Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: Apr '09, part 2

Report raises questions about why Uzbek government is cracking down on Turkish Islamic group.
By Inga Sikorskaya
Analysts say an IWPR article on the prosecution of alleged followers of a Turkish Islamic group has informed people in Uzbekistan about this latest crackdown by their government and provoked a debate on why it is happening.

The article, Uzbek Authorities Find New “Islamist Enemy”, published on April 26, looked at three successive trials of individuals accused of espousing the ideas of Said Nursi, a 20th-century Turkish Islamist.

Farhad Tolipov, a Tashkent-based political scientist, said he first learned of the trials from IWPR.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “Your report will prompt people to reflect on the issue.”

Nursi’s ideas were brought to Central Asia in the Nineties by followers of his successor Fethullah Gülen, through literature and a network of elite secondary schools. The Uzbek government later closed these schools and now appears to believe the “Nurchilar”, as adherents are called, are nearly as bad as the armed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

“The government is now portraying the Nurchilar as enemies of the people. The IWPR report provided comprehensive information on this,” said a media-watcher based in the western region of Bukhara.

Surat Ikramov, leader of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, has been watching the way people are targeted and jailed for their religious beliefs for several years now.

He and his colleagues discussed the IWPR report and concluded that it was well-timed given that the authorities appear to have embarked on a fresh campaign against suspected Islamists.

“The report prompted a discussion among progressively minded Uzbeks about how the authorities are increasing the pressure on believers,” said Ikramov.

Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek analyst now living in exile, hopes the article will help focus international attention on this issue.

One important point raised in the piece, said Yoldashev, is that the latest arrests have targeted young, university-educated people, whom the government should be engaging rather than alienating.