Islam Karimov

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Islam Karimov
Islom Karimov
1st President of Uzbekistan
Assumed office
1 September 1991
Prime Minister
President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic
In office
24 March 1990 – 1 September 1991
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by position abolished
First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan
In office
23 June 1989 – 29 December 1991
Preceded by Rafiq Nishonov
Succeeded by position abolished
Personal details
Born Islom Abdugʻaniyevich Karimov
(1938-01-30) 30 January 1938 (age 78)
Samarkand, Uzbek SSR, Soviet Union
(modern Uzbekistan)
Political party
Spouse(s) Tatyana Karimova
Religion Islam

Islom Abdugʻaniyevich Karimov (Cyrillic Uzbek: Ислом Абдуғаниевич Каримов; Russian: Ислам Абдуганиевич Каримов, Islam Abduganijevič Karimov; Tajik: Ислом Абдуғаниевич Каримов, Islom Abduğaniyevic Karimov/Islom Aвduƣanijevic Karimov; born 30 January 1938) is the first President of Uzbekistan, in office since 1990.

Karimov was placed in an orphanage in Samarkand at birth, growing up to study economics and engineering.[1] He became an official in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, becoming the party's First Secretary in Uzbekistan in 1989. On 24 March 1990 he became President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Karimov's election to the Uzbek Communist Party resulted after his predecessor Rafiq Nishonov failed to quell inter-ethnic clashes and instability in the Fergana Region.[2]

He declared Uzbekistan an independent nation on 31 August 1991 and subsequently won Uzbekistan's first presidential election on 29 December 1991, with 86% of the vote. The election was called unfair,[citation needed] with state-run propaganda and a falsified vote count, although the opposing candidate and leader of the Erk Liberty Party, Muhammad Salih, had a chance to participate. Karimov permitted the participation of the opposition organizations Birlik ("Unity") and the Islamic Renaissance Party until his efforts to consolidate power over Shukrullo Mirsaidov, a former Communist Party elite who had originally supported Karimov's rise to the Party presidency. The period of political thaw was brief; Karimov began to complicate the registration process of opposition parties during elections. As Birlik grew in strength as a "popular movement", it was denied the ability to register as a "political party" without the required 60,000 signatures. The Karimov government allowed Birlik one day to gather these signatures, 25,000 of which they rejected. Karimov effectively took authoritarian measures to block any meaningful opposition.[3] Since approximately February 2014, Karimov has imprisoned his elder daughter, Gulnara. She and her daughter live under armed guard and surveillance cameras.[4]


Uzbekistan under the Karimov government classifies as a hard authoritarian regime with little to no civil society promotion. The state's primary legitimacy claims are anti-Islamism and ethnic identity.[5] Karimov's primary authoritarian measures that were implemented following the brief period of "thaw" and political tolerance include the thwarting of alternative political leaders from coalition building.[6]

Election controversies[edit]

In 1996, Karimov extended his term until 2000 through a widely criticized referendum. He was reelected with 91.9% of the vote in the Uzbek presidential election, on 9 January 2000. The United States said that this election "was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice".[7] The sole opposition candidate, Abdulhafiz Jalalov, implicitly admitted that he entered the race only to make it seem democratic and publicly stated that he voted for Karimov. Following this election in 1996, Karimov further tightened the restrictions on his opposition through the Law On Political Parties. This law ensured the right to meetings, publications, and elections of opposition parties, but only to those who had registered with the Ministry of Justice. This policy allowed for government blockage of unapproved parties. Political parties based on ethnic, religious, military, or subversive ideas were prohibited.[8] Karimov's reelection resulted from highly criticized electoral practices. 99.6% had elected to keep Karimov in office after his term had expired, but ballots had been created such that it was much easier for voters to cast a "yes" vote than a "no" vote. Unmarked ballots, as well as ballots of those who did not vote, were automatically counted as "yes" votes, while a full black mark, under the supervision of authorities, was necessary to count as a "no" vote.[9]

Administrative policies[edit]

As a poor indication of contact and negotiation with Western nations, Karimov has taken fewer foreign visits, especially to the West, in comparison to his Kazakh counterpart. There is also a low number of foreign embassies in Tashkent as of 2016, with only 44 total embassies; only 29 from countries not part of the former Soviet Union and only 7 from the West.[10] Under the Karimov regime, a heavy regulation policy of NGOs led to the creation of paradoxically-named GONGOs, or Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations. Trade unions became "an instrument of management rather than a means of interest group-based collective bargaining." The Karimov government requires universities to serve a strictly pedagogical purpose and not as a branch of civil society;[11] they must provide students with skills for the workplace without an emphasis on the skill of critique of public issues.

Policies towards Islam[edit]

Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Karimov in Ufa in 2015
Karimov meets with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in the Pentagon on March 13, 2002
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Visits Karimov (2009)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits Karimov in 2009

Karimov had originally cultivated Islamic symbols after independence in order to coopt religious opposition.[12] In May 1999, as a response to the threat of Islamic radicalism, the Oliy Majlis revised the 'Law on Freedom of Conscious and Religious Organizations' to impose new restrictions on religious groups. The construction of mosques, for example, required permission and specific documentation. An assassination attempt on Karimov in 1999 elicited even more repression of Islamic groups.[13] After the September 11, 2001 attacks Uzbekistan was considered a strategic ally in the United States' "War on Terror" campaign because of a mutual opposition to the Taliban. Uzbekistan hosted an 800-strong U.S. troop presence at the Karshi-Khanabad base, also known as "K2", which supported U.S.-led efforts in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.[14] The move was criticized by Human Rights Watch which said the U.S. government subordinated the promotion of human rights to assistance in the War in Afghanistan. U.S.-Uzbek relations deteriorated in May 2005 when Karimov's government strongly encouraged the abandonment of the U.S. base in the face of U.S. government criticism of the government killings of protestors in Andijan. In July 2005 U.S. military forces left Karshi-Khanabad.[15]

Karimov mobilized against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb-ut-Tahrir, two Islamist organizations that have been designated as terrorist by his government.[16] The Uzbek government sentenced Tohir Yoʻldosh and Juma Namangani, leaders of the IMU, to death in absentia.[17] Namangani died in Afghanistan in 2001, and Tohir Yoʻldosh was killed in an air strike on August 27, 2009.[18] Though the Uzbekistani constitution protects the separation of religion and state, the Karimov regime has marginalized politically dissident Muslims and religious leaders who critique its human rights abuses through rhetoric of “anti-terrorism.”[original research?] From 1991 to 2004, the government has imprisoned over 7,000 Uzbeks for “Islamist extremism,” and silenced Imams like Muhammad Rajab, who advocated for more open democracy in the early 1990s. These fears of extremism arose out of discourse among the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) of a "Jihad against the Karimov regime." The government of Uzbekistan retains fears of "large-scale all-encompassing anti-state conspiracies" and "echoes of Basmachi"[19] Among Karimov's anti-Islamist policies is the purge of Muslim leaders. Karimov led a crackdown on Adolat, a league of Muslim activists. Explicit fears of threats of Islamic extremism also led to a crackdown of displays of Islamic practice in public. The term "Wahhabis" became the umbrella term to refer to all strains of "extremist" Islam; it did not necessarily refer to the branch of Islamic extremism that originated in Saudi Arabia.[20] Ordinary practicing Muslims have been targeted and jailed without trial,[21] and frequent use of torture and occasional "disappearances" have been reported.[21]


Karimov sought another term in the December 2007 presidential election, despite arguments that he was ineligible due to the two-term limit on the presidency. On November 6, 2007, Karimov accepted the nomination of the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party to run for a third term.[22] On November 19, the Central Election Commission announced the approval of Karimov's candidacy,[23] a decision that Karimov's opponents condemned as illegal.[24]

Following the election on 23 December, preliminary official results showed Karimov winning with 88.1% of the vote, on a turnout rate that was placed at 90.6%. Observers from groups allied to the Karimov administration such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Commonwealth of Independent States gave the election a positive assessment.[25] However, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the election as lacking a "genuine choice," while others deemed the election, a "political charade,"[26] given that all three of Karimov's rivals began their campaign speeches by singing Karimov's praises.[27]

Karimov was reelected for a new term in the 2015 presidential election.[28] He won 90.39% of votes from a voter turnout of 91.08%. This is his third term under Uzbekistan's current constitution.[29] The election has been widely criticized by the western media and observers as being rigged even though monitoring missions sent by the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which include nations from the former USSR and China, deemed the election open and democratic.

Human rights and press freedom[edit]

The international community has repeatedly criticized the Karimov administration's record on human rights and press freedom. In particular, Craig Murray, the British Ambassador from 2002 to 2004, described widespread torture, kidnapping, murder, rape by the police, financial corruption, religious persecution, censorship, and other human rights abuses. This included the case of Karimov's security forces executing prisoners Muzafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov by boiling them alive in 2002.[30] Murray became noted within the British government for memos disagreeing with official UK and US policy, which was at the time to back up Karimov as part of the global war on terror. Uzbekistan was used for extraordinary rendition and for the air base in Karshi-Khanabad. Murray wrote a memoir about his experiences; Murder in Samarkand, retitled Dirty Diplomacy in the United States.[31]

The United Nations found torture "institutionalized, systematic, and rampant" in Uzbekistan's judicial system.[32] For several years, Parade magazine has selected Karimov as one of the world's worst dictators, citing his tactics of torture, media censorship, and fake elections.[33]

Karimov (2nd from right) at the CSTO meeting

Karimov's Party apparatus gained effective control over the media during the immediate independence period. Due to a poor human rights and democratization record, the Karimov administration worked to improve its image by allowing broadcasts from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. A tarnished record had harmed the efforts to gain greater access to developmental aid and foreign investment.[34]

According to the Uzbek Constitution freedom of expression in the media is nominally guaranteed. The Karimov administration has persistently violated this press freedom. Article 67 states that "Censorship is not permitted." Under the Karimov government, all media publications must be "held accountable for the reliability" of the information released. This "accountability" actually introduces an opportunity for further government censorship, as the definition of "accountability" is left to the Karimov administration's discretion. Article 29 states that all freedom of media expression is to be allowed with the exceptions of releasing state secrets and statements against the Constitution. The printed media of Uzbekistan has a high number of publications, but is dominated by three: Khalq Sozi, its Russian edition Narodnoye Slovo, and another Russian-language publication, Pravda Vostoka. The state owns almost all media, and the State Control Inspecorate, located in Tashkent, secures tight editorial control. Topics deemed "sensitive" are not considered for publishing. A ban is in place that prevents publications that give space to "unregistered opinions." Arrests of journalists have been documented in Tashkent and Samarkand.

Stamp of Uzbekistan, 2006

As a propaganda tool, the state strictly controls the tone and subject material of all published works. State censors give preference to works that provide a positive, uplifting ideology to its readers. Criticism that passes the censors is limited to low and mid-level officers. Although the Karimov regime during the 1990s assumed a greater tolerance for foreign media, the state has heavily limited foreign publications during the past decade. There has been a considerable reduction of Russian-sponsored broadcasting, and Western media has diminished in publication as well.[35]

Banned publications under the Karimov administration include Mustaqil Haftalik and Erk, the respective publications of the Birilik and Erk opposition parties. The Karimov government charged each publication on the grounds of being "disloyal to the current regime."[36] In December 1995, Karimov was quoted in describing local journalists as "toothless."[35] Karimov had essentially called for more criticism in printed material, but only "approved" criticism.[37]

In May 2002, the Karimov administration lifted the pre-publication censorship, and fined the chief censor, Ervin Kamilov. The State Inspectorate for the Protection of State Secrets was disbanded. Two days later, the administration proceeded to reinstate further censorship measures. Among topics prohibited in Uzbekistan's publications are official corruption, opposition political parties and Islamic organizations. Radio Liberty lost its broadcast rights. Uzbekistan has one state-run internet server, UZPAK, that blocks prohibited websites.[38]

2005 Andijan massacre[edit]

Main article: Andijan massacre

According to detailed accounts, on May 13, 2005, some 400 of the 500 protesters staging an anti-government demonstration killed were said to be driven deliberately into a trap — authorities had blocked all the exits from Bobur Square with armoured personnel carriers, preventing people from dispersing home. Instead, they drove the crowd into a closed street, Chulpon Avenue, where snipers and police shot to kill. These scenes of deliberate killings prompted eyewitnesses to allege that troops not only shot to disperse the demonstration, but to summarily execute anyone who took part in it. Later, some tortured detainees recounted that police said they had received orders supposedly emanating from the president himself to shoot to kill.[39]

According to Ikram Yakubov, a major in Uzbekistan's secret service who defected to Britain in 2007, the government had "propped up" the Islamist organization Akramia, which the Uzbek government blamed for fomenting the incident that led to the protests. He believes that the attacks were a pretext to repress dissenters. According to Yakubov, President Karimov personally ordered government troops to fire on the protestors.[40]

Islam Karimov "placed blame for the unrest on Islamic extremist groups, a label that he has used to describe political opponents in recent years and that his critics say is used as a pretext for maintaining a repressive state." A press release from the government stated that "As a result of the clashes, 9 people died and 34 were injured".

Personal life[edit]

Karimov, Karimov's wife (right) and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, 11 February 2010

Karimov's family background and history are obscure and the identity of his biological father is unknown, with claims being that he was either Tajik or Jewish, his mother was Uzbek. He married his first wife, Natalya Petrovna Kuchmi, in 1964 and they had a son together, Petr, before divorcing.[41]

Karimov's wife, Tatyana Akbarovna Karimova, is of Tajik and Russian origin. She is an economist.[42][43] They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

His elder daughter Gulnara Karimova, is an Uzbekistani diplomat, professor and businessperson. She is the founder and chairperson of The Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundations Board of Trustees and a number of NGOs focused on cultural and social aspects of life in Uzbekistan.[44] However, his first daughter is seen as less than altruistic and allegations that her "organizations" are mere front organizations for her vast business holdings and image propping propaganda are well documented.[45][46] It has been reported that since February 2014, Gulnara has been under house arrest.[47] She has been under investigation on charges of corruption, but has said that the "charges against her are politically motivated."[48][49]

Karimov's second daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is known in Uzbekistan for her role in promoting education and sports, as well as championing the rights of children. She is the founder of major charity organizations in Uzbekistan – "You are not alone", Republican Social Children's Fund for helping orphans, and Republican Center for Social Adaptation of Children, mainly focusing on disabled children and those from vulnerable groups.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dr Islam Karimov, Engineer and President of Uzbekistan". Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Gulsen Aydin, Orta Dogu Teknik Universitesi, "Authoritarianism versus democracy in Uzbekistan: domestic and international factors", (Ankara: METU, 2004)
  3. ^ Gulsen Aydin, Orta Dogu Teknik Universitesi, "Authoritarianism versus democracy in Uzbekistan: domestic and international factors", (Ankara: METU, 2004), p. 41.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Schatz, pp. 263–284
  6. ^ Bohr, pp. 5–29
  7. ^ US slams Uzbek election as unfree, unfair and laughable EurasiaNet
  8. ^ Bohr, p. 41
  9. ^ Alisher Ilkhamov, "Controllable Democracy in Uzbekistan", Middle East Report, No. 222 (2002) pp. 8–10
  10. ^ Schatz, p. 269.
  11. ^ Bohr, p. 73
  12. ^ Bohr, p. 17
  13. ^ Bohr, p. 64
  14. ^ Khanabad, Uzbekistan Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase Camp Stronghold Freedom Global Security
  15. ^ US asked to leave Uzbek air base BBC News
  16. ^ Bombings and Shootings Rock Uzbekistan Yale Global Online
  17. ^ Latest in a Series of Show Trials Condemns Peaceful Opposition Along with Militants Human Rights Watch
  18. ^ Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) CNS
  19. ^ Stuart Horsman (2005). "Themes in Official Discourses on Terrorism in Uzbekistan". Third World Quarterly. 26 (1): 199–213. doi:10.1080/0143659042000322982. JSTOR 3993771. 
  20. ^ Bohr, p. 29
  21. ^ a b citing U.S. Department of State 2002
  22. ^ "Islam Karimov agreed to remain the president another seven years". Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  23. ^ "Uzbek Election Watchdog Clears Karimov For Third Term", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 19, 2007.
  24. ^ Shukhrat Babajanov, "Uzbekistan: Official Acquiescence In Karimov Presidential Bid Draws Fire", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 21, 2007.
  25. ^ "Uzbek Incumbent Wins Presidential Poll Without 'Genuine Choice'", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 24 December 2007.
  26. ^ Halpin, Tony (2007-12-21). "Torture an iron fist and twisted logic set stage for Islam Karimovs landslide victory". The Times. London. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  27. ^ Uzbek Leader’s Re-Election Dismissed as Charade. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  28. ^ "Uzbek leader Karimov wins presidential election by landslide". The Globe and Mail. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  29. ^ "Islam Karimov re-elected Uzbekistan's president in predicted landslide". The Guardian. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  30. ^ Rashid, Ahmed (2009) [2008]. Descent into Chaos. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-311557-1. Retrieved 12 September 2011. Muzafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov, who were accused of belonging to an Islamic extremist group [ Hizb ut-Tahrir ] died on August 8, 2002, after being boiled to death in hot water. 
  31. ^ Craig Murray. Murder in Samarkand, 2006, [ISBN 978-1845961947], and Dirty Diplomacy, 2007, [ISBN 978-1416548027], Scribner
  32. ^ Civil and political rights, including the questions of torture and detention United Nations Economic and Social Council
  33. ^ The World's Worst Dictators-2007. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  34. ^ Bohr, p. 61
  35. ^ a b Human Rights Watch, Violations of Media Freedom: Journalism and Censorship in Uzbekistan (1 May 1996), D07
  36. ^ Bohr, p. 15
  37. ^ Bohr, p. 16
  38. ^ Bohr, pp. 75–76
  39. ^ Andijan Refugees' Report Yields New Findings on 2005 Massacre by Government Forces. (2010-11-13). Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  40. ^ Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  41. ^ Bruce Pannier (24 March 2015). "Orphaned Dictator: The Making Of Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  42. ^ Karimov's wife, T.A. Karimova. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  43. ^ Biography Government of Uzbekistan
  44. ^ "NGO's and projects". Website Gulnara Karimova. 
  45. ^ "US embassy cables: 'The single most hated person' in Uzbekistan". The Guardian. US Embassy Cables. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  46. ^ STROEHLEIN,, Andrew. "Keeping Up with the Karimovs". Foreign Policy Magazine. FP. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  47. ^ Shaun Walker (16 September 2014). "Uzbekistan's first daughter 'pictured under house arrest'". The Guardian. 
  48. ^ Joanna Lillis (24 March 2015). "Uzbekistan's first daughter accused of pocketing $1bn in phone deals". The Guardian. 
  49. ^ Joanna Lillis (8 September 2014). "Uzbekistan's autocratic ruler may have found a way to silence his daughter". The Guardian. 
  50. ^ Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva: official web site. Retrieved on 10 April 2009


  • Bohr, Annette (1998). Uzbekistan: Politics and Foreign Policy. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs. ISBN 1-86203-081-2. 
  • Schatz, Edward (2006). "Access by Accident: Legitimacy Claims and Democracy Promotion in Authoritarian Central Asia". International Political Science Review. 27 (3): 263–284. doi:10.1177/0192512106064463. JSTOR 20445055. 

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Rafiq Nishonov
First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan
Position abolished
Political offices
New office President of Uzbekistan