“Under the Watchful Eye”

This semester we learned about different issues in Uzbekistan including foreign East West relations, forced labor, human rights abuses, Aral Sea environmental disaster, water wars, border controls, and other issues.

I would like to write about censorship in this post. According to the Freedom House 2015 report on Uzbekistan, the state is described as “one of the most tightly controlled online and media environments in the world, with restrictions on any content critical of the government, high levels of surveillance, and prosecutions with lengthy prison sentences for posting controversial content online.”

From the previous post, we know that the state imposed the ban on cell phone use on campuses and schools. In addition to that, public access to internet cafes is restricted. internet-lock-644x250

Students are not allowed in internet cafes from 8:30am to 7:00pm; minors are not allowed without parental supervision between 10:00pm and 6:00am. Internet café owners are required to have surveillance cameras on the premises and keep a list of visitors including their log files and sites they visited.

internet censorshipAny public organizations (libraries, museums, schools, universities) can only connect to the internet through the local/national network, ZiyoNET, which is controlled by Uztelecom, a state-owned telecommunications company. Mobile phone companies are required by the state to report any suspicious text messages or limit internet access to users at “authorities’ request.”

The National Security Service also monitors emails, phone conversations, online forums, and social network activity as a measure “to prevent terrorism and extremism.”
The government blocks any content critical of the regime, leadership, foreign/domestic affairs and human rights. That also includes the websites of political opposition groups and any independent news websites. Below is the list of permanently blocked websites that do not show up in the Uzbek search engine:

Internet Censorship

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  • Deutsche Welle
  • BBC Uzbek language service
  • Voice of America
  • Amnesty International
  • Freedom House
  • Human Rights Watch


The Ministry for the Development of Information Technologies and Communications is responsible for “internet content regulation in order to prevent negative influence on the public consciousness of citizens.” It is also responsible for creating its own “national websites on different issues to satisfy informational and intellectual needs of the population.” The state has an approved registry list of information resources, and created national alternatives of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other popular global social network and media sites. However, the terms of use for the national platforms require reports on users when requested by the state officials, the online forum users must register with their real names, and anyone buying a SIM card are required to show their passport.

uzb constIronically, the Uzbek Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression, of the mass media, and the right to gather and disseminate information. It also guarantees the privacy of communication. However, anything that is found to be threatening to the constitutional order, public security, slander, insult and insult to the president is punishable by law – punishment includes fines up to 100 times the minimum monthly wage, arrest, “correctional labor,” and prison sentence. Bloggers and journalists are not allowed to operate without a state issued license and prohibited from publishing any information that “represents a threat to public security.” Many journalists have been punished for “interference in internal affairs” and “insulting the dignity of citizens.”


According to Human Rights Watch, currently there are “three dozen journalists, activists, writers and intellectuals are behind bars” due to their work (some of their pictures are above).

The government also controls its film and music industry. The state recently published a list of 700 foreign films that are banned because of “indecency” and “eroticism.” The national cinema agency, Uzbekkino banned the showing of the movie Deadpool as “it is not line with Uzbek ethical norms.”


UzbekNavo, the national company responsible for issuing show business licenses, recently issued specific rules on the dress code and stage behavior for Uzbek women singers to make sure that their outfits “cover shoulders and legs” and that their behavior on stage should not have any “sexual content.” This order came after two female singers, Rayhon and Lola, released a video wearing “openly European dresses” and singing a song titled “I loved you not enough.”

Both singers were criticized in media and online forums and by the Women’s Committee “for promoting filthy thoughts” and their licenses were suspended by UzbekNavo. One of the singers was forced to promise to adhere to the new dress code.

Lola Yuldasheva
Pop singer Lola “before” and “after her license was suspended

The Women’s Committee mentioned earlier started a campaign called “Saving Our Spirituality,” promoting a “True Uzbek Woman” image. The ideal Uzbek woman “should know her place and be modest, wear national clothes, [and] be politically passive.” The committee published a list of “harmful” things that are “alien to Uzbek people” – it included a ban on sexy dresses, make up, wearing t-shirts with “Kiss Me” and “I love New York” phrases. Any woman wearing “openly Western-style clothing” or Muslim hijab, should be reported to the authorities. So all of this is done in the name of protecting Uzbek culture from the immoral Western influence and radical Islam.

Voltaire quoteThe state definitely went to great lengths to protect its citizens from “harmful” information and control any content being taught in schools and what is published in traditional and online media. The government controls what people watch, read, study, wear, say and write; as well as, monitors closely all the above activities and silences anyone who does not agree with the system. This how democracy is presented by the Uzbek Model of Development.

censored post



‘Deadpool’ Won’t Screen in Uzbekistan, Exhibitors Decide. Retrieved from http://hollywoodreporter.com/news/deadpool-wont-screen-uzbekistan-exhibitors-864595

Doniyor Asilbekov, Uzbekistan Moves to Censor Women’s Fashion (July 7, 2015), Silk Road Reporters. Retrived from http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2015/07/07/uzbekistan-moves-to-censor-womens-fashion/

The Naked Truth About Censorship in Uzbekistan (April 2016). The Global Voices. Retrieved from https://globalvoices.org/2016/04/10/the-naked-truth-about-censorship-in-uzbekistan/

Uzbekistan: Country Report, Freedom on the Net, 2015. Freedom House. Retrieved from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2015/uzbekistan

Uzbekistan profile – Media – BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-16218808




Education and Development?

As you may already know, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan implemented series of reforms in its higher education. Currently it follows the four and two year bachelor and master degree formats (Bakalavr and Magistr), in addition to Specialist Diploma (five years of study), and Doktor Nauk (doctor of science; six years after the Magistr degree).

imagesUnlike Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan is not a member of the European Bologna Process, the goals of which are “compatibility and comparability of higher education qualifications, programs and courses; academic and workplace mobility across international borders.”

_70129960_cotton144355002We learned from one of the earlier posts that it is still mandatory for high school and college students to help with cotton harvest and they miss up to two month of schooling each fall. That is an equivalent of two academic semesters in four years! 

uzb gerb

In this week post I would like to write about two decrees, banning the cell phone use in schools and teaching political science. Yes, you read both correctly.

In a decree of May 2012, students were prohibited using their cell phones at schools and universities in order “to ensure the constitutional rights of students in getting a quality education and professional training, as well as to lower youth health risks for the interests of the nation and society.” In addition, the students and school employees are not allowed to use their phones to take pictures or videos at school that can “damage the image of the educational facilities.”


According to Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia Human Rights Watch, this decree serves as the government’s “well-documented campaign to restrict freedom of expression and stifle civic discussion in the country.” Whose interests this decree is protecting, the students’ or the government’s? How far will the state go to control what’s going in schools and on university campuses?

banned books

In 2010, all political science departments were closed at the universities putting a stop to students’ enrollment in this major. In August 2015 a decree was issued, which banned the teaching of the political science and the words “political science” from the course offerings and all library holdings. Because of this ban, all literature related to political science will now require a special permission to access it.

The reasons for the ban are as follows:

  • an irrelevant Western import;
  • does not follow a scientific method;
  • a duplicate of history, psychology and sociology;
  • “a pseudo-science” because it does not take into account the Uzbek model of development.

A group of Uzbek political scientists posted an open letter against the decree but no response was received.

According to the decree, the last remaining course on “political science” was renamed as “The Theory and Practice of Building a Democratic Society in Uzbekistan.” Can anyone guess what’s in the course syllabus?





Evgeny Kuzmin, Uzbekistan: Karimov Decree Makes Schools, Universities Cell-Free Zones (June 14, 2012), EurasiaNet’s Weekly Digest. Retrieved from http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65545

Nick Clark, Bologna-Inspired Education Reform in Central Asia (May 4, 2015), World Education News & Reviews. Retrieved from http://wenr.wes.org/2015/05/bologna-inspired-education-reform-central-asia

Alec Luhn, Uzbek president bans teaching of political science (September 5, 2015), The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/05/uzbekistan-islam-karimov-bans-political-science

Uzbekistan, The European Education Directory http://www.euroeducation.net/prof/uzbekco.htm

Uzbekistan Doesn’t Believe in Political Science (September 2, 2015), Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. Retrieved from http://www.rferl.org/content/uzbekistan-political-science-abolished/27222937.html

Disclaimer: images on this blog are taken from various internet sites and used for non-commercial purposes

Iran: Uzbekistan, SCO and Central Asia

As we learned in this week case study, after the US imposed its sanctions on Iran, it turned to its Eastern neighbors and successfully developed mutually beneficial relationship with Russia, China and India. In addition, Iran reached out to Central Asian states, including Uzbekistan. Initially, Iran was treated “coldly” because of the fear of the spread of the political/radical Islam. Iran respected the wishes and only pursued its economic interests in the region.

SCO It also obtained an observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) led by China, and became an important part of the Chinese Silk Road project, taking an active participation in numerous railroad and road infrastructure development throughout the Central Asian states.

Uzb Ir flags

Iran and Uzbekistan developed successful bilateral trade relations (reaching over $400 million US dollars in 2014, according to the Uzbek ministry of foreign affairs webpage). Iran receives Uzbek cotton, metals, fertilizers, chemical fibers and exports construction materials and consumer products. Both countries signed cooperation agreements in different sectors, such as agriculture, transport, oil, gas, construction, pharmaceuticals and banking. Uzbekistan also received access to the Persian Gulf region through the Iranian ports.

President Rouhani and Uzbek Ambassador to Iran

There is an active exchange of delegations, meetings and visits between the governments of both countries. In the recent visit to Tehran, the Uzbek envoy expressed the following, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has a special political position in the region and its economic capacities are outstanding; Tashkent has always prioritized broadening of all-out relations with Tehran.”



As we learned in the earlier post, President Karimov has been commended for his ability to maintain diplomatic balance with the West and the East, always looking out for Uzbek interests.

Cooperation with Iran serves two purposes, internal – developing relations with Uzbekistan and each of the Central Asian states; and external – helping China and Russia counterbalance the West. At the same time, Iran’s growing role in Central Asia should not be ignored by its partners in the East and in the West.



Cooperation of the Republic of Uzbekistan with Near East, Middle East and African Countries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Retrieved from http://www.mfa.uz/en/cooperation/countries/376/

Iran Calls for Broadening of Trade Ties with Uzbekistan (October 27, 2015). FARS News Agency. Retrieved from http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13940805001239

Iran’s Growing Role in Central Asia? Geopolitical, Economic and Political Profit and Loss Account (2014). ALJAZEERA CENTER FOR STUDIES. Retrieved from https://studies.aljazeera.net/en/dossiers/2014/04/2014416940377354.html

Why is Central Asia Excited About the Iran Deal? (April 2015). The Diplomat. Retrieved from http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/why-is-central-asia-excited-about-the-iran-deal/

Сайт посольства Ирана в Узбекистане http://tashkent.mfa.ir/?siteid=397 (banner retrieved from http://tashkent.mfa.ir/uploads/tashkand.jpg)

UN and Uzbekistan

After gaining independence, Uzbekistan became a state member of the United Nations in 1992. In October 1993 the UN opened its office in Tashkent.

Currently there are eleven UN programs, funds and agencies in Uzbekistan: UNAIDS, UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNODC, UNRCCA, UNV, UN Women, WHO, and The World Bank. Their focus is on two objectives, “to support government in advancing economic and democratic reforms,” and “strengthening and fostering the participation of civil society in development processes at national and local levels.” Each of the departments has their own thematic areas as well. UNDP, for example, focuses on three areas:

  • Economic governance and poverty reduction;
  • Environment and energy;
  • Democratic Governance.

The United Nations office in Uzbekistan has their own webpage, http://www.un.uz/en/.

UN UZB webpage screen shot


They are also active in social media and have their presence on Facebook and Twitter.


The UN-Uzbekistan webpage offers different reports and publications available on their website. Reading the UN in Uzbekistan publication from Autumn 2015, one cannot help but notice the overall optimistic and somewhat neutral tone of the reports. Furthermore, the publication does not inform the reader about any critical issues that need to be addressed.

UN UZB publications screen shot


The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon visited Central Asia in summer 2015 and while he was impressed by the region’s economic development, he clearly expressed his concerns about “growing human rights abuses” in the region, specifically in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. He noted Uzbekistan’s efforts in eliminating child labor in the cotton sector and said that “more must be done to address the mobilization of teachers, doctors and others in cotton harvesting.” Since the child labor became legally prohibited, the government found a way around it, forcefully sending teachers and doctors to the cotton fields for a month under a threat of dismissal or a fine in the “amount equal to almost half their wages.”

In his remarks, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed his concern regarding “maltreatment of prisoners” in Uzbekistan. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch submitted a memorandum on treatment of prisoners and human rights violations to the UN prior to Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Central Asia (links to documents and video under sources) urging him to address this issue.

Amnesty Intl protest


Even though the Secretary General visit was considered quite a big and significant event for the region, none of the Uzbek TV channels aired his remarks. The UN-Uzbekistan Facebook and Twitter page did not relay the Secretary General key points on human rights either.




Oybek Abdimuminov, Uzbekistan and The United Nations (2015), Himalayan and Central Asian Studies, Vol. 19, Nos 3-4, July-Dec. 2015, 182-194.

Zabikhulla Saipov, Uzbekistan and the “Illusion of Stability” (June 19, 2015), The Diplomat. Retrieived from http://thediplomat.com/2015/06/uzbekistan-and-the-illusion-of-stability/

FIDH Press Release, The UN Calls on Uzbekistan to Address A Long List of Women’s Rights Violations (February 12, 2015). Retrieved from https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/uzbekistan/the-un-calls-on-uzbekistan-to-address-a-long-list-of-women-s-rights).

Human Rights Watch Memorandum to Ban Ki-moon regarding the UN Secretary General’s trip to Central Asia https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/08/hrw-briefing-memorandum-submitted-ban-ki-moon

United Nations in Uzbekistan http://www.un.uz/en/

United Nations in Uzbekistan Publications http://www.un.uz/en/publications

Amnesty International article on treatment of prisoners in Uzbekistan https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2015/04/uzbekistan-stop-torture/

Amnesty International Video Campaign to Stop Torture in Uzbekistan

Gender and Development in Uzbekistan

In the pre-Soviet Uzbekistan (which was a part of the Russian Empire but was allowed to continue with their Islamic traditions), the traditionally patriarchal society was “thoroughly gender-segregated.” The girls stayed home until their marriage was arranged, and they were required to wear “paranji” (long and wide covering for the whole body) and “chachvon” (a black net made out of horsehair to cover their face) to follow the Islamic religious tradition.

With the establishment of the Soviet regime, the Zhenotdel (abbreviation of Women’s Department in Russian) took seriously their goal of gender equality and emancipation by turning to massive unveiling campaigns against “women’s seclusion and inequality” called “hujum” (“attack” in the Uzbek language) and gathering Uzbek women, by means of intimidation or force, for public unveilings and setting their paranjis and chachvons on fire. This was the Soviet way of social transformation of women, liberating and civilizing them from religious “backwardness.” In addition, many traditional religious practices such as polygamy, child marriage, and forced marriage became punishable by law. The Uzbek resistance to the unveiling was quite violent resulting in murders of the unveiled women by their relatives or husbands; and it was also seen as an attack on their religious and cultural traditions. (This part was not taught in our history books – some of the articles on early Uzbek Soviet history is an eye-opener for me.)

3236098During the Soviet period, access to education, health care, employment and social benefits was granted equally to men and women. The literacy rates were high, however, women were employed in lower paid sectors and jobs (education and healthcare). A lot of women were employed in agriculture in rural areas and factories in the urban areas. In addition to their day jobs, women’s role was still seen as traditional home and child caretakers.

20 plus years after gaining independence, the gender inequality still remains to be addressed. According to the Asian Development Bank 2014 report, the term “gender” is understood in context of women; and “gender equality” is seen “as a process of being just and fair to women” in terms of social issues, but is not recognized “as a pre-requisite… for economic growth and stability.” Although women score high in the access to education and health, the access to economic and political arenas remains to be seen. The law allows for 30% of political candidates to be women. However, they only represent 17% of all members of legislative, representative and executive bodies. Only 4.2% of seats in the National Assembly (Oliy Majlis) are represented by women, and only one of the fourteen national ministries is headed by a female.

In education sector, majority of students in postsecondary and higher education are men. They are also more likely to pursue majors in technical training (traditionally higher paid jobs). The women are mostly in majors considered traditionally as “female” areas of study – education and health care (lower paid jobs). As a result, the labor market shows specific gender patterns as well, with women in lower paid public sector (health care and education), and men in more profitable fields (construction, transport, communications, industry).

Even though the Constitution of Uzbekistan guarantees equality for men and women before law, there is no official policy in place for women’s empowerment. The government approved several actions plans as a response to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan was created, and it oversees women’s affairs throughout the nation. However, it is considered as a nongovernmental organization despite being chaired by a deputy prime minister, and therefore has no voice in decision making process.

The country has a system of Mahallas, the neighborhood committees that were not dissolved by the Soviet system and kept as a way of pushing government’s initiatives. After the independence, they were put in place to “keep traditional Uzbek family values” and to oversee “day-to-day family matters, provide support to vulnerable families, and mediate in conflicts.” According to the OECD gender index report, they sometimes function “as obstacles to women’s rights.” Without the mahalla committee’s approval women are unable to file for divorce even if they are victims of domestic abuse. The OECD report also mentions that “domestic violence is not defined in Uzbek legislation,” and that there is no specific law addressing domestic violence, unless “it resulted in the death or very serious injury of the victim.” It is instead addressed as a “family conflict” to be resolved within the family, and if needed, with the help of mahalla.

As we see, Uzbekistan has a long way to go to achieve gender equality. Hopefully, the reports with analysis and practical suggestions done by ADB, OECD and other international organizations will be taken into serious consideration and changes will be implemented by the government.

If of any interest, below are infographics related to Uzbekistan gender data from the World Bank and UNDP:

Gender at a glance UZB World Bank

Key indicators world bank

http://visual.ly/track.php?q=http://visual.ly/women-and-men-uzbekistan-difference-education&slug=women-and-men-uzbekistan-difference-educationWomen and men in Uzbekistan: difference in education



Sources used:

Asian Development Bank, UZBEKISTAN: Country Gender Assessment. Gender and Development/Central and West Asia/2014. Retrieved from http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/institutional-document/42767/files/uzbekistan-country-gender-assessment.pdf

Gender at a Glance: UZBEKISTAN (March 2015). World Bank, Europe and Central Asia (ECA), March/2015, 100430. Retrieved from http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/T_MNA/2015/10/25/090224b08316a4f8/1_0/Rendered/PDF/Uzbekistan000Gender0at0a0glance.pdf

Danielle Kane, Ksenia Gorbenko, Colonial Legacy and Gender Inequality in Uzbekistan (September 25, 2015). SAGE Journals, Current Sociology 0011392115599583, doi:10.1177/0011392115599583

Social Institutions and Gender Index, OECD Development Center, UZBEKISTAN. Retrieved from http://www.genderindex.org/sites/default/files/datasheets/UZ.pdf

UNDP Uzbekistan, Women and Men in Uzbekistan: Differences in Education poster, 2010-2011. Retrieved from http://visual.ly/women-and-men-uzbekistan-difference-education

From “Intourist” to “Uzbektourism”

During the Soviet Union, all domestic and international tourism was handled through the Moscow-centered “Intourist” (abbreviation of “international tourist”) company and its branches dispersed throughout the 15 soviet republics.


Intourist promotional brochures


In 1992 following independence, Uzbekistan established its own national company, “Uzbektourism” through which it implemented “a unified state policy in sphere of tourism.”

Uzb tourism RUSUzbek Tourism logo main

Uzbek transportation system went through a series of important upgrades in infrastructure of its airports, railroads and roads. In order to develop the tourism and service industry, the companies providing tourist services were granted tax exemptions and other benefits. The “Uzbektourism” developed its own logo and brand.

The company also developed its official website, welcomeuzbekistan.uz where currently visitors can search for information in six languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Russian (Chinese, Italian and Japanese are in progress).

Uzb tourism web ENGL

In 2013 the company created an advertising campaign to attract more tourists from Europe by running special promotional one minute videos about Uzbekistan on Euronews channel.


According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the number of tourists to Uzbekistan has increased from 92,000 in 1995 to almost 2,000,000 in 2014; and it predicts the number of visitors to increase two-fold by 2025. Based on WTTC 2014 country report, “direct contribution” of tourism sector is 0.9% of total GDP, with “total contribution” of 3.0% to the GDP and total contribution of 387,500 jobs (2.6% of total employment). In the WTTC world ranking, Uzbekistan is placed 119 in absolute and 178 in relative GDP contribution out of 184 countries.

Uzbekistan ranking in the WTTC 2014 country report


Uzbekistan is making a steady progress in its tourism industry but remains low in the world ranking. One of the suggestions to attract more visitors would be to introduce visa free regime to its closest neighbors. However, because of security concerns and territorial  border disputes between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, access to roads and railways across borders is not permitted and blocked (even mined) in some areas. The unresolved issues hinder not only the growth of travel and tourism industry and the overall economic development but also the integration efforts in the region leading to isolation and mistrust between the states.


Sources used:

Aleksandra Kim, Analysis and Perspective of Tourism Development in Uzbekistan (May 2014) University of Santiago de Compostela. Retrieved from http://www.agaliasociacion.org/5.%20Aleksandra.pdf

Roman Muzalevsky, Border Disputes in the Ferghana Valley Threaten to Undermine Regional Trade and Stability (August 1, 2014). Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 141. Retrieved from http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42706&cHash=53b6bf8f36b41d6221ada47e0516dfeb#.VtPHXvkrLIU

National Company “Uzbektourism” www.uzbektourism.uz

Postcards from Uzbekistan playlist https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4lX8Nxwcv7wNEY2GKrZk4hXhP4sYPbev

World Travel & Tourism Council, Travel and Tourism Economic Impact 2015: Uzbekistan. Retrieved from https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/countries%202015/uzbekistan2015.pdf


East-West Culture and East-West Diplomacy

This week’s blog post has two parts. First one is more personal and related to language and culture, and second one is more connected to this week assignment.


Representatives of different Soviet Union nationalities in the Red Square in Moscow

Growing up in the Soviet Union we took pride in being truly ‘multicultural’ (it is an American term; and I am using it not being able to find a better equivalent).  In my school and among our neighbors and friends we had Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, Koreans, Greeks, Chechens, Georgians, Tatars, Armenians, Kalmyks. The common language that everyone used was, of course, Russian. The Soviet propaganda worked very well in “Russification” of the entire USSR.

Vladimir Mayakovski

Vladimir Mayakovski, a Soviet proletariat poet wrote in his poem “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin:”

 “I would have learned Russian just for the fact that Lenin spoke it.”

This quote was used as a great propaganda tool. We were all proud to be able to speak and use the the same language that Lenin spoke and used for writing his books.


Soviet propaganda poster. The text above is a quote from Lenin “We promise to the workers and peasants to do everything for peace and we will.”

Using the periphery and center reference – the farther away people lived from the major cities, they used less Russian and more of their native language; and vice versa. In our family, my parents used Uzbek to converse with neighbors, Kazakh between themselves and Russian with me as we lived in a city. When we visited our relatives in rural areas, we used mostly Kazakh.

The Kazakh culture that my parents grew up in was instilled in our home. The children were taught to respect their elders, and were to address their parents and grandparents using ВЫ – formal (plural) “you” only, even when using Russian language. I could never imagine addressing my parents using ТЫ – an informal “you” as it would be considered a grave insult.

Interestingly enough, my best friend who was Russian, addressed her parents using informal “you” and we had these interesting conversations on how differently we perceived the usage of ВЫ/ТЫ addressing our parents. To her the informal “you” was an expression of closeness and family ties to one’s parents and the usage of formal “you” was an indication of as if being strangers with one’s own parents and therefore, inability to have a special family bond. To me, however, the usage of the formal ‘you’ was an expression of my respect and love for my parents; and it never stood in the way of having close relationship with my grandparents and my parents.

When going to the open air market, “bazar,” my mom often spoke Uzbek, addressing different salespeople as “auntie,” “uncle,” “older brother/older sister,” “younger brother/younger sister” depending on their age. And that is exactly the way Uzbek family members address each other in their own families. I found it fascinating that you could address people you don’t know as if they were your family members. Think about closeness of ties on different levels in a society.

Uzbek tradition of tea drinking with your close neighbors was our family tradition as well. We celebrated big family milestones with our relatives as well as our neighbors.  I consider myself lucky growing up in an environment that was culturally and traditionally family oriented. People were friendly and hospitable because of their culture. And I mistakenly assumed that it was like that in any part of the USSR. However, when I visited Moscow and St. Petersburg in my early 20s, I encountered my first very big cultural shock with the seemingly cold Russian culture. On the brighter side, once you get to know Russian people, they are quite warm and hospitable. But that probably is the same everywhere.

BTW, the term”nationality” in Russia is not the same as it is in English. In America, one’s nationality is determined by citizenship. In Russia, a person’s nationality is different from his/her citizenship. Your nationality can be Ukrainian but you could be a citizen of Georgia. 


To stay on the topic, I am writing on President Karimov’s applauded “multi-vector” diplomacy through which he is successfully able to maintain good relationship with the European Union, the United States (stationing US military base 2001-2005 and currently serving as one of the points in the US and NATO backed Northern Distribution Network), Russia and China (both members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization), maneuvering carefully and always looking out for the Uzbek interests.

(pictures above are Islam Karimov’s meetings with Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, John Kerry, Jose Manuel Barroso)

The EU and the US imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan based on human right abuses (following rejections of their inquiries for independent investigation of Andijon massacre of 2005) but the sanctions were gradually lifted due to the country’s important geostrategical position in the region resulting in better diplomatic relations and outcomes for each actor involved.

Uzbek leader keeps his distance with the immediate neighbors especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan due to water, border and interethnic conflicts. However, he does not ignore them and looks for solutions, although indirectly “via multilateral or international engagement” (Karimov keeps bilateral relations with the global partners).

Karimov with Japanese PM Naoto Kan


Uzbekistan also has good relationship with South Korea and Japan. Japan has pursued its own version of “Silk Road Diplomacy” toward Central Asia since 1997, focusing on “education, economic development, political reforms, as well as energy resources.”

Karimov and Akihito
Japanese Emperor Akihito and Islam Karimov













In the words of M K Bhadrakumar, former Indian ambassador to Uzbekistan, Karimov’s “multivector diplomacy” allows him to get ‘what he wants out of big powers like the U.S., Russia and China, without giving up its sovereignty in return” and that deserves a proper recognition. However, given the president’s age, what steps are being taken to groom the next person that succeeds him?



Younkyoo Kim, Fabio Indeo, The new great game in Central Asia post 2014: The US “New Silk Road” strategy and Sino-Russian rivalry. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 46 (2013) 275-286. www.elsevier.com/locate/postcomstud

Umida Hashimova, East-West Diplomacy of the Uzbek President (February 17, 2011). The Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 34 Retrieved from http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=37524#.VsqVE_krLIU

Zabikhulla Saipov, Uzbekistan Seeks to Reinvigorate Its Diplomatic Clout in the Region (December 5, 2014). The Jamestown Foundation, Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue 217. Retrieved from http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=43167&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=27&cHash=9b8db1b9767574e772d4a8e902dd4b4a#.VsiwVfkrLIV

Pictures are from various internet sites and used here for non-commercial purposes

Development Theories: where does Uzbekistan stand?

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the former Soviet states declared their independence. Uzbekistan officially became a democratic constitutional republic. The former Communist Party in Uzbekistan was re-named the Liberal Democratic Party. Warning: don’t have your hopes too high for a smooth transition to democracy!

Modernization theory unfortunately cannot be applied to the case of Uzbekistan although one would hope that with its economic development and modernization efforts, the country would become a “political democracy.” Applying Przeworski and Lemongi’s theoretical description of a democratic regime (it has very specific four rules), we can see the Uzbekistan’s regime is not a democracy. It is an authoritarian state, referred to by academics as “pseudodemocracy” or a “hybrid regime” (Rustemova, 2011), just to name a few.

Cotton field

Uzbekistan can be used as a good example for the dependency theory. It was situated on a periphery of the Soviet Union (was called “Russian backyard”) and it primarily focused on producing cotton for the benefit of the central government in Moscow and depended on deliveries of goods and oil from other states.


Doing more research, I stumbled upon a phrase “Uzbek Model of Development” praised on the official website of Permanent Mission of Uzbekistan to the UN, and noted by IMF as “the Uzbek growth puzzle” and “Uzbek heterodox development” (McKinley, 2010). It refers to the Karimov’s plan of choosing a gradual transformation to a market based economy and “extended period of import substitution.” (McKinley, 2008).

Muruntau gold mine
Muruntau Gold Mine

After being dependent on petroleum during the Soviet times, Uzbekistan became self-sufficient in oil production, it diversified its exports of other commodities besides cotton (gold, silver, copper), and was able to produce 90% of grain for domestic use by converting land from cotton growing to the grain fields.


uzbekneftegaz logo2014
Uzbekneftegas company logo
grain production
Grain field

According to the McKinley’s report, the country’s GDP grew steadily, from 4% in early 2000 to 12.8% in 2008. He also notes that “Uzbekistan’s heterodox policies have served it fairly well” and warns of the commodities “resource curse” in the long run. He suggests to further diversify non-traditional exports, “to channel its domestic savings into productive private investments,” and the need of the reforms of the current financial system.

International_Monetary_Fund_logo.svgIMF’s official press release of May 13, 2015 reports the further growth of the national GDP in 2015 (by 8.1% in 2014) and suggests a development of private sector, improving business environment, governance and transparency.


According to the Economic Freedom Ranking, Uzbekistan placed #166 out 178 in the world, and #39 out 42 in Asia Pacific region.

Uzbekistan Econ World Ranking


Read more about Uzbekistan Economy.
See more from the 2016 Index.

In conclusion, Karimov was able to successfully adopt “an Uzbek model” of gradual transition to a market-based economy solely governed by the state, with a promise to its citizens of “economic security in exchange for political support,” therefore creating a negative image of democracy with its “brutal” free market and “its inability to cope with inequality”   (Rustemova, 2011).



“Uzbek Model” of Development a Model for Other Countries, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the United Nations Office and other International Organisations in Geneva. Retrieved from http://www.uzbekistan-geneva.ch/uzbek-model-of-development-a-model-for-other-countries.html

Terry McKinley, Uzbekistan: From Import Subsitution to Export Boom (2008) The Resource Curse Development Digest No. 1 December 2008. Centre for Development Policy and Research, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Terry McKinley, The Puzzling Success of Uzbekistan’s Heterodox Development (2010), Development Viewpoint, Number 44, January 2010. Centre for Development Policy and Research, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Assel Rustemova, Political Economy of Central Asia: Initial Reflections on the Need for a New Approach (March 2010), Journal of Eurasian Studies 2 (2011), 30-39. doi: 10.1016/j.euras.2010.10.002 Retrieved from www.elsevier.com/euras

Press Release No. 15/216 of May 13, 2015 “IMF Staff Completes 2015 Article IV Mission to the Republic of Uzbekistan.” Retrieved from https://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pr/2015/pr15216.htm

2016 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation in Partnership with Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/index/country/uzbekistan#

Uzbekistan: The Introduction

For centuries, Central Asian region served as an important connecting point between China, India, Persia and Europe for Silk Road travelers. In the 1800s Russia expanded its territory making Central Asia a part of the Tsarist Empire. After the Bolsheviks came to power, Central Asia was made a part of the Soviet Union and was divided into the five “stans:” Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, with artificially created borders which to this day still divide the region and contribute to many unresolved problems. After the collapse of the USSR, each of the Stans gained their independence.

central_asia_map uzbek_map

Islam Karimov

Uzbekistan is a double landlocked country in Central Asia with largest population in the region (about 29 million people; 80% of the population are Uzbeks. Other ethnic groups represented are Russian, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Karakalpaks. Main religion in the country is Sunni Muslim).

It is an authoritarian regime ruled by Islam Karimov who has been in power since 1989.

Flag of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is a member of the Commonwealth of the Independent States (CIS), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC), Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation Initiative (CAREC), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) among others. Karimov’s concern about country’s security due the growing threat of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and ongoing conflict in Afghanistan led to the closure of some borders with Tajikistan and served as a main reason to join the SCO.

After 9/11, Uzbekistan hosted the U.S. Military Base until 2005 (following the events of Andjijan massacre – video below) and currently plays an important role in NATO run Northern Distribution Network providing access to Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan largest export partners are China, Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan. It has no significant export/import relations with neighboring Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, two of the poorest countries in the region.


Uzbekistan has many ongoing issues with its close neighbors, so called “water wars,” inter-ethnic conflicts, border demarcation disputes. It is also dealing with one of the biggest environmental disasters in the region, the Aral Sea 90% of which has dried up as the water flow from the two main rivers was diverted to irrigate the cotton fields (cotton was and still remains as one of the main export products).

Aral Sea “before and after” pictures

The United Nations Environmental Program has initiated numerous projects to address different issues stemming from the Aral Sea disaster. The United Nations Development Program and the European Union support a number of various initiatives and projects in Uzbekistan related to health, human resources, agriculture, business, education and law.

Uzbekistan’s main areas of concern are human rights issues, corruption, freedom of expression, lack of democratic efforts, to name just a few. Uzbekistan is placed 166 in both, Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (out of 176) and 2015 World Press Freedom (out of 180).

Culture and Traditions

TeaUzbek people are very hospitable. Any visitors coming even for a short visit must have tea – tea pouring is a very important part of the “tea ceremony.” The less tea poured in the tea cup, the more respect is shown to the guest.


Respect for elders/seniors is ingrained from the childhood. It is even reflected in the language. Personal pronoun “you” has two forms, informal – used only for youngsters and close friends; and formal – used for older siblings, parents, educators and elders.

Major life milestones are always celebrated with one’s family, relatives and friends, such as a birth of a child, boy’s circumcision, wedding (which has several steps) and passing.

Uzbek Traditional Dances accompany many of the important events, weddings and many other special ceremonies.

Uzbek Traditional Fabrics,

Icat and Suzani are known worldwide

Uzbek Cuisine

is influenced by China, Persia and Russia


Silk Road Connection

Ancient historic monuments of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva are protected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.


Disclaimer: Pictures posted here are from various internet sites and used here for non-commercial purposes


Video Links:

Uzbekistan’s culture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeRTyfAbA7c

Uzbek Traditional Dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VXByMiqg3A

Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva – Silk Road https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtdKgMHjfRE



UNDP projects in Uzbekistan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2ih1zQeaJ4

Aral Sea disaster (BBC) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzvEW1FHc60

Forced Child labor in cotton fields (CNN) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fd_42VKfS8

Uzbek Human Rights Abuse Report (CNN) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roY20U_Ah-g

The Andijan Massacre of 2005 (trailer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUeq-g9kpp0