the disputed chunks of territory, although the real prize for Tashkent is the Kasan-Sai reservoir, which is operated and de facto controlled by Uzbekistan, despite being several kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan.
Access to Kasan-Sai is currently blocked by Kyrgyz police checkpoints and another line of Uzbek defenses at the facility itself. At the site, there are numerous houses inhabited by Uzbek technicians and their families. Uzbekistan is aggrieved that it is not being given free and unfettered access to the reservoir, to which it holds territorial claims, by Kyrgyzstan.
Other than Uzbekistan, few are eager to see the formation of yet another enclave on the fringes of the Fergana Valley, which is what Tashkent’s desired outcome would entail.
When students in Uzbekistan returned to school and universities earlier this week, it was to classes devoted to the life and deeds of the late President Islam Karimov.
After reluctantly admitting to Karimov’s demise on September 2, authorities are now laboring to create a virtual demigod aura around the late leader.
In scenes that repeated themselves up and down the country, days began with school assemblies and a ceremonial laying of flowers before portraits of Karimov. Pupils then filed into their respective classes.
Students were given explanations in class about the life and works of the late leader and shown a film titled “The Future is For Us.”
The film, which was dedicated to Karimov, opens with a series of questions: “What is peace?”; “what is freedom?”; and “what is happiness?” Each question was answered with footage of Karimov speaking. The movie ended with the late leader saying: “I fear nobody. Our nation is on the true path. We are moving toward a great future.”
Some classes were attended by district heads and city government officials, at the instruction of the presidential administration in Tashkent.
The classes were really interesting. Teachers cried when they talked about the death of President Islam Karimov. And the film … was moving too. It was a kind of instruction from the leader of the nation,” Iroda, a teacher in the Ferghana Valley area, told EurasiaNet.org. Iroda’s surname has been withheld.
A student quoted in Uzbek language newspaper 21 Asr (“21st Century”), Mohigul Abdusalomova, said she would use Karimov’s words as an example in life.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Uzbekistan counterpart Islam Karimov this April at the Kremlin. (photo: Kremlin)
Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to visit Uzbekistan on Tuesday, inserting himself into an ongoing presidential succession after the death of President Islam Karimov, the only president Uzbekistan has known.
Putin will stop over in Samarkand on his way back from China, where he attended the G20 summit (and as a result missed Karimov's funeral; Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev represented Russia). "I think I have to stop over tomorrow to pay my respects," Putin said. Putin's spokesman later emphasized that Putin's visit would be personal, but there will certainly be more to it than that. A report on the Uzbekistan news site anhor.uz initially said that Putin would also meet there with "possible successors," though that was subsequently edited to say he would meet with "the leadership of the country."
Most analysts, and this blog, are skeptical that whoever succeeds Karimov will do much to change Uzbekistan's foreign policy, which was characterized by isolationism bolstered by playing various powers off of one another. So it's unlikely Putin believes he can tip the scales on the ongoing succession process.
"Putin's visit is symbolic, to show that Russia will be highly involved in Uzbekistan's future, but also an attempt to reset relations," said Erica Marat, , an assistant professor at the National Defense University and Central Asia expert, in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "I don't think the Kremlin is able to influence the succession process itself, but this is an opening for Russia nevertheless."
It was Tajikistan’s presidential press service, of all people, that provided some of the most interesting glimpses into the funeral of Uzbekistan late President Islam Karimov.
Predictably, most photos featured the Tajik leader front and center. Quite literally. In one of the many photos published on the presidential press Facebook account, Emomali Rahmon is seen striding purposefully in between Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is touted as the likely future president, and deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, another potential contender to the throne.
Azimov’s presence at the funeral, as confirmed in the photos, would appear to put paid to rumors that emerged shortly after initial reports of Karimov’s death that he has been placed under house arrest. Far from being arrested, Azimov was one of the pall-bearers leading from the front of Karimov’s coffin, along with a weeping Mirziyoyev.
This is where it is necessary to indulge in some old-fashioned Kremlinology.
The presence of the entire current Karimov elite at the funeral would suggest that a zero-sum bout of infighting, as some have expected, is not in the offing for the immediate future.
Perhaps that much should have been clear from the list of the names underneath an early post mortem encomium.
At five in the morning on September 3, people began forming lines in Uzbekistan’s capital along the route of the funeral cortege of the late President Islam Karimov.
Cars drew out of the president’s official residence and drove toward the airport. As with most other mass public events in Uzbekistan, the crowds were organized by government workers, students and activists with neighborhood committees.
Mobilization efforts were spearheaded by the Tashkent city hall, whose employees were tasked with bringing out the numbers.
As cars passed through the crowds in the capital, people threw flowers under the wheels and women cried.
“Islam Karimov was a great man and will always be so for us. He was in charge in the 1990s, when it was so difficult. In other countries [in Central Asia] there were wars, revolutions, ethnic conflict. But Karimov didn’t allow any of this,” Sherali Kudratov, a university teacher, told EurasiaNet.org.
At nine in the morning, Karimov’s coffin was loaded onto a plane and flown to Samarkand, his native city, for burial.
The entire spectacle was broadcast in full on state television. Television announcer Alisher Badalov read a lengthy and emotional tribute listing Karimov’s life achievements over the images.
“The bright memory of the first president of the republic of Uzbekistan, the great son of the Uzbek people, Islam Abduganievich Karimov, will forever remains in the hearts of our people and in the grateful memories of our compatriots,” the announcer read.
The funeral ceremony took place in the afternoon on Samarkand’s historic Registan square with several international dignitaries in attendance, including the presidents of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, and the prime ministers of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.
Uzbekistan has landed more police helicopters at the disputed Ungar-Too mountain on the border with Kyrgyzstan in a sign of Tashkent looking to cement its position in an ongoing standoff.
Kyrgyzstan’s border service said that on September 2 that the helicopter brought drinking water for around 15 to 20 Uzbek policemen stationed at the mountain, which is the site of a relay station for Kyrgyz communications companies.
An Mi-8 helicopter carrying Uzbek policemen first landed on Ungar-Too on August 22. The police officers shortly afterward detained four Kyrgyz citizens working at the relay facility, accusing them of being there illegally.
Kyrgyzstan says it has sent reinforcements to the area in a bid to pressure the Uzbek police to leave the site, but to no avail. Uzbekistan is reportedly holding firm until Kyrgyzstan removes its checkpoints to Kasan-Sai reservoir. That facility is a few kilometers inside Kyrgyzstan but is claimed by the Uzbeks, who point to the fact that they built the reservoir in Soviet times and continued to maintain it ever since as grounds for their position. Water from the reservoir is used to irrigate crops in villages in Uzbekistan’s crowded Fergana Valley.
The continued stalemate — particularly around the fate of the four jailed Kyrgyz men — is provoking much distress among activists and politicians inside Kyrgyzstan.
The Committee for Civic Control, a coalition 70 nongovernment groups, has appealed to the government to intensify its search for a solution to “avoid any self-initiated acts by citizens that could lead to an even greater escalation on the border.”