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Concern is rising in Moscow and Washington over increasingly explosive rioting and violence in Andizhan, in eastern Uzbekistan.
Bodies lie in the street and buildings were ablaze on Friday, after Uzbek soldiers fired on the crowd of demonstrators.
All week, up to 10,000 Muslims in Andizhan had been peacefully protesting the trial of 23 Muslims on terrorism charges, stemming from a wave of terrorist acts in March, 2004. The demonstrations became violent on Friday when rebels heading the protest made an armed attack on the prison, freeing dozens of prisoners, including the 23 Muslims on trial. Government soldiers moved in and fired on thousands of protestors, and evidently regained control of the central city by late evening on Friday.
Andizhan is in the Fergana Valley on the border with southern Kyrgyzstan, where violent riots overthrew the government four months ago. The Kyrgyzstan coup shocked the Kremlin because it removed a pro-Kremlin leader who had been in place since the Soviet breakup in 1991.
Moscow is watching the Uzbek situation with growing concern, for fear that the Kyrgyzstan coup might be repeated, leading to the overthrow of pro-Russian President Islam Karimov, a former Communist party boss. Karimov is apparently sick and there is no clear-cut choice for a successor, leaving the political situation fairly unstable and vulnerable.
The Fergana Valley lies in three separate countries. It consists of eastern Uzbekistan, part of northern Tajikistan and part of southwestern Kyrgyzstan. It's the most densely populated region of Central Asia, and has been plagued by frequent ethnic (rather than religious) conflict since the Soviet breakup. However, Muslim extremists were blamed for the March, 2004, terrorist attacks, and then the trials of the 23 Muslims have inflamed religious passions.
This is a typical example of "identity group formation," where disparate groups unite and identify with one another based on a demographic characteristic, such as religion, ethnicity, language, skin color, background, income, etc.
The Fergana Valley Muslims have always lived together with Jews, most recently Russian Jews, and had little animosity toward Israel or the West.
However, the Fergana Valley Muslims are now "identifying" with al Qaeda and other Muslim radicals with Middle Eastern roots, and so anti-American and anti-Israeli feelings are growing.
The Russian concern is not only that Karimov might be overthrown, but also that the Uzbek violence might spiral out of control and destabilize not only the entire Central Asian region, but also the volatile Caucasus region on the other side of the Caspian Sea. Any sign of this would generate an armed Russian response.
Washington is also concerned about losing a valuable ally. Washington has had "mixed emotions" about Uzbekistan. On the one hand, America has a military air base in Uzbekistan and has hailed Karimov as an ally in its war on terror following 9/11. On the other hand, the American State Department and other Western countries have heavily criticized President Karimov for human rights abuses, including the jailing of thousands of Muslims to prevent terrorism.
Historically, Uzbekistan and its capital, Tashkent, were centrally located along the Silk Road and other trading routes that linked Turkey to China. The region was conquered by one group after another, including the Persians, the Turks, the Arabs, and the Mongols. Following the 1850s Crimean War, in which Russia completed its conquest of the Caucasus, the Russians then took control of the Central Asian regions. Uzbekistan's last crisis war was the civil war that followed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Following the war, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin violently controlled the region, and all government positions were filled by Russians.
The nation's "generational awakening" period really took hold following the death of Stalin in 1953. There was a flowering of Uzbek culture, and Uzbeks began to take leading government positions, including the ascendancy of Uzbek Sharaf Rashidov to the leadership position (first secretary of the Communist Party) from 1959 to 1982.
Following Rashidov's death, Soviet control of Uzbekistan unraveled completely, and there was a renewal of low-level violence between different ethnic groups. However, the collapse of the Soviet Empire made Uzbekistan an independent country for the first time in 1991, and united the country under President Islam Karimov, who remains President to this day.
The future of Uzbekistan can only be understood in the context of all the former Soviet Republics.
After the Soviet Union split up in 1991, the idea was that the various Republics would remain close to Moscow in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Moscow guaranteed close cooperation by placing Russians in firm control.
But one state after another has peeled away in the last few years. Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in 2003 and Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" in 2004 replaced the pro-Russian leaders with Western-leaning leaders. These "revolutions" were bloodless coups.
But the scenario in Kyrgyzstan was different, when a violent coup forced the pro-Russian president Askar Akayev to flee the country. Since taking power in 1991, Akayev simply had been unable to alleviate the extreme poverty. The same has happened in Uzbekistan with President Karimov's corrupt dictatorship, with high unemployment, a stagnant economy, and repression of Muslims, and now the conflict with the Muslim rebels is threatening to bring things to a crisis.
From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Russia is overdue for a refighting of the massive civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution as well as Stalin's genocidal purges. In a sense this war has already begun, in that the Chechen war with Russia has been going on at a low level for ten years.
Generational Dynamics predicts that Russia and all the former Soviet republics will have a new massive crisis war / civil war. The only thing we don't know is whether it will take place this year, next year, or in a few years.
The Kremlin's leaders don't know about Generational Dynamics, but they do know that the region is becoming increasingly unstable, and that an Uzbek crisis could become an Uzbek revolution, and that an Uzbek revolution could spread to a new Russian Revolution. That's why the Kremlin is so nervous, and why Washington is nervous as well.