The Parliament of Uzbekistan's Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan issued a statement on Saturday declaring the organizers of the mass unrest to be criminals managed from abroad.  "We responsibly declare that our state has the necessary capacity to prevent further undermining of the situation. A group of riot organizers and those who actively resisted the law enforcement agencies have been detained. Investigative measures are currently ongoing against them. All provocateurs will be identified and prosecuted in accordance with the law in force.

Note that the two-day mass protests are over", assures the Jokargy-Kenes (parliament) of the 850,000-strong Karakalpak Turkic-Kypchak people, who have expressed loyalty to Tashkent. However, when you know the history of the Karakalpak autonomy, you understand that it is unlikely that the history of conflicts of this people ended on 2 July 2022.

From the 11th century to Uzbekistan

Karakalpaks as a nation were formed in the 11th century in the Aral Sea region. The Karakalpak language belongs to the Kypchak group of Turkic languages and is close to the Kazakh language. The Karakalpaks were a part of the Khiva Khanate until the beginning of the 20th century. After it was abolished, Karakalpakia was renamed by the Soviet authorities into the Karakalpak ASSR, in 1924. Until 1930 it was a part of the Kazakh SSR. On July 20, 1930, Karakalpakstan seceded from Kazakhstan and remained directly subordinate to the RSFSR. A year and a half later, on December 30, 1931 the All-Union Central Executive Committee decided to transform Karakalpakstan into an autonomous union republic. On March 20, 1932 it was transformed into Kara-Kalpak Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. On December 5, 1936, the autonomy was transferred to the Uzbek SSR.

Now there are 390-500.000 Karakalpaks living in the Amu Darya delta, the capital city of Nukus.

The mine that exploded on 1 July was laid during Uzbekistan's years of independence. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the region was transformed into the Republic of Karakalpakstan in 1992. In 1993 an interstate treaty was signed for 20 years on the accession of the Republic of Karakalpakstan to Uzbekistan. The treaty stipulated the right of the autonomous republic to secede from Uzbekistan through a referendum, which it now proposes to abolish. The amendments prepared by Tashkent are opposed by Karakalpaks, residents of the autonomy and those living outside Uzbekistan. The press has particularly noted the influence of forces in Kazakhstan on events.

Two amendments in all which raised Karakalpakstan on 1 July 2022, thousands of people took to the streets of Nukus to protest against the draft amendments to the Uzbek Constitution, published on 26 June.  The people opposed two of Tashkent's proposed 170 amendments. The unrest spread to the cities of Chimbay and Muynak.

Karakalpak leaders included Aman Sagidullayev, leader of the "Alga, Karakalpakstan" movement. Aman Sagidullayev and the activist Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, detained on 1 July, became the leaders of the Karakalpakstan movement. He was soon released on the wave of outrage.

A joint statement from the local authorities did not identify the organizers by name. They said that the "organizers of disorders" gathered citizens in a square in front of the complex of administrative buildings in Nukus and "made an attempt to take over these state institutions and bring discord into society and destabilize the social and political situation in Uzbekistan. According to the statement, the law enforcement agencies "suppressed the actions of the instigators," and those who resisted were detained. Also, it also does not say what caused the events.

The proposed amendments to Uzbekistan's constitution for public discussion involve a wide range of innovations, of which the most significant, relevant to all residents of the country, is an increase in the presidential term from five to seven years, as well as the "nullification" of the terms of the current head of state Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who came to power after the death of the first president, Islam Karimov, in 2016.

However, it was two points that brought the residents of Karakalpakstan to the streets:

Article 70 of the current version of Uzbekistan's Constitution says:

"The sovereign Republic of Karakalpakstan is a part of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The sovereignty of the Republic of Karakalpakstan shall be protected by the Republic of Uzbekistan".

The new draft, which was submitted for public discussion on 26 June, provides for the following changes to this Article: "The Republic of Karakalpakstan is a part of the Republic of Uzbekistan. All rights and freedoms stipulated by the Constitution and legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan shall be guaranteed on the territory of the Republic of Karakalpakstan".

Article 74 of the current Constitution reads: "The Republic of Karakalpakstan shall have the right to secede from the Republic of Uzbekistan on the basis of a nationwide referendum of the people of Karakalpakstan.

The new draft proposes to define this Article as follows: "The Republic of Karakalpakstan shall exercise legislative, executive and judicial power on its territory in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. The President of the Jogorku Kenesh of the Republic of Karakalpakstan is the highest official of the Republic of Karakalpakstan.

The purpose of the new edition of the two paragraphs of the Constitution is clear, the words about the sovereignty of the Republic of Karakalpakstan are excluded from it. By preserving the mention of the Republic, the new constitution relegates it to the legal space of Uzbekistan, leaving no exceptions. Karakalpakstan's autonomy becomes formal.

"Putin's finger" against transparent borders in Central Asia

In an interview with Kazakh YouTube channel Uzbek political analyst Rafael M. Sattarov gave an ominous forecast of the upcoming events: "Tokayev's Kazakhstan is rapidly rolling toward Karimov's Uzbekistan, and Mirziyoyev's Uzbekistan is heading toward Nazarbayev's."

Uzbek political analyst Alisher Ilhamov, in an interview for Turan, described the events as follows: 

"In a situation where the authorities themselves, in the form of the commission on constitutional amendments, have provoked a crisis in the form of street protests, another danger has arisen - the growth of chauvinism. Already voices can be heard from the mainstream society, even from some dissidents, to nail down the Karakalpaks and even abolish their autonomy altogether. There is a danger that the ruling regime cannot resist the temptation to flirt with these chauvinistic sentiments by going down the road of further restrictions on Karakalpakstan's autonomous status.

It ought to be noted that Ilkhamov sees Russia as a threat: "It's hard to think of a better present for Putin than Uzbek chauvinism. After all, an outburst of such chauvinism directed at Karakalpaks would give a very good excuse for the Kremlin to interfere, under the guise of protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. This is despite the fact that Putin's very policy is guilty of great-power chauvinism when he carries around his delusional idea of the so-called "Russian world".

He maintains that Uzbekistan was not at the top of Putin's list of the Republics "that the Kremlin would set its dogs against if it succeeded in achieving any of its goals in Ukraine. Kazakhstan was at the top of that list. But the current crisis around the constitutional amendments and Karakalpakstan could change the priorities of the Kremlin, which will not want to miss the sudden chance to undermine civil peace in Uzbekistan in order to enhance its leverage over Tashkent and gain control over it. After all, Putin is known as a master of playing tactically such chances that arise".

It has to be noted that Ilkhamov calls on Tashkent to "understand that they are walking on a thin wire. In terms of present crisis it would be in national interest of the country to gradually and patiently rectify the situation, relying not on forceful methods and repressions, and, God forbid, on further restriction of Karakalpak autonomy, but on methods of dialogue and consultations".

The political scientist sees a threat to the plans being discussed in the region to create a Central Asia with transparent borders. Moreover, the suppression of Karakalpak autonomy would be destructive to Uzbek statehood and sovereignty.

Responding to Turan's question, Ilhamov did not rule out the cause of poverty in the surge in tensions.

"Socio-economic tensions, of course, play a certain role in the discontent of the population of Karakalpakstan. This is a zone of economic disaster, lack and poor quality of drinking water (very hard, with high salt content). These are all underlying factors that create a certain background, but do not necessarily lead to street protests. The main thing in this situation is not to provoke it by such ill-considered steps as changing the constitutional status of autonomy.

Note that Turan also contacted Tashkent politician Farhad Tolipov. He considers it necessary to dissolve the Constitutional Commission, cancel the constitutional referendum, and stop discussing amendments.

"Karakalpakstan has always been considered on a par with other regions of Uzbekistan, that is, in fact, it was one of the regions of the country. The purpose of the new edition of the Basic Law was to confirm this fact in the relevant articles of the Constitution. There was no discrimination of Karakalpaks during all history of independence from the side of Uzbekistan and it was always confirmed by Karakalpaks themselves.

Under current circumstances there are always hotheads who misinterpret these or those political decisions in order to stir up passions and emotions. Such was the case this time. The President visited Karakalpakstan, and after a meeting in the parliament of the republic it was decided to leave the clauses of the Constitution on the sovereign status of Karakalpakstan unchanged. The situation has stabilized," summarized Farhad Tolipov.


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