ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Protests in Uzbekistan erupted into violence in July 2022, in Nukus, the capital of the Karakalpakstan region located in the northwestern part of the country. Officials announced on July 4 that an estimated 18 people have been killed and 243 wounded. The protests in Uzbekistan were in response to planned amendments to Uzbekistan’s constitution renouncing Karakalpakstan’s ability to secede from the rest of the country via referendum if desired in the future. The government quickly abandoned the proposed amendment the day after the protests while declaring a month-long state of emergency for the region.
Protests in Karakalpakstan
Immediately upon the outbreak of protests in Uzbekistan, the government shut down internet access for the Republic of Karakalpakstan, according to Al Jazeera. This, along with the republic’s state of emergency declaration, makes it difficult to gather more information on what actually occurred as well as the true number of related casualties and injuries. Uzbekistan’s president Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s press secretary announced these measures were taken to, “ensure the safety of citizens, protect their rights and freedoms [and] restore law and order.”
Both of these attempts to “restore order” have made it difficult to determine what actually occurred. This is especially evident in the conflicting reports that have come from the central government and officials from the Republic of Karakalpakstan itself. Sultanbek Ziyayev, the head of the Ministry of Health for the Republic of Karakalpakstan has stated that “Thousands of wounded have been hospitalized and are being treated,” DW reported. This account conflicts with the announcement of 243 wounded by a large margin.
Central Asian Protests in 2022
The protests in Uzbekistan were not the first large-scale protests in Central Asia this year. Both Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have seen widespread protests in response to governmental overreach. It is an eye-opening trend in the region as it seems many Central Asian populations may be fed up with their authoritative governments.
Protests in Kazakhstan started initially on January 2, 2022, as peaceful demonstrations against rising fuel prices but devolved into violence and looting with approximately 225 people killed and thousands arrested. Human rights groups have voiced frustration at the handling of these arrests as authorities detained even peaceful protestors.
Protests in Tajikistan, beginning on May 16, 2022, saw 40 killed as the Tajik government commenced an “anti-terror” operation in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan. This is a heavy-handed connection among all three protests as their respective governments claim that either “provocateurs” in the case of the protests in Uzbekistan, according to Al Jazeera, or “terrorists” in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are to blame for the violence and that the governments responded accordingly, according to the BBC.
It’s not only the administration prior to President Mirziyoyev that neglected Karakalpakstan. The destruction of the Aral Sea left a big impact on the region as well. The region was abused agriculturally while the Soviet Union was in control of Uzbekistan through over-irrigation and overexposure to toxic agrochemicals which have made the soil unsafe for human use.
The destruction of the Aral Sea has left a massive impact on the region as it was once the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world. Although the region accounts for 40% of Uzbekistan’s territory, only around 5% of the total population lives there. Ethnic Karakalpaks make up 2% of Uzbekistan’s total population.
As of 2018, the poverty rate in the autonomous republic was at 32% making it one of the poorest regions in Uzbekistan. The World Bank has indicated that the country loses $1.7 billion annually as a result of deteriorating infrastructure and poor water management.
On June 30, 2022, a shipment supplied by a U.S.-based charity Project C.U.R.E. arrived in the Aral Sea region within Karakalpakstan, with primarily medical equipment totaling approximately $3 million.
This could be vital in helping already the struggling region, especially after the thousands of injuries sustained during the protests in Uzbekistan. Supplies included in the shipment were ultrasound equipment, X-Ray scanners and intensive care equipment for newborns among other medical technology. The shipment came about through an agreement between the Uzbek ambassador, Javlon Vakhabov, and the president of Project C.U.R.E., Douglas Jackson, according to Kun.uz.
USAID has also been working with Uzbekistan on multiple fronts, namely in its agriculture sector. In 2019 USAID supported “1,916 microenterprises working throughout the horticulture value chain, primarily on the farm/production level.” USAID also claims to have focused on private sector investments within the country aimed at water-saving technologies, the establishment of new orchards and increasing Uzbekistan’s “cold chain capacity countrywide.” USAID state that this has “contributed to a 523% cumulative increase in farm yields, increasing income among targeted farmers by 107%.”
With the help of USAID and other global charities, such as Project C.U.R.E., there is growing optimism that the world is aware of the help that Uzbekistan requires. USAID has been a primary figure in providing economic aid to the region and has made it clear that Uzbekistan is an important ally in Central Asia, opening the door to increased future aid and increasing economic opportunities for Uzbeks throughout the country.
– Devin Welsh