INDEPENDENT ONLINE MEDIA OF UZBEKISTAN: VIRTUALLY EXILED AND STILL DOMINATED BY RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
After twelve years of independence Uzbekistan, the most populated country of former Soviet Central Asia, has not succeeded in ensuring freedom of speech and press, which makes online media the only source of true and uncensored information on political and economic life of Uzbekistan and Central Asia region.
The most independent and competent Web resources on political life of Uzbekistan are physically located outside of the country being in a state of virtual exile and are predominantly in Russian language.
The present paper discusses the current situation with online media in the country, government censorship and attempts to filter or limit access to "undesirable" Web resources; the reasons of continuing dominance of Russian language in online mass media.
It also covers activities of Ferghana.ru, one of the most popular and interesting Web sites on Uzbekistan and Central Asia.
Uzbekistan is a dry doubly landlocked country in Central Asia with an area of
447,400 square kilometers, which makes it slightly larger than California. Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan and four former Soviet
republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
In 1995 about 71 per cent of Uzbekistan's population was Uzbek. The chief minority groups were Russians (8 per cent), Tajiks (officially almost 5 percent, but believed to be much higher), Kazakhs (4 per cent), Tatars (2.5 per cent), and Karakalpaks (2 per cent).
In the mid-1990s, Uzbekistan was becoming increasingly homogeneous, as the outflow of Russians and other minorities like Jews and Germans continues to increase. Between 1985 and 1991 the number of non-indigenous individuals in Uzbekistan declined from 2.4 to 1.6 million.[Library of Congress Web site, Uzbekistan Ethnic Composition, ]
Linguistic Situation in Central Asia Before the Arrival of Russians
Central Asia was referred to as Turkestan, "Land of the Turks," since most of the inhabitants are of Turkic origin. Before the arrival of Russians Central Asia was relatively homogeneous due to the unifying effects of the Muslim religion, the common Arabo-Perso-Turkic cultural heritage, and the close similarity (phonetically, syntactically, and lexically speaking) among the various Turkic languages in the area.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1912, "Russian Central Asia
includes the two khanates under Russian protection, Bokhara and Khiva, and the Turkestan region
with its five provinces. It extends from the Caspian Sea to China, and from Siberia to Persia and Afghanistan."
[Henri Cordier. Russian
Central Asia. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, Nihil Obstat, 10/ 1/1912. Online Edition 2003 by K. Knight. ]
Uzbek is a Turkic language of the Qarluq family, closely related to Uyghur and Kazak.
Although numerous local dialects and variations of the language are in use, the Tashkent dialect is the basis
of the official written language.
Seventy Four Years of Russification and Twelve Years of Independence
Russian language has a long history of coexistence with Turkic
languages, as Russia from the very beginning of its history in the ninth century AD
has been bordered nomadic Turkic tribes: Khazars, Pechenegs and Tatars. Oljas Suleimenov
in his book "Az I Ya" discovered a strong presence of Turkic words in the text of the ancient
Russian poem "Slovo o Pulku Igoreve" ("The Song of Igor's Campaign") written in 1189 AD.
Az I Ya], [The Song of Igor's Campaign translated into English by Vladimir Nabokov: ]
During linguistic reforms in 1928-30 the Arabic alphabet was
replaced with the Latin alphabet. Then in 1940, Cyrillic was made the official alphabet with the rationale that
sharing the Latin alphabet with Turkey might lead to common literature and hence a resumption of the Turkish
threat to Russian control in the region.
Print Mass Media in Uzbekistan
The Soviet Uzbekistan had a developed print mass media network at the level of the republic, region, city and district. Newspapers and magazines were affiliated with appropriate party committees, trade unions, and educational institutions.
Internet and Online Media
Internet and the .uz domain appeared in Uzbekistan in 1995. Now Uzbek Internet is
popularly known as "Uznet" - a neologism similar to "Runet" that stands for Russian Internet.
Russian in Uznet
"The major reason of domination of Russian language is its unofficial status as the language of the most educated part of the population," says Kislov. "These are people that have been or are being educated in Russian, as well as businessmen, various specialists that still use Russian as the language of business communication and literature."
Visitors of Internet cafes can access the sites of anti-government political and/or religious groups like Muslim fundamentalist organization Hizb-u-Tahrir, sites of Uzbek opposition parties Erka and Birlik and even Kavkaz.org, the news site of the Chechen fighters.
[Matt Bivens. Uzbek Internet Something of An Anomaly. Internews,
Ratings of Uznet sites are based on estimations of separate rating sites at http://www.axiom.uz. On December 4, 2003 the Top 20 list was as follows:
Only nine of these sites are in .uz domain, but they all are in Russian language.
Case Study: Ferghana.ru
Ferghana.ru is currently the second most popular Web site in Uzbekistan. Its founder Daniil Kislov, an ethnic Russian, was born and raised in the city of Ferghana in Uzbekistan.
Articles Published at Ferghana.ru on December 3, 2003:
Articles Published at Ferghana.ru on December 3, 2003:
The forums of Ferghana.ru
"People like forums because they speak up there what they can't say otherwise in public," says Odil Ruzaliev. "The forums of Ferghana.ru are one of the most visited."
As of December 3, 2003 the most popular topics were:
Corruption in Uzbekistan.
On Islam, Oriental Mysticism and Sufism.
Government and Opposition - Who, What and How?
The Party of Farmers and Businessmen of Uzbekistan
Mass media in Uzbekistan - Watchdogs or Ideological Prostitutes?
E-mail to President Karimov.
The Hopes That Never Came True...
New Democratic Party of Uzbekistan: Conception, Projects and Discussions.
Migration from Uzbekistan: Reasons and Consequences.
America Wants to Force Uzbekistan to Protect Human Rights.
Literature, Music and Cinema: What Are We Reading? Listening to? Watching?
Woman in Uzbekistan in XXI century: What Will She Be Like?
Recreation and Tourism in Uzbekistan.
The Environmental Problems of the Desiccating Aral Asea.
Jokes, Epigrams and Limericks on Political Leaders of Central Asia.
Again About Introduction of Latin Type in Uzbekistan.
Racism in Russia.
Arrests of Turkmen Opposition Leaders.
Immigration to Moscow.
Death of Actor Javad Abidov of the Ilkhom Theater.
Uzbek Journalist Mutabar Tajieva is Hiding From Cops.
A New Rival
In January 2003 Centrasia.ru published a series of articles containing various allegations about President Islam Karimov's illicit activities and unflattering details about his past. After the publication Islam Karimov has mobilized mass media in Uzbekistan for a propaganda battle.
[Eurasianet, Karimov Struggles to Protect Image in Uzbekistan Following Internet Attacks.
"We are aimed at providing unbiased and interesting information, analyses, open discussions. We want to overcome anti-Asian stereotypes"...
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© M.Mirovalev, 2003
© Ferghana.Ru Information Agency