They Cancelled Navro’z!

by Nathan Hamm on 3/22/2010 · 16 comments

Multiple news outlets have reported that public Navro’z celebrations were cancelled in Uzbekistan (see: and RFE/RL). That’s huge. It just doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened since independence. Navro’z, like Independence Day, isn’t just an important holiday, it’s an opportunity for the government to communicate its cultural and ideological vision for Uzbekistan.

Officials said that the festivities were cancelled because of bad weather, but according to RFE/RL, state media have not made any announcements about the cancellation. Metal detectors set up Navoi Park have remained in place, presumably in case the Navro’z concert went forward early this week. RFE/RL said that security remained high in Tashkent yesterday, and that people were prevented from entering Independence Square.

The surprising cancellation of Navro’z celebrations and especially the lack of a presidential Navro’z address is causing some speculation that this is all about more than the weather.

The blackout regarding Norouz festivities and Karimov’s failure to appear on TV has led to speculation that the seventy-two-year-old leader might be ill.

Karimov was last seen on March 16-17 when he met with visiting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Tashkent and held a press conference.

PS — For more on the role of Navro’z in the production of national culture in Uzbekistan, check out the fantastic new book from Laura Adams, The Spectacular State: Culture and National Identity in Uzbekistan.

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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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Dafydd March 23, 2010 at 5:00 am

This ties in with the elimination of certain business people.

Karimov might well be ill.

If not, he is losing his marbles.

Something is happening in Uzbekistan.

Turgai March 23, 2010 at 6:12 am

Hm yes, tensions within the elite i.e. not the time to have large crowds in the streets during holiday… It could fit.

dave March 23, 2010 at 7:26 am

Karimov is in full health like an 18 year-old boy. I saw the festivity on Uzbek TV, he was even dancing like a freestyler. That guy will not easily give up, will he? 🙂

dave March 23, 2010 at 7:31 am

ohyes, and it was a huge thing that it was cancelled. But it was really cold this year, and you know who might get sick.
If it were not that cold, and even if it were heavy clouds they would conduct the navruz holiday. They use some chemicals to disperse the clouds, and spend about 500 thousand USD on such an action.

reader March 23, 2010 at 9:37 am

Bozhe moi! Now this is strange, maybe Daffyd et al are right and Uzbekistan is do for an implosion. I can’t see how Karimov would view Navruz as a threat- it’s not really Islamic, he can sort of spin it as an ancient national holiday (ignore that Tajik/Persian component, just like he does his grandma). Wow, this would be like Obama canceling Easter or something.

Laurence Jarvik March 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

They postponed, not cancelled…see:

Nathan Hamm March 24, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Yeah, I couldn’t get an update up yesterday. Oh well. Still, I think the postponement is significant.

Metin March 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

personally, I dislike this holiday. It is reminiscence of pagan tradition, which has nothing to do with Uzbeks (turks) and Islam. I don’t see reason for spending so much money for this holiday.
I wish we had 1st May as a holiday instead, which was cancelled presumably for its association with soviets.

Turgai March 24, 2010 at 4:31 am

In Southern Eurasia, Nawruz is a typicaly postsovietskii prazdnik: a sort of ‘reinvented tradition’ that was to fit into the new national ideologies in which they tried to suppress or corrupt the Islamic part of the region’s heritage as much as possible. They often call Nawruz an ‘Islamic festival’ but it’s not.

This being said, its timing and symbolism are more meaningful (the start of spring) than the banality of the Western-Soviet new year which is basically a calendar day and a vulgar boozing spree.

“I wish we had 1st May as a holiday instead, which was cancelled presumably for its association with soviets.”

Does International Workers’ Day has to do anything with Uzbek Turks and Islam then?

Metin March 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm

International Workers’ Day is a symbolic holiday of workers who celebrate achievement of their social rights. It is an international holiday with no specific relation to any nation or religion.
I don’t think Navruz is a reinvention aimed at corrupting Islamic heritage. This festival along with other artifacts of pre-islamic traditions (dancing around fire at weddings) has been part of local traditions long before soviets. Instead Navruz like two main muslim holidays was introduced to assert national identity at euphoria of Independence. There is a logic in reinvention of islamic holidays – majority of country’s population is muslim. Though, giving such a high appreciation for Navruz seems excessive.

JP March 24, 2010 at 4:45 pm

please provide more info on the book you have suggested – other than an amazon link with no info on the book. Why is it “fantastic”?

Nathan Hamm March 24, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I’ll get a review up at some point after I finish it, but from what I’ve read, it’s a very insightful discussion of how the government of Uzbekistan has constructed Uzbek culture and nationalism after independence with a particular focus on the use of spectacles like the Navro’z and Mustaqillik Kuni celebrations.

As I’m reading it, I’m thinking there’s a companion volume to be written about Kyrgyzstan, which has done some very similar things.

Dolkun March 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Postponing Navruz would have the same effect on crowd control as canceling: Only TV crews and performers would know where or when to gather, and those two categories of workers have already been culled of misguided thinkers. So crowd control strikes me as a more likely explanation than weather.

KZBlog March 25, 2010 at 1:38 am

The discussion about Nauryz as invented/non-invented holiday is interesting. In Kazakhstan, many people call it the “Kazakh new year” and when you ask about the first Nauryz and how it became a holiday they say, “The President made it a holiday after Independence.” When I explain I’m interested in the ancient roots of Nauryz, they say they know nothing about that at all.

oldschool boy March 25, 2010 at 5:14 am

When I was a little kid, my Grandma used to prepare special food, then neighbors would come, or we would visit them. She said it was Nauryz, but never explained me what it meant. I couldn’t know because there was no such event in the Soviet calendar. So, I thought it was just about March, because Nauryz is also March in Kazakh. I guess our grandparent celebrated Nauryz secretly, because Soviet administration had prohibited it. I only learned the meaning of Nauryz in 1990s when it started to be officially celebrated in Kazakhstan.

Toryalay Shirzay March 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Navruz also pronounce nowrooz,nawruz,etc, is based on the awakening of Sun after being born during the longest night of the year,the winter solstice.This tradition goes back to an era when the Sun was considered God in central Asia(Mithraism).And it based on the movement of the Earth around the Sun.The sun gets born during winter solstice and the baby sun goes to sleep ,then he wakes up during the the Spring Equinox which wakes up the plants and trees blooming and birds singing the joy on Earth.This is why this Spring Equinox day is the new year for our part of the Earth and it is truely based on cycles of nature.This is a brief version of this very fascinating traditions of ours which now has been revived after suppression by islamic fascists and ignorant communists.It is so deep in our culture of central Asia including Iran that even the islamic fascists cannot stop the people from celebrating this very joyful event.

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