Revolution in Uzbekistan (Continued)
Three questions to Boris Petric, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
As a anthropological researcher looking into social institutions and organizations, you know the Ferghana Valley pretty well. Do you believe that the revolt in Andijan will spread to the rest of the country?
The events of Andijan reveal two different things: increasingly violent action by Islamists groups, fed up with repression and thousands of incarcerations, and popular exasperation at a régime which is becoming more and more unjust. Rising unemployment, lack of freedom and widespread corruption have exasperated the populace, who see no glimmer of relief on the horizon. Recent events there mark a turning point because they have caused two movements, which previously existed separately from one another, to join ranks. But it is doubtful that we will see a general uprising across the country given the terror to which the populace is subjected. There is no space in Uzbekistan right now to create an organized, nationwide protest movement
The Ferghana Valley has been a restive area since the end of the 1980s. A large number of religious figures have been imprisoned or forced into exile. The focus on Islam obscures a highly regionalized political system. For many, the power retained by President Karimov represents the influence of the Samarkand faction backing the President to the detriment of Ferghana. The Ferghani are doubtlessly going to feel even more marginalized.
Does the Islamist Factor trumpeted by the Uzbek authorities, who endlessly point to past terrorist acts (1999, 2000), really exist?
Islam Karimov gambled that economic success would to justify his authoritarian régime but the economic miracle did not take place. His repression of any form of protest focused on the political establishment does not offer the possibility for the emergence of an Uzbek opposition. The option of repression chosen by the government has only increased the audience for Islamist movements, which, however, remain limited. If the authorities continue to bar other forms of more moderate political expression then Islamist movements will continue to prosper given the disastrous economic climate.
Do there remain foreign influences in Central Asia which are financing the construction of mosques and religious schools as may have been the case during the 1990s?
Central Asia is undeniably a theatre for rivalry among different foreign influences, Islamist or otherwise. It is difficult to measure the extent of influence of Islamist movements in Uzbekistan but it is certain that, like Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a certain number of protagonists have links to transnational organizations active in other parts of the world with the aim of installing an Islamist régime.
Background on Hizb-ut-Tahrir
Who are the fanantical Islamists which the régime of Islam Karimov has set about to suppress throughout Uzbekistan? One thing is certain: between 7,000 and 10,000 people are in prison for their links to Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party).
The reach of the organization, which appeared in the 1990s, is uncertain. It is difficult to asssess the number of sympathizers because the Uzbek judicial system throws people in jail whose only crime was to have been in primary school with one of the movement’s future militants.
Founded in Jordan in1953 as a radical alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is active in Great Britain and on the Internet, is spreading across all of central Asia through a network of small underground cells. The cells distribute tracts flaying The Jew Karimov who they say has adopted Israeli methods through its collaboration with infidel nations such as the United States. Their goal is the creation of a caliphate through peaceful means. Until now, no act of violence has been successfully attributed to them.
The Uzbek authorities claim that Hizb-ut-Tahrir was responsbile for bombings in Tashkent in 1996 (15 dead) and in 2004 (47 dead). According to NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, most of the Islamists put on trial were brought up on fabricated evidence. For this reason men in the Ferghana Valley, a bastion of traditional Islam, sew their pockets closed to prevent police from slipping something into them, like drugs. Contact, even at a distance, with a presumed fanatic is a crime. Entire families have been jailed.
Recently President Karimov has called into the spotlight the existence of a new Islamic movement, Akramia, said to be linked to Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the Ferghana. But its spiritual leader, Akram Yudachev, sentenced to 17 years in prison in 1999 for his presumed ties to the Tashkent bombings, is better known for his writings than for armed resistance. However, it was in his name that the May 12-13 attack on the Andijan military garrison was carried out and the prison gates flung open.