When Everyone’s a Spy: Talking About the SNB Online

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by Sarah Kendzior on 2/12/2012 · 59 comments

“In a system of ubiquitous spying,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote, “everybody may be a police agent and each individual feels himself under constant surveillance.” Arendt was writing about Stalin’s totalitarian regime, but her description is equally apt for authoritarian post-Soviet states like Uzbekistan, whose national security services (SNB) are the literal and figurative heirs to the KGB. Uzbeks fear the frequent and arbitrary arrests of SNB agents, who, operating under no legal oversight, comprise the most powerful internal security force in Central Asia. In recent years, the SNB has been expanded to hold jurisdiction over the Ministry of the Interior, which operates the national guard and special forces, and the ubiquitous militsiya which patrol Uzbekistan’s streets.

The internet, at first glance, would seem to offer sanctuary from the repression of the state. On the internet, Uzbeks can access censored information and debate controversial topics like politics and religion – though not without awareness that they are being watched. They can operate in relative secrecy, cloaking themselves in anonymous avatars, or connect through semi-closed social media networks. What they find harder is shaking the SNB’s long shadow, its psychic hold. The SNB inhibits whatever space it inhabits – physical, psychological, and virtual.

Last week, Registan editor Nathan Hamm reported on the story of Dmitriy Nurullayev, a citizen of Uzbekistan living abroad who was interrogated and threatened by SNB agents upon returning home. The SNB informed Nurullayev that the only way he could escape them was to work for them as an agent. Out of desperation, Nurullayev signed a “statement acknowledging he now works for the SNB, is willingly under their watch, that he will report significant life changes to them, that he will find and report to them any information they demand, and that disclosing this agreement to U.S. officials would result in him being sentenced to 17 years in prison in Uzbekistan.” Nurullayev returned to the U.S., reported his story to U.S. officials, and contacted Nathan, who wrote about it on Registan.

People who follow political affairs in Uzbekistan will find Nurullayev’s story familiar. You can find similar accounts on Uzbek dissident websites, in human rights organizations’s reports, and in the stories told by those who decided not to take the SNB up on their offer – like Alisher Saipov, the Uzbek journalist from Kyrgyzstan who was later murdered for his critical reporting. The frequency of accounts of SNB persecution raises the question – why is skepticism the default reaction online? The majority of comments I have seen about Nurullayev’s story – here at Registan, on Twitter, and on other websites – have been guarded and skeptical, and a few are outright dismissive.

There are practical reasons for caution. One is that, in rare cases, people have fabricated claims of SNB abuse in order to discredit others or promote their own agendas, as seen in the contrived tale of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, and no one wants to fall victim to a similar scheme. Another reason stems from the fear that Uzbeks seeking asylum will make false claims about SNB intimidation in order to obtain residency abroad, thereby trivializing the real plight of persecuted individuals. This concern, while understandable, nonetheless reflects the paranoid mentality of Uzbekistan’s political system, in which – as one Uzbek exile once put it to me – “‘suspicious’ is the same as ‘guilty’”.

This brings me to a more complicated point: that the default skepticism toward SNB persecution stories shows how deeply ingrained the SNB has become in Uzbekistan’s political culture. It is hard to prove one was persecuted by the SNB, because it is hard to prove anything about the SNB. This makes any discussion of SNB actions inherently politicized, because simply discussing the affair inserts the spectator into the story. When state crimes are rampant yet difficult to prove, when rumor functions as fact and loyalties are constantly questioned, people are left with little recourse but to argue their position from the perspective of personal experience.

Assessing whether a story about the SNB is true means you are not assessing evidence – since evidence about the SNB is in short supply – but the individual. The individual is the evidence. To believe his story is to vouch for the existence of a crime that probably can never be proven. To disbelieve his story is to impugn the character of a person you do not know on the basis of absent proof. Weighing in, at all, puts one in a vulnerable position in which they will be subject to accusations of bias, subterfuge or naiveté.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about assessing a case in a legal system. I’m talking about how we talk about the SNB online. Discussions of SNB action invariably include the flip side of the suspicion that someone is faking their persecution – the suspicion that someone is an undercover SNB agent, an allegation equally difficult to prove. One sees this accusation all over Uzbek-language political websites, and lately on English-language websites covering Central Asia. Like everything related to the SNB, it is an accusation that emphasizes character in the absence of concrete evidence, and often attempts to impugn character as a means of delegitimizing another’s perspective.

For the record, I believe that Dmitriy Nurullayev’s story is true and should be taken seriously. I do not believe that those who disagree with my view are therefore agents of the regime. If belief without proof is unfounded, then suspicion without proof should be equally unfounded. The internet may be a prime venue for SNB manipulation, but it is also the only place where people like Dmitriy can tell their stories and where citizens of Uzbekistan can read and debate them. We have an opportunity to ask questions and push a shadowy organization into the light. Trusting people’s motives or self-presentation online may seem unwise, even dangerous. But so is the alternative.

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This post was written by...

– author of 22 posts on Registan.net.

Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who studies politics and the internet in the former Soviet Union. She has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University. Her research has been published in many academic journals and media outlets, including American Ethnologist, Central Asian Survey, Demokratizatsiya and the Atlantic. She is currently an instructor at Washington University, where she teaches a course called "The Internet, Politics, and Society." Follow her on Twitter.

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Dmitriy February 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

A very interesting read. And you are correct to say that the internet is a place for people like me to tell their story, because for me not to tell woud be to betray myself and what I believe in. There is no legal action that can be taken against the SNB and to tell is to bring to light what happened. It is a way for one to turn oneself from a silent victim into one’s own advocate and witness

eugnid February 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I recall when Ceausescu was trumpeted as a courageous fighter for freedom by this country. Yet, there he was filling his prisons with Romanians and torturing them. Had it not been for all the Jews that got out as a result of Zionist pressure from the West on their Govts, you would not have had the large number of Romanian refugees you had here. Many Jews, instead of going to Israel, as expected to, chose to go to US. The non-Jews went wherever would take them because all they wanted was to get out. What is ironic is how many soon regreted what they did because Western freedom, very many found, is not worth loss of the larger family setting. It is no joy to be in the West with nothing but your nuclear family at best after being raised in an extended family network for support and identity. And so, you invariably take a chance, once an established American or a legal resident (some people can’t even wait for citizenship as they are so lonely), so you take a chance and return home to visit.

It is there that the security agency really have you. For they control even what distant horizon you see, not just the space in front of you. And so they can always find pressure points that drive you to taking chances, especially after you have once again seen your family and the softening has been reinforced by that. The scale is obviously tilted as here it is rule of law and there rule of power.

We were all suspect, therefore. But on the other hand, a FEW US operatives had the finesse and will to help us deal with our dilemmas, eventually securing some sort of safety for all concerned so that our families were not at risk nor were we made to betray our new homeland. The first step is to fully appreciate the actual condition of an expatriate. HIS COMING FOR HELP ALREADY INDICATES THAT CHANCES ARE THAT HE IS MARKING HIMSELF WITH THE OTHER SIDE. This can only be FULLY APPRECIATED through PATIENT observation and an exemplary willingness to forgive past acts of desperation and reward those helpful in penetrating this vast intimidation system. Compared to the Securiatate, SNB is rather crude as it doesn’t have as solid a network as the Securitate had amongst ex-Iron Guardists (fascists) in the West who were severely compromised. These were the most helpful to the Securitate as punitive zealotry against them was well rewarded in the US. With nowhere else to go, they became Ceausescu’s operatives in the US while his most fervent denouncers.

Intel bacteria must slip in, sliding on the a sessile structure linking such operatives, exploiting these vulnerable ties that bind it. That’s what the other side does well and that’s what we should do. On the other hand, the Securitate could never be sure of the strength of its ties to operatives in the US so these ties could be walked backwards by nimble FBI agents. To be able to do so, our goal should not be to ham-fist what seems like obvious frauds and double, triple….agents and victims caught helplessly in the middle.

Much is learned through patient observation. Any Uzbek abroad tied to SNB invariably is vulnerable if we work that string patiently. SNB is not as high tech as the Russians and not trusted with access to their assets. In the end, the info acquired may be far more useful than imagined in all sorts of ops. It’s not how often you miss one that counts but how often you catch one. For the consequences of the gains far outweigh those of the misses. Empathy as a first step is far more rewarding than negative bias. Under the worst of circumstances we acquire useful information, under the worst there is not much they can do here as only highly skilled operatives would be of any use. These give themselves away because they work in such a 3rd rate system with lots of involuntary intimidated underlings. The latter give off aliphatic acids under stress that arouse suspicion. Let all be welcome as we can sort them far better than they can penetrate us.

Sarah Kendzior February 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

Thanks Dmitriy. I hope everything works out for you. I looked at your website and was impressed by the work you did at the summer camps in Uzbekistan.

BTW, I’m going to see if Nathan can move our comments into the actual post and off my bio. Something weird is going on with the comment system.

Guy Fawkes February 13, 2012 at 10:36 am

SNB’s undercover agents and other beneficiaries of the corrupt and brutal Uzbek regime are more active on the Internet than an average person. Moreover, websites like this one are frequently blocked in Uzbekistan and only SNB and the police themselves have uninterrupted access to websites where criticism of the Uzbek regime resides. Which is why you see more comments attempting to discredit the stories of those who suffered at the hand of the regime than who support them.

The Russian FSB widely introduce a tactic of trawling the Internet and discrediting stories that they didn’t like. That’s how they fight opposition on line. Uzbek SNB has adopted that tactic. Check it out at: http://www.rferl.org/content/russia_30_ruble_army_emerges_again/24477703.html

Metin and Will are on this website do just that – discredit people’s ordeal, like what Nurillaev and Dima’s went through.

Sarah Kendzior February 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

Everything you right about the SNB is true. They have horribly damaged the ability of Uzbeks to communicate about political matters and to build trusting relationships online. The actions they are said to have taken towards Uzbek dissidents online, although difficult to prove, are even worse than actions carried out by similar security services in Russia.

However, not everyone who disagrees with a negative opinion about the Uzbek government is an agent of that government. I think it’s important that people from Uzbekistan be able to express their views about their country, even if you or I do not agree with them. (And for the record, Metin and I rarely agree on anything.) At Registan, we have the opportunity for open exchange, which people in Uzbekistan do not. Metin and Will are entitled to their opinions – and they hold different views on many things, which makes it doubly insulting to assume that they are the same person and that they are agents of the SNB.

Metin February 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Thanks Sarah!

Yes, I agree with you that I disagree with your assessment of certain issues. Particularly, I disagree with your view on work of security service. Each state has such a service and I guess your government is not an exception too. It wouldn’t be surprising if intelligence services would ‘damage the ability to communicate’ of certain groups like Nazis for the sake of homeland security. Whether you like it or not, their job is important for keeping the country safe and in peace.

That being said, I appreciate your respect for opinions you disagree with. Exchange of views are important to better understand the matter. We all can learn something from each-other.

p.s. I have no problem if someone thinks I am an agent, because I am not. I am too undisciplined – I made resolution many times not to waste time in this blog but failed to adhere to it. I hope to improve in future (to become more disciplined).

Dmitriy February 13, 2012 at 3:47 pm

A bit of a strange comparison

Guy Fawkes February 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

I agree that not everybody who defends the regime is an SNB agent or a corrupt police person. However, when you see that irrespective of the topic at hand someone defends the regime each and every time, deflects criticism and especially, lacks compassion toward those who have suffered under the regime that tells me that they work for the regime, they are the regime…

Sarah Kendzior February 13, 2012 at 11:35 am

I understand where you are coming from, and hope you know you are always welcome to share your views. I think it’s helpful if we ask each other questions rather than make assumptions.

Dmitriy February 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Was just visiting with someone in Tennessee today and talking about your post !

Sardorbek February 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I’ve met Dmitriy and found him to be a genuine and caring individual. It’s a shame there aren’t as many people from Uzbekistan that have such values. Unfortunately, the current youth culture in Uzb are pre-occupied with issues that are non-controversial/non-political (for some there are no issues at all) – due to the mass-spread fright that people have on speaking out.

The tactics used by SNB on the internet are not surprising – and the sad thing is they themselves are manipulated into thinking their actions are good for the country. Their mentality is – the whole world is out to get them. Its a system that was created with precedents from “up-top,” so unless the change comes from within, it’s worrying to think how it will all end up. But we can hope :)

Aziz Yuldashev February 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Thanks for the article! The SNB is really good at causing an emotional and psychological damage. After the interrogation I was forced to see a therapist for the first time in my life. Just imagine how you would feel if the SNB told you that they will take away all the things you worked really hard for and imprison you for 17 years for fighting for social justice.

Sarah Kendzior February 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Sardorbek, that’s a really perceptive comment. I agree that, at least right now, positive political change in Uzbekistan is more likely to derive from internal reforms than external pressure, along the lines of what is happening in Burma. That is one of the reasons I think it’s important to seriously and openly discuss the SNB, and why Dmitry’s account and stories like his are so valuable. Despite its enormous influence over Uzbekistan’s political life, the SNB is poorly documented. We debate Uzbek political affairs endlessly in policy, journalistic and academic circles, yet lack vital information about one of the state’s key methods of control – a control, as you note, that extends to a pervasive mentality of paranoia that in turn draws more people to the security services.

Metin, your point that people want stability and security is valid. But I think that there are better ways of maintaining order than harassing, arresting and abusing people who are merely suspected of a crime.

Dmitriy (and Sardorbek, if you are who I think you are), I live relatively nearby in St. Louis, so maybe someday we can all meet up. :)

Sardorbek February 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Oo now they can triangulate our position!! lol – Humor is a integral part of our culture as well. :) It would be a interesting chat – I admire your work and the continued studies of our region!

Sarah Kendzior February 13, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Haha — I was thinking the same thing. It’s a three-for-one deal, SNB! And katta rahmat, Sardorbek.

Will February 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Sarah, my initial skepticism about this case stems from the stories I heard/read about people from Uzbekistan who had sought asylum under the false claims of prosecution for their ethnicity or religious/political, etc. beliefs. This kind of false claims tarnish the reputation of the country as a whole, not just that of the authorities. This is what I care about. The fact that Dmitriy has contacted the U.S. authorities raised red flags for me, so I asked two questions in the story first reported by Nathan. I understand that it is hard to prove cases like this, therefore arguments would have sufficed to dismiss the doubts.

P.S. I still have no idea which authorities he has contacted. If this is sensitive for his safety, someone could have said “no we can’t reveal that information.” And that is all I needed to know.

Dmitriy February 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Dear Will,
Some things need not be said explicitly to be understood as private.

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 7:56 am

I have to agree with Will. Although there is no doubt about harsh -to say the least – methods of Uzbek SNB, we shouldn’t be taking every story involving alleged harassment by the SNB as the only truth.

As someone who has been living in the States for some time, I can honestly say that 90 percent of Uzbek asylum cases are nothing but a bunch of BS told to get a U.S. citizenship. I personally know many Uzbeks who got or in the process of getting an asylum. Most of them make up those stories and they are not even hiding it from their fellow Uzbeks. I am actually surprised the U.S. courts still treat those cases seriously.

I can say it is not my business and it is up to U.S. legal system to figure this out. BUT, I also know several people IN Uzbekistan who deserve an asylum more that 100 fake “refugees” in the U.S. And those people have nothing going for them. They are destined to rot in Uzbekistan because they don’t have relatives in the States who got U.S. citizenship for made-up stories, they don’t have businesses (Internet cafes, for example) they can sell and then fly to the U.S. and claim that it was burned because they are “opposition” to the regime.

It bothers me that some scam who came to the U.S. on visitor’s visa, worked here illegally for several months and then, when get caught, claims that he\she is a refugee while a real political dissident is dying in Uzbekistan. Say what you want, but I think it is messed up.

Dmitriy February 14, 2012 at 9:22 am

Interesting point. I do feel bad for those who are in Uzbekistan and who have no means of escaping persecution because of ther beliefs, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
But to discredit a story because there are other cases of fraud also seems unfound.

Dmitriy February 14, 2012 at 9:32 am
Alima Bissenova February 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

I like the picture of the SNB agent on the horse… Looks very recreational :-)

Guy Fawkes February 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

yeap, the picture does look quite innocent but don’t let that fool you

Sanjar Umarov February 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

Karimov charged SNB and MVD to fight dissident, political opposition , exactly as in ex-URSS KGB was used. In SNB in counterespionage department there are spetial units charged for this purpose. In MVD there are also special unit who charged to fight Karimov’s political opponent (I suppose in counterterrorist department). These guys’s job neutralize opponents and dissident, who considered as “enemy of the state. In other words in their classification dissident & opponent = enemy. Their promotion in the carier depend on how many “enemies” they neutralized …so, they motivated to invent “enemies”. This like to pay firefighters for number of потушенных пожаров (sorry for my English:)…

Dmitriy February 14, 2012 at 10:58 am

Agreed !

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 11:20 am

What you are saying is a common knowledge but I am convinced that this image of bloody ex-KGB is often utilized by people who never encountered KGB or SNB in their life. Those people claim to be the victims to get get money/citizenship/popularity/whoknowswhat.

Sarah Kendzior February 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

I think most Uzbek exiles would trade all the money and popularity in the world to be able to live freely with the families and friends they left behind.

Dmitriy February 14, 2012 at 11:40 am

Thank you for the humility in the comment.
And I think there is a difference between popularity and the desire to be heard that your rights have been violated. Simply being silent almost makes it ok for SNB to do whatever they want. Telling the world makes it a little easier to graso the fact that you have done nothing wrong.

Alima Bissenova February 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

…well, money gives freedom too and helps to support the family and where is the ultimate freedom if not in the US — “the land of freedom”

I would not discount the lure of immigration… receiving political asylum is, of course, a bitter-sweet deal, considering that then they cannot go back (or can they?) but for a person who is tired or afraid of the dull and drub life in Uzbekistan – life in a such a glamorous (from afar) and rich country like the US is very appealing at whatever cost…

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm

@Alima Bissenova. You are right. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live in the U.S. And I think that honest hardworking Uzbeks have all the right to be in the U.S. I just have a big problem with abusing the status of “political refugee” and twisting it to advance your personal agenda. Tony Montana from Scarface comes to mind. To me, fake Uzbek refugees (and I repeat, there are A LOT of those in the U.S.) are a slap in the face of brave Uzbeks who risk their lives in Uzbekistan to promote freedom.

Guy Fawkes February 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Most of the migration in the world happens because of simple economic reasons – people want better lives for themselves and their children, so they move to a different country – simple as that. Political refugees make up very minute part of the overall immigration. In Uzbekistan’s case though, the number of political refugees are above average compared to other countries given the obvious reasons.

Will February 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Very true. The notorious reputation of the Uzbek regime comes handy for those seeking immigration for economic reasons. They choose this path with the knowledge that there is no going back and that they can’t visit their family they left behind.

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 1:43 pm

@Sarah Kendzior, I wish you were right but the Uzbek exiles I know (and I know a few of them) will gladly trade their friends for the posts in the “new” Uzbek governemnet that they so dream about creating. So, let’s be realistic here. Families? Well, you don’t request political asylum if you care about your family. That I can tell you from my own experience.

Sarah Kendzior February 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm

@Darnish What is your own experience, if you don’t mind me asking?

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm

@Sarah Kendzior. My experience is that if you have parents (or any close family for that matter) that you care about in Uzbekistan, getting an asylum in the U.S. is not an option. I know they say that U.S. authorities are not disclosing who got an asylum and that may be true. But SNB came out of KGB, one of the most well-trained and sophisticated security services in the world. You really believe they have no way of knowing who is doing what in the U.S. (or wherever you are)? If they really need you, they can always “talk” to your old parents and, believe me, it’s not a pleasant talk. And what are you as a son or daughter going to do? Listen to your father weep over the phone? Is a refugee status worth it? It is for some, but not for me.

Dmitriy February 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm

And I am confused as for why we assume that there only two groups: those who are in Uzbekistan and those who are faking their cases. How about those who are in the U.S. who have a true, legitimate case and cannot return to Uzb?
You also assume that people do not care about their families. You do not know the technicalities and intimate details of each case.

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Let me assure you that due to my present job, I am very familiar with technicalities and intimate details of most cases. Hence my outrage at the bogus refugee claims.
There ARE two groups of Uzbek refugees: those who unfortunate enough to be legitimate refugees and those who fortunate enough to scam their way into refugee status. The latter group significantly outnumbers the first one. And I don’t think it’s fair.
Fake refugees travel to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan (although, according to the rules, they cannot travel to Uzbekistan without jeopardizing their status) and Uzbek government is willing to ignore them because, well, they are fake and pose no danger to the regime.
Real refugees will never see their families because they will get arrested even if they travel to Russia.

Will February 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Darnish, I agree with all your posts here. But I wouldn’t characterize all those seeking asylum as ones who don’t care about their families. Sometimes asylum is the only way out for better life for themselves and their children, and many continue to support their parents they left behind.

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Thank you for support.
But, see, I know that if you legitimately got your refugee status and if you were a real threat to the regime, you will not have your parents to support. You parents will be in jail (if they are lucky).

Sarah Kendzior February 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

@Darnish But what about the Uzbek refugees for whom the only options are asylum or jail? I know Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan to avoid state persecution, ended up receiving asylum abroad and now miss their families and homeland terribly. In many cases, the circumstances that led to their refugee status happened abruptly — the last thing they wanted, or expected, was to be put in a position where they had to leave their country. The fact that their families are persecuted while they are gone only makes the situation more agonizing.

Dmitriy February 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Exactly my thoughts

Darnish February 15, 2012 at 5:00 am

@Sarah Kendzior, the “only” option, as you called it, usually emerges after all other options are either declined or ignored. Political and religious persecutions in Uzbekistan do not happen abruptly. A political dissident, for example, usually knows what is coming. Before he/she actually gets arrested, the person usually has several “talks” with SNB officers. The person is threatened, asked (politely at first) to stop, then he/she will probably get bitten. Only after all that (and it can take anywhere from months to years), the person is jailed. You think the dissident did not have a choice? The same if true for religious refugees. Those people have a choice but they choose to confront the authorities (and I respect them for that). People leaving the country know what it entails.

Sarah Kendzior February 15, 2012 at 11:20 am

@Darnish, Putting aside for a minute the fact that freedom of speech and religion are protected by Uzbekistan’s constitution, and therefore those who engage in dissent or piety should be legally allowed to do so, I don’t think the scenario you describe applies to everyone. Some people do not know that they are considered a dissident (or a terrorist, or a criminal, or a “xalqning dushmani”) until the SNB contacts them. They didn’t set out to get involved in politics. What about the people who witnessed the Andijon events and ended up fleeing to Kyrgyzstan, either during the events or afterward after being sought out by the SNB? They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they are treated like criminals.

You say that people have a choice in Uzbekistan, but I don’t understand what you think people targeted by the SNB could “choose” to do other than comply with their demands.

Will February 15, 2012 at 1:07 pm

People who witnessed Andijon events clearly fall into neither groups Darnish described. Some of them happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Apart from them, Uzbek refugees are either legitimate ones or those “fake” ones that abuse the system.

Darnish February 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

@Sarah Kendzior. I actually visited Andijon a day after the “event” as a representative of one of the organizations allowed to be there (and keep their mouth shut ). I have my opinion about some (not all) refugees you are referring to but it is a topic of another discussion.
As to the first part of your message, you are probably well aware that you cannot apply the mental standards of American democracy to the piece of land that knew nothing but oppression and brutality for centuries. A Uzbek thinks about the Constitution much differently than an American. And Uzbeks are much more aware about political do’s and don’t's than about administrative or criminal code. So, anyone who claims he didn’t know that shouting “Down with Karimov” on the streets of Tashkent may get him into trouble is purely disillusion. And that is why I say that people have a choice.

Sarah Kendzior February 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm

@Darnish. (This is in response to your last comment, which the system is not letting me respond to directly.) I think that even dissidents who shout “Down with Karimov” on the streets of Tashkent love their families and miss them very much, but we can agree to disagree.

I feel like the choice you are saying Uzbeks have is to obey the SNB, even if it goes against what they feel is right, or expect brutal consequences. You refer to Uzbekistan as a place that has known “nothing but oppression and brutality for centuries”, so nothing the SNB does should come as a surprise. I agree that Uzbeks can realistically expect to be persecuted if they engage in dissent, but I am interested in whether you think this system can change, and if so, how.

Guy Fawkes February 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm

And don’t forget that in the process of “eliminating enemies” they go off the tangent and make money for themselves and for their supervisors by intimidating people by false accusations, etc. That is the real draw for most SNB people for working there. Forget the ideology, there is no ideology in Uzbekistan, they do everything to get your money. That’s it. If they arrest some people on religious grounds or something like that it is because they have to show that they are working. But they would rather spend 100% of their time collecting bribes. That is the real SNB and the police.

Despite all the anti-Soviet propoganda in Uzbekistan these days, deleting everything Soviet from history textbooks and demonizing modern Russia and the former USSR, the Uzbek regime and the SNB operate exactly like the Soviet state and the Soviet KGB. To me that shows that they lack brain power, modern research and methodology. All they can do is to copy the former Soviet state, modern Russia and than use brute force, intimidation, etc. They have no style and they lack originality. I got no respect for them.

Qaddafi was another dictator the world today is better off without him hanging around. But he had a style if you think about it and he deserved some credit at least for having a style and and entertaining us all from time to time. The Uzbek regime doesn’t even have style which makes it not only a brutal but a boring regime too. I don’t know which one is a worse crime, being brutal or being boring…

Sanjar Umarov February 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm

FYI Uzbeks are the ppl who linked a lot to their native land and w/o really bag condition in Uz they will not go anywhere . They would build the house (with first money Uzbek building the house). In the past I remember all the ppl told that they can’t be more then 10 days in the mission or travel. Even me having house in Memphis, TN wanted that all my children have their own house in historic homeland, do not feel in US as uninvited immigrant. I back and forth for abt 10 years between US and Uz, and one day I decided to help my homeland to adopt good things from system which I saw here, in US. I entered politics and finally in October 2005 was attacked by Uz authority and jailed for 4 years. I lost 99+% of what I had, even my son’s own houses was confiscated. After my release I returned to my family in US and….made DNA analyze which prove what I had 67+% similarity with Native Americans (origin of Uzbeks is Altai, as Native Americans), and i said we are not immigrants here. :-)

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 1:54 pm

@Sanjar Umarov. I’m not even going to start making sense of your gibberish here.

Guy Fawkes February 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm

The real Sanjar Umarov will be offended by what you have posted here posing as him…

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm


Alima Bissenova February 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Also, one way of addressing the problem of how to talk about something which is difficult to prove is to adopt a correct language. For instance, Nathan Hamm in his article says “SNB threatens activists.” Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say something like “Activists say they were threatened by SNB…”? This way it is not reported as an undisputed fact. We understand that we are hearing only ONE side of the story; it does not “insult” anybody’s intelligence and people don’t feel that they have to question the validity of claims since there are no claims.

Darnish February 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm

@Alima Bissenova
You make a good point but we have to remember (and think it has been discussed already on these pages) that Registan.net is not a news agency/newspaper and, as a result, not a subject to journalistic standards that we may apply to an article in The New York Times. Registan.net is a blog. Nathan can frame his articles any way he likes to and we should remember this while reading those articles.

Alima Bissenova February 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm

@ Darnish, well, we don’t have to be The New York Times to strive to be accurate and nuanced…

Darnish February 15, 2012 at 5:02 am

@Alima Bissenova
True. But all I am saying is that blogs can have and very often do have very questionable standards regarding accuracy.

Nathan Hamm February 15, 2012 at 11:01 am

Darnish, she also posted this over on the other thread. I said there that I accept the criticism. We do strive for accuracy (although there are times when it’s pretty obvious we’re taking a different tone).

That said, I think the criticisms and questions regarding the content of the story would have been the same.

Darnish February 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm

yes, Nathan, and I think it is absolutely fine. I have an impression most of the readers (including myself) here appreciate your approach.

Guy Fawkes February 15, 2012 at 11:10 am

I am not a journalism or a blogger but let me say something as a reader: new media vs old media, journalism vs blogging, style, grammar, etc rules have been debated ad nausea. As a reader I don’t care if blogs follow some rules established by other media.

Newspapers have the capacity and resources to follow those rules you are referring to whereas blogs are managed using minimal resources by one or just a few people. Blogs like Registan have a different purpose and audience than newspapers and they focus more on contend than spending time and resources on following style, grammar, or what have you. If I want to enjoy NYT-esque or some other old-guard journalism I will just move one click away.

Guy Fawkes February 15, 2012 at 11:10 am


Darnish February 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm

@Guy Fawkes. It is a good old topic requiring a different lengthy discussion. :-) Although I often feel that some NYTimes international reporters define “accuracy” rather loosely.

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