Kokand, continued

by Nathan Hamm on 11/10/2004 · 3 comments

IWPR continues its quality reporting on the Kokand riots. Police are tracking down those identified as ringleaders in the recent protests. The government seems committed to pressing the issue on the new decree. They are stepping into dangerous territory.

A 45-year-old man, who used to be an engineer but is now also in the hat business, asked, “How can you resign yourself to the fact that your children will die from hunger? Of course we have to defend ourselves if the government does not want to talk to us in a civilised manner, and make decisions that are based on the real situation at the market and on what we’re capable of doing.”

Even deputy mayor Abdullaeva predicted that the protests could start up again the moment tax officials re-appear at the market to impose the regulations.

Political analysts say public discontent with government policies and the general economic situation in Uzbekistan is close to boiling point, creating potential for protest actions on a wider scale, and further violence.

They warn that protests could mushroom as market traders, with their specific concerns, are joined by other dissatisfied social groups. There is some evidence for this: as well as demands to end the government restrictions on traders, protesters in Kokand also called on officials to rein in the police, often criticised for excessively repressive behaviour, and to “free Muslims from jail” – a reference to the thousands of people held in prison on various charges relating to alleged Islamic militancy.

The 20-year-old who was the only person to admit taking part in the protest warned, “For the moment people are intimidated, but fear falls away at critical moments, so it’s pointless arresting anyone. The same thing will happen tomorrow, and there will be others to do it [protest], because the government wants to squeeze blood from a stone.”

The “free Muslims from jail” demand gives me a bit of a reason for pause. If new riots do develop, I certainly hope that the wrong people do not step in as leaders.

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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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Laurence November 10, 2004 at 12:50 pm

Nathan, I’d take what IWPR reports with a big grain of salt. The “free Muslims from jail” is a tipoff that they are trying to use a legitimate grievance for an illegitimate purpose, fanning a pan-Islamic insurgency, which luckily exists only in the minds of some British and American NGOs. The Uzbeks and the Russians can handle this, if need be like they did in Tajikistan… Putin won’t let an Islamic extremist movement take root in Central Asia, period.

Nathan November 10, 2004 at 1:14 pm

I’m inclined to agree with much of the report, but don’t think that the “free Muslims from jail” is anything more than an indication that the story is written by a journalist looking for some kind of ideological movement in the protests.

I’ve heard enough first-hand reports from people I know and trust regarding market protests over the past couple years, that I would entirely expect to see more riots if the government follows through with the decree.

upyernoz November 10, 2004 at 11:34 pm

another thing to keep in mind: in the arab world, at least, “muslim” often just means an upstanding person. kind of like “christian” is used in parts of the u.s. (“he’s a good christian”). a line like that in most arab countries would not necessarily refer to any religious movement or political islam.

i’m not sure the word “muslim” is used the same way in uzbekistan, but it’s worth remembering that word-for-word translations of slogans often miss the sense of what is being said

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