Clan system in Central Asia: threat or opportunity?

by Anonymous on 8/6/2004 · 5 comments

Central Asian politics have always been based on tribal and clan relationships. Local and foreign media, official circles and public opinion have always manifested a negative attitude towards this phenomenon. However, there have been few attempts at analysing and understanding it. Although I totally agree that the clan system creates corruption, incompetence and economic inefficiencies, it is a reality that one cannot ignore.

According to Janna Khegai, the author of the research on The Role of Clans in the Post-Independence State-Building in Central Asia (PDF), “…the clan structures, as the main informal forces in the region, have predetermined the choice of institutions as well as the models of government in the Central Asian countries. Tribal/clan informal structures are one of the formative factors influencing the formal institution-building in the Central Asian states”.

Furthermore, according to the same research,” …clans are the central actors that represent and pursue interests of their members, thus fulfilling the role which in democratic systems is assigned to political parties or other formal organizations”.

I think it is impossible to build civil and democratic societies in Central Asia without taking into account this informal, but decisive paradigm of central Asian politics. My idea is that the existing clans are the only forces capable to create opposition, which is the basis for any further democratic change.

However, this political confrontation between clans should remain peaceful and constructive, or else, it can lead to catastrophic results, like the civil war in Tajikistan, which was, basically, the result of competition between Leninabad-Kulyab alliance against Pamiri-Garm group.

In any case, what I am absolutely sure of is that any political change in central Asia in the foreseeable future will be fashioned and led by the dynamics between and within the clans.


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– author of 49 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Education 2003–2004 Master Degree in Developmental Studies (DESS “Gestion et dynamisation du développement”), The University of Pierre Mendès France of Grenoble, France 1998-2003 Bachelor Degree in International Economics, The University of World Economy and Diplomacy of Tashkent, Uzbekistan Work Experience 05/2004-08/2004 Researcher, The Economic Mission of France in Istanbul, Turkey 04/2003-09/2003 Research assistant and Translator in the UNDP project UZB 01/04 on institutional reinforcement of the Higher School of Business under the President of Uzbekistan 01/2003-04/2003 Interpreter, International Department, The Higher School of Business, Tashkent, Uzbekistan 09/2002-01/2003 English Language Junior Editor at the Journal “International Relations, Law and Economy” of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent, Uzbekistan 06/2002-09/2002 Intern, CIS countries Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan

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{ 3 comments }

Laurence August 6, 2004 at 7:36 am

Another good point from Alisher. I can remember the open hostility from Americans, who would use clans as a reason to condemn Uzbeks for corruption, nepotism, etc,when I lived in Tashkent.

So I would ask them: what about the Kennedy clan from Massachussetts, the Bush clan from Texas, the Daley clan from Chicago, et al.? After all, President John F. Kennedy appointed his brother attorney-general and his brother-in-law as head of the Peace Corps. That sort of thing is part of our system, too, although not the whole picture. Most towns, cities, and states have prominent families that dominate business and politics. For example, Hillary Clinton became Democratic party nominee for Senate in New York State without any primary challenge, no primary at all, as I remember.

I would always be told by Americans in Tashkent that this was completely different, but it seems to me that there are some tribal, regional, and clan parallels to American politics, perhaps on a different scale, that would be helpful to utilize in our understanding of Central Asian dynamics.

Nathan August 6, 2004 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for finding this! I really look forward to reading it.

I’ve periodically mentioned the clans in Central Asia, but usually in the context of “I know they exist, but I don’t know much about them.” The only thing I can say I substantively know about them is from an oft-repeated aside in stories about the Uzbek government largely consisting of members of a Samarkand network. Or at the very least, that the government involves almost no one from the Ferghana Valley clans.

Again, thanks.

Joel August 8, 2004 at 2:35 pm

This post fit with a couple more I just posted about Central Asia, so I linked to it and expanded on the American political clan angle.

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