The Plastic President

Post image for The Plastic President

by Nathan Hamm on 3/29/2012 · 10 comments

Pictures of Islom Karimov that do not look doctored seem to be rarer than sightings of him in public. The president has been rumored to be on the verge of death from cancer for about the last decade. With very little reliable information about him, photos and videos are some of the few ways to judge the state of his health. That many of the photos of him that appear in reports originating in the Uzbek media are old or fake should come as no surprise, but it is somewhat striking how obviously fake these photos look.

The photo below is from a 29 March, 2012 report on Karimov meeting with the Commander of CENTCOM in Tashkent. Something just looks off, especially when comparing it to the photo of General Mattis that also appears in the article. The most charitable explanation is that the president gets better lighting and post-processing while the guests do not.

Photo of President Karimov attached to a 29 March 2012 UzA report on a meeting with the Commander of US Central Command

The above photograph is all the more interesting in light of the next one. President Karimov must really like that suit and tie combination, because he wore it for a 17 February meeting with a French delegation. The only significant difference is that he seems a bit happier with the French visitors.

Karimov in a 18 February article published in Xalq So'zi

I can’t stress enough how much Karimov likes this suit combination and seven pencils to his right. It also appeared in a 28 February meeting with the UK’s defense minister and a 7 February meeting with Ukraine’s foreign minister. And the suit appears sans pencils during a 6 January meeting, a 10 February meeting, and a 19 January speech. He was also wearing the outfit in front of the Tashkent city council a couple weeks ago and during an address to a conference on education in mid February.

Several of these photographs do look like recycled images from one photo shoot, others almost look like they contain a digitally-inserted dictator, and all look like they have been touched up to smooth out Karimov’s wrinkles and darken his hair. Video captures show Karimov very differently, wrinkles and all. Even back in 2005, he looked older than he does in any of the above photographs, and more recently, his age shows much more.

Screen capture from a 2005 news report in which Karimov discusses the uprising in Andijon.

Karimov in a screen capture from 2009

Karimov in an autumn 2011 news broadcast

Below is another shot of Karimov at the recent Navruz celebrations in Tashkent. The other day, I wrote that Karimov looks good compared to other recent appearances. However, looking at the last photo, it is fairly clear the only thing going for him is that he was able to do his own take on the running man. He looks awful.

Karimov at the 2012 Navruz celebrations

It may be harder to dig up images in television broadcasts that do not often get archived on the internet, but it was not particularly difficult to find them. So, what is the point of having such laughably fake looking photographs of Karimov hanging on the Uzbek media’s government’s reports press releases? Is the point really to fool anyone, because it seems unlikely that it would?

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– 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.

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


Sarah Kendzior March 29, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Oh Nathan…how did you write this whole post and not include this?

Joshua Foust March 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Even more important: How could you not recognize that Islom Karimov and Robert Gates are THE SAME PERSON?

Nathan Hamm April 2, 2012 at 9:52 am

I am shamed.

Metin March 30, 2012 at 5:21 am

different cameras produce different images . Besides, a lot depends on the photographer.

Nathan Hamm April 2, 2012 at 9:52 am

Or not, since many of those images are credited to different photographers.

upyernoz March 30, 2012 at 7:21 am

not to undermine your point, but i do note that Islam is wearing that same suit (or one that looks a lot like it) in most of the “more recent” shots at the end of the post.

he really does like that suit combination!

Nathan Hamm April 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

And he must like attention to detail in general, because there are always seven pencils in that cup!

I know, he is always wearing a red or purple (which is actually red, but appearing different because of lighting or post-processing) tie. But all those seated images look like they were from the same session or had the same kind of age-defying photoshopping done to them.

James Callahan April 2, 2012 at 3:33 am

I don’t really get the speculation that he is ill. He simply looks old, which he is.

Nathan Hamm April 2, 2012 at 9:56 am

It’s been a rumor bouncing around for years. I have no idea if it’s true. I lean toward it not being true. Occasionally, you’ll hear it cited to explain long periods he’s not seen in public.

Megan Ladd April 3, 2012 at 10:19 am

Strangely enough, I heard the same rumor about Nazarbayev having cancer when I was living in Kazakhstan.

Megan (Kaz 20, 2008-2010)

Previous post:

Next post: