The late president of Uzbekistan may have died last year, but his name(s) lives on. Literally.
The day that would have marked Islam Karimov’s 79th birthday — January 30 — was marked by an outpouring of adulation, and some baby-naming to fit the theme.
In Andijan, a couple anticipated the event by giving their newborn triplets the names of Isolmjon, Karimjon and Abdugani — that last name being a reprise of the the late leader’s patronymic. The family received a visit from Andijan regional head Shukhrat Abdurahmanov, who bestowed them with gifts.
“We live in a peaceful and prosperous nation thanks to Islam Abduganievich Karimov. That is why we have decided to name the children in his honor,” the mother, Fatimahon. told Podrobno.uz news website.
Naming babies after Karimov was popular in Uzbekistan even before his death last year. There is no certain count of how many little Islams are running around the country, but anecdotal evidence suggests the number is high.
The tradition of giving multiple babies Karimov’s surname and patronymic seems to have been kicked off by Tashkent resident Gulshan Khaydarova in 2013. In September that year, Khaydarova gave birth to four boys, whom she called Karim, Islam and, less deferentially, Hasan and Husan. And in March 2015, a couple in the Karakalpakstan autonomous region gave their newborn triplet the full house, as it were. That gesture earned them three strollers and a milk cow from the local administration.
The late president of Uzbekistan’s wife and youngest daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, have created a foundation in his honor in the surest sign to date that while they may be sidelined, they will not be completely run out of the country.
Karimova-Tillyaeva announced the creation of the foundation in a Facebook post in which she also explained some of the goals of the organization.
“In order to perpetuate the memory and principles of my father, my mother and I have created the Islam Karimov Foundation. Plans for the foundation are to create a museum to the first president of Uzbekistan and to publish the works of the father-founder of our republic’s independent statehood,” Karimova-Tillyaeva said.
But the foundation isn’t to be devoted entirely to perpetuating Karimov’s post mortem cult of personality. Another objective is to promote the historical, cultural and literary heritage of Uzbekistan inside and outside the country. It will also organize educational and cultural programs to take full advantage of the potential of Uzbekistan’s youth, as well as train university lecturers, teachers and health workers, Karimova-Tillyaeva gushed.
"I ask the lord that he bless the soul of my father in that other world. And that in this world, all our good and noble strivings for the prosperity of our Uzbekistan be destined to be fulfilled,” she concluded.
Well may Karimova-Tillyaeva and her mother, Tatyana Karimova, pray to the lord, given that some observers had predicted the late president’s family could be in for a rough landing following the sudden death of their pater familias.
There is talk afoot that Uzbekistan is planning to rename a town near Samarkand in a tribute to the late President Islam Karimov in what would mark another progression in the leader’s post-death cult of personality.
Russian news agency Sputnik reported that rumors began circulating widely last week among resident of Kattakurgan, some 70 kilometers west of Samarkand, that their hometown of 100,000 people is set to get the name Islamabad.
Kattakurgan is best known in Uzbekistan for being the source of particularly prized Kishmish raisins and the site of an important reservoir.
Yulduz, a 50-year old resident of Kattakurgan, said that information about proposals to rename Kattakurgan in honor of Karimov first surfaced a few weeks ago.
“They are building roads and demolishing dilapidated houses and office buildings along the main road. The theater is being remodeled. A month ago, they fired the head of the city administration and he was replaced by the former mayor of a district of Samarkand,” Yulduz told EurasiaNet.org.
The re-designation of Kattakurgan, if it really happens, would come not a moment too soon. Only one factory there — a fat and oil processing plant — is still running. The cotton refinery, livestock breeding complex, meat and dairy processing plant and brick factory long ago closed shop.
“Unemployment levels are very high and young people go for work to Russia and Kazakhstan. What is more, the city suffers from chronic gas and power shortages,” one local journalist told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity.
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.
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.
An announcement on the death of Uzbekistan’s president appears imminent as a host of signs suggest funeral preparations are afoot in Islam Karimov’s native Samarkand.
Reuters news agency on September 3 cited three diplomatic sources as saying Karimov had died of a stroke, the strongest confirmation so far of a fact that Uzbekistan’s government has been staunchly denying.
More subtle hints have been coming out of Samarkand. Residents in that city have told EurasiaNet.org that the city, and particularly the central and historic Registan square, is being cleaned and prepared for some major event. The word has also been put around that city’s men should have their white shirts, black suits and tyubeteika skull caps on standby. The expectation is that a funeral will take place on September 3.
Uzbekistan’s state media still perversely sticks to its line that Karimov is ill, although government newspaper Halk Suzi noted in its September 2 issue that the leader was in a “critical condition.”
In another certain giveaway, Reuters cited a source in Kazakhstan’s government as saying President Nursultan Nazarbayev is preparing to go to Uzbekistan on September 3, cutting short a trip to China. The Chinese visit was meant to last from September 1 through September 5.
The will he, won’t he medical drama gripping Uzbekistan and its stricken president has taken a fresh turn with suggestions from his daughter that he may be on the mend.
Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva wrote in an Instagram post on August 31 that she wanted to thank well-wishers worried about Islam Karimov’s health and expressed confidence that “the enormous power of goodness coming from deep within your hear will help him get better.”
It was Karimova-Tillyaeva who revealed in an Instragram earlier in the week that the president had succumbed over the weekend to a cerebral hemorrhage.
More indiscretions about Karimov’s medical treatment trickled out of Moscow. Russian business daily RBK reported, citing sources in medical circles, that doctors from the Burdenko Neurosurgery Institute in Moscow had traveled to Uzbekistan to help treat Karimov. The news was confirmed to RBK by the head of scientific research at the Burdenko institute, Alexander Konovalov.
“Our doctors have been there for a long time, since the very beginning,” Konovalov told the newspaper.
Earlier in the day, Russian deputy prime minister Olga Golodets told reporters that although there was a bilateral agreement between Russia and Uzbekistan to provide medical treatment to the Uzbek head of state if needed, this option was not seized upon.
“We always provide assistance if they appeal to us over technologically difficult operations that cannot be performed in neighboring countries. But we have had no request,” she said.
As could be expected, the status of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov is plunged in mystery amid rival accounts of whether or not he is dead.
Moscow-based ferghana.ru reported overnight that Karimov had finally succumbed to the results of a brain hemorrhage on August 29 at 3:35 pm Tashkent time.
The presidential administration in Tashkent has staunchly denied this, however.
RIA Novosti cited a source in the administration as saying Karimov was in a stable condition.
As befits a deeply secretive, authoritarian nation, these claims and counterclaims were provided under a strict cloak of anonymity.
The drawback of combining large security apparatuses and secrecy, as Uzbekistan is now illustrating, is that information has a habit of leaking out, but in sometimes contradictory ways.
Also in the realm of unverifiable rumor is the news that deputy prime minister Rustam Azimov, believed to be a leading contender for succession, has been placed under house arrest. Confirmation of that event would signal that the widely advertised for jostling had indeed started. Since the arrest could only have occurred at the instigation of the National Security Committee, by far the country’s most powerful state body, the bets might appear to have been made.
The thinking still appears to be that the authorities will wait until after September 1, independence day, before shedding some light on what is happening, but events could well speed up the plan.
New light has been shed on the state of health of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov by his daughter, who has revealed that the leader has been struck by a brain hemorrhage.
Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva wrote on her Instagram page that she had provided the information to “avoid misunderstandings.”
“Due to a cerebral hemorrhage that occurred on Saturday morning, he was hospitalized and is being treated in the intensive care unit,” Karimova-Tillyaeva said. “His condition is stable.”
She said that it was still too early to make any prognostications about Karimov’s health and appealed for the public to respect the family’s privacy.
Notwithstanding those exhortations, observers of developments in Uzbekistan will now turn to speculating about the seriousness of the hemorrhage and what it could mean for the country’s future. Karimova-Tillyaeva’s vague and open-ended diagnosis for treatment suggests that Karimov is likely incapacitated and will remain so for the indefinite future.
If Karimov’s condition is at the worse end of the spectrum, the situation will raise the standard fears about potential elite instability and alarm among the population. Non-death actually presents a difficult predicament for a government used to operating in complete obscurity. Does a physically and possibly mental frail Karimov pursue the Cuban scenario, handing over power to a handpicked successor (although not necessarily a member of his family)? And if Karimov is unable to do even that, do contenders to his job begin jostling while he lies prone in a hospital bed? Authoritarian states like Uzbekistan are not well equipped to deal with such ambiguity and like their leaders to be either dead and venerable or alive and virile — not something in between.