Backed Into The Corner

by Nathan Hamm on 6/20/2005 · 3 comments

Uzbekistan’s government must feel that the walls are getting a little too close to comfort. It’s letting fly some nuttier-than-usual statements.

First off, they deny that restricting access to K2 was in retaliation for US criticism after Andijon. Who knows, they could be right and the DoD may have only gone public with the news to embarrass the Uzbeks. Possible, but probably a load of bunk. Regardless, this statement from the Foreign Ministry is priceless.

“Following the logic of the American mass media, the conclusion should be that the events in Andijan was a consequence of — not a reason for — Uzbekistan’s decision to restrict the American military flights,” it said.

Now, I’m no big fan of the most reporting on Uzbekistan, but even I have to give the media more credit.

And now, Karimov is parading around one whopper of a story. Without naming any names or anything, he says that the uprising in Andijon was part of a campaign by “great powers” to seize control of Uzbekistan in order to conquer the entire region.

Not pointing the fingers at anyone works well here. It makes it awfully hard to point out just how specifically silly this fantasy is. He calls the Andijon gunmen “puppets” used by “big countries.” I have a sneaking suspicion who he is thinking of here and I think it explains the source of these anti-American rumors.

Uzbek president said: “Given all this, you may ask whether the Andijan events have anything to do with what I am saying here. Keep this in mind. The present geopolitical situation is such that the entire world’s interests are focused on the Central Asia region, in the centre of which is Uzbekistan. On which country are the policies of superpowers – I won’t name them, you know them well – directed after Afghanistan, be it a distant country or a neighbouring country, in the north, east or south, be it opposing or coinciding? All their policies are focused on this region. And their aim is to take the region under their influence, and taking the region somehow in their hands is a manifestation of very big politics.”

Karimov said: “The country which wants to take it under its control knows that if it gets its hands on Uzbekistan then it can control the region, otherwise it is impossible.”

Read the entire story for at least three different versions of this.

I say this as delicately and sensitively as possible–as a friend who is willing to listen to criticisms of his own country. [And I only tread lightly because I’ve never been able to accurately tell how widely or genuinely held this belief is in Uzbekistan.] But, the sun does not rise and set in Uzbekistan. It’s a beautiful place with a fascinating history that is in an increasingly important part of the world, but it’s not so important that this kind of paranoia is warranted. It’s part and parcel of the national myth Karimov seems to be cultivating, but it sounds incredibly bizarre.

And why does everyone want a chunk of Uzbekistan?

“Second, there is Uzbekistan’s potential, its mineral resources and reserves, be they oil, gas, gold, silver, and many other minerals. It is a unique country. There is no such a country in the world.”

I know he mentioned a bunch of other things, but since oil came up, Islam Karimov gets this week’s prize.

And this one’s a beaut too.

“Uzbekistan is in the very centre of Central Asia and the most powerful state. Our influence and culture are powerful historically. The nations around us are looking at and following us. What way has Uzbekistan chosen? How is Uzbekistan feeding itself? Why are its people’s spirits rising with every passing day? What is the reason? They do not know that we are protected by God himself. They do not know that this hard-working people has gained belief in their own might. They cannot be turned aside from their way. Our great power is in this.”

What I said above applies here too with the special addition that Islam Karimov may in fact be the only person who believes in the myth he has created.

So if Uzbekistan’s such a wonderfully unique, powerful, self-reliant, important country that the whole world just wants to eat up in order to control all of Central Asia, what’s left? Autarky? Engage in a nutso race with Turkmenistan to see who can claim the crown of Central Asia’s North Korea? I have faith that Karimov would be removed by his own lieutenants before it got that bad, but Uzbekistan certainly does seem to be isolating itself. Russia isn’t endlessly tolerant and I doubt that Karimov could ever truly trust the Chinese. He’s making it awfully lonely…

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This post was written by...

– 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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Kisa June 20, 2005 at 3:27 pm

AGONY AGONY AGONY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

david_walther June 21, 2005 at 1:27 pm

This sounds like textbook paranoid delusion… like literally, you could put this in a psych textbook. You have to wonder what he actually believes… I saw a propoganda poster the other day, huge, I can’t remember where it was now… but anyway, it shows the familiar buildings of Tashkent (like the pride of the government, the NBU skyskraper that even it’s own mother couldn’t love) superimposed together with the great world landmarks–the eiffel tower, the statue of liberty, Big Ben, etc. I don’t remember the exact title, but it was something like “Uzbekistan stands together with the great countries”.

I think I actually laughed out loud… but maybe they actually believe this. The slogan might no longer be “Uzbekistan kelajigi buyuk davlat” (written all over the country) “uzbekistan is becoming a great country” but we’ve switched tactics… now Uzbekistan is a great country, already. and they “stand alone,” as Karimov’s last book puts it.

on one hand, none of this seems to matter at all to the normal people on the street–most of whom are clueless or oblivious to all of it, but on the other hand, every time i return to this country i’m afraid that they won’t let me back in. maybe i’ve got the same disease—I find that explaining life here (like the tapped phone calls) to people at home I know i sound like a paranoid delusional.

TC June 26, 2005 at 4:40 pm

Does Karimov really believe that the ‘Great Powers’ are saying amongst themselves, ‘First, Uzbekistan . . . and then the world!’ followed by sadistic laughter, and a backdrop of thunder and lightening? Honestly?!

Before you know it, he’s going to start building ice palaces in Khiva.

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