UNESCO Hearts Dictators

by Joshua Foust on 9/14/2006 · 13 comments

UNESCO, the UN organization Ronald Reagan withdrew from for its anti-Americanism and love of communists, has decided to award Islam Karimov a prestigious award for his preservation of Uzbek culture. This comes slightly more than 12 months after the UN castigated Karimov for the massacre at Andijon. The Uzbek government also stands accused by UNHCR for abducting refugees from Andijon who were hiding in Kyrgyzstan.

So, it’s true Karimov has been zealously defending his culture… if that culture includes kidnapping, murder, and all around brutality. A UNESCO spokesperson called the award a “courtesy.” How nice of them.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use

{ 13 comments }

yomama September 14, 2006 at 7:43 pm

matsura a complete jagoff and and unesco must be on crack!
maybe saddam can be rehabiltated or give a award to any other crummy diktator, theres a few around i suppose!

Dolkun September 14, 2006 at 8:10 pm

A good illustration of how independent the UN agencies are, from one another, and from their member countries.

This ranks up there with a recent job posting by the UNDP for a PR expert to help Uzbekistan improve its international image. One thing they could start with is better translators. From the press-uz website, this chestnut:

“Book of the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov entitled “Uzbekistan will never be dependable and will not be dependant from anybody”, published in German, was presented in Bremen, Germany.”

David September 14, 2006 at 10:30 pm

that is truly shocking. The stupidity of these people knows no bounds…

Dolkun – do you have a link to the job posting?

Ataman Rakin September 15, 2006 at 12:42 am

🙂 LOL. Well, that tells more about UNESCO than about Karimov, doesn’t it? Even within the consortium of agencies that the UN is, it is known to be one of the worst reg. being corrupt and ineffective.

That UNDP gets involved in things like “This ranks up there with a recent job posting by the UNDP for a PR expert to help Uzbekistan improve its international image.” comes as no surprise either. Eg. Hamid Malik, one of its former country reps, was a notorious buddy of Karimov.

Well, all it will add to is, that “The West” and “the international community” get discredited even more in the eyes of the population.

Narcogen September 15, 2006 at 12:43 am

Shouldn’t giving such an award be based solely on the actual preservation of the historical sites in question?

If such work hadn’t been done, then by all means question the award. I honestly don’t see why every single thing every organization does has to be tied into the human rights scorecard.

Assuming that this is being orchestrated, isn’t doing things like this a legitimate part of a policy of engagement– given that I think many of us realize that isolation and sanctions rarely work, and most certainly would not work in this case?

Ataman Rakin September 15, 2006 at 1:33 am

Narcogen: those who do no understand by now that the policy of ‘constructive engagement’ with a regime that proved to be completely unreliable, is a complete failure, are either in cahoots with this regime or complety out of touch with reality.

“Shouldn’t giving such an award be based solely on the actual preservation of the historical sites in question?”

In theory, yes. Yet IMHO this goes well beyond preservation of pretty sites. It is about giving international legitimacy to/fall on one’s knees for a regime that has all symptoms of a rogue state.

Ataman Rakin September 15, 2006 at 5:01 am

To elaborate one what I said reg. “Shouldn’t giving such an award be based solely on the actual preservation of the historical sites in question?”: it’s a matter of taste of course yet I don’t see what’s so brilliant about turning Samarkand and Bukhara, once reknown centres of Sufi-Islamic learning, into Silk Road Disney theme parks for irritating and salacious French and South Korean tour groups…

Narcogen September 15, 2006 at 5:17 am

Ataman: Wow, and people call ME negative.

I wouldn’t accept that an endorsement of constructive engagement towards regimes like Karimov’s requires being either an accomplice or out of touch. The alternatives, speaking roughly, for influencing such regimes are usually economic sanctions and military action.

The latter, it strikes me, would tend to turn out like Iraq, where the supposed tradeoff of stability for freedom works out with less stability in the short-term and all the freedom pushed off to a later date, when things are more stable. Add to that critics who say it’s been done halfway or those who say it should never have been started.

Every leader in Central Asia plays all sides against the middle; the only variation is in how subtly they do it, and what cards they have to play with. Karimov is not the most subtle, nor does he have the best hand; however, as long as Russia and China are willing to deal with him without encumbering their relationship with political goals, economic sanctions will have little to no effect.

As far as tourism goes, I hardly think anything done in Samarkand or Bukhara can be equated to a Disney park. Perhaps you believe that whatever is worth preserving in these sites is only for those who appreciate it in the same way you do, but I suppose on that point we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

However, I have to ask: salacious?

Ataman Rakin September 15, 2006 at 6:23 am

Well as far as I’m concerned: head-on yes; negative no. 🙂

“The alternatives, speaking roughly, for influencing such regimes are usually economic sanctions and military action. The latter, it strikes me, would tend to turn out like Iraq,”

Aha, interesting point that bring up this question: do you, and other readers, really think that many Uzbeks (except part of the troops and neo-KGB that remain loyal, as well as regime cronies who know they will be lynched anyway) would be prepared to fight and die for the Karimovs; or that there is the same resistance/radicalisation potential as there is now in Iraq? It’s a question.

“as long as Russia and China are willing to deal with him without encumbering their relationship with political goals, economic sanctions will have little to no effect.”

Yes that’s a factor. But honestly, I don’t believe that the present ‘friendship’ between the Tashkent regime and the Kremlin will last. First, as all those who have been following Uzbekistan since 1991 know, the Tashkent regime has a history of constantly switching sides and will do so again; in fact, some (was it someone on this blog?) already see the Tashkent regime’s recent overture with the EU as a writing on the wall (getting out of the embrace of the Kremlin/Gazprom and China). You’re right, many regimes were constantly switching sides: Mobutu and Siad Barre for example.

Second, the ‘new’ Tashkent-Kremlin connection was already in the making before Andijan and has, for a substantial part, to do with Karimov junior’s (the actual linchpin of the presidential family economic empire) dealings with Gazprom and other Russian groups; it will last until she collides with one or another Russian business tycoon.

Third and not least, Putin and his entourage are not stupid. They want to be taken seriously in the global sphere and although I don’t read their minds and actually don’t need to, I can imagine that they are not, shall I say, over-excited with a set of ill-reputed ‘allies’ that include what? Belarus (where the regime is very eager to go with Russia yet I don’t think the love is two-ways); Uzbekistan (no comment); and a number of dodgy operette republics that no-one recognizes (Transnistria; Abkhazia; South Ossetia).

For the moment, Putin/the Kremlin take them for granted yes, especially after the ‘loss’ of Ukraine and Georgia; but it will not last.

“Perhaps you believe that whatever is worth preserving in these sites is only for those who appreciate it in the same way you do, but I suppose on that point we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

Thas is why I said: a matter of taste. However, I’m not the only one who feels that they have been over-restored and that much life and authenticity has been simply squeezed out of it. It’s also a pity that Bukhara has not returned to its capacity as a centre of Sufi-Islamic learning like Konya in Turkey, for instance.

“However, I have to ask: salacious?”

Yes. Salacious.

Dolkun September 15, 2006 at 9:48 am

Not to change the subject just when it’s just getting salacious, but David, for your reading pleasure:

http://www.undp.uz/jobs/vacancy.php?id=83

To summarize, Uzbekistan’s image is bad because of:

“A) absence of strategic vision: what type of image the country needs under the objectives of its long-term development;

B) lack of a systematic approach towards defining tasks and problem-solving and selecting proper instruments/tools for policy formulation and promoting the country’s image.”

And one requirement is “experience in creating positive image of countries with similar or close to Uzbekistan’s level of economic development and other parameters such as successfully developing Asian countries.”

So if any of you have done PR for Myanmar, send in your resumes!

Narcogen September 15, 2006 at 10:02 am

With regards to the Iraq comparison, do I think there would be fighting after such an intervention? Yes, almost certainly. Just for different reasons than are true in Iraq.

Hussein’s grasp on centralized authority was broken very quickly. Violence continues for various reasons: conflicts along ethnic and religious lines.

While one can argue that Uzbekistan is, at best, comparable to Iraq militarily, it is not as isolated internationally as Iraq was. None of the flimsy justifications for military intervention that were trotted out for Iraq– past incursions into neighboring countries’ sovereign territory, weapons programs, or allegations of state-sponsored terrorism– would possibly apply in the case of Uzbekistan. I find it doubtful that Uzbekistan’s neighboars and allies would sit quietly by for intervention by a Western power, regardless of the professed motives. And there is certainly every reason to suspect those professed motives after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even if we postulate such an intervention, I do not believe Karimov and his allies could be so quickly and completely removed from central power as Hussein was. Recall that Hussein was captured within the territory of Iraq, in his home town– presumably because he felt no need to flee further, or– as is more likely– there was simply nowhere for him to flee to.

Compare that to the situation of, say, Akayev, who fled all too early, but was able to easily make his way to Russia via Kazakhstan and is even today able to exert some influence in Kyrgyzstan.

Military intervention would not completely remove Karimov as a factor in the situation, as he has recourses that Hussein did not. I think the situation on the ground in Uzbekistan after such an intervention would not be so different as it is in Iraq today– only the motivations for those involved in the conflicts would be different.

As for the Moscow alliance, if Karimov hopes to switch sides yet again and lean towards the U.S., he’d better hope for continued rule in the States either by Republicans in specific or idiots in general. The closure of K2 was of no small inconvenience and embarassment and will not quickly be forgotten. A more competent state department would have long since negated the loss of Uzbekistan in the region as a strategic ally. What exactly Karimov as an ally has to offer the U.S. at this point is not at all clear to me. What risks are inherent in openly sponsoring further regime change in the region, however, are clear.

I think you over-estimate the sensitivity of Putin and his regime to the reputation of their allies. His international credibility is in no small part based on expressing incredulity at the West’s ability to set the standard for who is a reputable ally and who is not– incredulity you seem to share from your own posts.

Nick September 15, 2006 at 1:17 pm

On a different note, and perhaps less excitingly, I believe there has been a lot of valid criticism of the preservation work carried out on the sites in Samarkand and Bukhara. I’d be interested in hearingt the views of anyone who knows about that kind of thing.

Additonally, UNESCO published the 1996 hagiography of Tamerlane, prefaced by Karimov, Amir Temur in World History.

Brian II September 21, 2006 at 10:12 am

This is without a doubt the most intelligent and interesting exchange, from both sides, on the situation in Uzbekistan (and Karimov specifically) that I’ve come across. Nice job.

I lean towards the view that engagement is better, even at the dumb, gift-giving level (it’s the easiest way to get through Karimov’s door…it appeals to his ‘hero of the Soviet Union’ sensibilities) and agree that the turn towards China and Russia is real, and long-term. Indeed, at the end of the day – no different than election time in the US – usually the equation comes down to economics. And the United States has never, ever considered Uzbekistan an important economic partner, and never will. As for Karimov’s re-engagement with the West – yes, I saw first the Turkey, then China, then the US, then Russia and China again. From all of what I have read and heard, he’s not really turning back to the West.

To support the opinion mentioned on Uzbekistan’s image: the government doesn’t know how to manage their own trips to the toilet. It plans the budget in three- and six-month increments (take the recent government imposed shut-down of imports, in order to show a positive trade balance in the June reports for the World Bank).

However, while it seems absurd that Karimov would be rewarded for doing anything positive (well, it is absurd – and your tax dollars, at work), it is politics, and perhaps a game that the US just doesn’t want to play in UZ.

Previous post:

Next post: