by Nathan Hamm on 7/21/2004 · 13 comments

Kommersant-online (via Ferghana.ru) reports that Meskhetian Turks are heading for the US (Here’s some background on the group). The State Department expressed interest in admitting Meskhetians as refugees earlier this year and it looks like the program is underway.

And from the Kanas City Star comes a story about Bukharan Jews in the United States. Many of them, interestingly enough, are barbers. It looks like they have an active online community.

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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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Alisher July 22, 2004 at 8:27 am

I have read the article about Meskhetian Turks at Fergana.ru. First of all, Meskhetian turks were never evicted from Uzbekistan. Yes, it is true that there were real threats to their lives, but they were not evicted, the way they were deported from their natural homeland in Crimea by the Russians. Secondly, why there were clashes between Uzbeks and Mescketian Turks in the first place, while they lived peacefully for 50 years together. I remember the stories of my grandmother who tells how Uzbeks helped Meskhetian Turks to get settled in Namangan when they first arrived, and their relations were very kind and friendly. The main reason of these clashes was the Russian KGB, who actually initiated these clashes at the end of the USSR, to create instability and civil war in Central Asia. The same principle “Divide and rule” was used in initiating Uzbek-Kyrgyz hostilities in the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan. I wonder why central asian countries can’t integrate and are so hostile to each other, maybe I am paranoic, but again I am sure that the Russians are the reason, with the help of their media like fergana.ru. ( when I say Russians, I mean the russian political, security and military establishment, not ordinary Russians as a people).

Fergana.ru is supposed to be online community of Fergana..This is an epitome of Russian hypocracy, how can this site can be a Fergana online community when there is even not an Uzbek version of the site and Uzbek is not allowed in its forums.

Hmm, well..I think it is high time i should start writing a book ” Why I dont like Russia”.. ๐Ÿ™‚

Nathan July 22, 2004 at 9:42 am

Now, the Russian version of the article uses some forms of verbs I’m not familiar with, but I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten the impression they were evicted from Uzbekistan. The story does say they “fled.” This says “enforced evacuation” and implies that the Red Army took them out of the country.

That being said, I see where you’re coming from.

Alisher July 22, 2004 at 1:50 pm

I understand that on this issue it is hard for me to be objective. It is unfortunate that I have never met a Meskhetian, and it is even more unfortunate that I dont have any Meskhetian friends. It is always useful to see the other side of the coin. As an Uzbek, I regret what happened during those times, but at the same time it would be at least naive to think that it was only the Uzbek mob who were guilty of these events. As the representative of that Meskhetian group admits in the soros.org article, the KGB started these events to undermine Meskhetian nationalistic movement.
As for Russians, I do know that sometimes I am too harsh in my sentiments towards them. However it is my natural reaction to their attitude towards Uzbeks.
I dont have a Christian morality. When someone slaps on my face, I dont let him slap me again…

Nathan July 22, 2004 at 2:03 pm

That’s interesting that you mention turning the other cheek. That’s the second time I’ve heard a Muslim say that in the last couple weeks (keeping in mind you’re as Muslim as I am Christian).

I understand your reaction towards Russians and you have good reason to feel that way. I always hated the way that Russians talked about Uzbeks.

The Russians sure did foul things up moving whole nations around. I’m reading a book about the Caucasus right now that gives very little hope about that part of the world. And almost every single bit of ethnic tension mentioned in it deals with something either the Czar or Soviets decided about who should live where.

Tatyana July 23, 2004 at 12:42 pm

wow. I mean, wow.

Alisher, have you ever thought where Uzbekistan would be now if not for Russians? With no industry to talk of – only copper housewares-making, rabid Islam ideology, no women liberation, not even one non-religious high educational institution and total feodalism in social and economic system.
Modern-day Afganistan, no?
Not even on the stage of pre-capitalism. Stayed right there in medieval times, for sure. Would you gladly go back to the times your mom would be married by the age of 12 as wife number 4 to some unknown guy with hord of sheep to spare and have no prospects of learning to read but house slavery instead? I doubt you’d get your education quite as varied and interesting as a consequense, too.

Not mentioning there would be no city of Navoi, your famous namesake, or even Tashkent (after the earthquake).

It’s very convenient, don’t you think, to find a scapegoat for all the evil in the world, be it Russians, Jews or Americans. It takes a bit more guts to look at yourself in the mirror.

Obviously, I can say a lot more on the subject.
The only excuse for you I can come up with is your tender age and sucseptability(sp?) to opinion influences.

Nathan, you surprised me.

Nathan July 23, 2004 at 1:17 pm

Tatyana, here’s where I am on this whole thing. I really try to walk the line and try not to talk about it to avoid hurt feelings.

I agree with you 100% on the substance of what you are saying. I’ve even heard Uzbeks say that they are happy they aren’t like Afghanistan and that’s because of the Russians.

At the same time, I have a hard time with the Russian attitude that I ran into (and some didn’t have it) that the Uzbeks should thank them, over and over and over again. I just didn’t like it when Russians would drag us aside and tell us that Uzbeks are stupid. There’s the right way to say “we gave a lot to this country” and the wrong way.

In a similar way, I can believe that the war in Iraq is a good thing and that life will be better there, but I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of expecting a thank you from Iraqis. I don’t expect Native Americans to thank me either for sewers, automobiles, and firearms.

That being said, let me make explicit that I don’t share Alisher’s feelings toward Russians. I think Russians as individuals are largely blameless and don’t deserve to be treated the way they are now.

I’ve mentioned before that I have very few Uzbek friends and many Russian ones (or Russified Uzbeks). On the other side of the coin about how I think Alisher has some justification to be upset with Russians, I think it can go the other way too.

The way that Uzbekistan has treated its Russian population is shameful. I can understand it, but I don’t condone it. You’re right Tatyana, it’s been used as an excuse to avoid some soul-searching.

Nathan July 23, 2004 at 4:17 pm

Another little chime-in from me.

I might as well come out and say that I don’t buy the story that the KGB is to blame for the pogrom–even if the Meskhets say it. I could get into the complicated explanation, but suffice it to say that Occam’s Razor suggests an easier answer.

As much as I don’t want to offend anyone, it does no one any favors and a great disservice to my love of openness and honesty to overlook Uzbekistan’s chauvinism. Uzbekistan has a history of spotty relations between ethnic groups. It’s not as bad as some places, but it’s been far from perfect. Glasnost’ opened a pandora’s box. Some of the things that jumped out were nasty and nationalistic and could be found in almost every single ethnic group across the Soviet Union. I have a hard time buying that the KGB orchestrated all of that. It’s just too needlessly complex of an explanation.

Alisher July 24, 2004 at 11:19 am

Tatyana, thank you for your comment. I also have a lot to say in the subject. First of all, I dont have anything against Russians as a people. I have a lot of Russian friends. I would be happy to live with Russians as my close friends. From the other side, I am against all those medieval customs that you have described.
Russians usually like talking about things they gave, and rarely talk about what they got or they destroyed in Central Asia. Well, for Russians also it takes the guts to look on the mirror, doesnt it?…
You know, I can name as many negative sides of the Russian culture and society as you did for Uzbek society. But why? What is the use, I dont need to lower the other side just to feel that I am higher…
However, here I am talking not as an Uzbek, I am talking just logically. It is too much an ethnocentric (wrong) thought to believe that the way your culture or society functions is the best way for all other societies as well. The same thing can be said about Americans in Irak.
I think everything that happens has a historical logic behind it. If Uzbeks had a system of life that might seem unacceptable, it was not because they were or they are less intelligent than Russians or Americans, but just all other things being equal that was the optimal way of living in face of internal and external dynamics they had. I am sure Uzbeks would love to respect and to live happily with Russians as long as Russians also respect Uzbeks.
By the way, at the time of Russian invasian of Kokand khanate, the rate of literacy was not very different in Kokand and in Russia…

Alisher July 24, 2004 at 11:49 am

Again by the way, I should thank more the Turkish and George Soros for my education, not the Russians. Education has never been a top priority of Russian policy in Central Asia.

Nathan, what do you think was the reason you didnt have Uzbek friends?

Tatyana July 25, 2004 at 2:05 pm

Russians did look themselves in the mirror, as you probably notice in the last, oh, 15 yrs?. In fact, I’d say it’s in Russian national character to reflect too much and always exaggerate their sins – along with the opposite mistake of not addressing their sins at all.
But I don’t see how your comparison works in this case; after all, Russians don’t blame Uzbeks in the current state of their economy and general decay of morals.

Russians, speaking generally, of course, have also a strong desire to pull themselves out of the gutter. As other post-colonial countries, like India, Taiwan, etc.
As to Russian and Turkish policy in Central Asia, I’d recommend to read this, f.ex. Things are not that simple as your Turkish teacher in Islamic school wants them to be.

Another thing. Before saying thing like “Education has never been a top priority of Russian policy in Central Asia” I’d recommend to look first into statistics to back your statements up. If you could tell me there were as many elementary, middle and high non-religious schools and universities in Uzbekistan before 1924 and how many of them are functioning now, I’d agree with you. Try insert some figures, please.

Next – some cultures and societies are inherently more reactionary and BAD for their people than the others. Objectively. As can be illustrated by general direction of immigration -TOWARDS democratic countries of the West OUT of the underdeveloped countries of the East.
You contradict yourself when you say you wouldn’t like your country to stay in medieval times and at the same time praise the state of society and culture “before the invasion”. Either you want your country to develop to the level of best in civilised world or you prefer it to remain some obscure feodal tourist attraction. Your choice.
Whining would – at best- bring you charity. I don’t think this is your goal.
I recommend you to read excellent books by Bernard Lewis, a scientist of Islamic Studies (history, Sociology, etc) – just to have a perspective. He writes on the subject of ways out of medieval islamic dead-end that Muslim countries put themselves in.

Alisher July 25, 2004 at 4:54 pm

thank you very much for your comment and the books you recommended to me. I guess you are right when you said that I must have been influenced by many things due to my tender age ๐Ÿ™‚
My position in short, without any statistics and scientific evidence (though I will look up my university notes to give you the facts on my ideas), I dont want to live in Afghanistan-like Uzbekistan, and I accept that Russians did A LOT of things which are good in Uzbekistan. Maybe, I am sounding childish :), but I really want to be friends with Russians, with Meskhetians, with Kazakhs…I dont want any hostility. At the same time I am an Uzbek, when people say bad things about Uzbeks , it doesnt please me, and you must agree on that point with me. The same thing is true for you, you dont like when people say bad things about Russians. So, I think one of the most important things to do is to try to make our societies, Uzbek, Russian, etc to be more tolerant to each other and to be more friendly.
And I guess, the first thing to do in that direction is to start discussing these issues we talked about in a society-wide level. It is more than possible for Uzbeks and Russians to be friends, as long as Russians want to be friends with Uzbeks. Friendship means equality, are the Russians ready to put aside their arrogance ( I am really sorry, but which is really foolish)and accept that Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, are also humans like themselves, neither better nor worse? I guess that is the direction we have to work in our societies. Russia can not pull out from Central Asia or Caucasus, simply because it has nowhere else to go.

Alisher July 25, 2004 at 4:57 pm

Hmm.. I meant nowhere else to go, of course if it wants to remain THE Russia.

Nathan July 25, 2004 at 8:52 pm


Let me kind of rephrase that. I had Uzbek friends, but none that were very close. Part of that was because I lived in Navoi. I felt like Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Russified Uzbeks gravitated towards me because I was an outsider like them.

Also, I’m an extremely private and solitary person. Friendly, but not quick to make friends. That made it a little more difficult for me to make friends. And the way that some Uzbeks tried to make friends with me rubbed me the wrong way (these were just cultural differences). My students and the students at the Ped-Institut got along with me very well though and I’m more likely to count them as friends.

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