Two years of civil war, two million refugees, and one hundred thousand people killed, a chemical attack – and that is not even an exhaustive list – this is what happens when one family has been ruling the country for forty-three years.
By Galima Bukharbaeva
The citizens of Uzbekistan, especially those who might be game-changers in the country, should carefully follow the events unfolding in Syria.
They should ask themselves – do they want such events to be repeated in Uzbekistan? It appears that Islam Karimov’s family is going down that path.
The civil war in Syria has been going on for two years and both sides of the conflict elicit two emotions: chagrin and debility. Chagrin because neither side can offer a positive outcome and debility due to the lack of better options for the country.
The unfolding massacre is leaving no other options to the world community but to take sides. To take sides even if the long-hated Al Qaeda is on the same side of the barricades.
If before August 21 an argument for non-involvement still remained, the photos of children and their parents with frozen foam at their mouths who had died a torturous death by chemical gas poisoning have made inaction impossible.
The “red line” defined by the US president Barack Obama – drawn to ease the conscience – had been crossed. Still the future of the country remains murky.
Military action is not a solution. Let alone a salvation for the children and their parents.
When Hafez al-Assad became the leader of Syria in 1970, his son and the current president of the country was five years old.
According to biographers, the young Bashar had not expressed much interest in politics and was a quiet and unremarkable person. Once he himself admitted that during his father’s 30-year reign of the country he never spoke to him about politics and only once visited his office.
He was chosen to take over his father’s reins through a confluence of events. Despite the formal existence in Syria of “free presidential elections”, Hafez al-Assad had hand-picked his successor. His children being his pool of candidates.
His oldest son Bassel al-Assad who was his first choice died in a car crash in 1994 at the age of 31. His farther strongly believed that he would be a worthy replacement to rule Syria.
After the loss of his son, Hafez focused his succession plans on his younger son – Bashar, whose lack of will and interest is accurately reflected in his expressionless elongated face with sunken eyes.
Upon Hafez’ death, and in spite of lack of interest in politics, Bashar did take over the Syrian throne in 2000.
At first glance political observers pronounced him to be a reformer, citing his young age – he was 35 years old when he took over the rule of Syria, his British education and his beauty of a wife who was modern and practically grew up in England.
Today’s 47-year-old Bashar al-Assad has wiped out any doubts – there is nothing he would not do not to give up power.
This madman is unstoppable and no amount of dead people, even if they are rows of child corpses, can stop his clench on power. He is prepared to use his entire arsenal of weapons, and not just on his territory. His ministers have already threatened a chemical attack in Europe.
Hafez and Islam
The chronology of events in Syria makes one reflect on its parallels with today’s Uzbekistan.
The 75-year-old Islam Karimov has ruled the country for 24 years and assuming he will live for a few more years, he can expect to have done a similar number of years “service” to the country as Hafiz.
The political careers of both men are similar – both come from poor rural families and began their respective ascend to power within their political parties.
The former came to power through an internal military-supported coup, while the latter was named the leader of Uzbek Soviet Republic by the government in Moscow shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Due to these circumstances both had avoided actually running for office and being elected and during the years of their respective reigns they failed to establish legitimate and real processes for free elections. The principles of democracy, thus, remain unfamiliar to both men.
Iron-fisted governing and intolerance for criticism and competition significantly hindered the development of Syria and Uzbekistan alike. Despotism and corruption flourished, with the best and the brightest leaving their respective countries when possible. The vacuum has been consistently filled with extremist-leaning Islamist groups.
One should however give credit where credit is due – both men were masters of their own destinies and accomplished their grab for power on their own. They did not inherit their thrones, they climbed their own ladders. Unlike their children…
Bashar and Gulnara
The children of the former Syrian and current Uzbek presidents are outliers to the popularly held belief that relatively young age and Western education can be expected to elicit more liberal and progressive views.
Their examples should provide ample arguments for Europeans and Americans to give up their snobbish expectation of a miracle that radicalism can be reformed by the mere residence in a Western country and from having studied in one of its universities.
One can take president of Uzbekistan’s older daughter as an example – 41-year-old Gulnara Karimova – whose discovery of Western glamor and the high life increased her corruption exponentially. For the sake of the newly-minted greed she began to unabashedly rob her country and established her long-reaching and corrupt presence in the West with numerous bank accounts and safety deposit boxes.
Moreover, her limitless riches and “Western sensibilities” have seduced many Westerners – famous football players, jewelry shop owners, designers, artists and even well-known human rights activist and singer Sting have been among her guests in Tashkent.
Karimova with her personality and dealings, which are mostly focused on stealing the money from the country, is testament to the fact that the children of dictators become used to the atmosphere of the absolute power, permissiveness and impunity which they absorb through their parent.
Their consciences are formed with a conviction that the power and the country belong to them. To their families. And the belief that the people are there to serve them and, if not, are either lazy loafers or terrorists.
It is thus a predictable and natural outcome of such deep-rooted beliefs when a quite ordinary daughter of a former communist starts believing herself to be a princess and aspiring to the throne.
And if at least President Karimov, as it was pointed out above, has achieved his position on his own, his daughter has accomplished absolutely nothing.
Her numerous attempts to realize her potential – in politics, diplomacy, poetry, design, music and dance – are all examples of personal failure and testament to her inexperience in everything.
Her only accomplishment – she is the daughter of Islam Karimov.
Nero burning Rome
Karimov has no choice. In the same manner his Syrian colleague Hafez al-Assad had no choice after the death of his favorite son. The one remaining was not as good but that was all he had left.
Such fixation on a hand-picked successor from only among the family members is not necessarily a sign of big love of their children but is dictated by the mere necessity of self-preservation after decades of out-of-control reign.
Should Karimov be forced to make a difficult choice in favor of his daughter Gulnara, one thing is obvious – Uzbekistan would be stuck with a female version of Bashar.
Her lack of a grasp on reality is apparent already today.
One only needs to read her Twitter feed or her blog in order to recognize her megalomania, inability to self-reflect, need for lies and flattery, her truculence and callousness that she expresses without hesitation against any person who might have asked her a question she does not like.
The events that she organizes or takes part in are painstakingly stage directed, as has become the norm for her father’s events but only in the recent years of his reign, even though she is still a private person and her presidential aspirations are very vague.
One is reminded that her father – in the first ten years of his reign – was quite accepting of the critical questions from the media and attempted to substantively respond to them.
Karimova’s Twitter exchange with Andrew Shtroilyain from Human Rights Watch and BBC journalist Natalia Antelava stands in stark juxtaposition to her father’s attitude:
“I think we need to call it a day on PR for the unfortunate, who try to live the life of the other and only become known for a sec only then, when we pay attn to them.
Those whose names will be remembered only because they wrote or caused a scandal about the powerful of this world. Let them go in peace!” (Author: grammar and punctuation are kept as-is).
This Twitter post is worth being psychologically assessed. Karimova, most probably, would not agree, due to her conviction of belonging to the “powerful of this world” and they naturally know best.
They know best. They do not ever have doubts. They have a right, even to use chemical weapons.
Galima Bukharbaeva is the Editor-in-Chief of Uznews.net