The Republic of Uzbekistan

In Uzbekistan, one quickly learns to recognize the images of two men: the smiling chubby face of Islam Karimov, the first and – to date – only president of the Republic, beaming on you everywhere, with a relevant quote from one of his speeches. The second is Amir Temur, aka Tamerlane, the fierce and murderous 14th century conqueror. He was not an ethnic Uzbek, by the way, as the Uzbeks invaded the area after his death, but since independence Timur became the new national symbol, replacing Lenin at many squares. The official Uzbekistan website says (www.uza.uz): “our great forefather who built a powerful state… affords a spiritual vigor to our national self-consciousness … inspires us to bolster our national traditions and values…”

Amir Timur, Shahrisabz

Amir Timur, Shahrisabz


Uzbekistan is a police state ruled by a former Soviet official. A visitor sees scores of uniformed men with submachine guns stationed in front of government ministries in Tashkent.

Citizens are called for public service which they cannot refuse, but we heard that they may have someone else take their place, for money or as a favor. We saw women in high heels, with purses on one arm, sweeping the Registan’s plaza in preparation for the “International Conference“, so it appears that advance notice is not always given. A clerk at the Nukus Museum gift shop said that the manager was doing a month of service in the cotton fields. On the way to Nukus, David had the driver stop and took (not allowed) pictures of people weeding. See.

Weeding Cotton Fields

Weeding Cotton Fields


No photography is allowed at underground stations, train stations or airports. Tashkent has some of the most beautiful underground train stations. They have high ceilings, chandeliers, ornate decorative tiles and sculptural columns. Better yet, they are immaculately clean. But a police officer is on hand, at least at the central stations, to enforce the law.

Tashkent Train Station

Tashkent Train Station

Taskent Subway

Taskent Subway



Also off limits to photographers is the “White House”, the President’s compound. We were chased off a leafy canal-side path in Tashkent by an armed guard, although many other people were allowed to continue strolling. We then returned to the same path some distance away, and had a chat with an English speaking Russian, who explained that the White House is nearby, and pointed at David’s conspicuously big camera lens (duh).

Also completely off-limits: the Senate building, which is fenced off from the front, and has an ominous high embankment along that lovely, tree lined canal that runs along its rear side, with guard booths at both ends.

Can't Go Here- Senate Front

Can’t Go Here- Senate Front

Or Here - Senate Back

Or Here – Senate Back



Strange sight: groups of new or almost complete houses, standing along highways, their identical front doors opening onto the highway, always with the same red metal roofs, same windows, in fact the same overall design. On second look, you notice that they are always empty, and that all of them are built outside, but not in or next to a town or a village. The houses seem to be related to the highway more than to anything else. It is especially incongruous in a place with a thousand years of Muslim architecture that makes privacy (i.e. hiding women) a top priority.

Mystery solved: Our guide Dimitri said that these are government sponsored housing developments, and they are meant for display, not for living in, which explained their high visibility but user unfriendly locations along highways. The phantom houses have no land for a garden, and are priced higher than homes in the nearby town, so nobody buys them. Who can afford to build without buyers? According to Dimitri, these houses are built by contractors with other government contracts.

The phantom houses, from the official Uzbekistan news website:

Modern Homes for Rural Residents
Modern residential houses have been built on standard design and commissioned in the Chekshura village citizen’s assembly in Ferghana district.
Snap by David.

Snap by David.


For those who recall reading about the 2005 massacre in Uzbekistan, here is a different p.o.v. from a Johns Hopkins scholar.

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