A state of emergency has been declared in the Uzbekistan region of Karakalpakstan , officially the Republic of Karakalpakstan, an area with significant autonomy. Karakalpakstan is in the far West of the country bordering Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Most people who haven’t been to Uzbekistan, and even most travellers to Uzbekistan would never have heard of this area even if they travelled through it. It feels and looks the same as the rest of Uzbekistan.
However, the people that live in this area aren’t majority Uzbek, the largest number are Karakalpak, making up roughly 40% of the population, with Kazakhs who are ethnically and linguistically the closest to the Karakalpaks making up 20% of the population, while Uzbeks make up between 30 and 40% themselves. Karakalpakstan is also the poorest region in Uzbekistan.
What does the State of Emergency mean?
Firstly there will be a curfew from 9pm until 7am overnight, all public events have been cancelled and entry and exit from the region has been severely restricted. According to reports internet has been blocked including fixed line internet and mobile internet. Police and other security forces will be stopping people to ensure they have required documents on them as well as physically searching people. These rules will be in place until 2 nd of August.
Flights have been cancelled to and from Nukus, the largest city and capital of the region and it hasn’t been announced when they will resume.
There continue to also be large scale protests in major towns throughout the region which is resulting in clashes with police and security forces, who are using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the crowds.
How did this start?
Constitutional reforms were announced on the 21 st of June, with wide ranging changes including the length of Presidential terms from 5 to 7 years. Several other areas included including certain rights, introducing administrative changes including those related to anti-corruption initiatives, introducing citizen initiated legislation. Then on the 27 th of June, communications in the region began to be shut down as constitutional changes relating to the region were being announced.
The proposed constitutional changes to the region include removing the region's right to declare independence, removing its recognition as a sovereign state within Uzbekistan and removing the region's right to have laws that are different from the rest of the country.
Since the unrest, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, on the 2 nd of June declared that the changes relating to Karakalpakstan would be scrapped and the region would retain its autonomy, however protests continued which reportedly have led to several deaths and hundreds of individuals being detained. Although the region will still legally be allowed to separate from Uzbekistan, the President announced that anyone calling for the region to succeed “will suffer inevitable punishment.”
What to do if you’re stuck in the region?
If you’re a tourist who is in Karakalpakstan, the best thing to do right now would be head to Urgench or nearby Khiva. You shouldn’t have issues leaving the region, although you may be stopped and questioned for some time to check whether you’re a journalist or someone other than a normal tourist. Nearby Khiva, an extremely popular tourist destination, is not in Karakalpakstan and still has internet and other communications available. Likewise flights continue from nearby Urgench airport, as well as trains and the same easy road transport options.