Uzbekistan Karakalpakstan autonomy protests led to at least 18 deaths

Uzbekistan Karakalpakstan autonomy protests led to at least 18 deaths

Kanako Mita and Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan dropped the constitutional reform plan concerning the changed status of the autonomy of Karakalpakstan province after mass protests erupted. The Karakalpak people feel economically neglected by central Uzbek authorities. Therefore, with demographic changes altering the situation on the ground, the threat of constitutional changes was the last straw in showing discontent toward Uzbekistan’s central authorities. 

Mirziyoyev admitted early that deaths had occurred. He said, “Unfortunately, there are fatalities among civilians and law enforcement officers.”

The Jamestown Foundation (Paul Goble) reports, “The current crisis began on June 26, when Uzbekistani papers first published and then removed an article discussing the fact that the latest draft of the new national constitution drops the provision allowing Karakalpakstan to hold a referendum on secession (Meningkonstitutsiyam.uz, accessed July 5). Although the report was quickly scrubbed, Uzbek and Karakalpak sources found it in the web cache and republished it (Hook.reportGazeta.uz, June 26, accessed July 5). That series of events sent dozens of Karakalpaks into the streets of cities and towns across the republic and encouraged calls for mass meetings in Nukus, the capital. At the end of June, Tashkent sought to forestall such demonstrations by beefing up its security presence there (Turkmen.news, June 30). Adding fuel to this fire was a statement on June 30 by Mirziyoyev that the Uzbeks and Karakalpaks were one people and that he considered himself the son of both, a position highly offensive to Karakalpaks (Uznews.uz, July 1).”

Karakalpak protests erupted quickly in Nukus. Video footage shows many people protesting in Nukus and denouncing central Uzbek authorities. This led to clashes with the state apparatus of Uzbekistan. Hence, footages from several videos show security forces firing on unarmed Karakalpak nationals. 

The aftermath of the violence left at least 18 people dead. Sadly, the death toll might rise further because several hundred people were injured by security forces – of these, some are in critical conditions. Also, Uzbek authorities have arrested hundreds of people.

Mirziyoyev – in a conciliatory tone – said, “It is necessary to leave the draft norms of the legal status of the Republic of Karakalpakstan unchanged…(and that) we will definitely build a new Uzbekistan and a new Karakalpakstan together.”

The Foreign Ministry of Turkey said,  “We attach great importance to the stability and prosperity of our strategic partner, friendly and brotherly Uzbekistan, with which we have common civilization, culture and historical ties.” 

It remains to be seen if the voices of Karakalpak will be heard to a greater degree and if economic development – and cultural sensitivities – will be enacted by Uzbek authorities. Or if authorities will clamp down on independent voices in the province of Karakalpakstan. Therefore, the next few months will provide a window to the future of the Karakalpak people – and if the leader of Uzbekistan is genuine about building a new Uzbekistan and a new Karakalpakstan together.”

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