Karakalpak Unrest 33

Footage has emerged of the Uzbek authorities cleaning up a huge amount of blood after suppression of protests in Nukus, Uzbekistan.

The Karakalpaks are a separate ethnic and linguistic group. Karakalpakstan covers a huge area, but almost all of it is uninhabitable desert. A small majority of the population of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan are not Karakalpak ethnically or linguistically – they are Kazakhs, Turkmen, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Koreans, Tatars and others – but the regional, arguably national, identity is also strong among these groups settled in Karakalpakstan.

Among the historical events that gave the Karakalpak such a diverse population, were mass deportations by Stalin of Krim Tartar from Crimea and Koreans from the Russia/Korea border. The latter group in particular were simply dumped from trains into the desert. Many perished, while others were saved by the kindness of locals. Official provision for their sustenance was deliberately scanty. When I was there in 2001 there were still many eye witness and direct victims of these events fifty years earlier.

Although protest was sparked by constitutional changes aiming to eliminate Karakalpakstan’s regional autonomy, the discontent runs much deeper than that. Karakalpakstan has suffered most from the enormous, almost unthinkable, environmental degradation arising from the destruction of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers and consequent disappearance of the Aral Sea.

Being right at the end of the line for agricultural water from river systems which are massively over-extracted for irrigation of the cotton crop, Karakalpakstan is permanently drought struck and agriculturally impoverished. The massive over-use of fertiliser to maintain the upstream cotton monoculture has left the dried up river beds and Aral seabed as a source of friable poisons swept over towns by wind. That is even without considering the legacy of Soviet biological and chemical weapon research programmes centred on Nukus.

Karakalpaks have had no clout in independent Uzbekistan’s oligarch driven system of government, and benefited hardly at all from having most of Uzbekistan’s oil and gas, the money staying in Tashkent (or rather London and Geneva). To add to this, there is substantial popular racial prejudice against Karakalpaks in the capital. Linguistic suppression both in education and in publications is a further long term factor of discontent.

I don’t currently have good contacts with Karakalpak dissidents, so I cannot give much detail of immediate events. The Uzbek government seems to have combined its usual vicious suppression of dissent with an abandonment of the constitutional proposals which were the immediate spark.

We will see the usual attempts to portray events through a prism understood by people in the West. But this is not anything to do with Islamic terrorism, nor is it a CIA provoked colour revolution. Beware comments from “journalists” who have just found it on the map. It is an attempt, I fear doomed for now, of a suppressed population to assert themselves.


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33 thoughts on “Karakalpak Unrest

  • Conall Boyle

    Nationalism is the evil that has caused this. The Nation-State of 19th Century invention calls for every ethnic group to have its own territorial state. Within every land-delimited state there will be ‘minorities’ to be suppressed, reeducated, eliminated somehow.
    We see this vividly in the current Russia-Ukraine war, but it exists everywhere. Globalism and organisations like the EU are the antidote to the evil of nationalism.

    • Blue Dotterel

      Corporate (political economic) globalizartion is no less an evil than the type of chauvinistic nationalism that we see. It is really little different from imperialism under a single hegemon, and will lead to an essentially fascist totalitarianism

    • fonso

      The EU is itself a ferociously racist, chauvinist ethnosuperstate. Compare its gushing welcome to Ukranians to its disregard for the Africans who died en masse trying to get to Spain this week (or indeed for any of the desperate nonwhite souls who try to enter Fortress Europe). How much more stark do you need the difference to be? This is without even mentioning the EU’s core antidemocratic and neoliberal principles.

      • John Kinsella


        I expect that you meant to say that “The Russian Federation is itself a ferociously racist, chauvinist ethnosuperstate”?

        As for admitting refugees, roughly how many has Russia admitted?

        • jrkrideau

          “The Russian Federation is itself a ferociously racist, chauvinist ethnosuperstate”?

          Indeed it is /s.

          A couple of things from Wiki:

          “Of all the languages of Russia, Russian, the most widely spoken language, is the only official language at the national level. There are 35 languages which are considered official languages in various regions of Russia, along with Russian.”

          “[Sergei] Shoigu was born on 21 May 1955 in Chadan in the remote and impoverished Tuvan Autonomous Oblast to an ethnic Tuvan father, newspaper editor Kuzhuget Shoigu[c] (1921–2010) and a Ukrainian-born Russian mother, “

        • fonso

          No, I didn’t mean to say Russia. Or the USA, or India, or China or anyplace else. I very much did mean the European Union. Do you want to deny its racism or just childishly attempt to deflect from it?

          • Laguerre

            If you didn’t mean to say Russia, then you discredited yourself. The problem with the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves is Spain’s, not the EU’s. Incidentally demonstrating that the EU is not a superstate, as it is Spain that decides. The two enclaves should be returned to Morocco, of course.

      • Wee Jim

        Most of the refugees from Ukraine were women and children and old people. Refugees from Africa and the Arab and muslim countries tend to be young healthy men – mainly because they’re the ones who can best survive the journey, true. That’s apart from racial and cultural differences and the question of who wants to go back to their native countries when they can.

    • pretzelattack

      the thing we see vividly in the current war, which is a proxy war by the US and NATO against Russia, is the particular version of “globalism” which benefits the US as the hyperpower.

    • Marsha

      It’s so disappointing to hear you say that the problem is the nationalism. You do not condemn the evil acts of the Uzbek Government who massacred harmless people who just wanted to express their opinion. Do you have any idea about Uzbek government trying to destroy Karakalpak people? They control their birth rates, they benefit generously from their natural resources, while keeping Karakalpak people dirt poor. Conal Boyle, it’s sad that you do not support freedom of speech, and you support totalitarian dictators

  • Johnny Conspiranoid

    ” But this is not anything to do with Islamic terrorism, nor is it a CIA provoked colour revolution. “

    Not yet, but perhaps those people will now start work on such a project.

    • jake

      I’m not so sure.
      Anyway kudos to David Leask, a writer of Integrity, who is pretty much first out of the traps with this story. That’s Initiative for you.

  • Pete

    Very interesting article Craig, this is why I read the blog, for in-depth analysis which the BBC and newspapers rarely attempt even on domestic issues.
    As regards the Krim Tartars, are they still a well-defined ethnic group or have they been absorbed into other groups, and if the former, do they want to go back to Crimea?

    • Laguerre

      A lot of Crimean Tatars did go back after Stalin’s death, but not all.

      I once stayed with one of the Korean exiles, but that was in Kazakhstan at Taraz. In their case there was no money to fund their return, as had happened with the Volga Germans in Kazakhstan, who were all taken in and provided with pensions and passports in Germany in the early 1990s.

  • Fazal Majid

    Disheartening, as always. What do you make of the attempts in the Western Press to portray Uzbek President Mirziyoyev, who you so implacably skewer in your Dirty Diplomacy, as some kind of reformer?

  • El Dee

    This same story, to one extent or another, seems to be retold across the world by various powers oppressing various groups and leaving them without necessary resources whilst plundering what they do have. As usual our government and press will report on those they wish us to have sympathy with and ignore those that they have no ‘special interest’ in. What we receive from our press is the opposite of journalism..

  • Tatyana

    I would like to share this video.
    Formal meeting (oral evidence session): Work of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – 28/06/2022

    Lizz Truss and Chris Bryant, the dialogue starts at 11:18:40 ends at 11:22:15


    Based on the position expressed by Miss Truss, I guess that the authorities of Uzbekistan (since they can control access to oil and gas), will not be recognized by the UK as an unbearably authoritarian regime.
    Also, I met a piece of information elsewhere saying that Ms. Truss is an ex-employee of the Shell Oil company.

  • Fat Jon


    Possibly, but the official answer is that it is red dyed water from water cannon, used to disperse protestors.

    Who do we believe? Who knows in this world where the biggest liars enjoy the most power?

    • Tatyana

      May I please ask whose official answer was that?
      Russian news report on 18 killed, 243 wounded and they refer to Abror Mamatov, General Prosecution office representative.

      • Fat Jon

        It was a video on Twitter, but I’m not sure if I can paste it here.

        The text said –

        Orxan Qaşqay @gyzil
        3 Jul
        Video with streets of #Nukus, #Karakalpakstan covered with “blood” called fake

        #Uzbekistan’i media write that “blood” is special red colored water from water cannons. For persuasiveness, a technique is shown that really splashes with a tinted liquid.

  • Nick

    If you watch the video, you see red daubs on the placard near the bottom (a tiny part of the placard can be seen at the bottom right of the still posted by Craig). The daubs look like letters and can’t possibly be blood, the placard is too high, they must be red paint. So it’s not completely clear that the stuff on the ground is in fact blood.

    (To be clear: I have no idea what is happening in Karakalpak, I’ve been to Khiva and talked to a couple of people there who seemed happy with the then-President, Karimov; but I certainly know less about the place than Craig Murray does.)

    • kashmiri

      98% of people living in the Soviet Union declared being happy with the Soviet system, and around 99% voted for the Communist Party. The Party never needed to rig the elections. That’s the survival instinct when living in authoritarian regimes in that part of the world. Any dissent requires bravery, because one never knows who they are talking to.

  • john

    Andrew Korybko has published a series of (what seem to me) sober, nuanced analyses of what is happening in Uzbekistan.

    For example, paraphrasing a piece published a couple days ago, “Deconstructing What Just Transpired In Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan On Friday”:


    “The sequence of events in the 24 hours since the Nukus Incident enable objective observers to obtain a clearer idea of what exactly transpired. As the author initially suspected prior to the news about President Mirziyoyev’s trip to the Karakalpak capital and his promise that its autonomy won’t be scrapped during the constitutional reform process, it’s too early to call the protests in Uzbekistan’s Karakalpakstan a color revolution.
    There’s no doubt that some Color Revolution technology was indeed utilized during the Nukus Incident, as stated by the Government – ‘Hiding behind populist slogans, manipulating the consciousness and trust of citizens, the organizers of the riots, not obeying the legitimate demands of the authorities, gathered the citizens of the republic on the square in front of the complex of administrative buildings of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. Provocateurs, relying on the gathered citizens, made an attempt to seize these state institutions and thus split the society, destabilize the socio-political situation in Uzbekistan.’
    But acknowledging these facts isn’t the same as automatically concluding that a foreign intelligence agency was involved in organizing the unrest. Color Revolution technology has proliferated so widely across global society in the past two decades that any non-state actor can employ its many tactics and strategies without having to be connected to any external spy service,whereas the odds of a serious full-fledged foreign-backed Color Revolution succeeding in sparking major instability in Uzbekistan are close to nil due to the region’s sparsely populated settlements, far-flung location from the rest of the country’s key cities, and Uzbekistan’s strong military-intelligence services.
    The Government’s vague reference to foreign forces is subject to interpretation, and was most likely deliberately ambiguous. Uzbekistan, like every Central Asian country, is astride major drug smuggling routes controlled by transnational criminal gangs. These organizations usually have some connection with terrorist groups, whether in their part of the former Soviet Union and/or in neighboring Afghanistan, which makes them very dangerous non-state actors. They can easily be used as proxies of forces even more sinister than themselves, be they foreign intelligence agencies and/or terrorists (the second-mentioned sometimes being proxies of the first). Other times, however, they operate on the orders of powerful clans or even just independently.
    It remains unclear whether the authorities are even yet aware of exactly what these foreign connections are, but they at the very least realized that certain foreign media forces were sharing a twisted interpretation of events that misportrayed the Nukus Incident as unprovoked brutality by the state against “peaceful protesters”, which isn’t what happened. As the region’s top political and security structures confirmed, a criminal group manipulated the populace in order to use them as human shields behind which to orchestrate their attempted seizure of government buildings.”

  • Martin

    “I don’t currently have good contacts with Karakalpak dissidents, so I cannot give much detail of immediate events.”

    ” But this is not anything to do with Islamic terrorism, nor is it a CIA provoked colour revolution. “

    So how do you know?

    • kashmiri

      Because, if you follow Craig’s writings closely, “Islamic terrorism” in Central Asia has been made up by the Uzbeks; while the CIA has never had much interest to try to take over these Central Asian states, having (rightly) concluded that their own capacity is no match to the FSB and local security agencies which pull all the strings.

  • sergey

    all this is pretty nice (or ugly, you choose), but without water tomorrow there’ll be neither uzbeks nor karapakpaks. one may use existing resources in a more balanced way, but glaciers feeding the river systems are retreating so quickly. there will be no life in this part of the world pretty soon. unless nuclear winter comes, which will be a huge, huge relief for some.

  • kashmiri

    Thank you Craig. It was shocking to watch this unfold. Not sure how matters are going to develop – such senseless violence tends to be remembered and catalyse further dissent for many years. Clearly it was Tashkent’s attempt to get rid of the risk of Uzbekistan’s breakup – a constitutional weakness that can be exploited by malicious actors. That Taskhent did it in a brutal, Soviet way – well, what else could be expected of them? What other method of governing do they know?