Staunton, November 29 – The shadowy Karakalpak national movement, Alga Karakalpakstan, which is headed by Aman Sagidullayev, has sent an appeal to Vladimir Putin asking him to intervene to help the “much-suffering” Karakalpak nation gain independence from Uzbekistan.
Two things are striking about this new appeal, which has been published on the Evraziya portal (evrazia.org/article/2929). On the one hand, its authors suggest that contrary to expectations the situation in Karakalpakstan has deteriorated rather than improved since the death of Islam Karimov and the rise of his replacement by Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
And on the other, it suggests that the Karakalpaks now aspire to independence rather than as in the past exit from Uzbekistan but unity either with Kazakhstan, of which they were a part in the early years of Soviet power, or with the Russian Federation (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/06/karakalpak-separatists-in-uzbekistan.html).
As a result of the drying up of Aral Sea which adjoins their autonomous republic now within Uzbekistan, the Karakalpaks really have suffered. They have some of the highest cancer rates in the world and some of the lowest life expectancies of any people in the post-Soviet space.
But Tashkent has maintained tight control there, and Karakalpak activism has arisen only when Moscow found it useful to put pressure on Tashkent’s rulers for their pro-Western policies (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/03/window-on-eurasia-is-karakalpakistan.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/11/window-on-eurasia-moscow-again-focusing.html).
Given that Moscow’s relations with the post-Karimov government in Uzbekistan have improved, the appearance of this declaration now raises some important questions for which there are as yet no clear answers. Is this an indication that declining repression in Uzbekistan has allowed the Karakalpaks to become more active?
Does it reflect their possible despair that Moscow is about to overlook them in its rush to have better ties with Tashkent? Or is it an indication that the Russian authorities want to keep playing in these troubled waters, to remind Tashkent that Moscow has the resources to harm Uzbekistan if it doesn’t follow Moscow’s lead?