Uzbek = Turkmen!? Part 3.
Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles on the forcible “Turkmenization” of Uzbeks. The author’s opinion does not necessarily reflect that of the editors of neweurasia.net. Read Part 2.
Activists from the “Nazhot” human rights group believe that discrimination against Uzbeks intensified after the attempt on Turkmenistani President S. Niyazov’s life on 25 November 2002. Following the event, the Uzbekistani emergency and plenipotentiary ambassador was declared a persona non grata for hiding Boris Shikhmuradov, who played a central role in the attempt, at his residence.
It was precisely then that Turkmen authorities closed down the country’s only Uzbek-language newspaper, “Dustlik bairogi” (“The Flag of Friendship”). Uzbek publications in other mass media were also prohibited at this time. Since then, there has been a general exclusion of Uzbeks from middle management, not to mention from higher positions.
Barbed wire soon appeared on the once-invisible border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and the number of checkpoints was reduced to a minimum. New frontier posts were built all along the Turkmen side of the border. To this day, it remains extremely difficult to cross the Uzbek-Turkmen border; it is also a financially straining “pleasure” for those living along it.
According to the rules, anyone who wants to cross the state border into Turkmenistan must pay approximately $8, no small sum by local standards. Ethnic Turkmen who live in Uzbekistan and ethnic Uzbeks who live in Turkmenistan may not freely visit their relatives, ancestral grave sites, or holy places during religious holidays.
The tightening of border-crossing rules for citizens living in frontier areas regularly leads to confrontations with border guards; sometimes, the situation escalates into spontaneous demonstrations or protests by the local population on either side.
Turkmenistan’s new president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, abolished much of what was introduced by his predecessor, except in matters concerning ethnic Uzbeks, human rights activists claim. Like before, Uzbeks are not hired by law enforcement and government agencies. Ethnic minorities, including Uzbeks, are regularly subjected to discrimination in basic areas of life.
Thus, the discriminatory policy regarding non-titular ethnic groups and nations, which began during the reign of the late President S. Niyazov, remains unchanged under his successor, G. Berdymukhamedov.
There is no open infringement upon the rights of ethnic minorities in Turkmenistan. Speeches by political leaders, made both in the capital and in provincial areas, contain rhetoric about “universal equality, the fraternity of peoples with common historical, linguistic and cultural roots.” However, Nazhot activists conclude, Turkmenistan’s laws regarding ethnic minorities remain democratic and liberal only on paper.
“In this situation, the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan turn a blind eye toward problems with ethnic Uzbeks in Turkmenistan and ethnic Turkmen in Uzbekistan. This is despite the fact that the Uzbekistani ambassador to Turkmenistan, Sherzod Faiziev, declared in a speech on Uzbekistan’s Day of Independence that ‘from the very beginning, intergovernmental relations between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have been based on a solid foundation of mutual understanding and partnership, in accordance with the vital interests of our countries and people,’” Haitboi Yakubov points out.
In October 2007, Uzbekistani President I. Karimov visited Turkmenistan. On 10 March 2008 G. Berdymukhamedov visited Uzbekistan. The goal of each meeting was to “discuss expanding cooperation between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as topical issues of mutual interest on a regional and international scale.”
Yet the visits are over and, unfortunately, nothing positive has come out of them for ethnic Uzbeks, who compactly inhabit frontier regions of Turkmenistan, human rights activists believe.
“Turkmen and Uzbeks who ended up on different sides of the border want to overcome the consequences of past hostility and make relations between the two peoples truly fraternal, as they had been for many centuries,” says Haitboi Yakubov. “We have only to hope that after mutual visits by heads of state, which have somewhat warmed relations between the two leaders, conditions will eventually be established that will enable a full-scale and productive intergovernmental dialogue, which will, perhaps, change the attitude towards ethnic minorities.”