Central Asia, situated at the crossroads of historically important trade routes, has always been characterized by religious tolerance. Some researchers say that Jews have lived in the area of modern Bukhara for 2000 years.
During the Second World War more than half a million Jews escaped extermination by moving to Central Asia. There was certainly anti-Semitism in Central Asia, both on the state and the local level, as there was throughout the USSR, but it was less serious than in Slavic republics of the USSR. When the USSR collapsed, living standards decreased, resulting in a sharp aggravation of interethnic relations. In 1989-1990, Meskhetin Turks were exiled from Uzbekistan after brutal massacre in Fergana valley; there was an attempt to create a pogrom to drive Jews and Armenians out of Andizhan, there was carnage between Uzbeks and Kirghiz in Osh region, and there was a civil war in Tajikistan which lasted for several years. These troubles were the results of the collapse of the USSR and the early stages of the establishment of independent states in the region.
In these circumstances, the Jewish population of Central Asia decreased rapidly. There were 150 thousand Jews in Central Asia in 1989, and there are approximately 20-22 thousand now. 10 Ė 12 thousand live in Uzbekistan, 8 thousand live in Kazakhstan, 1500 in Kyrgyzstan, and several hundred in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Islam has been dominant religion in the region since the ninth and centuries (before when the Buddhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism were all to be found in the region). During the first stages of state-building in Central Asia, those in power attempted to create stability by replacing communist ideology with an ideology based on Islam. However this resulted in the emergence of a number of radical schools of Islam, which escaped the authoritiesí control. In 1989-1991 years, a religious group called Adolat (Justice), emerged in Namangan, a traditional centre of Islam, under the leadership of Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani. 12 000 young Muslims joined the movement, which promoted an Islamic way of life and demanded the creation of an Islamic State in Uzbekistan when Uzbek premier Islam Karimov visited Namangan. The authorities responded with widespread prosecutions and arrests of Adolat members. The prosecutions were the most intense in Fergana valley, which has strong Islamic traditions and low living standards, especially in the period from 1991 to the middle of 1992, when the outbreak of civil war in Tajikistan created large population movements.
As a result of difficult economic condition and rivalries between different clans and groups from more and less developed regions, Islamist forces and the Tadjik population of the Pamir region fought against groups sympathetic to union with Russia. Several thousands escaping Islamists fled from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan, where they learned a great deal about fighting from the Tajik opposition. The Tajik opposition lost the civil war, after Uzbek and Russian intervention, and the Uzbek militants, with their Tajik allies, escaped, first to the Pamir and then to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Uzbek militants joined the Taliban in the creation of a reactionary society, supported by Pakistan.
In February 1998, in the Afghan city of Host, Osama bin Laden announced the creation of an international Islamic front for Jihad against Jews and Christians. Militants from Uzbekistan joined the movement. Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani, supported by radicals from Arab countries and Pakistan, formed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Analysts think that Saudi Arabia is a major source of finance for this organisation, with the twin aims of disseminating Islam in Central Asia and preventing the construction of pipelines from Central Asia which would reduce oil Saudi Arabiaís oil exports. In 1999-2000 well-armed and well-trained IMU forces of the IMU reached the Batken and Osh regions of Kyrgyzstan through the Pamir, aiming to attack the Fergana valley, in Uzbekistan. It proved to be difficult to remove the groups from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Explosions in Tashkent on February 16, 1999 have also been linked to the IMU, though some experts have also accused Hizb ut-Tahrir (see below). The IMU threat was greatly reduced after the US defeat of the Taliban and the construction of US, NATO, and Russian military bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is believed that, after the death of Juma Namangani during the overthrow of the Taliban, money supplied by foreign Islamists allowed the majority of IMU militants to move to the Fergana valley and the highlands of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and establish themselves there legally. The total number of IMU militants is no more than 3000-5000. In 2003 IMU militants and Uigur separatists from Xinjiang joined the newly organized Islamic Movement of Turkestan (IMT). According to media reports, the IMT closely coordinates its activity with Al-Qaida. At the moment, the IMT is carrying out terrorist acts and provocations in Kyrgyzstan.
Alongside the radical Islamic opposition of the IMU, which aims to carry out a military takeover in Central Asia and create an Islamic state, incorporating Xinjiang, another group Ė Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Liberation Party) Ė has operated in the region since 1995. The movement first appeared in Uzbekistan, and then, when severe government persecution forced its members to leave the country, moved to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Hizb ut-Tahrir was formed in 1953 by Sheikh Taqiuddin an-Nabhani al Falastini, Judge of the Shariat Appeal Court in Jerusalem, an aims to promote the readoption by Muslims of an Islamic way of life and the creation of a united global Islamic state, the Caliphate. After the creation of the Caliphate, it will wage war on unbelievers who refuse to accept Islam or pay a special tax. In fact, Hizb ut-Tahrir is similar to the famous Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928. It is prohibited in the countries of Central Asia, and in many other Asian and European countries, but is believed to be the largest political organization in the region at the moment. It is especially influential in Fergana valley.
After Nakhbaniís death in 1979, a Jordan citizen named Abad al-Qadim Zalum has become leader of the party. The partyís headquarters are in London, where it operates legally. The partyís multilanguage website is also produced in London. The London headquarters is headed by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, a 42 year-old Syrian, who presumably supervises Hizb ut-Tahrirís activity in Central Asia.
Hizb ut-Tahrir does not aim at a military takeover and denies accusations of violence or of preparing for violence, stating it promotes its cause through leaflets, brochures and book. Literature of this sort is published in Central Asian languages and Russian in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Two modern underground printing houses, where large numbers of leaflets, books and brochures had been printed, were found out in Hudzhand (Tajikistan) in 2003. Although the group receives foreign funding, it also gets income from the requirement that each member contributes 10% of his income to the party, and encourages private businesses to provide money. The party also attempts to infiltrate power structures. According to experts, there are approximately 15 - 20 thousand Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Uzbekistan. About 5000 - 7000 party members are in prison Ė as human rights advocates frequently compain, even suspicion of belonging to a radical Islamic group circles is enough to secure conviction in Uzbekistan. In an attempt to modernize Islamic ideology, Hizb ut-Tahrir propagates a version of the Caliphate based on a market economy. The organization has a pyramidal structure which consists of 7 levels, from the chief of the organisation down to the novice. The basic unit is the cell halka (literally a part), which consists of up to 5 men who know each other only by their nicknames. Everyone swears allegiance on joining the party. All cells obey the chief of the organisation, which has cast-iron discipline. It possesses modern technologies suitable for promotion of its ideology and, according to law-enforcement bodies, carries-out military training.
Uzbek law-enforcement agencies attempt to wipe-out Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human rights advocates say that the mere suspicion of being part of radical Islamic circles is enough to be sentenced to lengthy imprisonment.
Crackdowns on Hizb ut-Tahrir have recently caused a rapproachement with the IMU. Disatisfaction with non-violent tactics has caused members to become more aggressive. Two more radical groups, Hizb an-Nustra (Party of Victory) and Akramiya have broken off from Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Hizb an-Nustra appeared in Tashkent region in 1999. The organizationís leaders think that non-violent methods will never overthrow Karimovís government, and support radical tactics. Akramiya was formed in 1996 by Akram Yuldashev, of Andizhan, who thought that the non-violent methods of Hizb ut-Tahrir, developed for Arabian countries, werenít suitable for Central Asia, and that the radicalsí first aim should be to gain power at a local level first. The contents of the radicalsí leaflets has also changed, even supporting the use of Shahid women (suicide bombers). In December 2003, the US State Department warned US citizens about the risk of attacks by Islamic radicals on hotels, foreign embassies and other locations in Uzbekistan.
Hizb ut-Tahrir disseminates aggressively anti-Semitic ideas. Here is a small abstracts from a Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflet: " Moslems!... Get rid of the chiefs, which do not pay attention to Shariat of Allah, sent warriors to Jihad and expel the Jews. There may be victims, maybe it is necessary to suffer and fight in the Jihad, and become a Shahid". Any enemy of the party is denounced as a ďJew". In such a way Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, is referred to as "Jewish kafir" (disbeliever) or simply referred to as a Jew in leaflets. Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), who abolished the Caliphate, is also called a Jew, and party members express regret that Hitler failed to exterminate all the Jews. They deny the right of Israel to exist and call for its destruction, and appeals to kill Jews are also made. The German government banned the movement on the grounds of its anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist orientation. Hizb ut-Tahrir co-ordinates with Palestinian terrorists, and some of its leaflets are translation of Palestinian leaflets. Hizb ut-Tahrir proclaims that "Jews are a cursed people," that they are a force united with the Palestinians against Jewish unbelievers, and that the Palestinian problem is their problem.
Hizb ut-Tahrirís aims to create an Islamic state and incites hatred of Jews and residents of western countries. It is also hostile to all unbelievers Ė that is, representatives of all other religions except Islam. Its ideology is reminiscent of fascism. Sadyk Safaev, Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, considers that the movement creates a basis for future terrorism. Daniyar Avdiev, chief of the analytical service of the Kyrgyz national security organisation, thinks that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a political wing of the global terrorist movement which unites Al-Qaida forces and Islamic Movement of Turkestan. Analysts and officials representing law-enforcement bodies consider that the same forces involved in attacks on New York, Moscow and Jerusalem also organized explosions in Bishkek and Osh in 2003 and in Tashkent in 1999. The Central Asian countries recognize the threat which, although it has reduced after US forces destroyed the Taliban, remains real, and are strengthening their armed forces. The armed forces of Uzbekistan, which number almost 80000, including land, air, MIA forces and the National Guard, are the most efficient in Central Asia.
IMT and Hizb ut-Tahrir are especially dangerous for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where sections of the population are attracted to radical Islamic forces by their dissatisfaction with the economy. Hizb ut-Tahrirís activity in Kazakhstan is limited to southern areas of the country inhabited by Uzbeks. There is little information about extremist Islamic forces in Turkmenistan because of the total secrecy of the Turkmenbashi regime. Radical Islamic groups operate underground in Turkmenistan, and, giving the existence of severe repression and total poverty, are potentially very dangerous.
It is safe to conclude that the regionís small Jewish communities face a real threat. Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of intensifying actions against aggressive extremists, for example at meetings in Moscow and St.-Petersburg between May 28 and 31, 2003, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, and at meetings of CIS leaders. He has warned about the danger of "ideologies of fanaticism, which grasp and poison first of all the consciousness.... of youth, transforming it into an obedient instrument". Karimov emphasized that this ideology is more dangerous then separate groups. He drew particular attention to Hizb ut-Tahrirís promotion of the idea that secular states should be replaced by a revived Caliphate.