TASHKENT -- Attempts by extremists to foment ethnic and religious conflicts will fail to disrupt Uzbekistan's centuries-long traditions of "friendship and mutual understanding", specialists and officials say.
Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the Republican International Cultural Centre (RICC) in Tashkent on January 24, Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev called inter-ethnic harmony the only way to overcome the security threat facing the country.
"At present, inter-ethnic and inter-faith tension is intensifying in various regions of the world," he said, according to his press office. Such hatred "becomes the ideological base for radical groups and movements," he added.
"Continuing to strengthen friendship and mutual understanding between people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds is becoming more and more important," he said. "That, without a doubt, serves as a solid guarantee of peace and tranquility on our soil."
Uzbekistan, a multi-ethnic state
As of January 1, Uzbekistan is home to 32.1 million people representing 16 religions and more than 130 ethnic groups, according to the government's Committee for Religious Affairs.
Large minorities include Russians, Tajiks and Kazakhs.
Uzbekistanis take pride in the multi-ethnic tolerance that has become part of their country's fabric.
"There are no inter-ethnic disputes in Uzbekistan," Yekaterina Korovina, an ethnic Russian Tashkent resident, told Caravanserai. "I haven't heard an ill word addressed to me my whole life here. Mutual respect ... makes our country different from others."
“[Extremists] have no influence in our country ... Normal people are interested in peace." Shukhrat Nizamitdinov of Tashkent told Caravanserai.
No fertile ground
Provoking ethnic or religious conflict is an integral part of the ideology of extremist groups, specialists say.
"Terrorists aren't even trying to hide the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL)'s numerous executions, massacres and repression of ethnic and religious groups on ISIL-controlled territory," said Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan, adding that extremists “would unleash genocide in Uzbekistan if [they] managed to get even the slightest influence here."
During the January 24 silver anniversary celebration for the RICC, Mirziyoyev handed over a historic downtown Tashkent building to the centre. Officials renamed the building the Palace of Friendship. They renamed the large park outside the building the Garden of Friendship.
"This is a wonderful idea," Alesya Tsai of Tashkent told Caravanserai. "This park will help us learn more about each other, and will become a daily reminder of what a friendly country we live in."
Tsai called for the city to move a revered monument to the park. The monument honours "Shamakhmudov, a blacksmith who adopted 14 children of various ethnicities during World War II", added Tsai.