Ferghana Report (Central Asia Monitor, 2000 No. 1)

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Subject: Ferghana Report (Central Asia Monitor, 2000 No. 1)
From: David Nalle (DavidN5512@aol.com)
Date: Fri Feb 25 2000 - 00:45:49 EST


[I am forwarding to the list a recent article on the situation in the
Ferghana Valley sent to me by the author for this purpose. The hope is that
this will be useful to focus discussion on some of the key problems facing
the Valley. The article, of course, is reproduced here by permission.
--John Schoeberlein]

 From Central Asia Monitor, 2000 No. 1

David Nalle

The Ferghana Valley -- 1999
A Personal Report

I paid a two-week visit to the Ferghana Valley this past fall, September
1999. My first visit to Central Asia was in 1973, when my assignment as
Press and Cultural Counselor at the American Embassy in Moscow gave me
reason to accompany a USIA exhibit to Dushanbe. I had previously cast
longing glances at Central Asia from earlier USIA posts across the sealed
Soviet border, in Kabul and Mashhad. In those days, people in northern
Afghanistan and Khorasan spoke of the Ferghana Valley as a legend of beauty
and fertility, just as they spoke familiarly of "Genghis" as if he had
passed through yesterday. I visited Central Asia from Moscow a couple of
more times but it was not until 1995 that I was able briefly to visit the
Ferghana Valley itself, on a swing through the area partly financed by the
Monitor.

By 1999 I had learned more of the realities of independent Central Asia and
there was less of the romantic in my view of the Valley. It became clear to
me that it was indeed a unique area curiously isolated from the rest of
Central Asia, its people faced with an array of real and potential problems
that were aggravated by that isolation. Fortuitously, last summer a
short-term travel grant from IREX made it possible for me to take a closer
look at conditions in the Valley. In September I spent two weeks talking
with officials, NGO representatives, and ordinary citizens in Osh, Andijan,
Kokand and Khujand; Osh being the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, Khujand
the second largest in Tajikistan, and Andijan and Kokand major Uzbek centers
in the Valley.

Two weeks are, of course, not enough to definitively analyze a society and
its problems. This article attempts only to organize and set forth my
impressions.

Geography sets the Ferghana Valley apart. Mountains on three sides define
it as a physically separate area -- a valley running east to west, somewhat
less than 200 miles long and ranging up to 80 miles wide. Viewed from the
main roads, the valley floor is flat and featureless, the nearby mountains
obscured by what seems to be a permanent haze. Stunted mulberry trees,
providing fodder for silk worms, line the roads, while beyond them stretch
fields of cotton, waiting in September for intensive harvest by, mostly,
women and school children. Driving along one is aware of the installations
of water management, accentuated every so often by an intersection with a
major canal. There aren't many cars on the road and there is little sense
of a population density that rivals that of Bangladesh. The legendary Valley
seems now, in early fall at least, a gray and dusty and rather empty place.

This September, there was a feeling of apprehension hanging, like the haze,
over the Valley. A substantial guerrilla band, reportedly dissident Uzbeks,
had recently made an aggressive incursion from a Tajik area in the south
into Kyrgyzstan's Batken region, which lies just over the southern wall of
the Valley. A number of hostages were taken by the guerrillas, including
four Japanese geologists, and ultimately all the states of the region, as
well as the Russian ministry of defense, were involved in turning the
invaders back. Their objective was said to have been a takeover of the
Uzbek areas of the Ferghana Valley (see "Diary of a Hostage Crisis....", CAM
No. 5, 1999).

In the crazy quilt of three national sovereignties imposed upon the Valley,
Uzbekistan holds the largest, central area, with smaller but also densely
populated areas belonging to Kyrgyzstan, to the east, and Tajikistan, at the
mouth of the Valley to the west. The meaningless republic boundaries of the
Soviet era have now become real national borders. In the charged atmosphere
of this fall, these borders, and particularly those of Uzbekistan, had
become major obstacles to travel, trade and other commerce in the Valley.

My visit started in Tashkent. Conversations with officials there stressed
the seriousness of the threat to Uzbekistan that they perceived from radical
Islamic forces to the south, only most recently exemplified by the Batken
events. One official pointedly implied that the U.S. should worry more
about that threat and less about human rights and democracy in Uzbekistan.
Another official, when he learned my travel plans, volunteered that the
central government needed to do more to improve the economic situation of
the people living in the valley. I came to agree with his refreshingly
frank judgment.

Finally, a detailed and enthusiastic briefing by the chairman of the
Mahalla Foundation, Dr. Shuhrat Jalilov, provided information I wanted on
the role of the mahalla in Uzbekistan -- and the government's attitude
toward that traditional form of community organization. It was a subject I
hoped to explore on my trip.

As my itinerary worked out, after some hesitation on the part of Uzbek
authorities, I flew to Andijan, went from there by road first to Osh, then
back into Uzbek territory to Kokand, from there to Khujand in Tajikistan,
and finally back to Tashkent by road.

 From observation, conversations and more formal interviews I gained the
following general impressions that seemed to be valid in the territory of
all three countries:

  - Life for the ordinary person in the Ferghana Valley is mean and hard;
    jobs are scarce and salaries, when paid, are low -- shockingly low.

  - Privatization, that was supposed to be the engine of free market
    economies, has been a "failure", a "mess" -- or, in the Uzbek area,
    something of a non-event. (A play on Russian words: "It's not
    privatizatziya but prikhvatizatziya" -- not privatizing but grabbing)

  - The national borders that illogically chop up the natural unity of the
    Valley are more than just an irritation, they seem to be choking the
    economic and social life of the Valley.*

  - The physical isolation of the Valley "provinces" from their national
    capitals is unhealthy and likely to become more so before any remedial
    connections can be built.*

  - Cotton continues to be a main source of income for the state -- and the
    scourge of the land, environment and life in the Valley.

  - Well aware of the dangers of ethnic conflict, most people seem to be
    determined not to let ethnicity make a difference, but the hardening of
    the borders that splits up ethnic groups inevitably feeds tensions.

  - While drug trafficking is mostly invisible to the visitor traveling the
    main roads, it is known to be heavy and in various ways pernicious,
    undermining legitimate society.

  - AND, all of the foregoing feed and are fed on by the corruption that
    permeates all levels of society -- motivated by everything from poverty
    to greed.

* (A graphically gifted senior official in Osh drew diagrams for me showing
(a) how Kyrgyz farmers were cut off from their fields and often their
families by the Uzbek border, and (b) how a shipment by train from Bishkek
would have to pass five national borders, and customs stations, before
reaching Osh.)

The Paradoxes of the Present

For the American visitor, intellectually conscious of the deleterious effect
that communism has had on the individual and society wherever it has been in
power, it is necessary to make certain mental adjustments when trying to
evaluate this particular example of post-communist society.

When one comes upon the statue of a heroic Lenin, hortatory arm flung out,
in front of the government building in Osh, or the brutish, red concrete
hammer and sickle in the pretty city park in Khujand, or the massive Hamza
museum in Kokand honoring a literary Benedict Arnold, the first question
that comes to mind is, Why don't they tear down these offensive monuments?
Demolition is expensive, for one thing, but the most demonstrative reaction
one might get to the question is a shrug of the shoulders.

Without attempting to over-analyze the shrug, it has to be noted that
everyone in the Ferghana Valley knows that "life was better under
Communism." Salaries and pensions were paid and where there wasn't real
work, people were paid for virtual work. Some people even got paid
vacations. Literacy was universal and most people who wanted to get higher
education, got it. Women were liberated by education and a quota system for
government employment. The needs of everyday life were met; spiritual
needs...were they all that important? Besides, the Friday Mosque in Kokand
used to be open, now it's closed.

Now, the ominous irony is that independent Uzbekistan, dominant player in
the Valley, retains most of the command and control features of the
communist state -- without providing the economic and social benefits the
individual citizen used to enjoy. The rigged presidential elections of
January 9 only dramatize the irony. President Karimov is extending, perhaps
indefinitely, his term in power. The casual visitor hears no whisper of
criticism of Karimov, but the Uzbek president is evidently unwilling or
unable to take the steps most specialists deem necessary to improve the
country's economic condition. There is no free press to spotlight the
discrepancy between power and performance. Also, however, there is no
guarantee that the normally docile population in the Ferghana Valley will
continue indefinitely to tolerate their debased quality of life -- or remain
immune to purposeful agitation.

The mahalla does seem to be an active institution throughout the Valley.
Every interlocutor admitted, often with enthusiasm, to belonging to a
mahalla. The mahallas are used on occasion to funnel funds from the central
governments down to individual social hardship cases. This is the mechanism
used, for example, by the Kyrgyz government's "Araket" program of poverty
alleviation. However, while the mahalla structure would suggest that it is
essentially a democratic institution, rooted in the most basic level of
society -- a city block, for example -- it is not clear that it fosters
political participation, that grass-roots political concerns or initiatives
can successfully move very far upwards through the pyramidal structure and
achieve a desired result.*

*(For an informed discussion of the Uzbek mahalla see "Civil Society and the
Politics of Foreign Aid in Uzbekistan" by David Abramson in CAM No. 6, 1999.)

Is There A Brighter Side To The Picture?

There are bright spots here and there in the Valley landscape. A Daewoo
assembly plant outside Andijan has put attractive and serviceable cars and
vans on the streets of Uzbekistan. Most important, it is also said to
provide jobs for 2000 Uzbek workers. Also, a major Coca-Cola bottling plant
is reported to have been established in the Namangan area. In the same
category one might include, with something of a stretch, the anomalous
tennis stadium and its dependent Hotel Sport that President Karimov has
decreed in Andijan.

In a village suburb of Khujand in Tajikistan a series of loans from the
Central Asian American Enterprise Fund (CAAEF), $80,000 over three years,
has put a modest candy factory on a self-sustaining basis. The first two
loans have been paid back with interest and the third is scheduled for
repayment this year. "CandyLand" employs 30 women from the village mahalla
at salaries of $15 a month (a relatively respectable salary!) which the
manager, Abdumanon Abdusattarov, says he plans to raise this year. At one
time the factory exported one and a half tons of candy annually to Tashkent
but now stiff customs duties at the Uzbek border make that impractical,
since the receiving agents are unable to pay in advance. A newly acquired
wrapping machine is being installed, and an outlet shop is to be opened in
Khujand's busy Panjshanbe Bazaar.

CAAEF is also partner in supporting the Madaniyat International
Uzbek-American Joint Venture, a textile plant in a large village in Andijan
oblast. A loan in the million dollar range has been matched by a loan from
a textile plant in Andijan city. Success in this more complex undertaking
is not so clear as in the CandyLand case in Tajikistan, but the plant
employs 150 workers from the village, 130 of whom are women. Their base
salary is the equivalent of $10 a month. The problems faced by Manager
Zakir Mirzayev and his deputy, Abdurrahim Yuldashev, both graduates of the
now-defunct Tashkent Textile Institute, seem to center on the quality of
inputs. Fabrics from Uzbekistan will remain unsatisfactory, they say, until
a new factory comes on line in Andijan next year; Uzbek dying technology is
"fifty years out of date," and inadequate finishing machinery awaits
replacement "promised by President Karimov in two years." Designed
eventually to produce men's jackets, work clothes, pajamas, mattresses, as
well as its current output of bedlinens, the plant is searching for foreign
partners. The managers seem both dedicated and optimistic. They plan to
use the remainder of the CAEEF loan to underwrite participation in an
international fair in Dusseldorf in April 2000.

In addition to such economic support projects, there is a considerable
American presence in the Valley, not so much in the sense of individual
Americans, who seem to be fairly few and far between, but particularly in
the form of institutional support for a wide range of Non-Governmental
Organizations. This is the business of, for example, Washington-based
Counterpart International, which describes itself as "the lead organization
in the $16 milllion USAID-funded Counterpart Consortium NGO Support
Initiative for Central Asia." In addition to a program of small grants,
sometimes enhanced by private corporate money, the Consortium is active in
training NGO personnel and in the provision of email and Internet access.
Counterpart's Dushanbe office has a branch in Khujand, and its active,
well-connected director, Dilorom Atabaeva, organized a roundtable meeting
for me with representatives of ten local NGOs. They included a computer
club, an eighty-member seminar run by a faculty dean that deals with
history, literature and human rights, a center for training volunteers in
not-for-profit organizations, a program aiding indigent members of minority
groups, a Philosophical Society focusing on civil society and human rights,
and another dealing with problems of poverty in rural mahallas in the
Khujand raion. When one participant spoke up to thank Counterpart for its
support, another remarked, sotto voce, "But, of course, the Americans have
other purposes." No amount of cajoling would elicit those "other purposes."

Perhaps the most ubiquitous presence in the NGO field in the Valley is the
Soros organization. It supports, for example, the InterBilim center in Osh
which in turn supports NGOs in its area with training programs as well as a
variety of basic office services, including email access. In Kokand, Soros
supports the work of the Business Women's Association, whose dynamic head,
Sahibakhon Ergasheva, is also active in placing civics education materials
in the local school system. Also in Osh, Soros has given grant support to
the Assembly of Peoples, which promotes harmony among the many ethnic groups
that live there, while encouraging them to preserve their individual
languages and cultures. Uzbeks, the ethnic majority in Osh city, were not
represented at the meeting I attended but there were Germans, Armenians,
Turks and Russians as well as Kyrgyz around the table.

Perhaps typical of Soros activity is an enabling grant to a project of the
Central Asian Free Exchange (CAFE) organization's branch office in Andijan.
CAFE offers English language classes, computer training, consultation on
public health and small business development, and runs a small library. The
five or six staff members are all fluent in Uzbek and, to the surprise of a
visitor, even speak it among themselves in the office.*

The director of Andijan Development Center, as it is called, is Ted Elder,
who has spent six years in the country. Donald Ellsworth and Robert Graves
are in charge of a team that has been working for the last year to bring out
a special Uzbek edition of the book "Where There is No Doctor." Their
objective is to render the text into Uzbek language that will be accessible
to an ordinary Valley villager. It has apparently been a painstaking
process. Ellsworth, a University of South Carolina MD, did an adaptation of
the original English, it was then given to an Uzbek translator, the
translation was checked by Elder and then by a native speaker, that version
was checked by an Uzbek doctor, and then staff members tested it with
villagers. It will be checked once again by editors at a medical publishing
house in Tashkent

According to Graves, the intent is to provide the villager with the
information necessary, first, to identify diseases or other medical
problems, and, second, to decide whether the problem has to be taken to a
clinic or can be treated at home or with medicine identified and locally
available. With a cash-strapped population this function takes on added
importance if and when privatization begins to transform clinics into
for-pay operations. The $25,000 Soros grant will underwrite publication of
ten thousand copies of the book, due out in early 2000.

*(The personnel of CAFE/Andijan are non-salaried volunteers. Their
motivation? "We are Christian...but we are not here to proselytize.")

Betting on What Future?

Such individual projects, and there are many more which draw support from
European and American public and private sources, undoubtedly make a
positive contribution to the well-being of the people involved. While they
are only bright spots in a complex tapestry, there are enough of them to
justify the hope that they may be having a cumulative impact on life in the
Valley.

Then, there is the inescapable question of the role that Islam will come to
assume in the future of these societies in transition. It should and,
theoretically, could, play a positive role -- as one actor in a joint effort
to bring about that elusive well-being. In the Uzbek part of the Valley,
Islam is obviously under wraps, for reasons that must seem compelling to
President Karimov. The analogy to the Shah of Iran in the 1970s, while not
nearly a perfect fit, should be instructive. At the same time it should be
said that President Karimov does speak well and forcefully of the need for
spirituality in Uzbek society and he seems at times to favor Sufism as a
tolerable form of Islam. It is hard not to believe, however, that Islam is
another dilemma that his ruling style is leading him into.

In the other two national enclaves in the Valley, Islam seems to get along
better with the authorities. The Friday mosques in both Osh and Khujand are
being slowly refurbished. An activist in Osh has rescued a small downtown
mosque from its Soviet role as a bakery and built an attractive new one,
complete with an imposing minaret, in a working class suburb of the city.

So, what wisdom does one come away with after two episodic weeks in this
beleaguered valley? Certainly, respect for the indomitable people who live
there is one thing.

Another is the awareness that they are by and large an educated people who
deserve and could handle the political and intellectual privileges that go
with democracy, such as free access to information, freedom of speech and
association, and the right to be led by elected rather than appointed
officials.

Obvious and basic is the need for enlightened cooperation among the three
nations to minimize the negative effects of the senseless national borders
in the Valley -- and the need to go beyond that to capitalize economically
on the natural coherence of the Valley.

But, perhaps the greatest piece of wisdom I collected on my visit was
provided by an NGO leader to whom I had expressed my dismay at the reputed
corruption and indifference of government officials. She said to me, "Don't
worry about us. These people will go away soon enough and the young people,
who already think differently, will take their place."


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