Central Asia: Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, officially known as the Republic of Uzbekistan, was previously part of the Soviet Union (USSR). Uzbekistan sits south of Russia, sharing borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan has been inhabited since about 2000 BC, first by Iranians. It was invaded by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, by the Mongols in the 13th century, and by Uzbek tribes in the 16th century. Uzbeks are Turkic peoples.



Despite belonging to the Soviet Union for most part of the 19th and 20th century, Uzbekistannever had a major Russian population within its borders. Currently, only 5.5 percent of the population of Uzbekistan is pure Russian. Most Russians who once lived in Uzbekistan left after the fall of the USSR.

The official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek, although about half of the population can speak Russian fluently. Russian is, in fact, still used for much of the official businesses, economic, and scientific communication and research done by the country. Eighty eight percent of the population is Muslim, with very small percentages of other religions and demographic groups spread throughout the country. Uzbekistan has remained stable in population while other former Soviet countries, including Russia, have had problems of lower birth rates.

Cotton in Uzbekistan

Cotton in Uzbekistan

Despite Uzbekistan being one of the world’s largest producers of cotton and gold, the country is still enduring unemployment, poverty, and economic hardships. Private enterprises are severely limited, which puts a stop in the progress and development of the middle class as an independent force. Despite a drastic reduction of inflation over the past few years, Uzbekistan still has a long way to go before it can come closer to the economic development of its foreign neighbors.

Uzbekistan has been criticized for violation of human rights, but little to nothing has been proved by organizations investigating. Uzbekistan maintains friendly relationships with the United States, despite restrictions applied to American military in the use of certain bases on the Afghanistan border. Uzbekistan has tense relationships with some countries in the West due to its resistance to allow the European Union to enter its territory and investigate reports of abuse and terrorism.

Images from www.clickittefaq.com and en.wikipedia.org

Good News for Uzbekistan Economy

Uzbekistan increased gold production by 4.1 percent in 2014 compared with 2013 – up to 102 metric tons, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). As a result, Uzbekistan has moved from eighth to seventh place in the ranking of countries that are producers of precious metal.



Some 2,860 metric tons of gold were produced in the world in 2014, which is 60 metric tons more than in 2013, according to the USGS. The top three countries on world production included China (430 metric tons), Australia (265 metric tons) and Russia (230 metric tons). In Uzbekistan, the data on mining, production and export of gold are not published. Gold mining and production in the country is carried out by Navoi and Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Combines.

At the end of 2011, some 63 deposits of gold were discovered in the country, more recent data are not disclosed. The explored and confirmed reserves of gold in Uzbekistan are more than 2,500 metric tons, according to experts.

UzSungwoo, an Uzbek-South Korean joint venture producing parts for new car models manufactured by the GM Uzbekistan, has started exporting its products to Brazil.

Almalyk Mining

Almalyk Mining

On other news, Uzbekistan’s joint stock company, Uzavtosanoat, said Feb. 18 in a message that an agreement on the exports of UzSungwoo’s products was signed in August 2014 with the Brazilian partner – General Motors do Brasilia LTDA.

The first export of automobile components produced by the UzSungwoo was carried out in late December 2014. Uzavtosanoat did not specify the agreed exports volumes. UzSungwoo was created in April 2011, on a parity basis by the Uzavtosanoat and the South Korean Sungwoo Hitech Ltd. Co with an authorized capital of $14 million. Its design capacity stands at 125,000 sets of parts annually. Uzavtosanoat, uniting the automotive industry enterprises of Uzbekistan, was established in 2004.

The Uzbek state owns 100 percent of the shares in the authorized capital of Uzavtosanoat.

Images from news.uzreport.uz and images.google.com


Islam and Central Asia

During Vladimir Putin’s visit to Uzbekistan last December, Uzbek President Islam Karimov asked his Russian peer to help his country against the rising threat of militant Islam. While this article discusses why these calls for help are generally unfounded, an ironic coincidence shows that the most likely threat in the name of Islam will come in March, when Karimov is scheduled for re-election. The terms extremism, radicalism, terrorism and fundamentalism are used interchangeably by the leaders in the region to describe the threat that political Islam could pose to their well-established regimes. The ruthless violence of some groups, such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda, has been a recurring nightmare for Central Asian leaders and now it seems even more crucial, as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. A haven for moderate Islam is under siege, according to the governments of the region.

Communication and discourse seem to be at the heart of the problem. The student of international relations would quickly tend to see the matter through a “securitization theory” lens. Without getting too academic, suffice it to say that several actors and their speech shape the way threats are constructed and become rooted in the discourse on national security. Rustam Burnashev, professor at the Kazakh-German University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, has extensively explained how Central Asian regimes “link Islamists with terrorism and violence” in order to ensure their own survival, without real or tangible concerns for the security of their citizens. After all, Central Asian governments have been quick to label any episode of violence as Islamic, from the civil war in Tajikistan to the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan.

On November 11, 2014, the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan (KNB) estimated that around 300 citizens were involved in ISIS. Beyond the headline, however, Chief Nurtai Abikayev provides little evidence to back his numbers. Repeatedly, local news agencies have spun the government’s discourse, emphasizing the threat. Even Russian outlets have pointed fingers to Central Asia for “bringing radical Islam to Russia.”

Images from en.wikipedia.org and en.tengrinews.kz


Uzbekistan and Russia Relations

At a tough time for Russia’s economy, Vladimir Putin is reaching out in the Central Asian neighborhood for friends. Landing before dawn on Wednesday in Tashkent, the Russian president was warmly received by his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov. The large smiles captured by Uzbek television during the encounter suggested an amenable entente. The vast majority of Uzbek debt towards Moscow was to be written off and both parties knew that was going to facilitate additional talks.

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Uzbekistan will pay only $25 million of the $890 million it owes Russia and will consider taking part in a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are members. As the largest country (by population) in Central Asia, “Uzbekistan is one of Russia’s priority partners in the region,” said Putin, while referencing the leading role of his country in trade and economic relations with the Central Asian nation. That role remains relevant, even though auto sales from Uzbekistan, a traditional mainstay of trade transactions, dropped 35 percent in 2014. More positively, representatives of LUKoil, who accompanied the presidential delegation, gave assurances that the Russian energy company would keep investing in the Kandym gas condensate field in the Bukhara region, adding an additional $5 billion over the next 25 years. Overall, two-way trade is around $4 billion annually, with annual increases of 8-9 percent over the past couple of years. Notably, the two presidents cited two very different figures during their public statements, with Karimov boasting of an $8 billion yearly trade volume.

Presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan

Presidents of Russia and Uzbekistan

The document was inked only days after Putin declared full amnesty for the return of capital held abroad, a move that denotes the need to substitute the loss of hard currency due to the massive capital flight of recent months. Unfortunately, nothing was disclosed to the press about the much anticipated discussion concerning the natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan to southern Kyrgyzstan, interrupted since last April.

Images from wikimedia commons



Central Asia and Islamis State (IS)

The recent announcement of support for Islamic State (IS) by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has given rise to media speculation in Central Asia over the threat of IS to the region.

Central Asia and Islamis State (IS)

Central Asia and Islamis State (IS)

RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service reported on October 2 that it had received a statement and earlier audio recording from IMU leader Usmon Ghazi, in which the group commented on Syria.

In the wake of that report, RIA Novosti cited an Uzbek security source as saying that Tashkent authorities had “operational video and audio information about IMU’s support and participation in joint military actions on the side of IS units.” The source said that IMU had stepped up its recruitment and training in the Afghanistan and Pakistan regions.

On October 9, Almaty-based news site Almaty.tv cited the chairman of the Union of Veterans of Afghanistan and Local Wars of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Sharipbay Utegenov, as saying that the “idea of IS” could never take root in Kazakhstan, though the extremist group posed a threat to other Central Asian former Soviet republics, such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“I believe that IS is a real threat for such countries as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where even in Soviet times the population strongly adhered to orthodox Islam and where the idea of IS, without a doubt, is falling on fertile soil. Add to that the tense social situation and youth unemployment, and the explosive mixture is ready!” Almaty.tv quoted Utegenov as saying.

Utegenov said that IS was not a threat to Kazakhstan because the Kazakh people are “freedom-loving and independent” and “did not like it when an alien power and ideology is imposed on them.”

Central Asia and Islamis State (IS)

Central Asia and Islamis State (IS)

While the issue of the extent to which the Islamic State’s extremist ideology can or will gain a foothold in Kazakhstan may be a matter of debate,  it is incontrovertible that Kazakh foreign fighters are fighting IS in Syria. The Islamic State has a Kazakh jamaat (fighting unit, usually comprised of a particular ethno-linguistic group).

Images from en.wikipedia.org and news.yahoo.com