Articles - 01 September 2006
04:01 - Polat: The Uzbek opposition is not united in principle, nevertheless it is strong
(Part 1. Opposition is not united)
Abdurahim Polat
Chairman of "Birlik" Party

It has become a fashion to speak both about weaknesses of the Uzbek opposition and its disunity. One reason for this is that people have been talking of personal negative relations of its leaders and their excessive ambitions. Is this statement right, is the diagnosis correct?

The most light answer ЁC both yes and no. Actually it is impossible to define quantitatively the degree "weaknesses and disunity ", and "power and unity" as well, to say nothing of the degree of ambitiousness. However we shall try doing it.

What is going on inside of Uzbek opposition is important not only for Uzbeks, it is important for the whole Central Asia, and in general, for the whole post-soviet space. Much a great deal in fate these region will define Uzbekistan after the coming to the power in this country the people who will think about the future of its nation and country. I am sure they will be democrats.

I. The opposition is not united in principle

First, it is necessary to underline the following. The Popular Movement "Birlik" - first opposition organization in Uzbekistan, created on November 11, 1988 - on the first stage has united a broad spectrum of people, discontented by the existing regime. There were nationalists, for whom the attraction was just desire to see Uzbekistan as independent. They were very distant from ideas of the democracy; many of them donЎЇt even understand what it is. They considered democracy as only fashionable slogan of emotional time of Ў°perestroikaЎ±.

At the same time there were many true democrats in "Birlik", supporters of the performing of deep reforms in Soviet Union, as a result of which Uzbekistan will became independent. The other group activists of Popular Movement consisted of people, for whom a possibility of using winds of changes for strengthening IslamЎЇs role in the society were more important.

Sure, such a division is somewhat conditional. There were a lot of people in the opposition who share, more or less, the beliefs mentioned in the three groups. Additionally, on the first stage of the struggle, when the spirit of romantic enthusiasm was prevalent and after all the dominating idea was independence, differences obviously did not appear easily. But this exact circumstance was a time bomb.

1.1. Time bomb

As chairman of the Organization Committee of Ў°BirlikЎ± and afterwards as elected chairman of the organization, I was one of the first who had seen this bomb. But I did not think the processes would develop too quickly and the absence of unity would become the defining factor already on that stage. I paid enough attention to work with representatives of those specified three groups and tried to convince all, particularly, representatives of so called nationalistic and Islamic wings, that only democracy is the instrument, with the help of which we can reach all our general goals including their goals. I have to say frankly, Islamists understood me better than nationalists. So, I am sure that just because of undemocratic politicians of Uzbek authorities many moderate Islamists were disappointed in democracy and have later joined radical groups.

For the sake of fairness, it is necessary to say that internal contradictions were inherent not only to us, but also for all popular democratic organizations born at years of the Ў°perestroikaЎ± in all Soviet republics. It seemed, this was a normal phenomenon, and immediate danger was not present.
Later all national democratic organizations, as would be expected, split by interests. Created on the base of split groups, political parties continued the fight for achievement of their goals in condition of independency. Just in Uzbekistan the split has occurred before independence.

Did it happen by chance? Not, of course. The reason for this is not only the mentioned disunity of Uzbek opposition, because all opposition organizations in the republic of the former Soviet Union were the same. There is another reason.

It is necessary to find reason in the role of Uzbekistan in former Soviet Union. Uzbekistan was the largest Muslim country mainly with Turkic population. This is an important matter. The Kremlin and Lyubyanka understood it not worse then all others.

This exact understanding was the reason why Andropov began the anticorruption war, it is true, then this was named less-prosaic - Uzbek or cotton deal, in Uzbekistan, the level of corruption of which obviously yielded, for instance, Caucasian republics. Just during of "cotton deal" the old political elite of the country was smashed up, and was cleared way to ascent to Tashkent Olympus present boss - Islam Karimov, reliable person of Moscow.

There is one more example of MoscowЎЇs special attitude to Uzbekistan. I will illustrate it on rather private example. In 1989-90 "Birlik was conducting mass actions with requirement to stop the use of cheap labor of Uzbek youth in construction units of Soviet Army and allow them, mostly with bad Russian language, to serve in the armed forces in Uzbekistan and service have to pass on Uzbek language. After one of our mass protest in Tashkent, the commission of Central Committee of CPSU has arrived, which had a meeting with us also. In break time I had a chance to speak with one of the members of the commission in informal situation. He was an employee of the Division responsible for security services too. During the talk I mentioned about different attitudes of the Moscow to new born popular democratic organizations in different parts of Soviet Union and said to him, openly that unlike the other republics, pressure on us is exceedingly high and it is impossible to believe that it was initiative of local communists. He replied frankly too: "Do you consider us as a fool. If you were given the chance, "Birlik" will come to power in just three months ". I was struck not only by his frankness, but that he spoke my thoughts.

I am sure in one point. If "Birlik" was not split "in time", Uzbekistan would become the genuine grave digger of USSR.

So, it is necessary to find the reason of the split of "Birlik" inside of understanding of Moscow that we could come to the power for three months. Just in order to prevent our accession to power, Tashkent protЁ¦gЁ¦s of Moscow have provoked the split of the opposition. The meeting of the Central Counsel "Birlik", October 8, 1989, were the splitting occurred became a part of history and it is completely taped and nobody can accuse me in invalid interpretation of the events, let alone to lie about them.

Then, group of nationalist-writers leading by Salay Madaminov (the literary alias - Muhammad Salih) had offered to stop the fighting against existing regime, to begin to co-operate with communist authorities and to fulfill their demands about changing some leaders of "Birlik". After getting rebuff from majority of the members of the Central Counsel, the group abandoned the meeting and later created completely supported by authorities Popular Movement "Erk", which was transformed in of the same name party, after repealing the famous Article 6 of Constitution USSR about monopoly of the Communist Party on power.

It is necessary to specifically emphasize that calls to cooperation with communists were said nearly in the same days, when famous Dmitiriy Saharov, under violent shouts of communists on Convention of Public Deputies of USSR, stammering from emotion, bravely engraved the words: "It is necessary to forbid the Communist Party as an organization, hands of which fully in the blood".

The well known poet Shukrullo, who has spent several years in Stalin prisons in Siberia at the beginning of the fifties of last century, said on that meeting appealing to future organizers of Ў°ErkЎ± the following precise words: "You are doing the work of KGB. You are destroying the national movement".

Indeed, how can one understand the behavior of nationalists, who were thirsting independence from regime, symbol of which were communists, but wanting to co-operate with communists. As it was realized afterwards, Karimov one by one secretly met with nationalists and expressed ostensibly its support of the idea of the independence if they renounce of democratic requirements. Is it really members of Ў°ErkЎ± fell for the bait as kids? It is something unbelievable.

Turkish researcher Huseyin Adiguzel in the book "Democratic movement in Turkish world. Popular Movement "Birlik" of Uzbekistan and Popular Front of Azerbaijan" (Foundation "Personality and Democracy". Istanbul. ISBN: 975-97334-0-4) writes on our events:

"Even if we consider that the group of Muhammad Salih did not achieve harmony in work with Abdurahim Polat and seeking support, co-operated with KarimovЎЇs communist regime i.e. his action was a political maneuver, it is necessary to confess, the time chosen was wrong. After all, main goal ЁC Independence, was not yet gained. Additionally parliamentary elections were very close... Later rumor had begun that Muhammad Salih, managed by break, as a result which "Birlik" not was able even to take part in elections, has got from authorities gifts, for example two apartments in the center of Tashkent and became an alternative elected member of Uzbek Parliament from the list of the Communist Party. In the beginning, even his enemies did not believe such rumors. But afterwards everything was confirmed documentary. It was found that just before elections he applied to authorities and within a few days got the warrant (N 034581 series 03, February 8, 1990) for two apartments, # 53-54 in the apartment house # 8 in the center of Tashkent, in Irrigator City. After all, there was known that in Soviet Union, people queue up on reception of the apartment for 10-15 years, but "main enemy of" regime obtained this in several days. This is truth that Karimov has took away these apartments by decision of the Court, February 18, 1994, after in full using him against opposition, but this is another matter. In the same way, rumors were confirmed that he was elected to Parliament from the list of the Communist Party. It was documentary proved that this list with his name was approved in Buro of Central Committee of Communist Party of Uzbekistan on November 15, 1989. So it became clear, there was just ordinary treachery".

In the same days Uzbek television several times with rapidity (honor, rendered only members of Politburo) demonstrated the appearance Muhammad Salih with speech, where he, in particular, has said: "All opposition activists have altered by sawing in "Erk", and small group of people of supporters of Moscow who escaped loops about neck, remained in "Birlik" ". The ravings of a madman, but it was said exactly so.

In the same time authorities intensified the repressions against activists of "Birlik". The Popular Movement "Birlik" was under attacks of authorities in one hand and activists of Ў°ErkЎ± who have full support of communist authorities, lost capacity for any activity for several months. Many of our activists were disappointed by what happened and after splitting, abandoned the opposition. During this time Karimov successively conducted the elections in republican parliament and strengthened its position.

Looking on what has occurred then with Uzbek opposition and evaluating conditions, in which is found presently our nation, instinctively recall the word of great son of India Jawaharlal Nehru: "Where there is treachery, there - a slavery". Nobody can say more precisely.

I did not dwell upon the events regarding the splitting of the opposition accidentally. I intended to show that to three factors, defining the disunity of Uzbek opposition, two more were added - irresponsibility and treachery.

These five factors hitherto define the behavior of Uzbek opposition. This is objective; no one can run away from it. All attempts, at least, to understand of processes occurring inside Uzbek opposition are doomed to failure without taking into consideration the existence of these five facts. It is impossible to think to influence the opposition without knowing them.

Only "Birlik" is acknowledging the existence of all these factors, takes into account in its everyday activity and so it is the most strong opposition organization for present day.

It is true, there are some people in our rows too, calling to forget all that was earlier once and on always, and more closely co-operate with Ў°ErkЎ± members, but as deal to get to serious step toward cooperation, appears the wall of the mistrust. The wall can take away just activists of Ў°ErkЎ± themselves, having acknowledged their own mistakes. They do not be going to do this, signify nobody him in earnest to believe not will.

1.2. Nationalists have been converting into terrorists

After presidential elections 1991, Karimov who already usurped power completely has definitely resolved to drive away opposition from political stage. That is why he has dispersed "Erk" Party too, because of its further lack of need. The leaders of "Birlik" as well as "Erk" turned out to be abroad. Here leaders of "Erk" have timidly begun to speak about mistakes that they did, confessed that Karimov simply defrauded them. It seemed, opposition was going to unite. But this did not happen. Why?

The domination factor in this matter was the difference of position between democrats and nationalists.

The goals of Ў°BirlikЎ± were democracy and independence. Bur there was still dictatorship after independence too. That is why we perceived our exile with dignity. We knew where we had been going to and remaining faithful to democratic ideals. This is not just words. There is, for instance, my interview with journalist Tengizu Gudava in Radio "Liberty" (June 12, 1994). He asked me: "Do you consider possibility to change regime in Uzbekistan by forcible way under existing conditions". My answer was no. Then I motivated the thesis about possibility of the democratic ways of the struggling even if democratic world would support us.

One cannot say the same about members of Ў°ErkЎ±. Earlier they thought only about independence and for the sake of independence co-operated with communist regime, but afterwards they were thrown away. It is possible to understand their insult and fury. So, driving power for them became exactly malice and hate to Uzbek regime and personally to Karimov.

Naturally, they did not believe in success of the democratic activity. And coming from own beliefs, they began to prepare to a new fight with power. What kind of fight? The best answer to this question is a following quoting from programmer article of Salay Madaminov published in newspaper "Erk" ( N 2, 1994): "Algerian modjehiddin Al Jazairiy in response to question "Why are your people not afraid of death?" answered: "My warriors believe in Allah. They know that their life is not in the hands of the enemy, but in the hands of Allah. So they are not afraid of their deaths". And the chairman "Erk" continues himself: "We must raise our youth in such spirit too ".

Does it not seem by the words of the leader of this party that it was Usama bin Laden himself speaking?

I think Allah would be against of such stating of the problem. He gave the people a head and to live wisely using it is more correct interpretation of Islamic values.

But we are not going to discuss here about Islam. There is another question: In sake of what goals "Erk" was going to raise the modern martyrs?

But the later speeches of the leader of this party by Radio "Liberty" and his repeated statements that they created underground structures for fighting against dictatorship or his discourses about the usefulness of blood-letting for society and war as one of the facilities of deciding political problems (the August, 1994), as well as the messages of Uzbek mass media about the seizing of young people trained abroad by Ў°ErkЎ± as terrorists, speaks for itself.

In this matter my opinion is unique: Leaders of this party once backed out of democratic ideal and defrauded by Karimov, already thought only about trivial revenge and because of this reason they are ready to raise youth people as suicide martyrs.

By the way, it is necessary to say that living in Turkey, leaders of "Erk" were actually preparing a terrorist war, I know about it not just by messages of media. I saw personally these boys, from whom they were going to prepare "democratic" kamikazes, warned the leaders of this "democratic" party about the consequences of their action, and that it would damage the image of Uzbek democracy. But they were hearing otherwise.

1.3. Once more attempt for uniting

In the middle of 1992, the ways of former vice-president and premier of Uzbekistan Shukrullo Mirsaidov and president Karimov were splitting. Mirsaidov passed to the opposition camp. He did not just pass on, but has undertaken to unite the opposition. The deal was not simple. In 1993-94, Ў°ErkЎ± leaders were preparing for terrorist war in full sails, and they did not negotiate with somebody else. However, they couldnЎЇt do anything at that time. Guys who were prepared by them either immediately surrendered to Uzbek authorities with plea or authorities seized them, having some tips about their arrival.

There was nothing to do for Ў°ErkЎ± leaders in this situation except converse in to democrats again. Exactly in this time Shukrullo Mirsaidov newly appealed with address to Ў°BirlikЎ± and Ў°ErkЎ± to forget the old strafes and be united. There began practical activity in this direction. In that time I was living in Turkey, Salay Madaminov - in Germany, Shukrullo Mirsaidov - in Tashkent.

At May 1995 activists of "Birlik" Abdumannob Pulat and Pulat Ohun have prepared the project of the Statement, which were to sign by us, the three leaders. In the short statement was confirmed our striving for association for the sake of future our nation and our country. We also declared the creation of Coordination Counsel of activity of democratic forces of Uzbekistan. At the request of Salay Madaminov was even removed from text the article about reprobation forcible action. Apparently he has solved that this is hint on his past.

And, finally, we signed the Statement by fax at May 17, 1995.

This did not last long.. Not even half a day passed before Abdumannob Pulat and Pulat Ohun received by fax a letter from Salay Madaminova. Its text stated: "As I have heard after signing the Statement, Abdurahim Pulatov already began to boast that this association has occurred by his initiative. The true initiator of all associations was always "Erk" and Pulatov was always against this. We do not believe the behavior of Pulatov ever to change. So I cancel my signature under the Statement".

Is it possible to understand the action of the leader of a democratic party, who destroys the unity of opposition such responsible period of countryЎЇs life just because someone another on his glance seems excessively boastful? At the beginning we have thought that this is next sign of the irresponsibility of the leader of "Erk" Party.

But later a rumor began to spread that living abroad leaders of that Party established close relations with different Islamist funds both in Turkey and Germany. Just in this time Salay Madaminov became columnist of one of the Islamic newspapers, publishing in Turkey. His speeches on Uzbek programs of Radio "Liberty" started to resemble more of a religious clerk than a democrat.

I have no doubts that his new owners, who re-occupied place of Islam Karimov in the life of the "Erk", this time they were a radical Islamic structures, got to know about our joining and have ordered him urgently to call back its signature under the Statement about association on democratic base.

1.4. "Democrats" for shariat

In this time the Taliban was consolidating its own positions in Afghanistan. It installed its power everywhere, except in the northwest, where positions of Tajiks under the leadership of Sah MaЎЇsud were strong, and in the north, where Uzbeks under the direction of Abdurashid Dostum had strong positions.

I remember very well May 26, 1997. In this day former deputy of the Uzbek Parliament Jahangir Muhamamad and I arrived from Istanbul, where we were already living for four years, to local office of UN High Refugee Commission in Ankara to settle some questions in connection with upcoming departure to USA as political refugees.

It was known that two days ago, the Taliban had taken the stronghold of Uzbeks in Afghanistan - Mazari-Sharif, and nothing was known about the fate of Abdurashid Dostum. However, we heard from our familiar that Abdurashid Dostum had arrived in Ankara last night and it was known in what hotel he was staying. After we solved all our problems in the UN office, we have gone to Stad hotel (the name of the hotel I have installed from my record, referring to that days). We have found assistants of the general Dostum, introduced ourselves and asked to meet with him.

After some time we were seated beside with him in his hotel room and talked about the current situation in Afghanistan. We spoke about Uzbekistan as well. It was realized, he fairly well understood the deals inside of Uzbekistan, including inside opposition. On question as he pertains to president Karimov, he answered short: "He helps us".

As it is known well, Mazari-Sharif fell as a result of treachery of his nearest associate - general Abdumalik. Dostum hoped on fast revenge, while not even having a firm communication with parts of his own troops, went to the mountains, and as he confessed himself, they follow events on north Afghanistan through transmissions of Radio Liberty and BBC, especially, BBC on Persian.

During our conversation, one of his assistants came to the room, said something to him, I think on Tajik. "I considered this bachcha (bachcha - a boy on Tajik) a person who turns out to be traitor", exclaimed Dostum in Uzbek. Afterward he added for us: "Turns out to be, right before by Radio Liberty emerged Muhammad Salih and he has expressed its support for Taliban, seizing Mazari-Sharif".

This was nothing unexpected for us. One year ago the leader Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Tahir Yuldash arrived to Istanbul and met, in particular, with us i.e. with Jahangir and me. He has been sure that time that they will take over Tashkent by support of Taliban very soon and offered to me to be president under new authorities and to help to install the good communication with West. The power will naturally be an Islamic, but Ministry of defense - Juma Namanganiy.

I have said that I never shall co-operate with power backing by obscurantist Taliban. Tahir Yuldash has unsuccessfully tried to convince me that Taliban is not obscurantist, but progressive Muslims. Finally he has said not without share of the threat: "Then I shall seek agreement with Muhammad Salih".

Very soon we heard that they did achieve an agreement. As I already spoke above, it was difficult to distinguish, was this democrat or a mullah listening his speeches by radio Liberty and BBC.

The following day after meeting with Dostum we returned to Istanbul. First of all I gave the interview to Radio "Liberty" and BBC, voiced my understanding of the situations in Afghanistan, expressed support for the population of Mazari-Sharif in fight against Taliban. Afterwards we listened to the speech Salay Madaminova, made on our request by one of our friends during the retransmission of the Uzbek program radio "Liberty". In brief this appearance possible to express thereby: "This is good that Taliban has taken Mazari-Sharif. Now it will be stability here finally too. Uzbeks will get the equal rights with Pushtuns, since Taliban will not acknowledge the nation, for them more important is the u§Ю§Ю§С - Islamic community. It is necessary to install such stability in Uzbekistan". I remember well the next question from journalist woman of Radio Liberty, most likely the wail of secular woman: "What are you speaking about, Salih! After all Taliban wants to install shariat, they will cover our head and face". The "democrat"-leader of Ў°ErkЎ± quietly answered: "Once we are Muslims, we must not be afraid of the rules of Islam. Shariat is a rule, to which we all must strive. All must be by Islam".

Then on base of my speech on Radio "Liberty", I wrote the article "Critical glance at Afghanistan politician", in which there are enclosed also afore-cited words of "democrat" from Ў°ErkЎ±. The article is published in the same days in journal "Harakat", 2(9), 1997.

It is important to mention that Tahir Yuldash was in Turkey in those days (May-June, 1997) and as I know from our common familiars, he spent almost all time with members of Ў°ErkЎ±. Seemingly they were discussing the program for future "presidentЎ± of the country.

After some time the leader of "Erk" visited Kabul. What can he do over there if they already discussed all problems with Tahir Yuldash in Istanbul? Here cannot be two opinions: it was necessary for the future "president" be noted (be registered) on front of the leaders of Taliban and Al-Qaida.

Further there were February (1999) blasts in Tashkent. The Uzbek authorities have accused the leaders of "Erk" as one of organizers of the events. I do not know to what extent he was involved in those events, but IЎЇm certain, his communication with Taliban, have in a sense inspired a reactionary-extremist forces in Uzbekistan itself.

1.5. Shall America helps us?

The beginning of antiterrorist war and complete defeat of Taliban by Americans has cooled passion of activists of "Erk", who was dreaming to come to power using arms of these medieval fanatics. The leader to this party could not even hide his irritation in connection of appearance of Americans in Central Asia, and in Uzbekistan, in particular. In order to not acknowledge positive role of coming to US in Uzbekistan, he even tried to jeer at us, citing presences of USA in Saudi Arabia. But we greeted appearance of Americans in our region, considering that this circumstance will help the rebirth to truly democratic opposition after tens of years of sleepiness.

We once openly collided face to face during debate of program of Tengiz Gudava "Central Asia and Caucasus" in Radio "Liberty", November 20, 2001. This was a time when American troops were on Uzbek airbase Honabad already, but hardened fighting in Afghanistan was continuing yet.

To be valid (proofless) I will quote the part of text of conversation, taken from web site of the Radio "Liberty" (

* * *

Tengiz Gudava: Mister Salih, nevertheless I want to sharpen the question on this item exactly. Image hypothetically that America remained in Central Asia and has installed here their military bases. Many people consider that this would push to democratizations of the whole region ЁC but you deny it. Why?

Muhammad Salih: If American military bases could help the democratizations of some country, Saudi Arabia would very long ago become democratic.

Tengiz Gudava: Abdurahim Pulatov, here is a development of military cooperation between USA and Uzbekistan - absolutely new aspect of our epoch. What can it bring? Can Uzbekistan become a member of one of the western military-political organizations?

Abdurahim Pulatov: First, I would like to say: we wanted it because any form of cooperation with USA and the West, I am sure of this, will promote the development of our region, and most important for us, development of democracy in Uzbekistan. So we support without any doubt the beginning of presences of the West, USA in any form in our region, and cooperation in military area... Well, if we compare with Saudi Arabia, I think, this is simply inappropriate. This is a shallow approach, some kind of naive approach. Saudi Arabia is a country stuck in the middle ages, but Uzbekistan has a secular society for 70 years.

* * *

One has to understand the state of Salay Madaminov/Muhammad Salih, who was upset by the defeat of Taliban, on help of which he hoped. But if he denied the role of Americans in democratizations of our region, it means he is a person who is more than just undemocratic.

1.6. The deal is not in ambitions of the leaders, but in their principle

Can one still seriously think after all that the absence of unity of Uzbek opposition is the result of ambitiousness and intolerances of its leaders to each other?

The deal is not in ambitions, but in principle difference of the two attitudes/ideologies that Ў°BirlikЎ± and Ў°ErkЎ± activists and their leaders carry.

"Birlik" was, still is and will be a consequent fighter for democracy.

"Erk", at least their leaders, as we have already seen, have been continuously changing almost everyday. They are nationalists the day before yesterday, democrats yesterday, and then terrorists, afterwards they are for shariat. It would be very naive to think that some significant group of the people, in undeveloped society even as in Uzbekistan will go behind such party.

I already wrote above that there were internal contradictions not only in Uzbek opposition, but also in all the newborn popular democratic organizations in the republics of the former Soviet Union. However people acted more responsible over there, there was not any splitting until independence. There was not any kind of treachery.

What happened with Uzbek opposition, we can explain also by weakness of civil society. As a result of this weakness there were no mechanisms of influence upon inexperienced leaders, their irresponsibility became almost like disease. But there is no justification for treachery.

So, the presence of organizations like "ErkЎ± favors the weakness of opposition.

In the same time, the strongest organization of Uzbek opposition has without doubt been "Birlik".

The main attacks of the repressive regime of Uzbekistan have always been directed to Ў°BirlikЎ±. The authorities twice tried to assassinate of its leader, they brutally killed a number of "Birlik" activists, amongst them Shavruk Ruzimuradov, former member of the Uzbek Parliament, leader of Kashkadarya regional organization of Ў°BirlikЎ±.

So, what is the power of Uzbek opposition, in particular, "Birlik", I would like to talk about it further.

(The sequel: The Uzbek opposition is not united in principle, nevertheless it is strong.
Part 2. The power of opposition)


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