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

Uzbek Nobel Nominees Get Cold Shoulder

The quest for the Nobel Peace Prize is proving more trouble than it’s worth for Uzbek women nominees.
By IWPR staff

The names of ten Uzbek women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize under an international campaign to raise awareness of women working for peace around the world are virtually unknown at home, where the government not only refuses to acknowledge their achievement but has also been accused of persecuting them.


Journalists and the general public have ignored the women, some of whom have been threatened with either criminal prosecution or the closure of their organisations since news of their honour came out.


“Representatives of the local press did not write a single line about these women, and one gets the feeling that the topic is simply banned,” said Marina Pikulina, the regional coordinator of the international 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize campaign.


After a three-year search, the group nominated in June 1,000 women around the world who work for peace, human rights and conflict transformation in their countries. Only 12 women have ever been nominated for the peace prize in its 104 year history.


“We wanted to recognise the work of these women, to honour them and tell the whole world about them, but as a result we made them face problems,” said Pikulina.


“Why was the project perceived as a threat or a danger? We did not create any political organisations here, and not the opposition or an underground group.”


Though traditionally tolerant of women’s groups, the Karimov regime has been cracking down since the violence in Andijan in May, in which security forces are believed to have killed hundreds of people when they fired into a crowd of demonstrators.


Women’s NGOs have been closed and pressure increased on activists.


Some of the women admit they were initially afraid to have their names made public, fearing this might endanger them in some way.


Nominee Tatyana Chibrova, the author of books on children’s rights and the head of a centre for the creative development of children and adults, said justice ministry officials threatened to close the centre if she didn’t provide financial information on the organisation.


Meanwhile, a profile of Chibrova in a local newspaper conspicuously failed to mention her nomination, which she blames on government censorship.


“As a result, when I tell my friends about the nomination, they don’t believe me. They think I’m joking,” said Chibrova.


The head of the Association of Businesswomen in Kokand, Sahiba Ergasheva, confirmed she has also clashed with authorities since being nominated. Ergasheva was called in for meetings with representatives of the local administration and prosecutor’s office during the summer, but insists she was unconcerned by the harassment.


“Over the course of my work I have got used to difficulties,” said Ergasheva. “So I didn’t pay much attention to it - but I feel sorry for my colleagues.”


She was more concerned when her organisation was forbidden from holding a conference celebrating the nominations at a large hotel, and was forced to downgrade to smaller and less prestigious premises.


“Why were our women, who the country should be so proud of, humiliated in this way? Isn’t this is a disgrace?” she said.


Nominee Tamara Chikunova, head of the unregistered NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, said pressure has increased not only on her but members of her organisation since the nominations were announced.


Police detained one activist, Durmon Sultanova, when she went to visit relatives in the Khorezm region. Chikunova said police labelled her colleague a “Wahhabist” - a catch-all term used for Islamic fundamentalists - saying she had ammunition in her bag, which was then seized. She was also forbidden from seeing her family.


Chikunova calls the situation “humiliating for women”.


“We are not saboteurs or spies, we do not work against the government. We are simply women who want peace and observance of human rights,” she said.


“But not a single representative of state power congratulated a single nominee. Even the president of Turkmenistan personally congratulated women nominated for the prize, but here everything took place in secret.”


The head of the unregistered human rights organisation Fiery Hearts Club from the Fergana region, Mutabar Tajibaeva, is also a Nobel nominee. She says that as she constantly feels pressured by the authorities, the current crackdown doesn’t seem much different.


She remembers a recent official event held in the Fergana region, Women Against Terror, that the organisers, representatives of the governmental Women’s Committee, refused to allow her to attend.


“I am a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, so I considered it my duty to be present at the event,” she said.


“Later I learned that the participants of the event said on behalf of all women of the Fergana valley that they fully support the president and believe that the organisers of the [Andijan] uprising were really terrorists who tried to overthrow the constitutional system of the country in order to create an Islamic caliphate in the valley.


“There wasn’t a word said about the women and children shot by soldiers.”


The nominees have also received little support from the Women’s Committee, which played no part in the selection of nominees.


Indeed, committee member Muatar Pulatova seemed to suggest in an interview with IWPR that there were others more deserving of the award.


“It is sad that the Women’s Committee was not aware of this procedure. I think that among our women, many people worthy of this prize would have been found. I don’t know what criteria the nominees were selected by,” said Pulatova.


The list of nominees included some women who work for state bodies. IWPR tried to interview several of these women, but they were too scared of the possible consequences to do so. Some have already received threats and reprimands from above as a result of their nominations.


As one civil servant, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The problem is that representatives of state structures and independent human rights activists were on the same list. Thus, women who worked in state structures and were considered to be loyal to the government began to be regarded by the authorities in the same negative light as human rights activists.”


For more information about the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize, visit: http://www.1000peacewomen.org/eng/html/nominierte/index.php


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