guerillas in uz


It’s Saturday night, the last of my tour with Maeve, Group of One. We had dinner with another tour group that is here in Tashkent and watching her in a group was weird and refreshing. Some of the steam that built up this tour was exhausted and part of my question, “In the end, I wonder how will I fit into the stories she tells (that annoy me so much)? ” was answered.

Emotions are running high at the moment. There are problems on the southern border here and I’m quite upset by them. In a nutshell, Uzbekistan has had a pretty stable time of it since independence. This is partly because the president, Islam Karimov, was also in charge during the Soviet period and, for better or worse, he has a strong hold on things.

This week a group of Tajik- and Afghan-trained Uzbek rebels, called Wuhabis by the Uzbeks, are infiltrating the southern border. They want the Ferghana Valley (the most fertile and populated part of Uzbekistan) as an independent Muslim state and Uzbeks support them in droves, only because of the repressive regime run by President Karimov. Over 100 Uzbeks and 60 Kyrgyz soldiers are dead and the Tajik guerillas are roaming about. Ferghana (home of Anwar, Victoria and the gownless evening strap if you recall) is now closed to everyone who isn’t registered there (i.e. doesn’t live there) as well as most roads other than the most heavily traveled tourist route from Khiva to Tashkent. The military is moving south at night, as not to upset anyone. Our tours to Ferghana are obviously off and we’re moving to what has ridiculously been termed as “Emergency Plan 3” or some such rot.

Tajikistan? It’s southeast of Uzbekistan and significantly smaller. Since independence from the USSR in 1991, Tajikistan has suffered from civil war between the current government and the more militant Islamic separatist groups. It’s somewhat war torn and life there, from what I can gather (I’ve only been through a bit three times on the train in the middle of the night), is much more difficult than in the other Central Asian republics. Particularly if you are a woman.

The Wuhabis are one of these guerilla groups. Actually, the Wuhabis are the name of a militant sect of Islam that originates in Saudi Arabia. The Uzbek government is against practicing Muslims, and they tend to call anyone who wears a beard or scarf and goes to the mosque a Wuhabi, which is not at all the case. More accurately, these miliants are called the I.M.U.—the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and what makes them so alarming is that they are quite similar to the Taliban of Afghanistan. And, like the Taliban, they are supported and funded by Osama Bin Laden.

“Oh God,” is the appropriate reaction here.

It’s been rumored by an unfortunately reliable source that the guerillas are moving into Uzbekistan now and hope to launch an all out offensive in the spring.

There are more than a few things I can’t get over. I can’t believe it’s so close and such a threat. I can’t believe that this country and these excellent people could be so close to war. Most bizarre to me is that there is no word of this in the west whatsoever. I don’t have great access to western media, but I’ll bet that the news is saturated with the Russian submarine crisis and not a word is said about Uzbekistan, a place that Putin has very good reason to pay close attention to and even protect. Even BBC world news, which seems to cover every conflict in every unknown country on the planet, hasn’t mentioned it. It’s a bit surreal.

Don’t worry about me though. I only have a week left in Uzbekistan (I know, just when it gets exiting); then I’m off to Iran.

Post tour update: I’m tired and a little dizzy. Without a doubt I could use a break. This trip was such a doozy I forgot all about computerland bliss and wrote freehand. All the characters and lifesavers running around Uzbekistan are beautiful beautiful and I have captured them in my barely decipherable script in no less than three different notebooks and heaven knows how many lists.

Not to mention Maeve the Group. If only I could figure out how to do this job without the tourists…

No rest. No, no no, no. I have to do the normal end of trip reports, then worry about the logistics (visas, itineraries, $$, chadors) of the next trip: Journey to Tehran. It begins Wednesday.

On Journey to Tehran I’ll take my group of two overland from Tashkent to Tehran. This involves leaving my beloved Uzbekistan, passing through Turkmenistan, then to Iran, where I’ll work until mid-October. I’m excited about this.

The group of two promises so much. They’re also booked on my following tour (with eight people!) so I’ll spend a month with them. John Jones arrives. At sixty-four he’s the spring chicken of the group. His roommate (thank heavens not me) is eighty-three year old Captain Clegg. Together, the three of us will make our way to Iran.

I don’t make this stuff up, not a thing. I’m tempted to attach the passenger list to prove it.

It reads:

Title: Cpt
Surname: Clegg
Birthdate: June 7, 1917


So, when do I come home? What am I doing then? Ahhh, questions I love. Questions that have begun to dance in my head because of the recent troubles with my current employer. These are too numerous to explain properly (though I’d love to) so I’ll summarize in three points. They sent me off on my last tour without money to run it. They also forgot to pre-book it. If you think this makes for a lot more work on my end, you are right. It’s incompetent and inexcusable-things are difficult enough on this end as it is. Speaking of which, today I received a revised itinerary for my next tour. It describes the transport booked from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to Mashad, Iran, a distance of at least 200 miles, quite simply: Walk.

So, I’ve considered quitting more than a few times, though never seriously. I want to get to Iran, so I’m hanging on. I’ll admit that my sorry lack of a home in NYC and the thought of looking for one right now makes a walk through the Turkmen desert with Captain Clegg not seem so bad.

Not even a camel for transport? A donkey? Don’t worry, we won’t walk. But it seems I have to figure out the transport. Not so fun. Oh well. There are worse jobs. More on that later, you can be sure.

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