Introduction: Conflicts in Central Asia

Introduction: Conflicts in Central Asia

Communist and Post-Communist Studies 40 (2007) 123e127 Editorial Introduction: Conflicts in Central Asia In 2005,...

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Communist and Post-Communist Studies 40 (2007) 123e127


Introduction: Conflicts in Central Asia In 2005, the Program of Research and Training for Eastern Europe and the Independent States of the former Soviet Union (Title VIII), administrated by the Department of State, supported a new initiative of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) at George Mason University e the series of Policy Seminars on Conflicts in Eurasia (PSCE). PSCE aimed to increase the depth of knowledge and understanding of existing and potential ethnic and religious conflicts in the greater Central Asia region. In February 2005, a multidisciplinary group of 10 scholars gathered at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution for their first seminar to discuss the continuing problem of sectarian, ethnic, and cultural conflict in the Central Asia area. Each Fellow was actively engaged in individual research projects from a broad range of perspectives: economic development, political issues, ecology, education, migration, and gender. During the course of the program the Fellows came together as a group for two seminars (February 17 and May 6, 2005) and the final conference (October 14, 2005) to exchange ideas and information, to discuss and update one another on the progress of individual research projects, and to develop the collective analysis of conflicts in Central Asia. This special issue represents the results of this stimulating, complex, and open-ended discussion about the social, economic, ethnic and sectarian conflicts in the five Republics of Central Asia. The idea behind the seminars was to bring together scholars with a particular interest in the sources and dynamics of conflicts in Eurasia under the roof of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, with its more than 20 years of history and expertise in all regions of the world. The participants included historians, educational scholars, anthropologists, political scientists and sociologists from different states of the US. Their individual research projects were arrayed in different subjects, including education, migration, women issues, succession, ecology, terrorism and oil industry. They also differed significantly in methodological orientations, with some relying primarily upon survey data, some on existing data, and others almost solely on ethnographic interviews. These differences in experience and training became the advantage of the program and brought some new and helpful insights into the problem of social conflicts in Central Asia. 0967-067X/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University of California. doi:10.1016/j.postcomstud.2007.04.003


Editorial / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 40 (2007) 123e127

Over the course of our program, in face-to-face seminars and through electronic communication, we discussed different views and approaches to conflict structure and dynamics, their sources and implications. The articles that follow can be viewed as a collective intellectual map of existing and potential conflicts in Central Asia. Despite differences in approaches and methodologies, all articles show the importance of two trends of conflict causation in the region. One group of factors reflects the inability of the state to deal with economic problems, the declining of support of the social sector, including education and health care, the growth of social and economic inequality, unemployment, and the gap between social groups in countries of Central Asia. The competition for scarce resources, economic deprivation, and high levels of anxiety and depression in society have all resulted in the increasing readiness for conflict. The second group of conflict sources rests on the complicated process of national identity building in all five independent states of the former Soviet Union. The movement from totalitarianism to political pluralism is connected to the construction of a state and the reshaping of national identities. Most of the post-socialist and postSoviet national identities are now political and are defined by the state that leads to an ethnic definition of nationality (Korostelina, 2005, 2006). In Central Asia national identities were built on the basis of borders’ drawing1 upon a mix of indigenous cultures and Soviet ideology. Thus, the republics of Central Asia achieved statehood prior to acquiring a coherent sense of national identity and nation-building became a political project executed by authoritarian elites. Political elites have pragmatically accepted the concept of Soviet nationalism by constructing a new meaning of national identity within the boundaries created by Soviet cartographers. This process has had several consequences, including minority grievances that provoke the activity of national minorities and their proclivity to initiate conflicts (Brubaker, 1996) and extreme approaches to raising Islamist movements. As Kelman (1997) points out, the establishment of new states engenders incentives for homogeneity and thus systematic efforts to marginalize or destroy ethnic or religious ‘‘others’’. Another effect of national identity building is lack of compelling ideology and developed value systems, absence of definite goals, and collective ambiguity. This uncertainty has made populations and even states prone to external influences, including ideological, religious, and sectarian pressure. The volume opens with Mark N. Katz’s overview of the sources of potential revolutions in Central Asia, followed by the articles written by Dmitry Shlapentokh and Gawdat Bahgat, who analyzed the state of competition and cooperation in the regions as well as external ideological and economic influences. The articles by Andrei Korobkov and Douglas L. Tookey present regional trends that characterize societies in the Central Asian states. Reuel R. Hanks, Karina Korostelina, and Alan J. DeYoung examine the roots and dynamics of conflicts in particular countries including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. 1 According to ‘‘National Delimitation’’ plan (natsional’no-gosudarstvennoe razmezhevanie) in 1924e1925, ethnic boundaries corresponded to administrative boundaries with the idea to create territorial and linguistic nations on the Western model.

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Mark N. Katz in his article, ‘‘Will there be revolution in Central Asia?’’, provides a stimulating examination of the situation in Central Asia in light of different theories of revolution. He analyzes the state and impact of different indicators on possible conflicts, including several types of relative deprivation, the political structure of the state, the process of ‘‘state breakdown’’, the willingness of the existing authoritarian regimes to use force against their opponents, and other internal and external factors (factors of what?). The author stresses that all the Central Asian republics are, to varying degrees, clientelistic/patrimonial in structure, since appointments in all of them appear to be imposed from the top and none of the remaining authoritarian regimes in Central Asia seem interested in initiating a democratization process. He concludes that revolution can be expected to occur throughout Central Asia, with Kyrgyzstan just happening to have experienced it first. In his article, ‘‘Dugin, Eurasianism and Central Asia’’, Dmitry Shlapentokh analyzes the views and influence of Alexander Dugin, one of the most influential present-day Eurasianists who advocates for a broad alliance between Russia and the countries of the Middle East. Shlapentokh argues that these ideas reveal a good deal of ambivalence and uncertainty and a great sense of Russia’s geopolitical isolation. Perceiving the basic differences in values between the USA and the Eurasian countries, Russia tends to play one of the crucial roles in Eurasia, connecting the various Eurasian empires into one entity that could face American pressure. Central Asia lies at the crossroads of such influences and faces conflict persuasions from both Russia and the US. According to the author, Central Asia is considered as essential for the creation of the Russian Eurasian alliance that can confront the USA. Another dimension of external pressures is described in Gawdat Bahgat’s article, ‘‘Prospects for energy cooperation in the Caspian Sea’’. He highlights two main problems that reduce the possibilities of collaboration in the region: the debate on the legal status of the Caspian as to whether it is a ‘‘sea’’ or a ‘‘lake’’, and the controversy about the construction of pipelines. The author stresses that the main point of contention is around status: the uneven distribution of potential oil and natural gas. Therefore, after more than a decade since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the five littoral states of Central Asia have not agreed on the status issue. Additional factors of destabilization in the region are the lack of adequate pipeline systems to ship the region’s oil and gas to global markets, as well as domestic corruption and ethnic divisions. Bahgat concludes that these obstructions have negatively affected the investment climate and the development of energy resources in Central Asia. The strong regional trend e migration e is analyzed by Andrei V. Korobkov in his article, ‘‘Migration trends in Central Eurasia: politics v. economics’’. The author argues that together with the stimulation of the new conflicts resulting from the influx of large numbers of labor migrants and ethnic aliens in the receiving states like Russia, migration has become a mechanism of market transition, providing for the economic survival of the population under crisis conditions and weakening the socio-economic tensions in the poorer countries. Among the main sources of conflict, he shows the decline of living standards and growing unemployment, connected with the ethnic concept of national identity, the growing differences among the NIS countries in living standards and levels of socio-economic development,


Editorial / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 40 (2007) 123e127

and the lack of faith by a large segment of the post-Soviet population in the state and its ability and willingness to help its own citizens. Douglas L. Tookey analyzes another dimension of security risks in Central Asia: environmental challenges resulting from either a scarcity of natural resources or environmental degradation. In his article, ‘‘The environment, security and regional cooperation in Central Asia’’, he analyzes three examples that highlight environmental challenges as well as possible regional conflict. Thus, the willingness of Turkmenistan to build a giant lake that decreases the availability of water to Uzbekistan could challenge the relations between the two countries and affect stability in Central Asia. As the author stresses, the traditional notion of security and stability has to include the influence of environmental stresses and their connections with poverty and population growth in the region. The conflict in Uzbekistan between the regime of Islam Karimov and the ‘‘Islamists’’ is analyzed in Reuel R. Hanks’ s article, ‘‘Dynamics of Islam, identity, and institutional rule in Uzbekistan: constructing a paradigm for conflict resolution.’’ The author shows that, since 1999, the Uzbek state has experienced more religious violence directed against it by ‘‘extremists’’ than any other former Soviet republic in Central Asia. Among the causes of violence, he emphasizes the ideological differences and the desire for political control as well as political uncertainties of the post-Soviet era and the lack of a tradition of civil society. As a result, the ‘‘re-Islamization’’ of society in independent Uzbekistan and the growing tendency to see Islam as the core concept of Uzbek national identity, has led to the conflicts in the social, cultural and political spheres. In my article, ‘‘The system of social identities in Tajikistan: early warning and conflict prevention’’, I apply the early warning system that centers on social identity on the current situation in Tajikistan and analyze different aspects of identity that contribute to or reduce the readiness for conflict. Thus, salient regional identity increases the possibility of tensions; the impacts of the moderately salient national identity as well as Muslim identity are reinforced by high level of ingroup primacy. Muslim identity has both depictive and ideological modes of its meaning. Depictive mode reflects traditional culture and values and decreases the readiness for conflict. Ideological mode of Muslim identity meaning rest on understanding of Islam as ideology and has high potential for conflict. Cultural and reflected forms of Muslim identity reduce conflict intentions while mobilized form of Muslim identity contributes to the readiness for conflict. Acquired nature of Muslim identity and ethnic conception of national identity are also the factors that increase the conflict intentions. The intergroup factors including outgroup threat, relative deprivation, and security dilemma contribute to the readiness for conflict while low level of intergroup prejudice reduces the possibility of tensions. Thus, the early warning model based on social identity can help to predict and prevent possible conflicts in Tajikistan. The process of degradation of education in Kyrgyzstan is analyzed in the article ‘‘The erosion of Vospitaniye (u) in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan: voices from the schools’’ by Alan J. DeYoung, who shows that the formal organization and many objectives of Kyrgyz schools today remain unchanged from Soviet times. Despite changes in the meaning of national identity, social uncertainty and economic decline, teachers

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are still required to emphasize Vospitaniye as the most important goal of education. The author discusses the problems of schools in Kyrgyzstan, including the country’s economic collapse over the past decade, falling attendance rates and resource shortages, difficulties in finding and retaining teachers, school leadership problems, and ambiguity among the young generation that does not have any ideological bases or definite goals. My colleague Dennis Sandole concludes the volume with an assessment of the eight contributions in terms of their overarching commonalities, and in the process, seeks to integrate insights into coherent ‘‘generic’’ whole. As recent publications in the field of international conflict have shown, political action and intervention in conflict situations are most successful when policymakers are able to develop broad-based understandings of the tendencies and patterns presented in a variety of cases, while at the same time remaining attentive to the ‘‘distinctive’’ and even ‘‘idiosyncratic’’ features of a particular context in which action or intervention may be required. What we perceive as a main result of our collective work and what we hope the readers will acquire, is an appreciation for the usefulness of different approaches to the study of conflict sources and dynamics in the region of Central Asia.

References Brubaker, R., 1996. Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the new Europe. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Kelman, H.C., 1997. Nationalism, patriotism, and national identity: social-psychological dimensions. In: Bar-Tal, D., Staub, E. (Eds.), Patriotism in the Lives of Individuals and Nations. Nelson-Hall, Chicago. Korostelina, K.V., 2006. National identity formation and conflict intensions of ethnic minorities. In: Fitzduff, M., Stout, C.E. (Eds.), The Psychology of Resolving Global Conflicts [Three Volumes]: From War to Peace (Contemporary Psychology). Praeger Press. Korostelina, K.V., 2005. The impact of national identity on conflict behavior: comparative analysis of two ethnic minorities in Crimea. In: Tiryakian, E.A. (Ed.), Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflicts, Peace Processes: Comparative Perspectives. De Sitter Publication, Whitby, ON.

Karina V. Korostelina Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, 3330 N, Washington Blvd., Truland Building, 5th Floor, Arlington, VA 22201, USA Tel.: þ1 703 993 1304; fax: þ1 703 993 1302. E-mail address: [email protected] Available online 14 May 2007