Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 143

On December 1 a spontaneous riot erupted in Markhamat, a district center located 30 km south of the city of Andizhan in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley. The riot involved approximately 300-350 people and was precipitated by electricity shortages in the district. The rioters demanded that the local government immediately restore electric power and wanted the head of the district administration to address the crowd. When protesters found out that the district chief had refused to address the protesters, they beat several representatives of both the local government and local electric utility company.

The population also closed the Fergana-Osh highway in southern Kyrgyzstan and threw stones at any car that attempted to run the improvised checkpoint. As a result, seven more people were wounded and their cars were significantly damaged (Centrasia.ru, December 3).

Local human rights activist Rustam Iskhakov told Jamestown that the rural areas of Andizhan oblast only have electricity for a few hours each day. Similarly, natural gas is supplied to residential buildings and houses sporadically and with substantial interruptions. With natural gas heat unreliable, local residents rely mainly on electric heaters to keep their houses and apartments warm. The local residents also depend on electric devices for cooking their meals. Iskhakov explained, “Tonight the temperature will drop to zero degrees Celsius. It appears that it was the cold weather that forced people to take such a desperate stand.” Iskhakov also added that on December 7, approximately 50 women closed the Fergana-Osh highway near the town of Shakhrikhan (located 20 km to the west of Andizhan) to protest the constant electricity outages.

Protest demonstrations that sometimes result in violent actions aimed at government representatives have become common events in contemporary Uzbekistan. On November 1, for example, merchants dissatisfied with a government decree that imposed new trade restrictions organized a demonstration in the city of Khokand, also located in the Fergana Valley. The rioters set ablaze two police vehicles and severely beat three tax inspectors and a police officer. The offending government decree on trade also triggered riots in other cities of Uzbekistan. Prior to the November events, the last incidence of civil unrest turning into spontaneous violence was in February 2002, when several thousands Tashkent students looted stores and set vehicles on fire to protest a sudden price increase on consumer goods (See EDM, November 9).

The mass protests that have appeared over the past month indicate that, despite its harsh authoritarian methods of governance Tashkent is gradually losing control over the situation in the country. It is particularly significant that most of the civil unrest takes place in the Fergana Valley, which represents one of the most socially explosive regions of Uzbekistan. For example, in 1989 anti-Jewish pogroms took place in the city of Andizhan, which led to a mass exodus of Jews from that city. In 1989 there were also inter-ethnic clashes in the Fergana Valley between the Uzbek population and the Meskhetian Turks, which resulted in the death of approximately 150 people and led to the emigration of Meskhetian Turks from Uzbekistan.

In 1991 the Adolat (Justice) movement was launched in the city of Namangan, also located in the Fergana Valley. The Adolat members created a structure similar to the Iranian “Islamic revolutionary guards.” Young men wearing green headbands physically punished anyone who dared to violate Sharia regulations. The leader of this newly formed Islamic militia was Takhir Yuldashev. In late 1991 the President Karimov attempted to arrest Adolat members, but Yuldashev and several of his followers fled to Afghanistan, where they subsequently formed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In 1999 and 2000 IMU militants attempted to reach the Fergana Valley in order to establish an Islamic state Ð the Fergana Caliphate.