Uzbekistan Country Report
Travel to the landlocked Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan (population 29 million) requires some preparation and precaution on the part of a foreign visitor. The political and security conditions in this former Soviet state should be considered.
AREAS TO AVOID
Areas bordering Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan should be avoided at all cost. The border with Uzbekistan is also a potential flashpoint and uncontrolled border areas may be landmined. Borders are subject to closure without notice.
Following the death of authoritarian Islam Karimov in early September 2016, interim leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, previously prime minister since 2003, won a presidential election victory in November 2016 by a wide margin. Western monitors reported signs of fraud; while the election administration took measures to enhance transparency and the proper conduct of the election, the limits on fundamental freedoms led to a campaign devoid of genuine competition.
Since his accession to power in November 2016, current President Mirziyoyev greatly criticized the relative absence of rule of law and the feeble judiciary, healthcare, and education systems. So far, Mirziyoyev yielded the impression that long overdue change may be coming to one of Central Asia's most repressive states. Mirziyoyev initiated a diplomatic shift in the region, notably with the improvement of bilateral relations with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Tensions had run high since 1992, when a five-year civil war erupted in Tajikistan and spilled over into Uzbekistan. Several rounds of negotiations to resume direct flights between Uzbekistan's capital city of Tashkent and Tajikistan's capital city of Dushanbe had failed amid tense relations under former President Karimov. Nonetheless, in terms of foreign affairs - and since relations between Uzbekistan and the West deteriorated considerably in the spring of 2005 after the Andijan massacre - Mirziyoyev is largely following the political course of Karimov, not joining any international military alliances and not hosting any foreign military bases, along with not stationing its troops abroad.
The next legislative elections will be in 2019 followed by presidential elections in 2021.
Despite Uzbekistan's reputation as a hotbed of Islamic militancy, terror attacks in the country are extremely rare. Islamic militant groups have no substantive presence within the country. However, it has been assessed that transnational terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recruits Central Asians in the Ferghana Valley, shared between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, whose porous borders make it easy for insurgents to pass between countries. Most Uzbeks joining international terrorist organizations are those who work in Russia and lured to the Middle East or Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan suffered suicide terror attacks in 1999 and 2004 in the capital Tashkent, and again in 2009 in the Ferghana Valley, which the authorities attributed to Hizb-ut Tahrir - a banned Islamist extremist but largely non-violent group that sought to establish a worldwide caliphate. Since these events, religious fundamentalism has come to be seen as a potential threat to state security, and measures to control religious, terrorist, and extremist activism have increased. As such, popular tourist sites including Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, and Noukous are safe.
Karimov's staunchly secular government was successful at suppressing any signs of what it saw as Islamic militancy. Notwithstanding a very restricted religious freedom that restrained Uzbeks to follow their Muslim faith in a way that conformed to state directives and acquiesced to state-approved mosques and imams, it can be argued that Karimov's religious repression led to very few madrassas - conservative Islamic schools used by Islamist militants to spread their radical agenda and recruit new followers - being formed in the country. Only 10 such schools are reported for all 30 million Uzbek inhabitants, a low figure compared to 112 such institutions in the neighboring Kyrgyzstan and its 6 million inhabitants.
Although the violent crime rate is relatively low, including in the capital Tashkent, the risk of theft is high. Muggings, pickpocketing, robberies, theft of unattended bags and purse snatching are common in crowded places, including bazaars and public transportation. Police presence, however, is very strong throughout the country.
As a consequence of Uzbekistan's weak state of economic development, hotel and transit infrastructure is limited throughout the country. Fuel shortages occur from time to time.
The poor condition of roads in the country and the sometimes dangerous driving habits of locals can make driving in the country rather risky.
High rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as limited civil liberties, have fueled an anti-government movement which has so far been strongly repressed by the Uzbek authorities. Late President Karimov concentrated a great deal of power in his own hands after 27 years in office, which gave way to a notoriously authoritarian government. Uzbekistan scored very low in terms of press freedom and perceived corruption; it found itself amongst the 17 worst countries internationally for religious freedom - under Karimov, the predominantly Muslim country's staunchly secular government appeared eager to suppress any signs of what it saw as Islamic militancy - and was amongst the 15 countries with the highest number of journalists jailed. Notwithstanding these worrying statistics, Uzbekistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs announced in early July 2017 that the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, banned from entering the country since 2010, could be soon welcomed back in Uzbekistan, provided the NGO does not interfere in the country's current affairs and respect the "Uzbek stance on democracy."
Prior to departure, travelers should subscribe to a health insurance policy covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of a significant or urgent health issue.
The risk of exposure to malaria exists from June to October in some villages located in the southern and eastern parts of the country bordering Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Cases of tick-borne encephalitis may occur, particularly in wooded areas. Cases of leishmaniosis occur regularly. Exposure to animal rabies is a prevalent health risk in the country. Various cases of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever were also reported in recent years (Karakalpakstan and Samarkand regions).
Diarrheal diseases are relatively frequent in Uzbekistan.
The HIV prevalence rate is relatively low in Uzbekistan: 0.2 percent of the population are reported to have the disease. Tuberculosis is a common health risk in the country.
Uzbekistan is located in an active seismic zone. There are regular tremors, but the last significant earthquake to cause major damage in Uzbekistan was in 1966.
Visitors should note that in this Islamic republic, religious beliefs and practices are closely respected, particularly in rural areas; travelers should exercise common sense regarding this dynamic when in public.
Uzbekistan's climate is continental with hot and dry summers and cold and dry winters. Temperatures can fluctuate greatly, even over the course of a single day.
Summers can be scorching (40°C, even 50°C in the south). Winters are cool (5°C to 10°C) during the day in most of the country, but freezing in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan which is exposed to Siberian winds. The climate is pleasant only in the spring and in the months of September and October. The country receives the majority of its rainfall in March-April and October-November, principally along the country's reliefs.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +998 Police: 02 Fire Dept.: 01 Ambulance: 03
Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz
Uzbekistan: Eid al-Adha expected to begin September 1
TIMEFRAME: from 8/31/2017, 12:00 AM until 9/1/2017, 11:59 PM (Asia/Tashkent).
Uzbekistan: Samarkand International Airport closed for month of July
TIMEFRAME: from 7/1/2017, 12:00 AM until 7/31/2017, 11:59 PM (Asia/Samarkand).