Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan

Islam Karimov meets George W. Bush in 2002. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Islam Karimov rules the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan with an iron fist. He has ordered soldiers to fire into unarmed crowds of protestors, routinely uses torture on political prisoners, and fixes elections to remain in power. Who is the man behind the atrocities?

Early Life

Islam Abduganievich Karimov was born on January 30, 1938 in Samarkand. His mother may have been an ethnic Tajik, while his father was Uzbek.

It's not known what happened to Karimov's parents, but the boy was raised in a Soviet orphanage. Almost no details of Karimov's childhood have been revealed to the public.


Islam Karimov went to public schools, then attended the Central Asian Polytechnic College, where he received an engineering degree. He also graduated from the Tashkent Institute of National Economy with an economics degree. He may have met his wife, economist Tatyana Akbarova Karimova, at the Tashkent Institute. They now have two daughters and three grandchildren.


Following his university graduation in 1960, Karimov went to work at Tashselmash, an agricultural machinery manufacturer. The following year, he moved to the Chkalov Tashkent aviation production complex, where he worked for five years as a lead engineer.

Entry into National Politics

In 1966, Karimov moved into the government, starting as a chief specialist at the Uzbek SSR State Planning Office. Soon he was promoted to First Deputy Chairman of the planning office.

Karimov was appointed Minister of Finance for the Uzbek SSR in 1983 and added the titles of Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Chairman of the State Planning Office three years later. From this position, he was able to move into the Uzbek Communist Party's upper echelon.

Rise to Power

Islam Karimov became the First Secretary of the Kashkadarya Province Communist Party Committee in 1986 and served for three years at that post. He was then promoted to First Secretary of the Central Committee for all of Uzbekistan.

On March 24, 1990, Karimov became President of the Uzbek SSR.

Fall of the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union crumbled the following year, and Karimov reluctantly declared Uzbekistan's independence on August 31, 1991. Four months later, on December 29, 1991, he was elected President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Karimov received 86% of the vote in what outside observers called an unfair election. This would be his only campaign against real opponents; those who ran against him soon fled into exile or disappeared without a trace.

Karimov's Control of Independent Uzbekistan

In 1995, Karimov held a referendum which approved extending his presidential term through the year 2000. Surprising nobody, he received 91.9% of the vote in the January 9, 2000 presidential race. His "opponent," Abdulhasiz Jalalov, openly admitted that he was a sham candidate, only running to provide a facade of fairness. Jalalov also stated that he himself had voted for Karimov. Despite the two-term limit in Uzbekistan's Constitution, Karimov won a third presidential term in 2007 with 88.1% of the vote. All three of his "opponents" began each campaign speech by heaping praise on Karimov.

Human Rights Violations

Despite huge deposits of natural gas, gold, and uranium, Uzbekistan's economy is lagging. A quarter of the citizens live in poverty, and the per capita income is about $1950 per year.

Even worse than the economic stress, though, is the government's repression of citizens. Free speech and religious practice are non-existent in Uzbekistan, and torture is "systematic and rampant". Political prisoners' bodies are returned to their families in sealed coffins; some are said to have been boiled to death in prison.

The Andijan Massacre

On May 12, 2005, thousands of people gathered for a peaceful and orderly protest in the city of Andijan. They were supporting 23 local businessmen, who were on trial for trumped-up charges of Islamic extremism. Many also had taken to the streets to express their frustration over social and economic conditions in the country. Dozens were rounded up, and taken to the same jail that housed the accused businessmen.

Early the next morning, gunmen stormed the jail and released the 23 accused extremists and their supporters. Government troops and tanks secured the airport as the crowd swelled to some 10,000 people. At 6 pm on the 13th, troops in armored vehicles opened fire on the unarmed crowd, which included women and children. Late into the night, the soldiers moved through the city, shooting the injured who lay on the sidewalks.

Karimov's government stated that 187 people were killed in the massacre. However, a doctor in the town said that she had seen at least 500 bodies in the morgue, and they were all adult men. The bodies of women and children simply disappeared, dumped into unmarked graves by the troops to cover up their crimes. Opposition members say that about 745 people were either confirmed killed or were missing after the massacre. Protest leaders also were arrested during the weeks following the incident, and many have not been seen again.

In reaction to a 1999 bus hijacking, Islam Karimov had stated: "I'm prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic... If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head." Six years later, in Andijan, Karimov made good his threat, and more.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Szczepanski, Kallie. "Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2020, August 25). Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 11, 2021).