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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Tajiks in Uzbekistan

View Group Chronology

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

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. However, this lack of political activity 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.

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.

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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 gained independence.

Among the numerous ethnic groups living in Uzbekistan, Tajiks are the third largest in size following the Uzbek majority and ethnic Russians. Tajiks mainly populate two large cities, Samarkand and Bukhara (GROUPCON = 1), which are adjacent to Tajikistan and 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 ethno-separatist group which demanded autonomy, 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 . The initially strong separatist ambitions have likewise faded, replaced with political grievances centering on participation and rights within the Uzbek system and cultural grievances centering on language rights. However, even these have ceased to be expressed in recent years. The major factor which contributed to this development was the policy of Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan. His policies made impossible any significant manifestation of organized communal interest in the country. 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. In practical terms, Karimov decided to suppress the nationalist Tajik movement in 1992, and little has been heard of the movement since (GOJPA = 1). 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. However, organizations such as the explicitly non-violent Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in all Central Asian states, appears to enjoy wide support among Tajiks in Uzbekistan, especially in the south-west. 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.

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, economic and cultural life (POLDIS06 = 3; ECDIS06 = 3; CULPO1 = 2; CULPO2 = 2). 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. 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 on a very minimal level. 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). From 2004-2006, further repression did not appear in sources.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been a growing force in the region since 2000 or earlier and has attracted significant attention from authorities. In the past, Tajik communities were targeted by authorities for suspected membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, with evidence of arrests, torture, and restricted movement found for the 2001-2003 period. There were no reports of such incidents during 2004-2006. Again, incidents of protest have remained very low (PROT01-03 = 1; PROT04-06 = 0), with violent activity non-existent (REB00-06 = 0).

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References

Freedom House. 2003. Nations in Transition: Uzbekistan.

International Crisis Group. 2001. "Central Asia: Uzbekistan at 10 – Repression and Instability." Asia Report No. 21.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Liu, Morgan. 2002. “The Perils of Nationalism in Independent Uzbekistan.” The Journal of the International Institute. 4:2.

Melvin, Neil J. 2000. Uzbekistan: Transition to Authoritarianism on the Silk Road. Routledge.

U.S. Department of State. Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Uzbekisan. 1999-2006.

U.S. Department of State. International Religious Freedom Report: Uzbekisan. 2001-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006