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  • Название: Uzbekistan: Transition to Authoritariansim on the Silk Road
  • Описание: Social Sciences
  • Автор: Neil J.Melvin

Uzbekistan

Postcommunist States and Nations
Books in the series
Belarus: A denationalized nation
David R.Marples
Armenia: At the crossroads
Joseph R.Masih and Robert O.Krikorian
Poland: The conquest of history
George Sanford
Kyrgyzstan: Central Asia’s island of democracy?
John Anderson
Ukraine: Movement without change, change without movement
Marta Dyczok
The Czech Republic: A nation of velvet
Rick Fawn
Uzbekistan: Transition to authoritarianism on the silk road
Neil J.Melvin
Romania: The unfinished revolution
Steven D.Roper
This book is part of a series. The publisher will accept continuation
orders which may be cancelled at any time and which provide for
automatic billing and shipping of each title in the series upon
publication. Please write for details.

Uzbekistan
TRANSITION TO
AUTHORITARIANISM ON
THE SILK ROAD

Neil J.Melvin

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chronology

vi

Preface

ix

Map of Uzbekistan

xiv

1

History and Culture

1

2

Contemporary Politics

29

3

Economy and Society

61

4

The External Policy of Independent Uzbekistan

88

5

Conclusion

116

Bibliography

121

Index

122

CHRONOLOGY

7th century
13th century
1313–41
1370–1405
16th century

1867
1868
1873
1876
30 April 1918
September 1919
February 1920
September 1920

Arab conquest and conversion to Islam within the
ancient provinces of Sogdia and Bactria,
particularly the cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.
Mongol conquest of the region.
Rule of Uzbeg, after whom the Uzbek tribes were
named.
Reign of Timur (Tamerlane), who established an
empire centred upon Samarkand.
Uzbek tribes settle in core areas of Transoxiana,
establishing dominance over the region,
particularly Kokand, Samarkand, Bukhara and
Khiva.
Area of Karakalpakstan seized by Russian
Empire.
Emirate of Bukhara and Khanate of Kokand fall
to the Russians and become protectorates.
Khanate of Khiva becomes a protectorate of the
Russian Empire.
Abolition of the Khanate of Kokand.
The Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist
Republic is formed including much of the
territories of contemporary Uzbekistan.
Soviet forces establish control over much of the
region.
Khiva falls to the Red Army and Khorezm
People’s Socialist Republic is founded.
Emir of Bukhara flees in the face of the Red
Army’s advance. Declaration of Soviet Republic
of Bukhara.

vii

December 1922

Bukhara and Khorezm become founding units of
the Soviet Union.
27 October 1924 The Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (UzSSR) is
established.
1929
The Tajik ASSR, previously part of the UzSSR,
becomes a full Union Republic of the USSR. The
Khojand region of the UzSSR is also incorporated
into the Tajik SSR.
1936
Karakalpakstan, formerly part of Kazakhstan,
passes to the UzSSR.
1940
A Cyrillic script is imposed upon the Uzbek Latin
script established in the late 1920s.
1943
The Muslim Board of Central Asia is founded in
Tashkent, later a number of religious colleges and
mosques are opened in Uzbekistan.
1959
Sharaf Rashidov becomes leader of the UzSSR.
1983
Death of Rashidov and exposure of a widespread
fraud based upon the cotton crop of Uzbekistan.
1988
A group of Uzbek intellectuals founds Birlik.
June 1989
Ethnic rioting in the Fergana Valley between
Uzbeks and Meskhetian Turk community. Islam
Karimov becomes First Secretary of the Uzbek
Communist Party.
October 1989
Uzbek becomes the state language.
24 March 1990 Islam Karimov is elected to the position of
executive President.
20 June 1990
Uzbek declaration of sovereignty.
31 August 1991 The Supreme Soviet votes to declare the UzSSR
independent and the next day the country
becomes the Republic of Uzbekistan.
29 December 1991 Karimov is re-elected as President and on the
same day 98.2% of voters support independence
in a referendum.
November 1993
Uzbekistan introduces its own currency and
leaves the Russian ruble zone.
January 1994
Uzbekistan signs an agreement with Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan to form an economic union.

viii

Autumn 1995
January 1998
August 1998
January 1999

First of several poor cotton harvests that leads
to re-orientation of Uzbekistani economic
policy.
Uzbekistani authorities launch campaign
against ‘radical Islam’.
Taliban forces in Afghanistan seize the
territories in the north of the country previously
controlled by Tashkent’s ally.
Bomb blasts in Tashkent prompt extensive
crackdown against Islamic and opposition
groups.

PREFACE

With the demise of the Soviet state at the end of 1991, Central Asia has
emerged from a hundred years of relative obscurity. From being
something of a backwater within the Soviet Union, within a few years
Central Asia has been transformed into a region at the heart of the
rapidly changing political, economic and social landscape of Eurasia.
Uzbekistan lies at the core of Central Asia itself, a country bordering all
of the other states of the region. Uzbekistan is the most populous
country within Central Asia and is potentially the most powerful of the
area’s states. With the region’s largest armed forces and strong ethnic
and historic ties to territories in all the neighbouring states, Uzbekistan
functions as the lynchpin to the whole Central Asian region.
The current volume is intended to serve as a broad introduction to
Uzbekistan for those who have little experience of Central Asia but
wish to learn more about the critical events and processes that have
affected the territories and peoples of contemporary Uzbekistan. The
book is divided into four chapters, each of which outlines a principal
theme: history, politics, economics, and foreign relations. A short
section at the conclusion of the volume entitled ‘Further Reading’
directs the reader to a selection of materials that offer a more in-depth
treatment of the themes explored in the current study.
Chapter One examines the history and culture of Uzbekistan.
Although Uzbekistan is a relatively new state, created as an
administrative unit by Soviet planners in the early part of this century
and achieving independence in 1991, the territories of contemporary
Uzbekistan have played host to a rich past. Historically, the lands of
modern Uzbekistan have been the home for a variety of important
civilisations and empires. Powerful cities grew up across the region, fed
by the trade of the Silk Road, the rich agricultural lands and the ability
of the region’s rulers to establish viable political and economic systems
to harness the region’s resources. The population of the area embraced

x

Islam and in certain periods the region became a centre for advanced
learning and culture.
Through the centuries, migrations, conquest and trade brought the
population of the region into contact with a wide variety of peoples from
Europe and Asia. The legacy of this historic mixing of peoples was the
development of complex societies, built around a myriad of languages,
communities and traditions. In the sixteenth century, Uzbek tribal
groupings began to move into the region and soon emerged as powerful
ruling clans across the region. In the nineteenth century, Russian
colonisation of the kingdoms of Central Asia led to important changes
in the geopolitical situation of the region, although much of the social
and political structure of the area remained intact. In the 1920s, the
establishment of Soviet control over the core territories of Central Asia
led, however, to a fundamental transformation in the region.
Soon after seizing control of the area, Soviet planners undertook a
series of policy initiatives that would reshape the region in many basic
ways. The central element of the Soviet project in the region was the
creation of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1924, the forerunner
of the contemporary Uzbekistani state. Under Soviet tutelage,
Uzbekistan and the Uzbek nation were forged as a single entity, linked
to each other through language, a common history and, increasingly, a
single economic and political infrastructure. In the final decades of the
Soviet era, the Uzbek leadership was able to establish considerable
autonomy from Moscow in the everyday running of the republic. More
than any other factor, it was the changes introduced into Uzbekistan
during the Soviet years that have shaped developments following
independence.
Chapter Two of the volume is devoted to an examination of
contemporary politics. The demise of Soviet control in Central Asia led
to important changes in the political order in Uzbekistan. Critically, the
role of the Communist Party has been supplanted by the emergence of
an authoritarian executive system based around the person of the
president, Islam Karimov. The ruthless suppression not simply of
opposition forces but of all independent organisations and voices in
Uzbekistan has provided the basis for a powerful centralised state to
emerge based upon the unchecked use of coercion.
A leading figure in the Uzbek Communist Part before independence,
President Karimov subsequently embraced nationalism as the
justification for his rule. Consolidating an independent Uzbekistan and
establishing stability within the borders of the state are the twin pillars of
the new official orthodoxy. Uzbekistan, however, is home to a variety

xi

of peoples and cultures, and official nationalism has frequently appeared
to threaten the position of the non-Uzbek residents of the country.
Despite fears amongst the Uzbekistani elite about a political threat from
democratic and human rights groups or the possibility of unrest
amongst minorities, it is radical Islam that has emerged as potentially
the most serious challenge to the post-independence order.
Since the late 1980s, Islam has become the single most difficult issue
for the Karimov government. Islam is a thread that runs throughout most
of Uzbekistani society and this has made the destruction of ‘unofficial’
religious groups problematic. Recognising the importance and power of
Islam, the Uzbekistani government quickly embraced a ‘moderate’ form
of religion in the early 1990s. Subsequently, however, the Karimov
regime has had to engage in a delicate balancing act to prevent the
emergence of more radical, or at least anti-government, forms of belief
and religious organisation. The destruction of secular forms of
opposition and the fusion of Islam with much of Uzbekistani society
suggests, however, that Islam is likely to remain a problem for the
current leadership and a potential block to the regime’s aim of complete
supremacy within the country. Critical to the ability of Karimov and his
government to retain control will be its success in establishing a more
prosperous society.
In Chapter Three of the book, the development and future prospects of
the Uzbekistani economy are examined. The Soviet economic legacy in
Uzbekistan is a mixed one. On the one hand, during the Soviet years
Uzbekistan acquired elements of an advanced scientific and
communications infrastructure, while on the other hand, the republican
economy was developed primarily as the supplier of agricultural
materials, and particularly for the production of cotton. The economic
inheritance from the Soviet period has heavily constrained the ability of
the Uzbekistani authorities to pursue economic development. The
Karimov regime has, however, also failed to launch the range of
reforms necessary to break free from the dependence on agricultural
production previously established by Moscow’s planners.
In the first years of independent existence, Uzbekistan seemed to be
making important progress, particularly in relation to the economies of
other former Soviet republics. The Uzbekistani authorities even seemed
prepared to contemplate some limited forms of liberalisation in the
economy. The poor harvests and low prices for cotton in the mid-1990s,
however, exposed the fragile commitment to change in the country and
set Uzbekistan on a path of autarkic economic management. Since
1995, the Uzbekistani economy has struggled to make any serious

xii

progress and instead has become increasingly harnessed to the
overriding goal of establishing political stability in the country.
The failure to undertake the reforms necessary for the transformation
of the Uzbekistani economy has stemmed from the ways in which
Karimov’s regime has developed. The emergence of a powerful
authoritarian system has relied to a significant degree upon the elite’s
ability to manipulate the economy to its own advantage through
corruption, advantageous government contracts and privileged access to
financial and other resources. In order to construct this system, the state
has not simply retained control of the Uzbekistani economy but has
extended its reach into new types of business activities. While the
Karimov political economy has provided the basis for the consolidation
of an elite and its interests, a range of social pressures building up in
Uzbekistan raise questions about the sustainability of this system. Rapid
demographic growth, rising unemployment and increased competition
for resources point to a future in which political unrest is likely to
intensify around economic concerns.
Chapter Four of the volume is concerned with the external policy of
Uzbekistan since the collapse of the Soviet system. Although the
territory at the core of Central Asia has historically been a site of
contest between competing kingdoms and empires, the engagement of
Uzbekistan with the international system is a fundamentally new
development. Since 1991 the Uzbekistani government has sought to
build a set of relationships to the outside world that could help
consolidate independence and the position of the Karimov regime. The
primary driving force of external relations has been a search for links
that can accelerate economic development in Uzbekistan. Reflecting
this goal, Western industrial nations became the subject for the initial
thrust of foreign policy. Building a relationship with the West was also
perceived as the main means to establish political and security ties that
would help consolidate the independent status of Uzbekistan.
Despite the goal of forging links to the West, particularly the United
States, Tashkent has had to develop a variety of other relationships in
response to a range of local and inter-regional issues. While the economic
imperative remains the central thread of Uzbekistani external policy,
security concerns have required a reorientation in some aspects of
Uzbekistan’s foreign relations. Significantly, the original strategy of
promoting Uzbekistan as a country with little interest in close relations
with the other former Soviet states has been supplanted by an increased
stress upon co-operation, particularly in response to the rise of the
Taliban in Afghanistan. Relations with other Central Asian states have

xiii

grown more significant and the Russian Federation has re-emerged as
an important security partner for Tashkent.
Since independence, Uzbekistan has succeeded in establishing a
complex set of relationships to other states and also to a variety of
interstate organisations. In many respects, the continual maneuvering by
Tashkent has been successful in achieving many of its aims, however,
the Uzbekistani leadership has yet to face a major international crisis.
Moreover, in recent years Karimov’s strategy towards Tajikistan and
Afghanistan has collapsed prompting a redirection of external policy.
The significant shift in Uzbekistan’s external policies suggests that as
the country faces increased external challenges in the future, Tashkent
may struggle to retain a strong independent position.
In writing this book I have incurred a number of debts. Firstly I
would like to thank those in Uzbekistan and Central Asia who have
offered me help in collecting material for this volume and who have
shaped my understanding of developments in the region in general and
Uzbekistan in particular. For reasons of safety, individuals cannot be
mentioned. I would also like to thank an anonymous reviewer who
suggested many important revisions to an earlier version. Finally, I
would like to dedicate this work to E.

xiv

Chapter 1
HISTORY AND CULTURE

INTRODUCTION
In the twentieth century, Uzbekistan has emerged as home to the most
powerful and populous political community in Central Asia. The
appearance of Uzbekistan on the world stage is, however, a
comparatively new phenomenon. Moreover, the Uzbek community
itself is of relatively recent origin. Edward Allworth argues that the
roots of Uzbek history can be traced to the fourteenth century. He
thereby challenges the thesis popular among Soviet and Uzbek historians
that the beginnings of Uzbek society and politics stretch back to the
ancient civilisations of Central Asia, such as Achemedia, Bactria,
Sogdia and Tokaria, and the rule of Alexander of Macedonia.1
Other scholars have suggested that the label ‘Uzbek’ only acquired a
political and socio-cultural significance in the twentieth century as a
result of Soviet policies of nation-founding. Indeed, Uzbek nationhood
may be considered one of the most successful Soviet-era inventions.
While incomplete at the time of independence, the Soviet nationbuilding project in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic nevertheless laid
the basis for the emergence of the current nationalism in the area.
Establishing the relationship between past and present in Uzbekistan
is a contentious project but, at the same time, an intrinsic part of the
process whereby the modern political community is constituted.
Contemporary Uzbekistan has clearly been shaped by political, cultural
and economic history and it would be foolish to suggest that the
identities of the current populations of Uzbekistan have not been
influenced by the past. The key issue is the way in which the link
between past and present is formulated and the way in which elements
of the past that are abstracted to establish a dominant, official historical
narrative, that all too frequently excludes the past of minorities.

2 HISTORY AND CULTURE

Contemporary accounts of history in Uzbekistan reflect the project to
merge real and imagined events, persons and places in a coherent and
largely seamless vision of the past. Within this project, interpretations
of the pre-colonial, Russian imperial and Soviet periods are being used
to legitimate and discredit forms of political power and organisation.
The past has become the prism through which contemporary political
struggle is refracted.
While the visible elements of the contemporary struggle for the past
are debates about important figures in history, the role and nature of
core cultures and languages, and the military, scientific and political
character of past regimes, the central purpose of these debates is less
obvious. Fundamental understandings about the nature, boundaries and
origins of the contemporary political community are being forged. At
the centre of this debate is a struggle to define the nature of the Uzbek
nation and its relationship to the past. Critically, it is important to be
clear that the terms Uzbekistan, the Uzbek community and the territory
of Uzbekistan have only been established as an interrelated, indeed
inseparable, set of ideas in recent history.
Examination of the history of the territories of contemporary
Uzbekistan is thus clearly an important subject because it tells us much
about contemporary society. More than this though, the past of the
Transoxiana region is worthy of consideration for the fascinating and
rich nature of history of the area. For the sake of simplicity, the history
of the region can be divided into three main periods: early history; the
Russian colonial era; and the Soviet period.
EARLY HISTORY
The territories of the Republic of Uzbekistan have been populated for
thousands of years and have served as the centre for a variety of
civilisations, cultures and peoples. The earliest recorded inhabitants of
the region were Persian-speaking peoples who inhabited the valleys of
the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) and Amu Darya (Oxus) rivers. The plains to
the north of the Syr Darya were largely populated by Scythians, as well
as Persian-speakers, and groups of nomads.
The area between the two great rivers was identified by Persian and
Arabic historians as the Transoxiana region. By the sixth century BC,
Transoxiana was the location for two kingdoms. The Persian monarch
Cyrus the Great founded the city of Cyropolis on the banks of the
Jaxartes, while the Bactrian kingdom, centred in what is today
Afghanistan, controlled the territories along much of the Oxus.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 3

In the fourth century BC Alexander the Great passed through Central
Asia on the way to conquer India. The Central Asia of this era consisted
largely of city states. The Sogdian kingdom at this time was centred
upon the city of Samarkand. Khorezm, situated in the west of today’s
Uzbekistan, was already an independent region. Popular beliefs hold
that Alexander was the founder of Samarkand, although most historians
discount this version of the past. In fact, many Central Asian cities were
renamed in honour of Alexander, and he remains a folk hero in the
region to this day.
Following the death of Alexander, Greek influence in Central Asia
declined, and the region fell under the influence of the Parthian empire.
With the rise of the Samanid dynasty in Persia, the influence of
Baghdad was replaced by Persian influence. Bukhara emerged as a
major trading region and eventually became the capital of the Samanid
dynasty.
During this period, the first Turkic invasions of Central Asia from the
north occurred. Often destructive, the Turkic invaders left little of
lasting significance from their early forays. The arrival of Turkic invaders
nevertheless indicated the future political trajectory of Central Asia;
although it was not to be until the thirteenth century that the Turkic
presence in Central Asia became permanent.
Between the time of the first invasions and the conquest of Central
Asia by Turkic tribes, several important external forces were to
influence the development of the region in important ways. Arab armies
came to Central Asia following the death of Muhammad in 632. In the
century following his death, the Arab empire grew to stretch from North
Africa and Spain in the west to Asia Minor and Persia in the east. The
Arabs arrived in Central Asia in the middle of the seventh century,
reaching Merv in 651. But the Arab advance faced opposition and was
not able to penetrate deep into the region until later decades. Over the
next century, Arab influence grew incrementally, eventually coming to
encompass all the major settled regions of Central Asia.
The Arab arrival brought important change in the form of science,
new cultural forms and, in particular, Islam. Direct rule by the Arabs
was relatively short, but their real importance lay with the ideas and
cultural patterns left behind. Arabic became the language of science and
commerce in the region for the next three hundred years, while the Arabic
script persisted until the Soviet era. Islam emerged as the dominant and
almost exclusive religion of the region, displacing other forms of belief
to the margins of Central Asian society.

4 HISTORY AND CULTURE

During the Dark Ages in Europe, scholarship and knowledge
prospered in Central Asia. The rich legacy of Arabic learning was
particularly important in the oases cities of Khorezm and Bukhara.
During this period, a variety of notable scholars and thinkers were
active, including Al Khwarezm, Abu Rai Raihan Al Biruni, and Abu
Ali Ibn Sina.
By the turn of the millennium, Samanid rule had collapsed and such
power and authority as existed passed into the hands of the Turkic
invaders who swept through the region at this time. In the thirteenth
century, the Mongol chieftain, Chingis Khan, descended upon
Transoxiana, attacking the main oasis settlements. He captured the great
cities of Bukhara and Samarkand in about 1225 and subsequently
Central Asia fell under the control of various Mongol tribal chieftains.
In 1227, the Mongol leader died leaving a vast empire for his descendants,
who divided up the newly conquered territories.
Under the rule of Chingis Khan and his heirs, much of Eurasia was
united for the first time. The rule of the Mongols was, however, far from
benign. Many of the great cities of Central Asia were destroyed, as was
much of the irrigation system that lay at the heart of settled life in the
region. The common political space established by Mongol rule
nevertheless laid the basis for the emergence of a vibrant pattern of
commerce in the two succeeding centuries. Under Mongol rule, the great
trade routes of the Silk Road began to flourish.
The rule of Chingis Khan and his descendants also left a continuing
cultural legacy in the form of the Turkic languages. Prior to the
thirteenth century invasions, Turkic languages were already widely used
in Central Asia, however, with Mongol conquest the importance of
these languages was to change significantly. While the Mongol leaders
spoke a common language, the waves of settlers that moved to Central
Asia accompanying Mongol domination brought a variety of other
Turkic languages to the region.
The destruction of the main Arabic and Persian centres of learning
also helped Turkic languages to become prominent in the region.
Persian and Arabic nonetheless continued to be important in the fields
of science and learning. While the Turkic dynasties became ascendant,
the traditions of Islam continued to prosper.
In the centuries following Mongol conquest important changes
occurred in the political, economic and cultural make-up of the
Transoxiana region and the territories bordering the core area of Central
Asia. During this period, Turkic and Islamic traditions under-went a
process of mutual assimilation. At the same time, Turkic-based

HISTORY AND CULTURE 5

languages became more important, displacing the previous dominance
of Persian and Arabic in key areas. By the fifteenth century, the Mongol
language of the ruling elite had been replaced by other Turkic
languages.
One of the most important descendants of Chingis Khan was Timur
the Lame (known as Tamerlane in Europe, 1336–1405). In about 1350,
Timur moved his rule from the city of Kish to Samarkand, which became
the centre for one of the last great empires focused upon Central Asia.
Timur built a powerful military force and, following Chingis Khan
before him, he set out to conquer the then known world. He invaded
Persia, the Siberian plains and also entered Anatolia, capturing Ankara
in 1402. But Timur was the last of the leaders who succeeded in
unifying Central Asia.
Following Timur’s death, subsequent leaders were unable to reunite
Central Asia as a single ‘Turkestan’. Timur’s grandson, Ulugh-bek
(1394–1449) was a ruler and leading scientist. He failed, however, to
follow the expansionist policies of his grandfather. Zahiriddin Babur
(1483–1530), a Timurid leader, had his imperial ambitions frustrated by
the tribal fragmentation within Central Asia, and turned his energies to
the south. Babur marched through Afghanistan and on to India where he
founded the Mughal empire.
Despite Timur’s efforts to build a powerful empire in Central Asia,
by the fourteen century Mongol influence was in decline and Central
Asia became a patchwork of small principalities. The political
organisation of the region was characterised by continually shifting
alliances, and the growth and contraction of kingdoms. The decline of
the Mongol dynasty and the fragmentation of territories once united
under Mongol rule was accompanied by the emergence of the Uzbek
tribal confederation as a powerful force, particularly in the settled areas
of Transoxiana.
Early in the sixteenth century, Central Asia came under the control of
the Uzbek tribes moving from the steppe regions of the north and led by
Muhammad Shaibani Khan. The emergence of the Uzbeks as an
important force in Central Asia was of particular importance. The
Shaibanid invasion accelerated the disintegration and fragmentation of
the political arrangements of the Mongol era. Reflecting the
significance of this development, the Soviet authorities gave special
support for work on the origins of the Uzbeks in Central Asia and
Uzbek ethnogenesis in this period. Establishing the ethnic origins of the
Uzbeks was central to the Soviet project of developing a socialist Uzbek
nation. Despite the work of Soviet scholars, the nature and significance

6 HISTORY AND CULTURE

of the emergence of the Uzbeks continues to be contentious and
contested.
Edward Allworth notes the development of the Uzbek tribal
confederation in the areas of Khorezm in the west of Uzbekistan and
in the area to the north of the Aral Sea in the fifteenth century. He
stresses, however, that the consolidation of the Uzbeks was built upon
the coming together of Turkic tribes, with the term Uzbek having a
tribal rather than ethnic meaning. ‘…the Uzbek group, like many ethnic
entities in the modern world, cannot reach into a distant past to anchor
itself to an earlier counterpart. Both discontinuity with the past and
insecure linkage between name and group complicate present Uzbek
existence as well as the process of understanding the problem. The
geographical distribution of people added to this complexity.’2
The consolidation of the Uzbek tribal confederation was accompanied
by a migration to the south, into the core regions of Central Asia.
Members of the confederation began to take control of the settled areas
of Transoxiana from the fifteenth century and to mix with the peoples
already in the region. Despite the migration of the Uzbek tribes, the
groups within the confederation were widely dispersed and ethnically
indistinct. Uzbek power was finally consolidated at the beginning of the
sixteenth century when Muhammed Shaibani seized control of the last
independent kingdoms in the region. Thereafter, the term Uzbek was
associated with the several dynasties descended from Shaibani that
ruled the region.
As the Uzbeks took control of Transoxiana, their previously nomadic
lifestyle began to give way to a sedentary existence. Many Uzbeks
settled in the cities and towns of the region and began to assimilate with
the previous inhabitants of the region, including other Turkic peoples
and Persian-speakers. While retaining their tribal identification, the
sedentary Uzbeks simultaneously identified themselves with other
settled peoples under the general label of Sart.
The essential division that emerged in Central Asian society in this
period was between Sarts and nomads. These were socio-economic
categories, although categories that were also marked by important
cultural distinctions based upon language and religion. Elite level
bilingualism became an important part of the region’s identity with the
political life of the court conducted predominantly in a Turkic language
(Chagatai), while high culture was largely the province of Persian.
Contemporary historians are divided about the nature of cultural
divisions in this period, with many Uzbek interpretations identifying the
noted writer of this period, Alisher Navoi (1441–1501), as the father of

HISTORY AND CULTURE 7

Uzbek literature. There were also important minority communities in
the region, notably Central Asian Jews.
From the seventeenth century, the previously united Uzbek khanate
began to fragment and was replaced by smaller, highly autonomous
kingdoms or khanates. Initially, the two most powerful khanates were
Bukhara and Khiva. From the eighteenth century, however, the Khanate
of Kokand, centred on Fergana, began to rival the other two. The near
constant state of conflict between these states assisted Russian conquest
of the region.
On the eve of Russian conquest, the power of Central Asia’s kingdoms
relative to that of their neighbours had declined significantly from
previous centuries. By the seventeenth century the fragmentation of
political power in the central region of Central Asia had produced three
khanates, disunited and lacking well-defined borders, each led by a
powerful khan: Kokand in the Fergana Valley; Bukhara in the Zerafshan
Valley; and Khiva in the west on the Amu River. The Bukharan ruler
continued the Persian influence of earlier centuries, maintaining the title
of emir.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the dominant form of
society was feudal slave owning and the economy was built around
agriculture and handicrafts. A strong set of cultural traditions existed
around the idea of deference and respect for elders and the more
powerful. Society was structured around patriarchal forms with strict
hierarchies for male and female groups. Islam continued to be an
important factor in society and Islamic leaders also operated in an
uneasy relationship with the dynastic political leaders. While trade
remained important, from the sixteenth century the Silk Road entered a
period of decline with the development of global sea travel.
RUSSIAN CONQUEST
The relative decline of Central Asia from the sixteenth century was
matched by the steady expansion of Russian imperial power. The
competition between external empires and the stagnating kingdoms of
Central Asia reached its climax in the latter half of the nineteenth
century. In this period, Central Asia became the location for a complex
series of struggles as imperial powers, native rulers, conservatives, and
modernisers fought for control over the region.3
In the fifteenth century under the leadership of Ivan III (Ivan the
Great), Russia began to unify following two centuries of domination by
the Mongols. The expansion of the Russian empire from the core

8 HISTORY AND CULTURE

territories on the European plains began to gather pace in the sixteenth
century. The troops of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) captured the Tatar
city of Kazan in 1552. Soon after this, the Turkic populations of the
Volga region were incorporated into the Russian empire.
In the seventeenth century the Russian empire spread deep into
Siberia. Over the next two centuries, the Russian empire pushed
eastward and southwards across the steppe regions of Central Asia
reaching the northern edge of the Kazakh Steppe by the 1820s.
Gradually the local tribes were absorbed into the Russian colonial
system. As the borders of the Russian empire approached the periphery
of Central Asia, various attempts were made to conquer the core areas
of Central Asia. It proved, however, to be the latter half of the
nineteenth century before Russian conquest of the Transoxiana region
was effected.
By the mid-nineteenth century, the population of the Bukharan Emirate
was about two and a half million. Russian accounts identify about half
of the population as Uzbeks, one third Tajiks, and one tenth Turkmen,
however, the ambiguous nature of ethnic identification in this period
make establishing definitive numbers problematic. The lands of the
Khan of Khiva were located south of the Aral Sea focused upon the
oasis of Khiva. The Khivan Khanate had a population of three-quarters
of a million, consisting of a mixture of Karakalpaks, Turkmen, Kazakhs
and Uzbeks. Finally, Kokand controlled large territories, between the
Syr Daria and Muslim China, with its centre located in the Fergana
Valley and the Tashkent oasis. The population was about three million,
mostly Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. Various groups of nomadic
populations were found on the periphery of these mini-empires.
Initially, Russian attempts to conquer the kingdoms at the heart of
Central Asia were unsuccessful. In 1719, a disastrous expedition to
capture Khiva was launched under Prince A.Bekovich-Cherkasskii. In
1839, a second expedition was sent to Khiva, this time led by General
Perovskii, but it also failed. From the mid-nineteenth century, however,
several factors combined to help the Russian advance. Of central
importance to Russian victory was the development of a
communications infrastructure within the imperial territories that
provided a means to move men and materiel to the frontiers.
Russian troops conquered important parts of Kokand in the key
Fergana Valley as early as 1853, but Central Asia did not become the
central focus for Russian imperial expansion until defeat in the Crimean
War (1854–56). Following the war, Anglo-Russian competition became
more intense as Russia sought to counter British advances through India.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 9

As a result, the Russian drive to subordinate the heart of Central Asia
became that much more urgent. In what became know as the ‘Great
Game’, Russia and Britain vied for control of Central Asia.
The new Russian advance into the heart of Central Asia began in
1860 with a movement south along the Syr Darya river toward the
Kyrgyz mountains. The town of Pishpek was seized in 1860 and
Turkestan, Aulie-Ata and Chimkent in 1864, thus linking eastern and
western lines of forts and enclosing the Kazakh Steppe. Within days, the
conqueror of Chimkent, General M.G.Cherniaev, launched an abortive
assault upon Tashkent, the economic centre of the Kokand khanate.
In conquering Central Asia, Russia was assisted by the conflict
between the three kingdoms of Bukhara, Khiva and Kokand. Rivalry
between these kingdoms ensured that they failed to co-operate
effectively to resist Russian advances. In June 1865, Cherniaev
successfully took Tashkent. Three years later he seized the town of
Samarkand, turning the Emirate of Bukhara into a Russian protectorate
(1868). At the same time, a treaty was concluded with the rump of the
Kokand khanate formalising its dependence on Russia. By 1873, Khiva
had met a similar fate and in 1876 Russia abolished the khanate of
Kokand and its territory was absorbed into the Russian Empire.
Having taken control of the Central Asian kingdoms, Russia turned
its attention to the Turkmen tribes. Following a bloody battle fought in
January 1881 at the fortress of Geok-tepe, which ended with the
massacre of the native population, the last territories of Central Asia fell
under Russian control. The subordination of the Turkmen tribes marked
the end of serious resistance to Russian colonial rule in the region,
leaving rebellion as the only form of opposition for the Central Asian
populations in the decades ahead. Both Britain and Russia brought the
struggle to control Central Asia to an end with an agreement in 1885 to
demarcate the external borders of the region.
With the military conquest of Central Asia complete, the Russian
conquerors sought to consolidate their rule in the region and to integrate
the new territories into the empire. At first, the Russian government did
not demand complete control of the protectorates, letting the local
leaders rule in a tributary relationship to St. Petersburg. The khanates
retained their native rulers, and a degree of political autonomy. The
territory of the Kokand khanate, which had put up the most resistance to
Russian invasion and controlled the best agricultural land, was placed
directly under the control of the governor-general as early as 1876.
The integration of the Kazakh lands and Turkestan into the Russian
empire was in large part an ad hoc process initially undertaken by the

10 HISTORY AND CULTURE

military. The Kazakh Steppe was divided into six regions, two
controlled by the authorities in the Russian town of Orenburg, two by
the city of Omsk and two regions (Syr Darya and Semirechie) by the
Turkestan Governor-Generalship, which had been established in 1867
and was based in Tashkent. The first governor-general was General
K.P. von Kaufman (1867–81). General von Kaufman had been
operating from Orenburg previously, and now he moved his
headquarters to Tashkent. It became the seat of the GovernorGeneralship and later grew to become the most important city in
Central Asia.
In 1867 a decree was issued uniting the former kingdoms under
Russian administration as the Province (guberniia) of Turkestan. The
first formal tsarist administrative structures were established shortly
after the decree of 1867. The decree specified a two-tiered
administrative arrangement recognising a distinction between the
cultural lives of the native population and the colonising Russians.
Tsarist policy was designed to ensure continued domination while
interfering as little as possible with native religion, customs and
lifestyles. At the local level, administration was largely left in the hands
of the native administrators, with customary courts retaining jurisdiction
over all the most serious cases. In the early years of the Russian
colonial regime in Central Asia, General von Kaufman resisted efforts
to bring Orthodox missionaries to the region to challenge Islam. After
von Kaufman’s resignation in 1881, a more liberal policy was rejected.
Religious schools began to merge with Russian literacy schools and
some religious property (waqf) designed for the upkeep of schools was
seized. From the 1880s, the pilgrimage to Mecca became more difficult.
But the main drive for education reform came not from the Russian
authorities but from the ‘new method’ schools created by the panTurkic inspired Jadid movement.
The Turkestan region was divided into a number of districts each
presided over by a military governor subordinate to the governorgeneral in Tashkent. The interest of the military leaders was, however,
more often in territorial expansion or personal gain than in civilian
administration. Resistance to the local Russian rulers, who were
frequently involved in running fiefdoms, led to popular revolts in
1889. The riots produced a government report that criticised the Russian
policy of non-interference in the cultural affairs for abetting the growth
of pan-Islamic propaganda.
Although the general thrust of the Russian colonial regime was
toward weak direct engagement with Central Asia society, there were

HISTORY AND CULTURE 11

three areas where Russian involvement did expand greatly following
conquest of the region: cotton production, the settlement of Russians
and other Slavs, and the growth of Russian-Central Asian trade. These
changes produced important shifts in the social and political structures
of the region and brought the population of Central Asia into contact
with new political ideas and identities.
Under Russian rule, cotton production grew, displacing many other
forms of agricultural produce. One of the first tasks undertaken by the
Russian colonial authorities in Central Asia was the reconstruction and
extension of the region’s irrigation system. The renewed irrigation
network provided the basis for a growth in cotton production. In the last
two decades of the nineteenth century cotton output increased more than
eight times. At the same time, food imports to the region began to rise
as cotton output displaced food production, notably in the Fergana
Valley.
With Russian domination came an influx of settlers from the core
regions of the empire, notably peasants from European Russia. The
majority of the migrants moved onto the steppe regions of the north
(present day Kazakhstan), reflecting the then popular perception that
these lands were unoccupied. While Turkestan was far less affected by
Russian settlement that the nomadic areas to the north, important
European populations developed in the main cities of the region,
notably Tashkent, the administrative centre of Russian rule.
A particularly important aspect of colonial consolidation in Central
Asia was the economic integration of the region into the rest of the
empire. The development of a transport infrastructure to move troops
and materiel to the edge of Central Asia had been a crucial element in
Russia’s ability to conquer Central Asia at the end of the nineteenth
century. Following conquest, the economic integration of the region
was facilitated by the extension of the railways into Central Asia. A
railway line was extended to Samarkand from the Caspian Sea and then
to Tashkent. By 1906, the Orenburg-Tashkent line was complete.
With a transport infrastructure in place, Russian economic
development of Central Asia began to accelerate. Russian investment
was largely concentrated upon trade and the production of cotton,
rather than industrial development. Although industries related to textile
production did begin to develop in some of the important urban centres.
The changing nature of economic activity in the region was
accompanied my new political ideas, ideas that frequently placed the
native population in opposition to the Russian colonial authorities.

12 HISTORY AND CULTURE

During the early years of colonial rule in Central Asia, the Russian
authorities faced little sustained opposition from the local population.
However, in 1898 a rising in Andizhan shattered the relative calm of the
region. Local religious and secular groups used peasant unrest in the
area to challenge Russian control. Unlike the steppe regions of the north,
where native discontent was usually focused on the rising numbers of
Russian settlers, in the Turkestan region hostility was directed against
local administrators, many of whom were not Russian.
The 1905 Revolution in Russia left Central Asia largely untouched.
Revolutionary activity in the region was focused mostly amongst the
Slavic settlers. Nevertheless, during these years, peasant unrest did
increase, particularly as a result of disputes over land and water. The
economic and technological changes introduced by the Russian colonial
regime also had an important impact. The development of cotton
production in the region and the increased links to the outside world as a
result of the introduction of trains and telegraph communication
fostered new debates and conflicts in Central Asia.
In the early part of the twentieth century the key debate to emerge in
Central Asia was between the modernist movements, who argued for
the incorporation of new ideas and some western values into Central
Asian society, and the conservatives, who opposed many of these ideas.
The Russian authorities were particularly concerned by the activities of
reformist organisations amongst the Central Asians, notably the rise of
pan-Turkic movements.
The most important of the pan-Turkic movements was the Jadids,
who stressed education and literacy. In the early part of the twentieth
century there was a considerable expansion of Jadid schools in Central
Asia. In the years following the 1905 Revolution, more than 100 ‘new
method’ schools were opened in Turkestan. Often the pan-Turkic
movement was fiercely opposed by native religious and secular elites
who felt threatened by organisations expousing new ideas such as the
‘Young Bukharans’.
While Central Asians had been only marginally involved in the 1905
Revolution, the consequences of this event produced an important shift
in the political orientation of key sections of the Central Asian elites.
Russia’s constitutional experiment led to the election of Muslims from
Turkestan to the second Duma. At the same time, the ferment of ideas
around the 1905 Revolution helped produce the first nationalist
movements in Central Asia, notably with the creation of Alash Orda in
the northern steppe regions in December 1905.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 13

The Russian authorities interpreted unrest in 1905 outside the core
imperial territories as emanating from the communities most influenced
by contact with the Russian empire. As a result, modernists were seen
as the greatest threat to the Russian imperial regime in Central Asia. To
counter the perceived threat of pan-Turkic organisations in the early
years of the twentieth century, the previous Russian policy of noninterference was replaced with one in which the Russian imperial
regime came to ally itself with the most conservative elements in
Central Asia.
Russian conquest of the region also introduced important economic
and cultural changes. Tashkent, previously a minor town, became the
capital of Russian Turkestan and home to a sizeable Russian
population. Russian language, technology and administration spread
rapidly in the region. Significant changes in agriculture were introduced,
notably improved irrigation for growing cotton.
In the early decades of the twentieth century a variety of less
welcome changes were also under way in Central Asia, including the
seizure of land, the destruction of nomadic lifestyles, and the creation of
a landless peasantry. Most of these changes were, however,
concentrated in the steppe regions, while the core regions of Central
Asia remained relatively unaffected. Russian conquest did little to alter
fundamentally the way of life for the peoples in these regions.
Some Tsarist policies did, however, cause particular hostility among
the communities of the Transoxiana region. The imposition of taxes
(notably war taxes) placed special economic burdens on the native
population. Demands placed upon Central Asian in support of Russian
efforts in World War One were especially unpopular, particularly the
Mobilisation Decree of June 1916 calling for Central Asian men to be
drafted for support activities. Hostility to this decree produced a
widespread uprising, which in some parts of the Fergana Valley
acquired a religious character. The revolt spread to the plains, where it
became more bloody in character. The Central Asian uprising was only
put down just prior to the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution.
REVOLUTION
The shock waves caused by the collapse of the imperial regime in 1917
spread quickly to the regions of Central Asia. Initially, the Provisional
Government in St. Petersburg created a Turkestan Committee based
upon the old Governor-Generalship, but in both Turkestan and the
steppe towns local Soviets began to emerge. In Turkestan a situation of

14 HISTORY AND CULTURE

dual power developed, although by the autumn of 1917 Soviet power
was advancing. After winning over the Tashkent garrison, the local
Soviet formally seized power a week ahead of the actions by the
Bolsheviks in Petrograd. The action in Tashkent, however, only
signalled a prolonged period of uncertainty. In the following years, the
region was subject to control by competing forces—the British, the
Whites and the nationalist Basmachi movement—and it was not until
September 1919 that Soviet control of Turkestan was re-established.
Following the October events, the young Soviet regime in Turkestan
was almost immediately cut off from Soviet Russia by White forces,
and remained so with a few interruptions until 1919, when a Bolshevik
apparatus was consolidated in Turkestan. During the period of isolation
from the Soviet regime in Russia, the power of the Tashkent Soviet
stretched little further than the city limits. In particular, the authorities
of Tashkent were too weak to control events in the former Russian
protectorates of Khiva and Bukhara, where new political forces and
movements appeared amongst the native population.
The October Revolution in Central Asia was initially a settlers affair
and the creation of the Soviets tended to reflect the colonial
population’s interests. The number of communists in Tashkent was
small, the first Party Conference, which took place in June 1918, had only
250 party members in the entire city. Faced with the challenge of the
Whites, British forces to the south and increasing political activism
among the native population, the Tashkent Soviet sought support
amongst the settler population, particularly the Russian workers of the
Tashkent Railroad Repair Shops and the troops of the local garrison.
Even by the Third Congress of Soviets, there was no Muslim
representation. As a result, in the years immediately following the
Revolution, conflicts in Turkestan were heavily informed by struggles
between settler and native interests, as opposed to the struggle of
communism versus liberalism and monarchy, which informed the
political struggles to the north.
At the same time, Muslims also became politically active but they
faced problems organising in the face of ethnic, regional, and
ideological differences. The key issue for the native population was a
debate about the future relationship to Russia following the political
changes of the Revolution. Both the Provisional Government and the
Soviets were committed to maintaining the Russian control of the
region. Demands for greater autonomy came from the various Muslim
conferences held in Turkestan during 1917.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 15

The Fourth Congress of Central Asian Muslims was held in Kokand
in December 1917. A national council was elected and the Congress
repeated earlier calls for autonomy from Russian control. The Congress
was dominated by representatives from the cities of Bukhara and Khiva,
but also contained important numbers of local Slavs. Following the
declaration of autonomy, a position of dual power emerged in
Turkestan. To counter the political power of the Congress of Muslims in
February 1918 the forces of the Tashkent Soviet seized Kokand and
massacred many of its inhabitants.
In 1918, tensions between Bolshevik leaders in Russia, the Tashkent
Soviet and native leaders intensified. The Bolshevik regime in Russia
initiated attempts to moderate the activities of the Tashkent Soviet. The
aim of the Bolshevik authorities was to bring the Tashkent political
forces under central control and to integrate the native Muslims into the
Communist Party and the state administration.
The first stage on the path to establishing centralised control came on
30 April 1918 with the establishment of the Turkestan Autonomous
Soviet Socialist Republic (TASSR). The TASSR was constituted within
a territory that included Uzbekistan. Soon after this, the Soviet troops
were forced to withdraw temporarily when confronted by the nationalist
Basmachi movement supported by and White forces. In September
1919, Soviet forces re-established control of much of present day
territory of Uzbekistan. At the same time, a drive to recruit Muslims
into the Communist Party was launched.
In late 1919 the arrival of the Soviet troops from the north, which
followed the reestablishment of communications between Turkestan and
Russia, moved the balance of power in Tashkent from the local
authorities to the representatives from Moscow and the military
command of the Red Army. The Bolshevik leadership sought to
broaden the base of support in Turkestan beyond the settler population
by drawing the native population into regional political arrangements. In
November 1919, the Turkestan Commission was created to purge many
of the Tashkent veterans from the local Soviet.
During the Civil War, the Bolsheviks had largely left the Khivan and
Bukharan Protectorates alone, although providing support for the more
radical elements within these regions. In February 1920 Khiva fell to
the Red Army and on April 4 1920 it was transformed into the People’s
Republic of Khorezm. In September 1920 the Emir of Bukhara fled the
city, and the territory of the Emirate was conquered by the Red Army. A
Soviet People’s Republic of Bukhara, also nominally independent, was
declared in early 1921. Despite the transformation of these kingdoms

16 HISTORY AND CULTURE

and the flight of the Emir, the former Russian protectorates remained
the source of a potential challenge to the new Bolshevik regime in
Central Asia.
Once the period of isolation ended, the political situation began to
change quickly in Central Asia. Muslim participation in the new regime
increased and the idea of self-determination gained increasing currency
among native intellectuals. Soviet domination appeared to be complete
but a new threat, in the form of ‘national communism’ in Bukhara and
Khiva, now arose and a Muslim nationalist revolt across the region
appeared to threaten Bolshevik control. Of particular importance were
the groups of nationalists know as the Young Bukharans and Young
Khivans.
The Basmachis also posed a significant threat to the Bolshevik’s hold
over Central Asia. In response to the harsh policies of the Tashkent
Soviet and the bloody crushing of the Kokand autonomy, small guerrilla
forces emerged across Central Asia. Together, these groups constituted
the Basmachi movement, which was particularly active in the Fergana
Valley and in 1919 controlled much of the region. In 1921 the Turkish
leader Enver Pasha joined the movement but was killed by Bolshevik
forces in April 1922.
Faced by the growing challenge of the native nationalist movement,
in 1921–22 the Bolsheviks made concessions in terms of the national
and religious demands of the local population. Grain requisitioning was
ended, and mosques and waqf property was returned. By 1922, the
Basmachi movement had been defeated in the peripheral areas of
Central Asia, and by 1922–23 the Bolsheviks had taken formal control
of the region as a whole. So began a new phase, with the integration of
Central Asia into a centralised Soviet political regime located in Russia.
At the heart of the new Bolshevik policy in Central Asia was a series
of territorial reorganisations with the ostensible aim of giving the native
nationalists some form of local autonomy. Lenin’s notion of autonomy
while limiting Muslim aspirations provided the basis for co-operation
between the Bolshevik regime and the nationalist elite—this action
effectively undermined support for the Basmachis. The Turkestan ASSR
was formed in April 1921 and in December 1922 Bukhara and Khorezm
were founding members of the USSR. Gradually, however, pressure
was placed on Khorezm and Bukhara and in 1924 they were
incorporated into the Soviet Union.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 17

SOVIET UZBEKISTAN
The establishment of Bolshevik power in Central Asia was
accompanied by an important set of policies that aimed to consolidate
Soviet control and transform the communities of the region into a
communist society. Soviet policies were focused upon restructuring the
administrative structure of Central Asia, creating new identities in the
form of national communities, drawing native personnel into
Communist political structures and modernising society as a whole.
Together, these policies were to lay the foundations for the emergence of
contemporary Uzbekistan and the Uzbek nation.4
In the period 1924–25, the Bolsheviks initiated the first stage of a
programme of national delimitation in Central Asia. Under this
programme, pre-colonial and Tsarist administrative arrangements were
replaced by new divisions. Officially, the new territorial units of Central
Asia were based upon national communities, but more often the
changes were intended to provide the administrative vehicles by which
such communities could be brought into being. On 27 October 1924 the
Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (UzSSR) was established by merging
most of the territories of the three former khanates of Turkestan. The
project to create the Uzbek Republic was promoted strongly by Faizulla
Khojaev and other Young Bukharans who had formed an alliance with
the Bolsheviks following the end of the Civil War.
In May 1925 the UzSSR became a constituent republic of the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). At the time, the establishment of
the UzSSR was seen by many in Central Asia as the reincarnation of a
Greater Bukhara. By the end of 1925, this seemed to be the case, with
the incorporation of the Fergana Valley into the UzSSR while the newly
created administrative region of Tajikistan was given only a subordinate
status within the new Republic. In Central Asia, only Turkmenistan was
initially given the same status of the UzSSR, that of a union republic,
while the lands of the Kazakh Steppe were only granted the rank of an
autonomous area (ASSR) within the Russian Federation.
In subsequent changes to the boundaries of the UzSSR, the position of
pre-eminence previously enjoyed by the republic was weakened.
Tajikistan was granted the status of a full union republic in its own right
in 1929. The Tajik SSR also gained parts of the Khojand (Leninabad)
area of the Fergana Valley, much to the chagrin of the elites in the
UzSSR. In 1936 the Karakalpak ASSR, the region to the south east of
the Aral Sea, passed from Kazakhstan (previously part of the Russian
Federation) to the Uzbek SSR.

18 HISTORY AND CULTURE

Although the territorial delimitation of Central Asia was officially
conducted on ethno-linguistic lines, the aim of these changes was to
promote the emergence of ethnic and national identities, but heavily
informed by a socialist consciousness. Soviet policy-makers intended
the UzSSR to become the ethnic homeland for Uzbeks. In the census
conducted in the region following the creation of the UzSSR, minority
Turkic groups and many bi-lingual Tajiks were categorised together
with the Uzbeks, thereby swelling the numbers of the titular population.
Larger minorities such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Tajiks, however,
continued to enjoy a separate ethnic identity.
By 1924 Moscow had established de jure control over Turkestan but
it still faced the task of remaking the region in the Bolshevik image. Much
of the Soviet period was marked by a continuing drive to achieve the
transformation of Central Asian society and to entrench the
administrative changes of the 1920s. The territorial reorganisation that
led to the creation of Uzbekistan within its present boundaries was
accompanied by a set of policies designed to consolidate the new
administrative system. The purpose of these policies was two fold: to tie
the new republic firmly to the core of the Soviet system, and; to develop
national and socialist identities within the administrative districts
defined by the Soviet planners.
A critical task that faced the Soviet authorities was to integrate the
native population into new political structures subordinated to the
centre. Initially, the new policies were intended to placate the native
elites and their nationalist aspirations. As Soviet power became stronger
and Stalin moved to a position of pre-eminence, the early reforms were
replaced by more radical policies that transformed Soviet Uzbekistan.
The Communist Party was the key vehicle to achieve this aim, but
party organisations were weak in Uzbekistan. Following Soviet
con quest of Central Asia, the recruitment of native communists
therefore became a priority. Particularly important was the co-option of
much of the former native nationalist elite such as the Young
Bukharans. Problems in recruiting native personnel were accentuated by
low levels of literacy and education that remained until the late 1930s.
In response to the need to raise native recruitment, the policy of
korenizatsiia (nativisation) was developed by the Soviet authorities. The
idea behind nativisation was that by drawing native cadres into the party
their loyalty to other groups and Islam would be undermined. Despite
the nativisation drive, by 1927 only about 40% of the Uzbek Communist
Party were natives. Moreover, the aim of fostering new loyalties

HISTORY AND CULTURE 19

amongst the native elite was not achieved, instead the policy succeeded
in drawing other identities into the party.
In the late 1920s, tensions between the native elites and the central
authorities emerged in a variety of forms. Faizullah Khojaev, a veteran
Jadid, head of the government of the People’s Republic of Bukhara
(1922–24) and chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of
Uzbekistan (1924–37), opposed the development of the cotton monoculture in Uzbekistan. At the same time, a range of radical policies
aimed at changing the culture of the region launched by the Soviet
authorities further alienated the nationalist elite. Policies including the
emancipation of women, the assault on Islam and collectivisation
together broke the alliance that had been forged between nationalists
and communists at the beginning of the decade.
With political allegiance and centralisation the order of the day, the
policy to recruit representatives of the indigenous population into the
Party was replaced by purges. In the period 1930–38 seven successive
purges meant the arrest and execution of most of the nationalist leaders
in Uzbekistan. Faizullah Khojaev was arrested in July 1937. The
centrepiece of the purges was a showtrial in which first Secretary of the
Communist Party of the UzSSR Akhmal Ikramov and Faizullah
Khojaev were tried alongside Nikolai Bukharin, a leading figure of the
so-called ‘Right Deviation’ in the Communist Party in 1938 and found
guilty. Following the execution of Khojaev and other nationalist
leaders, three successive Uzbek premiers were ousted in less than a
year.
In place of the nationalist leaders a new generation of Soviet
technocrats took control in Uzbekistan from the late 1930s, although
Russians were also appointed (either local or ‘parachuted’ into key
positions from Moscow). In the post-war period, Moscow continued and
expanded its efforts to develop a new generation of local but loyal
personnel. In particular, education was expanded in the republic to
provide the specialists needed to fill important positions in Uzbekistan.
As a result, the representation of titular groups in communist party
organisations grew rapidly in the period 1945–1970, rising from 42.7%
to 54.9%.
From the moment of the Soviet conquest of Central Asia, the central
authorities were faced with a dilemma about personnel policies in the
region. The problem for the Soviet authorities was that while Moscow
wanted increased native representation there was a danger that as the
number of locals rose they would import into the Communist Party
patterns of behaviour from traditional society. By the Brezhnev era

20 HISTORY AND CULTURE

traditional regional and family alliances had come to underlay the
internal politics of the republican Communist Party in many areas of
Uzbekistan. Donald Carlisle has highlighted the struggle for power in
Uzbekistan between a pro-Moscow Tashkent-Fergana elite and one
composed of representatives from Samarkand and Bukhara. Ultimately
under the leadership of the Samarkand-Bukhara group, particularly first
Party Secretary Sharaf Rashidov (1959–83), the elite in the UzSSR
gained from Moscow considerable discretion to act.5
Moscow’s aim of extending its control over Uzbekistan through
personnel policy was supported by initiatives designed to effect cultural
transformation of the region. In the early years of the Soviet period,
ambitious plans for transformation had to be curtailed for lack of
resources and personnel and the need to conciliate the local elite and
population. As a result, traditional courts were allowed some role in
civil affairs and many local cultural patterns continued unchallenged.
There were, however, some changes designed to support the policies
of fostering nations in Central Asia. In particular, the formation of the
UzSSR was accompanied by the creation of an important set of national
symbols. National histories were established and history written so that
Russian conquest of the region was presented as a progressive
development because it brought capitalism and Russian culture to
Central Asia.
Most significantly, a popular and standardised new literary language
was created in Uzbekistan. In the 1920s, the Arabic script was replaced
by a Latin one designed to facilitate the emergence of a distinct Uzbek
language. Language reform and Latinisation of alphabets in the late
1920s also served to limit the power of clerical groups still promoting
religion through the Arabic script. The promotion of a single national
language was also a powerful weapon in the struggle with the regions of
Uzbekistan, many of which retained their own local dialects. In 1940
the Uzbek Latin script introduced in the late 1920s was changed to a
Cyrillic script. The adoption of the Russian alphabet made obsolete
millions of books printed in Latin and made the population semiilliterate again.
From the late 1920s, a series of campaigns began which were to have
a fundamental impact upon the society in Uzbekistan. In March 1927
khudzbum (advance) was launched in an effort to encourage female
emancipation. In public ceremonies women removed their veils and
burnt them. In the first two months of the campaign 9,000 women are
reported to have broken traditional dress codes. The other campaign
launched in the late 1920s, which was closely related to the women’s

HISTORY AND CULTURE 21

liberation campaign, was the assault on Islam. During the following
decade, Soviet anti-religious campaigns led to the closure of Muslim
institutions (courts, schools and mosques) and the imprisonment and
execution of many of the clergy.
The onset of World War Two eased the pressure placed upon Islam
by the Soviets. In 1943 the Muslim Board of Central Asia was founded
in Tashkent as part of the improving attitude towards religion; in the
same decade two religious colleges and a small number of mosques
were allowed to open in Uzbekistan. However, the assault on Islam was
renewed under Khrushchev (1958–64) with the closure of mosques and
reduction in the number of clergy. Under Brezhnev the anti-religious
campaigns were moderated but from the late 1970s renewed moves
were initiated against religion as a result of the resurgence of Islam in
Afghanistan and Iran.
Advances in education were a central element in the drive to
transform society in Uzbekistan. Education was the means by which the
position of women was to be changed and traditional values, especially
religious values, transformed. The means to achieve these aims was the
imposition of a universal and secular education system in Uzbekistan.
The introduction of universal compulsory education quickly raised the
rate of literacy. Between 1926 and 1932 literacy rose from 3.8% to 52.
5%. Education statistics were especially impressive with regard to
raising the literacy of Muslim women.
The Soviet education system also helped to redress the imbalance in
opportunities between the Slavic migrants and the local population. In
the long term, the system led to the creation of a native scientific and
technical elite, such that by 1975 57.6% of the total scientific/ technical
intelligentsia in Uzbekistan were drawn from the native population.
After Stalin’s death the cultural pressure on the Soviet Muslims was
somewhat relaxed. The more benign cultural environment coupled with
new opportunities created by the educational system and the rising
power of the Uzbek political elite produced a cultural intelligentsia with
a rising national self-consciousness. The 1960s were marked by a
growing interest among the Central Asian Muslim intelligentsia in their
national past. The 1970s saw the appearance of historical novels in
Uzbekistan such as The Treasure of Ulugbek by Abil Yaqubov. This
movement was to have an important impact upon the nationality politics
of the perestroika period.
Alongside personnel and socio-cultural policies, the Soviet policies
also had an important impact on the economic life of Uzbekistan. In the
years after 1917, revolution and civil war critically damaged the

22 HISTORY AND CULTURE

republican economy and promoting economic regeneration became an
important goal of the Soviet authorities. Initially, there was little in the
way of radical economic policy in Uzbekistan, but in the late 1920s the
pace of change accelerated dramatically. From the 1940s to the 1960s,
the rise in industrial production in Central Asia as a whole outstripped
the rest of the USSR. Despite the policy of state-led industrialisation,
agriculture remained at the core of Moscow’s vision for Uzbekistan.
The development of cotton production was promoted strongly by the
Soviets, especially by Stalin. With the onset of World War Two,
however, the production of food became more pressing and the area setaside for cotton production declined. During the late 1940s cotton once
again emerged as the dominant crop. By the late 1970s, Central Asia
produced 95% of the USSR’s cotton and fibres. In Uzbekistan the
‘white gold’ accounted for 65% of republican output and employed
around 40% of the population.
The practice of taking more than 90% of the cotton crop to other
parts of the USSR for processing distorted domestic economic
production in Uzbekistan. The increase in cotton lands was closely
connected with the decrease in the area occupied by grains, especially
by rice, despite the fact that rice constitutes the major component in the
local diet. Thus, the cotton monoculture also created a dependency on
other republics for foodstuffs. Moreover, cotton requires much more
irrigation than cereals, draining the scarce water resources of the region
and exacerbating environmental problems.
Industrial development in Uzbekistan is of relatively recent origin.
Prior to the October 1917 Revolution, there was little in the way of
industry in the region. Agriculture was the dominant activity in the
region under Stalin, however, the five year plans, wartime transplants of
several large enterprises and the post-war programme of
industrialisation helped alter the character of many parts of the region.
In the initial decades of Soviet rule, there was a steady growth of
industrial infrastructure and an expansion of major urban centres, driven
primarily by Slavic/European immigration. Economic growth continued
after World War Two with the help of industry transferred from areas in
the USSR threaten by Nazi invasion. Most of the Republic’s
population, however, continued to live a traditional rural way of life
untouched by Soviet policies of modernisation, except for the dramatic
expansion of cotton production initiated by Stalin.
In the 1970s the Central Asian economies began to face problems as
capital investment failed to keep up with demographic growth and the
population turned increasingly to the private sector and illegal and

HISTORY AND CULTURE 23

black-market activity flourished. Despite the best efforts of the Soviet
planners the burgeoning native population largely refused to move to
the towns and into industrial production, creating increased pressure on
land and water resources.
Between 1917 and the mid-1980s, Soviet Uzbekistan made important
socio-economic advances in the spheres of literacy, education, infant
mortality, and health care. Despite these successes, the majority of the
population remained rural, poor and infant mortality remained higher
than in most other parts of the USSR. Although modern forms of
economic activity and urban centres were developed, agriculture and in
particular the cotton monoculture dominated the economic life of the
Republic. In effect, the republican economy was based upon an ethnic
division of labour, with Slavs/Europeans dominating industrial
production and the native population confined to agriculture.
The Soviet policies to transform Central Asian societies also enjoyed
mixed success. The Soviet state destroyed traditional institutions in
many areas and introduced secular education and lifestyles. The Uzbek
Republic was created and the Uzbek nation was granted official
recognition and given the trappings of a nation including a history,
language, and national symbols. At the same time, a Russian inspired
vision of the world and its history was embedded in Uzbekistan and the
use of Russian as a lingua franca was promoted.
Despite Soviet policies of repression and transformation, Muslim
traditions and rites continued to be observed, especially in rural areas. In
many locations, the apparent destruction of traditional society led only
to its reappearance in other forms. Despite the drive to create secular
nations and provide them with formal languages, cultures and
administrative structure, sub-national identities continued to be
important. Indeed, in the latter decades of the Soviet era, the identities
of region, family, tribe, clan and religion seemed to acquire a new
importance.
The most significant product of the Soviet period was the creation of
the concepts of an Uzbek homeland, an Uzbek nation and all of
appearance of an Uzbek national identity. The emergence of these ideas
and their interlinking was both the product of deliberate policies and the
by-product of broader socio-economic and cultural change in
Uzbekistan.6 Beneath the veneer of Sovietisation and Russification,
national identity grew steadily within Uzbekistan and despite the
apparent growth of Russian language usage in everyday life, the use of
Uzbek continued. Significant divisions existed between the European/
Slavic settlers and the native population and intermarriage between the

24 HISTORY AND CULTURE

two groups was rare. At the same time, Uzbek society remained split
between different and competing regional groups.7
PERESTROIKA
In 1959, Sharaf Rashidov became first Secretary of the Communist
Party of Uzbekistan and he stayed in office until his death in October
1983. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a strong emphasis on stability
amongst personnel within the Soviet system. As a result of this stability,
Rashidov and the other provincial party bosses gained extensive
powers. Under Rashidov’s patronage a powerful political and economic
order developed in Uzbekistan. Rashidov’s ability to control this system
provided the basis for republican elite to develop considerable
autonomy from Moscow. The appointment of Yurii Andropov as
General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party and Rashidov’s death
in 1983 marked the onset of important changes in the political-economy
that had evolved in the Republic during previous decades.
Under Andropov, a far-reaching purge of the Uzbek political
establishment was launched. Ultimately the purge was to last for five
years (1983–89). The purge was aimed at breaking the local networks
of power that had built up in the course of the previous twentyfive years. Moscow’s drive to ‘de-Rashidovise’ the republic served to
bring a new generation of Uzbek leaders to the fore.
In 1983 a major fraud was revealed in the Uzbek cotton industry
involving some 3,000m roubles. As the scandal developed it was used
by the authorities in Moscow to discredit much of the political elite in
Uzbekistan. With Gorbachev’s ascent to the position of General
Secretary, the cotton scandal became a cause celebre of the early
perestroika years. While the official justification for the inquiry
continued to be the drive to root out corruption, Moscow also used the
issue to help in Gorbachev’s programme to recentralise political control
in the Soviet Union.8
Eventually, the cotton scandal led to the removal from office of the
Uzbek Party leader Inamzhon Usmankhozhayev (January 1988), the
Chairman of the Uzbek Supreme Soviet, Akil Salimov, and the Party
leaders in Bukhara and Samarkand. The Moscow-inspired purge in
Uzbekistan also focused on the role of Rashidov in fostering political
and economic corruption. The denunciation of Rashidov and his regime
thus became a central part of Moscow’s assault on the Uzbek
Communist Party in the 1980s.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 25

The attack on the Brezhnev era elite in Uzbekistan was accompanied
by the elevation of new leaders initially seen as loyal to Moscow and
owing their promotion to Gorbachev. There were, however, also key
events that intervened to trigger these developments. In June 1989 more
than 100 people died in riots resulting from conflict between ethnic
Uzbeks and members of the minority Meskhetian Turk community. The
bloody ethnic riots in Fergana Valley altered Moscow’s stance toward
Uzbekistan. The centrally directed purge of cadres was moderated and
Islam Karimov was appointed leader, replacing Rafik Nishanov.
Karimov gradually began to rehabilitate the disgraced Rashidov.
In February–March 1990 there were further outbreaks of inter-ethnic
conflict in Uzbekistan, culminating in three deaths during
confrontations between police and demonstrators in Parkent, near
Tashkent. In March 1990, the new Supreme Soviet convened. A leading
member of the Uzbek political elite, Shakrulla Mirsaidov, was elected
Chairman of the Council of Ministers. On 24 March 1990 Islam
Karimov, first Secretary of the CPUz since 1989, was elected to the new
position of executive President of the Republic by the Supreme Soviet
at the first session of the Supreme Soviet; Shakurulla Mirsaidov was
elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
Ethnic tension continued to rise in the region and in June 1990
clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the Osh district of Kyrgyzstan
threatened the stability of the whole Fergana Valley region. A state of
emergency was declared in the Andizhan district on the Uzbek side of
the border. In November 1990 the Council of Ministers was abolished
and replaced by the Cabinet of Ministers under the leadership of the
President; the position of Prime Minister ceased to exist and Mirsaidov
was appointed to the new position of Vice-President.
Karimov’s ascent to the highest office in Uzbekistan was achieved as
many of the changes generated by the policies of the perestroika period
began to sweep Uzbekistan. In October 1989 legislation was adopted
that made Uzbek, rather than Russian, the official state language. On 20
June 1990, following the example of many other Soviet republics,
Uzbekistan passed a declaration of sovereignty.
During the perestroika period, a number of new political groups
appeared in Uzbekistan. The desiccation of the Aral Sea and the general
deterioration of the environment caused by over-irrigation of land for
cotton production served to mobilise ecological groups. As nationalist
movements developed in the USSR as a whole, the status of Uzbek
language became an important issue. In November 1988 a group of
intellectuals founded Birlik (Unity), the first significant movement of

26 HISTORY AND CULTURE

opposition to the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. Birlik campaigned
for a range of political and nationalist goals but its candidates were
denied registration in the February 1990 elections to the Uzbek
Supreme Soviet. During 1990, a further opposition party, Erk
(Freedom) was created.
On 25 March 1989 Birlik failed in its attempt to put forward a
candidate in elections to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the
USSR, having previously been refused official registration. On 18
February 1990 members of Birlik were prevented from standing as
candidates in elections to the Uzbek Supreme Soviet; in many
constituencies CPUz candidates were elected unopposed.
In April 1991, an overwhelming majority in Uzbekistan voted in
favour of a ‘renewed federation’ during the all-union referendum on the
future of the USSR. In the month following the referendum, Uzbekistan
and eight other Union Republics agreed to sign a new Union Treaty in
the summer of 1991. The intervention of the August coup in Moscow
undermined this agreement. Once the coup collapsed, an extraordinary
session of the Supreme Soviet declared the UzSSR independent; the
Republic of Uzbekistan.
CONCLUSION
In historical terms Uzbekistan is a very new political formation, while
even the appearance of the Uzbek nation and the minority communities
within Uzbekistan are recent developments. Modern Uzbekistan and its
population are, nevertheless, bound to the past in numerous ways. While
many of these connections are often more imagined than real, the past
exerts a powerful grip on the present. Since independence the precolonial past has been rediscovered, re-interpreted and bound to the
present, often in unpredictable ways. Even the Soviet period has been
subject to revisions that have abstracted a national narrative from the
Communist period, complete with national heroes and villains.
In an environment when the tectonic plates of Central Asia history
are in constant motion, divining a definitive history of the territories and
populations of Transoxiana is problematic. Key historical figures,
places and dates are perhaps not disputed, but their significance and
interpretation are highly contested. While it may be difficult to fix a
detailed single history of the region, the broad historical contours of
Transoxiana can be sketched.
The Uzbekstani state and society are the contemporary descendants
of a long line of political and socio-economic systems in Central Asia.

HISTORY AND CULTURE 27

Historically, the Uzbekistani territories have stood at the centre of a
number of great empires and civilisations. Control of the region
contained within the modern Uzbekistani state has also been critical for
the ability of empires centred outside Central Asia to consolidate
control over central Eurasia. The historical significance of Transoxiana
gave it a political importance that was recognised and reflected in
Soviet policies towards the region.
Historically, the geopolitical importance of Transoxiana has ensured
that a variety of cultural influences and social forms have affected the
region. While the Soviet regime sought to refashion the population of the
region as socialist men and women, such aims were only rarely
achieved. Instead, pre-Revolutionary cultures, religions, and identities
survived the Soviet period, though changed in important and subtle
ways. The Soviet project of modernisation did, however, alter the
Transoxiana region in fundamental ways, although not always in the
directions that Soviet planners intended.
The principal development of the Soviet period was the creation of
the Uzbek national community and the proto-Uzbekistani state. The
Soviets thus provided the cornerstones for the post-Soviet order. Ethnic
and national identities were developed and moulded during the Soviet
period through conscious policies and as the by-product of urbanisation,
the development of new forms of communication, and the myriad of
other changes that accompanied the limited modernisation of the region
effected by Moscow.
On the eve of independence, the political and socio-economic order
in Uzbekistan was in flux. While much of traditional society remained
intact, especially in the rural areas, new ideas and identities were
developing in strategic sections of society, notably the political elite and
cultural intelligentsia. The disintegration of the Soviet order accelerated
many of the processes of transformation and propelled Uzbekistani
society in new directions. The challenge of the post-Soviet leadership
was to harness the new dynamics released within Uzbekistan in the late
1980s and reshape them into the basis for a new political and socioeconomic order.
1 Edward A.Allworth, The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century
to the Present. A Cultural History (Stanford, California: Hoover
Institution Press, 1990).
2 Allworth, Ibid., (1990), pp. 11–12.
3 Edward Allworth, ed., 130 Years of Russian Dominance, A Historical
Overview (London: Duke University Press, 1994).

28 HISTORY AND CULTURE

4 Donald S.Carlisle, ‘Soviet Uzbekistan: State and Nation in Historical
Perspective’ in Beatrice F. Manz, ed., Central Asia in Historical
Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 103–
26.
5 Donald Carlisle, ‘The Uzbek power elite: Politburo and Secretariat (1938–
83)’, Central Asian Survey, vol. 5, no. 3 (1986), pp. 109–18.
6 Bert G.Fragner, ‘The Nationalization of the Uzbeks and Tajiks’, in
Andreas Kappeler, Gerhard Simon, and Georg Brunner, eds., Muslim
Communities Reemerge: Historical Perspectives on Nationality, Politics,
and Opposition in the Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (London:
Duke University Press, 1994), pp. 13–32.
7 Demian Vaisman, ‘Regionalism and Clan Loyalty in the Political Life of
Uzbekistan’, in Yaacov Ro’i, ed., Muslim Eurasia: Conflicting Legacies
(London: Frank Cass, 1995), pp. 105–22.
8 James Critchlow, ‘Corruption, Nationalism, and the Native Elites in
Soviet Central Asia’, The Journal of Communist Studies, vol. 4, no. 2
(June 1988), pp. 142–61.

Chapter 2
CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

INTRODUCTION
During the August 1991 anti-Gorbachev putsch, President Karimov
failed to make his position on events in Moscow clear, although it is
widely assumed that he was supportive of the action against the Soviet
President and he may even have had connections to the coup plotters. In
any event, Karimov did not condemn the putsch in Moscow until it
became apparent it had failed. With the collapse of the coup, however,
Karimov moved quickly to embrace independence for Uzbekistan. On
31 August, the Republican Supreme Soviet voted to declare the Uzbek
SSR independent and on the following day the country’s name was
changed to the Republic of Uzbekistan. At the demise of the USSR, the
Karimov regime lacked a defined strategy to carry the country forward.
With independence suddenly thrust upon the republic, however, the
government quickly adopted a set of domestic policies built upon the twin
pillars of stability and consolidating Uzbek independence.
Karimov has argued, in particular, that the domestic and international
circumstances that Uzbekistan finds itself in following independence,
means that the first step in any process of change must be establishing
stability throughout Uzbek society and in neighbouring states. Only on
the basis of stability will reform have any chance of success. Further,
the Uzbekistani President has promoted the idea that stability is
premised upon further fostering Uzbek independence. The President has
thus sought to bind the country together through an increased stress on a
common identity and also to sever many of the external relationships of
the past, particularly dependence upon Russia.
In practice, these twin aims have been pursued through a four-fold set
of policies. First, the creation of a single system of power based around
the institution of the presidency and the person of Islam Karimov.

30 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

Second, a set of initiatives designed to forge a strong centralised state
and to assert Tashkent’s control over the regions. Third, the Uzbekistani
leadership has promoted Uzbek nationalism as a means to unite society.
Fourth, the government has been careful to suppress the development of
all potential sources of opposition, particularly Islam.
Together, these policies have produced a highly authoritarian regime
hinged upon the almost unlimited powers of the president. President
Karimov has made ruthless use of the security forces to crush
opposition and the media are tightly controlled by the state. Beneath a
thin veneer of democratic practices and institutions, political power is
wielded in an indiscriminate and unchecked fashion. The regime
actively suppresses independent individuals and organisations,
specifically targeting opposition and religious groups. Potential rivals to
Islam Karimov within the regime are kept at bay through regular cycles
of purges. At the same time, Uzbekistani society is being remoulded
around a vision of Uzbekistan as a nation-state based upon a unitary
state system and a strong Uzbek national community.
ISLAM KARIMOV AND THE PRESIDENTIAL
SYSTEM
Following the collapse of the Soviet system, Islam Karimov emerged as
the single most powerful political figure in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Despite the extensive powers that were available to Karimov, there were
nevertheless important challenges to the President’s position in the early
1990s. A number of potential challengers to Karimov were actively
engaged in the republic’s political life, while a range of poliical
movements threatened the monopoly of power enjoyed by the formerly
communist elite. In response to these challenges, and in the name of
stability, one of the defining characteristics of Uzbekistani domestic
politics since independence has been Karimov’s drive to consolidate
political power in the office of the President and the person of the
incumbent. Simultaneously, the Karimov regime has been actively
engaged in the systematic eradication of all forms of opposition to the
regime, both at home and abroad.
To achieve these aims, political institutions other than the Presidency
have been weakened and subordinated to Karimov. A set of pseudodemocratic institutions has been established, but behind this facade the
president has de facto almost unlimited powers. Since independence the
coercive activities of the Uzbekistani state have been considerably
enhanced, opposition parties and leaders eradicated, and the media have

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 31

been placed under tight government control and censorship. Many of
these actions have attracted criticism from international human rights
organisations. Alongside the relentless concentration of power in the
hands of Karimov and the expansion of coercion and the activity of the
security services, there have been constant efforts to prevent the
development of powerful individuals or coalitions within the ruling elite
capable of challenging Karimov’s position. Thus, while society has
been held in check by the state, the political elite has been kept in a state
of almost constant flux, except for the President himself.
The creation of a system of one-man rule based upon Islam Karimov
has involved four main elements: the establishment of a powerful
presidential system of rule; the eradication of opposition; tight control
over the media; and a near continuous purging of members of the
political elite.
The Presidency
Islam Karimov became first Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party in
1989 following ethnic rioting in the Fergana Valley. In March 1990, the
Supreme Soviet elected Karimov to the newly established post of
executive President. On 21 December 1991, following the demise of the
USSR, Karimov was re-elected President but this time by a national
popular vote; he is reported to have received 86%. The only other
candidate, the Chairman of Erk (Muhammad Salih), received 14% of
the vote. The leading opposition movement Birlik was not permitted to
put a candidate forward for election as it lacked official registration as a
political party. On the same day as the presidential election, 98.2% of
voters backed independence for Uzbekistan in a referendum.
Uzbekistan’s sovereignty had, however, already been effected by the
declarations of independence made by republican leaders and
Gorbachev’s resignation earlier in the month, which had dissolved the
USSR.
The period following the declaration of independence was
characterised by a political ‘thaw’ that lasted until the election of
Karimov as president in December. Karimov had yet to achieve an
unchallenged position in the republic and one month after the
declaration of independence, about 200 deputies supporting the Vice
President Shakrulla Mirsaidov, signed a letter critical of Karimov’s
dictatorial position.1 Although restrictions were placed upon opposition
groups, particularly in the run up to the presidential elections, movements
such as Birlik were able to operate with a certain degree of freedom.

32 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

The relatively benign environment also saw the emergence of new
groups, such as the two religious-based parties Islam Lashkari (Islamic
forces) and Adolat (Justice) which appeared in the Namangan district of
the Fergana Valley and were active until March 1992.
Following the election of Karimov, the ‘thaw’ was ended quickly as
the president moved to consolidate his position. Throughout 1992
the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (the former Communist
Party) played the leading role in the political life of the country.
President Karimov’s rule became increasingly authoritarian. On 8
January 1992 the post of Vice-President was abolished and Karimov’s
main challenger Shakrulla Mirsaidov was, thereby, removed from
office. Mirsaidov was appointed State Secretary, but soon resigned. He
was later accused of financial improprieties. The post of Prime Minister
(Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers) was restored. At the same time,
the government used the onset of civil war in neighbouring Tajikistan as
justification for a further concentration of power and for repression of
opposition movements, especially Muslim groups.
Since January 1992 the President has been able to exercise his
control over the country’s twelve regions (viloyat) through the
establishment of the post of regional governor (khokim), which are
appointed by the President. The khokim are prefects with extensive
powers. The system of the khokim has played a leading role in the new
system of local government that was set in place in the Republic. In
particular, the construction of a powerful vertical system of executive
power based upon the President’s power to appoint regional governors
has been closely tied to the centre’s ability to control the local councils
of people’s representatives. Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic
within Uzbekistan, has its own president and in theory the region has
the right to secede from Uzbekistan following a referendum. In fact, as
with the other regions the Karakalpak president is appointed by and
subordinated to Tashkent.
Additionally, the government also sought to promote the mahalla, or
neighbourhood, as the basic element of local government. The mahalla
was traditionally the basic unit of local organisation. The Karimov
regime has revived the mahalla system, by giving the mahalla the status
of ‘organs of local government’ in the constitution and a 1993 law.
Mahalla have been created in towns and cities, and chairmen (aksakal)
elected in each locality. In the countryside, the rural settlements are
known as kishlak. Larger kishlak may also be sub-divided into mahalla.
Although the government is keen to promote the idea that the mahalla
system has served as a means to offer assistance to families, it also

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 33

performs an important function of social control and has been used to
extend the centralised authoritarian system down into each locality.
On 8 December 1992, the extensive powers of the President were
formalised when the Supreme Soviet adopted a new Constitution.
The Constitution confirmed the President of the Republic as head of
state. In the Constitution, Uzbekistan is declared a secular and
democratic republic, and freedom of expression and religion are
guaranteed for Uzbekistan’s citizens. Plans were also announced for a
new parliament to replace the Supreme Soviet as the highest legislative
body following elections to be held in 1994.
On 22 September 1994 the Supreme Soviet met for the final time. In
December, a 250-seat unicameral legislative body known as the Oliy
Majilis replaced the old parliament. As a result of elections to the new
parliament conducted on 25 December 1994, 144 of the 250 seats in
parliament went to candidates nominated by regional councils (84 of
these mayors or regional bosses). Overall, the People’s Democratic
Party (the ex-Communist Party) took 193 seats, while the remaining 57
seats were allocated to government supporters. Eighty percent of the
Oliy Majilis was made up of representatives from institutions under the
president’s direct patronage. The Oliy Majilis thus emerged as a Soviet
style institution that meets only every few months to approve laws
prepared by the government.
Although there are a number of political parties active in Uzbekistan,
in fact with the exception of the People’s Democratic Party of
Uzbekistan (PDPU), none of these parties has any significant function.
In November 1991, having previously voted to sever links with the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of
Uzbekistan was renamed the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan.
Initially, this organisation served an important role in mobilising
support for the development of a system of one-man rule, however, in
recent years as the Presidency has become the leading political
institution, and the role of the PDPU has diminished considerably. In
June 1996 Karimov left the PDPU, justifying his decision with the
assertion that only a non-partisan head of state could serve as a
guarantor of the constitution.
Besides the PDPU, there are four other officially registered political
parties. These parties were created either by direct order or on the
advice of the president and his government. In February 1995, Vatan
Taraqqiyoti (Progress of the Homeland), which had been founded in
May 1992 and was a pro-government party, was joined by a new
‘official’ or ‘pocket’ party (an organisation known for its pro-

34 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

government, non-combative character) called Adolat Social Democratic
Party of Uzbekistan. The new party was created when 47 deputies of the
Popular Democratic Party (the former Communists) were drafted to
provide a parliamentary membership for the party. In May 1995 two
more ‘official’ parties were established, the National Revival
Democratic Party (Milli Tiklanish Demokratik Partisi) and the People’s
Unity Movement (Khalq Birliki).
While the creation of pro-government parties has been one element
of the drive to co-opt and control political expression in Uzbekistan, a
ban on other forms of political organisation has formed the second
element of political control. On 7th January 1997 a new law on political
parties came into force.2 The law specifically prohibits parties based
upon religious or ethnic affiliations. Parties qualify for legal registration
if they enlist at least 5,000 adherents from at least eight of the country’s
14 regional-level administrative units. These provisions are clearly
aimed at reinforcing the secular state, and forestalling a possible
emergence of political Islam through the use of mosque buildings for
political purposes. The law is also intended to stop regional or ethnic
secessionist movements being able to organise politically.
At its first session in February 1995, the new parliament unanimously
voted to hold a national referendum to approve an extension of the
President’s term. On 26 March 1995, 99.6% of the eligible electorate
turned out for the referendum and 99.3% of these voted to extend
President Karimov’s term in office to 2000. The next parliamentary
elections are scheduled for 1999, to be followed by a Presidential
election in 2000. The constitution currently restricts the President to two
terms of office, but revisions to this limit cannot be ruled out.
As a result of the political changes since independence, a system of
one-man rule has been established in Uzbekistan. The President enjoys
extensive powers including appointments and he resides at the pinnacle
of a system of executive power that runs throughout the country and
effectively subordinates all aspects of political life to its elements. The
president takes all major, and many minor, decisions. Legislative power
is dominated by executive power, while a range of pseudo-parties
allegedly speak for the range of interests in Uzbekistani society.
The three most important institutions are the presidency, the National
Security Service, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Water (because of
the importance of the cotton crop and the large numbers involved in
agricultural production). In many ways, the current system embodies the
tradition of authoritarian rule that has dominated life in the region for
centuries, however, the potential for unrestricted action and the

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 35

resources available to the regime are greater than any of the previous
systems.
Opposition movements and human rights
The construction of a system of one-man rule has been accompanied by
the eradication of any potential opposition movements, particularly
those that emerged in the period of limited glasnost from 1988 to
mid-1992. One of the main aims of the government is to eliminate
independent views and re-establish Soviet style fear and coercion,
which weakened during the relatively liberal reform period of 1988–91.
Throughout 1992, as the Uzbek leadership grew increasingly
authoritarian, the activities of the opposition movements were
restricted. A series of student demonstrations and the onset of civil war
in neighbouring Tajikistan provided the pretext for the repression of all
opposition organisations. The creation of a series of pseudo-democratic
institutions including a parliament, political parties and organisations to
protect human rights has provided the justification for the regime to
crack down on ‘unofficial’ political organisations.
The assault on independent political forces has affected human rights
in Uzbekistan negatively. In reality there is no freedom of media and
almost no freedom of speech. Freedom of association and assembly is
extremely limited, and there is practically no right of peaceful political
or public activity. Through informants, infiltration, and other means, the
police and security services have established extensive control on all
aspects of public life, especially within the Islamic community. Freedom
House has ranked Uzbekistan as one of the countries with the poorest
record on democracy and human rights and classifies the country as a
‘consolidated autocracy’.3
The main independent organisations are the Birlik (Unity) People’s
Movement and the associated Birlik Party (which began as the
Democratic Party of Uzbekistan in June 1990 and adopted its current
name in October 1991). The leading figure in Birlik is Abdurahim
Polat. The Birlik movement and party promoted principles of
independence, national rebirth, and a degree of democracy. The
movement gained a broad popular following in the brief period of
liberalisation in the period 1989–91. The Birlik movement was officially
recognised on 12 November 1991 but the political wing of the
movement was denied registration as a party. Several activists, notably
Muhammad Salih, left Birlik and supported the Karimov government as

36 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

the ‘official opposition’ in the form of the Erk party created in April
1990.
Salih emerged in republican politics in 1985 when he and his
associates wrote a letter to Gorbachev to protest practices of the
Uzbekistan government that undermined national cultural values. In
1988 Salih was elected Secretary of the Uzbekistan Writers’ Union,
which became the centre for unofficial opposition to the communist
regime. The Union campaigned on issues of making Uzbek the state
language, the environmental problems wrought by the communist
regime, and the cotton monoculture. In 1989 Salih was closely involved
in the foundation of the Birlik movement.
In the spring of 1992 Erk began to adopt a relatively more
independent position. In July, after being denied the right to speak, Erk
leader Salih resigned from parliament. The persecution of Birlik began
in mid-1992. In June one of the movement’s co-chairmen, Abdurahim
Polat, was beaten by unknown assailants and less than a year later the
other co-chairman was subject to the same experience. Throughout
1992–3, a number of opposition leaders disappeared or were assaulted.
Many others were imprisoned.
As power was concentrated in the office of the President, opposition
groups faced increased repression. On 1 October 1993 the government
used technical pretexts to prevent both Birlik and Erk from registering
with the Ministry of Justice; consequently both organisations were
permanently banned. Two days later, Erk’s newly elected first Secretary
Samad Muratov, was assaulted by anonymous attackers. Polat and Salih
fled the country. Both Erk and Birlik continue to operate from abroad
and Birlik publishes the newspapers Mustaqil Haftalik (Independent
Weekly), Birlik and the magazine Harakat (Movement).
As part of the government’s political crackdown, conspiracy charges
were issued against five Erk leaders living in exile since 1993, including
the chairman Muhammad Salih and Jahongir Mamatov, the party’s
secretary and the editor of the Erk newspaper. In June 1994, two
dissidents, Murod Zhorayev and Erkin Ashurov, were seized from their
exile in Almaty in neighbouring Kazakhstan by an Uzbek security detail
and taken to Uzbekistan to stand trial along with five other dissidents. On
31 March 1995 the Uzbekistan Supreme Court found the seven
dissidents guilty of ‘participating in a conspiracy to forcibly overthrow
the constitutional government’. The trial was know as the Erk party
trial, although there was in fact little direct connection to Erk party
members. The government used this trial as part of an ongoing effort to
discredit opposition groups by linking them with extremism or criminal

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 37

activity. In this way, the Karimov regime has succeeded in reducing
pressure from the international community over its human rights
practice.
Despite the difficult political environment for opposition movements,
some efforts to establish organisations to challenge the Karimov regime
were still made. In the autumn of 1994, Shakrulla Mirsaidov and
Ibrohim Boriev, at the time a prominent member of Birlik, helped
launch the social democratic oriented Haq Yol Adolat (Justice is the
True Way). This group was, however, unable to establish itself as a
political organisation in Uzbekistan. In October 1995, opposition
movements in Uzbekistan announced the creation of the Opposition Coordinating Centre in Tashkent. The Centre was led by Shakrulla
Mirsaidov and was intended to bring together remnants of Erk, Birlik,
and Mirsaidov’s own party. Many Uzbek dissidents continue to be
active abroad, notably in Russia, Turkey and the United States and
Birlik conducted a conference in Moscow in July 1995.
In 1995 the government began attempts to change its image as one of
the worst human rights violators among the former Soviet republics.
Human rights activists were released, including the deputy chairman of
Birlik. Human Rights Watch, the international human rights
organisation, was permitted to undertake a fact-finding mission to
Uzbekistan in November 1995. In July 1996, Human Rights Watch was
also allowed to station a field representative in Tashkent.
In the summer of 1996 President Islam Karimov stated his intention
to initiate democratic reforms. He also called for a free media and
‘aggressive journalists’ criticising the government bureaucracy. In
September the Uzbekistan! authorities allowed a conference of the
Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan to be held in Tashkent, the first
relatively free meeting of pro-democratic activists for years. The
government also hosted an OSCE sponsored seminar on human rights,
allowing about twenty independent activists, opposition representatives
and members of the government’s human rights practices.
In 1996, Abdurahim Polat was allowed to return from exile in the US
and the best-known local dissident Shukrulla Mirsaidov was allowed to
speak at a much publicised human rights conference. But by October
the thaw was over and persecution of opposition, human rights, and
Islamic activists resumed; restrictions on freedom of association were
not removed, and restrictions on travel were restored. A new law on
political parties introduced in January 1997 imposed even further
obstacles for political party registration and ‘justified’ the government’s
continued full control over political life.

38 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

Persecution of Mirsaidov was resumed. Mirsaidov and his three sons
were evicted from their homes and the authorities forced members of
this extended family from their houses. The action was based upon on a
1993 Uzbekistan Supreme Court decision awarding the government $5.
5 million because of supposed damages to the economy caused by
Mirsaidov’s ‘misuse of power’ as vice-president in 1990–91. Human
Rights Watch has suggested that Mirsaidov has suffered assassination
attempts through car bombings, beatings, kidnapping, threats and heavy
surveillance.
An important factor that fostered the renewed emphasis on coercion
was events in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s advance at the time and fear
that Uzbekistan would soon have a border with an Islamic state alarmed
Karimov and his advisers. Much of the hope for positive change was
also based on the apparent economic improvements during 1995 and
early 1996, but the situation dramatically worsened after October. The
state’s cotton harvest, the country’s largest export earner, was 20 percent
below projections, causing a $400m loss in revenue. The poor harvest
meant $300 million lost in grain exports. In this situation the
government restricted the convertibility of local earnings into hard
currency and prices and shortages increased sharply. The economic
problems across the country caused concern in Tashkent that social
unrest would follow and renewed efforts to control discontent.
Since 1996, political repression has continued. The opposition figures
that fled abroad continue to have pressure placed upon them by the
Karimov regime. Human Rights Watch has complained to President
Karimov about the treatment of Muhammad Salih, who was expelled
from Turkey on 15 November 1997 prior to Karimov’s visit to Ankara.
On 4th March 1998, Salih was again forced to leave Turkey prior to the
visit of the Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz to Uzbekistan.
Relatives and friends of Salih have faced persecution in Uzbekistan. At
a plenary session of the banned opposition party Erk in Tashkent at the
end of November 1997, a letter to President Karimov was drawn up
asking permission for the party chairman Muhammad Salih to be
allowed to return.4 In January 1998, Uzbek security forces crossed to
neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, arrested the opposition figure Zakirjan
Normatov in Osh, and took him to Tashkent without notifying the
Kyrgyzstani authorities.
In the middle of 1996, the Uzbekistani government began to establish
‘official’ human rights organisations, much as pocket political parties
had been established earlier. In April 1996, the post of human rights
ombudsman was established in the parliament, but a regime loyalist was

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 39

appointed to the position. The National Human Rights Centre of the
Republic of Uzbekistan was created by Presidential decree in October
1996. The Centre opened in March 1997. Although initially greeted as
opening a new era in Uzbekistan, these institutions have done almost
nothing to improve the observation of human rights in the country.
Tashkent’s efforts to establish a pseudo-human rights regime have
helped to gain the country support from western countries. Not only has
the United States eased its criticism of Uzbekistan since 1995, but the
European Union (EU) has also moderated its position. In January 1996,
the EU proposed starting negotiations on a Partnership and Cooperation
Agreement (PCA) with Uzbekistan. Germany was apparently the
leading country promoting the PCA. Despite high level support in the
European Commission for a swift ratification of the PCA, the European
Parliament has resisted passing and Agreement. In October 1997, the
director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human
Rights concluded a set of agreements with the Uzbekistani Foreign
Minister on promoting democracy and developing civil society.5
Despite the limited relaxation on political activities launched in 1996,
in March 1998 Shakrulla Mirsaidov, leader of the Democratic
Opposition Co-ordinating Council, unexpectedly announced that the
Council had formally ceased to function. He noted that it had been
impossible to bring together all democratic forces in the country.
Mirsaidov also said that the Uzbekistani government has ‘laid down the
foundations for establishing a democratic and legal state and
implementing reform programme toward a free market’.6
Following a series of bomb blasts in Tashkent in February 1999, the
Uzbekistan authorities launched a major campaign against all potential
opposition organisations. Hundreds were arrested, tortured or simply
disappeared. Leading critics of the regime in Turkey, Ukraine and
central Asian states were extradited to face an uncertain future in
Uzbekistan.
The media
The ability of the regime to control political events in Uzbekistan has
been critically dependent upon the tight control and censorship
exercised by the authorities over the media. Officially, from 1995 the
government has supported a free media but, in fact, there has been a
steady restriction on its activities. The constitution and laws
explicitly forbid censorship, yet it continues to be widely practised. The

40 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

problems of free speech and free media in Uzbekistan are not issues of
harsh laws but of the way in which the laws are enforced.
The government of the Republic of Uzbekistan bears most of the
responsibility for the development of a restrictive media regime, rather
than as the government claims the pressures of the transition process.
The Uzbekistani government is directly responsible for the perpetuation
of censorship, firings, harassment and intimidation of journalists, and for
creating an atmosphere that is so repressive that journalists often censor
themselves. Journalists who deviate or attempt to deviate from the
unwritten but universally understood limits of topics and tone, have
been expelled from the country, fired from their jobs or threatened with
dismissal. Journalists have on occasion been beaten or faced violence,
and their families faced harassment by the security services.
Following the brief period of media liberalisation in the final years of
the Soviet system and the immediate post-independence period, the
Uzbekistan regime moved quickly to re-establish strict control. In
December 1993, a compulsory re-registration of the mass media was
announced as a result of which independent publications were
outlawed.
Almost all media in Uzbekistan are owned by the state. The current
Law on the Mass Media makes it extremely difficult to set up a private,
independent newspaper. Article five of the law states: ‘the right to found
mass media belongs to Councils of People’s Deputies and other state
bodies, to registered political parties, public associations, mass
movements, creative unions, and co-operatives, religious and other civic
associations set up in accordance with the law, and to labour
collectives.’
According to the government, in April 1998 there were 471
publications in Uzbekistan: sixty-six national newspapers, eighty-eight
regional, and the remainder town and district periodicals. Despite the
numbers, in reality Uzbekistan’s print media are dominated by three
national daily newspapers: the Uzbek and Russian language sister
publications Khalq Sozi (People’s Word) and Narodnoe Slovo and the
Russian language paper Pravda Vostoka (Truth of the East). The
weeklies represent a diversity of interests, ranging from the views of the
various official political parties to economics, and the stock exchange.
Television and radio are generally more influential than the press.
The Television and Radio company of Uzbekistan has four national
television stations. The majority of programmes are in Uzbek, although
there are also Russian language news bulletins. National Television

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 41

carries some programme from Russian State Television. All of the
television stations are under close government control.
Since 1995, leading western foreign news radio stations such as
Radio Liberty, Voice of America and the BBC have been granted
accreditation in Uzbekistan. Most western journalists have found it
extremely difficult to operate in the country. Print and broadcast media
emanating from the Russian Federation or affiliated to the Russian
media have been restricted. The rebroadcasting of Russian programmes
and the accessibility of Russian newspapers has declined markedly.
Personnel policy
One of the main strategies employed by the president to ensure his
continuing political dominance has been a policy of regular personnel
turnover among the political elite. This policy is intended to prevent the
development of powerful political figures and coalitions that might
challenge the president. The periodic dismissal of leading members of
the government also gives the president a regular supply of people to
blame for the country’s problems.
Karimov made the most important change when he dismissed
Mirsaidov, a former ally but also a potential threat to the president, from
the position of vice-president in 1992. In 1994 and 1995, the President
continued to strengthen his position. In the Summer of 1994, Mavlon
Umurzakov, one of President Karimov’s state councillors was removed,
followed in July by a presidential decree dismissing the mayor of
Tashkent, Adkham Fazylbekov, who had been a close associate of
Mirsaidov.
On 21 December 1995, the Uzbekistani Oliy Majilis dismissed the
Prime Minister Abdulkhosim Mutalov, a decision ostensibly prompted
by economic difficulties, notably the fall in value of the national
currency. With Mutalov’s dismissal, President Karimov had removed
most of the core of politicians who had helped him to power in the late
1980s, including Mirsaidov, the former Justice Minister and
Ambassador to the US, Babur Malikov, and the former Foreign
Minister Said-Mukhtar Saidkasimov. Mutalov was replaced with Utkur
Sultanov, previously minister for foreign economic relations.
On 15 May 1997, the former finance minister Bakhtiar Hamidov was
demoted. Hamidov was widely regarded as number two in the Karimov
administration and a possible successor to Karimov. Hamidov became
the scapegoat for the ongoing balance-of-payments crisis. At the end of
1997, the failure of the cotton and grain harvest again produced a round

42 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

of sackings of senior officials and public reprimands handed out by the
president. The agriculture and defence ministers were replaced, as were
a number of regional leaders. The agricultural minister Marx
Jumaniyozov, was dismissed for allegedly forging data on the cotton
harvest.
No reasons were given for the sacking of the defence minister,
Colonel-General Rustam Ahmedov, who had served in that post since
Uzbekistan gained independence. He was removed on the 29th
September as the Taliban approached Uzbekistan’s southern border.
Ahmedov’s replacement was from the border guards, suggesting the two
events were linked. In November the President moved against his de facto
number two in Uzbekistan, Ismail Jurabekov. Jurabekov controlled
major sectors of the economy, including the countries main hard
currency earner, the cotton trade. The removal of Jurabekov was viewed
as a significant consolidation of Karimov’s power. Perhaps reflecting
Karimov’s experience of the factional and clan politics of the Soviet era
in Uzbekistan, the president has particularly targeted regional leaders
for regular dismissal.
Control of the regions
Uzbekistan has a highly centralised form of decision-making. The main
administrative units of the country, Uzbekistan’s 12 viloyat, the city of
Tashkent and the republic of Karakalpakstan, have little power. During
the Soviet period, Uzbekistan’s regions operated as important bases for
establishing political networks.7 The current leadership of Uzbekistan is
dominated by personnel from the Samarkand-Jizzakh grouping (of
which Karimov is the leading member) and is reportedly locked in a
struggle for power with the Tashkent, Fergana-Namangan-Andizhan
groupings.
Since independence almost all of the regional leaders have been
subject to replacement. Beginning in 1995, the poor state of the
economy and the weak harvest provided the pretext for the emergence of
a pattern of regular dismissals of regional leaders. In 1996 four regional
leaders lost their jobs. The final official to be removed was the khokim
of Bukhara region, Mavlon Rakhmonov, who was dismissed on 14
December 1996 and replaced with the former Deputy finance Minister
Samoydin Husenov.
The regional purge continued into 1997 with the removal of Mirzajon
Islamov from his post as administrative head of the Fergana region on
14 February 1997. The president reportedly considered the pace of

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 43

privatisation and economic reform in the area to have been too slow.
His successor was named as Numonjon Mominov, a district head of
administration from the same Fergana apparatus as Islamov. On 17 July
1997 Karimov visited the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic and told an
extraordinary session of the local parliament that the region’s leadership
was responsible for a ‘gigantic cash deficit’. Karakalpak parliamentary
speaker Ubaniez Ashirbekov was sacked and replaced by an official
recommended by Karimov.
The pattern has continued into 1998 with the sacking of the khokim
of Navoi Region, Hayot Ghafforov, on 11 November 1998. Karimov
announced the dismissal at an extraordinary session of the Navoi
Regional Council of People’s Deputies during a visit to this region. The
former first deputy of Bukhara Region, named as Ghaybulla Odilov,
was appointed as the new governor of the region.
The removal of regional figures has been an important element of the
consolidation of the Karimov regime. The president has made strenuous
efforts to prevent any regional leaders developing entrenched networks
of power in their districts. Karimov has sought to replace the regional
centred politics of the Soviet era, with the establishment of a national
elite focused upon Tashkent. Any regional leader who fails or
challenges central authority is sacked. Regional leaders have also
provided a convenient group to blame when the harvest fails or the
economy dips, deflecting attention from the failings of central
government. Especially close control is exerted over Tashkent, the
Fergana region, Samarkand and Bukhara.
NATIONALISM
A theme of growing significance in Uzbekistan has been the
development of a national identity anchored upon Uzbek nationalism.
Following independence, the Uzbekistani authorities launched a
powerful top down drive based upon an essentially mono-ethnic vision
of the nation-state, the official rhetoric about pluralism not withstanding.
Significantly, the former communist leadership has sought to position
itself as the champion of a restored Uzbek nation. The Uzbekistani state
has promoted Uzbek culture and the writing of a national history,
including fostering a cult around the historic figure Amir Timur. Since
1989 Uzbek language has received increased priority within Uzbekistan
and in 1993 it was decreed that Uzbekistan would replace a Cyrillic
with a Latin script. While many of these measures have helped to bind

44 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

Uzbek society closer together, major questions about the place of
minorities in the nation-building project remain.
Nation and elite
Since 1991 a new historiography has been used to justify official
policies and state structures. Of particular importance have been efforts
to bind the country’s former Soviet elite to a nationalist interpretation of
the past. This process has involved a rewriting of the biographies of
many of the communist elite. The focus of the new history has been the
so-called ‘Class of 38’ (those beneficiaries of purges of the late 1930s
who went on to hold high office in the Communist Party of Uzbekistan
and dominated political life in the republic from 1938–83).8 In this new
interpretation, the Class of 38 have been made into national heroes who
struggled for the Uzbek, not the Soviet, nation. The new elite
biographies have been a central element of official nationalism and have
been used to develop a new legitimacy for the former communist . in
the aftermath of the ‘Uzbek’ or ‘Cotton affair’, which served to
discredit the republican party.
Following independence, the communist elite in Uzbekistan faced a
serious challenge to its hegemony. As Moscow’s hold over the republic
weakened, the Uzbek Communist Party was discredited as a result of
the ‘Cotton Affair’, while the emergence of Birlik and Erk threatened to
develop and open the political arena to other forces, thereby reducing
the communist leadership’s political dominance in the Uzbek SSR. In this
environment, a means to relegitimise the party elite was required. To
counter the rise of groups such as Birlik, Erk and the Islamic
Renaissance Party, Karimov moved to co-opt much of the agenda of the
opposition movements, particularly the nationalist elements which were
repackaged in forms that linked the communist elite to Uzbekistani
society in new ways.
With independence, much of the CPUz was transformed into the
People’s Democratic Party and the party elite moved to fill the vacuum
of political power created by the weakening of the former Soviet centre.
The key element of the new approach was the launch of an ‘official
nationalism’ in which the former party leaders emerged as patriots
protecting and promoting the Uzbek nation. The focus of this campaign
was the former Uzbek leader Sharaf Rashidov.
The denunciation of Rashidov and his regime formed a central part of
Moscow’s assault on the Uzbek Communist Party in the latter 1980s.
Following independence, Rashidov’s rehabilitation became a priority

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 45

for Uzbekistan’s leadership. After 1991 Rashidov was presented as a
national hero presiding over the rejuvenation of Uzbekistan. As part of
this policy, streets throughout Uzbekistan were named after Rashidov
and his statue was erected in the centre of Tashkent. At the same time,
the two leaders who had worked with Moscow to discredit much of the
CPUz, Inamjan Usmankhojaev (CPUz first Secretary from 3 November
1983 to 12 January 1988) and Rafik Nishanov (CPUz first Secretary 12
January 1988 until 23 June 1989), became the subjects of strong official
criticism. Birlik opposed the rehabilitation of Rashidov and blamed him
for the destruction of the Aral Sea. The promotion of official
nationalism, however, allowed criticism of Rashidov by Birlik to be
equated with betrayal of the homeland.9
Rewriting a national past
During the Soviet period nation-building came to be increasingly
controlled by the communist authorities in Uzbekistan. As a result of
Tashkent’s increasing engagement with the national project, in the late
1980s a process of historical revision was undertaken by Uzbek
historians. These historians rejected the standard Soviet interpretation of
subjects such as the Jadid reformist movement, and refuted the view
that Central Asia was united willingly with the Tsarist empire. They
also developed a positive view of national resistance movements such
as the Basmachi in the 1920s.
Following independence the new Uzbek government has been
unwilling to relinquish the monopoly on history writing and many of
the tendencies of the late Soviet period have been accelerated. Indeed,
the Uzbek elite has harnessed historians to provide the national
foundations of the independent state. A central element of the nationbuilding project in Uzbekistan has been a sustained effort to write and
rewrite a specifically national history.
Within this project, Uzbeks are presented as an ancient civilisation on
a par with other ancient civilisations along the Silk Road. Central Asian
literary and scientific figures such as Berune, Navoi, and Ibn Sina are
claimed as exclusively Uzbek. As part of the nation-building agenda
monuments have been erected, and holidays and conferences organised
to celebrate various historical figures as Uzbeks.10
As noted in the previous chapter, the origins of the Uzbeks and the date
when the Uzbeks became a nation are disputed. Some historians suggest
an Uzbek nation only came into existence in twentieth century, while
most contemporary Uzbek historians suggest the Uzbeks originate many

46 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

hundreds of years ago and possibly date from the first century BC or
earlier. While it seems likely that the first reference to a group identified
as Uzbek came with the Shaibanid conquest in the sixteenth century, the
first efforts to foster a linguistic-based ethnic Uzbek identity on the
model of European nations took place under the Soviet authorities.
One of the most notable elements of the reinvention of the past has
been the programme by the Uzbekistani authorities to foster a cult
around the figure of Amir Timur. Timur, the fifteenth century Turkic
conqueror and empire-builder known in the West as Tamerlane, has
emerged as the central icon of a campaign to rewrite national history
and as part of the broader movement toward an Uzbek ‘cultural
renaissance’.11 As early as the 1950s Soviet historians fixed Timur as a
representative of a specifically Uzbek history, although he was
identified as a destructive feudal conqueror. Independence in 1991
presented Uzbek historians with new opportunities and new challenges
to dismantle the Soviet historiography. The rediscovery of Timur has
involved three main elements. First, Timur has been established as a
symbol of Uzbek national pride. Second, Timur has been identified as
the ideal ‘just ruler’ and state builder, with his policies and methods
providing historical justification for the policies and methods of the
current Uzbek government. Finally, Timur has been promoted as the
‘fountainhead’ of Uzbekistan and an emblem of Uzbekistan’s reemergence as an independent regional power.12
In September 1993 President Karimov dedicated a statue to Timur on
the site where a monument to Marx had previously stood in the centre
of Tashkent. In his speech at the dedication, Karimov sought to draw out
the continuities between Timur and the new Uzbek republic. The new
Timur is, thus, the centrepiece of an Uzbek national ideology, based on
the idea that the Uzbeks have been, since time immemorial, the
dominant political and cultural force in Central Asia. Parallels have
frequently been drawn between Karimov and Timur in the Uzbekistani
press.
Language
In October 1989 the law ‘On the State Language’, which granted Uzbek
the status of the state language within the Uzbek Socialist Republic, was
adopted. The law made Russian the language of inter-ethnic
communication but required employees in the state sector to know
Uzbek. In September 1993, the Supreme Council of the Republic of
Uzbekistan decreed the replacement of the Soviet era Cyrillic script

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 47

with a Latin one. Progress with the transformation of the language has
been slow because of problems in developing a standard Latin script
and a lack of resources.
In December 1995, a revised language law was passed. The new law
no longer requires employees in the public sector to know Uzbek but
has also abolished the special status Russian enjoyed under the 1989
law. The new law also makes no provision for the study of the Arabic
script, which was in place until the 1920s and is still a potent symbol of
Islam in the Republic.
At the core of the new language arrangements are issues of power and
status rather than communication. Language is a symbol of group
identity and power. In the future, Uzbek is clearly to be the dominant
language in the republic. The demoted status of Russian reflects
Uzbekistan’s heightened independent stance in regard to the Russian
Federation and CIS structures. There are still, however, numerous
dialects of Uzbek in use in the country and Russian remains the lingua
franca of many in the Uzbek elite. The demise of Russian has,
nevertheless, bought differences between indigenous and Russian settler
cultures into sharp relief.13
An important symbolic change has been the switch from Cyrillic to a
Latin alphabet. While Cyrillic continues to be the leading alphabet for
both Uzbek and Russian, there has been rapid shift over to the Latin
script in cities in terms of street signs and official buildings. Russian has
all but disappeared from many public spaces in the capital, Tashkent.
Minorities
A central issue affecting the prospects for the Uzbek nation-building
project will be the reaction of Uzbekistan’s minorities to the new regime
and its policies. The official nationalism employed by the Uzbekistani
authorities appears aimed to emulate the mono-ethnic nation-state model
and so provides little space for non-Uzbeks. By exalting the Uzbek
nation, the state is in danger of excluding the other communities resident
in Uzbekistan. The significant minority populations in Uzbekistan,
including Slavs, Tajiks, and the various groups submerged within the
broader Uzbek identity (such as Kashgari, Kipchaks or Turks), suggests
that a pluralist model would be a more appropriate strategy for the
country.14
The population of Uzbekistan was estimated to be more than 23
million in 1995.15 The titular nationality is over 17 million people but
there are representatives of more than 100 nationalities in the republic.

48 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

Besides Uzbeks, there are more than a million Tajiks and approximately
the same number of Russians and Kazakhs, 420,000 Karakalpaks, up to
300,000 Tatars, about 200,000 Koreans, more than 170,000 Kyrgyz , over
150,000 Ukrainians, and approximately the same number of Turkmen.
Uzbeks constitute a majority in all districts of the republic except for the
nominally autonomous Karakalpakstan.16
During the years of Soviet power, the ethnic composition of the
Republic of Uzbekistan underwent important changes. Since 1919, the
titular population has risen from 3.5 million. There was also a dramatic
rise in the Slavic population during the Soviet period as a result of
economic development in Uzbekistan from the end of the 1920s,
population evacuations during World War Two, and the development of
large industrial projects in the 1950s. As a result of these migrations,
urban centres such as Almalyk, Shargun, Uchkuduk, Chirchik, Angren,
Navoi, and Zaravshan attained a Slavic population of up to 80–85%.
The numbers of minorities in the republic was also swelled as a result of
the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, the Meshketian Turks, Kurds,
Germans, and Koreans in the 1930s and 1940s. Partly as a result of
these changes, the proportion of the titular nationality in Uzbekistan
decreased from 80% (in the pre-war period) to 70% in 1989.
In June 1989, the first widely publicised interethnic conflict broke
out in Uzbekistan. The conflict involved Meshketian Turks and Uzbeks
in the Fergana Valley. Economic decline in the region led to demands
by the local Uzbeks to expel the ‘foreigners’ and ‘strangers’. The
growing tension engendered by economic decline and ethnic conflict
also helped the emergence of the Islamic Revival Party. In March 1990,
similar conflicts in the Buka and Parkent districts of Tashkent region,
led to the departure of almost all of the Turkish population from the
republic.
Although it has tended to be the smallest minority groups that have
experienced the most violent treatment in Uzbekistan, official policies
to support the Uzbek nation-building project raise important questions
about the larger groups resident in the country. Of particular importance
are the populations of Tajiks and Slavs.
Tajiks
A Persian-based culture has an ancient heritage in the oasis regions of
Central Asia, and prior to Russian conquest Persian and Turkic
civilisations were closely interlinked, if not fused, in many of the urban
centres of present day Uzbekistan. It was Soviet nationality policies that

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 49

created ‘Uzbek’ and ‘Tajik’ as separate ethnicities. This distinction was
essentialised and institutionalised by decades of Soviet bureaucratic
mechanisms.
The Soviet years are linked with a politicisation of ethnicity, and the
demise of the centuries old Persian-based culture. Despite these
changes, the Tajiks remain Uzbekistan’s largest ethnic minority. Tajik
populations are particularly important in the cities of Samarkand and
Bukhara, where they constitute majorities. Tajiks are also found in the
mountainous areas outside Tashkent, in the Fergana valley, Jizzakh
province, Surkhan Daria and Kashka Daria.
As a result of the policies of the 1920s, in 1991 the Uzbek elite
inherited a conception of Uzbek nationality and national borders
established by Soviet planners, and it is these elements that have
provided the basis for contemporary Uzbek nation-building policies.
However, despite the best efforts of Soviet officials to construct
separate ethnic identities based upon language, the distinction between
Uzbek and Tajik is often blurred especially in areas where Tajiks are
numerically superior.
Soviet census returns from the 1920s show that large numbers of
Persian-speakers disappeared into the category of Uzbeks during the
process of territorial delimitation. A recent book by the Tajik writer
Rahim Masov has claimed that a ‘process of genocide concerning the
Tajik people’ was initiated following the Soviet delimitation policies
when two-thirds of the territory inhabited by Tajiks was incorporating
within the Uzbek Republic.17 He argues that with the key Tajik centres
located in the Uzbek SSR following delimitation, the Persian-speakers
were subject to assimilation and lost their identity as a consequence.
While it is clear that the category of Uzbek has been privileged by the
changes instituted in the 1920s, it is not entirely accurate to suggest that
the Tajiks have been assimilated against their wishes. An Uzbek identity
has often served as an umbrella term containing a wide range of
different groups. Many individuals move between different forms of
ethnic self identification and large numbers of Uzbekistani Tajiks are
officially registered as Uzbeks. Official census figures of the Tajik
population are, therefore, likely to be misleading, and some
have suggested that the figure might be closer to six million, or twice
the number located in the nominal Tajik republic. The ambiguous nature
of Tajik and Uzbek identity in many regions makes it impossible to say
how many Tajiks there are in Uzbekistan.
In the last decades of Soviet rule, rising Uzbek national sentiment
amongst sections of the republican elite led to measures to restrict

50 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

official support for the Tajik population. From the middle of the 1960s
education in Tajik was scaled down causing tension in Bukhara and
Samarkand and the Tajik populated rural centres nearby. In the late
1980s, significant interethnic tension emerged between Tajiks and
Uzbeks. In the middle of 1988 demonstrations took place in Samarkand
and Bukhara with some participants demanding that territories with a
Tajik majority be united with Tajikistan. It was reported that many of
these actions were co-ordinated by the Tajik Liberation Front, a
shadowy and small movement. A society of Uzbekistani Tajiks
‘Samarkand’ was formed, which has been led by U. Bekmuhamedov
since 1991. The Uzbekistani authorities have, however, been anxious to
prevent any unofficial organisation from emerging among the Tajiks.
Since independence, the position of the Tajiks has not improved.
Efforts by Tajiks in Uzbekistan to expand Tajik-language education,
publishing and television have largely been thwarted by the
government. The Tajiks also appear to have been marginalised from the
new areas of economic activity in the country, with Tajik run markets
having a lower status than those run by Europeans and Uzbeks.18 Tajiks
also lack significant formal political representation at the highest levels.
Despite the aggressive nation-building policies of the Uzbekistani
government, as yet there has been little violent confrontation between
Tajiks and Uzbeks. As many Tajiks are bilingual, the new laws on
language have had little affect upon them. The Tajiks are also
accustomed to a minority status, since it was thrust upon them by the
Soviets in the 1920s. Tajik culture has not flourished in Uzbekistan
under the Soviets and appears destined to struggle in an independent
Uzbekistan.
Slavs
A significant Slavic population emerged in Uzbekistan during the
Soviet period, particularly attached to the programme of
industrialisation and the construction of large urban areas. During the
Soviet era, Slavs dominated important areas of the economy and they
formed large communities in many of the leading cities and towns,
notably Tashkent. Although there has been little in the way of direct
confrontation between Uzbeks and Slavs, since independence, there has
been a sizeable Slavic out-migration from the republic prompted by a
general perception that the advantages that the Slavs had previously
enjoyed were quickly disappearing.

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 51

The political fragmentation of the perestroika period allowed the rise
of nationalist sentiments in the republic and often these took the form of
anti-Russian sentiments. Interethnic tension first emerged at the end of
the 1980s, although isolated instances of conflict were reported earlier.
As early as May 1969 a football match in Tashkent led to fighting
between Uzbeks and Russian-speakers. Rioting lasted for several days.
One of the reasons for the anti-Russian rioting was the decision to
distribute 20% of the flats being built in Tashkent to Russians who had
come to reconstruct the capital after the earthquake of 1966. In the same
period there were riots by the Crimean Tatars who wished to return to
Crimea or gain some autonomy in Uzbekistan.
Following independence, there was a strong sense among the
Russians that with Moscow no longer able to determine developments
in Uzbekistan, the Slavs would be removed from their former leading
positions. Many of these fears appear to have been substantiated with a
rapid decline in the number of Russians in managerial and administrative
positions. The previous over representation of Russian-speakers in
many spheres has been reversed and now the Slavs are generally under
represented in critical areas of political and economic life.
The Slavic population has been particularly alarmed by the new
language law, which made Uzbek the official language of the country
and greatly restricted the use of Russian. The decline in importance
attached to Russian language and the necessity of knowing Uzbek
threatens the position of the Slavic community in Uzbekistan. The
constraints placed upon Russian-language mass media and fear about
the future quality of education in the republic also cause concern.
The immediate response to independence by large sections of the
Slavic population was emigration. In the first years of independence
there was an exodus of Russian-speakers from Uzbekistan. About 100,
000 Russians, Ukrainians, Germans and Jews left the republic annually
in the early 1990s. This emigration threatened serious consequences to
Uzbekistan because the Slavs constituted the majority of managers,
scientists, technicians, teachers, and professionals. Fear of a ‘brain
drain’ lead the Uzbekistani authorities to assure the Slavs that they
would still have a future in the country.
A major question mark remains, however, over the Slavic population
in Uzbekistan. Separated by cultural and religious differences, the
Uzbek and Russian communities historically have lived as separate
groups. Following independence, the vast majority of Slavs have
continued to live in communities with little direct contact with Uzbeks.
The majority of the Russian-speakers do not wish to learn Uzbek, or the

52 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

traditions, culture, and customs of the country. Many Russians
nevertheless appear to want to stay and to adapt to the new situation but
not to assimilate to an Uzbek culture; rather to carry on as during the
Soviet era. As a result, the Russian-speaking population of Uzbekistan
does not feel integrated with Uzbek society. The lack of association
with independent Uzbekistan makes it difficult for the Slavs to see
themselves as citizens. At the same time, the Russian-speakers have kept
a low political profile. There are no Russian-based political parties in
Uzbekistan and the Russian-speakers have not put forward demands for
political or cultural autonomy.
As well as Slavic emigration, there has also been a large exodus of
Germans. In 1989 there were 40,000 ethnic Germans living in
Uzbekistan but since then more than 15,000 have left for Germany.
Sizeable numbers of Central Asian Jews have also left the republic,
most for Israel. However, not all minorities wish to emigrate, have the
opportunities to emigrate or have a homeland willing to except them.
The Koreans, for example, have remained in Uzbekistan and are now
engaged actively in commerce.
ISLAM
Since independence, Islam has become a particularly important issue in
Uzbekistan. The government has actively sponsored a revival of Islam
and President Karimov made the pilgrimage, or ‘haj’, to the holy sites in
Mecca soon after he changed seamlessly from the republic’s communist
chief to become president of independent Uzbekistan. For the President,
however, Islam appears important only in its role as a cultural thread
running through the new national identity being fostered in the republic.
A state-sponsored Islam has become a key part of the regime’s attempt
to legitimate itself and to shake itself free from its communist past.
In this climate, the number of mosques has increased from 80 at
independence to over 5,000 by 1997. The regime has, however,
made strenuous efforts to control Islam in Uzbekistan. The central
institution for this purpose has been the Moslem Spiritual Department,
an organisation originally established by the Bolsheviks as a means to
control Islam in Central Asia. The government has also supported statecontrolled madrassas (theological colleges) as places of moderate
Islamic learning. In May 1995, at the behest of the state-controlled
Muslim Spiritual Board, President Karimov signed a decree establishing
an international Islamic studies centre in Tashkent as a means to
develop a distinctly Uzbek form of Islam.

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 53

President Karimov has been particularly concerned about the
infiltration of unsanctioned Islam from other countries. In August 1997,
Karimov recalled some 2,000 Uzbek students studying in Turkey for
fear they were being indoctrinated by Islamic clerics. The regime also
exercises close control over those who undertake the haj. Surveillance is
practised on foreign representatives of Islamic organisations.
Having crushed the secular opposition in the early 1990s, the mosque
remains the most important potential focus for political opposition to
Karimov and discontent with his failed policies. The Uzbekistan!
government has launched a range of measures to ensure the compliance
of the Islamic clergy. Muslim clerics who deviate from the official
endorsed ‘moderate’ Islam have been arrested or removed from their
positions. Mufti Muhammad Yusuf was forced to resign his position as
official head of Central Asia’s Islamic community in 1993. Yusuf had
become the mufti following demonstrations in February 1989 against
the Soviet era clerical elite in Uzbekistan. The appointment of Yusuf
had marked a liberalisation of Islam in Uzbekistan. Later Yusuf had to
leave Uzbekistan to avoid charges of embezzlement and of helping
Tajikistan’s Islamic movement during the civil war. The drive against
independent clerics became particularly intense when Kabul fell to the
Taliban in 1996.
The government has been especially active to prevent the
development of Islamic political organisations and there is no
established Islamic party in Uzbekistan. The Islamic Rebirth Party of
Uzbekistan, founded in January 1991, has been inactive since the party
chairman, Abdulla quori Otaev, disappeared in December 1992. Adolat
(Justice), an Islamic group created in 1991, has been banned since
March 1992 and its leaders arrested. Under the new law on political
parties passed in January 1997, it is illegal to found a party on religious
principles. The Committee for Religious Affairs (a Soviet era institution)
attached to the Cabinet of Ministers exercises close control over
religious institutions in the Republic, particularly in the field of contacts
with foreign Islamic organisations.
From 1993 these measures together have generally succeeded in
allowing the Uzbekistani authorities to re-establish control over the
Islamic clergy. Plans by Islamic groups and leaders to create
independent structures have largely been laid aside, while most Islamic
community functions, including Islamic education, have reverted to the
government’s control. The government policy towards Islam has,
however, faced problems. On 27th June 1997 Mukhtorjon Khoja
Abdullayev, Yusuf’s replacement as mufti of Uzbekistan, was removed

54 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

from his post. It is widely believed that allegations of corruption lay
behind his dismissal. In turn he was replaced by Abdurashid Qori
Bakhromov, a Karimov loyalist.
On 1 May 1998, the national parliament revised the 1991 law on
‘freedom of conscience and religious organisations’ imposing new
restrictions on religious groups. The law requires that all mosques and
religious groups with more than 100 members are registered. The
construction of mosques, the establishment of religious associations,
and the teaching of theology also require official permission. Theology
classes may not be taught in primary and secondary schools and will,
instead, be limited to theology colleges. The law also forbids the
wearing of religious clothing in public.
While more mainstream or established Islam has been placed firmly
under the government’s control, a variety of groups have sought to
operate independently of the state. The actions of such organisations has
been particularly unwelcome by the Karimov regime and since 1992 the
government has clamped down on ‘unofficial’ and political Islam. In
recent years the Uzbekistani authorities have identified the Wahhabi
movement as a major threat to stability in the country and in Central
Asia more generally. The Wahhabis are usually understood as an
orthodox group of Sunnis that is dominant in Saudi Arabia, but the term
was used in the Soviet era as a short-hand for Islamic fundamentalist.
President Karimov has argued that radical Islam is poised to penetrate
Central Asia and that Wahhabi proselytism from Saudi Arabia is the
central threat, together with the Taliban and the United Opposition in
Tajikistan.
Particularly close supervision has been exercised over Islam in the
Fergana Valley, the traditional centre for Islam in Central Asia. In this
region the Wahhabi insistence on the total adherence to their
interpre tation of the Koran has earned the movement the label
‘fundamentalist’. Islamic leaders and activists from Namangan have
been jailed on various charges. Andizhan’s main Jami Mosque, built
before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, was closed in 1995 after its chief
cleric, Abdu Alii Mirzaev, allegedly the leader of a Wahhabi sect, fell
foul of the government and disappeared on the way to Moscow.
Mirzaev advocated the organisation of Islamic education and
community life free from the government’s control.
On 3 December 1997 in Namangan, a group of masked men killed a
highly placed official of the transport police (GAI), decapitated him and
hung his head in a bag outside the flat of another police official.
Attached to the bag was a note reading ‘you are next!’ Namangan is the

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 55

historical centre of Islam in Central Asia and the Uzbekistani authorities
have been particularly active against Islamic movements in the area.
Tashkent responded to the murder by despatching elite troops to the
area. On 17 December a suspect, Sohib Kholmatov, apparently a
Wahhabi, was located and a gunfight broke out in which three members
of the security services were killed, along with Kholmatov.
Following the gun battle, more Islamic radicals were arrested.
Reportedly, many were beaten in custody. While cracking down on
perceived Wahhabi militants, the authorities rounded up non-Wahhabi
Islamic activists and broke up meetings of veiled women. The events
around Namangan were not reported in the state media. In fact, despite
the government’s assertion that Muslim radicals lay behind the deaths,
Namangan lies on a well-known drug route and the murder of the
policeman could equally have been tied to the activities of organised
crime in the region. Eventually 27 individuals were accused of being
Islamic militants. In the summer of 1998 a series of show trials were
conducted in which various alleged Wahhabis were found guilty of
actions connected to the ‘the crimes’ in Namangan in December 1997.
Twenty-six people received prison terms and one was sentenced to
death.
The events in Namangan provided the pretext for a sustained assault
upon unofficial Islamic groups in Uzbekistan. On the 5th of March
1998, Uzbek security forces surrounded the house of Obidkhan
Nazarov, the . Iman of Tashkent’s Tokhtabal mosque, in an effort to
arrest him and another imam, Yoldash Ergashev, on allegations of
interference in state affairs. The two imams were accused of promoting
Wahhabism with the goal of overthrowing the government.19
On 1 May 1998, while attending the parliamentary session that
passed the new law on freedom of conscience, President Karimov spoke
out harshly against the Wahhabis, whom he accused of seeking to turn
Uzbekistan into a second Tajikistan. Karimov stated that ‘such people
must be shot in the head. If necessary, I’ll shoot them myself, if you
lack the resolve.’20 Later in the same month, while on his first official
visit to Russia, Karimov identified joint efforts to combat the spread of
fundamentalism in Central Asia as central to future co-operation
between the two countries.21 In an interview published in Xalq Sozi on 3
February 1999 President Islam Karimov said that members of the
Islamic group called Hezbi Tahriri Islomiya are active in the country
and represent a threat to security. Karimov said that the group intends to
eliminate all administrative boundaries between Islamic countries and
form an ‘Islamic Caliphate’.22

56 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

Thus, Islam in Uzbekistan is controlled by a Soviet era organisation
the Muftiate or Spiritual Directorate, which strives to confine religion to
a peripheral role in society and bans it from any kind of political role.
At the same time, the coercive apparatus of the state is engaged against
all those who will not conform to officially sanctioned forms of Islamic
organisation and activity. What the government most fears is a
dissenting tradition as in the Fergana Valley in the south-east, where
Muslim leaders have chosen not to become civil servants.
While Islamic groups do not appear to form a coherent network or
movement, Islam has emerged as a vehicle for a large number of
political and ideological concerns. The emergence of a more organised
Islamic opposition may just be a question of time, particularly since the
regime’s measures against Islamic activists are in danger of becoming
counterproductive. Some writers have suggested that secular political
opposition may have expired in Uzbekistan. Mirsaidov’s apparent
retirement from political activity in March 1998, and the dispersal of
other opposition figures throughout Europe and the USA, may open the
door wider to religious opposition.23
On a visit to Tashkent on 20 April 1998, the chairmen of the OSCE,
Polish Foreign Minister Bronislav Geremek, warned Karimov that
government moves against Islamic groups were likely to be counterproductive. The warning appeared to have little impact on government
policy when fifteen men from the eastern city of Andizhan were put on
trial in October 1998 on charges of terrorism, possession of arms and
drugs, robbery, and extortion. The individuals were identified as
Wahhabis. A further five men went on trial the same day in the
capital. The five were also reported to be Wahhabis and to have links to
Obidkhan Nazarov, the former Imam of Tashkent’s Tokhtoboy Mosque
who has been in hiding for nearly one year.24 On 8 January 1999 a
Tashkent court found the five men guilty of trying to overthrow the
government and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from two to 12
years.25
On 16 February 1999, a series of bomb blasts hit Tashkent, killing 16
and leaving over 130 injured. The bomb attack may have constituted an
assassination attempt on President Karimov. In response, the
Uzbekistani authorities launched a crackdown in the country, arresting
hundreds of people, who were accused of being radical Islamists who
underwent training abroad. Speaking at a news conference of the 23
February, Karimov announced ‘I can tell you that practically all of the
detained persons went through training in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and
Tajikistan,’ most were Uzbek nationals, he added. Karimov blamed

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 57

‘religious fanatics’ for the blasts and linked the attack to Islamic groups
such as Hizbollah, which has waged a violent struggle against Israel,
and ‘Wahabbis’. He said ethnic Tajik citizens of Uzbekistan were
currently undergoing similar training in neighbouring Tajikistan.
As the crackdown expanded, members and supporters of banned
political opposition parties and movements, together with their families,
were also detained. Islamic radicalism was then linked to secular
opposition groups, such as Erk, by the action of the Uzbekistan
authorities.
Despite the extensive organisational and coercive actions of the
Uzbekistani authorities against Islam, there are therefore strong signs
that religion is emerging as a growing source of political opposition in
the country. The well-organised and co-ordinated nature of the attacks
in Tashkent may suggest, however, that dissatisfied elements within the
government or some of the leading figures dismissed by Karimov may
lie behind the terror campaign. Whoever is responsible, the carefully
nurtured image of Uzbekistan as an island of stability in Central Asia is
increasingly being questioned by such developments.
CONCLUSION
Since independence Uzbekistan has emerged as one of the most
authoritarian of the post-Soviet republics. The establishment of the new
regime has been focused upon the person of President Karimov, the
former first Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. Karimov
has used independence to consolidate a highly personalised form of rule
in which all potential competitors for the position of supreme power are
removed or demoted. Further, any group or movement that threatens to
destabilise the iron grip that the Karimov regime has developed over
Uzbekistani society is broken up or ruthlessly suppressed.
The mechanisms by which the Uzbekistani elite has consolidated its
control over the Republic are diverse. While coercion and the use of
internal security forces has provided an important element of the
regime’s hold over society, a range of other political mechanisms and
ideas have been developed to ensure Karimov’s position. Critically, the
promotion of Uzbek nationalism and the ability to fuse the former
leadership of Soviet Uzbekistan with a specifically national historic
narrative has provided a powerful stimulus to mobilise Uzbekistani
society beyond the deployment of fear and violence. The regime has
also sought to maintain as much of the Soviet era social security system
as possible. The provision of a limited safety net has served to continue

58 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

elements of the welfare authoritarianism characteristic of the Brezhnev
era, whereby popular support was bought in return for a protected
existence.
With the consolidation of his position in the mid-1990s, Karimov
appeared prepared to promote a limited pluralism, in part designed to
stem the outflow of Slav and Uzbek professionals. Despite the change in
the official tone, no fundamental alterations were made to the policies
of the regime. Karimov initially delayed liberalisation because of his
desire to limit change to the creation of a ‘constructive’ opposition
(controllable non-governmental organisations), and a media subordinate
to the government’s censorship and direction. The limited liberalisation
before October 1996 led to increasing attempts to express independent
views, which were much more critical than desired. The tentative moves
towards liberalisation were also undermined by fears about the rise of
Islam and economic discontent.
The consolidation of the Karimov regime since independence marks
an important break with the past. In place of the Soviet era
arrangements, a new form of authoritarianism has been established in
Uzbekistan. With power focused on the republican capital Tashkent,
with the President almost unchecked, and with the regime legitimated
through Uzbek nationalism, the nature of authoritarian rule in
Uzbekistan has changed greatly from the Soviet era reliance on the
institutions of the Communist Party, state agencies and security
services.
Through policies of repression coupled to an aggressive agenda to
promote the Uzbek nation, the Karimov regime has succeeded in
establishing a form of stability throughout most of Uzbekistan. Major
problems remain, however, many as a direct consequent of the form of
rule that has emerged in the country. Political stability has been bought
at the price of stifling the economic reform critical to the future of the
country (see Chapter 3). Political authoritarianism has also established a
form of stability that may be far more fragile than the Uzbek leadership
would like to admit.
A number of unresolved issues central to the political future of the
country continue to cause concern. Alternative political and economic
ideas cannot be expressed in a public forum, choking innovation and
denying opportunities to express discontent. Corruption, inefficiency
and mismanagement characterise much of the political and
administrative system. The stress on Uzbek nationalism, has also caused
tension in Uzbekistani society. Sizeable and important minorities within
Uzbekistan appear uncomfortable with the role of the state in promoting

CONTEMPORARY POLITICS 59

the Uzbek nation over all other groups. The presence of large numbers
of ethnic Uzbeks in neighbouring states also makes the pursuit of
domestic nationalism a dangerous policy (see Chapter 4).
Regional conflict within Uzbekistan remains significant. Despite the
stress on the single Uzbek nation, Uzbek identity is far from
consolidated, with areas such as the Fergana Valley causing concern
within Tashkent. Political Islam, in particular, remains a force that could
emerge to challenge the Karimov regime. The Uzbekistani government
has invested extensive effort and resources in the struggle with
unofficial Islamic movements in the country. The deep-seated nature of
Islam in Uzbekistani society, the heavy-handed tactics of the
government, and the lack of secular political movements to offer an
alternative medium to articulate grievances may well serve to enhance
political Islam and allow it to challenge the model of stability promoted
by the repressive leadership of Karimov.
1 William
Fierman,
‘Political
development
in
Uzbekistan:
democratization?’ in Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds., Conflict,
cleavage, and change in Central Asia and the Caucasus (Cambridge: CUP,
1997), p. 378.
2 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 46, part 1 (9 March 1998).
3 See http://freedomhouse.org/nil-98/uzbek.pdf.
4 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 1, no. 172, part 1 (4 December 1997).
5 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 1, no. 141, part 1 (17 October 1997).
6 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 46, part 1 (9 March 1998).
7 Demian Vaisman, ‘Regionalism and Clan Loyalty in the Political Life of
Uzbekistan’ in Yaacov Ro’i, ed., Muslim Eurasia: Conflicting Legacies
(Essex: Frank Cass, 1995), pp. 105–22.
8 Michael Thurman, “Leaders of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in
Historical Retrospect: The “Class of ’38”’ Central Asia Monitor, no. 6
(1995), pp. 19–27 and no. 1 (1996), pp. 19–25.
9 Quoted Thurman, Ibid., no. 1 (1996), p. 21.
10 Morgan Liu, The Perils of Nationalism in Independent Uzbekistan’,
Turkestan Newsletter, Volume: 91–1:99 (25 November 1997).
11 Stephen Hegarty, The Rehabilitation of Temur: Reconstructing National
History in Contemporary Uzbekistan’, Central Asia Monitor, no. 1
(1995), pp. 28–35.
12 Hegarty, Ibid. (1995), p. 29.
13 Annette Bohr, ‘Language policy and ethnic relations in Uzbekistan’, in
Graham Smith, Vivien Law, Andrew Wilson, Annette Bohr, Edward
Allwoth, Nation-building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of
National Identity (Cambridge: CUP, 1998), pp. 197–223.

60 CONTEMPORARY POLITICS

14 John Schoeberline-Engel, The Prospects for Uzbek National Identity’,
Central Asia Monitor, no. 2 (1996), pp. 12–20.
15 The World Factbook (Washington: CIA, 1995), p. 447.
16 Vladimir Mesamed, Interethnic Relations in the Republic of Uzbekistan,’
Central Asia Monitor, no. 6 (1996), pp. 20–26.
17 Rahim M.Masov, Istoriia topornogo razdeleniia (Dushanbe, 1991), pp.
10–11.
18 Richard Foltz, Uzbekistan’s Tajiks: A Case of Repressed Identity?’,
Central Asia Monitor, no. 6 (1996), pp. 17–26.
19 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 45, part 1 (6 March 1998).
20 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 84, part 1 (4 May 1998).
21 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 86, part 1 (6 May 1998).
22 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 3. no. 24, part 1 (4 February 1999).
23 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 52, part 1 (17 March 1998).
24 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 201, part 1 (16 October 1998).
25 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 3, no. 6, part 1(11 January 1999).

Chapter 3
ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

INTRODUCTION
The nature and intensity of economic activity in Uzbekistan has
undergone important developments in the twentieth century; however,
despite such change the basic structure of the economy remains in
essence the same as it has for centuries. Today, the vast majority of the
labour force is engaged in agriculture and this remains the core sector of
the national economy. Under Russian and Soviet rule, cotton became
the dominant agricultural product in the region and in the 1990s the
cotton crop continues to provide the foundation for the whole economy
of Uzbekistan.
Following the collapse of the Soviet state in the summer of 1991,
Uzbekistan faced severe problems associated with the demise of the allunion economy, which had underpinned the Soviet system. The collapse
of the trade and supplier networks of the Soviet economy left
Uzbekistan particularly exposed. With little other than raw or semiprocessed commodities for export, the economic system in the country
became highly dependent upon world commodity prices. Creating an
economic system to minimise the vulnerability of the economy to
external shocks would have required extensive reform and the
introduction of market-based elements. Instead, President Karimov
developed a set of policies oriented primarily towards extending control
over the economy rather than implementing structural reforms.
Since 1991, the Uzbekistani state has retained and even enhanced its
previous position as the pivot of the national economy. Much of the
social welfare system of the Soviet period has continued, even as the
state’s ability to support such a system has declined. Economic reform
has been limited and frequently ineffective. Foreign investment has
been low, and the government of Uzbekistan has been reluctant to

62 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

undertake the reform measures advocated by the IMF, the World Bank
and other international economic institutions. Corruption, inefficiency
and bureaucratic resistance frequently stifle efforts to develop new
business initiatives.
In an environment of extensive state control, the Uzbekistani
economy has struggled to make progress. Despite optimistic official
economic data, most independent commentators point to stagnation or
negative growth as the main characteristic of the national economy. The
distorted sectoral structure of the national economy together with the
lack of significant reform, widespread corruption, increasing
demographic pressures and the ecological crisis are placing an intense
strain upon the already largely bankrupt Soviet-era economy. If
Uzbekistan is to become the developed country that the authorities have
repeatedly promised, fundamental and systematic reform of the
economy will be urgently required in future years.
HISTORICAL ECONOMIC FORMS AND THE
SILK ROAD
Central Asia’s geographical position ensured that as early as the sixth
century BC the region was engaged in significant trade with external
markets. Traditionally, the main elements of Central Asian exports were
horses, handicrafts, textiles and dried fruits. Reflecting the significance
of the Central Asian trade routes, the region remained economically
important even as the Silk Road was being challenged by the
development of global maritime trade in the sixteenth century. Despite
the emergence of new trading routes, and the rise of advanced forms of
agriculture and industrial activity in Europe, Central Asia continued to
be an important economic region until the eighteenth century. As the
region entered a period of comparative decline, trade links with India,
Iran, and western China remained important.
The early emergence of Central Asia as a centre for economic activity
owed much to the favourable conditions in the area. Central Asia’s
important water resources and good soils made the region an excellent
location for the production of agricultural goods. The mix of extensive
plains, oases, and deep mountain valleys also created the basis for the
production of a variety of agriculture products. The abundance of
foodstuffs provided a critical foundation for the emergence of large
urban areas, which developed around the main oases of the region.
The region was not only able to provide sufficient resources to feed
its own population but also supplied agricultural products, notably

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 63

natural fibres and animals, for export. The development of small-scale
agriculture was primarily a private activity and until the early part of the
twentieth century, private ownership was the main organisational form
for economic activity. In the settled areas, the individual household
provided the basis for the urban economy.
The growth of urban areas laid the foundations for new and more
advanced forms of economic activity. The towns developed markets for
high quality handicrafts such as carpets and other textiles,
often produced in the rural areas and by nomads. The emergence of
guild organisations within the settled areas also led to the production of
jewellery and a range of household goods.
By the eighteenth century, Central Asia had entered a period of
relative economic decline. The emergence of new and advanced forms
of economic activity in Europe, particularly Russia, gradually led to the
marginalisation of Central Asia. Central Asia entered a period of
stagnation with little change in economic forms or levels of economic
activity. The regional economy of Central Asia only began to undergo
significant change when Central Asia came into contact with the
Russian colonial state.
THE RUSSIAN AND SOVIET LEGACY
Russian conquest of Central Asia introduced important changes in many
aspects of the region, but the regional economy was initially little
affected by absorption into the Russian empire. As the territories and
peoples of Central Asia were steadily integrated into the Russian
imperial economy, however, important changes were introduced. New
types of economic activity were developed, notably the extraction of
mineral resources and limited industrial production. Communications
between Central Asia, European Russia and world markets were also
significantly improved. The greatest change to the economy of the
Transoxiana region of Central Asia under Russian domination was,
however, in the organisation and intensity of economic activity,
particularly in the agricultural sphere.
The Russian colonial regime initiated important shifts in the
agricultural orientation of the core region of Central Asia. The changes
introduced under Russian administration were to have critical
consequences for the future economic development of the area. The
particular focus of Russian development in the region was an increase
and intensification of cotton production.

64 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

When the Russians arrived in Central Asia they found traces of the
once complex irrigation systems that existed in the region, but which
had been allowed to deteriorate or had been destroyed over previous
centuries. Under Russian control many of the canals were rebuilt and
the area of irrigated land expanded. The main purpose of increasing the
irrigated acreage was to boost the production of cotton and grain and
thereby to decrease Russian reliance on sources of supply from outside
the empire.
In the early 1880s, the Russian colonial regime introduced new
higher yield American varieties of cotton into Turkestan. The total land
under American-cotton cultivation increased six-fold from 1886 to
1890. In the period 1886 to 1914 the acreage increased from 13,200 to
597,200 hectares. The boom in cotton production had a number of
significant effects. The rise of cotton production was paralleled by the
growth in the grain deficit. Central Asia, which had previously been
self-sufficient in grain, became increasingly dependent upon grain
imported from Russia. The cotton boom also created the basis for a
more monetised economy, allowing for the importation of Russian
industrial goods. The growth of cotton production was also
accompanied by a rise of industrial activity centred upon the production
of cotton.
At the time of Russian conquest, local industry was engaged
primarily in the processing of cotton, wool and silk, and limited
production based upon these fibres. Even in the urban areas of
Transoxiana there was little developed modern industry. Production was
focused on the manufacture of handicrafts at home or in small
workshops. Initially, contact with the Russian empire served to
undermine many indigenous industries. With the advent of Russian
trade, the small metalworking industry went into decline, replaced by
cheaper and higher quality imported goods.
Some new forms of economic activity were, however, introduced. In
1865 the Russian colonial regime undertook a systematic survey of the
mineral resources of the region, which provided the basis for the
development of extractive industries. The working of coal was
undertaken in Uzbekistan but never really grew to be significant, oil
deposits were also exploited to a limited degree in the region.
From the point of view of the future economic development of
southern Central Asia, one of most important aspects of the Russian
colonial period was the establishment of modern transport infrastructure
connecting the core of Central Asia to other parts of the Russian Empire,
and beyond. The Trans-Caspian Railway reached Samarkand in 1888

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 65

and was extended to Tashkent in 1898 and to Andizhan in the Fergana
Valley in 1899. In 1906, the Orenburg-Tashkent Railroad was
completed. The introduction of American style cotton gins in the 1880s
and the extension of the Trans-Caspian railway to the main cotton
growing regions of Central Asia provided the basis for important
changes in the basis and nature of economic activity in the region. The
cotton mills quickly came to employ two-thirds of all industrial workers
and accounted for over three-fourths of the total industrial production.
Most cotton grown in Central Asia was transported from the region to
Russia for processing into textiles.
Despite the changes introduced under Russian rule, no real efforts
were made to initiate a broad-based industrialisation of southern Central
Asia before 1917. When the Russian Revolution broke out, mining was
in its infancy, coal and oil production elementary, and no iron or steel was
manufactured in Central Asia. The processing of agricultural products,
especially cotton, provided the mainstay of industrial activity in the
region.
During the Soviet period there were important changes in agricultural
and industrial activity in Uzbekistan. Despite the innovations introduced
by the Soviets, however, much of the development undertaken during
seventy years of communist rule was simply an extension of Tsarist era
policies. Agricultural development in Uzbekistan during the Soviet
period was, in particular, largely a projection of pre-1917 Russian
policy with the emphasis upon the expansion of cotton production and a
decline in grain and other foodstuffs.
Following the consolidation of Soviet rule in the region in the 1920s
there were two principal alterations to the nature of agriculture in
Uzbekistan. The first major change in the region was the confiscation of
lands and water rights, and their redistribution to the peasantry. This
was followed by the second policy change, that of collectivisation,
through which lands and water were brought under the control of the
Party and its rural representatives.
Collectivisation in Uzbekistan was, however, relatively superficial
compared to developments in neighbouring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
where collectivisation led to the wholesale destruction of the nomadic
economy. In Uzbekistan several elements of traditional forms of land
ownership were incorporated into the collective and state farms. In
many areas of Uzbekistan, collectivisation permitted the survival of
traditional forms of social organisation and political relationships.
Nevertheless, together these reforms provided the basis for an

66 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

unprecedented state-directed expansion of cotton production in
Uzbekistan.
The main economic activity in Uzbekistan during the Soviet era was
the production of cotton and other agricultural products. Indeed,
Uzbekistan was often described as a country that was two-thirds desert
and one-third cotton fields. During the civil war, the acreage of irrigated
land fell precipitously and farmers switched from cotton production to
grain. After the civil war and the Basmachi revolt, the first action of the
Soviets was to restore the irrigation system. By 1928 irrigated land was
approaching the pre-1917 levels and the emphasis on cotton production
had returned. The southern part of Central Asia became more firmly tied
to the Russian core of the Soviet system as a one-crop region.
Uzbekistan set the pattern for the development of cotton production in
Central Asia. By 1932 the Uzbeks were raising about 61 percent of all
cotton fibre produced in the USSR.
The beginning of the First Five-Year Plan in 1928 saw a further
extension of the area under cotton and a gradual decline in other crops.
As pre-Revolutionary production levels were restored, the next main
upheaval was the collectivisation drive that reached its height in
Uzbekistan in 1930–31. Collectivisation led to a fall in cotton
production and this prompted the drive to intensify productivity through
the increased application of fertiliser.
During World War Two, cotton production declined once again as
other priorities emerged. Following the war, the emphasis on cotton
returned. Irrigation in the form of new canals was developed and the
level of cotton production increased. In the final decades of Soviet
control, Central Asia accounted for about 90 percent of total production
of cotton in the USSR. The land committed to the production of cotton
in Uzbekistan steadily rose from 423.5 thousand hectares in 1913 to
917.2 in 1938 and 2,054.0 thousand hectares in 1986. The legacy of this
policy has been a set of chronic ecological problems and a largely rural
and unskilled workforce.
Although cotton production dominated the agricultural sector during
the Soviet years, Uzbekistan was also the location for an important
development in the form of the steady expansion of private plot
production. Although officially discouraged, the private plot became an
essential element of the Soviet economy as the state-controlled
agricultural sector as a whole failed to deliver the required quantities of
foodstuffs. In Uzbekistan the role of private plots in agriculture was
increasing in the final years of the Soviet Union. By 1978, private plots
accounted for 20.9 percent of Uzbek gross output, and the figure may

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 67

have been as high as 28 percent and over a third of a collective farmer’s
income.
Unlike the Russian colonial period, the Soviet era in Uzbekistan was
marked by a significant conscious attempt to develop industry in the
region. During the Civil War the limited industry of the region
disintegrated and by 1922 industry had collapsed completely. The
period from 1922–1928 was marked by efforts to restore industry and
agri culture to pre-1917 levels. Between 1928 and the outbreak of the
Second World War the industrialisation of southern Central Asia
proceeded more rapidly based in large part on the electrification of the
region. The period saw the construction of a large textile mill in
Tashkent in 1935. Under the Second Five-Year Plan, industry was
particularly stressed and several new enterprises were begun, mostly in
the agro-industrial sector.
The onset of war led to important changes in economic activity in
Uzbekistan. Of particular note was the emergence of steel production,
often using hydroelectric power developed in other republics of Central
Asia. The emphasis on industry as the auxiliary to cotton production
was continued after the war with the construction of factories to produce
agricultural machinery in Tashkent. Oil production was also expanded
in Uzbekistan and natural gas deposits were worked around the city of
Bukhara.
Transportation was also developed to a far higher level than
previously under Soviet rule. The much-vaunted Turkistan-Siberian
Railway was completed in 1930. The construction of the line was
intended to make possible the delivery of increased grain to southern
Central Asia from other parts of the Soviet Union, so freeing more land
for cotton production. The development of roads was, however, very
poor, reflecting the economic priorities of the planners in Moscow. But
important airports were constructed in Uzbekistan during the latter
decades of the Soviet system.
A major achievement of the Soviet period was an increase in the human
capital of Uzbekistan. With an adult literacy rate of 97.2% in 1989, the
education level of the population was high, and vastly improved from
the levels of the Russian colonial era. The Soviets established a
comprehensive educational system in Uzbekistan including some high
quality institutions of higher education. The scientific potential of the
country was concentrated in over 350 establishments and well-trained
research personnel were engaged in work on a number of areas of basic
research. The emigration of some of the most skilled members of

68 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

society in recent years has, however, damaged the scientific and
research base of the country.
Thus, during the Soviet era Uzbekistan’s economy underwent a series
of fundamental changes, including an extensive re-organisation of
agriculture, an intensification of production and the introduction of new
industries. Despite the introduction of new economic activity, the
pattern of economic expansion in southern Central Asia during
the Soviet period was largely one-sided; focused upon the production of
cotton. The socialist system with its planned economy, state-socialist
political institutions and economic priorities left the Uzbek economy
poorly prepared for independence.
Despite talk of developing self-sufficiency in the region, Uzbekistan
was firmly anchored to the rest of the USSR by economic dependency.
In the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan functioned primarily as a supplier of
raw materials that were processed elsewhere. As a result, official figures
placed Uzbekistan as one of the poorer of the republics in the USSR
with only Tajikistan having a lower per capita consumption. Despite
Uzbekistan’s extensive natural resource base (estimated to total $13
trillion), Soviet planners did little to create indigenous industry capable
of exploiting these resources.
Three distinct sorts of distortion in the Uzbek economy resulted from
the Soviet system. First, the Soviet centrally planned economy failed to
establish the institutions necessary to ensure stability once the planner’s
control was relaxed. During the Soviet years, the Uzbek economy was
largely run from Moscow, ensuring that poor local administration
characterised much of the republican economy. Critically, there was an
absence of indigenous financial instruments for economic management.
Uzbekistan lacked a developed banking system, a capital or money
market, an effective fiscal system in the form of a tax regime and the
instruments necessary for the formulation and implementation of
effective macro-economic policy. As elsewhere in the former Soviet
Union, the planned economy meant that production was not very
efficiently organised and there was no effective price system to regulate
demand and supply.
Second, despite improvements in transport links the non-human
infrastructure of the country was poorly developed during the Soviet
years. While the railway and road networks were built to connect
Uzbekistan to the Russian Federation and other republics of the former
Soviet Union, most routes leading out of Uzbekistan to the south, west
and east were weakly developed and needed to be upgraded if trade and
transit were to increase. The communication links from Uzbekistan

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 69

across Central Asia were particularly poor. The telecommunications
system was extremely underdeveloped with only 7/8 telephones per 100
population and the quality of transmission was generally very low.
Third, the incorporation and development of Uzbekistan within the
planned economy resulted in the development of highly distorted
eco nomic structures. Agricultural and industrial capacity was
developed with very little regard to the needs of republic’s population.
Such economic development produced an excessive trade dependency.
Productivity was low and the economy’s ability to satisfy consumer’s
expectations even lower. The Soviet model of economic development
ensured that the service sector remained almost completely
underdeveloped.
Together this set of distortions also had important implications for the
emergence of networks of corruption within Uzbekistan. The
concentration of economic and political decision-making within the
party-state apparatus and the dependence of the local elite on the
production of cotton meant that a powerful patrimonial system
developed around the agro-industrial sector in the republic. The long
tenure of Rashidov as first secretary in the UzSSR during the Brezhnev
period enabled the creation of a personal fiefdom, with the appointment
of his followers to senior posts in the republican, oblast and local
levels. Despite the extensive assault on corrupt practices in Uzbekistan
during the 1980s, at independence the political economy of the republic
remained heavily informed by the culture and practices that developed
in the Soviet years.1
INDEPENDENCE AND REFORM
Since independence, the main characteristic of economic policy in
Uzbekistan has been a high degree of government direction, intended
officially to provide a cushion for the social dislocation brought about
by the introduction of market-oriented reforms. In fact, more often, this
policy agenda has been a thinly veiled disguise for the preservation of
autocratic political control and the continuation (and often expansion)
of state-based corruption.
At the official level, the Uzbek model of economic development has
been identified as consisting of five major principles. First, the economy
has supposedly been given priority over politics, and thus there has been
a de-ideologisation of external and domestic economic relations.
Second, the state is identified as the main source of reform. Third, the
preservation of law and order and the supremacy of the law are given a

70 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

strong emphasis. Fourth, the Uzbek model stresses the provision of an
extensive system of social protection for the population from the harsh
consequences of economic reform. Finally, an evolutionary transition to
a free market is envisaged. In fact, with the possible exceptions of the
preservation of social policies from the Soviet era and the leading role of
the state, the Uzbek economy rarely approaches any of the elements
identified as the stated aims of economic development.
The government’s gradualist approach to economic and structural
reform in Uzbekistan did little to raise the performance of the national
economy in the first years of independence. The World Bank estimates
that there was a fall in real GDP of 15% between 1992 and 1994. The
sectors most affected were construction and industry, which faced
severe problems in receiving necessary supplies from other states of the
former Soviet Union (FSU). Although these figures are high, they fall
below the average output decline in the rest of the FSU.
In the early years of independence, a major challenge facing
Uzbekistan was rising inflation. After 1991, hyperinflation quickly took
hold of the Uzbekistani economy. In 1992 inflation reached 520% and
in 1993 1,100%. Uzbekistan left the Moscow dominated rouble zone in
November 1993 and introduced its own transitional national currency,
the Som-coupon. In July 1994 the new national currency (the Som) was
introduced. IMF data suggests that in the early years of independence
there was little progress in bringing inflation under control. Inflation at
the end of 1994 stood at 1,232.8%. Following the introduction of the
Som, however, the government gradually raised the official exchange
rate so that it was close to the black market rate. Slowly inflation was
brought under control such that by the spring of 1998 the monthly
inflation figure stood at about 2.4% (giving an annual level of 32.9%).
With the Uzbekistani economy making slow progress in the early years
of independence, in 1994 President Karimov sought to accelerate the
reform process. On 21 January the President issued a major decree ‘On
Measures for Further Deepening Economic Reforms, Providing for the
Protection of Private Property and for the Development of
Entrepreneurship’. Seen at the time as a turning point for economic
reform in the country, the decree bolstered the power of the state to
promote economic reform. An inter-ministerial committee on economic
reform, entrepreneurship and foreign investment was established, there
was an expansion of the powers of the privatisation committee to
include aspects of private sector development. In addition, stock,
housing and commodity exchanges were planned, permission for
persons to hold foreign currency accounts was granted, import duties

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 71

were eliminated for one year and a state insurance company capable of
guaranteeing foreign investments was established.
The introduction in 1994 of a comprehensive reform programme,
which was supported by the President, had important consequences for
the Uzbekistani economy. By the end of 1995 inflation fell to around
10% per month. The small amount of data available suggests that during
this period the government was maintaining a restrictive monetary
policy in accordance with the IMF demands. The Central Bank cut
interest rates as inflation fell, but ensured that rates remained positive in
real terms. Official figures released at the beginning of 1996 suggested
that GDP declined by just 1% in 1995, with real industrial output rising
by 0.2%.
The nature and pace of reform, however, was criticised by the IMF.
Despite the changes of 1994, it was only in 1995 that anything
approaching a coherent stabilisation package began to appear in
Uzbekistan. A particular point of criticism was the mixed performance
of structural reform. The IMF was worried by Uzbekistan’s failure to
restructure enterprises and the way in which privatisation was
conducted.
One area that the IMF identified for praise in Uzbekistan was the
withdrawal of state subsidies. In response to Russia’s decision to
introduce price liberalisation on 2 January 1992, prices for basic
foodstuffs in Uzbekistan were capped and subsidies to certain sectors
were doubled in an effort to soften the blow. The World Bank estimated
that consumer subsidy and enterprise credits amounted to at least 21% of
GDP in 1993. By the middle of 1994, however, many of the subsidies
that had existed for food, utilities, housing, transport and energy had
been removed.
While supporting price liberalisation, the IMF was critical of the way
that economic policy was developed. In particular, the IMF questioned
the independence of the Central Bank and called on the President to
reduce ‘administrative interventions’ in the economy. Nevertheless, by
the end of 1995 the Uzbek economy appeared to be making progress
and foreign investors grew more optimistic about the prospects for
economic development. In 1996, however, many of the problems that
the IMF and other international organisations had identified within the
Uzbek economy became acute causing major economic problems.
In 1995 the disastrous domestic cotton harvest and low world prices
for the commodity led the Uzbek leadership to impose foreign exchange
controls and to begin to print money, thereby stoking up inflation once
again. The heavy-handed actions of the government led the IMF to

72 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

suspend a $185 million standby loan on 19 December 1996 on the
grounds that Uzbekistan had missed its inflation targets. The imposition
of tight state controls over currency transactions caused severe
problems for foreign firms operating in Uzbekistan and foreign
investment slowed to a trickle.
The problems associated with the crisis in state finances effectively
spelled the end of the limited economic reforms that had hitherto been
introduced in Uzbekistan. A strong critic of the more radical economic
transitions attempted among the other ex-Soviet republics, President
Karimov justified freezing market reforms in late 1996 for fear of
sparking unrest among the population. During 1997 and 1998 the Uzbek
government failed to launch significant economic change in the country
as political issues and control over Uzbek society increasingly became
the central focus of the ruling elite.
The government remained resistant to pressure to restructure and
privatise enterprises and postponed privatisation in the oil and gas
sectors. By 1998, the government remained reluctant to conclude an
agreement on a standby loan facility with the IMF in the face of
conditions requiring a move towards currency convertibility. The
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the US
Commerce Department criticised the government for creating a difficult
business environment.
Equally, there was little indication that the government would launch
the critical structural reforms urgently needed by the economy. The
state continued to dominate all sectors of the economy through a range
of direct and indirect methods. The poor quality and deliberate official
distortion of state statistics suggests that many of the government’s
claims regarding apparent successes in reducing inflation and improving
trade may be exaggerated. The country remains perilously dependent
upon the sale of cotton to world markets at advantageous prices. The
problems of the Uzbek economy are concentrated in six particular
areas:
ECONOMIC INSTITUTIONS
A central problem for Uzbekistan has been the lack of the developed
institutional infrastructure necessary for the management and successful
operation of a market economy. In response to the new demands of
macro and micro-economic management, some efforts were initially
undertaken to create appropriate new structures. Given the strong
culture of state intervention in the economy, high levels of

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 73

corruption and personalised rule, as well as the, at best, semi-marketised
nature of the Uzbekistani economy, establishing new institutional
arrangements has proved particularly difficult. Personal networks,
contacts and families ties have come to substitute for independent and
strong institutions.
Although Uzbekistan supports an elaborate structure of economics
and finance ministries, the President and his Council are the locus for
all major economic decisions. Uzbekistan’s economic priorities are set
out in a series of books and speeches produced by President Karimov,
although usually written by his advisors and researchers, such as Don’t’
Knock Down The Old House Before You Have Built The New One,
Along The Road Of Deepening Reform, Uzbekistan On The Threshold Of
The Twenty-first Century. The Ministry of finance develops the state
budget, exercises financial supervision of enterprises and manages all
inter-governmental credit agreements and international financial
institutions and oversees foreign currency loans to enterprises. The
Ministry oversees external debt servicing and manages re-payments.
The Central Bank is supposedly subordinated only to parliament. In
fact, it is the government that in practice controls the Bank. The ability
of the Central Bank to make independent decisions has been frequently
called into question, as has its ability to control the banking sector in the
country. In 1994, a banking reform was launched. A two-tier system
was established consisting of the Central Bank and about 30
commercial banks. The main aim of the reform was to restrict the
availability of credit to enterprises, a major source of inflation. The poor
supervision of the commercial sector by the Central Bank has frequently
undermined this aim and the continuing access to cheap credit has
weakened the process of enterprise privatisation.
The failure to foster independent economic institutions has ensured
that all aspects of the economy remain subordinated to the priorities and
directives of the President. This environment has prevented the
emergence of autonomous centres for economic decision-making and the
creation of mechanisms for investment driven by economic efficiency.
Instead, even the commercial banking sector has been tied to the state
system and banks allocate credit to priority sectors as identified by the
government.
The lack of autonomous economic institutions means that while
Uzbekistan has important visible elements of a market economy (the
large markets for foodstuffs in each town for example) it is
impossible to talk of a significant market-based private sector in
Uzbekistan. All economic activity remains hinged upon the Uzbek state

74 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

and key figures in the ruling elite. Government control of the local
judges and courts means that there is little or no protection from state
intrusion into economic activity. Even the policies of privatisation have
failed to foster the establishment of the autonomous business
organisations at the heart of market economies.
PRIVATISATION
Initially, the government of Uzbekistan appeared to be pursuing the
development of the private sector in Uzbekistan through policies of
privatisation. The government adopted a gradual privatisation with the
law ‘On Denationalisation and Privatisation’ passed in November 1991
providing the basis for the process. To support the privatisation drive,
the Committee for the Management of State Property (GKI) was
established in February 1992. In stage one of privatisation, the GKI
undertook the disposal of housing, agriculture and the retail sector. In
1994–95, stage two of the privatisation process was begun with over 5,
000 enterprises to be privatised.
The pace of privatisation accelerated in March 1994 with the decree
‘On Top Priority Directions for Further Development of
Denationalisation and Privatisation’. At the same time, President
Karimov announced that the state would no longer finance insolvent
enterprises. By the end of 1994, the GKI estimated there to be 67,660
enterprises in Uzbekistan of which 20,758 were state enterprises and 46,
902 private or privatised. In February 1995, President Karimov claimed
that privatisation had been very successful and that 100,000 firms, or
67% of state firms, and most of the workforce were in the private
sector. Privatisation, however, has only enjoyed very limited success
with various enterprises still under the influence of central or local
government to significant degrees.
Since the mid-1990s the privatisation programme has slowed
considerably. In 1998 the government planned to privatise 346 stateowned firms. But in many cases the state retained a sizeable or
controlling stake. In May 1998 the government announced that the
privatisation of the oil and gas sectors was being postponed. Given the
slow rate of privatisation, many insolvent firms have continued to
function supported by the state. However, even where privatisation has
been carried out the results are often far from favourable for the new
owners.
Critically, the state has retained strategic stakes in most enterprises.
State control over credit facilities, exchange controls, price formation

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 75

and the activities of various bureaucratic agencies (principally the tax
inspectorate) has ensured that even nominally private enterprises
operate in a tightly state-defined framework. Shareholders have no
influence over firms. Privatisation has been heavily influenced by
contacts to the government and has frequently served as the basis for the
construction of networks of political patronage. Associates of the
government and their families staff the most profitable firms.
Monopolies are unregulated and serve as the basis for rent seeking rather
than raising production or efficiency.
FINANCES
In 1992, Uzbekistan ran a fiscal debt of 11% of GDP. In 1993 the debt
fell to 9% and in 1993 to 4.8%. In the early years of independence the
government had problems controlling spending because credit was
made available to enterprises and the government sought to maintain
public expenditure in the social and cultural sectors. As Uzbekistan
began to abide by the IMF conditions, government spending appeared to
be brought under control. In May 1996 it was announced that
Uzbekistan had posted a deficit-free budget for the first quarter of the
year. Initially, Uzbekistan’s external debt remained small relatively, as
it did not inherit the debt of the former Soviet Union, which became the
responsibility of the Russian Federation at independence. In mid-1994,
the total external debt stood at about $700m. The economic crisis that
afflicted the economy from 1996 onwards has, however, placed severe
strain on the debt situation in Uzbekistan.
Facing difficulties raising external credit because of the failure to
conclude an agreement with the IMF, the Uzbek authorities have sought
to keep the fiscal accounts close to balance by running up wage and
pension arrears, forcing loans from local banks, and retaining a tight
grip on local enterprises and their exports. The Economist Intelligence
Unit (EIU) estimates that the consolidated fiscal deficit in the country is
running at about 3%, but with wage arrears and unpaid taxes the deficit
is considerably higher.2
Given the poor state of government finances, the trade situation has
become critical. In the early years of independence Uzbekistan did not
appear to experience a major deterioration in its balance of trade and in
1994 a small trade surplus was posted. According to the Ministry of
Foreign Economic Relations, the 1995 trade balance was in surplus
to the tune of $293 million, with exports at $1.89bn and imports at $1.

76 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

6bn. The heavy reliance on cotton exports, however, has meant that
Uzbekistan’s trade balance is at the mercy of the world cotton markets.
The poor cotton harvest and fall in world prices for cotton in 1995–
96 caused severe problems in balancing trade flows. Data for the first
months of 1998 point to falling levels of exports and imports, although
trade data are generally scarce. The fall in world prices for ferrous and
non-ferrous metals has also hit exports. The EIU predicts a trade deficit
in 1998 of $130 million rising to $220 in 1999.3 The trade deficit is,
however, managed by a steadily depreciating national currency, which
prices imports out of the local market.
Given the problems with government finances, lack of international
credit and poor trade figures, the Uzbek government is running a
significant current account deficit. The EIU has predicted a worsening of
the current account deficit to around $280 million in 1998 and 1999.4
Although the current account deficit is significant, it is anticipated that
it will remain manageable as long as there is no collapse in exports,
particularly cotton exports.
AGRICULTURE
Agriculture forms the backbone of the Uzbekistani economy and
although the country consists of over 60% arid or semi-arid steppe,
Uzbekistan also has a number of highly fertile regions. Due to the
significance of agriculture, developing the sector effectively will be a
key component to reform of the Uzbek economy. In 1994, agriculture
accounted for 44% of GDP. The single most important crop in
Uzbekistan is cotton. Uzbekistan is the fourth largest producer of seed
cotton and the second largest exporter of cotton in the world. It is also
the largest producer of silk and karakul pelts in the FSU. Other
important products include wheat, rice, tobacco and fruits, and
vegetables. Despite the large share of agriculture in the economy,
Uzbekistan is not self-sufficient. A large portion of foodstuffs are
imported, including wheat 66%, meat 30%, milk 25%, and potatoes
50%.
The form of agriculture inherited from the Soviet era, with its
reliance on the extensive use of land, water and chemicals (fertilisers
and pesticides) has been particularly damaging to the environment.
Uzbekistan has a large but inefficient irrigation system to provide water
for cotton production, and it is this system that has lain at the heart of
the problems of the Aral Sea and the over use of water supplies.
Irrigating the cotton monoculture has overstretched water resources in

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 77

the region leading to the desiccation of the Aral Sea, which has shrunk
from the world’s fourth largest inland lake to the ninth largest and now
has only a quarter of its 1960 volume. It is predicted that the lake will
disappear entirely early in the next century. The saline dust, industrial
wastes, pesticides and fertilisers that have poisoned the remaining
subsurface and surface waters, land and air in the region, compound the
environmental problems associated with cotton production.
In an attempt to decrease environmental pollution, ameliorate the
problems around the Aral Sea, a policy of shifting agriculture
production to grain has been introduced. The shift to grain production was
also intended to change Uzbekistan’s dependence on the importation of
foodstuffs and help redress the balance of payments problem. The 1995grain harvest was put by the authorities at 2.7m tons, an improvement
on the 1994 harvest but still well below the official target of 3.3m tons.
Since 1990, the area sown for grain has increased from 1.010m ha to 1.
529m ha.
Despite the poor initial harvests, President Karimov persisted with
the view that Uzbekistan should be self-sufficient in food. As a result,
the area given over to grain is forecast to rise further. In 1998, the
outlook for grain production was better than at anytime since the policy
of cereal self-sufficiency was launched in 1995. Up to 1.6m ha have
been devoted to grain production. The 1998 harvest may be as high as 3.
6m tonnes for wheat and 100,000 tonnes of barley.
Cotton production continues to be of critical importance to
Uzbekistan. The area devoted to cotton remains constant at 1.5m ha.
Cotton production has now fallen steadily since reaching a high of 5.
365m tons in 1988. Since 1995, the cotton crop has consistently fallen
below target, causing severe problems for the whole economy.
Although recent years have seen a rise in the cotton harvest from the
disastrous yields of 1995–96, most regions have failed to reach their
production targets. In 1998, the cotton harvest was again below the
plan, this time by up to 12%.5 The worst hit region has been
Karakalpakstan, which has suffered from dwindling water resources.
Although the Uzbek strategy is to decrease steadily cotton production,
the fortunes of the whole economy will continue to hinge upon the
cotton harvest for some years. Raising the quality and productivity
of the cotton crop would greatly assist the prospects of successfully
restructuring the rest of the economy.
One of the most important changes for agriculture has been the
abolition of state farms and their conversion to co-operative enterprises.
Members of the new collectives do not have the right to sell their

78 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

shares. Some private farms have developed. In 1994 there were 10,408,
and there have been plans for a significant expansion of the numbers of
private farms. Often the end of the collective farm structure has made
little difference to the management of agriculture land since the former
networks of power retain a tenacious grip on the rural population.
The percentage of land available for private farming by the farm
workers has risen significantly (110,000 ha before 1991 to 630,000 ha
in 1994). Land itself is not privatised, although agricultural land can be
traded within the Mahalla, and land attached to an enterprise can be
sold with that enterprise. In a speech on 24 December 1997 President
Karimov ruled out the complete privatisation of land, arguing that the
cotton sector could not operate using private land. A principal problem
of the agricultural sector in Uzbekistan has been the failure to
modernise the food processing industry to produce better quality goods
and provide safe and convenient packaging.
MINING, ENERGY AND INDUSTRY
Uzbekistan has extensive mineral reserves. The development of mining
and the processing of minerals and metals have been identified as major
priorities by the government. Uzbekistan has 30 gold deposits and ranks
eighth in the world in terms of gold processing. Close to 70 tons of gold
are extracted annually. There are also important deposits of other
important non-ferrous metals, including copper, lead, zinc, tungsten and
lithium.
Metals production in Uzbekistan has risen steadily in recent years,
particularly in the gold sector. The Newport-Zarafshan joint venture has
reversed the slide in gold production. Other metals such as copper,
silver and non-ferrous metals are also being produced in increasing
amounts. The export of metals has emerged as a critical element of
Uzbek trade with the rest of the world, second only to cotton production.
Uzbekistan also has important reserves of hydrocarbons and the
government has pursued a policy of becoming self-sufficient in fuel
with some success. There have been no significant imports of oil
since 1994 and none since 1995. The refining industry has also
performed well, raising production steadily over recent years. Oil
production has risen but now appears to be levelling off. Domestic oil
prices remain low reflecting the government’s policy of subsidising the
domestic economy.
Uzbekistan ranks 10th in the world in terms of gas extraction. Gas
production has also risen in recent years, although not at the same pace

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 79

as the increase in oil output. In 1994, about 48bn cubic meters of gas
were produced. By 1997 production had reached 51.2bn cu metres. If
gas is to be exported in serious volumes, however, investment in a
modern infrastructure including gas pipelines and refineries will be
required. Uzbekistan has also faced serious difficulties in obtaining
payment for the gas exported to neighbouring states (4.9bn cubic metres
in 1996). In recent years, supplies to Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan have been reduced or cut off due to none payment.
The oil and gas sector has been very attractive to foreign investors,
and France and Japan have agreed to provide $200m to finance the
modernisation of the Bukhara refinery, which is being undertaken by
Technip of France. Unlike Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan does not plan to
become a major exporter of oil but rather achieve self-sufficiency.
Foreign investment is to finance the development of the Mingbulak and
Kokdumalak fields as a way to lift total output. By 2000–2010 it is
planned that annual production will reach 9m tons.
Industry in Uzbekistan is largely confined to light industry. Despite
the importance of cotton and silk production, only a small percentage of
the fibres are processed domestically. Uzbekistan relies heavily on
textile imports. The development of an indigenous textile industry has
been given high priority. The importance of the agricultural sector is
reflected in the fact that a significant part of industrial activity is
concerned with agro-industrial production; agricultural machinery and
fertilisers.
An important new departure for the domestic economy is the
production of small trucks and cars, and diesel engine buses. A number
of foreign firms have established production facilities in Uzbekistan and
the country is set to become a regional centre for the automotive sector.
In 1995, Daimler-Benz expanded vehicle production in Uzbekistan and
in March 1996, Daewoo opened a plant in Tashkent, which will
eventually produce 30,000 cars and vans annually.
Tourism has considerable potential because of the country’s unique
historical sites. The lack of an adequate infrastructure of transport,
hotels and recreation facilities, however, means that the potential of
tourism has yet to be fulfilled. Like almost all sectors of the Uzbek
economy, the success of tourism will be dependent on foreign
involvement. The poor general climate for investment in the country
has, however, discouraged extensive developments in the tourist
industry.

80 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

INTERNATIONAL FINANCE AND INVESTMENT
External capital, whether private or public, could play a decisive role in
the economic fortunes of Uzbekistan. A number of western firms have
made sizeable investments in Uzbekistan. Daewoo has invested nearly
$450 million in its car factories, while British American Tobacco has
begun the production of cigarettes at a number of sites and plans the
construction of new manufacturing facilities. Other important western
firms are active in the mining, energy and telecommunications sectors.
The activity of foreign firms has been underpinned by financial
assistance and guarantees provided by foreign governments. In April
1995, the Uzbekistan government received credit from the ExportImport Bank of Japan for the development of Kokdumalak oil and gas
field, while in June 1995 Germany provided DM 240m for the
renovation of Tashkent airport. A range of other large projects has
received backing from the international financial community.
Large international organisations have provided the final layer of
assistance for market reforms and investment, offering finance for
individual sectors of the economy and also for macro-economic
projects. The World Bank initially extended credit worth $160 million
to establish a stabilisation fund for the Uzbekistani national currency
and the Economic Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
has provided finance to develop the local telecommunications sector. In
February 1995, the World Bank, IMF, OECD and EBRD announced an
international assistance programme to deliver over $900m to Uzbekistan
over the following two years ($300m for balance of payments support,
$45m for technical assistance and $580m for financing investments and
export loans).
In December 1995, the IMF approved a $259m credit to Uzbekistan
designed to continue market reforms. This figure consisted of the
second tranche, of $74m, of its $144m Systemic Transformation
Facility, the first instalment had been made available in January
1995, and $185m to function as a 15-month stand-by loan. Uzbekistan
also sought to attract other sources of international finance and in
September 1995 Uzbekistan became an official member of the Asia
Development Bank.
Since 1996, the shift in economic policy in Uzbekistan has undermined the international programmes of assistance. Foreign private
investment has also reduced significantly. In early 1998, negotiations
with the IMF to establish a new stabilisation package were fruitless.
Negotiations have foundered on Uzbekistan’s reluctance to reverse its

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 81

anti-reformist path. In particular, the government refuses to make the
Som convertible and thereby abandon the system of multiple exchange
rates. The government currently grants licences for favoured firms to
gain access to hard currency. Other firms are usually forced to seek
currency through the black market. The government is also reluctant to
commit itself to trade liberalisation.
Reflecting the model of economic development that is currently in
operation in Uzbekistan, the value of the Som has declined steadily over
recent years. There appear to be no plans to alter the balance of
economic priorities to make the national currency internationally
tradable. Talking at a business conference on 6–7 November 1997 in
London, the Uzbek Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov, made it clear that full
convertibility will not occur in the near future. The Prime Minister
noted that the government needed to marshal hard currency for the
reconstruction of the country. With this set of priorities, the government
wants to control spending patterns thereby preventing expenditure by
the mass of the population on consumer goods.
Given the problems that the government has experienced with
international financial institutions, obtaining international credits has
proved difficult. In the early part of 1998 Uzbek officials raised the
prospect of issuing a sovereign Eurobond but little progress has been
made on this front. The poor economic fundamentals in the country and
lack of transparency mean that the country is unlikely to gain a
favourable credit rating, particularly following the financial crisis in
Asia and the Russian Federation. Despite these problems, international
institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank
continue to lend money to Uzbekistan for infrastructure, environmental
and health projects and export guarantee agencies in Europe and the US
provide loan assistance for the purchase of imports.6
SOCIAL BACKGROUND
Like other Central Asian states, the necessity of creating a dynamic and
expanding economy is made more acute by the deteriorating social
situation in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s population, which is the largest in
Central Asia (23 million), is settled around the major oasis settlements
of the region (Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva) and the fertile
region of the Fergana Valley. Sixty percent of the population lives in
densely populated rural areas.
In the final decades of the Soviet Union, the population of Uzbekistan
began to grow rapidly. A traditional culture and government sponsored

82 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

pro-natalist policies helped to push population growth to 2.5% per
annum. Despite Soviet policies that aimed to draw the rapidly rising
Uzbek population from the rural areas to the towns and cities, the
villagers largely remained confined to the countryside. As a result of the
growth of population and high levels of hidden unemployment, the
countryside began to experience increasing pressure on land and water
resources.
Since independence, the social pressures in the countryside have
increased significantly as population growth has continued and the state
has struggled to provide welfare assistance to the population. Official
figures identify approximately 44,000 registered unemployed (0.5% of
the workforce) with a further 400,000 ‘looking for work’. In fact, the
actual number of unemployed is far higher because of hidden
unemployment in the countryside. In many rural areas, particularly the
densely populated Fergana Valley, social pressures caused by the rising
population and poverty threaten to cause unrest.
In Uzbekistan a large section of the population is below the age of 19
years, with the average age being 23.9 years. Young men in rural areas
are particularly vulnerable to the social dislocation caused by the new
economic conditions. In 1989 and 1990, ethnic conflict flared in the
Fergana Valley as tension engendered by a struggle for resources came
to a head between different groups. The minority Meskhetian
population, which had managed to achieve relative economic success by
occupying key economic niches in the regional economy, became the
subject of violent attack by young Uzbek men frustrated by their poor
prospects. The conflagration quickly transformed into an ethnic riot,
forcing most of the Meskhetians to flee Uzbekistan. Unless the
government is able to create the jobs and opportunities that will absorb
the increasing population, the state will be required to
employ increasing levels of coercion to control the population or will
face increasing social unrest and conflict.
Rising levels of poverty are also contributing to increasing problems
of criminality in Uzbekistan. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union,
Uzbekistan has emerged as an important transhipment route for
Southwest Asian narcotics heading for Russia and Europe.7 While the
government continues to profess its commitment to the fight against
drugs, it made, virtually no progress on counter narcotics legislation in
1997. Nevertheless, Uzbekistan’s various law enforcement agencies
seized 2.5 million metric tons of illicit drugs in 1997, roughly threequarters of it opium. The problems of preventing the growth of drugs

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 83

production and trade are hampered by corruption within the Customs
Service and the Ministry of the Interior.
CONCLUSION
Since 1991, Uzbekistan has pursued a sporadic economic reform but
throughout the period of independence the government has been
reluctant to release economic performance data for the economy. In the
early post-Soviet years Uzbekistan appeared to have weathered the
transition period better than many of the other former Soviet republics.
According to official Uzbek statistics, the recession saw GDP decline
by 18% between 1991 and 1995, in Kazakhstan the equivalent was 55.
9% and in Kyrgyzstan it was 54.5%. By the end of 1996, Uzbekistan
claimed to have $6 billion in cumulative foreign direct investment.
Economic reform while slow was proceeding and in the middle of 1995
Uzbekistan acceded to the demands of the IMF structural adjustment
programme. By the end of 1995 there was some evidence that the
stabilisation programme was beginning to work with monthly inflation
into single digits and the fall in production slowing. At the time, the
IMF forecast a small decline in real GDP in 1996 and growth of 1% in
1997.
In 1996, however, the balance of payments problems caused by a poor
cotton harvest quickly developed into a far more deep-seated economic
crisis. It has been suggested that the balance of payments problem was
converted into a full-blown crisis by the policies of the Uzbek
government.8 Subsequently, economic development in Uzbekistan has
followed a new direction, one that has seen the Uzbek economy face
increasing difficulties. The new model of economic development that
emerged from 1996 onwards has faced criticism from the international
community.
The change of direction may not have been simply a result of the
crisis of 1996 but an assertion of the underlying logic of the political
economy that has operated in Uzbekistan from the very instigation of
the independence. Apostolou has cast doubt upon the claim that
Uzbekistan weathered the early years of independence better than its
Central Asian neighbours. In particular, he challenges the notion that
through a programme of gradual state-guided economic reform,
Uzbekistan was able to avoid the severe output collapses of the rest of
the former USSR.
Instead, Apostolou suggests that from the beginning the Uzbekistan
model has seen investment directed by the state into priority sectors

84 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

without regard to comparative advantage or export potential, an
investment strategy not dissimilar to that of the former Soviet Union.
Success in the earlier years of Uzbek independence was achieved not
because of an economic model but because the Uzbeks were able to
boost cotton (47.8% of exports 1992–96) and gold production (16% of
exports 1992–96) and sell on world markets for hard currency.
Both of these boosts to Uzbekistan ended in 1996 when world cotton
and then world gold prices slid. The failure of the cotton crop in 1996
made the situation worse, there was less cotton to sell and at a lower
price. The government’s repeated failure to achieve self-sufficiency in
cereal production meant that large grain imports were necessitated,
further raising the import bill. Together this produced a balance of
payments crisis. On 19 December 1996 the IMF suspended its loan.
Apostolou concludes that ‘Uzbekistan’s policy mix is not original, is
not reformist and not a model. The combination of exchange controls
and import substitution have been tried and failed in developing
countries for over thirty years.’9 The economy as a whole, remains
fragile and heavily dependent on agricultural production. The Uzbeks
have also adopted policies of import substitution in some sectors—gas
and oil.
Apostolou’s views have received support from an IMF research paper
that explores the issue of The Uzbek Growth Puzzle’.10 In the paper
Zettelmeyer finds that the mildness of the economic transition in
Uzbekistan can be accounted for by the low level of initial
industrialisation, its cotton production, and its self sufficiency in
energy. While the report agrees that Uzbekistan has experienced a
relatively small economic decline, Zettelmeyer concludes that ‘it is
unlikely that the government’s public investment program and import
substitution strategy…has played an important role in achieving
Uzbekistan’s favourable output performance’.11 That is, Uzbekistan’s
economic performance did not occur because, but in spite of government
policies. Moreover, if one moves beyond pure output measures of
economic activity, Zettelmeyer argues that Uzbekistan could have
achieved far better performance in the sphere of consumer choice and
environmental improvements and the creation of a more developed
private sector.
Despite strong criticism from many outside experts, the government
of Uzbekistan has continued with its economic plans. Recent official
reports suggest that in the first nine months of 1998 GDP increased by 4.
4%, industrial output rose by 6.1% and agriculture output by 4.9%.
Capital investment is reported to have risen by 13.1% and services by

ECONOMY AND SOCIETY 85

12.4%. The budget deficit is also on target.12 While such statistics
should be treated with extreme caution, the official version of economic
development has led some to conclude that the Uzbekistani economy is
performing relatively well even though reform has been very limited.13
Despite the slow pace of economic change, there have been some
important improvements in the Uzbek economy. Infrastructure in some
sectors, notably air transport, has been improved. Telecommunications
have also been upgraded, largely with assistance from foreign partners.
Important investment has taken place in the energy and minerals sectors.
External investment in the automotive and tobacco sectors has also had
an important symbolic value. Since independence, some elements of the
management of the economy have improved and fiscal discipline has
tightened. The country’s large natural resource base also promises to
provide an important stimulus for economic development, if managed in
an appropriate fashion.
Much of the early success has, however, been threatened by
Karimov’s reluctance to end Soviet-style controls. The expansion of
state involvement in the economy after 1996 has scared off all but the
most patient—and rich—foreign investors. The economy has continued
to be heavily distorted by state intervention. The government is almost
obsessive in its desire to control the country and the economy and
continues to intervene in areas such as the lucrative foreign trade sector
and in the management of enterprises.
The actions of the government create a difficult business
environment for foreign firms in Uzbekistan and for Uzbekistani firms
seeking to export or import goods. Firms have found that the
government’s control over foreign currency transactions causes
particular problems. While the current situation does not always prevent
investment by large international companies such as Lonrho, Newmont,
BAT and Daewoo, which are undeterred by the autocratic political
regime, the extensive barriers to economic activity have discouraged
small and medium size businesses, which generally employ more
people. The reluctance of foreign investors to engage with the Uzbek
economy has left the country dependent upon the system of commodity
production imposed upon them by their old imperial masters.
While Uzbekistan has been resistant to agreeing to a new IMF
programme, the prospect of good cotton harvests, and rising production
in minerals and metals means that the country is to some extent
sheltered from the problems facing other former Soviet economies. The
rising fiscal deficit may, however, be a problem that will require
international assistance. The current strategy of financing the deficit

86 ECONOMY AND SOCIETY

from internal revenue sources is unlikely to provide more than a shortterm solution, while the financial crisis in Russia may also place
increased pressure upon government finances.
In the long term, the prospects for the Uzbek economy appear
unpromising, although certain sectors may well prosper. The Uzbek
form of economic development remains highly vulnerable to
fluctuations in the world commodity prices. More damaging is the intertwining of political and economic actors in the Uzbek system.
Economic decisions are increasingly subordinated to political
requirements and as a result the economy is subject to high levels of
distortion. Economic policies are often intended to prevent individuals
building up an economic base that would permit a political challenge to
the President.
Like most other aspects of life in Uzbekistan, the economy and its
prospects are closely tied to the person of President Karimov. While
Karimov remains in undisputed control of the country the economy is
likely to be characterised by a broad but undynamic stability. Little is
being done, however, to foster the type of independent economic
activity that could weather political instability. Given the close intertwining of political patronage and business networks, any uncertainty
about the political future of the President is likely to translate quickly
into economic difficulties.
1 James Critchlow, ‘Corruption’, Nationalism, and the Native Elites in
Soviet Central Asia, The Journal of Communist Studies, vol. 4, no. 2
(June 1988), pp. 142–61 and Nancy Lubin, Labour and Nationality in
Soviet Central Asia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
2 EIU Country Report: Uzbekistan, (2nd Quarter 1998), p. 7.
3 EIU Country Report: Uzbekistan, (2nd Quarter 1998), p. 8.
4 EIU Country Report: Uzbekistan, (2nd Quarter 1998), p. 9.
5 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 224, part 1 (19 November 1998).
6 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 184, part 1 (23 September 1998) and RFE/
RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 123, part 1 (29 June 1998).
7 Andrew Apostolou, ‘The Mistake of the Uzbek Economic Model’ Central
Asia Monitor, no. 2 (1998), pp. 19–22.
8 Apostolou, Ibid., (1998), pp. 1–5.
9 Apostolou, Ibid., (1998), p. 3.
10 Jeromin Zettelmeyer, The Uzbek Growth Puzzle (IMF Working Paper
WP/98/133).
11 Zettelmeyer, Ibid., (1998), p. 31.
12 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 209, part 1 (29 October 1998).
13 RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 204, part 1 (21 October 1998).

87

Chapter 4
THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF
INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

INTRODUCTION
For centuries Central Asia was considered the heartland of the ancient
Asian world. Its pivotal geopolitical position allowed it to play a leading
role in the relations of the tribes and peoples of much of the Eurasian
landmass. In early history, the territories of contemporary Uzbekistan
were integrated with the political regimes and cultures to the south of
the country, forming the northern border of the Persian empire. Later
Central Asia became the southeastern frontier of the Mongol kingdom.
In the medieval period, the region served as the link between China and
Europe. During the nineteenth century, the territory of Central Asia was
the subject for competition between the external imperial powers of
Russia and Britain. In the contemporary period, some writers have
spoken of a new ‘Great Game’ being fought between Iran and Turkey
for influence in the region.
The submergence of Central Asia within the Russian Empire and then
the Soviet Union marked the end of the political regimes of the region
as independent actors in the international system. While the Central
Asian republics were presented as the Asian face of Soviet Communism,
and representatives from the region were included in Soviet delegations
visiting developing countries, Central Asia lacked any independent
capacity in the international arena. The historical role of the region as
the area that linked together diverse civilisations and societies was
ended and Central Asia was bound firmly to the territories to its north in
the Russian heartland.
In many ways, independence for Uzbekistan at the end of 1991 led to
a more fundamental change in external relations than in the spheres of
domestic political and economic policy. Overnight, Tashkent was
required to develop from the beginning a broad set of relations with the

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 89

external world. The emergence of Uzbekistan and the other Central
Asian states as independent actors in the international system has led to
fundamental shifts in the interaction of states around the world with the
region. The establishment of a web of external links has also been
critical for Uzbekistan in the difficult years since the collapse of the
Soviet state.
In seeking to develop a strong independent identity, Uzbekistan
assigned a critical role to fostering new ties in the international system.
Of particular significance was breaking free from Russian political,
military, cultural and economic dominance through the construction of a
variety of links to new partners. In the early years of independence there
was often a naivety and over-optimism about what could be achieved
through external policy. Uzbekistan was also hampered by the lack of
experienced personnel in foreign affairs. During the Soviet period, the
infrastructure of foreign relations was concentrated almost exclusively
in Moscow.
Tashkent’s initial approach to external relations was thus quickly
tempered by the realisation that despite the important mineral resources
of the region, Central Asia was not a leading priority for most of the
international community, particularly its most powerful members. The
focus on building relations with advanced industrial countries has
therefore had to be balanced by a more realistic appreciation of the
possibilities within the international system. Subsequent experience of
external relations has helped Uzbekistan to develop a far more realistic
and clearer set of goals than those outlined at independence. The initial
emphasis on economic priorities has also been qualified by concerns
about regional security.
Since independence, a complex set of interrelated factors has affected
Uzbekistani external policy. Frequently these factors appear
contradictory and cause problems for developing foreign policy. The
drive to build a state free from the colonial past and Russian influence
has meant that the Uzbekistani leadership has often promoted the
symbols of a Muslim and Turkic identity. Domestic pressures have
encouraged Uzbekistan to seek links to Islamic states and Turkey. At
the same time, the imperative of promoting economic development has
meant that Uzbekistan has looked to build good links with the West and
Asia. Despite the aim of fostering new external links, geopolitical and
security concerns have forced Uzbekistan to retain and sometimes
rebuild relations with Russia, although, as a result, this relationship has
been characterised by considerable fluctuation.

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While the consolidation of national independence has been the main
aim of Uzbek external policy, rather than the promotion of ideologies
such as Islam, communism or pan-Turkism, the nature of Uzbek
national interests has been far from clear or consistent. Domestic
factors, external political and economic requirements, environmental,
geopolitical and security concerns have all had an impact upon
the nature and direction of external ties at different times. On occasion,
Uzbekistan has presented simultaneously different faces to different
audiences. The Uzbek leadership has not been afraid to present its Asian
or Islamic side at the same time as promoting to the West an image of
the Uzbekistani state as secular, modernising and above all stable.
Uzbekistan has, therefore, followed a course that has sought to
balance seeking important economic contacts that will benefit the
country with fostering political alliances appropriate to the changing
geopolitical and security environment. In general terms, Tashkent has
proved fairly successful in positioning itself in respect to a range of
political alliances. Since independence, Tashkent has succeeded in
building a positive political relationship to the United States and
distancing itself from the Russian Federation to a high degree.
Recently, however, the escalation of a series of issues relating to Uzbek
security, particularly Afghanistan and the rise of political Islam in the
region, have prompted Uzbekistan to seek a renewed but limited
relationship with Russia.
The diverse range of factors driving Uzbek policy with the outside
world has also meant that the country has conducted its external policy
at a variety of levels. While bilateral relations have provided the core of
Uzbekistan’s relationship with other states, Tashkent has also joined a
number of inter-state organisations. Uzbekistan operates within the
context of a broader region where a complex set of issues that include
the exploitation of oil and gas reserves, ethnic and religious conflict,
and environmental issues, transcend state borders. The range of
different contexts within which Uzbekistan external policy must operate
means that it is important to consider at least four dimensions of external
ties: with states in Central Asia; with regional powers; with the broader
world, and; with interstate organisations.
UZBEKISTAN IN CENTRAL ASIA
Since independence, Uzbekistan has emerged as one of the leading
powers in Central Asia (along with Kazakhstan). Historically, the
territories and peoples of contemporary Uzbekistan played a leading

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 91

role in the international life of Central Asia. Transoxiana was long
considered the core of Central Asia, the location for the once powerful
empires and important civilisations that dominated the region. The
economic and cultural preeminence of the settled populations of
this region translated into military and political power in Central Asia as
a whole. The rise to dominance in the sixteenth century of Uzbek tribal
groupings in Transoxiana and the creation of powerful khanates in the
eighteenth century further extended this tradition.
Under Soviet rule, the territories of Uzbekistan were again assigned a
leading role in Central Asia as a whole. Situated in the middle of Central
Asia, Uzbekistan was central to Soviet domination of the region. From
the very beginning, Uzbekistan was designed by Moscow planners to be
the anchor for the rest of Soviet Central Asia. The legacy of the national
delimitation of 1924–5 and its presumption of distinct ethnic identities
has meant that the Uzbeks have the most developed national identity in
the region. During national delimitation Uzbekistan gained the leading
historic centres of Central Asia (including most of the territory of the
three former khanates) and Tashkent emerged under Soviet rule as the
leading city of Central Asia. The creation of the Uzbek Republic in the
1920s, thus, paved the way for the emergence of the Uzbek nation as the
most populous and important Central Asia community. Throughout the
Soviet period, Uzbekistan was treated as the leading republic of Central
Asia.
While Uzbekistan operated as Moscow’s principal agent in Central
Asia, Soviet planners made sure that the republic did not grow too
powerful relative to its neighbours. Uzbekistan was firmly anchored
within the region and lacked significant borders with states
neighbouring the USSR, except for the short frontier with Afghanistan.
The reconfiguration of administrative borders within Central Asia, the
creation of overlapping ethnic and social networks, and the construction
of economic and infrastructure systems that straddled republican
borders further served to tie Uzbekistan firmly to the rest of the region.
Moscow (through the Communist Party and the all-union state
ministries) mediated the tensions engendered by the contradictions of
Soviet era arrangements in Central Asia. This arrangement helped to
perpetuate a leading role for the central institutions of the Soviet state.
The collapse of the Soviet system and the disappearance of Moscow as
a balancing force led to the emergence of a range of tensions in Central
Asia focused on Uzbekistan’s place in the regional order. The preeminence and influence of Uzbekistan has led other states of the region
to talk of ‘Uzbek chauvinism’. Since independence, a series of bilateral

92 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

agreements and multilateral regional institutions have attempted to
address many of the problems that have developed as a result of this
situation.
Relations between Uzbekistan and its immediate neighbours have
undergone a number of changes since the demise of the USSR. Broadly,
the development of relations has passed through four principal stages.
First, an idealistic commitment to regional co-operation following the
collapse of the Soviet state. Second, growing rivalry and competition
between the states of Central Asia. Third, the rise of forms of pragmatic
co-operation in response to a range of transborder issues in the area
(particularly conflict and tensions around natural resource problems).
Finally, a more complex set of relations based upon diverse patterns of
regional engagement and the re-emergence of a role for the Russian
Federation in Central Asia.
Since independence a range of regional issues has affected
Uzbekistan’s relationship with the other states in Central Asia.
Uzbekistan uniquely shares borders with all of the other Central Asian
republics, and following the collapse of the Soviet state borders have
acquired a new significance. The division of historically unified
territories, economic systems, water resources, and the creation of
diaspora populations have all been the source of regional tensions and
together have promoted attempts to foster bilateral and regional level coordination. Water and ethnic issues as well as energy supplies have in
particular been important factors in Uzbekistan’s external policies with
other Central Asian states.
Competition over water resources has been an especially significant
issue in the region. Central Asia forms a single large water basin. Since
the creation of independent states, management of the water resources
of this basin has been split among five separate bodies where once there
was one. Upstream and downstream problems have developed over
water usage, with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan controlling the sources of
much of the region’s water supply. In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan preventing the desiccation of the Aral Sea has been
important. The water crisis in Central Asia is not a crisis of quantity but
a crisis of distribution. Of the total water available in the Aral basin
about 87% is used for agricultural purposes, 10% for industrial use, and
3% for municipal purposes. Problems over water resources have forced
Uzbekistan to seek to negotiate interstate compacts and participate in a
number of regional and interstate organisations.
Uzbekistan is closely tied to all of its neighbours by ethnic bonds, not
least because Uzbekistan has important diaspora populations in the

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 93

other republics, particularly Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The rise of the
diaspora Uzbeks has frequently caused acute tension along the borders
with the two countries. In Uzbekistan, according to official figures the
Uzbeks comprise 77% of the population and the Tajiks represent 5%
(but 10–15 percent according to Tajik sources). Tajiks in Uzbekistan
constitute 20.5% of the total Tajik population of the former Soviet
Union. Equally significant is the large number of Uzbeks located in
Tajikistan.
In Tajikistan, the Tajiks account for 62% of the population and the
Uzbeks 24% (1.5 million according to Uzbek sources). Heavily Tajikpopulated areas in Uzbekistan (about 3 million Tajiks) are close to the
border with Tajikistan. Similarly the largely Uzbek-populated region in
Tajikistan is adjacent to the Uzbek border and constitutes the most
economically advanced part of Tajikistan. The Tajik minority feels
vulnerable in Uzbekistan and the Uzbeks have similar feelings in
Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is also home to a sizeable Slavic population, a
large section of which has looked to emigrate. The important links that
Uzbekistan has with other states of the region and the leading role that
Uzbekistan has sought to play in Central Asia has been crucially
affected by developments in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Tajikistan
One of Uzbekistan’s central foreign policy concerns has been the civil
war in Tajikistan. While the Uzbek authorities have frequently
characterised the conflict as one between Islamic fundamentalists and
ex-communists, Uzbek involvement has reflected the more complex
nature of civil war in the region. Uzbekistan has two principal interests
in Tajikistan. First, the Khojand region in the north of Tajikistan has a
large Uzbek minority closely tied to Uzbekistan—both culturally and
economically. Second, the emergence of an important Islamic political
movement in Tajikistan has been viewed with considerable alarm in
Tashkent.
The Khojand region traditionally dominated the politics of Tajikistan,
supplying the republic’s top leaders from the late 1930s until the
outbreak of the civil war. The close involvement of Uzbeks from this
region in the top politics of the republic helped offset any concerns that
the Uzbek minority might have about being located outside the borders
of the Uzbek Republic. The disintegration of the Tajik state in the early
1990s posed a threat to the balance of ethnic and political forces that

94 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

had been established in the area and threatened to destabilise the border
situation with Uzbekistan.
Alarmed about instability caused by the conflict in Tajikistan and
about possible secessionist movements among the Uzbeks of Tajikistan,
Tashkent has played an active role in seeking to protect the interests of
the Khojand region. In May 1992 Tashkent was pivotal in securing a
Khojand-Kulob political alliance as the Tajikistani state collapsed in the
face of conflict. This grouping emerged as the dominant factor in the
politics of Dushanbe, signaled by the election by the Tajik parliament of
President Rakhmonov in 1992. Uzbekistan also helped ensure that the
new grouping was backed with military support.
From 1992, however, the Kulobis staged a series of elections
culminating in the popular election of Rakhmonov as president, after
which they drove the representatives of the Khojand region (including
Uzbeks) from central and local political positions. Relations between
the Khojandis and Kulobis worsened as the former came to perceive of
themselves as subjects to discrimination.
Concerned by this development, Karimov began to support inclusion
of some elements of the opposition movement in a coalition
government, including the Islamic Renaissance Party, as a means to
weaken Kulob pre-eminence. In April 1995, Karimov met Akbar
Turajonzoda, the first deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition
(UTO), who had been the highest Islamic authority in Tajikistan until
his dismissal by the Dushanbe regime in 1993. The UTO began to
support the allocation of places to representatives from Khojand in the
peace negotiations and in any future government.
Even before the peace process was developed, however, the
Khojandis were becoming dissatisfied with the Kulobi political
administration, and in May 1996 and January 1997 anti-Kulob
demonstrations were held in several northern cities of Tajikistan.
Relations between the Tajik government and the representatives of the
Khulob region were further strained when a prison riot took place in
Khojand from 14–17 April 1997 and an assassination attempt was made
on Tajikistani President Imomali Rakhmonov while he was visiting the
region on 30 April 1997. Both of these events led to a crackdown in the
north of the country in 1997.
After prolonged negotiations followed by the conclusion of a ceasefire in December 1996, Rakhmonov and the leader of the UTO, Sayed
Abdullo Nuri, met in Moscow in late June 1997 to sign a General
Agreement on Peace and National Accord. Representatives of the
Khojand region were not included in the peace process. Stating that

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 95

there was no mechanism by which to enforce the Accord, Uzbekistan
was the only one of the eight guarantor states that refused to sign the
inter-Tajik agreement (the other states being Iran, Russian, Pakistan,
Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan). Two months
later, however, Uzbekistan changed its position and agreed to become a
guarantor of the peace process.
Alarm in Tashkent about the peace agreement reflected the fact that
the Khojand-based National Revival Movement (NRM) was excluded
from the peace process. The NRM is chaired by Tajikistan’s ex-prime
minister Adbumalik Abdullojanov and has the support of Tashkent.
Despite the importance of the Khojand region, particularly its economic
significance, the region was initially excluded from the peace settlement
and the leaders of the region became in effect an opposition to the
Rakhmonov government. In April 1998, the NRM again requested to be
included in the peace process but reportedly was denied access.
While relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have often been
tense because of Uzbekistan’s political support for the Khojand region,
friction has also stemmed from the suspicion that Tashkent has played a
more direct role in the events in Tajikistan. In October 1997 Tashkent was
linked to an armed uprising in western Tajikistan close to the border
with Uzbekistan. Reportedly, Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev led the
uprising. A member of the Central Committee of the Tajik Communist
Party and a former officer in the Soviet army, Mahmud Khudoiberdiev
is an important figure in Tajikistan. Khudoiberdiev is half Uzbek and
has strong support from the Uzbek community that makes up one third
of the population of Khojand. In February 1996 and August 1997 the
rebel commander also mounted rebellions. The commander’s main
areas of support are located in Kurgan-Tyube and Khojand regions. On
all occasions, Khudoiberdiev was reported to have invaded from camps
based inside Uzbekistan.
Relations between Dushanbe and Tashkent underwent a crisis in late
1998 as the result of a serious rebellion in northern Tajikistan. On 4
November Khudoiberdiev seized control of most of the north
of Tajikistan. Khudoiberdiev demanded from Dushanbe that no less
than 40 percent of jobs throughout the country’s government structure
should be given to natives of the north. Within a few days, the Tajik
authorities had managed to put the rebellion down and the rebel leader
fled. The International Red Cross reported that there were some 2,000
causalities.
Dushanbe believes that responsibility for planning the uprising lies
not only with Khudoiberdiev but also with Tajikistan’s former Prime

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Minister Abdulmalik Abdullajonov, and a number of other officials,
who live in Tashkent. They all originally hail from the northern districts
of Tajikista and are prominent in the opposition to the regime in
Dushanbe. Abdullajonov broke with the current rulers of Dushanbe
when he decided to run in the presidential elections against Rakhmonov
and he gained up to 93% of the votes in his native region.
The Tajikistani authorities also believe that Tashkent supported the
actions of Abdullajonov and Khudoiberdiev. Speaking to the Tajikistani
parliament in November 1998, President Rakhmonov accused the
leadership of neighbouring Uzbekistan of helping the armed uprising in
his country, which he termed ‘an attempted coup’. He argued that ‘…
The military coup in the north of Tajikistan was thoroughly planned
military aggression and a crude intrusion in the internal affairs of
sovereign Tajikistan by Uzbekistan’. ‘We have proof that Uzbek
President Islam Karimov completely supports the organiser of the Tajik
mutiny, former Prime Minister Abdulmalik Abdullajonov. By
organising coups and helping rebels, the Uzbek leadership wants to take
the whole of Tajikistan under its control’.1
The Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov announced on 11
November that his country had not given permission to the leaders of
the failed revolt in northern Tajikistan either to enter or to settle in
Uzbekistan. But Kamilov admitted that the borders between the two
countries are porous.2 At a press conference in Tashkent on 30
November Uzbek Prime Minister Islam Karimov denied his country had
any role in the rebellion in northern Tajikistan. He said that the fighting
in Tajikistan was the result of ‘an inter-clan struggle for power’.3
The peace agreement in Tajikistan is fragile because it represents
only the interests of the Rakhmonov regime and the UTO and does not
include the interests of the ‘Third Force’. Tashkent continues to support
the inclusion in the peace settlement of representatives from Khojand.
The coming to power of the pro-Islamic members of the Tajik
opposition has, however, given Tashkent an incentive to build a closer
relationship with the Tajikistani President Rakhmonov. Uzbekistan’s
initial support for Rakhmonov was guided by alarm about the
emergence of an Islamic political movement within the opposition.
Despite the attempt to use the UTO to pressure Rakhmonov into
incorporating representatives from Khojand into the peace settlement,
Tashkent continues to be concerned about the inclusion of Islamic
elements from the UTO within the peace process.
Inspite of the on-going difficult relationship between Tajikistan and
Uzbekistan, the two presidents have sought to moderate their hostility.

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 97

In January 1998 the Tajikistani President made a ‘working visit’ to
Tashkent at which the status of the Russian troops in Tajikistan was
discussed. In February 1998 a high level delegation from Uzbekistan,
including the Prime Minister Utkur Sultanov, went to Dushanbe for the
first time in five years. Sultanov announced that Tajikistan’s debt to
Uzbekistan had been rescheduled and the possibility of a Karimov visit
was discussed. On 30 June 1998 Rakhmonov paid a one-day visit to
Tashkent and noted that ‘We are starting a new page in our relations’.4
Following the November uprising, relations again cooled but on 8
January 1999 the Uzbek president and Tajik Prime Minister Yahye
Azimov met in Tashkent to discuss trade and economic co-operation.
The two sides agreed on a formula to resume natural gas supplies from
Uzbekistan to Tajikistan. It was the first official meeting between Tajik
and Uzbek officials since the Tajik President accused Uzbekistan of
habouring mutineers who had tried to seize territory in northern
Tajikistan in early November.
Despite the frictions generated over the region of Khojand,
Uzbekistan has sought to foster good relations with Dushanbe because
Tajikistan is often seen as Russia’s ‘last protectorate’ in Central Asia.
Uzbekistan would like to replace Russia as the key actor in the Tajik
conflict. Russia is able to use the conflict in Tajikistan as justification
for a continued Russian military presence in the region, which Tashkent
would like to see withdrawn. Uzbekistan’s resistance towards Russian
involvement in the region has, however, been moderated by events in
Afghanistan.
Afghanistan
In April 1992 the Najibullah regime in Kabul was overthrown by the
mujahidin coalition and Afghanistan was declared an Islamic
republic. This event significantly strengthened regional Islamic
movements and ethnic competition and exerted new pressures on
Central Asia, especially on Tajikistan. The regional implications of the
long running conflict in Afghanistan escalated quickly when the Taliban
captured Kabul in the autumn of 1996. In response to this development
Uzbekistan bolstered its military presence along its border with
Afghanistan.
Initially, Tashkent attempted to establish the regions of the north of
Afghanistan as a buffer zone. At a summit of Central Asian heads of
state and the Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin in October
1996, Karimov called for support for General Abdurrashid Dostum and

98 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

his forces. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord in the north of
Afghanistan, received assistance from Uzbekistan including what many
people believe was military assistance. In May 1997 the Taliban overran
Dostum’s forces and entered Mazar-i-Sharif, prompting Tashkent to
close the border. Following further fighting the Taliban reached the
border with Uzbekistan leading Karimov to call for the creation of an
‘international contact group’ to negotiate a solution to the war. The
contact group would have operated under the umbrella of the UN and the
Islamic Conference Organisation. The attempt to develop a multilateral
response—including the US—rather than relying on Russian military
power appeared to reflect Uzbekistan’s continuing desire to keep Russia
out of the region.
In August 1998 the Taliban once again overran Mazar-i-Sharif,
defeating opposition forces and pushing on to conquer most of the
northern territories of Afghanistan. What appeared to be the final defeat
for Dostum caused considerable alarm in Uzbekistan, and Central Asia
more generally. President Karimov visited the Uzbek-Afghan border on
15 August and met senior military officials. The foreign and defence
ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met in
Tashkent on 22–23 August 1998 to discuss regional security in the light
of recent advances by the Taliban. President Karimov spoke of the threat
to Uzbekistan posed by the Taliban when addressing Uzbekistan’s
parliament on 28 August.5 On September 22 the Uzbek Defence
Minister, Khikmatulla Tursunov, accused Afghanistan of being a centre
for international terrorism, religious extremism, and worldwide drug
trafficking. He said that events in the country ‘threaten to spiral out of
control’ and threaten neighbouring states.6
The Taliban victories in 1998 also helped to accelerate a limited
rapprochement between Russia and Uzbekistan. Tashkent’s
concerns about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia had
already provided the basis for a common agenda with Moscow. The
apparent security threat posed by the Taliban and the fact that this threat
came in the form of a radical Islamic movement further consolidated the
new Russian-Uzbek relationship. As the Taliban advanced on Mazar-iSharif, the head of the Russian General Staff and Russian first Deputy
Foreign Minister flew to Tashkent to discuss developments. Both sides
spoke of the right to take measures to preserve the integrity of the
borders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 99

RELATIONS WITH REGIONAL POWERS
Uzbekistan’s geopolitical position and its landlocked status have
ensured that relations with a set of regional powers have been critical to
Tashkent’s ability to foster and consolidate independence. While the
Russian Federation remains the leading regional power in Central Asia,
since the fall of the Soviet Union a variety of other states, including
Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and China, have come to play new and important
roles in the region.
The Russian Federation
As the former colonial power in Central Asia, the Russian Federation’s
relationship to Uzbekistan has often been difficult. A central aim of
Uzbek policy has been to reduce the role of the Russian Federation in
Central Asia, however, this aim has been undermined by ethnic,
economic and security issues that have forced Tashkent to retain
important links to Moscow. These contradictory imperatives have led to
a number of fluctuations in the relationship between Russia and
Uzbekistan.
In the early years of independence, with its priorities focused on the
West and internal issues Moscow paid little attention to Central Asia. In
the final years of the USSR it was widely believed in Russia that
Central Asia had become a net economic burden on the Soviet Union.
Building new ties to the region were nor viewed as a priority for
Moscow. Economic links reduced and new ones were only infrequently
established. Russian companies rarely take part in large-scale ventures
in Uzbekistan, in part owing to Russian legislation making it tougher
for Russian citizens to invest private capital in the economies of foreign
states.7
Uzbekistan initially adopted a cautiously positive relationship to
Russia and Russian inspired institutions such as the CIS.
Karimov called for a NATO-style military element to the CIS, separate
armies that pool their resources. These declarations set the stage for an
important CIS meeting on 15 May 1992 in Tashkent where delegates
signed a number of agreements culminating in a mutual defence treaty
between Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and
Armenia. Under the terms of the treaty, aggression against one signatory
is considered to be aggression against all.
A set of events at the beginning of 1992 prompted the first significant
shift in Uzbek attitudes towards the CIS. In this period it became clear

100 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

that Russia would be adopting a domestic economic reform package
based upon liberalisation regardless of the implications for the other
Soviet states. The resulting rise in prices triggered student riots in
Tashkent. Karimov complained that Russia was not behaving like an
equal partner. Karimov and his central bank chairmen stated that if the
CIS did not operate as a body for true joint policy-making, Uzbekistan
would be forced to introduce its own national currency.
The rhetoric directed against Moscow from Uzbekistan increased
significantly after Russia attempted to put increased pressure on roublezone members in 1993 through the introduction of a new rouble. In
response, Uzbekistan introduced its own currency, the Som on 15
November 1993. The currency change also caused tensions within
Uzbekistan as the local Russian population realised how distant from
the Russian Federation they had become. In March 1996 after the
Russian State Duma passed a resolution declaring the dissolution of the
USSR legally invalid, relations with Uzbekistan again deteriorated.
President Karimov has often appeared particularly opposed to a
continuing Russian military presence in Central Asia. Russia, however,
has developed defence and foreign policy doctrines towards Central
Asia that justify military intervention in the region, particularly when
Russian security and the rights of ethnic Russians are threatened.
Moscow has also claimed the right to defend the old borders of the
USSR. Uzbekistan has rejected such claims and refused to sign the Treaty
for the Defence of the CIS External Borders in May 1995.
In order to counter the previous reliance on Russian military
capabilities, Uzbekistan quickly developed its own military forces
following independence. The numbers in the Uzbek army are disputed
but are approximately 40–70,000, with around 100,000 reservists.
Uzbekistan has moved rapidly to increase the percentage of ethnic
Uzbek officers in the armed forces. At independence only 6% of the
officers were Uzbek in the Slavic dominated upper echelons of the
national armed forces. By 1997, the figure was closer to 85%. Unlike
most other Central Asia states, Uzbekistan does not have Russian
military bases on its soil.
By the mid-1990s, Russia’s position towards Uzbekistan was
beginning to change as Moscow sought new arrangements with the
Central Asian states, particularly in response to the drive to develop the
region’s hydrocarbon reserves. In addition, a group composed of
representatives and industrialists from Russian textile regions, who
wanted access to Uzbek cotton, and some figures in the foreign policy
and defence establishments, who felt Central Asia was important to

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 101

Russian interests, began to lobby for a more active relationship with the
region. The appointment of Evgenii Primakov as foreign minister in
January 1996, a Middle East expert, was interpreted as a shift in
Moscow to a more southern strategy. In fact some of Primakov’s first
official visits were to Central Asia, including stops in Uzbekistan in
January and February 1996. But, by then Uzbekistan had moved some
distance in breaking its previous dependence on Moscow.
Primakov was only able to conclude one of the agreements he
intended during his February visit to Tashkent. Unsigned agreements
included the important issue of the status of the Russians in Uzbekistan.
Despite the difficult political relationship, Russia remains Uzbekistan’s
leading trading partner, and Uzbekistan is ranked fourth in terms of
Russia’s trade. In recognition of the importance of the Uzbek economy
for Russia, Russia has taken a number of initiatives to promote business
links. In December 1997 Prime Minister Chernomyrdin undertook a
visit to Tashkent to discuss future economic co-operation.
Although Uzbekistan has tried to limit its relationship with the
Russian Federation, conflicts in Afghanistan and Tajikistan forced
Tashkent to realise the continuing importance of the Russian Federation
as a guarantor of stability and borders in the region. Recently, the
interest that Russia and Uzbekistan share in suppressing radical Islam
has provided an important stimulus for a form of rapprochement
between the two ex-Soviet republics. Attending a conference of CIS
interior ministers in Tashkent in 1998, the Russian Interior Minister,
Sergei Stepashin, argued fundamentalism is ‘a CIS problem’ and he
noted that ‘expressions of fundamentalism…or Wahhabism…have
become a serious issue throughout the CIS’.8 Russia has proposed that
the CIS be used to combat the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
In October 1998, President Yeltsin undertook a brief trip to Central
Asia, including a visit to Uzbekistan. The two-day visit in Tashkent was
the first visit by Yeltsin as Russian President to Uzbekistan, perhaps
reflecting the warming relations between the two countries. A critical
issue for discussion was the Taliban. The two presidents signed an
agreement promising aid in the event that one of their countries was
attacked. President Rakhmonov had already signed the document, which
also included reference to cooperating with international organisations
to help stabilise the situation in Tajikistan. Yeltsin and Karimov also
concluded an accord on economic co-operation over the coming
decade.9
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik was in Tashkent, 8–9
January 1999 for a meeting of the Russian-Uzbek intergovernmental

102 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

commission on economic cooperation and for talks with various Uzbek
officials around deepening economic ties. Despite the apparent progress
on further economic co-operation, the political relationship between
Uzbekistan and Russia continues to be fragile. Later in the same month
as the success of the Russian-Uzbek inter-governmental commission,
Uzbekistan announced that it would not renew its involvement in the
CIS Collective Security Treaty beyond April 1999. The Uzbek Foreign
Ministry noted, however, that this decision will not affect bilateral
agreements on cooperation with Russia.10
Turkey
For decades Turkey had no significant interest in the Turkic populations
of Central Asia. The founder of Turkey—Kemal Ataturk—had made it
a basic principal that the new country would eschew pan-Turkic or panIslamic policies. In particular, this meant that Turkey should avoid
entanglement in the affairs of the newly established Bolshevik state.
From the foundation of the Turkish state, the external orientation of
Ankara was thus westward and modernising. The collapse of the Soviet
Union changed the historic thrust of Turkish external policy. Problems
associated with Turkey’s ambition to join the European Union and
uncertainty about Turkey’s place in the western order once it lost its
position as the frontier with communism meant that turning east seemed
an ideal means to carve out a new Turkish identity to fit the changed
international circumstances.
Under President Turgut Ozal, the apparent rediscovery of millions of
Turkic people in the East was presented as representing new
opportunities for Turkey in the post-communist era. Official relations
between Turkey and Uzbekistan seemed to blossom when in midDecember 1991 Karimov visited Ankara and Turkey became the first
state to recognise Uzbekistan’s independence. Nine documents on cooperation were signed during the visit. Turkish airlines began flights to
Tashkent. The Uzbek-Turkish relationship reached its zenith in March
1992 when the Turkish Prime Minister visited Tashkent to open the new
Turkish embassy. He promised $500 million of credits and signed
various agreements on investment. The largest event in Turkish-Uzbek
relations was the Ankara summit of leaders of Turkic-speaking states on
30–31 October 1992. This meeting seemed to presage the resurrection
of some idea of Greater Turkestan when the leaders signed a document
on political and economic co-operation; what became known as the
Ankara Doctrine.

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 103

The emergence of independent Central Asian states has, however,
presented problems as well as opportunities for Turkey. While the
Turkish model of secular development was initially attractive to
Uzbekistan, the idea that Turkey would emerge as a guiding state in the
region was not welcomed. The perception that Turkey was seeking to
replace Russia as the dominant power or new ‘big brother’ in Central
Asia was reinforced when some writers began to use the image of the
Great Game to describe Turkey’s role in the region. The new Great
Game was viewed as a clash between a secular modernising Turkey,
with the stress upon the ethnic and religious affinities between Turkey
and the Central Asian states, versus Islamic Iran, with its claim of
Persian cultural and historic links to the region.
In fact, the initial promise of developing a close relationship with
Turkey has not been fulfilled. Although the ‘Turkish’ model was
initially hailed by Karimov, Turkey was unable to deliver the expected
investment and financial assistance. Extensive cultural links have been
set in place and Turkey has played a leading role in the
telecommunications sector, the provision of educational opportunities
and the training of diplomatic and military personnel, but links have not
developed as originally hoped. Also the natural bonds that seemed to
provide the basis for relations with Ankara have proved to be far
weaker than originally supposed.
The emergence of a powerful Islamic movement in Turkey also did
much to dent the Turkish secular model. In August 1997
Karimov decided to withdraw most of the Uzbekistani students studying
in Turkey for fear they were being influenced by Islamic activists.
Relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan began to improve following
the replacement of the Islamic government in Ankara led by Necmettin
Erbakan. The importance of Turkey as a transit route for east-west trade
through Central Asia, particularly oil and gas, has, however, fostered a
new relationship based upon economic interest. At a meeting on the
sidelines of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the
Republic of Turkey in Ankara on 29 October, President Karimov (along
with the presidents of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan),
signed a declaration affirming his support for routing the main export
pipeline for Caspian oil from Baku to the Turkish Mediterranean port of
Ceyhan.11
Despite these important changes, Tashkent has nevertheless been
reluctant to be seen as part of a Turkish sphere of influence. Turkey has
also remained cautious over its approach to the region based upon
broader political and strategic calculations. Ankara has been anxious

104 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

not to antagonise Russia because of the wider aims of developing
hydrocarbon resources and building good ties with the Transcaucasus
region.
Iran, Pakistan, and China
In the early years of Uzbekistan’s independence Iran appeared to
emerge as the principal rival to Turkey for influence in Central Asia.
Originally, Tehran sought to build links with Tajikistan reflecting the
historic cultural, linguistic and religious ties between Iran and the Tajik
population. Iran’s relations with the states of Central Asia have,
however, been complicated. The emergence of an Islamic political
movement in Tajikistan also appeared to attract support from Iran.
Tajikistan did not develop as the important force in Central Asia that
was once hoped. The idea of a greater Tajikistan based upon the
cultural and historic bonds of the former empires centred upon Bukhara
and Samarkand, quickly disappeared as Tajikistan descended into civil
war and chaos.
Uzbekistan has been hesitant to build close economic or political ties
with Iran, and has developed links more slowly than other Central Asian
states. From the earliest years of independence, President Karimov was
highly critical of the Iranian Islamic state. He was particularly alarmed
by reports that Iran had provided support for Islamic groups in
Tajikistan in 1992–3.
When the early Iranian approach failed to deliver the expected results
in terms of relations to Central Asia, Iran adopted a more conservative
and non-interventionist policy towards the region. Tehran has tended to
focus upon economic links rather than promoting Islam in the region.
Iran, in particular, has tried to foster good links with Kazakhstan and
Turkmenistan in order to secure a common approach to oil and gas
issues. Uzbekistan has played a lesser role in Iran’s relations with the
region. While bilateral ties to the Central Asian states have been largely
built on the basis of economic interest, Iran has on occasion attempted
to politicise the interstate Economic Cooperation Organisation (see
below).
Islam has been a particular problem in relations between Uzbekistan
and Iran. While Iran has sought to downplay its Islamic identity in
external relations in recent years, the anti-Islam campaign launched in
Uzbekistan in 1998 caused unease in Tehran. In May 1998 Iranian
television broadcast a programme critical of Karimov arguing that

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 105

Karimov has been trying to form an anti-Islamic alliance with Russia
and Tajikistan for some time.12
Pakistan’s relationship to Uzbekistan has been limited since the
demise of the Soviet Union. This, despite the fact that Pakistan initially
held high hopes for its links to Central Asia. Pakistan sought allies in
the region because of its troubled relationship with the United States
following the end of the communist era. Links to the Central Asian
muslim states on the basis of pan-Islamic solidarity were also seen as
way to counter India.
From the beginning, Pakistan emphasised the economic dimension of
its relationship to Central Asia. Pakistan was particularly keen to build
up transport infrastructure as a means to promote development within
the territories of the Economic Cooperation Organisation. The major
advantage that Pakistan offers to the land-locked Central Asian states is
that it provides the shortest route to seaport facilities, at Karachi.
Pakistan has also sought energy supplies and cotton from the region and
has offered credit and goods in return.
Although Pakistan has established some joint ventures with
Uzbekistan, Pakistan’s involvement in the region has been severely
curtailed by its role in the war in Afghanistan and lack of financial
resources available for investment and loans. It is widely believed that
Pakistan was behind the creation of the Taliban and continues to supply
the movement with materiel. Uzbekistan has been particularly critical of
Pakistan and tension between the two countries surfaced over the
Taliban at the summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation in
May 1997. Pakistan has promoted the Taliban in part to counter the fear
of a possible break up of Afghanistan. The disintegration of Afghanistan
would be likely to threaten the territorial integrity of Pakistan because
of calls to establish a state based upon ‘Great Pashtunistan’. The rising
political power of Islamic movements in Pakistan is also viewed with
concern in Tashkent.
Since independence the link between China and Central Asia has
changed fundamentally with the former confrontational relationship
replaced by one of cooperation. China has emerged as an important
force in Central Asia and is likely to have a key role in the future
development of the region. China has become the leading trade partner
for the states of the region after Russia. To date, however, Chinese
priorities in the region have been focused on Kazakhstan and
Kyrgyzstan because of former disputes about border demarcation and
concern about transborder Muslim separatist movements.

106 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

Chinese contacts with Uzbekistan have been primarily economic, and
China has become a significant trading partner for Uzbekistan. China is
likely to become particularly important for Uzbekistan if moves to
develop east-west transport links are pursued. During his April 1994 visit
to Uzbekistan, Chinese premier Li Peng spoke of reopening the old silk
route through Uzbekistan but he stressed that Chinese involvement was
not intended to counter the interests of any other party. China, like
Turkey, has been reluctant to upset Russia over its involvement in
Central Asia because of a range of other Sino-Russian interests.
UZBEKISTAN IN THE WORLD
The Western Powers
The Uzbekistani leadership initially gave relations with the western
powers the highest priority. Engagement with the West was seen as
critical for the project of developing the domestic economy. Tashkent
also sought access to international financial institutions and the credits
available from these organisations for macroeconomic stabilisation,
investment and for cleaning up environmental problems in the region.
While economic interests were the main factor behind the drive to forge
links with western states, Tashkent also hoped that the West would be in
a position to provide Uzbekistan and Central Asia more generally with
some sort of security guarantees.
While western interest in Central Asia has risen considerably since
the end of the Soviet state, engagement remains limited. Western
economic attention has been focused upon the hydrocarbon sector and
mineral extraction. The relatively small size of hydrocarbon deposits in
Uzbekistan means, however, that the country has been of comparatively
little interest to western energy companies. In this respect, Uzbekistan
has lost ground to Kazakhstan. Politically, western concern with the
region has also been limited, focusing mostly on the issue of the drugs
trade, nuclear disarmament and the possibility of the rise of political
Islam. Western relations have often appeared to be driven more by a
desire to block potential rivals gaining influence in the region,
particularly the Russian Federation and Iran, than with developing an
active alliance with Uzbekistan. Despite the limited nature of western
engagement with the region, Uzbekistan has been relatively successful
at developing a positive relationship with the United States and has

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 107

emerged as an important partner for European states in the region,
particularly Germany.
The United States
The rapid emergence of an authoritarian regime, the suppression of all
opposition, and the violation of human rights in Uzbekistan initially
clouded Tashkent’s relationship with the United States. From 1992 until
1995 US-Uzbekistani relations were characterised by tension. President
Karimov was denied permission by the US authorities to travel to a UN
session in New York and Vice-President Al Gore avoided going to
Tashkent during a visit to Central Asia. It was only in June 1996 that
Karimov was received in the White House, far later than other Central
Asia leaders.
From 1995 the relationship with the United States began to change. As
a result of this shift, Uzbekistan emerged as a strategic partner for the
United States in the region. The US change of policy was prompted by a
variety of economic and security concerns. Uzbekistan began to be
perceived as critical to the US because of the important hydrocarbon
and mineral resources in the region and the conflicts in Tajikistan and
Afghanistan. In contrast to other regimes of the region, Uzbekistan
appeared to be a stable, pro-western and powerful state that could be
used to protect western interests. Within the new US relationship to
Uzbekistan, human rights has been replaced by economic and security
issues.
Changing perceptions of Uzbekistan in Washington were also
affected by Uzbekistan’s external policies. Uzbekistan’s resistance to
Russian influence in the region was regarded as a positive factor by some
US policy makers. Uzbekistan has been cautious on relations with Iran,
cultivated links primarily with the West rather than Islamic countries,
and has sought good relations with NATO. The chairman of NATO’s
military council Klaus Naumann visited Uzbekistan on 2 July 1998 and
was warm in his support for Uzbekistan’s involvement in military
exercises.13 Uzbekistan has also been supportive of Israel in the United
Nations. Uzbekistan has thus sought to position itself as a key regional
state for US interests, similar to the role performed by Turkey and Israel
in the Middle East, a relationship that is premised upon the United
States emerging as chief guarantor of Uzbekistan’s independent foreign
policy and international security.14
On the basis of Uzbekistan’s drive to present itself as a reliable and
positive partner of western states, Korean and Japanese involvement in

108 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan has risen. The Asian countries have made some high profile
investments and also provided aid and loans to Tashkent. The political
role of the industrialised Asian states in Central Asia has, however, been
limited.
Interstate organisations
While the central thrust of Uzbekistan’s external relations has been
focused upon strengthening its national independence through bilateral
arrangements, Uzbekistan has joined a number of regional and
multilateral organisations. With the exception of the Turkmen
president, Saparmurad Niyazov, Karimov has, however, been the most
reluctant of the Central Asian leaders to participate in supra-state
structures. Uzbekistan has been especially resistant to extensive
involvement in organisations dominated by the Russian Federation.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
The CIS was originally intended to be an important interstate
organisation that would replace some of the functions of the Soviet
state. On 8 December 1991 the heads of the three Slavic states (Russia,
Ukraine and Belarus) met to form a commonwealth. The Central Asian
states were concerned to prevent the development of a purely Slavic
bloc and moved quickly to be included in the new interstate structures.
The Central Asian states convened in Ashkhabad four days after the
Slavic leaders had met and decided to press for membership of
the Commonwealth. On 21 December 1991 eleven republics from the
former Soviet Union met to announce the establishment of the CIS.
Despite initial support for the CIS, Uzbek resistance to the institution
has steadily grown. At the heart of the tensions within the CIS have
been the diverse interests and aims of the organisation’s membership.
Russia has sought a far more political role for the Commonwealth,
while many other states have seen the CIS more in terms of general coordination. Uzbekistan has been opposed to any ideas designed to
promote further integration, especially when coming from Russia.
Uzbekistani resistance to the CIS has grown with each new Russian
initiative to develop common CIS foreign policy and domestic agendas.
At the CIS meeting in Moldova in October 1997 Russia was denounced
by various participants including Uzbekistan and none of the
agreements or statements were signed.

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 109

At a press conference with President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan in
late 1998, Karimov said ‘the structures of the Commonwealth should be
seriously reformed’. He argued that the main aim of the CIS should be
‘widening the economic interaction’ of member states. He noted,
however, that despite support for a restricted role for the CIS, both
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are ‘strategic partners’ of Russian President
Yeltsin.15 In early 1999, Uzbekistan announced it would not be
renewing its involvement in the CIS Collective Security Treaty beyond
April, thereby further weakening the political and military identity of
the CIS. Tashkent was reported to be alarmed about Moscow’s policies
in the Caucasus, particularly supplying weaponry to Armenia, and the
concern that a similar agreement would be signed with Tajikistan.16
Uzbekistan’s position towards the CIS has undergone a steady
evolution from enthusiastic support to extreme skepticism. The CIS has,
however, played an important role in Uzbekistan’s external policy.
Although criticising the CIS and Russia in particular, Uzbekistan has
used the organisation as a forum for discussions with other states and as
a means to forge coalitions to block Russian initiatives toward further
integration.
The Central Asian Union (CAU)
Despite the search for new partners and allies outside Central Asia,
there has been a growing recognition within Uzbekistan that increased
co-ordination among the Central Asian states is required because t hey
share many problems. As early as the founding meeting of the CIS in
December 1991, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbaev proposed
the formation of a Turkic or Central Asian Union. While the idea may
have been a bargaining chip to encourage Russia to support the
inclusion of the Central Asian states in the CIS, the idea of integration has
continued to find support in the region.
In a meeting in Bishkek the following April, the possibility of further
economic cooperation was discussed but enthusiasm for the project
began to ebb as it became clear that Uzbekistan would most likely
dominate any new structure. Further expressions of interest in cooperation between the Central Asian states were made in Tashkent in
January 1993 in response to the conflict in Tajikistan and the
environmental problems of the Aral Sea.
After the Central Asian states were ejected from the rouble zone in
1993, events seemed to be pushing the states of the region closer
together. President Nazarbaev proposed a Eurasian Union but

110 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

competition with Uzbekistan grew. In response to Nazarbaev’s
initiative, which stressed the common links between the European
territories and peoples of the former Soviet Union and those of Central
Asia, President Karimov proposed integration within Central Asia under
the slogan Turkestan Our Common Home’.
In January 1994, Uzbekistan signed an agreement with Kyrgyzstan
and Kazakhstan that aimed to create a ‘common economic space’ by the
end of the century. The aims and structures of the Central Asian Union
(CAU) included an Interstate Council comprised of the three presidents,
and further councils for their prime ministers, foreign ministers and
defence ministers. The Central Asian Bank for Cooperation and
Development was set up in Almaty with the intention of providing
funding for joint projects. A permanent working body, the Executive
Committee of the Inter-state Council was also established.
At a meeting of the five Central Asian states in January 1998 the
possibility of enlarging the Central Asian Union by including Tajikistan
and Turkmenistan was discussed. A protocol admitting Tajikistan to the
CAU was signed on 26 March 1998. At the same time, the presidents of
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Belarus admitted Tajikistan to the
quadripartite CIS Customs Union in April 1998, perhaps signaling an
attempt to bloc Uzbekistan’s drive to draw Tajikistan away from
Russia.
The CAU has evolved only slowly reflecting different understandings
and competing ambitions. Kyrgyzstan, for example, has been forced to
maneuver between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan because of its lack of
natural resources and the ethnic problems in the south. The form of
economic development that has been selected by the different states of
Central Asia has also caused tensions within the CAU. Whereas
Kazakhstan has adopted a more liberal economic policy, Uzbekistan
continues to follow a largely autarkic approach to economic
management.
In the early years of independence, a strong rivalry emerged between
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over leadership in Central Asia. While
President Nazarbayev promoted his vision of a ‘Eurasian Union’,
President Karimov countered with his idea of ‘Turkestan Our Common
Home’. In recent times, there has been a partial rapprochement between
the two leaders reflecting the emergence of elements of a common
agenda. In October 1998, President Nazarbayev wrapped up his first
official visit to Uzbekistan by signing an ‘eternal friendship’ treaty with
his Uzbek counterpart. A series of economic agreements were also
concluded.17

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 111

The development of the CAU has also had to confront a number of
structural problems. The volume of trade between the Central Asian
states is significantly smaller that their trade with states outside the
region. The economic and technological backwardness of the Central
Asian countries forces them to base their development upon the
advanced economies. The economies of the Central Asian states are also
competitive rather than complementary; they tend to produce the same
sort of products.
Competition between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia has made
any development of the CAU difficult. In March 1996 a customs union
brought together Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbekistan refused to join the Union and instead continues to support
the CAU. Uzbekistan has been reluctant to join the CIS Customs Union
afraid it will lock the Central Asian states into dependence on Russia. In
order to counter the role of the Russian dominated CIS and Customs
Union, Uzbekistan has argued for the creation of mechanisms to foster
economic co-operation between the states of Central Asia.
In fact, the CAU has made only modest progress in its aim of
promoting economic integration within Central Asia and an attempt was
made to reinvigorate the structures in 1996. The main outcome of the
meeting was the creation of the joint peacekeeping battalion
‘Centrasbat’ under the aegis of the UN. Uzbekistan has supported
strongly the creation of the Centrasbat because it fits well
with Tashkent’s broader aim of integrating into NATO’s Partnership for
Peace (PFP) initiative. Uzbekistan has been the most active Central
Asian member of the NATO programme and has taken part in a number
of PFP sponsored peacekeeping exercises and the major military
exercise Centrasbat 97 in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
There have also been some areas of limited success. The main areas
of progress within the CAU have been transportation, communications,
the use of fuel, energy and water resources, and the construction and use
of pipelines serving the Central Asian region. An important purpose of
the CAU has been to develop a common approach to oil and gas exports
that will bypass Russia. A conference of the Central Asian Union on
reforms to the CAU was held in Bishkek on 2–3 June 1998. It was
announced that a council of heads of the national banks of the member
states would be established. Reflecting a recognition of more modest
aims for the CAU, it was also decided that the name of the organisation
will be changed to the Central Asian Economic Community.

112 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

The Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO)
The ECO was established in 1985 as the successor organisation to the
Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) formed in 1964. The
RCD was established between Iran, Pakistan and Turkey but was
largely inactive until relaunched in 1985. Soon after independence, the
Central Asian states were quick to join the ECO. In its new guise, the
ECO brings together ten member states with a potential market of over
325 million people. The ECO has emerged as an important forum for
discussing common regional issues, but lacks the ability to become a
more influential organisation.
As with the other interstate organisations of which Uzbekistan has
become a member, co-operation within the ECO has been hampered by
political competition between the founding members of the organisation.
The diverse political objectives in the ECO have led to the emergence
of subtle rivalries within the organisation. Initially, tension rivalry was
focused on competition between Turkey and Iran for leadership of the
organisation. Iran sought to stress its Islamic credentials for leading the
ECO, while Turkey promoted itself as the secular model for the ECO’s
members. Pakistan too sought to position itself as a political force in the
region through the ECO.
President Karimov has been highly suspicious of political aspirations
articulated through the ECO and has viewed the organisation as a purely
economic institution. In his July 1993 speech at a gathering of the ECO
heads of state in Istanbul, Karimov addressed the issue of ideology:
The first very important condition for us is the question of mutual
trust. Naturally, the 10 members of the organization could have
different views on policy and ideology…unless we put economic
interests higher than policy and ideology, there is no point to us
meeting here, holding sessions, and going to all of this trouble.18
Uzbekistan has also been reluctant to enter into economic agreements
with Iran for fear of importing or encouraging Islamic fundamentalism.
Despite Uzbekistan’s resistance to turning the ECO into a political
force, the organization has nevertheless achieved notable successes. In
particular, the importance of the organisation for Uzbekistan has been
focused on the construction of regional transport and communications
infrastructure. One of the most significant ECO projects has been the
agreement between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia
to create a ‘trans-Caspian transport corridor’ extending from Tashkent

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 113

to the port of Poti in Georgia. The corridor effectively established an
export route for Uzbek goods beyond its traditional dependence on
Russia and the Baltic ports. At the May 1998 ECO summit in Almaty,
the focus was again on ways to improve transport and other
communications between member states. The possibility of unifying
customs tariffs and visa rules was also discussed. In 1998 it was decided
to create the ECO Bank for Trade Development.
CONCLUSION
Since independence Tashkent has developed a complex web of foreign
relations. Uzbekistan’s external ties have been characterised by frequent
reorientations reflecting the contradictory interests that have informed
Uzbekistan! foreign policy. Critical to the construction of Uzbekistan’s
international relations has been the form of domestic political and
economic development that has emerged in the country.
In the early years of independence, the central factor driving the
external relations of Uzbekistan was the imperative of promoting
economic development in the country. The drive for financial assistance
and the economic resources to modernise Uzbekistan led Tashkent to
give priority to the development of relations with the advanced
industrial powers and the allies of these states. Alongside economic
growth, the aim of establishing an independent, Uzbekistan free from
the legacy of the colonial (Russian) past, strongly informed Tashkent’s
approach to the external world. Finally, fostering relations with states
and organisations that could strengthen the image of Uzbekistan as a
secular nation-state was a priority.
Although the domestic agenda of economic modernisation initially
provided the main impetus behind Tashkent’s external agenda, relations
with the outside world have since been heavily qualified by a number of
other factors. The principal influences that have moderated the agenda
of economic development established at independence have been
President Karimov’s efforts to ensure maintenance of the political regime
that he has built since the late 1980s, and geopolitical and security
concerns.
The authoritarian political regime developed under Karimov’s
tutelage initially undermined efforts to build good relations with the
western powers. Tashkent was, however, gradually able to position
itself as a security partner for the United States in the face of an apparent
Islamic threat, a threat that was also linked to concerns about the future
of the hydrocarbon resources of Central Asia (and western investment to

114 THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN

develop these resources). Since 1995, Uzbekistan has emerged as the
key element in western security and political policy towards Central
Asia. The country, however, lags behind Kazakhstan in terms of
economic relations with the West, although the pseudo-election of
President Nazarbayev in 1999 may have soured Kazakhstan’s political
relationship with the West.
The landlocked status of Uzbekistan has also seen the return of
geopolitics as an important factor in Central Asia, and a factor that has
played a growing role in Uzbekistan’s foreign policy. While relations
with advanced industrial powers provided the primary focus of
Uzbekistan’s external relations, the growth of a variety of regional
issues has required Tashkent to develop a diversity of relationships and
alliances. Security issues resulting from the civil wars in Tajikistan and
the Afghanistan, and the rise of political Islam in these areas has
provided the catalyst for a moderation of the initial thrust to foreign
policy.
While Tashkent’s long-term aim may be to prevent Russia
dominating the region, the immediate priorities of stemming the
advance of political and military movements inspired by Islam has led
Uzbekistan to court Moscow once again. The range of transborder
issues within and around Central Asia have also required Uzbekistan to
participate in a variety of interstate organisations, although the
President appears to lack enthusiasm for such institutions. Karimov has
continued to stress that Uzbekistan is following its own independent
form of development.19
In many ways, external relations can be viewed as the most successful
sphere of policy developed by President Karimov since independence.
Uzbekistan has been able to pursue its main aim of building links to
western industrial countries, particularly the United States, while still
maintaining the wide variety of relations necessary to manage critical
regional issues. All of this has been achieved with only minor threat to
the domestic political regime, in the form of difficult relations with
international financial organisations.
In recent years, Tashkent’s apparent success in the external world has,
however, been challenged by the clear failure of Karimov’s policies
towards Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The exclusion of representatives
from the Uzbek minority in the peace process in Tajikistan and the
inclusion of Islamic parties has forced a rapid revision of Tashkent’s
approach to the Tajik conflict. At the same time, the collapse of General
Dostum’s forces, Uzbekistan’s ally, has left Karimov’s policy towards
Afghanistan in tatters.

THE EXTERNAL POLICY OF INDEPENDENT UZBEKISTAN 115

The rapid fluctuations in the fortunes of Uzbekistani external policy
suggest that Tashkent is likely to continue to struggle to remain ahead
of developments in the region. Although the western powers have been
partially engaged with the region, and Uzbekistan in particular, the
relationship remains limited and fragile. A critical factor in the future of
the region will be the role of Russia. If Moscow is unwilling or unable
to maintain its current level of military and economic engagement with
Central Asia, other external powers may be tempted to adopt a more
assertive role towards the region. In this situation, Uzbekistan will most
likely play a critical role in determining the future of Central Asia and
its relations to the outside world.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19

RFE/RL Newsline, vo . 2, no. 121, part 1 (25 June 1998).
RFE/RL Newsline, vo . 2, no. 197, part 1 (12 October 1998).
RFE/RL Newsline, vo . 3, no. 25, part 1 (5 February 1999).
RFE/RL Newsline, vo . 2, no. 210, part 1 (30 October 1998).
RFE/RL Newsline, vc . 2, no. 90, part 1 (13 May 1998).
RFE/RL Newsline, vo . 2, no. 127, part 1 (3 July 1998).
Bohr, op. cit. (1998), p. 64.
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 211, part 1 (2 November 1998).
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 3, no. 25, part 1 (5 February 1999).
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 211, part 1 (2 November 1998).
Quoted in Mehrdad Haghayeghi, ‘Economic Cooperation Organization:
A Preliminary Assessment’, Central Asian Monitor, no. 1 (1995), p. 18.
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 1, no. 157, part 1 (11 November 1997).
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 127, part 1 (3 July 1998).
Bohr, op. cit. (1998), p. 64.
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 211, part 1 (2 November 1998).
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 3, no. 25, part 1 (5 February 1999).
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 2, no. 211, part 1 (2 November 1998).
Quoted in Mehrdad Haghayeghi, ‘Economic Cooperation Organization:
A Preliminary Assessment’, Central Asian Monitor, no. 1 (1995), p. 18.
RFE/RL Newsline, vol. 1, no. 157, part 1 (11 November 1997).

Conclusion

The establishment of Uzbekistan as an independent state at the end of
1991 marked a fundamental change in the political life of Central Asia.
Although the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic had been fashioned as an
administrative and cultural unit during the Soviet era, the demise of the
Soviet state led to a basic shift in the nature and direction of the
country’s development and of Uzbekistan’s significance for the rest of
world. Since independence, Uzbekistan has become a leading element
of Central Asia’s regional political order, while beneath the veneer of
stability and continuity there have been critical changes in the domestic
order of the country.
Uzbekistan has been able to negotiate the first years of the post-Soviet
order with a degree of success, or at least it has managed to avoid some
of the disasters that have befallen other transitional societies (for
example state collapse in Tajikistan, Georgia and Chechnia). Moreover,
the new order that has been created under the leadership of President
Karimov appears to enjoy widespread popular endorsement. Karimov
continues to have high levels of personal support, although low
expectations and a politically passive population make judging the
actual level of backing for the regime problematic.
Despite the apparent ability of the system to deliver the political and
economic environment that many in Uzbekistan feel is best suited to the
country’s circumstances, the appropriateness of the model of ‘stability’
and ‘gradual’ change that has been fostered needs careful evaluation.
Uzbekistan has avoided the scenario of state collapse, but there has been
a high price to pay for the type of regime that has been created.
Individual and collective freedoms have been trampled upon, the use
of coercion and terror is widespread and the authorities have acted in an
increasingly indiscriminate fashion in suppressing not simply opposition
voices but all sources of independent opinion.1 While the regime enjoys
support from the populace for many of these policies, endorsement has

CONCLUSION 117

often been manufactured by the authorities on the basis of the
construction of futures that appear far worse (e.g. an Islamic state).
Little effort has been given to exploring seriously alternative forms of
development that incorporate genuine democratisation and economic
liberalisation.
The key to Uzbekistan’s post-independence programme of
development is not, as official propaganda would have one believe, a
careful and moderate process of change to maintain a delicate social and
political balance in the country, but the radical and rapid reconfiguration
of the country’s political and economic order. In place of the Soviet-era
authoritarian state, Uzbekistan has been transformed into a new type of
authoritarian system based upon the unchecked power of the leader and
the construction of a political economy to ensure the continuing
functioning of this regime.
Within the system, broad-based political and economic development
has been sacrificed to the interests of the Uzbekistani elite, particularly
President Karimov. While the population continues to enjoy welfare
benefits generally better that those available in other Central Asian states,
this is not a viable long-term solution to the pressing need to create a
successful, dynamic and efficient economy. Indeed, the distribution of
welfare payments frequently appears more important as a means to stem
popular discontent than for attacking the sources of poverty and
inequality.
The emergence of the new order in Uzbekistan has numerous
dimensions, but the construction of a new official ideology of Uzbek
nationalism has been particularly important. Within this ideology the
President and his drive to foster a highly centralised state based upon
personalised rule is presented as the continuation of ancient traditions in
the region. In Uzbekistan, President Karimov has frequently been
compared to such notable figures as Timur. Indeed, the emergence of an
Uzbekistani state with Karimov at its head often appears in official
writings as the result of an organic and preordained process. In fact, the
creation of this notion of historical evolution is the product of the
exercise of state power to help forge a single national narrative from a
fragmentary and contested past.2
While the establishment of a strong national identity is clearly an
important element in the creation of a nation-state, the stress on the
Uzbek elements of the past risks creating difficulties for the numerous
minorities and cultures found in Uzbekistan. Moreover, the presence of
large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks in neighbouring states suggests that

118 CONCLUSION

significant tensions are likely to characterise interstate relations in the
region as a result of competing loyalties and uncertain responsibilities.
A central part of the regime’s strategy for Uzbekistan has been the
stress on gradualist reform of the economy. Official figures suggest that
Uzbekistan has experienced a far smaller economic decline than other
post-Soviet states and that in some areas has even begun to achieve low
levels of growth. Most independent observers are skeptical of
government claims and point to a far less rosy future for the economy.
In particular, external observers highlight the lack of structural reform
and the continuing vulnerability of the economy to fluctuations in
commodity prices for agricultural and minerals.
In fact, far from simply failing to reform the economy since
independnce the regime in Uzbekistan has become ever more closely
intertwined with business through state control and regulation, and the
expansion of corruption. Political power has increasingly come to
depend on the control of economic resources and the exercise of
patrimonial authority. The close relationship of politics and business has
been a key element in the spread of corruption in the country.
Corruption has created serious problems for the operation of the national
economy and in some areas may be beyond control. Breaking free from
the dovetailing of political and economic power in Uzbekistan is going
to be extremely difficult, even supposing there is a will amongst the
elite to attempt this task.
International relations have been one of the few successes of the early
years of independence, at least measured against the main aims for
external relations established by President Karimov. Uzbekistan has
been able to consolidate its position as a leading state in the Central
Asia region and to develop a range of relationships to important states
outside the region. Tashkent has managed to achieve considerable
autonomy from Russia, although this also has much to do with
Moscow’s lack of a clear strategy for the Central Asian region and
weakened international position. Tashkent has also been able to
establish a working relationship with leading Western powers, notably
the United States and the European Union, based upon the notion that
Uzbekistan can serve as a strategic partner for the West in the region.
The authoritarian nature of the regime in Uzbekistan, however, is likely
to cause problems for this relationship in the future.
The increasing instability of the Central Asia region as whole, poses a
significant challenge for Tashkent. Civil wars in Afghanistan and
Tajikistan have frequently undermined Karimov’s broader strategies in
the region and threatened to have serious domestic implications for the

CONCLUSION 119

Uzbekistani authorities. In recent years, fluctuations in regional
relations have placed greater strains upon Uzbekistan’s external
policy causing a high degree of uncertainty about Tashkent’s ability to
manage it foreign relations.
Central to Uzbekistan’s future will be its relationship to the
international community. The country’s complex geo-political situation,
combined with the chronic economic problems faced by Tashkent has
made building ties to the outside world extremely important. While
Uzbekistan has been resistant to the type of economic reforms supported
by international financial organisations, some efforts have been made to
attract foreign investors and to diversify the economy. The country’s
generally difficult economic climate, however, has discouraged
extensive engagement by outside investors, and foreign involvement
remains limited to a few largely symbolic and high profile projects.
Equally important has been the political relationship to the
international community. Although initially reluctant to develop close
ties to Tashkent in the early years of independence, in recent years
many leading powers have established far warmer relations with
Uzbekistan, particularly in the sphere of military partnerships. The
relationship to countries in North America and Western Europe
remains, however, complex and riven with contradictions.
In this environment, the dilemma for developed nations regarding
Uzbekistan is similar to that with other dictatorial countries. Many
representatives of the business community believe that there are good
opportunities for investment in Uzbekistan, although the rewards are
only likely in the long-term. The democratic and human rights
communities, on the other hand, have serious concerns about civil and
political liberties and the country’s ability to achieve a stable form of
political development.
The central question for the international community and for the
population in Uzbekistan is the durability of the system, particularly if
the current presidential incumbent is removed from the scene. In
Uzbekistan, the form of rule that has developed since independence
means that the role of Karimov has become central to future
development. The drive to consolidate power in the hands of the
President has been achieved in the short-term, but long-term stability
looks increasingly fragile.
Ironically, the measures that the President has employed to maintain
his personal position above all others may be precisely what are
promoting instability within and around the country. Critically, the
actions of the existing regime have served to promote radical Islam

120 CONCLUSION

as the only possible opposition to the policies of the government. More
moderate voices of opposition or caution have been extinguished
opening the way for a polarisation of society. With Karimov at the helm,
the Uzbekistani state may be able to maintain the coherence to suppress
opposition through crude methods of coercion and terror. If Karimov is
removed, the regime lacks obvious and peaceful methods to produce a
replacement. The President also takes great pains to ensure that no
rivals for his position emerge from within the government. Without a
genuine process of liberalisation to establish a more responsive political
and economic system, the choice that faces Uzbekistan may
increasingly become authoritarianism or anarchy.3
1 U.S. Department of State: Uzbekistan Country Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1998 (http://www.state.gov/www/global/human rights/1998
hrp report/uzbekist.html).
2 Annette Bohr, ‘The Central Asian States as nationalising regimes’, in
Graham Smith, Vivien Law, Andrew Wilson, Annette Bohr, Edward
Allworth, Nation-building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands: The Politics of
National Identities (Cambridge: CUP, 1998), pp. 139–64.
3 Anna Matveeva, ‘Democratization, legitimacy and political change in
Central Asia’, International Affairs, vol. 75, number 1 (January 1999),
pp. 36–7.

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Overview (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994).
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present: a cultural history (Stanford, California: Hoover Press Publication,
1990).
John Anderson, The International Politics of Central Asia (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1997).
Annette Bohr, Uzbekistan: Politics and Foreign Policy (London: Royal Institute
of International Affairs, 1998).
William Fierman, ‘Political Development in Uzbekistan: Democratization?’, in
Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott, eds., Conflict, Cleavage and Change in
Central Asia and the Caucasus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
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Gregory Gleason, The Central Asian States: Discovering Independence
(Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1997).
Henry Hale, ‘Islam, State-building and Uzbekistan Foreign Policy’, in Ali
Banuazizi and Myron Weiner, eds., The New Geopolitics of Central Asia
and its Borderlands (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press,
1994), pp. 136–72.
Mehrdad Haghayeghi, Islam and Politics in Central Asia (N.Y., N.Y.: St.
Martin’s Press, 1995).
Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan on the Threshold of the Twenty-first Century
(Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1997).
Nancy Lubin, Labour and Nationality in Soviet Central Asia: An Uneasy
Compromise (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Michael Rywkin, Moscow’s Muslim Challenge: Soviet Central Asia (London:
M.E.Sharpe, 1990).
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hrp report/uzbekist.html).

Index

Abdullajonov, Abdulmalik, 95
Ibn Sina, Abu All, 3
Al Biruni, Abu Rai Raihan, 34
Achemedia, xiii
Afghanistan, 96–98 (see Taliban
below)
Agriculture, 75–77
Alash Orda, 12
Alexander of Macedonia (Alexander
the Great), xiii–3
Al Khwarezm, 4
All-union referendum, 26
Allworth, Edward, xiii, 5
Amu Darya (Oxus), 2
Apostolou, Andrew, 83
Arab, arrival in Central Asia, 3,
Arabic language, 3–4,
spread of Islam, 3
Aral Sea, 25, 76, 109

Central Asian Union (CAU), 108–
111
Chagatai, 6
Chingis Khan, 4
Civil War, 15
Commonwealth of Independent States
(CIS), 98–101
Constitution, 32–33
Corruption, 53, 69
Cotton production, Russian policies,
10, 63–64,
Soviet monoculture, 21
(White Gold), 65–66, 75–8
Cyrus the Great, 2
Demographic growth, 81–82,
and conflict, 81
Diaspora, Uzbek, 92
Dostum, General Abdurrashid, 97
Drugs, 82

Babur, Zahiriddin, 5
Bactria, xiii, 2
Basmachi, 13–16, 65
Birlik, 25, 31, 35–37
Bolshevik Revolution , 13,
Tashkent Soviet, 13–15
Bukhara, 3, 7,
People’s Republic of Bukhara, 15–
16

Economic Co-operation Organisation
(ECO), 111–112
Economy, dependency, 68,
distortions, 68–69,
institutions, 71–73,
reform, 69–71
Elections, 31, 33
Erk, 25, 31, 35, 56
Ethnic conflict, 24, 25, 47

Carlisle, Donald, 19
Fergana Valley, 7, 17, 16
122

INDEX 123

Gorbachev, Mikhail, 24,
putsch, 28
Great Game, the, 8
Independence, 27–28
International finance and investment,
79–80
International relations, Uzbekistan’s
relations with Russian Federation,
98–101,
with Turkey, 101–103,
with regional powers (Iran,
Pakistan and China), 103–105,
with the West (United States),
105–107
Islam, arrival in Central Asia, 3,
Soviet anti-religious policies, 20,
Muslim Spiritual Board of Central
Asia, 20, 52,
political Islam, 52–53,
Islamic revival, 51,
Wahhabi, 53–56
Jadid movement, 9, 11, 15
(Young Bukharans and Young
Khivans), 18
Jurabekov, Ismail, 41
Revolt, 9–10, 11
(Andizhan Rising), 12
Karakalpakstan, creation of
Karakalpak ASSR, 17,
relations to Uzbekistan, 32
Karimov, Islam, 24,
president, 24,
suppression of opposition, 31, 35–
38, 52–56,
elections, 31,
fac[,]ade democracy, 38–38,
personnel policy, 40–41,
control of regions, 41–42,
and Timur, 45,
Islam, 52–56,
assassination attempt on, 56

Khojaev, Faizulla, 16, 18
Khojand region, 92–95
Khokim, 32,
replacement of, 41–42
Khorezm, 3,
Khiva 7,
People’s Republic of Khorezm,
15–16
Kokand, 7
Khudoiberdiev, Mahmud, 94
Language change, Latin and Cyrillic
scripts, 20,
state language, 25, 45–46, 50
Mahalla, 32 (aksakal)
Media, 38–40
Mining, energy and industry, 77–79
Mirsaidov, Shakrulla, 24–25, 31–32,
37–38, 38, 40
Mongul Rule, 4–5
National Communism, 16
National currency (Som), 70
Nationalism, rising national identity,
21
Nativization, 18
Navoi, Alisher, 7
Nuri, Sayed Abdullo, 94
Parliament (Oliy Majilis), 33
Perestroika, 23,
cotton scandal, 24, 43
Polat, Abdurahim, 36–37
Political parties, 33–34,
People’s Democratic Party of
Uzbekistan, 32–33
Post-independence policies, 28–30
Privatization, 73–74
Purges, 18–19
Rashidov, Sharaf, 19, 23, 43–44
Referendum, 34

124 INDEX

Russia, military conquest of Central
Asia, 7–8,
colonial administration, 9–12,
economic policies, 63–65,
Russian migration, 10, 5
Salih, Muhammad, 31, 35–36, 38
Samanid dynasty, 3
Samarkand, 3
Sart, 6
Shaibani Khan, Muhammad, 5
Silk Road, 62–63
Sogdia, xiii
Soviet policies of transformation, 20–
21, 67
(female emancipation, anti-Islam,
education), agriculture, 21–3, 66–
67,
industrialisation, 21, 66–67
Syr Darya (Jaxartes), 2
Tajikistan, as part of the UzSSR, 16,
Union Republic, 16,
Civil war, 92–96,
involvement of Uzbekistan, 95
Taliban, 38
Timur, Amir (Tamerlane), 5, 42, 45
Tokaria, xiii
Traditional politics (regionalism,
clans), 19
Transoxiana, 2
Transport infrastructure, 10–11, 64,
67–68
Turkestan, 5,
Russian Province of, 9,
Turkestan Autonomous Soviet
Socialist Republic, 14
Turkic invasions, 3,
languages, 4,
pan-Turkism, 11
Ulugh-bek, 5
Uzbek, tribal confederation and
ethnogenesis, 5–6,

Soviet nation-building, 18–20,
Uzbek language (Latin and
Cyrillic scripts), 20, 43, 45–46,
and minorities, 50,
post-independence nationalism,
42–43,
national elite, 43–44,
new history, 44–45,
minorities, 46–51,
Tajiks, 48–49,
Slavs, 49–50
Uzbekistan, creation of the UzSSR,
16
Von Kaufman, K.P., 9
World War One, 12
Zettelmeyer, Jeromin, 83–84