Uzbekistan’s cosmopolitan first daughter documents downfall on Twitter
With allegations of sorcery and featuring a feared autocratic ruler and the downfall of an ambitious daughter, it could be one of those mediaeval verse epics for which Central Asia is famed.
But it is the very contemporary medium of Twitter that has exposed the extraordinary rift at the heart of Uzbekistan’s ruling family and the sudden fall from grace of the once all-powerful first daughter Gulnara Karimova.
Until this autumn, little information seeped out over splits within the elite of the tightly-controlled nation which has been run by Gulnara’s father, President Islam Karimov, since before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Gulnara, who managed to combine politics with a career as a pop star, fashion designer and head of charitable funds, was one of Uzbekistan’s key power brokers and seen as a potential successor to her 75-year-old father.
But that changed in October when Gulnara unleashed a broadside of tweets lamenting her fate and attacking enemies, showing she had fallen from her perch.
The latest twist came Thursday when Gulnara tweeted that police had detained several of her supporters. She said she had gone to the police station to have them freed but was not detained herself.
“What we are seeing now is that the main financial-industrial clans are joining together against Gulnara Karimova,” said Andrei Grozin, head of Central Asia studies at the CIS institute in Moscow.
“The main figures in Uzbek politics were dissatisfied with her. They saw a dangerous opponent who should be eliminated and the circumstances coincided to launch an attack against her.”
‘I want to be a poet’
Gulnara has long embraced Twitter, tirelessly plugging the songs she performs under the name Googoosha, promoting her businesses, and posting sometimes bizarre aspects of her daily life such as pictures of herself in a sequence of yoga positions.
But it was on Twitter that she revealed in late October that her media empire — including the TV channels TV Markaz and Forum TV — was being shut down by the authorities.
In an apparent all-out crackdown on her interests, more than a dozen boutiques selling Western clothes in Tashkent, believed to belong to Gulnara or her business partners were closed down on allegations of tax evasion and other charges.
She said her business associate Rustam Madumarov was arrested and the authorities raided the Nirvana music stores that he owns and have been linked to her own business empire.
She then took aim at one of the most powerful figures in the country, the shadowy head of the Uzbek security service Rustam Inoyatov, whom she accused of plotting against her and seeking the presidency. Gulnara also claimed to have been the victim of poisoning attempts “with heavy metals like mercury.”
Gulnara then renounced her presidential ambitions on Twitter, saying she wanted to be a “painter, poet and photographer.”
And in an astonishing change of image for a woman who just months before posted pictures of herself in skimpy shorts doing contortionist yoga positions, Gulnara showed herself in a Muslim dress.
‘Disappointed her father’
While Inoyatov has emerged as Karimova’s clear arch foe, it remains unclear exactly what role her father has played in her fall from grace. But in the authoritarian state, it seems impossible without his approval.
“It is possible that Karimov is disappointed in her and has decided she is not capable or loyal enough. It is possible that Inoyatov put a dossier against her on Karimov’s desk,” said Grozin.
“Distrust has emerged between father and daughter and this is now being used by everyone who is against her.”
Inoyatov would likely not be short of compromising information to denounce Gulnara, who has been dogged for years by allegations of money laundering in Europe that have already prompted an investigation in France.
In her Tweets, she has said enigmatically: “Papa has nothing to do with it? He is not VERY aware of what is going on.”
She also wrote cryptically about her mother Tatyana Karimova: “There, on the threshold, my mother is sitting and guarding.”
After her younger sister Lola Karimova Tillayeva revealed they had not spoken for 12 years, Gulnara accused her sibling of being “friends with sorcerers.”