Tensions remain high in Uzbek region of Karakalpakstan after violence

Tensions remain high in Uzbek region of Karakalpakstan after violence

Uzbekistan has U-turned on proposed constitutional amendments that would have removed the right of the Karakalpakstan region to hold a referendum on independence.

The desert region of Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan has autonomy and the right to secede from Uzbekistan by referendum enshrined in the 1992 Uzbek constitution.

Karakalpaks protested in the regional capital Nukus earlier this month against constitutional changes to remove the region’s special status and violence rapidly broke out.

The Uzbek National Guard said more than 500 people were detained during the unrest, although some have since been released.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev initiated the draft provisions on Karakalpakstan’s status that sparked unrest that left at least 18 dead.

Mirziyoyev claimed the unrest was planned years in advance with “outside forces”, while others blame his government’s failure to consult Karakalpaks on the constitutional changes.

Mirziyoyev, who has ruled since 2016, flew to Nukus and reversed course, saying: “No article will ever change without the approval of the Karakalpak people.”

He sacked his chief of staff, Zaynilobiddin Nizomiddinov, blaming him for the constitutional changes.

Karakalpakstan has been under emergency measures since July 3 with hundreds remaining in jail and many still facing criminal charges or in critical condition.

The authorities say criminal groups with external help hijacked the demonstrations and demanded secession, naming the jailed Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, as their leader.

“While we debate how much of Ukraine Russia controls, we may lose nearly 40 percent of our land,” posted blogger Shuhrat Shokirjonov.

Around 2 million people live in Karakalpakstan, including ethnic Uzbek and Kazakhs. Uzbekistan has a total population of about 35 million people. The population largely relies on remittances from Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan.

Karakalpakstan takes its name from the Karakalpak people, who are a majority-Muslim Turkic group, like ethnic Uzbeks.

The Karakalpak language is closer to Kazakh than Uzbek.

Uzbek political analyst Kamoliddin Rabbimov said Uzbekistan’s neighbours and major partners, including China, Russia and Turkey, have backed Mirziyoyev over Karakalpakstan. “They all are siding with Uzbekistan, supporting its sovereignty and territorial integrity. They understand Tashkent’s predicament,” he told VOA.

Rabbimov said, “there is no potential for Karakalpaks to win any referendum since more than half of the region’s population are Uzbeks and other ethnic groups”.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Karakalpakstan had already been part of Uzbekistan for 55 years.

The entrance to Nukus. All Uzbek towns and cities have interesting welcome signs. Picture credit: PXHere 

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