Staunton, July 17 – It is not only in Russia that the siloviki feel freer to behave badly outside the capitals because they can be sure that any reports of their actions will be delayed, incomplete and contradictory, allowing them to deny what they have done and thus escape criticism and responsibility.
Another country in Eurasia where that is true is Uzbekistan which has a long history of ignoring the Uzbek constitution and human rights not just generally but especially in Karakalpakstan, which is defined by the Uzbekistan constitution as “a sovereign state within Uzbekistan.”
Two weeks ago, Tashkent ordered the accelerated introduction of the Latin script throughout Uzbekistan so that it could be in place in time for the 30th anniversary of Uzbek independence. That sparked protests in Karakalpakstan, protests that raised other issues as well (asiaterra.info/etnicheskie-menshinstva/v-karakalpakii-proshli-protesty-protiv-prinuditelnoj-latinizatsiimemohrc.org/ru/news_old/reshenie-ob-uskorennoy-latinizacii-sprovocirovalo-besporyadki-v-karakalpakstane).
The language issue is particularly fraught in that autonomous republic for two reasons. On the one hand, language is the most important marker for the Karakalpaks who are a distinct Turkic group and changing the alphabet will change their language by affecting the sound values as shown in the written language.
And on the other, because of this distinction and because they were earlier part of Kazakhstan and are now of interest to that country and the Russian Federation because of oil discoveries on the bed of the former Aral Sea, any disputes about languages are in fact a dispute about the status of the impoverished republic.
Such controversies are thus at the core of the Karakalpak national movement; but from Tashkent’s perspective, they are a threat to the territorial integrity of Uzbekistan. And as a result, for many years, the Uzbek authorities have responded with the massive application of force and little regard to the rights of the Karakalpak people.
On July 13, as has been the case many times before, Karakalpak assertiveness was met by Uzbek police power, with numerous arrests and reports of abuse and torture of those involved. The protest arose following the July 1 order to go over to the Latin script by August 1, 2021, rather than at the end of 2022 as had been the case earlier.
As the Memorial human rights organization notes, “information about the incident remains incomplete and contradictory.” But the basic facts appear to be these. People assembled in Hojeyli to honor a Karakalpak who had died in Moscow 40 days earlier. The assemblage took on the language issue and then other more political ones as well.
A video clip that has reached Moscow shows a crowd of approximately 100 people holding posters calling for respect of the Karakalpak language and demanding that problems of unemployment be addressed and that the persecution of Karakalpak activists be ended and those responsible punished.
In this case, the police moved in, arrested dozens if not more of the protesters, and mistreated them in various ways. Some reports suggest that despite that, all the Karakalpaks were released; but others indicate that the authorities continue to hold some of the protesters. The latter is more likely but as yet unconfirmed by multiple sources.
This is the third protest in Karakalpakstan since the start of 2021, all of which have ended with Uzbek repression (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/03/karakalpaks-protest-uzbekization-of.html). For background on the national movement there, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/crimean-anschluss-infectious-some.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/karakalpak-activists-charge-tashkent.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/11/karakalpaks-appeal-to-putin-to-back.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/06/karakalpak-separatists-in-uzbekistan.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/11/window-on-eurasia-moscow-again-focusing.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/06/window-on-eurasia-tashkent-cracks-down.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/05/window-on-eurasia-some-karakalpaks-now.html, and windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2010/12/window-on-eurasia-karakalpak-separatism.html.