This article, which was published by the four leading institutional figures of the Institute of History at the Academy of Sciences in Uzbekistan, revisits the virulent discussion resulting from the publication of the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan by the Soros Foundation of Uzbekistan in 2002. After multiple debates on the internet in 2003 and the closing of the Soros Foundation in 2004, the polemic was reignited by a 2005 special issue of Moscow-based journal Etnograficheskoe obozrenie devoted to the state of ethnology in Uzbekistan. This article is a response by the Institute of History to criticisms addressed to it in the 2005 special issue of the Russian journal and a presentation of its opinions on problems raised.
The article begins with the Institute’s opinion of the Atlas, reminding of the several factual errors it identified and expressing regret over the decision to opt for entries by nationalities. Several pages are devoted to the arguments defended by Alisher Il’khamov, the main editor of the Atlas and author of the article on the Uzbeks which is at the core of the polemic. The authors reflect upon the position taken by Il’khamov on the topic of the ethno-genesis of Uzbeks; they accuse him of taking a “constructivist” approach, which they denounce as a western viewpoint, and of trying to reduce the age of the Uzbek nation for eminently political purposes. The authors remind of old historical texts which mention the “Uzbeks”, take up in their own way the theories formulated by the main Soviet historians, and assert that the Soviet regime did not “create” nations, since the latter pre-existed it.
The last part of the article is devoted to critic Marlène Laruelle’ article which had tried to put in context the violent reaction of the Institute of History to the publication of the Atlas through an analysis of the “malaise” of contemporary Uzbek ethnological science. The authors chiefly contest the idea that any ideological pressure was exercised on the Institute of History by political authorities. They also reject arguments accusing Uzbek ethnology of having problems in re-conceptualizing the idea of “ethno-genesis”, of seeking a place in the re-writing of history underway in the country, and of its including but a small number of researchers. Outraged by the tone of the special issue of Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, which they consider insulting to Uzbek national sentiment, the article's authors thus endeavour to defend the state of the social sciences in Uzbekistan but do so by ignoring the important political—and material—problems that local researchers must contend with and by defending a primarily commemorative vision of science.