The Empire of Terror
The following article by Marie Jégo in today's Le Monde portrays Uzbekistan as a dark and cruel place behind the mask of entrepreneurism, emprisoning 25 million people.
When Uzbekistan declared its independence in 1991, Islam Karimov, First Secretary of the Communist Party and elected President of the Supreme Soviet, decided to give his country a new identify and new symbols. The old statues of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin were pried off their pedestals and replaced with Tamurlane, the Mongol chieftain who in a bloody series of expeditions carved an empire out for himself, placing Baghdad, Delhi, Damascus, Ankara and Isphahan under his yoke. In museums, statues, and postacard, Tamurlane is everywhere. That face has melded with that of the President.
The old apparatchik hasn’t raised any minarets of human skulls as was Tamurlane’s custom following battle to terrify the populace. But the methods of torture used in his police interrogation rooms and in the prisons, where NGOs have counted more than 10,000 political prisoners, raise the hair on your head: slow suffocation enveloped inside a plastic bag, fingernails torn out, electric shock, cigarette burns, rape, suspension in the air by the feet, and for the last few years, submersion in boiling water.
That’s how the son of Fatima Mukhadirova died. A Uzbeki merchant who spent six years in a prison camp dared to demand a prisoner accounting from the authorities. Freed from prison on the eve of a visit by Donald Rumsfeld after the personal intervention of Craig Murray, the British ambassador in Tashkent, Ms. Mukhadirova was able to have an autopsy performed on the corpse of a young prisoner--her son--by the University of Glascow. It was confirmed that he was boiled to death. Declared persona non grata by the Uzbek authorities, the ambassador was recalled. If you oppose the Tamerlane of Modern Times, there is a price to pay.
A hardened and taut face with inexpressive eyes, the Uzbek tyrant does not hide his penchant for merciless punishment. Those people, he said once, speaking of Islamist militants, must be shot down with a bullet to the brain. If I have to, I will kill them with my own hands. Personally, I am prepared to cut off 200 heads to preserve peace in the republic, he declared after having baptized the year 2004 as The Year of Peace and Compassion.
He has only one weakness: his daughters. His eldest, 40 year-old Gulnara, is the most conspicuous businesswomen in the country. She reigns over a vast financial empire including manufacturing plants, mobile phones, nightclubs, travel agencies…The elite and its courtesans prosper while the rest of the country is plunged into misery. Your name must be Gulnara or you must be one of the personalities in the good graces of the regime in order to make money in a country where all the command levers are pulled by the “boss”. Despite its natural gas, its gold, its cotton and to a lesser extent, its petroleum, Uzbekistan is poor and its population lives in poverty, ground down by a corrupt administration and an even more oppressive security apparatus.
After sixteen years of rule, Islam Karimov has honed his power structure, a hybrid of sovietism and clanism. Through fraudulent referendums and elections, Karimov was able to extend his mandate until 2007. Born in Samarkand, the old oasis-city along the Silk Road south of Tashkent, he is able to play off one clan against another, distributing spoils or blame on personal whimsy. At is base, the Karimov system reposes on a patchwork of fiefs run by “greybeards”, honorable elders responsible for the mahalle (neighborhoods) constituting the relay switches of power and a formidable hive of informers.
This sorry state of affairs has earned Islam Karimov, especially since 11 September 2001, the unconditional support of the United States, the grand provider of military aid to the country. While Washington never loses an opportunity to flay Alexander Lukachenko, the last dictator in Europe, according to Condoleezza Rice, it loses its zeal when it comes to the Uzbek President. The aptly-named despot has no shortage of allies in Washington. In 2004, while the US Department of State refused to release $12 million in aid due to human rights violations, the Pentagon doubled its aid for the War on Terror.