Uzbekistan book review: The Vanishing Generation by Bagila Bukharbayeva

13 Mar

13 March 2020

The Vanishing Generation is a harrowing yet compelling eye-witness account of the state’s fractious relationship with Islam in Uzbekistan in the 1990s and 2000s. Bagila Bukharbayeva, who was AP correspondent in the region, gives an intensely personal take on what happened as the state went to war with the influential preachers of the early 90s and their followers.

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Bukharbayeva saw childhood friends and neighbours caught up in the dragnet as Islam Karimov’s regime sought to root out what it regarded as radical Islam in Uzbekistan following incursions by Uzbek extremists from Afghanistan and a series of bombings in the capital Tashkent in 1999.

In the last years of the of the Soviet Union and after its break-up in 1991, Uzbekistan saw an awakening of interest in Islam with scholars going to study in madrassahs in the Arab world. Prior to Russian colonization in the late 1800s, the Khanates of what is now Uzbekistan, were at the heart of the Islamic world, with many venerated shrines and religious buildings found in their territory.

After these scholars returned to Uzbekistan, many took to preaching their views of the religion, challenging the status quo of the tightly controlled form of Islam allowed by the state. Spooked by this existential threat, the state came down hard on these preachers and their growing base of followers.

The book takes us to the notorious Zhaslyk prison camp, looks at the rise of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and enters into the heart of 2005’s Andijon massacre, where hundreds were killed as months of protests were violently put down. This important work tells these forgotten stories of disappearances, torture and brutality with the author’s own testimonies and also from the point of view of the people caught up in Karimov’s dragnets.

Since Karimov’s death in 2016, Uzbekistan has been opening up to the world under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Zhaslyk was finally closed in 2019, some long-term inmates have been released and there have been tentative steps on the long road to reconciliation. On 11 March, Tashkent approved the registration of the NGO Huquqi Tayanch (Legal Support) at the fourth attempt.

Huquqi Tayanach is headed by Azam Farmonov, a former Zhaslyk inmate who was imprisoned for 11 years in the camp on spurious charges. While this is a welcome move in the right direction, it must be remembered that while all these abuses were going on President Mirziyoyev was Uzbekistan’s Prime Minister and many members of his cabinet were also in government in those days. Will they ever be held to account for their part in these miscarriages of justice?

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