Staunton, July 26 – Protests against Tashkent’s heavy-handed control of Karakalpakstan are continuing (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/07/tashkent-sparks-protest-in.html), raising the possibility that the republic may be the next hotspot on the former Soviet space and even seek independence or inclusion in another country.
Tashkent has come down hard on the protesters, but its repressive policies, a violation of the Uzbek constitution and the Uzbekistan-Karakalpakstan accord of 1993, are not working but instead intensifying anti-Tashkent attitudes in that republic that makes up 40 percent of Uzbekistan’s lands and includes almost two million people.
Although Karakalpakstan has seldom attracted much international attention except in relationship to the desiccation of the Aral Sea adjoining it and the demographic disaster that has ensued for that, the protests are now gaining traction in the Russian press because Moscow writers are recalling that Karakalpakstan once was part of the RSFSR and could be again.
More than any other portion of the former Soviet space, Moscow shifted Karakalpakstan from one republic to another during Soviet times. First it was situated within Kazakhstan, then, Kyzgyzstan, then the RSFSR, and only later handed off to the Uzbek SSR, a history that provides possible models for the future.
That history and the fact that in the past Karakalpaks asked to join the RSFSR give explain this given Vladimir Putin’s desire to be the latest “ingatherer of Russian lands” (zen.yandex.ru/media/centralasia/kakaia-iz-respublik-srednei-azii-prositsia-v-sostav-rossii-60d201fcb2ba075e650167aeand rosbalt.ru/world/2021/07/26/1912953.html).
Tashkent has no intention of letting go, even though its 1993 accord with Nukus, the capital of Karakalpakstan, allows for a referendum; and Moscow is unlikely to support any such carving up of a former Soviet republic given the message that might send, although changes in Ukraine could shift the Kremlin’s calculus and open the way for Karakalpakstan.
But even if Moscow doesn’t shift, the likelihood is that Karakalpaks will continue to pursue an exit from Uzbekistan and that their demands for independence or inclusion in some other republic will grow right along with Uzbek repression which has been assuming hyperbolic and contradictory forms.
To give just one example, Tashkent has been closing Karakalpak schools and then forcing Karakalpak teachers to pay more than their annual salaries for retraining in Uzbek so they can teach in new Uzbek-language schools!
Russia is not the only country that may be drawn into this controversy. Kazakhstan, of which Karakalpakstan was once a part and whose nationalities are far closer linguistically and culturally than the Karakalpaks and Uzbeks are may as well, although for the moment, Kazakhstan has adopted a hands’ off approach and sought to play down such possibilities (qmonitor.kz/society/2110).