Monday 9 April 2018

What did I think of Uzbekistan?

Tashkent is a very eery, quiet place with wide roads, few cars and few pedestrians. The Bradt Guide said Samarkand was bustling but it was nothing of the sort. It too was almost deserted. Neither city had a centre or much life.

The mosques were beautiful, over-restored for the benefit of tourists but empty of worshippers. Islam I felt was repressed by the Communists much more than was Christianity in other parts of the Soviet Union and this repression continues now, though

much less than previously. In Brezhnev's time a few people attended the mosque but only a few. Many more do so now on Friday but when you enter a mosque it feels like a museum.

Communist Russia hypocritically complained about colonialism while her own colonies were inconspicuous because contiguous with Mother Russia. What a shame, I said to a guide, that the Russians not the British conquered the Uzbeks. She thought it a shame that anyone had. 

I began to say what a good legacy the British left in India but then thought of Pakistan and fell silent.

The Uzbeks 
are the nicest people you will ever meet and because tourism is on a small scale they treat foreigners with great grace and kindness. They wear wonderful hats and costumes but they have been Russified and Bolshevised. It feels sad though I like the Russian flavour.

The twenties and thirties were a period when Communists did incalculable damage to Uzbekistan and the whole Soviet Union. It seems a tragedy that England and France did not lend enough support to the Whites to overthrow the Bolsheviks, though we have seen since the turn of the century the problems caused by interventions for idealistic reasons in other  countries.

Samarkand does not need more than 24 hours. In fact five are enough. This was one reason that I got a guide to drive me for two hours over the beautiful Zirafshan mountains to Shakhrisabz. Shakhrisabz I knew was almost unvisited. And its monuments are impressive but in 2003 all the buildings and houses beside the mosques and fortress were demolished to be replaced by a park and big houses. There are now several empty hotels and water sprays swivel over lawns. There are almost no tourists (I saw two young Irishmen). I felt this was a parable for the whole country.

Every Uzbek I spoke to is glad that their country is independent. They know that it is badly governed but naturally like to be ruled by their compatriots however bad the rulers are. They are too old fashioned to know that national independence is out of date. They were grateful to President Karimov for peace and I thought of the fate of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Order is more important than freedom and Uzbeks know that.

An Afghan who left his country for Pakistan and now imports oranges into Uzbekistan told me that Uzbekistan is paradise, the people law abiding, honest, lovely. He had a pretty second wife in Bukhara. 

One Uzbek told me that he spoke to an Afghan who had fought in the Mujaheddin and now thinks the period when the Soviets ruled Afghanistan was a golden era. The Mujaheddin only fought the Russians, he said, because the Americans paid them to.

1 comment:

  1. My findings were broadly similar to that, although I did find that Samarkand, outside the historic part, really was relatively bustling (far more so than Bukhara or Tashkent) - in the fashion of a provincial town, sure. Possibly an excessively lengthy circumnavigation of the city by taxi (caused by our intended train from Bukhara having been rescheduled to an hour earlier without our having been given any notice...) meant I saw far more of the actual living city than I strictly needed to....
    Dominic Heaney