For Immediate Release: September 14, 2001
Contact: Julie Shaw, 202-939-2211


Revisiting the Twelve Myths of Central Asia
Martha Brill Olcott Examines Excuses
Used by Central Asian Leaders
to Dismiss Poor Results in Economic and Political Reforms

After ten years of independence from the former Soviet Union, security risks in Central Asia have risen rather than abated, and most Central Asian countries have stagnated rather than progressed. In a new Carnegie Endowment working paper, Central Asian expert Martha Brill Olcott looks at the myths that the leaders of the five Central Asian states?Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan?have used to dismiss the disappointing results in economic and political reforms. Read the full text at:

Revisiting the Twelve Myths of Central Asia
Working Paper No. 23, by Martha Brill Olcott

The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington this week make one myth and its long-term ramifications especially timely. Olcott advises Central Asian leaders and U.S. policy makers not to take indiscriminate action based on the belief that "Islam is fundamentally dangerous and must be contained" (Myth Eleven). Central Asian leaders are not formally against Islam but are wary of revivalist or fundamentalist Islam, she notes. However, in trying to contain Islam, Olcott writes that the region?s "governments could inadvertently trigger social explosions." Regarding the recent attacks on the United States, she says separately from the paper that a military response is to be expected, but cautions: "Indiscriminate attacks on peaceful Islamic groups could create the roots for further terrorism."

Olcott also examines the myth that "international agencies and organizations will provide sufficient support and assistance to preserve the governments of Central Asia" (Myth Four). "As leaders of newly independent states, the region?s rulers turned with real expectation to the international institutions and agencies for help in meeting the challenges of economic, political, and social reform that lay before them," Olcott writes. However, it is important for them to realize that most of the assistance money from the United States, Europe, and Japan has a strong commercial agenda, which could be threatened if the security climate sharply deteriorates in the region. Nonetheless, she writes: "It is impossible to predict what form assistance would take in the case of an external threat."

Olcott first examined a similar set of twelve myths as the region approached its fifth anniversary of independence in a paper entitled, "Twelve Myths of Central Asia." This is also available online.

Martha Brill Olcott is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She is the author of The Kazakhs (Hoover Institution Press, 1987) and of the forthcoming book, Kazakhstan: Unfulfilled Promise (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002).