Hannah Styffe Women in Security

The Curious Case of Gulnara Karimova: From Uzbek “Princess” to Political Prisoner

She was at one point, the most powerful female figure in Central Asia.  Today, Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, remains with the confines of her home, where she is currently serving house arrest at the request of her own father.

Born into immense wealth,  Karimova’s upbringing was a bizarre mixture of outrageous luxury and unprecedented political and social mobility.   Educated at Harvard, she would become ambassador to Spain, Deputy Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan and Uzbek representative to the United Nations.  Politics aside, Karimova dominated the cultural scene as well.  She developed her own fashion shows, started a perfume label and even adopted the alter ego GooGoosha as a means to promote her music videos. Her business empire expanded into Uzbekistan’s oil industry and mobile phone network, racking up a net-worth of £370m, and enabling Karimova to snatch up luxury properties all over the world, including in London, Hong Kong and Dubai.

Happier times: Gulnara Karimova on the red carpet in Cannes, France.  (Source: The Atlantic)
Happier times: Gulnara Karimova on the red carpet in Cannes, France. (Source: The Atlantic)

Karimova’s dream of remaining one of the most influential individuals within Uzbekistan was short lived.  Not long after intercepted diplomatic cables labeling Karimova as being “the single most hated person in the country” were leaked, her fairytale existence took a turn for the worse.  Blamed for engaging in corruption and financial mismanagement, and denied the opportunity to a fair trial, Karimova was sentenced to house arrest where she is currently living under the watchful eye of state security.   In what is believed the be the result of a power-struggle between father and daughter, Karimova has since taken to social media, claiming that she is in need of medical assistance, criticizing her mother for engaging in sorcery, and espousing hatred towards her father’s autocratic regime.

Karimova’s arrest is not only indicative of Uzbekistan’s corrupt and unaccountable legal system, but also offers a rare glimpse into the highly guarded and closed-off political structure within the country itself.  Rich in oil, yet economically stagnant, the country’s political authority remains in the hands of President Islam Karimov and his inner circle.  Freedom of speech, press, movement or religion are strictly suppressedJudicial courts are supervised by the president himself, with members of the judiciary accountable to the will of Karimov rather than being independent.  Torture, forced labor, beatings and sexual violence are common-place.

Of its many crimes, the state is most notorious for enforcing cotton slavery, forcing men, women and children to work under harsh conditions while receiving no compensation, and being subject to abuse if they refuse, run away, or speak out against the crime.  As of 2014, Uzbekistan was listed by the Index of Economic Freedom as being one of the worst cases in the world, due to its extremely limited social, economic and political freedoms.

Gulnara Karimova under house arrest (Source: The Guardian)
Gulnara Karimova under house arrest, September 2014. (Source: The Guardian)

Its not clear what the future holds for Gulnara Karimova, and if she will ever obtain the same level of political, social and economic status that she was once so accustomed to.  Her reputation may be tarnished and her assets frozen, and the likelihood of her leveraging amnesty from the state is increasingly slim.  If there is anything to be learned from Uzbekistan’s secretive regime, it is that politics takes a clear precedence over everything, especially family values.  Hannah Styffe

Hannah Styffe
As a bilingual graduate from McGill University with a double major in Political Science and History, Hannah is thrilled to be part of the NATO Council of Canada. Born and raised in Vancouver, BC her elementary and post-secondary schooling followed the french immersion program where she subsequently worked for The Best Western Hotel and HSBC Global Asset Management before moving to Montreal to pursue her undergraduate degree. It was by taking part in on-campus clubs such as Model UN and interacting with a culturally diverse international body of students that Hannah’s interests to the field of international relations and foreign affairs were reaffirmed. The topics that she is most interested in include American foreign policy, Arab-Israeli relations and Middle Eastern affairs. When she is not focusing on foreign affairs, she likes to spend her time traveling, having recently spent the past summer visiting England, Scandinavia and Russia. As the Nato Council of Canada is most closely aligned with her interests with regards to promoting cultural, political, and economic interaction between different states, Hannah is excited to be able to contribute to the NCC’s working environment and can think of no better organization that she would like to be a part of.