Uzbekistan is a relatively unknown country to the majority of people in Britain. Most people wouldn’t know where it is on a map, let alone what goes on inside its borders. Uzbekistan is seen as a closed country, with its government heavily censoring the internal press. Very rarely do news stories make it outside its border, let alone worldwide. In the UK, we take freedom of speech for granted, like much of the rest of the world today, but in Uzbekistan, the government has become seriously over sensitive about how it is perceived to the western world and this has hindered its population’s basic human rights.
Umida Akhmedova is an Uzbek photographer who, in 2007, produced an album of images of the everyday lives of the people of Uzbekistan. The album, titled “Men and Women: Dawn to Dusk”, contains more than 100 images of Uzbek traditions and customs. The images, which are of simple and everyday scenes, have been severely lambasted by the Uzbek authorities, who have claimed the images portray the people of Uzbekistan as “backward”. The government authorities have since charged Ms. Akhmedova with “slander” and “insult“ against her own nation. The news of Umida Akhmedova’s arrest spread around the world like wildfire, being picked up by many international news providers along the way. She is facing up to six months’ imprisonment or two to three years of “correctional work”.
From Umida Akhmedova’s photographs, I gathered that the Republic of Uzbekistan is a religious and deeply traditional country with outstandingly beautiful natural scenery; a country I wouldn’t hesitate in travelling to. The moves that the Uzbek authorities made following Ms. Akhmedova’s photographs raised many questions. One was, why is the Uzbek government so sensitive about how it appears to the rest of the world?
I feel that, simply, Uzbekistan needn’t be sensitive and reactionary to potential perception of its country. From where I’m standing the reaction of Uzbekistan’s government shows a paranoid dictatorship regime which clearly has something to hide; and in so doing has banned almost all non-governmental media, including Ms. Akhmedova’s still images of simple everyday life.
In recent times, countries from the region of Central Asia have been made a bit of a laughing stock to the rest of the world: for example, the film ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’. A relatively new country on the block since the collapse of communism in the now defunct USSR, the Republic of Uzbekistan, founded in 1991, is eager to find its feet with its own identity and position in the world. I believe it is doing everything it can to shrug off the image of Borat and central Asian nations of being backward, but with this hypersensitivity I think they have shot themselves in the foot.
Uzbekistan sees itself as a potential future holiday destination for tourists from the Western hemisphere and ever increasing tourism in the region could bring in much needed capital for a young nation like Uzbekistan to stand up and be counted in our Machiavellian world. I have the opinion that Uzbek authorities are doing themselves no favours in attracting tourists or otherwise business opportunities by their actions, which have caused outrage worldwide.
It seems the self-imposed President, Islom Karimov, is possibly ashamed of his country and is doing his utmost to join the world order. I believe Uzbekistan should refrain from attempting to assimilate to globalisation and Westernisation, as it has a wonderful and unique culture which should be respected, firstly by themselves.
It could be interpreted that Uzbekistan is similar to that of an adolescent; sensitive of its appearance and uncertain of its place and future in the big wide world. It is generally thought that every adolescent should soon become accustomed to the body they live within and move onwards and upwards in the world. They should be comfortable with their possible perception and work with those around them. Young adults who figure this out first and take on an adult mentality first are the ones who reap the rewards later on in life. I am not speaking from experience, but from what I believe is common sense.
I hope Islom Karimov responds to the people worldwide, such as myself, who have signed petitions and protested for Umida Akhmedova’s immediate release. It is hard to believe that in this day and age taking photographs of everyday life can land you in prison facing a charge near to treason. Just remember how fortunate you are to live in a country with basic human rights and the freedom of speech as our own and where you would be without them. I think there’s a lot we can all learn from this debacle.
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