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“New” Modern Tashkent: a City of Dreams or a Post-Soviet Colonial Anti-Historical City?

«Philosophy of new Tashkent is to show the population and the whole world strength of the new government, which seeks to become “modernized”. Government authorities understand “modernity” in a way of struggle with history, and discontinuity with tradition. The population is imposed by a new way of thinking, which is highly based on praising the existing system», – notes Bakhtiyor Alimjanov, participant of CABAR.asia School of Analytics, Candidate of Historical Sciences, and an independent researcher from Uzbekistan, in his article for CABAR.asia. 


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A brief overview of the article:

  • Over the past 150 years, Tashkent has become an “imperial” object of “modernization“, which is losing its historicity, and transforming into a city of “ultimate modernization / Europeanization”;
  • Philosophy of new Tashkent is to show the population and the whole world, strength of the new government, which seeks to become “modernized”;
  • In the Soviet period, Tashkent had the importance of an international city of the East. In the post-Soviet period, the city turned into a republican ideological center;
  • In recent years, there is the degradation of urban culture in Tashkent observed, since the process of de-urbanization is taking place within the city population.
  • Despite the fact that Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan, in terms of tourism, this city remains somewhat apart from tourist flows and serves only as a “transit” point.

Over the past 150 years, Tashkent has changed its image, lost its “Asian character,” and increasingly turning into the dream city of the republican elite. The residents of Tashkent are also changing. The city has grown and a class of “new” and “old” Tashkent residents has appeared. Despite all the efforts of the authorities, Tashkent ranks 203rd in terms of comfort level among the cities of the world.[1] Hence, a question arises: to what extent is Tashkent “modernized” and “historical”? How do people in Tashkent live and “modernize”? Will the new post-Soviet architecture be able to find its place in the history of the city? How will this affect the tourism potential of Tashkent?

The problem of “old” and “new” Tashkent

Tashkent began to change its image and Europeanize in the colonial period (from the second half of the 19th century), when it was divided into “new” and “old” parts.[2] In the Soviet period, the “new” part of the city began to grow rapidly due to the development of new territories and by virtue of the “old” city, (the 1966 earthquake “helped”). Consequently, the “old” part of the city is gradually being destroyed, the city authorities decided to partially destroy (the renovation program) the entire “old” city and “modernize” Tashkent until 2030.[3] Thus, over the past 150 years, Tashkent has become an “imperial” object of “modernization”, which is losing its historicity, and turning into a city of “maximum modernization / Europeanization.” Perhaps the “imperial modernization” of the tsarist and Soviet authorities implied a “rational” modernization of the city, which meant the preservation of “specialness” in Tashkent. In contradiction to the colonial imperial projects, modern authorities are standing for a tough “modernization” that will erase all historical memory (the result of renovation).[4]

Architectural features of the “new” Tashkent

Mahalla Ukchi, on the site of which Tashkent City is being built. Photo: gazeta.uz
Due to the architectural projects of the “new” post-Soviet authorities, modern Tashkent is rapidly changing. The modern architecture of Tashkent reminds of a mini neo-imperial style that in some way resembles the ancient Roman style, which does not fit into the history of the city. In the neo-imperial style, white color and columns dominate, resembling Roman greatness (classicism). Unlike ancient Roman originals, the Uzbek imperial style combines Stalin’s architectural taste. The “old” neighborhoods in the city-center of Tashkent (for example, the Ukchi Mahalla, on the site of which Tashkent City is being built) are being destroyed, and high-rise buildings of a new type are being built.

Philosophy of new Tashkent – is to show the population and the whole world, strength of the new government, which seeks to become “modernized”. Government authorities understand “modernity” in way of a struggle with history, and discontinuity with tradition. I would call this style “neo-colonial” or “neo-imperial”, when a “new” thinking is being imposed on the population, which is based only on the praise of the existing system. That is, the city of dreams for the elite, and not for the ordinary citizen (a vivid example is Tashkent City). Thus, I want to note that the experiments of the authorities for the last 150 years have turned Tashkent into an “imperial” object, which is turning the city more and more into the dream city of the “modernization” elite of the whole country.

Is Tashkent the country’s ideological center or development model?

In the Soviet period, Tashkent had the importance of an international city of the East. Tashkent proudly bore the name “Star of the East.” Unlike the Soviet period, Tashkent in the post-Soviet period turned into a republican ideological center, from where new cultural trends spread throughout Uzbekistan. At the same time, Tashkent itself became an object of cultural “modernization”. Tashkent as the capital began to attract the most active people from all over the republic. Cultural “modernization”, i.e. the desire to be “modern”, and the choice of a certain lifestyle, did not correspond to the economic situation in the country. In this regard, there was a cultural issue. The arriving specialists had little contact with the “old” residents of Tashkent and created cultural “autonomies” (Khorezmians, Bukharians, etc.).

Thus, Tashkent accumulated various “autonomies”. Cultural “autonomy” gave rise to “social” autonomy, in other words, there was a slow socialization of those who came to work in Tashkent. Also, the “new” residents of Tashkent did not break ties with their region, took wives from their regions and preserved their culture and customs. Cultural and social “autonomization” was artificially maintained by the authorities in order to preserve its influence on these new groups. The infamous registration institute created the phenomenon of “new” Tashkent citizens – they are considered to be “the chosen ones and the darlings of fortune.” All of this brought the “new” Tashkent residents to the fact that they are more sympathetic and supportive towards the government’s actions in comparison to the native “old” residents of Tashkent.

Decolonization of the urban space

Tashkent is quickly adapting to “modernity”, which is the expression and consequence of the construction boom of the tsarist and Soviet periods (scientific term – “colonial practices”). Let’s philosophize on the topic of urban space and how people interact with architecture. I put forward several points:

  1. The “modern” city opposes modernity (decoloniality), recreating neo-colonial spaces to strengthen its power over modernity. This can be traced in the construction of different city and rash destruction of historic buildings.

The resistance of urban spaces and its residents is a characteristic of any manifestation of the explicit decolonization of the space philosophy. The resistance of the space and the non- historical nature of the urban population hinder the process of decolonization, creating the illusion of the presence of modernity.

  1. The ubiquitous of modernity, is perceived and illusive. It is fascinating like a mirage, but gives nothing to the imagination of real spaces. As a result, decolonization constantly slips away from comprehension and shifts to a dream that is expressed in urban architecture.
  2. The distortion of the ideas of decolonization in the architecture of the city perpetuates the imagination of the coloniality of reality. In such cases, modernity becomes something solidified and an ideology that operates with history, and not living people.
  3. Urban space becomes a living cemetery for transit people, who are confident that they have “modernized” in the image of a frozen urban space called the imagination of “modernity”. We live in an urban space where all forms of architecture coexist, resistance to history and modernity. In this situation, residents of Tashkent feel uncomfortable and insecure.

Archaization of Tashkent or its residents?

Related material: National brand image, social classes and cultural heritage in Uzbekistan
Tashkent’s urban culture has changed a lot in the last decade after the collapse of the USSR. The main reason for the transformation of Tashkent’s culture lies in the economic and social changes that have taken place in society and in the country. In recent years, there has been a decline in the urban culture of Tashkent, as the process of de-urbanization is taking place within the urban population. The indigenous population of Tashkent is “retraining” for other professions. The level of education among the “indigenous” Tashkent population is falling. Because of this, “urban” professions were taken by agriculture and the trade sphere. The majority of the “indigenous” population in many cases – grows agricultural products themselves, and sells them in the market on their own.

As a result, major changes have taken place in the culture and worldview of native Tashkent people.

Patriarchal and conservative views on life are growing among the indigenous population of Tashkent. Although, according to their lifestyle, indigenous people of Tashkent strongly imitate everything “western” and feel completely “modern”.
Indigenous population of Tashkent does not see the inconsistency between “traditional” and

“modern”. They explain this “contradiction” by pursuance of “beautiful” life. This is a kind of defense mechanism to survive the modernization.

There is a synthesis of modern and traditional. In such cases, where moral criteria of behavior are lost, wealth and success become key measures of a human. The base of self-identification for the Tashkent residents is their belonging to a “tribe” of Tashkenters that no longer live in “old” Mahallas of Tashkent.

To be or not to be tourist in Tashkent

“Philosophy of new Tashkent – is to show the population and the whole world, strength of the new government, which seeks to become “modernized”. Photo: gazeta.uz
Uzbekistan is gradually becoming the tourist capital of Central Asia. Tourists are mainly attracted by Bukhara, Khiva and Samarqand. Despite the fact that Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan, in terms of tourism, this city remains somewhat apart from tourist flows and serves only as a “transit” point. Tashkent has become a transportation corridor, from where tourists are traveling to other “historical” cities of Uzbekistan.

The main reason why tourists are “ignoring” Tashkent is the lack of necessary information about the historical monuments of the capital and the underdevelopment of the museum business. It should be understood that the modern museum – is not just a frozen artifacts. This is a constantly updated system that requires investment and human capital. The local population can also be part of the tourism business so that they could maintain the historicity of their residential buildings and be living witnesses of antiquity.

To develop the tourist attractiveness of Tashkent, it is necessary to create “connected” stories. For example, the buildings of the banks from the tsarist period are still preserved in Tashkent, Samarkand and Kokand. A single tourist route on the historical monuments of banking in Uzbekistan can be created. Potential investors will understand that Uzbekistan has a successful history of economy, where at the beginning of the 20th century more than 40 branches of commercial banks of Russian and European financial institutions have flourished.

What should be done?

“New” Tashkent needs to develop modern infrastructure. There are several tasks for the authorities and business:

1) To develop “convenient” space for residents, so that they could feel proud of the city;

2) To create the philosophy of Tashkent: not only as an example of modernization, but also as a center of modern culture;

3) To destruct the registration institute and to create positive image of the “new” Tashkent resident;

4) To develop the tourism industry.

The implementation of these tasks will help to strengthen the status of Tashkent in the global space, not only as one of the cheapest places for life, but also as a comfortable city at least among the CIS countries.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

[1] https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2019/03/13/ranking/ (date of access 12.04.2019); https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/2019-quality-of-living-survey.html (date of access 12/04/2019).

[2] V. Nielsen At the origins of modern urban planning in Uzbekistan (XIX – early XX centuries). Tashkent, Publishing house of literature and art, 1988.

[3] ] http://review.uz/ru/news/economy/ustanovlen-plan-razvitia-taskenta-do-2030-goda (date of access 12.04.2019); https://drive.google.com/file/d/1MS9pv5zHP0laYlfXIaIZluQuB8vpGGRZ/view?fbclid=IwAR1Vixe5qLHsYaBWHdXmno-HcHuKvCUaN4gdqXLRZFIaIv9edC8F3R0l46w; https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2019/02/18/mirzo-ulugbek/?fbclid=IwAR34gE3DsAOeGUmRsLKGUV4-dP2YtOLmcYAGNF2l6XYWc3wwqeGO_HDW8 (date of access 12.04.2019);

[4] https://mytashkent.uz/2019/03/04/spisok-100-zdanij-tashkenta-kotorye-hochetsya-sohranit/?fbclid=IwAR0sCyGD_t9x8Q8loyWE3YJl_mXhz3ZZ6C9mju6kkp622l44R3hScLAh4IE (reference date 04.12.2019); https://www.spot.uz/ru/2019/01/25/chakar/ (date of access 12.04.2019).

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