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Incidents in Nukus trigger for disruption of stability in the Caspian region

photo: kazmab.kz
4 July 2022
Yuri BerbekovYuri Berbekov

Yuri Berbekov

CISS expert

From rallies to chaos and ethnic violence

On July 1, in the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic within Uzbekistan mass rallies of thousands took place. The local capital city Nukus became the center of protest, there were also mass rallies also in Chimbay and Moynaq. The recently published amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan caused the disturbance, because they deprived Karakalpakstan of its current sovereignty and abolish its right to exit Uzbekistan by way of holding a referendum.

It was reported that one of the key protest inspirator was a local activist Daulet Tazhimuratov, a journalist and a blogger. The mobs were controlled and coordinated by way of social media and messengers. Economic claims appeared simultaneously with political ones, including registration in Karakalpakstan of major companies extracting gas and gold in the region along with chemical and petrochemical companies, so that they mandatorily contribute part of their revenues to the local budget in order to support the titular ethnic group.

The protestors organized a march along Nukus streets, and after that they got together at the central market square for a mass rally. Then, a series of attacks against the police followed, barricades were built in the streets and tires were set on fire. The protestors started arming themselves with bladed weapons and with different items at hand (chips of pipes and fittings, pickets, sticks, etc.), they attempted to take over the local police department and National Guards headquarters to get access to fire arms. This resulted in violent clashes. The mobs aggressiveness was heated by information about help coming from the Northern parts of the Autonomous Republic (Shymbay, Khalkabad, Takhtakopir), attacking the police and destroying the road blocks on their way.

Tashkent reacted immediately additional National Guards and military forces were moved into the Autonomous Republic, Internet and cell communication were cut off, the organizers and the most active participants of the protests including Daulet Tazhimuratov were arrested. However, the clashes between the protesters and the police continued even at night and on the next day July 2.

The President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev personally immediately flied out to the insurgent region, which shows the serious attitude towards the situation on behalf of Tashkent. At the meeting with the elected members of Jokargy Kenes (the local parliament), the seniors and activist groups of Karakalpakstan, he emphasized that no amendments pertaining to the Autonomous Republic status would be introduced to the Constitution. According to the press relations service of S. Mirziyoyev, «with account of the fact that discussions on amendments and supplements to the Constitution are still going on, and based on the opinions of Karakalpakstan citizens, the President voiced the need to preserve the presently effective versions of Articles 70, 71, 72, 74 and 75 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan».

Remember, Karakalpakstan is the biggest region of Uzbekistan occupying almost 40% of the countrys territory. This is mostly desert at the interface of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (with the dried-up Aral Sea). Almost two million people live here. The Autonomous Republic is rich with mineral resources. As for the agriculture, it is almost impossible due to severe natural conditions and unfavorable environmental situation (heat and saline soil). Due to the above-mentioned reasons, the region is heavily subsidized, a significant part of local residents are poor and unemployed, and the wellbeing of Karakalpakstan is fully dependent of financial tranches from Tashkent.

Two languages are recognized as official ones the Karakalpak and the Uzbek. The Karakalpak Autonomous Region was created during the Soviet years, and in 1936 it became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1990, the Supreme Council of Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic adopted the State Sovereignty Declaration. Then in 1993, the inter-state agreement was executed about Karakalpakstan accession to Uzbekistan. This agreement fixed the right to exit for Karakalpakstan, and the same was included into the Constitution of Uzbekistan. Those were the provisions proposed for elimination, judging by the Constitutional amendments proposed by Tashkent.

As per the formal statement of the Uzbekistan Ministry of Internal Affairs dated July 1, the protesters «misinterpreted the Constitution reform». The use of force to disperse the protesting mobs was explained as follows: «in order to prevent the public order disruption and various offences by citizens, the appropriate means of law enforcement agencies were used in the dekhan (peasants) market territory». According to the press relations service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, «currently the public order is reinstated, citizens are being clarified on the inadmissibility of breaches of law».

Then information appeared that the protesters in Nukus tried to seize the buildings of government and administrative agencies. The joint statement of the authorities of the Autonomous Republic says that some undisclosed external forces from abroad attempted to influence the situation in Karakalpakstan, including «by way of publishing fake news and misrepresentation of the events».

Unfortunately, the intensity of the conflict is characterized by casualties both among the protesters, and among the representatives of the law enforcement agencies. The exact figure is not disclosed, but the press relations services of the head of the state announced this fact, which again is the sign of how serious the situation is.

According to Sultanbek Ziyaev, the Minister of Healthcare of Karakalpakstan, «thousands of injured people» were brought to hospitals after the clashes. He mentioned that the hospitals in the capital of the Autonomous Republic were overpacked.

Later it became known that the law enforcement agencies in Nukus arrested 516 people. The mass disturbance resulted in 243 casualties including 38 employees of the law enforcement agencies, and 18 people died from injuries.

On July 3, Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrived to Nukus again. He called for unity and for not giving way to separatism and nationalism. Characterizing the situation in Karakalpakstan, the President of Uzbekistan said that about UZS 11 tn had been transferred to the local budget within the recent five years. Important social protection programs are being consistently implemented in the Autonomous Republic. Great efforts are invested into poverty reduction. Financial aid has been provided to 65 thousand families, including 17 thousand families with the disabled since childhood until 16 years of age, and 17 thousand families having lost the breadwinner. By the end of 2020, the gross product per capita in Karakalpakstan grew 3 times.

Act strong and decisively

Strong and decisive actions were required to prevent the worst scenarios. On July 2, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the Decree about imposition of a state of emergency in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic for the period of 30 days in response to public turmoil.

In particular, the documents says:

1. To assure security for the citizens, to protect their rights and freedoms, to restore the rule of law and public order, impose the state of emergency in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic for the period starting from 00:01 on 3 July 2022 until 00:00 on 2 August 2022.

2. Impose the night-time curfew from 09:00 PM to 07:00 AM for the period of the state of emergency in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic.

3. Establish the commandants office in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic for the period of the state of emergency, and assign all the powers to it in pursuance of the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan «On the State of Emergency».

Appoint Rustam Mirzayevich Jurayev, the commander-in-chief of the National Guards of Uzbekistan, the commandant of the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic.

4. Establish the following measures and temporary restrictions for the period of the state of emergency:

a) step up efforts to protect the public order, especially at important, qualified, as well as infrastructure facilities providing for human life support;

b) impose restrictions on the freedom of movement including the vehicles in the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic;

c) provide for the check of individuals identification documents, pat search, search of their personal belongings and vehicles;

d) restrict the entry into and exit from the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic;

) establish the prohibition of peaceful assemblies, entertainment, sports and other mass gathering events;

e) establish the prohibition of strikes and other actions targeted at suspension or termination of the activities of legal entities;

f) establish the prohibition of selling weapons, ammunition, explosives, impact munition and toxic substances, establish special mode of circulating pharmaceuticals and narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, precursors, ethyl alcohol and alcoholic beverages;

g) provide for temporary requisitioning of weapons and ammunition, as well as toxic substances from individuals, and from legal entities in addition to weapons, ammunition and toxic substances also combat and training military equipment, explosives and radioactive matters.

5. Assign the responsibility for the implementation of the measures applied during the period of the state of emergency to the commandants office of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, the forces and means of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, the National Guards of Uzbekistan, the State Security Service of Uzbekistan, the Ministry for Emergencies of Uzbekistan, as well as other government organizations within the state system of preventing and counteracting the emergency situations.

6. Taking into account the real danger to the lives and health of the public, the facts of attacking the employees of the law enforcement agencies, seizing their weapons and machines, as well as pursuant to Article 23 of the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan «On the State of Emergency», engage the forces and means of the Defense Ministry of Uzbekistan to perform the following functions:

  • maintaining the special regime of entry into and exit from the territory, where the state of emergency has been imposed;
  • protecting the facilities providing for human life support and transport operations, as well as facilities representing extra high hazard for the lives and health of the public, or for the environment;
  • separating the adversaries participating the conflicts with violence, use of weapons, combat and special-purpose vehicles;
  • participating in crackdown on the unlawful armed groups;
  • participating in elimination of the emergency situations consequences, as well as in saving peoples lives within the forces of the state system of preventing and counteracting the emergency situations.

Who is to blame?

One of the versions explaining the causes of the turmoil in Nukus is the version about the alleged contradictions within the Uzbek elites. It appeared in some Russian and Kazakh Telegram channels. The conflict of the incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev with certain local clans and former military/security/police officers was mentioned. One of the versions alleged that regional players would lose their shares of revenues from producing and transporting oil and gas as the result of eliminating the autonomy of Karakalpakstan.

The military/security/police officers used to be a privileged caste under the ex-President Islam Karimov, but now they are undergoing the difficult times: the purges continue and their influence is restricted.

Back in 2018, Shavkat Mirziyoyev dissolved the National Security Service transforming it into the State Security Service. The all-powerful chief of the National Security Service Rustam Inoyatov was dismissed, and previously he was the second influential person in the country. As it was mentioned in the respective Decree of the President of Uzbekistan, the National Security Service «unjustifiably interfered with all the spheres of the government activities», so «formation of the absolutely new system of the state security» was required.

Currently, some people claim that the «defense/police/security party» allegedly is preparing a «new Andijan» in Nukus in order to hog tie the incumbent President in his efforts to implement liberal reform and to prevent the death penalty abolition. This party also strives to increase their meaningfulness in counteracting insurgents and terrorists presenting themselves as the only protecting shield capable of saving the country from disintegration.

However, the above-described version appears to be oversimplified and single sided to reflect the entire complexity of the dangerous situation in the region. In reality, the hybrid destabilization scenario seems to be more realistic the combination of the accumulated social protest, the disagreements within the elites and pin-pointed external impact. As a rule, such mechanism of putting pressure on the government is designed for a long-term strategic prospect and may be periodically «switched on» in case of new triggers for protests. That is why it is especially important to analyze the events in Nukus.

Constitutional reform as social explosion igniter

The draft amendments to the Constitution stipulating for Karakalpakstan losing its right for the referendum on exiting Uzbekistan were published on June 25. They were brought up to public discussion scheduled until July 5. In particular, the amendments stipulated removing of the word «sovereign» from the description of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic status, as well as eliminating the right for separation from Uzbekistan. The Telegram channels with sharp criticism of the amendments to the Constitution appeared on the next day. Late on June 26 calls for mass turmoil appeared in social media. On Friday, July 1, thousands of people carrying Karakalpakstan flags gathered in the streets of Nukus. Most of them were athletically looking young men. The mob in the «revolutionary» Bishkek and during the «bloody January» events in Almaty looked pretty much the same.

Regional analysts claim that the main purpose of the Constitutional amendments is to «zero out» the term of office of President Mirziyoyev. The incumbent President will be out of office in 2026, and currently he is in his second 5-year presidency. The new amendments will provide for the possibility of electing him for two more terms this time each will last for 7 years (this is subject to the positive results of the Constitutional referendum). In fact, that will mean the life-long presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev. During the discussions of amendments to the Constitution, the status of Karakalpakstan was not a priority. In Oliy Majlis (the parliament of Uzbekistan) they emphasized that the draft included over 200 amendments to 64 articles of the Constitution, as well as six completely new articles introducing 16 new provisions.

Let us emphasize that this is not the first time the Constitution of Uzbekistan is being amended, and not the first «zeroing» of the presidency terms. However, even during the time of Islam Karimov only the «technical» chapters of the Constitution were changed, those containing the words of the presidency term and the balance of powers. The potentially explosion-hazardous topic of Karakalpakstan or any territorial changes was never brought up. Rafael Sattarov, a political analyst from Uzbekistan, believes that «the ideologists in the administration of the President were afraid that the autonomy presented as danger of separatism, however, they were not expecting such reaction on behalf of the regional population».

At the same time, experts on Central Asia believe that in Tashkent they wanted to prevent the «Donbass scenario» in Karakalpakstan by way of amendments to the Constitution. Rafael Sattarov describes the logic of the authorities as follows: «They are afraid that sooner or later the Kremlin will use the cases of Crimea, Trans-Dniester, South Ossetia and Abkhazia for its actions in Central Asia». However, it worked out vice versa. Today the Uzbekistan authorities are facing the risk of repetition of the «bloody January» events in Kazakhstan in that or another way, but they do not have the option of using the CSTO forces, because Uzbekistan is a non-aligned country.

Karakalpakstan as trigger for the Caspian region

From the military and political standpoint, Karakalpakstan is an ideal point for pressing three Central Asian countries simultaneously Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The strategic gas mains run across the territory of the Autonomous Republic: Bukhara the Urals and Central Asia Center. Destabilization of Karakalpakstan is capable of creating the «arc of instability» across the entire Central Asia, spilling over the Caspian region and then going along the Volga River or more to the West to the Caucasus.

The reaction by the neighbors proves this. Thus, the Turkmenistan authorities demonstrated their extreme wariness towards the events in Nukus: they announced the high-level alarm for their armed forces and reinforced the guards at the frontier with Uzbekistan. The Kazakhstan authorities took similar measures.

The regional analysts especially note that the event in Nukus started practically immediately after the end of the 6th Caspian summit in Ashkhabad. In fact, that was a special response of the West to the pro-Russian consolidation in the Caspian region, as well as demonstration of the capabilities to open «the second front» in the «soft underbelly» of Russia.

A series of other interesting facts also deserve attention. Firstly, shortly before the start of the turmoil, a big group of tourists and business people arrived to Nukus from Kyrgyzstan, where the more Western NGOs  are registered than in any other Central Asian country. Secondly, over the recent years the Karakalpak separatism started picking up the momentum in the media landscape, even though prior to that it was a marginal topic. A number of Internet resources appeared promoting the issues of the «oppressed status of Karakalpak people» and unfair distribution of resources by official Tashkent. Thirdly, Western media publish the well-engineered articles about the alleged «secret program of sterilizing women in Karakalpakstan». This is a signature style of the Anglo-Saxons in dealing with ethnic minorities, which they used long before to organize the Sikhs turmoil in India eventually resulting in assassination of Indira Gandhi.

One more fact: the supporters of Karakalpak separatism in their appeals address the Western embassies in Tashkent, OSCE and the UN.  This is an evidence of very high stakes in this political game. In the current situation of adversarial relations between Russia and the West, we can expect that our opponents will play the card of various types of nationalism and separatism in the post-Soviet space. This pertains, first of all, to the countries of Central Asia and the Caspian region, as well as to Russia itself. The topic of «suppression» of ethnic and confessional minorities or «liberation» of certain regions from the «centralized power grip» may become the dominating trend in the near future already. Karakalpakstan is a convenient testing ground for the destabilization methods of the West, which can then be used against the lawful governments of the Caspian region countries.

In this complicated environment, the Nukus events deserve serious attention. The operational system is required for immediate information exchange and coordination of actions in case of a crisis for example, at the level of Security Councils of the post-Soviet states. The establishment of a new collective security system in the big region of Central Asian and Caspian countries needs to be thought through. Efforts should be made to attract new members to this system. Russia appears to be the most interested party here (from the standpoint of assuring security of its Southern frontiers), so it should become a more active player in this region.

The immediate steps by Tashkent to preserve Articles 70-72 and 74-75 of the Constitution of Uzbekistan without amendments are just measures to eliminate the visible trigger for regional destabilization. To neutralize the root causes of protests in Karakalpakstan, strategic long-term collective decisions will be required. The authorities need to hold their ground without being supine before the circumstances.

In our opinion, consolidated political and expert support of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his efforts to settle the current crisis are needed today. In case of the most negative scenarios, the possibilities of practical aid to Tashkent should be explored in advance.

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Publications

Incidents in Nukus trigger for disruption of stability in the Caspian region

photo: kazmab.kz
4 2022
Yuri Berbekov

Yuri Berbekov

CISS expert

From rallies to chaos and ethnic violence

On July 1, in the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic within Uzbekistan mass rallies of thousands took place. The local capital city Nukus became the center of protest, there were also mass rallies also in Chimbay and Moynaq. The recently published amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan caused the disturbance, because they deprived Karakalpakstan of its current sovereignty and abolish its right to exit Uzbekistan by way of holding a referendum.

It was reported that one of the key protest inspirator was a local activist Daulet Tazhimuratov, a journalist and a blogger. The mobs were controlled and coordinated by way of social media and messengers. Economic claims appeared simultaneously with political ones, including registration in Karakalpakstan of major companies extracting gas and gold in the region along with chemical and petrochemical companies, so that they mandatorily contribute part of their revenues to the local budget in order to support the titular ethnic group.

The protestors organized a march along Nukus streets, and after that they got together at the central market square for a mass rally. Then, a series of attacks against the police followed, barricades were built in the streets and tires were set on fire. The protestors started arming themselves with bladed weapons and with different items at hand (chips of pipes and fittings, pickets, sticks, etc.), they attempted to take over the local police department and National Guards headquarters to get access to fire arms. This resulted in violent clashes. The mobs aggressiveness was heated by information about help coming from the Northern parts of the Autonomous Republic (Shymbay, Khalkabad, Takhtakopir), attacking the police and destroying the road blocks on their way.

Tashkent reacted immediately additional National Guards and military forces were moved into the Autonomous Republic, Internet and cell communication were cut off, the organizers and the most active participants of the protests including Daulet Tazhimuratov were arrested. However, the clashes between the protesters and the police continued even at night and on the next day July 2.

The President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev personally immediately flied out to the insurgent region, which shows the serious attitude towards the situation on behalf of Tashkent. At the meeting with the elected members of Jokargy Kenes (the local parliament), the seniors and activist groups of Karakalpakstan, he emphasized that no amendments pertaining to the Autonomous Republic status would be introduced to the Constitution. According to the press relations service of S. Mirziyoyev, «with account of the fact that discussions on amendments and supplements to the Constitution are still going on, and based on the opinions of Karakalpakstan citizens, the President voiced the need to preserve the presently effective versions of Articles 70, 71, 72, 74 and 75 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan».

Remember, Karakalpakstan is the biggest region of Uzbekistan occupying almost 40% of the countrys territory. This is mostly desert at the interface of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (with the dried-up Aral Sea). Almost two million people live here. The Autonomous Republic is rich with mineral resources. As for the agriculture, it is almost impossible due to severe natural conditions and unfavorable environmental situation (heat and saline soil). Due to the above-mentioned reasons, the region is heavily subsidized, a significant part of local residents are poor and unemployed, and the wellbeing of Karakalpakstan is fully dependent of financial tranches from Tashkent.

Two languages are recognized as official ones the Karakalpak and the Uzbek. The Karakalpak Autonomous Region was created during the Soviet years, and in 1936 it became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1990, the Supreme Council of Karakalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic adopted the State Sovereignty Declaration. Then in 1993, the inter-state agreement was executed about Karakalpakstan accession to Uzbekistan. This agreement fixed the right to exit for Karakalpakstan, and the same was included into the Constitution of Uzbekistan. Those were the provisions proposed for elimination, judging by the Constitutional amendments proposed by Tashkent.

As per the formal statement of the Uzbekistan Ministry of Internal Affairs dated July 1, the protesters «misinterpreted the Constitution reform». The use of force to disperse the protesting mobs was explained as follows: «in order to prevent the public order disruption and various offences by citizens, the appropriate means of law enforcement agencies were used in the dekhan (peasants) market territory». According to the press relations service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, «currently the public order is reinstated, citizens are being clarified on the inadmissibility of breaches of law».

Then information appeared that the protesters in Nukus tried to seize the buildings of government and administrative agencies. The joint statement of the authorities of the Autonomous Republic says that some undisclosed external forces from abroad attempted to influence the situation in Karakalpakstan, including «by way of publishing fake news and misrepresentation of the events».

Unfortunately, the intensity of the conflict is characterized by casualties both among the protesters, and among the representatives of the law enforcement agencies. The exact figure is not disclosed, but the press relations services of the head of the state announced this fact, which again is the sign of how serious the situation is.

According to Sultanbek Ziyaev, the Minister of Healthcare of Karakalpakstan, «thousands of injured people» were brought to hospitals after the clashes. He mentioned that the hospitals in the capital of the Autonomous Republic were overpacked.

Later it became known that the law enforcement agencies in Nukus arrested 516 people. The mass disturbance resulted in 243 casualties including 38 employees of the law enforcement agencies, and 18 people died from injuries.

On July 3, Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrived to Nukus again. He called for unity and for not giving way to separatism and nationalism. Characterizing the situation in Karakalpakstan, the President of Uzbekistan said that about UZS 11 tn had been transferred to the local budget within the recent five years. Important social protection programs are being consistently implemented in the Autonomous Republic. Great efforts are invested into poverty reduction. Financial aid has been provided to 65 thousand families, including 17 thousand families with the disabled since childhood until 16 years of age, and 17 thousand families having lost the breadwinner. By the end of 2020, the gross product per capita in Karakalpakstan grew 3 times.

Act strong and decisively

Strong and decisive actions were required to prevent the worst scenarios. On July 2, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the Decree about imposition of a state of emergency in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic for the period of 30 days in response to public turmoil.

In particular, the documents says:

1. To assure security for the citizens, to protect their rights and freedoms, to restore the rule of law and public order, impose the state of emergency in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic for the period starting from 00:01 on 3 July 2022 until 00:00 on 2 August 2022.

2. Impose the night-time curfew from 09:00 PM to 07:00 AM for the period of the state of emergency in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic.

3. Establish the commandants office in the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic for the period of the state of emergency, and assign all the powers to it in pursuance of the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan «On the State of Emergency».

Appoint Rustam Mirzayevich Jurayev, the commander-in-chief of the National Guards of Uzbekistan, the commandant of the territory of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic.

4. Establish the following measures and temporary restrictions for the period of the state of emergency:

a) step up efforts to protect the public order, especially at important, qualified, as well as infrastructure facilities providing for human life support;

b) impose restrictions on the freedom of movement including the vehicles in the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic;

c) provide for the check of individuals identification documents, pat search, search of their personal belongings and vehicles;

d) restrict the entry into and exit from the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic;

) establish the prohibition of peaceful assemblies, entertainment, sports and other mass gathering events;

e) establish the prohibition of strikes and other actions targeted at suspension or termination of the activities of legal entities;

f) establish the prohibition of selling weapons, ammunition, explosives, impact munition and toxic substances, establish special mode of circulating pharmaceuticals and narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, precursors, ethyl alcohol and alcoholic beverages;

g) provide for temporary requisitioning of weapons and ammunition, as well as toxic substances from individuals, and from legal entities in addition to weapons, ammunition and toxic substances also combat and training military equipment, explosives and radioactive matters.

5. Assign the responsibility for the implementation of the measures applied during the period of the state of emergency to the commandants office of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic, the forces and means of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, the National Guards of Uzbekistan, the State Security Service of Uzbekistan, the Ministry for Emergencies of Uzbekistan, as well as other government organizations within the state system of preventing and counteracting the emergency situations.

6. Taking into account the real danger to the lives and health of the public, the facts of attacking the employees of the law enforcement agencies, seizing their weapons and machines, as well as pursuant to Article 23 of the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan «On the State of Emergency», engage the forces and means of the Defense Ministry of Uzbekistan to perform the following functions:

  • maintaining the special regime of entry into and exit from the territory, where the state of emergency has been imposed;
  • protecting the facilities providing for human life support and transport operations, as well as facilities representing extra high hazard for the lives and health of the public, or for the environment;
  • separating the adversaries participating the conflicts with violence, use of weapons, combat and special-purpose vehicles;
  • participating in crackdown on the unlawful armed groups;
  • participating in elimination of the emergency situations consequences, as well as in saving peoples lives within the forces of the state system of preventing and counteracting the emergency situations.

Who is to blame?

One of the versions explaining the causes of the turmoil in Nukus is the version about the alleged contradictions within the Uzbek elites. It appeared in some Russian and Kazakh Telegram channels. The conflict of the incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev with certain local clans and former military/security/police officers was mentioned. One of the versions alleged that regional players would lose their shares of revenues from producing and transporting oil and gas as the result of eliminating the autonomy of Karakalpakstan.

The military/security/police officers used to be a privileged caste under the ex-President Islam Karimov, but now they are undergoing the difficult times: the purges continue and their influence is restricted.

Back in 2018, Shavkat Mirziyoyev dissolved the National Security Service transforming it into the State Security Service. The all-powerful chief of the National Security Service Rustam Inoyatov was dismissed, and previously he was the second influential person in the country. As it was mentioned in the respective Decree of the President of Uzbekistan, the National Security Service «unjustifiably interfered with all the spheres of the government activities», so «formation of the absolutely new system of the state security» was required.

Currently, some people claim that the «defense/police/security party» allegedly is preparing a «new Andijan» in Nukus in order to hog tie the incumbent President in his efforts to implement liberal reform and to prevent the death penalty abolition. This party also strives to increase their meaningfulness in counteracting insurgents and terrorists presenting themselves as the only protecting shield capable of saving the country from disintegration.

However, the above-described version appears to be oversimplified and single sided to reflect the entire complexity of the dangerous situation in the region. In reality, the hybrid destabilization scenario seems to be more realistic the combination of the accumulated social protest, the disagreements within the elites and pin-pointed external impact. As a rule, such mechanism of putting pressure on the government is designed for a long-term strategic prospect and may be periodically «switched on» in case of new triggers for protests. That is why it is especially important to analyze the events in Nukus.

Constitutional reform as social explosion igniter

The draft amendments to the Constitution stipulating for Karakalpakstan losing its right for the referendum on exiting Uzbekistan were published on June 25. They were brought up to public discussion scheduled until July 5. In particular, the amendments stipulated removing of the word «sovereign» from the description of the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic status, as well as eliminating the right for separation from Uzbekistan. The Telegram channels with sharp criticism of the amendments to the Constitution appeared on the next day. Late on June 26 calls for mass turmoil appeared in social media. On Friday, July 1, thousands of people carrying Karakalpakstan flags gathered in the streets of Nukus. Most of them were athletically looking young men. The mob in the «revolutionary» Bishkek and during the «bloody January» events in Almaty looked pretty much the same.

Regional analysts claim that the main purpose of the Constitutional amendments is to «zero out» the term of office of President Mirziyoyev. The incumbent President will be out of office in 2026, and currently he is in his second 5-year presidency. The new amendments will provide for the possibility of electing him for two more terms this time each will last for 7 years (this is subject to the positive results of the Constitutional referendum). In fact, that will mean the life-long presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev. During the discussions of amendments to the Constitution, the status of Karakalpakstan was not a priority. In Oliy Majlis (the parliament of Uzbekistan) they emphasized that the draft included over 200 amendments to 64 articles of the Constitution, as well as six completely new articles introducing 16 new provisions.

Let us emphasize that this is not the first time the Constitution of Uzbekistan is being amended, and not the first «zeroing» of the presidency terms. However, even during the time of Islam Karimov only the «technical» chapters of the Constitution were changed, those containing the words of the presidency term and the balance of powers. The potentially explosion-hazardous topic of Karakalpakstan or any territorial changes was never brought up. Rafael Sattarov, a political analyst from Uzbekistan, believes that «the ideologists in the administration of the President were afraid that the autonomy presented as danger of separatism, however, they were not expecting such reaction on behalf of the regional population».

At the same time, experts on Central Asia believe that in Tashkent they wanted to prevent the «Donbass scenario» in Karakalpakstan by way of amendments to the Constitution. Rafael Sattarov describes the logic of the authorities as follows: «They are afraid that sooner or later the Kremlin will use the cases of Crimea, Trans-Dniester, South Ossetia and Abkhazia for its actions in Central Asia». However, it worked out vice versa. Today the Uzbekistan authorities are facing the risk of repetition of the «bloody January» events in Kazakhstan in that or another way, but they do not have the option of using the CSTO forces, because Uzbekistan is a non-aligned country.

Karakalpakstan as trigger for the Caspian region

From the military and political standpoint, Karakalpakstan is an ideal point for pressing three Central Asian countries simultaneously Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The strategic gas mains run across the territory of the Autonomous Republic: Bukhara the Urals and Central Asia Center. Destabilization of Karakalpakstan is capable of creating the «arc of instability» across the entire Central Asia, spilling over the Caspian region and then going along the Volga River or more to the West to the Caucasus.

The reaction by the neighbors proves this. Thus, the Turkmenistan authorities demonstrated their extreme wariness towards the events in Nukus: they announced the high-level alarm for their armed forces and reinforced the guards at the frontier with Uzbekistan. The Kazakhstan authorities took similar measures.

The regional analysts especially note that the event in Nukus started practically immediately after the end of the 6th Caspian summit in Ashkhabad. In fact, that was a special response of the West to the pro-Russian consolidation in the Caspian region, as well as demonstration of the capabilities to open «the second front» in the «soft underbelly» of Russia.

A series of other interesting facts also deserve attention. Firstly, shortly before the start of the turmoil, a big group of tourists and business people arrived to Nukus from Kyrgyzstan, where the more Western NGOs  are registered than in any other Central Asian country. Secondly, over the recent years the Karakalpak separatism started picking up the momentum in the media landscape, even though prior to that it was a marginal topic. A number of Internet resources appeared promoting the issues of the «oppressed status of Karakalpak people» and unfair distribution of resources by official Tashkent. Thirdly, Western media publish the well-engineered articles about the alleged «secret program of sterilizing women in Karakalpakstan». This is a signature style of the Anglo-Saxons in dealing with ethnic minorities, which they used long before to organize the Sikhs turmoil in India eventually resulting in assassination of Indira Gandhi.

One more fact: the supporters of Karakalpak separatism in their appeals address the Western embassies in Tashkent, OSCE and the UN.  This is an evidence of very high stakes in this political game. In the current situation of adversarial relations between Russia and the West, we can expect that our opponents will play the card of various types of nationalism and separatism in the post-Soviet space. This pertains, first of all, to the countries of Central Asia and the Caspian region, as well as to Russia itself. The topic of «suppression» of ethnic and confessional minorities or «liberation» of certain regions from the «centralized power grip» may become the dominating trend in the near future already. Karakalpakstan is a convenient testing ground for the destabilization methods of the West, which can then be used against the lawful governments of the Caspian region countries.

In this complicated environment, the Nukus events deserve serious attention. The operational system is required for immediate information exchange and coordination of actions in case of a crisis for example, at the level of Security Councils of the post-Soviet states. The establishment of a new collective security system in the big region of Central Asian and Caspian countries needs to be thought through. Efforts should be made to attract new members to this system. Russia appears to be the most interested party here (from the standpoint of assuring security of its Southern frontiers), so it should become a more active player in this region.

The immediate steps by Tashkent to preserve Articles 70-72 and 74-75 of the Constitution of Uzbekistan without amendments are just measures to eliminate the visible trigger for regional destabilization. To neutralize the root causes of protests in Karakalpakstan, strategic long-term collective decisions will be required. The authorities need to hold their ground without being supine before the circumstances.

In our opinion, consolidated political and expert support of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his efforts to settle the current crisis are needed today. In case of the most negative scenarios, the possibilities of practical aid to Tashkent should be explored in advance.