This collaborative research project – co-funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) – brought together experts from several universities. It examined in a theory-oriented and comparative way transnational processes of ethnic differentiation and inter-ethnic relations in four states where Uzbeks form a significant minority. Three of these countries – namely Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – have in recent years experienced conflicts of varying scale, in which Uzbeks have been involved. Kazakhstan, which so far has been spared from serious inter-ethnic tensions, will serve as a kind of control case.
The aim was to compare patterns of conflict and political mobilization within and across international borders. It was asked when, why and how ethnic differentiation became relevant for social and political action, how this was shaped by national politics and the distribution of resources, and how this influenced the composition of social networks on the ground. By comparing Uzbek communities in different locations where violence has erupted or not, it was possible to look at the impact of state politics, development and humanitarian action on local identities and inter-ethnic relations.
The investigation was guided by anthropological approaches selecting one specific field site in each of the four countries to be included and conducted on three principal levels: 1) conceptualization of Uzbek identity in relation to the overall ethnic configuration; 2) patterns of social interaction and distribution of economic as well as political resources (including those provided by migrants and humanitarian organisations); and 3) strategies of mobilisation by political leaders and ethnic entrepreneurs.