Khans of Central Asia

Uzbek President Islam Karimov won the December 23 national election, which was not unexpected. However, it is quite unusual that this will be his third term in office, despite the fact that the Uzbek Constitution limits presidents to two terms.  The Karimov administration made no attempt to amend the constitution and has not explained how his candidacy and election victory can be deemed legal according to Uzbek law. 

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Election officials claimed that Karimov’s first term began in 2000, even though he has been in office since 1991.


Unfortunately, at a time when progressive elements of the Islamic world are trying to establish the rule of law in Muslim countries, Karimov is setting himself above the supreme law of the land, and the leaders of many other Islamic nations are doing the same.

 This harkens back to the days of the khans of Central Asia, who ruled much of the region before it was annexed by the Russian Empire, which was succeeded by the Soviet Union.

 When the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan gained independence after the Soviet Union broke up in December 1991, former Communist Party officials took charge and the authoritarian systems they established closely resembled the old khanates.¼br />  

 The presidents of these countries have entrenched themselves in power.

 Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan are the only presidents their countries have known since independence in 1991.

 Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan remained head of state from December 1991 until his death in December 2006, and former Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev held power from December 1991 until April 2005, when he resigned after a popular uprising forced him to flee the country.


Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon has been head of government since November 1992, a little less than one year after the country became independent. However, Rahmon should be given credit for allowing the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan to operate freely as the only legal Islamist party in Central Asia and to run in the 2005 parliamentary elections, in which it won two seats in the 63-member legislature.

 The situation in Uzbekistan is completely different.


The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, harshly criticized the Tony Blair government for its support of the Uzbek government, saying Karimov was responsible for widespread repression and human rights abuses. At a human rights conference in Tashkent in October 2002, Murray mentioned the infamous incident of the two Uzbek political prisoners who were boiled alive, noting, “All of us know that this is not an isolated incident.”

The former president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, was the quintessential modern-day khan.

Dubbing himself Turkmenbashi, which means the leader of all Turkmen, Niyazov established a cult of personality and ruled according to his whims. In 1999, Niyazov’s rubber-stamp parliament declared him president for life.¼br />  


Niyazov’s Turkmenistan was sometimes called Absurdistan.

After Niyazov’s death in December 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow became president. Refreshingly, the new Turkmen leader seems to have no inclination toward establishing his own cult of personality, and he has been cautiously retreating from some of the worst excesses of authoritarianism.  ¼br />  

Yet, in a bad portent for the future, it seems that there were serious irregularities in the presidential election of February 11, 2007, which Berdimuhammedow won with 89 percent of the vote according to the official results.


In a move reminiscent of the deals used to cement alliances between khanates, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter Aliya married then Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev’s son Aidar in 1998, but those plans went awry as the marriage ended in divorce and Akayev officially resigned in April 2005 after being deposed in Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution.

 The Ferghana Valley, where Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan meet, is a hotbed of Islamic activism which will definitely see a rise in extremism if the democratic aspirations of the Islamic movements are suppressed, although this very well may be the goal of the global elite, who have always sought control through managed chaos.

The Andijan massacre of May 13, 2005 is a perfect example. On that day, Uzbek forces killed hundreds of protesters according to conservative estimates and some say 5000 people were killed, although the Uzbek government officially announced that only 187 people had lost their lives in the confrontation, which it called an anti-terrorist action.¼br />  

Central Asia is a key region of the globe.

It sits atop vast reserves of oil and gas and is as at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.


The region will be the main link in two major transport routes that are taking shape, the North-South Corridor between South Asia and Russia, and the New Silk Road, which is meant to be a recreation of the old trade route which ran from China to West Asia.     ¼br />  

According to former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s theory, control of the Eurasian landmass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian landmass.


In The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Brzezinski wrote: “Moreover, they (the Central Asian republics) are of importance from the standpoint of security and historical ambitions to at least three of their most immediate and more powerful neighbors, namely Russia, Turkey and Iran, with China also signaling an increasing political interest in the region. But the Eurasian Balkans are infinitely more important as a potential economic prize: an enormous concentration of natural gas and oil reserves is located in the region, in addition to important minerals, including gold.”

Indeed, the United States, Russia, China, and the Islamic world are all competing for influence in the region in what many call the New Great Game.   ¼br />  


In measures meant to project military power in the region, the U.S. gained access to a military base in Uzbekistan from 2001 to 2005 and another military base in Kyrgyzstan in 2001, which it still operates, and U.S. and NATO troops are currently fighting the Taleban in Afghanistan.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was originally established to curb extremism in the region and enhance border security but is now viewed as a potential counterbalance to the United States and NATO.


The full members of the SCO, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have conducted several joint military exercises.

The SCO granted observer status to Mongolia in 2004 and to Iran, Pakistan, and India in 2005.¼br />  


The Economic Cooperation Organization, which groups Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, could serve to integrate the Central Asian states into the economy of the wider Islamic world, but ECO is indisputably the world’s weakest and most inefficient economic group.

In light of the fact that the major powers have always viewed Central Asia as a region of great geostrategic significance, the Central Asian states should move rapidly to end the neo-khanate system, which has actually opened the door to foreign intervention.


The only way forward for Central Asia is political reform and democratization.¼br />  

At this sensitive juncture, probably the best move for the Central Asian states would be to cast their lot with the other nations of the Islamic world, which are their natural allies.

(Jan. 3 Tehran Times Opinion Column, by Hamid Golpira)

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