Slavery Unending in Central Asia

Every few years, the West notices that there are many major centers of slavery in the world, and then forgets about them. It is apparently again time to note that the Central Asian former Soviet Republics — especially Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — are some of the worst in the world, unabashed homes of atrocity.

The recent outrage is over the renewed reminder that the two countries engage in open slavery of children, civil servants, and the poor to pick their cotton crops:

On January 21, Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) released its assessment of the 2013 cotton harvest (by email): “Tens of thousands” of Turkmen, many of them public sector employees, were forced into the fields during the harvest. “Forced labor is still widely practiced throughout the country,” the report – authored in collaboration with the Cotton Campaign, an international advocacy group – said.

The findings support reporting last autumn from Radio Free Europe’s Turkmen Service, which said that teachers were shepherding their students to the cotton fields on an “unprecedented” scale, with girls as young as 10 spotted picking cotton.

Uzbekistan is already known for its slave cotton; Turkmenistan is not a newcomer to the practice either. Yet these are only the tips of a terrible iceberg, the smallest part of the human trafficking, forced labor, conscription, and other barbaric practices that have reverted to their pre-Soviet form. (In Soviet times, they had the good grace to make everyone slaves, or at least make a show trial or two to get the slave populace they needed.) Anyone with experience in the region can see obviously Uzbek and Turkmen women being bartered to NATO and Russian military in transit, and a huge portion of the semi-permanent prostitute populace is composed of these poor women and children.

The entire affair is a depressing reminder of two facts. First, history is not a one-way street toward progress and democracy. Those countries that are working toward Western ideals, however haltingly, are the good ones. Whatever their failings, they not only try, they care about the West’s and the broader world’s perceptions, which drive them to greater growth. But the satrapies of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan do not care, and they do not adapt. And so medieval brutalities are commonplace.

The second terrible fact is that out of sight is out of mind. The nations that once worked the world over to end brutality and slavery barely notice any longer. They have either resigned themselves to a world always half-in and half-out of night; or do not particularly care in the first place.

And so next year’s cotton crop, and the year after’s, and so on, will be harvested by slaves. Slaves will be sold and used for their flesh and discarded or killed before they turn 30. The world will little notice or care, and a dark part of the Earth will grow a little darker.

Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons