The author looks into the polemics raised in 2002 by the publication in Istanbul and the distribution in Central Asia, by the Soros Foundation, under the direction of Uzbekistani sociologist Alisher Ilhamov, of an “Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan [Etnicheskii atlas Uzbekistana].” Being in fact a of dictionary of the national minorities of Uzbekistan and of the ethnic groups of the Uzbek majority, the atlas opposed the official norms on ethnic issues in Tashkent, and tried to adjust the Western constructivist vision to the question of community and nation building in Central Asia. The article first casts light on the continuity of political pressure on human and social sciences in Central Asia in general, in Uzbekistan in particular. It then examines the debates raised in 2003 by the publication of the atlas, in Uzbekistan and in other countries of the former Soviet Union (in Russia in particular), through the confrontation of the Soviet tradition focusing on ‘ethnic processes’, on one side, and on the other side practices of anthropology more informed by Western concepts (most notably by the recent reading of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities). The author analyses in detail the conservative response given by the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan on the key issue of the formation of the Uzbek people. The quibble appears as a struggle led by historians for reassessing their control over ethnological research and their hostility to ethnology’s growing autonomy under influence of sociology. The author also reminds that the debates of 2003 were taking place in a particular deleterious political climate in Central Asia, the Soros Foundation and many other Western NGOs being accused by Uzbekistani authorities to facilitate Shevarnadze’s fall in Georgia and to push forward the same political agenda in Central Asia. M. Laruelle concludes insisting on the continuous high level of politicisation of ethnological practice in Uzbekistan, and on the permanence of Soviet academic discourses and practices especially on questions of national identity.

The Redaction
CER: II-1.2.C-54