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Assessment for Tajiks in Uzbekistan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Tajiks in Uzbekistan, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3ae5c.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Uzbekistan Facts
Area:    174,846 sq. km.
Capital:    Tashkent
Total Population:    23,783,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

In 1989 the Uzbek Tajiks seemed to have constituted one of the major threats to the territorial integrity of Uzbekistan. On the one hand, they were a large and regionally concentrated group which populated Samarkand and Bukhara, both Tajik historical cities situated in eastern Uzbekistan adjacent to Tajikistan. In addition, the ethnic Tajiks established a national movement which formulated its claims in terms of territorial autonomy and boundary adjustment. By the late 1990s, however, the Uzbek Tajiks no longer looked like a serious challenger to the Uzbek state or President Karimov's regime. For a variety of reasons, including domestic economic tribulations as well as the civil war that raged in neighboring Tajikistan during the mid-1990s, Karimov chose a decidedly authoritarian approach to governing and launched a war against all opposition groups early after independence; this included a crackdown on ethnic Tajiks. Arrests of the leaders and members of the Tajik national movement in 1992 deflated its initial successes and transformed the movement into a loose network of affiliations that became less politicized. While some analysts have attempted to interpret events in Central Asia as fostering Tajik nationalism in Uzbekistan (e.g. the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operating from bases in Tajikistan with an explicit goal of overthrowing President Karimov), evidence has thus far proven limited.

Risk of Tajik rebellion is moderate to low. While the group is territorially concentrated and faces a degree of discrimination from the regime, Tajiks have lacked significant political organization since 1994, relying instead on cultural associations. There have been no incidents of recent political violence carried out by the group, and protest has been very low; although this is likely more to do with the strict authoritarian policies of the Uzbek government than a lack of grievances. Perhaps the sole achievement of which the ethnic Tajiks can boast is the official recognition of their status as a separate nationality group, but this was arguably more of a legacy of Soviet nationality policies than successful political lobbying. The regime in neighboring Tajikistan has shown no willingness to support irredentist policies of Tajiks in Uzbekistan, which further undermines Tajiks' ability to oppose the state violently. One area of increasing concern for the regime is not Tajik nationalism, but rather an overarching Islamic identity, which some believe could pose a significant challenge now or in the future. The explicitly non-violent Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, which is banned in all Central Asian states, appears to enjoy wide support among Tajiks in Uzbekistan, especially in the south-west.

While the risk is small in the near future, unless Tajik cultural and political grievances are successfully addressed, they remain a potential target for mobilization against the Karimov regime.

Analytic Summary

The Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan was established in 1924 and initially it included present day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In 1929 Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were separated, but both remained Union Republics within the Soviet Union until 1991, when both countries became independent.

Among the numerous ethnic groups living in Uzbekistan, Tajiks are third in size following the Uzbek majority and ethnic Russians. Tajiks mainly populate two large cities, Samarkand and Bukhara (GROUPCON = 1), which are known to have been Tajik historical centers and to have contributed significantly to the development of Tajik culture in Central Asia. The population size and the territorial concentration of the ethnic Tajiks have caused periodic tension in Uzbek-Tajik relations, which were characterized by animosity and territorial disputes through much of the Soviet era. Yet, serious inter-ethnic conflicts were to grow only with the collapse of central Soviet rule and the establishment of independent Central Asian republics.

In the course of the past decade, ethnic Tajiks have undergone a rapid political and organizational regression. Having emerged in 1989 as an ethnoseparatist group which demanded autonomy (AUTOGR496 = 3; AUTGR596 = 2), removal of borders between Samarkand and Bukhara, and the establishment of an autonomous republic by the name of Sogadiana, the group soon disintegrated into smaller and less significant factions (1992). The initially strong separatist ambitions have likewise faded, replaced with political grievances centering on participation and rights within the Uzbek system (POLGR203, POLGR303, POLGR403 = 2) and cultural grievances centering on language rights (CULGR303 = 1, CULGR403 = 2). The major factor which contributed to this development was the policy of Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, which made impossible any significant manifestation of organized communal interest in the country. In practical terms, Karimov decided to suppress the nationalist Tajik movement in 1992, and little has been heard of the movement since. The only achievements on which the group could claim as a result of its political activities was the recognition of ethnic Tajiks as a nationality group in Uzbekistan and Tajik as an official language.

The current status of the ethnic Tajiks, and the moderate policy of neighboring Tajikistan toward its kindred groups abroad, suggest that the ethnic Tajiks will remain a relatively inactive community, largely excluded from Uzbek political life. Yet what might change this situation is the increasing activity of opposition groups organized around religious, not national, principals. These groups include the rebellious Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU, now sometimes referred to as the Islamic Movement of Central Asia or Turkestan), and the non-violent Hizb ut-Tahrir, which operates throughout Central Asia illegally and appears to have support among the Tajiks of Uzbekistan. Both organizations seek to overthrow the secularist governments in Central Asia and establish a caliphate, but their strategies appear to differ on the use of violence. The activities of the IMU have diminished since their bases in Afghanistan were obstructed following the American invasion in 2001, but it nevertheless remains active. Recruitment by the IMU of ethnic Tajiks has resulted in increased government repression. In August 2000, large numbers of Tajiks living in the mountains along the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border were forcefully evacuated and resettled, with large numbers arrested for suspected complicity with militants. While this sparked verbal protest by the government of Tajikistan, ethnic Tajiks in Uzbekistan remained quiescent (PROT00 = 0).

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been a growing force in the region since 2000 or earlier and has attracted significant attention from authorities. Tajik communities have been targeted by authorities for suspected membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, with evidence of arrests (REP101 = 3), torture (REP501 = 3), and restricted movement (REP1701-03 = 2) found for the 2001-2003 period. Again, however, incidents of protest have remained very low (PROT01-03 = 1), with violent activity non-existent (REB00-03 = 0).

References

Central Eurasian Studies Review (Publication of the Central Eurasian Studies Society). Volume 2, Number 3, Fall 2003.

CSCE Briefing, Human Rights and Democratization in the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union, January 1993.

Digest, Monthly Newsletter of the CSCE.Europa Publications, Far East and Australia 1994.

Europe Year book, 1998, vol.II

Freedom House, Nations in Transition 2003: Uzbekistan.

Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-94.

Library of Congress on-line country reports

Liu, Morgan (2002) "The Perils of Nationalism in Independent Uzbekistan" The Journal of the International Institute (USA: University of Michigan).

Nexis Library Information, 1990-2003.

US State Department Human Rights Report: Uzbekisan (2001-2003).

US State Department International Religious Freedom Report: Uzbekisan (2001-2003).

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