While non-Uzbeks living in Uzbekistan have not been denied citizenship, the official concept of Uzbekistan as the state of the Uzbeks leaves little scope for ethnic minorities to express their separate identities. However, as Russians have always played a major role in the Uzbek economy and the Russian language is predominant among Uzbek officials, Russian schools and cultural institutions have not been suppressed.
It is hard to gauge the potential for unrest of the largest minority, the Tajiks. Many in Bukhara and Samarkand are bilingual in Uzbek and Tajik, and value their Tajik culture. Protest demonstrations in those cities in 1988 suggest that some Tajik speakers do have deeply felt grievances, even if they have been much more cautious about voicing them.
Uzbek security forces reportedly drove IMU militants out of the Surkhandarya area in 2000, minefields were placed on the border, and about 5,000 residents (mostly Tajiks) of border villages were resettled. Some residents were convicted and jailed for aiding the IMU. Subsequently, border and customs controls were eased, and exiles from Surkhandarya were allowed to return to their villages. There were a number of incidents where Tajik herders unaware of the mines planted in the border area were accidently killed. This created tensions between Tashkent and Dushanbe.
Conflict among regionally based sub-groups of Uzbeks
Perhaps more important than inter-ethnic tension is the potential for conflict among regionally based sub-groups of Uzbeks. Politics in Uzbekistan as a struggle between three groups of politicians:
- The eastern group, from the Fergana Valley
- The western group, from Bukhara or Samarkand
- The Tashkent group
- These groups are also said to predominate in each of the power ministries, specifically the Tashkent group in the SNB (former KGB) and the Samarkand/Bukhara group in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.