MOSCOW (RIA Novosti commentator Pyotr Goncharov). The disturbances in the Uzbek town of Andizhan at first glance resemble the events in Kyrgyzstan that ultimately led to the downfall of the authorities in that republic.
This leads to an obvious question: Is Uzbekistan suffering from the Kyrgyz syndrome of the so-called velvet revolution?
The apparently similar factors would prompt one to say "yes." In particular, protestors in Andizhan called for the resignation of the incumbent president and the Cabinet similar echoing the streets in Bishkek and Osha. Some Andizhan residents say they came to the local square to support democracy rather than Islamic fundamentalists. That is where the similarity ends.
In contrast to Kyrgyzstan, the most liberal republic in Central Asia where the former opposition acted openly, Uzbekistan has an extremely rigid, centralized system of power. Opposition leaders were neutralized long ago, and the opposition works in the strictest secrecy. It is currently impotent. In contrast to the situation in Kyrgyzstan, it does not control the media, it does not have its own newspapers or any leverage against the current authorities.
On the other hand, Uzbekistan, like Tajikistan, is a state where Islamic factor plays an extremely important role. Here, in contrast to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the revolutionary protest will be mainly led by the Islamic movement and under the slogans of Islamic democracy against the secular authoritarian regime. Therefore, if the revolution ever occurs in Uzbekistan it will be a confrontation between Islamic fundamentalists and the secular regime. This is an important factor, which obviously worries both the authorities and the opposition in Tashkent and Dushanbe, or Bishkek and Astana.
It certainly can be assumed that if opposition parties in Uzbekistan assume the leading role in the public unrest, it might ultimately lead to a revolution similar to that in Kyrgyzstan. In that case the radical Islamic movements might take advantage of the situation, as they make no secret of their ultimate desire to create a unified Islamic state - an Islamic caliphate - starting in the Ferghana Valley. This is possible.
Hizb-ul-Tahrir, an outlawed religious party in Uzbekistan, emphasizes the peaceful nature of its activities and wants to see the caliphate established. In contrast, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a radical organization, has always claimed openly that its goal is to overthrow Karimov's government and proclaim an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley.
In the early 1990s, Karimov successfully stopped the spread of Islamic organisations in the republic, primarily IMU, which included representatives of various Islamic movements at the time. Many IMU leaders and members later went to fight in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and in 1999 and 2000 IMU militants fought in Kyrgyzstan.
After those events, tough measures were taken against Islamic movements. According to estimates provided by international organizations, about 7,000 IMU and Hizb-ul-Tahrir members were sentenced to various prison terms for extremism. Today, IMU bases are located in southeastern regions of Tajikistan, which are not controlled by the authorities, and in the Ferghana Valley. About 30% of the population of the latter supports the IMU movement.
Islam Karimov could well be accused of establishing an authoritarian regime, but it is difficult to dispute that this regime managed to prevent a civil war breaking out in Uzbekistan in early 1990s, which threatened to be much worse than the war then being waged in Tajikistan.
The causes of events in Andizhan are banal. The people who incited the disturbances are connected with the Akramiya organization, a breakaway part of the Hizb-ul-Tahrir led by Akram Yuldashev, who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for extremist and terrorist activities. A trial involving 23 members of this organization started in April this year. On Wednesday, May 11, when the "public disturbances" erupted in Andizhan, the verdict in the case was supposed to have been delivered.