The Truth That Is Almost Impossible to Believe

by Nathan Hamm on 12/19/2005 · 24 comments

[What follows is an essay from an Uzbek professor sent to me by a mutual acquaintance. As usual, the views contained in the essay do not necessarily represent my own. I am always eager to highlight local perspectives, and encourage readers interested in having essays posted on the site to contact me. — Nathan]

Ilhombek Pulatov, Tashkent

“Peace without security is fear, peace without
justice is tyranny, peace without freedom is slavery”

Dr. Liam Gox, The Atlantic Bridge Launch Event,19 November, 2002

These days the free world media, excluding Uzbek and some others, is widely depicting sad pictures of the brutal events in Ferghana Valley situated in the Eastern part of Uzbekistan. Although there are many contradictions caused mainly by the impediments to independent media and official investigations into the bloody violence imposed by Uzbek authorities, some core causes of the popular unrest begin to be more or less clear.

The massacre of Uzbeks, analogous with the Tiananmen Square incident in China, has caused much speculation and sound analysis by experts and specialists in politics and other related fields, horrifying ordinary people and producing tears in the eyes of the openhearted public.

However, this bloodshed most certainly could have been avoided if the political will of Uzbek president Karimov had not divided the world’s leaders into different camps. One of these camps is seen as consisting of our neighbor to the South, which has been denounced as housing “religious extremists.” Siding with dictator counterparts except one, who gained power as a result of popular uprising and some other farther dictatorships or not so ones.

The other camp comprising Russia and a few others who are fearful of Islamic fundamentalists or rather interested in restoring or spreading their influence, defended the regime but cautiously called for investigation by the UN.

The Western camp, especially the US and the UK, found themselves between two fires: blaming their ally or taking the side of the Uzbek people. Though they have now begun to criticize more harshly than at the beginning of the violence, they have failed to denounce Karimov.

But it is too hard to escape from the mounting evidence revealed by foreign media, the embattled Uzbek opposition, and from the awkward conduct and contradictory utterances of Uzbek officials. They are desperately trying to cover up their atrocities and are denying an unbiased probe into the killings of the peaceful demonstrators and all-too-innocent bystanders.

So, what to do and whom to believe? The dictator or the media and opposition? What should be done to relieve the Uzbek people from their unbearable pains and to better their horrible condition?
I have tried to make some reflections in a bid to answer these and other questions that are crucial to us. Such things are a point of honor to others, people who call themselves champions of democracy and freedom.

Recently Mr. Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, said: “The people of Uzbekistan want to see more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence.”

Yes. He is quite right when he says that the people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, one that should come through peaceful means and not through violence. And I should stress even more: Uzbeks not only don’t want violence – they loathe it. One could never find such a patient and hospitable nation among the entirety of the world, one that at the same time is living hand-to-mouth in one of the potentially richest countries of the world.

And yet – how to achieve a representative and democratic government when we have the ugly and brutal regime of Karimov in our impoverished country, where humanistic and simple moral principles are diminishing and elementary rules of law are not working? Our poor Uzbekistan is not Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. In those countries, before their colorful revolutions, they had opposition parties that could fight elections or organize demonstrations. They had active NGOs that could explain what freedom is and what human rights are. They had, more or less, free media – and they could exchange information.

However, in every Uzbek election conducted since the Independence, there has been no free or fair voting. Especially during the 1999 parliamentary, the 2000 presidential, and last year’s December 26th parliamentary elections – all of which were so rigged and faked that we cannot even call them elections. That word implies a freedom that was sadly lacking. The regime was merely choosing, appointing their own men as “representatives” of the people. Karimov has personally appointed the deputies of the Uzbek Parliament, or they have been appointed by Prime Minister Mirziyaev, popularly known as the successor of Karimov. Said Prime Minister is also notoriously known for the beating, insulting, boiling and shooting of innocent people and deputies of local legislatures – work that is helped along by local hokims (administrators analogous with Western mayors, all of whom are, of course, appointed by Karimov).

The opposition was not allowed to take part in those elections. Many think that they will never allow dissidents to participate in legislature. Moreover, any candidates allowed to participate are so thoroughly filtrated that even to be nominated only means being registered in one of five approved parties. Citizens may choose the people who are most loyal to the administration, and then only to choose them as “deputies” of that power. All of these actions are totally ignoring the Constitution and laws – which have since become merely wasted paper. Such documents are intended for gaining justice and fairness, but have now become a big stick and a heavy whip, applied as they are by Karimov and his men.

In our country the law works only one-sidedly and only for the benefit of Karimov’s band. We surely believe that the regime turned illegitimate and requires change – but how to do it? This is the hardest decision, as the regime is doing everything it can to jail or kill, to blackmail or harass the leaders of demonstrators and intimidate the people not content with his policy and the numerous unlawful actions of hokims.

In view of these facts, how is it possible to pursue democracy by “peaceful means” in Uzbekistan? For Karimov and his men the elections have become just a political game and mockery of democracy in which the results were fixed beforehand, but the opportunity of the electors to propagate their message brought unbelievable change and the reverse effect. Just look at the turnout of the last election: the result was about 80 per cent or more for the whole Uzbekistan, for regions and electoral districts!

There is a direct evidence of the upward distortion of the results of the polls. Karimov uttered a command and it was fulfilled exactly as he said to show the “political will” of the Uzbek electorate and their “patriotic consciousness”.

Such criminal distortions play largely as an instrument of Karimov’s propaganda and as a show of his fictitious successes on the road of building the “unique” society which has its “own path” to democracy other than universally known democracies where Karimov and the like can rule the country and commit crimes against own people with impunity.

In order to believe these tales you should have the abilities of a fantastic imagination and the quality and courage of Craig Murray who became the victim of one of the ugliest regimes of the XXI century and in the age of freedom and democracy. At first even Murray’s bosses representing the mother of the contemporary democracies did not believe or did not want to believe his words and instead of following his warnings they sacked him in a shameless manner. Every word of Craig Murray is true and he is right in his description of the real situation in Uzbekistan.

I myself it is the citizens of this country which the world noticed, mainly by their joining the anti-terrorist coalition and ironically broadly by Karimov’s ruthless massacre of his own citizens – women, children, the old and young – using brutal force indiscriminately. The regime that succeeded to sack and to drive the highest representative of the UK in our country, to drive this heroic man to despair, even leading to his suicide – this regime is able to do anything it wants against every inhabitant of the country who says a true word. And don’t even think of the fates of those fearless patriots of Uzbekistan who are now in jail or in exile. Many of them cannot say a word against the lawlessness and for defending their elementary rights just not to subject their relatives, friends and even ordinary sympathizers to danger and harassment.

Just one fact: Despite a constitutional ban on censorship publishers and editors, journalists and other workers of the Uzbek media cannot tell the true state of things in the country and the world. We have no judiciary enabling justice, no curb to corruption which is flourishing, no faith in virtue, no reliable statistics to roughly assess the level of our gains or losses and there where “the state practices a policy of deliberate dishonesty” as a true friend of Uzbeks Craig wisely put it, moral and ethical values are degrading fast and people have lost confidence in government and they even loosing trust in each other and as a result no progress is seen in economy or elsewhere. As a consequence people are sometimes loosing their traditional patience and resorting to violence though the government has appalling human rights record and can do everything to suppress any dissent. The Andijan events clearly demonstrated it.

We are losing everything that is valuable and natural in most other countries. Karimov has been trying hard to teach Western leaders and free media representatives how to behave and do their routine job. This in itself is a paradox that can hardly be explained to sane persons. One cannot but believe that a deep moral crisis is present in our society. Nevertheless, Karimov’s techniques are successful to a depressingly high degree. There are many that upon hearing his lectures and reading his books can believe him and his justifications; justifications for shootings, for the trampling of innocent people, for the very rape of democracy.

Uzbek media only tells Karimov’s stories. He does not allow our journalists to tell the plain truth, or even to criticize the all-too-evident shortcomings that are corrupting our ethical values and morality. The best workers of our “censor free” media were either killed or they are in jail or in exile. This is an undeniable fact that one of the ace journalists of Uzbek media and the then Deputy of Uzbek Parliament Jahongir Mamatov who had been elected democratically when Karimov’s grip on power was looser than now, had to flee the country after his reminding the president in a session of the Uzbek legislature of his inaugural oath where he promised under the Koran not to raise the prices of basic foods.

One of the worst manifestations of the command method inherited from the old system and developed by Karimov’s regime in our “independent” country is that the conviction rate in criminal and political trials in Uzbekistan is now almost 100 per cent and it means that we have here no suspects but all future prisoners who will be subjected to rape with broken bottles or just be immersed in boiling water. Try please putting yourself in their place and imagining what you feel in your body if you are not a sort of masochist or maniac.

It sounds utterly incredible but law enforcement agencies’ men are shamelessly planting drugs, weapons, religious literature of fundamentalist content and other things in people who want freedom and justice to please the authorities and not only in them but also in other people too, in order to merely extort money from absolutely innocent citizens and blackmailing them just to please themselves. It is generally meant that the government must exist to ensure law and order in the state and protect citizens against criminals, provide for basic rights of them and it entitled to lead its population and teach them basic principles of democracy.

But it is not that! Karimov and Co are not interested in things like that and, reversely, they are only interested in driving our foreign helpers like Soros Foundation’s Uzbek branch out of Uzbekistan after the ousted Georgian dictator Shevardnadze’s phone call warning the pseudo-democrat Karimov about “democratic danger” from the West. It would be much better for them to comprehend in time that the very destiny of the world to live in democracy in order not to fall the history’s garbage can as dictators and oppressors of their own people. The collapse of the Soviet Union has shown it demonstrably and they even did not, or rather could not reach its deep root causes.

The policy of Karimov turned the apparatus of government agencies beginning from his Cabinet to district level branches of them or even down to group leaders of production units into his “political party” and the entire staff of government bodies became heavily politicized that is inadmissible in a democratic society. It is became a rule in our country to create man-made pocket parties before each general election to show themselves as democrats and to play “election-election” game to choose “representatives” of people in central and local legislatures. The last “Liberal-Democratic Party – Popular Movement of Entrepreneurs of Uzbekistan” which is far from genuine liberal – democratic movement of the world and rather has reverse meaning and designed only to mislead the people
of the country and international community was organized by Shavkat Mirziyaev and the its first members were hokims of all levels

In these lawless conditions, it is impossible to achieve justice and defend themselves in courts that are utterly corrupt and that ignore the codes when trying suspects and especially the ones who are involved in human rights activities or have shown their dissent to the regime and criticize the government or an important boss. It is natural for them to protest their country’s climate of repression, corruption and poverty and go to violence when they feel to loose nothing.

Now and in the future if Karimov & Co rules the country there will be no democracy or justice, no economic progress or well-being of people. Forget it! If they permit people to tell the truth via media and allow our journalists to do their routine jobs as their counterparts do in the west or even in Mozambique or Kyrgyzstan do you know what will happen to the despot and his clan in the country? You even cannot imagine, to say the truth. Therefore, they never will conduct free and fair elections and permit the judiciary and law enforcement agencies to conduct fair trials.

Look at an example closely which deserves the attention of any competent government men and lawyers or just ordinary citizens of any country who are interested in constitutional law and political system of western countries or any other genuine democracies, you will find that in those nations the principle of checks and balances is in effect or to put it plainly, the power is divided among the three branches of government: legislature (or parliaments), administration (president or prime minister), and judiciary (or Supreme Courts).

However, in Uzbekistan President Karimov who boasts with his “thorough knowledge” in democracy and teaches Western colleagues and journalists about democracy and their duties, appointed the Chairwoman of the Supreme Court of our “democratic” state Farrukha F. Muhiddinova, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairwoman of the Committee of Women of the Republic of Uzbekistan Svetlana T. Inamova, Deputy Prime Minister Mirabror Z. Usmanov, First Deputy of the Secretary of the Security Council at the President of Uzbekistan Mir-Akbar Rahmankulov, State Advisor to the President Tursinkhan Khudaybergenov, Chairwoman of the Criminal Court of the Yakkasaray District in Tashkent Mavjuda Rajabova and the then Minister of Foreign Affairs i.e. a key member of the Karimov Cabinet Sadik Safaev were appointed Senators of upper House of Oliy Majlis – the new bicameral Parliament of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Moreover, he has himself appointed lifelong Senator of the Oliy Majlis after his presidential term terminates and wants to keep his personal immunity to all charges including criminal ones. In the light of his brutality Askar Akaev – the former President of Kyrgyzstan, who refused to shoot the participants of Kyrgyz uprising that ousted him, looks just like a dove. History and people of Kyrgyzstan someday may forgive him but Uzbeks never forgive him for the Andijan massacre and impoverishing his own people.

Where is here the very democratic principle of checks and balances? Are there in Uzbekistan a lawyer or politician who is really competent in Constitutional Law? If even there are some, they could not say a word against the will of the dictator of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov who retaliates for a single criticism against his policy and he thinks he is beyond any criticism. This is his misfortune and the disaster of the 26 million Uzbek nation.

In the years of Karimov’s ruling, we lost much and entered into the labyrinth without exit and he cannot rule over the country. Republican Representative from California Dana Rohrabacher is 100 percent right as he neatly put it that we Uzbeks have a tyranny here, a despot ruling the place, a dictatorship and they ought to be more critical of that and the tyrant cannot let Uzbek people determine their future.

As for the words of Senator Sam Brownback, the chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, who told a human rights panel that it is still possible for the government of President Islam Karimov to take a path it has long promised toward economic and political reforms it should be stressed that his promises remain just promises as it completely lost its chance and used up its potential and so doing nearly exhausted our people’s patience and faith.

Of course, the near future of Uzbeks seems full of hardships and gloomy expectations with or without Karimov, contrary to his pompous promises of building a “state of great future” that are nothing but a great lie but keeping peace as despot Karimov does, shooting his citizens like rabbits, only brings slavery, injustice, fear and misery that gives the Uzbek people only a somber chance to keep on dying as a nation in such a peace. Experiencing hardships and poverty or even dying for freedom and justice is far more precious and noble than to live under the modern slavery invented by the ruthless ruler of Uzbekistan. The Andijan rebellion of Uzbeks is a marked sign of future battles in the name of these lofty goals and these cannot be reached without the USA, Russia, the EU and other friendly nations.

After Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya and taking into account the fact that Muslims in Central Asia follow a milder form of Islam Uzbekistan can never be ruled by Islamists or any other state other than secular one. It would be for us to retreat centuries back to Middle Ages and put veils on our women, which are even unthinkable. Even we have here some people who would want Islamic State and rare extremist voices because of the lack of secular opposition, now there is no real soil for them to build a sort of caliphate in Central Asia including Uzbekistan.

The West and the Russians or any other nations should not worry about “Uzbek religious fundamentalists” or “extremists” which are just bugbears invented by Karimov and his criminal clan in order to prolong their illegitimate power. International community in any way should not give any incentive to the regime in the form of money or words. Uzbek people badly need such an aid and strong shoulder of true friends.

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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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Jahongir December 19, 2005 at 5:28 pm

I agree with all content except the title of the article exposed by the uzbek professor.It is true and we should have the natural reflex to accept this situation. The worst is that the regime doesn’t seek any settlement of the problem. It made flow too much blood to give up. And, unfortunately, uzbek people have no any choice as to use the violent methods of the struggle for their future and for the life in respect of human dignity and elementary human rights. There are serious grounds to think that the western civilizations will help us only when the situation aggravates arriving at the level of Rwandan’s conflict or Yougoslavian’s one or something else. This is the worst scenario that the developed democracies and international organisations should not allow to be played in Uzbekistan.

I thank the author for his veridical depicting of the actual situation in Uzbekistan as well as Nathan for his support in the publication of the article.

Brian December 19, 2005 at 5:43 pm

Crazy, sad stuff. It was my pleasure to read it. I’m assuming that this professor isn’t living in Uzbekistan anymore, or that this isn’t his real name?

Nathan December 19, 2005 at 5:47 pm

He does live there and that’s not his real name.

Brian December 19, 2005 at 6:04 pm

While I don’t think that I agree that violence is the way to go in Uzbekistan, mainly because there’s no guaruntee that what comes out of it will be at all beneficial, I do understand his frustration. There simply don’t seem to be any good choices. Patience? International pressure? Underground or expatriate democracy movements? It’s not realistic to think that they’ll work. And after all, our own American Delcaration of Independence clearly states that if your own government is oppressive you not only do you have the right to overthrow it, but you that the _duty_ to. I say that I hate violence, but if I was made an Uzbek citizen tomorrow and was forced to live as an average poor oppressed Uzbek, I don’t know what I’d do, but it certanly wouldn’t be subtle.

It seems that the sad truth is that Uzbeks are either destined to live with this government at least until Karimov dies or steps-down at old age… or until a coup/revolution/war break out. Either way, the chances don’t look too good.

David Walther December 19, 2005 at 11:20 pm

Brian (and everyone else):

I’d like to take the chance to remind everyone that violent oppossition is not the only option here. Violence is the way that small groups of people like military juntas or radicals (like the Bolsheviks) overthrow governments and take over countries… and it doesn’t often end well.

The fact is, there are many options open to put enormous pressure on the government that are not being even talked about–enormous economic and social pressure can be generated by coordinated strikes by transport workers, incredible pressure could be brought to bear by cotton workers striking during harvest. If, as some have argued, the Internal Affairs ministry is not happy about the direction of Uzbek politics, they alone could topple the government like a deck of cards (I think) if they went on strike together.

It’s complicated, obviously–first of all, industrial devlopment is perhaps not high enough (post-Soviet wise) to make much effect even if there were a coordinated industrial strike, and yes, organizing it might be impossible.

But there are many, many ways to stand up to your government that don’t involve violence, and that are much, much more likely to draw international support than coups or tossing molotov cocktails in the street. As much or how deeply we commiserate with our Uzbek friends, let’s be careful what we are advocating.

Laurence December 20, 2005 at 6:24 am

Nathan, I am glad you are running articles by Uzbeks. I think it is good to see what they are saying.

However, Professor Pulatov’s views appear to be either misguided or dangerous, because of this statement:

“The West and the Russians or any other nations should not worry about “Uzbek religious fundamentalists” or “extremists” which are just bugbears invented by Karimov and his criminal clan in order to prolong their illegitimate power.”

This line may have been credible to Americans before the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001–or if one believes that the CIA or Mossad blew them up to give Bush more power, as many of my students did.

But if Al Qaeda did it–and I think there is incontrovertible evidence that they did–Pulatov simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.

uzari December 20, 2005 at 9:14 am

Laurence –

Could you remind us of the Uzbekistan connection to September 11?

Laurence December 20, 2005 at 9:28 am


The US military action in Afghanistan, fighting against the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who had declared war on Karimov even prior to 9/11 and are linked to Al Qaeda connects Uzbekistan to the Global War on Terror, as Bin Laden was based in Afghanistan on 9/11. The international coalition still uses Uzbekistan to support the Afghan operation, through the German base at Termez now that the US base has closed. Germany has the largest number of allied NATO troops currently fighting in Afghanistan.

There is more in this recent Moscow News article titled “International Terrorist Reveal All”.

Brian December 20, 2005 at 9:31 am

I didn’t mean to say that I advocate violence… just that I understand his frustration. In fact it’s more than likely an incompetent brutal dictator would just be replaced by a more incompetent brutal dictator. If on the other hand there was present an organized, intelligent opposition based on good core ideas, it might be a different story.

But you make an excellent point, organized labor strikes (especially by transport workers… imagine if all marshrutkas went on strike demaning an end to police bribes) would make a strong statement right now. What I meant to say though is that while these may be much better ways of advocating change, it seems unlikely to happen… the reality seems bleak.
I have not heard of NGO activity encouraging the development of active labor movements or labor unions. Perhaps it’s something that should be encouraged?

uzari December 20, 2005 at 10:08 am


It is true that there was an Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that was associated with the Taliban.

But the author of this article makes the argument that an Islamic theocracy is not a possibility in Uzbekistan and that Karimov has been using this threat to justify his autocratic rule. This may or may not be true and is defintitely worth argument, but it seems like a bit much to declare that Pulatov is ‘dangerous’ or ‘doesn’t know what he’s talking about’ without presenting any evidence to support your assertion.

Do you have evidence that the overwhelming threat Karimov sells is in fact present? There are terrorist groups everywhere (Michigan Militias and such in the US), but while their existence demands vigilance, it does not normally justify an all-controlling, opressive state.

Laurence – would a different, more open government that allowed more freedoms to its people result in a terrorist-harboring Islamist theocracy?

Laurence December 20, 2005 at 10:39 am


You’ve asked the $64,000 question. Thoughtful people disagree.

How did the extremist scenario play out in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iran, Algeria or elsewhere? My guess is that the extremists need to be completely crushed first, then society opened up for democracy when the extremist threat really is no longer there.

Terrorists don’t need a majority to conquer a population, just a small dedicated vanguard (like the Bolsheviks in this respect) to keep everyone else in fearful submission. Democracy actually has a hard time dealing with terrorism–just take a look at how the French declared martial law and curfews to end the rioting in Paris, or how Bush is in trouble for authorizing domestic spying and secret CIA prisons, and Putin accused of returning to authoritarianism because of Chechnya.

The best hope for democracy in Uzbekistan is an end to all violent opposition, and the shunning of those who advocate violence, justify it, or apologize for it. That would deny Karimov the grounds for justifying continued repression. No violence–no need for force by the government.

But so long as one can read jihadist calls on the internet, and bombs blow up around the world from Bali to Tashkent to London, and people chant “Death to America!” “Death to Russia!” or “Death to Israel!” — even “Death to Karimov!” it is irresponsible to dismiss the danger of violent extremism and the very real potential for civil war.

After all Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Iran are not so far away. And Kyrgyzstan seems to be more unstable now than before the “Tulip revolution.”

Believe me, no one wants to see a free, prosperous, modern and democratic Uzbekistan more than I do. The Uzbek people deserve the best that can be.

uzari December 20, 2005 at 11:48 am


The problem is that ‘completely crushing’ extremists requires measures that only give birth to more extremists. The point has been made here and elsewhere ad infinitum that Karimov’s intolerance of any dissent has only succeeded in forcing discontent into radical underground movements. Herding moderate practicioners of Islam into squalid prisons has only bred anger and hate. There is no space for civilized debate in Karimov’s Uzbekistan.

If we are to excuse such methods as necessary tools in the fight against terrorism, it is likely that this fight will never end.

What do we say to people like Pulatov? Just keep silent while Karimov takes care of things? What hope does that leave them? Karimov has not managed to instill a sense of ‘weathering the storm’ in the Uzbek population. They see him as an evil ruler whose justifications are only shields for his own power.

Or what do we say to the thousands of entrepreneurs who struggle to make a dollar in a system ruled by Karimov’s corrupt clan? Let us not forget that this system of control has not only engendered brutal supression of Muslim activity – it has also sprouted a system of total impunity and lack of accountability. Those who *aren’t* radical Muslims, but wish to open a business, say, or move to Tashkent – simply can’t, because of the labrynthine and totally corrupt bureaucracy that allows great wealth to the connected few, and ensures a lifetime of frustration to the many left.

Is that an atmosphere in which radicalism will be crushed?

Brian December 20, 2005 at 12:01 pm

So I suppose Indonesia should have scrapped its newly democratic government and go back to dictatorship, and that the Palestinians should do the same, same with Lebanon… oh and don’t forget about the Iraqis.
Where do you find the roots of radicalism? In democratic free societies, or in oppressive unjust ones?

It’s one thing to be tough on radicals, it’s another to banish all free media and free speech, jail or kill protestors, journalists and peaceful political opposition, steal from the people and subject them to years of worsening poverty and corruption.

David Walther December 20, 2005 at 12:48 pm

Just to clarify–Brian and Uzari, I am completely with you on this. And Brian, I didn’t think you were probably actually advocating violence, it’s just I think we have to be careful what we say.

About NGOs–I don’t think it’s their place to incite counter-government activity. Especially in light of how sensivive that topic has become (cf the bill sitting in Russia’s duma right now) I think it’s very important that all non-political NGOs eschew any semblence of political activity, particularly in Uzbekistan.
There are dramatic humanitarian needs that no one else is going to take care of, and if they lose their ability to work in the country, the people they help will be left alone with no one at all to help them.

I don’t have a good answer about how to help people organize a non-violent resistence to the government or policies that they don’t like. Education, I guess, is a big one–and NGOs can have a role in educating people about civil society and the role they can take in it—but I think anyone playing this role has to be very, very careful about not appearing to incite anyone against Karimov specifically.

In truth, I’m working on my graduate school statement right now explaining why I want to enter the diplomatic service and work on a government-to-government level because I just don’t see NGOs as a viable way to put pressure on a government to change. As some Russian politicians have put it in defense of the bill they are debating right now, we resent it when other countries set up organizations on our own turf and attempt to influence our policy, and we have banned or closed some organizations that we feel are working against our government (or our system of government in general). It’s a lot to ask a country to register and respect an organization that is actively working to undermine that goverment’s ability to govern, no matter how right the criticism is.

Of course, this all takes on a new flavor when that criticism means simply asking a government that says it’s democratic to be democratic, asking a government that derives its legal authority from a constitution that guarantees all kinds of basic freedoms and human rights to actually abide by that constitution.


As to the question of whether or not islamic extremism in Uzbekistan is a buga-whatsit invented by the Karimov government, I don’t think you were interperting the statement correctly, Laurance. I don’t think our friend from Tashkent meant at all to say that religious extermism never existed in Uzbekistan, so you’re calling him a liar for something he didn’t say, constructing a straw-man arguement that’s easy to defeat but doesn’t have much correlation to what the person actually said.

And, you know, this person (whoever he is) risked his fucking life by publishing this statement (literally, so let’s evaluate that a little bit while we talk about whether dictatorships like this are ever justified), while you and I sit here in America
and can argue about this, so I think the least we could do, no matter what we think of his arguements, is show him a little bit more respect.

Many, many good people who oppose the Karimov government solely on the grounds of asking them to respect basic human rights and abide by the contitution that is in fact the law of the land in Uzbekistan (and abide by other international laws) are sitting under house arrest now, and have been for months. None of them are able to speak their mind, none of them are able to even earn a living to support their families.

It’s not a question about whether or not religious extremism exists, it’s a question of whether or not that would ever justify the behavior of the government as it is now. I don’t believe it would.

So, professor Pulatov, please know that you do have friends here, we respect very much the risks you are taking by speaking your mind, and we will always be glad to hear from you in the future–and I hope Laurence can agree with this as well no matter what things he might disagree with us on.

Brian December 20, 2005 at 2:56 pm

Good stuff David, I second that.

Laurence December 20, 2005 at 3:44 pm


I’m not an expert on extremism, but certainly can say that it is not only found in Uzbekistan–it is also found in Britain, France, Germany, Israel, the Phillippines, and the USA–all democracies. So I don’t accept the theory that Karimov’s repression creates terrorists. I think they’d be in Uzbekistan whatever the form of government (except if there were a real Stalinist leader, like Turkmenbashi).

Crushing extremist movements is not the same as crushing dissent, but unfortunately, the extremists actually help Karimov stay in power by threatening violence.

Yes, the economy is terrible. Yes, the government is corrupt. Yes, Uzbeks deserve better.

The question is, how to get from where Uzbekistan is right now to where Uzbeks might like to be–as rich and modern as China, S. Korea, Taiwan, Singapore.

The danger is of an explosion leading to civil war, or an invasion. The problem is that many other countries–not just the United States–are involved in Uzbekistan. For example, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia, India, Pakistan, and the EU countries, not to mention Central Asian neighbors. For some, Uzbekistan is a political football, or a chip in an economic poker game.

Then there are the NGOs, which have a partial view of human rights, one that criticizes governments–but does not take threates to the life and limbs of ordinary citizens from terrorism seriously.

We have had terrorism in the US, recently and in our distant past. We reacted to it by crushing the terrorists–beginning with George Washington stamping out the so-called “Whiskey Rebellion”–if they could not be co-opted or bought off.

If you have a better alternative, I would be grateful if you could bring it about for the benefit of Uzbekistan. I always thought my students could be part of a “Young Turk” generation that might do for Uzbekistan what Ataturk’s generation did for Turkey. Perhaps you will be one of the leaders, of this “Young Uzbek” movement…

uzari December 21, 2005 at 9:04 am


It really is shocking to what lengths you will go to defend the Karimov regime. I can’t say I understand the motivation behind this, and knowing that you have lived in Uzbekistan, I find it interesting that you were never exposed to the daily struggles of Uzbeks which create the kind of sentiment expressed by Pulatov. However, I am glad that you post here, because it makes for stirring debate.

First, the societies you note above are all liberal democracies to some extent or another. All permit their citzens some form of pressure valve to relieve frustration and express discontent. While in any society, there will be groups at the fringes bent on violence, in democracies, the vast majority of debate is forced into a civilized public forum. If your property is randomly confiscated by police, you file a suit in an objective and independent court. If you disagree with a law passed by parliament, you write to your representative and your local newspaper.

None of these opportunities exist in Uzbekistan, where any minute criticism of state power is punished severely. I have asked this before, and others have phrased it differently, but the question is – is there *no* connection between this stranglehold on society and a desire on the part of some to resort to violent means? Do you believe that the stifling grip Karimov’s clan has on the economy has no effect on the lack of opportunities for young people and the subsequent attraction for some to extremist groups?

It would be great if you would address these questions directly. I asked them before in different form, as have others, but you evaded them. Saying that democracies have terrorist movements, too, and therefore there is no relation between type of government and a terrorist threat is disingenious. In the societies you cited, the same kinds of connections cannot be said to exist. There is no excuse for a resort to violence, when you could safely express your opinion otherwise. In Uzbekistan, there is quite clearly, no safe avenue for expressing discontent.

It’s interesting how people like you and Starr manage to work criticism of NGOs into your arguments. Be clear on this: human rights NGOs work to hold governments to their human rights obligations. It is *governments* that are responsible for guaranteeing their citizens human rights. In fact, the Uzbek constitution so states about the government of Uzbekistan. Violations of human rights – unlawful arrest, torture, and forced confessions – only help create an atmosphere in which terrorism thrives. People see their government as cruel, arbitrary and violent, and that civilized means are of no use in responding to them. This again gives terrorism appeal. Human rights groups which document and illuminate such abuses, and force governments to answer for them publicly, are doing far more to bring security to citizens of countries like Uzbekistan than the governments who use these barbarian methods against their own citizens.

I think all of us who’ve been to Uzbekistan and care about its people would like to see it move in the direction of a South Korea or Singapore. That is impossible under this type of government, which is doing the opposite of what those governments did. The Uzbek government does not encourage innovation, but stifles it. The Uzbek government does not create a foundation for entrepreneurship, but crushes it. The Uzbek government does not allow space for human development, but restricts it.

At the end, you bring up the Young Turks movement. We’d all like to see a Young Uzbeks movement. Interesting though, that you know so well that any organized movement aimed at progressive change would be immediately seen as a threat and crushed. Look what happened to the almost completely unthreatening and innocuous Sunshine movement. What does this suggestion mean in this context? You have contradicted yourself. A ‘Young Uzbeks’ movement is a terrorist movement in the eyes and rhetoric of this government, and you are surely aware of that.

Last, and most disheartening, is your offense to the original writer, as was expressed in a previous comment. As pointed out, he risked his life to post a well thought-out, reasoned expression of how educated people feel in the atmosphere created by Karimov. And you reacted by citing a vague reference to terrorism, calling him ‘dangerous’, and saying that ‘he doesn’t know what he is talking about’. Amazing that he is likely just the ‘Young Uzbek’ you are talking about, and this is the response he elicits from you.

Or does your Young Uzbek movement only laud the current government? Then where does that get us?

Laurence December 21, 2005 at 10:31 am


I’m not defending Karimov. I don’t care one way or the other about him. I will agree with every criticism you can make of the current situation.

Where I differ is in the view that any justification for violence can improve things. In my opinion, it will only make things worse. First, because it cannot succeed–Russia and China will see to it, no matter what the US and EU do, because they are much closer. So, to encourage it is not in the interests of Uzbekistan. Believe it or not, things can get worse.

I am old enough to remember what happened to the Shah of Iran. I have heard the NGO arguments in that context, which led to the fall of the Shah–and a tragic fate for Iran. You can look on the web and read captured US embassy documents advocating the empowerment of moderate Islamist forces as an alternative to the Shah. The result has been a nightmare for the world as well as the Iranian people, in my opinion. There is a wonderful book called “Teaching Lolita in Teheran” by Azar Nafisi that tells this story from the inside.

I think the best thing the US can do right now is to let the Uzbeks sort things out for themselves.

uzari December 21, 2005 at 12:23 pm


It’s interesting how you’ve backed off all your assertions and ignored all my arguments and questions, and then changed the topic to US intervention. I don’t recall that point ever coming up in this thread.

I think this started with your insulting response to Pulatov, and all the posts following have been based on the statements you made.

A couple points, though I don’t expect that you’ll address them.

Your reference to NGOs and Iran is unclear and unrelated. You reference a US embassy document that probably has nothing to do with NGOs, though one can’t tell from your post. I am unfamiliar with the details of the situation, but I am certain that human rights groups condemned the Shah’s torturing of dissidents and made no recommendations about the political system. If you were familiar with organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, you would know that’s how they work without exception. Likewise, in Uzbekistan, HRW reports have focused on documenting human rights abuses committed by the Karimov regime. They have not ‘advocated the empowerment of moderate Islamist forces’ nor anything remotely of the sort.

Last – regardless of your statement to the contrary, you have defended Karimov. You have taken the position in this thread and others that the acts his regime commits are justified in the fight against terrorism. Your first post in this thread confirmed that position, when you called Pulatov ‘dangerous’ for suggesting that Karimov’s stated position against terrorism was a red herring. Instead of offering evidence to support this assertion, you simply called the writer names and maligned his intelligence. That *is* support for Karimov.

David Walther December 21, 2005 at 12:40 pm


You are beating a dead horse, and you’re not going to make it any deader. No one here is talking about American intervention in Uzbekistan, no one is talking about NGOs overthrowing the government (how would that happen exactly?) and putting some kind of moderate Islamic party in place in Uzbekistan.

You have been harping on this for months, and I don’t understand why. I cannot understand what your arguements about the Shah of Iran or the threat of extremism actually have to do at all with very basic human rights for people living in Uzbekistan.

I know you don’t talk to me anymore, and I don’t really care, but you seem to think that I am advocating something that clearly I am not (please note that above I wrote an entire diatribe about how NGOs have no place in political interventions) and that the rest of us are arguing for something we are not.

Uzari answered your earlier discussion with a really strong point–that this reform movement you hope he could be a part of would be crushed by the government you are defending (and if you’re not defending it, you sure fooled me, and I think everyone else participating in not only this discussion but pretty much all of them we have had in the last year) and using the very tactics you are defending.

I thought that your answer to his very valid point was condescending and kind of rude, and moreover it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the discussion we are/were having.

You know, I don’t mean to make an enemy out of you or anything, and I know we very rarely agree on anything so you are probably going to take this wrong, but I think you’re being kind of condescending in general in your posts in this discussion and I don’t think you’re really responding to the points that they are making.

That’s all I’m gonna say, I guess this discussion is pretty much over, but if I was either Pulatov or Uzari, I would not be encouraged to continue posting my opinions on here based on the responses that you are posting. That’s all I’m gonna say. I’m not picking a fight, if you want to shoot me back an angry response, that’s your business, but I’m not going to drag this out.

Rustam December 21, 2005 at 1:50 pm

Nathan – You blog is definitely No1 for Uzbekistan!!! Thank YOU!!!!!!
I definitely thank Laurence for his posts and comments, although my thoughts and opinions as Uzbek have always been different to his and I remember DenzilUZ as well, whom we sadly lost. I thank Uzari as well, for his comments based on the knowledge of the situation on the ground and his real tough questions.

Djana December 22, 2005 at 7:55 am

Speaking of the “Young Uzbeks”, what would you say about the Global Uzbek Council?

Azjon December 28, 2005 at 1:58 am

Nice job here Nathan. So this man is still in Uzbekistan? If so god help him.

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