Uzbekistan has remained staunchly secular and taken a firm stand against extremist movements since independence. In recent years, however, Uzbekistan’s policies have shifted from a defensive to a more proactive approach. The recent surge of reforms has affected the religious area as well. Uzbekistan has taken major steps toward the promotion of what President Shavkat Mirziyoyev terms “Enlightened Islam” at home and on the world stage.
This Forum is part of CACI’s ongoing research on the relationship between politics and religion in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and coincides with the release of the Silk Road Paper “Religion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan”, by Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn.
Speakers: Svante E. Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council
Moderator: Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Where: Middle East Institute: 1319 18th Street NW, 20036
When: Thursday, June 7, 2018 from 4:00 - 5:30 pm
RSVP: Click HERE to register
Please join the Atlantic Council and the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the American Foreign Policy Council for an event entitled Opening in Uzbekistan: A Preview of President Mirziyoyev's Visit on Monday, May 14, 2018 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Atlantic Council headquarters (1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor, West Tower Elevators).
This May, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan will visit Washington, DC at the invitation of US President Donald J. Trump. The new government under President Mirziyoyev announced political and economic reforms to open Uzbekistan for international cooperation and foreign direct investments. The new regional policy of Tashkent in Central Asia has given dynamism and prospects to solve old issues like border demarcation, a fair share of water resources, extremism and terrorism, and peace building process in Afghanistan.
The Atlantic Council and the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the American Foreign Policy Council are convening a panel to discuss and evaluate President Mirziyoyev’s visit to the White House, along with implications for US-Uzbekistan relations, broader international and regional issues, and overall stability in the region.
We hope you can join us for this timely discussion.
Senator Sodiq Safoev
First Deputy Chairman
Senate of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Dr. Akmal Saidov
National Human Rights Centre of the Republic of Uzbekistan; Committee on Democratic Institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations and Citizens' Self-Governing Bodies Committee of the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis
Ambassador Ismatulla Irgashev
Special Representative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Afghanistan
Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Mr. Eldor Aripov
Director, Information and Analytical Center for International Relations
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan
Ms. Lisa Curtis
Deputy Assistant to the President
and Senior Director for South and Central Asia
National Security Council
Dr. Frederick Starr
Founder and Chairman
The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program
Moderator: Ambassador John Herbst
Director, Eurasia Center
Where: The Atlantic Council, 12th Floor (West Tower Elevators), 1030 15th Street, NW
When: Monday, May 14, 2018 from 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
RSVP: Send to Atlantic Council
Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became Acting President in September 2016, the Government of Uzbekistan has embarked on a series of far-reaching reforms in practically every area from foreign policy to governance and culture. A key element in the reform agenda has been the modernization of Uzbekistan’s economy. This Forum event marked the launch of another Silk Road Paper that analyzes this reform agenda. “Economic Modernization in Uzbekistan under President Mirziyoyev,” which was released on April 10, authored by Mamuka Tserereli.
The Forum event, moderated by CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr, featured a summary of the published report, and commentary from representatives of the international financial institutions.
Mamuka Tsereteli, Senior Research Fellow, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Albert Jaeger, Mission Chief for Uzbekistan, IMF
David M Gould, Lead Economist, Europe and Central Asia Region, World Bank
Moderator: S. Frederick Starr, Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
Where: The Middle East Institute, 1319 18th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
When: Tuesday, April 10, 2018 from 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
By Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
Silk Road Paper
Major political and economic reforms have been initiated since Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the country’s President in fall 2016. The interaction between state and religion has been part and parcel of this reform process.
This area is a contentious one, rife with confusion. Many consider Central Asia peripheral to the Muslim world, but in fact the territory of present-day Uzbekistan occupies a central position in the history and development of the religion. The intellectual effervescence of the region a millennium ago, which has recently been dubbed the “Lost Enlightenment,” included advances in both science, philosophy and theology, as well as the rise of Islamic mysticism. The Soviet period had more pernicious effects than only an onslaught against religion: in keeping with the tradition of dividing and ruling, Soviet authorities repressed traditional Central Asian Islam, particularly its Sufi variety, but actively encouraged more orthodox practices imported from the Middle East, including Salafi ideas. These took root in parts of Uzbekistan the Soviet period, and help explain the explosion of extremist jihadism in the Ferghana valley in the late 1980s.
Against this complex background, the independent state of Uzbekistan established a secular form of government in 1992. So did its Central Asian neighbors and Azerbaijan, but Tashkent took a considerably harder line against religious influences from abroad. On one hand, the state struck up cordial relations with the leaders of traditional religious communities – whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish. While seeking to guarantee religious pluralism, the Uzbek state worked to protect the state and society from novel, intolerant religious ideologies, which were rife in the civil wars in nearby Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and imposed sometimes draconian punishments for individuals and groups deemed extremist in nature.
These policies became among the most contentious issues in Uzbekistan’s relationship with Western countries and international organizations, which criticized Tashkent for human rights abuses and restricting religious freedom, and feared these policies would only strengthen the appeal of radical ideologies. Yet Uzbek officials were not content to target only the violent manifestations of extremist ideology: they opposed the ideology itself, viewing it as particularly dangerous in at a time of wide-ranging transition involving the consolidation of national identity.
When Mirziyoyev took over the reins of power, Uzbekistan – unlike several of its neighbors – had not experienced a terrorist incident on its soil for over a decade. From this position of relative strength, Mirziyoyev recalibrated religious policies, shifting from a defensive to an offensive strategy. He maintained the secular nature of the state, its laws, and its education system. But he also put increasing emphasis on promoting the tolerant Islamic tradition indigenous to Central Asia, something he dubbed “Enlightened Islam.”
Beyond steps to encourage public expressions of religion, Mirziyoyev has announced the creation of several new institutions. This includes an Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan, as well as an Islamic Culture Center designed to “fight religious ignorance and promote Islam’s true values.” In addition, he announced the creation of the Imam Bukhari International Scientific Research Center, headquartered at the Imam Al-Bukhari Academy in Samarkand. Remarkably, this latter initiative will focus equally on religious and secular knowledge.
Among other measures, the government has now removed 95 percent of individuals registered as “religious radicals” from a government list, encouraged the return of religious dissidents to the country, and engaged with international bodies promoting the freedom of religion.
In sum, for a quarter century, Uzbekistan adopted a defensive approach in the religious realm, which focused on thwarting radicalization and safeguarding its secular governance. Today, the country’s leadership is confidently presenting an Uzbek model of Islam to the world: a secular state in which the moderate Hanafi tradition of the region is able to flourish.
The longer-term question goes beyond the confines of Uzbekistan or even Central Asia: will this model be relevant to countries in the Islamic heartland? The negative experience of mixing religion and politics across the Muslim world may yet lead to a quest for a better solution to the age-old problem of negotiating the state’s relationship to religion. If Uzbekistan, and its neighbors, succeed in safeguarding secularism while promoting tolerant and traditional religious institutions, other Muslim countries may well take notice. That would carry global significance, and suggests Western states and organizations take an active and constructive role in supporting the ongoing reform process.