Just a Reminder

by Nathan Hamm on 8/4/2004 · 10 comments

From an LA Times editorial:

Karimov should look at the records of repressive rulers who keep the lid on too tightly. Iran and the shah would be a good starting point.

Analogies are useful up to a point, but I have a really hard time with this one. Seems more of a product of lazy mental calculus (Islamic society+repressive government=just like Iran!) than honest reflection.

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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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upyernoz August 4, 2004 at 3:57 pm

i think we’ve argued this one before, but i think there are some real parallels between modern uzbekistan and iran in the 1950s (before the shah was overthrown the first time). like the shah, karimov is an unpopular authoritarian leader with a secular government who is generally supported by the americans because he is useful for the u.s,’s larger geopolitical goals (in iran it was anti-communism and oil production. in uzbekistan is it the war on terrorism/afghanistan)

obviously, no analogy is perfect. there are plenty of ways to distinguish the two countries if you want to. iran and uzbekistan share some early history, but then had very different 20th centuries.

but those differences don’t take away from the l.a. times’ basic point–repressive rulers that “keep the lid on too tightly” sometimes get themselves overthrown. the two countries don’t have to be exactly alike to make that point.

Nathan August 4, 2004 at 4:28 pm

Sure there are parallels, but the societies are so different that it makes the whole analogy silly. Even the parallels aren’t all that great.

The writer is making more of a point than repressive governments get toppled by tacking on a sentence about Iran. Uzbekistan isn’t Iran. Even when they had a lot more cultural contacts, the sectarian divide made them pretty different (and let’s not forget that the story of Central Asian cultural ties to Persia largely concerns certain cities and not so much the Turkic tribes that the Soviets settled). By throwing in a line about the Shah, the writer creates an impression that whatever replaced Karimov would resemble Iran’s Islamic government. Whether or not he actually believes that, I don’t know.

I wouldn’t have made an issue of it if the writer simply left out the last sentence.

Laurence August 5, 2004 at 7:43 am

Actually, one could equally make the case that by permitting the Ayatollah Khomeni to return to Iran from France, the Shah himself enabled the fundamentalists. Following the LA Times’ advice might actually lead to the Iran scenario.

Had the Shah been more strongly resistant towards Islamist fundamentalism, not tolerated any of it, Iran might have been in better shape today. You can look on the internet and see US State Department documents from the 1970s saying that the US can work with the so-called “moderate” Islamists in Iran, and should not support the Shah. Ironically, these came to light as a result of the hostage crisis, when the stolen top secret documents were released to the press.

Unlike the LA Times editorial writers, Karimov’s regime is surely aware of the realities of the Iranian case, as the Communists collaborated in the Shah’s overthrow, much to their later sorrow, since they were among the first victims of Khomeni’s firing sqads. Iran is among Uzbekistan’s largest trading partners today, and the Tajik minority is Persian-speaking. (Karimov is rumored to be at least part-Tajik, himself).

upyernoz August 5, 2004 at 9:06 am


that’s why i said the parallels exist with the shah in the 1950s before the first time the shah was overthrown. the second time was very different. first, because the iranian people switched from being strongly pro-american (like uzbeks today) to being strongly anti-american after the u.s. government overthrew the democratic and popular prime minister mohammed mossadegh and restored the shah to power. and second, in the mid-1970s (at the u.s.’ urgings) the shah tried to co-op the islamic opposition in a way that karimov has not tried.
before the 1970s, the shah was strongly anti-islamic. that’s how the ayatollah went into exile in the first place

Laurence August 5, 2004 at 11:25 am

What parallels? The US didn’t put Karimov in. The US didn’t overthrow the Uzbek government. Karimov is not trying to make an alliance with the fundamentalists.

All he has done is to put in a US base to keep the Russians at a little distance. He is certainly not an American puppet. Uzbekistan makes deals with Russian, not US, oil companies–unlike Iran under either Shah.

On the other hand, the NGO and American newspaper editorialists seem to be asking the US to overthrow Karimov and make an alliance with fundamentalists. From what you’ve just said here, that would be a recipe for an anti-American backlash, as in Iran after Mossadegh…

praktike August 5, 2004 at 1:24 pm

Is there hyperinflation in Uzbekistan? Is Karimov cutting off shopkeepers hands for raising prices?

I don’t think the situations are parallel in more than a superficial sense.

Nathan August 5, 2004 at 6:49 pm

Gotta admit I missed that you were talking about the 1950s.

Then again, I don’t think that is what the LAT is talking about.

Alisher August 7, 2004 at 6:38 am

I remember from my Soviet history course that according to Lenin, the revolution is possible when the rulers cant go on ruling like before, the people dont want to go on like before, and the social climate is very politicised.
From this point of view I dont see any parallels between Uzbekistan and Shah Pahlavi’s Iran. Secondly, according to this article (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/6981/shah.htm), the Shah was overthrown because he wanted to initiate too western policies when Iran was not yet ready for this, and the Shi’ite majority of the population sympathised with puritan form of Islam, which is not the case in Uzbekistan. Absolute majority of the population is totally against fundamental Islam.
And finally, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution received a very strong Soviet support, whereus now I dont think that it is in the interests of any great power to support extremists in Uzbekistan, because it will bumerang directly as a threat to them.
So, all internal and external factors dont show any similarities between Iran and Uzbekistan.

I was able to read only the Russian version of the article, so I am not sure how it is written in English, but I guess the author just wanted to make an eye-catching final phrase and sacrificed precisenes for stylistic effects…

Alisher August 7, 2004 at 6:56 am

Then.., maybe I am wrong, but it seems to me you can find some sort of minor similarities between even completely opposite things, for exemple like, Osama bin Laden and George Bush they both take breakfast in the morning..but no one says they are similar.

Laurence August 7, 2004 at 8:20 am

Alisher is right, of course.

But it is interesting that a number of Americans I met here and in Tashkent seem to believe that the extremists have wide public support. Yet very few Uzbeks I met thought so.

My guess is that is because people from American NGOs and government programs and places like Human Rights Watch are working with extremists, either as a legacy from Afghanistan, outdated anti-communism, or a misguided romantic sense. The enemy of America is my friend, that sort of thinking.

They would like Uzbekistan to become another Iran. Which is why they invoke the Shah, time and again.

One only has to read Azar Nafisi to see what a tragedy the Islamic Revolution was for Iran.

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