by Nathan Hamm on 7/10/2004 · 5 comments

In Amanda’s latest from Kazakstan, she mentions that the Russian and Kazaks look down on Uzbeks. She’s extra nice to them, partly because she says I’d never forgive her. Honestly, I was never particularly close to or friendly with Uzbeks in general. A few families, the occasional delightful person, and college kids in general were great. It was Russians, Tatars, Tajiks, Kazaks, Koreans, and Karakalpaks that I liked best. In other words, the minorities were my favorites. They tended to view me as a fellow outsider (of a different degree) and really opened up. So, I think she should be friendly with Uzbeks because they’re more likely to be friends simply for friendship’s sake.

Anyway, when I first read that the Uzbeks aren’t treated well, I had a couple reactions. First was that Russians in Central Asia often acted like the sun never shined until they showed up. They will occasionally say the nastiest things about the stupidity and helplessness of locals (hey, that’s what happens when you give sub-par educational opportunities to entire nationalities).

Second, and this dynamic is much more interesting, I thought it makes sense for Kazaks to look down their noses at Uzbeks given the latter group’s fawning adoration for their northern cousins. I never got to the bottom of that, and I definitely saw less of that in the Zerafshan Valley (where it was more, “Another Kazak? Who cares, they’re all over the place.”). My favorite illustration of this is that my friend’s host dad tried to convince said friend that he should eat the liver and oily potatoes on the table for dinner because Kazaks get their amazing strength from only eating meat and potatoes. This point was illustrated by a theatric flexing of all upper body muscles and a guttural growl. It was also widely believed that Kazaks could drink anyone under the table.

I have also heard stories that Kazaks believe Uzbeks to be hard bargainers. They really don’t like that at all. (For what it’s worth, it was one of my favorite things about Uzbekistan.)

Reading An Unexpected Light, a book about a man’s recent travels in Afghanistan (which is quite good and very different from the usual travel story and I’ll probably have something to say about it later), I encountered a series of stereotypes that may shed a little light on the Uzbek-Kazak situation.

Speaking about how the national prejudices of each country illustrate the cultural differences between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran,

Iranians generally think of Afghans as coarse and dangerous, but also as belonging to the untamed protospecieis which, under the influence of Iranian sophistication, has been given its most civilized expression in Iran. Iran’s southern neighbor, Pakistan, regards Afghans as at best quaint and incomprehensibly patriotic, a nation of impoverished reprobates; at worst they are considered mindlessly violent. The Afghans for their part look upon Iranians as hysterical, effeminate and pseudo-religious. And both Afghans and Iranians look down their Aryan noses at Pakistan as a hybrid non-country peopled by irreligious sycophants of the West. [Emphases my own]

I could be waaaaaay off, but it would not surprise me if Uzbek adoration of Kazaks has to do with them being more or less a living reminder of who they were when they chased the Timurids into Afghanistan (who, of course, then moved on to India). I can guarantee that Kazaks don’t consider Uzbeks lacking in religious faith, and if I had to guess (because I just don’t know for sure), Kazaks simply don’t have patience for Uzbek nationalism (because, Uzbeks really consider themselves the bee’s knees–the rightful rulers of Central Asia).

I’d be interested to know what, if anything, the Kazaks think about Tajiks. Uzbeks generally considered them to be thieves and liars (unless they were dating one or were willing to own up to the fact that speaking Tajik at home and having Tajik granparents makes you at least part Tajik).

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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haroon July 12, 2004 at 9:57 pm

really liked this post, thank you much.

especially enjoyed the excerpts from ‘an unexpected light’ — i often can’t get enough of such arguments, perspectives, so on and so forth, especially being from the area myself and recognizing how right on mr. elliot was/is. well, sort of.

how did you find the book overall? do let me know: i plan on reading it. actually, i planned to, never got around to it, and now want to get back

Almir July 16, 2004 at 4:13 am

Really very good post. Being an Uzbek, I think I can add some other stereotypes Uzbeks have about other nationalities in the region. ( I guess these stereotypes are more valid for Fergana valley Uzbeks, who don’t have the same way of thinking as Uzbeks in Surhandarya, or Horazm.). In addition, here I express what I think other Uzbeks, in general, feel about other nationalities, and it doesn’t mean that I have the same feelings.

Kazakhs and Kyrgyz: course, uncivilised cattle breeders, violent, sometimes I used to hear my grandmother say don’t behave like a Kazakh, when I didn’t want to attend some family social event or a wedding party of a neighbour who leaves 4 or 5 streets away.
Another aspect, Uzbek mentality does not differentiate much between Kyrgyz and Kazakh, Uzbeks know that Kazakhs and Kyrgyz are different nationalities, but Uzbeks don’t feel that their different nationalities.

Tadjiks: gentle, sympathetic, subtle, not trustworthy as they may cheat you with their gentle appearances, usually Tadjik girls are considered to be beautiful, the only nation with whom Uzbeks feel closeness. ( ideas about Greater Uzbekistan)

Russians: alcoholics, Uzbeks, especially those who have not been in much contact with Russians, think that Russian women are if not prostitutes than at least morally not very strict, honest, kind, can be trusted. In fact, there is not much animosity between ordinary Uzbeks and Russians, especially in those places where there are not much Russians. In Fergana valley, for example, I know Russians who speak Uzbek better than me, though I have never met a Russian speaking good Uzbek in Tashkent. Even though, the Uzbeks may be good friends with Russian in their professional lives, they prefer live their personal lives separately from Russians. In the Fergana valley, there are not much examples of family level friendship between Uzbek and Russian families. In addition, I don’t think there are too many cases even in Tashkent, but I hope I am wrong.

Turkmen: much the same thing as about Kazakhs, but honestly, a Fergana valley Uzbek does not know much about Turkmen, there is not much regional mobility where people could move around see and learn about each other. The only thing that someone like say my grandmother knows about Turkmen is that they have an interesting type of music, they have big caps or shapkas like Horezmiens, and they used to have a very good type of rice in Tahyatosh in Turkmenistan.

Nathan July 16, 2004 at 9:38 am

That’s interesting that Uzbeks feel close to Tajiks. While I saw a lot of intermingling and marriage between Tajiks and Uzbeks in Bukhara and the Zerafshan Valley, my Uzbek students (even the half-Tajik ones…) never had anything nice to say about Tajiks. I would have never gotten the impression that there was a feeling of closeness. I always thought it was like Russian-Uzbek relations in Navoi: friends in public but despise each other in private (there were a few intermarried families I knew, typically Ukrainian-Uzbek).

That’s great to hear that Russians speak Uzbek in the Ferghana Valley. Very few did in Navoi, and there were enough that didn’t so that it was useless for us to try to speak Uzbek there.

Alisher July 17, 2004 at 12:27 pm

Well, as for Tadjiks and Uzbeks, Tadjiks have always in the recent history have thought to be bullied by Uzbeks. And honestly, I do think there is such a bullying. From the other side, I was once advised by my friends speak Russian in a Samarkand market, since with the Uzbek I will get a triple price. As for closeness, I might be wrong, I am saying this from my personal experience of what I have heard Uzbeks say about Tadjiks. In cities like Bukhara or Samarkand, as far as it seems to me Tadjiks are dominant. Maybe they behave differently when they are dominant than when they are a minorıty like in the Fergana valley. I have Tadjik friends who admit that they are Tadjiks with reluctance. Again, maybe I am just generalising my personal experiences too much…

Nathan July 17, 2004 at 12:39 pm

Your comments seem pretty spot-on. From my outsiders perspective, I think a lot of this has to do with the policy of making people pick a nationality for their passport. Belgians did this in Rwanda, and it really strengthened feelings of group identity.

I always felt like Uzbeks and Tajiks were closer to each other than they were often willing to admit.

You are right about using Russian in Samarkand. A lot of our volunteers who were sent there had a hard time because Tajik and Russian are used so widely in commerce. Bukhara wasn’t so much that way, it seemed. There were a lot more mixed families (though no one seemed to be willing to admit to being Tajik) and all three languages seemed pretty widespread. Even there though, some Uzbek speakers had a hard time with some taxi drivers.

Oddly enough, I had a really hard time in Karshi. No one spoke Russian!

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