Since the Uzbek authorities recently ended the protests in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakia with a hard hand, little news has come from that region. A state of emergency has been declared, additional police are on their feet and the internet is down. Journalists on the ground are being thwarted by the Uzbek authorities in their efforts to share information, writes Eurasianet.
The information that does reach the outside world shows how violently the protests have been knocked down. The reason for the protests were planned changes to the Uzbek constitution that would limit the regions autonomy. At least eighteen people were killed, more than 240 people were injured.
Videos of heavily armed agents hitting on protesters circulate on social media. Other images show a street covered with a red liquid. According to the government, its about water with a red dye from a water cannon, activists say the water is mixed with blood.
On Twitter, a video of shooting agents in Nukoes, the capital of Karakalpakia, is shared:
The authorities say the severe crackdown was necessary because the protesters had stormed government buildings and wanted to wreak havoc there. According to Professor of Eastern European Studies Artemy Kalinovsky, there is another important reason why the Uzbek government is acting rigorously: the war in Ukraine.
“Like Karakalpakia, Crimea was an autonomous republic,” he explains. Because Russia has taken advantage of the separatist movement on that peninsula to invade Ukraine, Uzbekistan fears the same fate in Karakalpakia.
Karakalpakia also has a special status: it is an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan with far-reaching self-government. There were no immediate plans for independence. “Nevertheless, the government wants to push all the possibilities for prevention,” says Kalinovsky.
Karakalpakia covers almost half of the Uzbek territory, but only 2 million of the total 35 million Uzbeks live there. Many residents of the autonomous region speak Karakalpaks and do not feel like Uzbek.
Find out where Karakalpakia is located on this map:
Karakalpakia was part of the Soviet Union with Uzbekistan. Due to the common language and culture of the inhabitants, the region was granted autonomous republic status within the Union and the inhabitants were allowed to elect their own government. The constitution also stipulated that the Karakal suits were always allowed to decide to leave the union with Uzbekistan through a referendum.
The shock was therefore great when it came out last month that the Uzbek government was preparing a new constitution, in which Karakalpakias sovereignty was no longer guaranteed. In this new version, the passage about the referendum had also disappeared.
In a speech last week in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, Uzbek President Mirziyev said that he wants more unity between the two peoples: “I respect the Karakalpak people with all my heart and can say that I am not only a son of the Uzbek people but also of the Karakalpak people.”
However, this call for unity provoked protest, and that protest was answered by force. “The Uzbek government wants to show that the area has no right to independence,” says Kalinovsky. “They also want to prevent Russia from taking advantage of that sentiment.” That is why the professor believes that the Uzbek government, as Kazakhstan did during domestic protests in January, is not going to ask Russia for help in precipitating demonstrations.
President Mirzijoev rushed to repeal the controversial changes in the law, but yesterday warned strongly about the dangers of separatism. “Calls for secession and riots are fought resolutely, in accordance with the legislation. Those responsible are inevitably punished.”
Another major change in the law that is still on the agenda gives President Mirzijoyev the right to stand for a third term. If the limit of two presidential terms is removed, he could remain the leader of Uzbekistan indefinitely.