Karimova gets schooled in Twitter debate

May 17, 2013

How does she manage it all?

Even though her schedule must be packed, Gulnara Karimova, an ambassador to the UN and daughter of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, still seems to find time to lecture human rights activists, though not too successfully. The 40-year old businesswoman, professor, diplomat, philanthropist, pop diva, fashion, jewelry, perfume designer and recently crowned “princess of Uzbekistan”, decided to have at it — again — with Andrew Stroehlein, Human Rights Watch’s media director in Europe.

The two engaged in a sustained and quite entertaining battle of tweets 12 May after Stroehlein posted to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Andijan massacre, in which government forces opened fire on protesters killing hundreds. In years since, the massacre has been something officials in Tashkent have had little interest in discussing – let alone acknowledging.

See the whole conversation curated here on TOL’s Storify.

Perhaps Karimova should have taken a page out of her dad’s say-nothing playbook and not engaged Stroehlein when he CC’ed her in his initial tweet. But she did, and things heated up quickly — ultimately providing a great what-not-to-do when dealing with an online troll.

But then again, what else is a princess to do? In the past, Karimova has made no attempt to shy away from Western critics, most recently dismissing reports her dad suffered a heart attack.

Earlier this year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called Uzbekistan’s rights record “atrocious” in its 2013 report. Stroehlein and Karimova have clashed in the past over Uzbekistan’s rights records.

In an interview with New Europe, Stroehlein describes the most recent interaction with Karimova as “extraordinary.”

 She was openly dismissive of the Andijan massacre and its victims. The regime has been trying to cover it up since their security forces fired into crowds, killing hundreds, eight years ago, and they’ve used torture and show trials to get witnesses to be quiet about it. But this was an additional step on top of even that.

This was the ambassador saying it’s a waste of time to even talk about it, that it was too long ago to matter, and that there are newer horrors in the world… It was an incredible insult to the victims and their families.”  

To be fair, being a real modern “renaissance woman” Karimova has her hands full with more important stuff. The princess of Uzbekistan has a lot on her plate requiring her attention, from organizing fashion weeks and perfume promotions to singing with former French actor Gerard Depardieu – not to mention that bothersome ongoing bribery investigation surrounding her and Scandinavian mobile operator TeliaSonera.

If Karimova really is to become heir to the “throne of Uzbekistan”,  taking a lesson or two in Dictator Public Relations 101 might not be a bad idea.  While it’s easy for her family to silence critics domestically, the Internet (and social media especially) can be an unending and unfiltered stream of criticism.

In nearby Chechnya, for example, strongman leader (and Instagram aficionado) Ramzan Kadyrov is having his own issues with unwanted comments. In response to the online hate, he recently announced he’s considering deleting his account, according to Radio Free Europe.

With all these poor 2.0 despots facing so much blowback on social media, maybe they need to get together for their own Web conference to discuss best practices for silencing online critics.

And they can have Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev as key-note speaker. He’s probably got some ideas of how to handle those pesky online trolls.

Front page photo from wikicommons user Timir01.

About the Author

Vladimir Matan

Vladimir Matan is an editorial intern at Transitions Online. Majoring in sociology and anthropology, his interests include media-audience relations, new media, citizen and civic journalism, media ethics and human rights.
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