Karakalpakstan Protests: Unrest Grips Uzbekistan Province Over Motion to Kill Secession Rights

While the Uzbek government has decided to row back the changes, experts suggest that the protests could now take the shape of an ethnic conflict.

Protests which broke out in Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan last week have resulted in the death of eighteen people. More than 200 people have been severely wounded in the protests against plans that would take away secession rights of the province.

What Were the Proposed Reforms?

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in an effort to present himself as a reformer, scrapped some of the policies of his predecessor Islam Karimov and announced a few changes in the Constitution of Uzbekistan on July 1.

Karakalpakstan unrest

From the proposed 170 constitutional amendments, the most controversial ones were changes in the tenure of the president, that would be increased from five to seven years, this also included elimination of term limits.

These changes would result in slow and eventual termination of Karakalpakstan's status as an autonomous region and would also end the region's right to secede from Uzbekistan.

Angry Citizens Took to The Streets

The announcement of the amendments was not well received by the citizens of Karakalpakstan, as thousands came out on the streets and the protests began in the capital city of Nukus on July 1.

Within two days, things took a deadly turn as the demonstrations turned violent. These were the most violent protests ever witnessed in Uzbekistan in almost 2 decades, the Guardian reported.

Karakalpakstan unrest

Images and videos shared on social media and local news channels showed public properties completely destroyed, streets blocked off and trucks torched with heavy military presence of the armored personnel carriers.

On July 2, Uzbek authorities stated that the 'mass organizers' of the protests have been taken into custody as they were attempting to capture administrative buildings in the capital of Nukus.

With internet access blocked, the government decided to declare a state of emergency starting July 2, which would run from just after midnight to August 2, as per Reuters.

In these two days, President Mirziyoyev visited the region twice and openly reprimanded the Karakalpak pro-government officials for failing to inform him about the mass opposition to the laws sooner.

Karakalpakstan unrest

After a discussion with the Karakalpak authorities, Mirziyoyev also had a meeting with the Chief of European Council Charles Michel on July 4, where he pinned the blame on "criminal gangs" for instigating violence.

Casualties Reported

The tightly controlled government has not really mentioned the exact casualty count, local media and Telegram accounts have cited that 'thousands' have been hospitalized.

Large amount of blood on the streets of Nukus was seen in the videos circulated on social media and local news channels, 18 people were killed and almost 240 were severely wounded. The casualties included both civilians as well as security forces.

Karakalpakstan unrest
Blood on the streets of the Nukus Twitter

Situation now

According to reports, the Uzbek President is planning to backtrack the decision, as the protests show no signs of ending. An extension of 10 more days for the public discussion of the draft was voted by the Parliament, it is now said to continue until July 15.

As the largest Karakalpak diaspora lives in Kazakhstan, Mirziyoyev had spoken to the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev about the current situation, Reuters reported.

In an unsurprising move, the Kazakh President gave his agreement in the method undertaken by Tashkent to re-establish stability, in the autonomous region within Uzbekistan.

Karakalpakstan unrest
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev Twitter

The police and army are currently patrolling the streets of Nukus, but the opposition suggests that there are chances of an ethnic clash to erupt between the Karakalpak and the Uzbeks.

Like Uzbeks, the Karakalpak are a Turkic people, but they are linguistically and culturally much closer to Kazakhs, according to BBC.

Leader of opposition Berlik party, exiled politician, Pulat Ahunov, believes the end of emergency could result in the situation escalating to a deadly ethnic conflict between the Uzbeks and Karakalpaks, as there are rallies still happening in many locations.