Uzbekistanist Academic Exiles

by Christian Bleuer on 7/7/2007 · 11 comments

I don’t believe that the term “Uzbekistanist” has ever been used before. However, “students and scholars who focus on Uzbekistan” wouldn’t fit in the title. I use the term now in the context of “academic exiles” to describe all those friends and acquaintances of mine who started with a focus on Uzbekistan. Having been at or near to Indiana University’s Central Eurasian Studies Department and SWSEEL language program since 2001, I have seen many students arrive with a focus on Uzbekistan. The importance of Uzbekistan at the time attracted many to Uzbek language programs and to a focus on the country itself. But with the closing off of Uzbekistan to many academic and NGO programs these students have sought refuge elsewhere, primarily Southern Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

As for myself, I was already “elsewhere” with my focus on ethnic Uzbeks outside of Uzbekstan. I’m quite glad to see all these students (and PhDs) arrive at my academic location. What is a loss for the the better understanding of Uzbekistan is a gain for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. When I first started, mentioning Khujand (Khojent) or Osh would usually bring about an unknowing shrug. Now I could think of numerous graduate students and researchers whose research will center them in these locations. Of course, we’re all a little behind people like Dr. Matteo Fumagalli. But still I think it is quite exciting that these “academic exiles,” who to varying degress can function in Uzbek, Tajik and Russian, will be conducting research in these areas.

There are still many research holes to be filled in Central Asia and it seems there will be a significant contribution from just Indiana University and from participants in SWSEEL. I’m sure the difficulty in researching Uzbekistan means a similar effect is occuring elsewhere with students at other universities. Of course, the downside to all this is that Uzbekistan is becoming somewhat of a blank spot on the map. It is truly remarkable to note the silence when Uzbekistan is mentioned. And when it is discussed we Central Asianists mostly resort to conjecture. I don’t mean do say we don’t have an opinion, I just mean our opinion is much less informed than it used to be.

[Note: “Kayumars Turkistani” is quite obviously a fake name for a real person. Kayumars is the mythical first Persian King and Turkistani means “of/from the land of the Turks.”]

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Bonnie Boyd July 8, 2007 at 4:17 am

In re: previous comment: that’ll teach you to bring up Uzbekistan and the academy, my friend. . .

Kayumars Turkistani July 8, 2007 at 12:13 pm

Re: I don’t feel that bad for erasing three comments on my first post. I just feel bad that I had to waste my time doing it. I love/hate the internets.

Jonathan P July 8, 2007 at 8:04 pm

No offense, but what’s the point of this post? By the way, two former colleagues of mine have recently (within the last two months) been allowed into Uzbekistan and one has already secured permission for another visit this fall. They’re both Americans and both have traveled and lived there before. Perhaps the rest of you should think about giving it a shot again.

Noah Tucker July 9, 2007 at 3:05 am

I second Jonathan’s motion. I’m sitting in Tashkent right now–and using wireless internet, of all things!

So, that said, there is hope, as Jonathan says–two of my classmates from Harvard are here right now as well (one of them is a US citizen, the other not). If anybody is interested in coming, or anybody else is also here now, I’d be happy to hear from you. I have picked up some advice since I’ve gotten here from others who have managed to hang in here about what to do and what not to do, so if anybody is interested shoot me an email (Nathan always has it) and we’ll talk.

I have yet to test this rumor with anybody high enough up to know if it’s true or not yet, but just before I left I talked to a well-connected Uzbek friend in the States who said that the visa wall, especially for English teachers, is being lifted now “from the highest level.” So, do’stligimiz qaita bo’lsin, deymiz…

They let me in. It’s sure as hell worth a shot for anybody else who pines for Transoxiana. That’s all I’m saying.

Anybody else who’s here give me a shout, please, I’d love to talk to more people who’ve been around a bit longer in the past couple years (I used to live here, but left in late 2005 and this is my first time back in two years).

Kayumars July 9, 2007 at 4:52 am

RE: What’s the point of this post?

No offense taken. I do realize that there are Americans and Brits in Uzbekistan at the moment. But like I said, several academic programs and numerous NGOs pulled out of Uzbekistan or were asked nicely to leave. The opportuinities to do PhD and post-doctoral research in Uzbekistan are far less. [I’m speaking of polisci, sociology, civil society research, etc… Not literature, archeology, and teaching english]. I’m not suggesting Uzbekistan is a “no go” altogether. But if there was both money for research and visas available, many people I know would be there.

And seriously, if I showed up in Ferghana and started to asked about local solidarity networks for my research, how much would the government love that?

I would be quite curious to know what exactly foreigners are doing in Uzbekistan in the way of social research seeing as many people I’ve met at CESS conferences have remarked on their inability to travel to Uzbekistan. But if the Uzbek government has had a change of heart recently, then great. I can’t wait for the research money to once again be available for Uzbekistan.

If there are swarms of American and British social scientists writing about political mobilization and opposition movements in Uzbekistan based on research conducted there recently then I am quite embarassed and would love it if anybody could point me in their direction so that I may read their research. And don’t point me to any researchers who go by the names “Akiner” or “Starr.”

Kayumars July 9, 2007 at 4:58 am

I realize Starr doesn’t exactly fit into that paragraph but that was just the obligatory anonymous online swipe at Dr. Starr.

free agent July 11, 2007 at 6:25 am

Actually off-topic, but why is it that posts by obviously non-western contributing bloggers seem to be getting so much non sense like spam and rude remarks, as this post was before they were removed? As is in the latest by Ehsan Azari on Pashtun genocide in Afghanistan (July 10).

(Slightly rhetorical. But it seems the bigots are coming out of the woodwork.)

noah tucker July 12, 2007 at 12:36 am


I don’t think that either Jonathan or I meant to say that there is some kind of new freedom in Uzbekistan to study whatever one wants–of course your point about openly pursuing certain lines of academic inquiry is certainly correct. However, the attitude that many young academics seem to have now is ‘why bother trying’ when it comes to Uzbekistan. I can’t speak for Jonathan, but for my own part, I want to encourage others to keep trying to do research here, keep writing proposals, and keep coming as often as possible.

A number of people I’ve talked to lately expressed something like shock that I was given a visa at all, and that I’m here now. And these same people would like to come themselves, but they don’t bother applying for visas or writing research proposals in the first place because they assume that it’s fruitless, so they switch focus to Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan and leave Uzbekistan alone. My response was meant to be encouraging–yes, it’s true there are very, very few of us here now, but my experiences so far have encouraged me that there may be a crack opening again.

My suggestion to anyone else wanting to do projects here is not to hope anymore for long term visas and single trip research projects. Stays of a few months at a time, combined with language study or teaching and keeping your head up in general
seems to work fairly well at this point.

At any rate, speaking of CESS I’ll be there this fall, I’ll hope to meet you and maybe we can compare notes more “openly” as it were.

Jonathan P July 12, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Noah, et al.:

My sentiments to the T, Mr. Tucker! My friends (who went separately on unrelated business) were very surprised to get visas (they’d been trying every 6-8 months or so for the last couple years and been denied), but they found their trip to be very smooth and uneventful. I’d say it’s time for would-be “Uzbekistanists” to get back into the business of informing their opinions! 😉

Brian July 13, 2007 at 2:02 pm

This may or may not be related to obtaining visas, but the word on the street is that police road checkpoints have been much smoother and/or fewer during the past couple months.

Perhaps it’s all tying into the upcoming presidential “election”?

Rosella Glenn August 24, 2007 at 7:32 am

Hi Noah,
I am very interested in learning more about how to get to Uzbekistan. I am currently trying to go to Tajikistan but I am considering applying for the same program you did. I try to get your email from Monique. I am sure you are having a good time there.

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