Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Tashkent Fears Southern Kyrgyzstan Unrest Could Spread into Uzbekistan

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 7 – Ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan feel that they have been betrayed by Tashkent which has failed to support them or offer them refuge, but the Uzbek authorities have adopted this position, experts say, because Tashkent fears the unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan involving the ethnic Uzbeks there could spread into Uzbekistan itself.
“Many Uzbeks who live in the south of the Kyrgyz Republic,” Alisher Yuldashev notes on Materik.ru, “consider the position of official Tashkent” at the time of Osh violence as “a betrayal.” Tashkent did not speak out on their behalf, he points out,and it turned back ethnic Uzbeks who tried to flee (www.materik.ru/rubric/detail.php?ID=10639).
Yuldashev says that in the view of many, “for Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, the south of Kyrgyzstan is a stronghold of the Uzbek religious and political opposition,” and consequently, he and his regime had no interest in importing those problems. Some would-be migrants were sent back or robbed, while those who got in were sent to work in the cotton fields.
Indeed, Yuldashev continues, “in the opinion of a number of Kyrgyz experts, the south of Kyrgyzstan and the Uzbeks living there are not so much a bastion as a headache for official Tashkent just as they have been for Bishkek,” which views the region and the ethnic Uzbeks there as troublesome potential separatists.
But in Tashkent, many see the Uzbeks of that region as a real threat. Not only are they well-armed and now experienced in street fighting, but the Uzbeks of southern Kyrgyzstan are in some cases involved in drug trafficking, members of Islamist radical groups, or wealthy Uzbek oligarchs who have fled there to escape Karimov’s recent campaign against them.
Moreover, the ethnic Uzbeks of Kyrgyzstan have collectively had the experience of fighting for political goals like greater access to the media and the allocation of positions in the government according to the ethnic composition of the population that could if such people came to Uzbekistan represent a danger to the Tashkent authorities.
For all of these reasons, while the suggestions by many analysts that Karimov and the Uzbek government were using the ethnic Uzbeks of southern Kyrgyzstan to promote their own “geopolitical plans,” in reality, President Karimov has been very careful throughout the crisis not to play up the ethnic dimension.
Immediately after the violence broke out, Karimov said that “in the conflict neither the Uzbeks nor the Kyrgyz were to blame.” Instead, he insisted, the violence was “organized and directed from the outside.” And he added that these forces were doing everything they could to draw Uzbekistan into the fight.
“I am not only against [such a step],” the Uzbekistan president said; “I consider that those who think in such ways are enemies of our people.”
That does not mean, however, that Karimov would necessarily oppose all efforts by ethnic Uzbeks abroad to gain greater autonomy, but it is a major reason why he almost certainly will proceed cautiously in the Kyrgyzstan case lest the appearance of such autonomy there or worse the arrival of its supporters in Uzbekistan give people in his own country ideas.

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