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Who are the Karakalpaks, residents of an unrest-hit Uzbekistan province?

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    13th Jul, 2022

Context

Several killed in crackdown on protests in Uzbekistan’s autonomous province of Karakalpakstan. The protests had broken out in response to the government’s plan to restrict the region’s long-held autonomy.

About

Who are the Karakalpaks?

  • The name Karakalpakstan is derived from the Karakalpak people, an ethnic minority group of around 2 million.
  • Karakalpak translates to ‘black hat’, referring to their traditional headgear.
  • The Karakalpaks consider themselves to be a distinct cultural group in Uzbekistan.
    • Their Turkic language – Karakalpak – is closely related to Kazak and is one of the 7 languages of instruction in Uzbekistan’s public schools.
    • Their separate language is a crucial aspect of their cultural identity.
  • In their genealogical narrative, the Karakalpaks claim to share a common point of origin with the neighbouring Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Turkmen.
  • The Karakalpaks, who live south of the Aral Sea also face serious health problems, such as increased rates of throat cancer, kidney problems and the highest infant mortality rate in the world.
    • This is because the fertilisers and pesticides that were used for cotton farming saturated the surrounding land and were carried across the region by wind blowing across the exposed seabed.

What is the region’s history?

  • The Karakalpak people settled around the Amu Darya (a river that feeds into the Aral Sea) in the 18th century. 
  • Karakalpakstan was formally recognized as an autonomous republic in Uzbekistan’s constitution of 1992, and has the right to secede from on the basis of a nation-wide referendum.
  • Violent protests broke out in the impoverished Karakalpakstan after President ShavkatMirziyoev, who has been in power since 2016, published a draft amendment to the Uzbek constitution recently, which removed the region’s right to secede Uzbekistan by a referendum.

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