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

Plight of Uzbek Minority Worsens

Turkmenistan is a multi-ethnic country and according to various estimates has up to 500,000 ethnic Uzbeks – making them the biggest minority at about nine per cent of the total population. Frontier regions in the north and northeast are densely populated
By IWPR
Despite this shared past, relations between the Turkmen majority and the Uzbek minority are worsening. The mass “Turkmen-isation” of Uzbeks has gathered force in recent years.



In the Dashoguz region, where Uzbeks account for 40 per cent of the population, all the Uzbek schools have been done away with and turned into mixed “Turkmen-Uzbek” schools, where only part of the curriculum is in Uzbek, and then only in the upper classes, while the lower ones are now taught entirely in Turkmen.



Nowadays all children have to go to school wearing Turkmen national dress, and the Uzbeks have to wear the Turkmen style of skullcap even though they have their own design.



This kind of attitude, where Turkmen are at an advantage, is also seen in the workplace. According to an employee of the vocational training system, Uzbeks are viewed disparagingly at work, and the way they are treated changes immediately a Turkmen is appointed as a manager. If you have the misfortune to have been born Uzbek, you are a second- or third-class person, he added.



Raila, a 40-year-old woman, moved from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan 15 years ago. She says President Turkmenbashi regards the Uzbeks as aliens, adding, “All the best positions go to Turkmen.” Raila’s husband has never been promoted once in all these years and has remained a rank-and-file engineer. She says she would never vote for Turkmenbashi if there were elections.



Yet the Uzbeks are in no hurry to go to Uzbekistan. One reason for this reluctance to move may be the difficult social and economic situation in that country. People prefer to stay – even if that means their rights as an ethnic minority are violated – for fear of encountering economic difficulties in Uzbekistan.



Atakhan, who lives in Dashoguz, has been visiting relatives in Uzbekistan. In the course of an interview, he said they are very poor and that he had brought them some money. His relatives feel pity for him, saying the Turkmen have crushed the Uzbeks, don’t allow them to expand their activities in the private sector, and don’t take them on in state institutions. But not one of them suggests he should emigrate to Khorezm.



Asked why they don’t move to Uzbekistan, interviewees gave a variety of responses, with some drawing comparisons between standards of living, pensions, and how well set-up their relatives are. But the issue of pensions caused some hesitation, since it is unclear what will happen now that Turkmenbashi has decided to cut them.



On this subject, Atakhan said that despite this, elderly people in any case not be moving to Uzbekistan to live with their relatives. The Uzbek authorities do not see these people as their own. The hospitals fleece you for large sums of money when they find out that you are not local. There was one incident in Koshkupyr district when a local bureaucrat threw an old man out of his office. People are losing respect for the elderly, said Atakhan, and it is particularly hurtful when an Uzbek has to take verbal abuse from one of his own.