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Big Fat Tajik Wedding Hides Nest of Central Asian Intrigue

Screenshot from YouTUbe video uploaded by Uzbekistan 24 news agency.

Screenshot from YouTUbe video uploaded by Uzbekistan 24 news agency.

The following is a partner post from EurasiaNet.org. Republished with permission.

A lavish wedding in Moscow has drawn gasps of envious amazement even from Russians inured to garish displays of wealth.

Observers of the inner workings of Central Asian politics, however, may be more interested in the identity and background of the bride’s father, of whom little is known publicly.

But to the wedding first. Madina Shokirova has provoked jealously all around with her flowing $600,000 dress designed by British haute couture fashion house Ralph & Russo. As online tabloid life.ru reported, the dress was made of several layers of tulle, embroidered with metallic threads and inlayed with silver and several thousand pearls and Swarovski crystals.

As is customary for such events, a number of Russian rent-a-celebrities turned out to entertain the guests.

The man paying for all this was Shokirova’s father, Ilhom Shokirov. His wealth ostensibly stems from his ownership of several hotels — the high-class Grand hotel in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and several hotels outside Moscow. life.ru reported that he also has a 65 percent stake in the Demir shopping and entertainment complex in Tashkent.

And there is speculation that there are some dynastic and political dimensions to these nuptials.

A Khujand-based (second largest city in Tajikistan) writer for ferghana.ru, Aziz Rustamov, recently reported rumors that Shokirov offered up his daughter in marriage to a relative of the PM and acting president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. It isn’t immediately clear, but it is possible that this was an allusion to the wedding that just took place in Moscow.

And that isn’t the full extent to Shokirov’s match-making. As life.ru noted, Shokirov in 2010 married off his son to the daughter of Uzbekistan’s deputy prime minister, Rustam Azimov, who had been touted as a possible future president at the time. Azimov appears set to continue playing an important role in Uzbekistan, despite Mirziyoyev’s predominance.

Rustamov, the ferghana.ru writer, alludes to yet another recent wedding in the northern Tajikistan city of Isfara, again organized by Shokirov. It is likely that this was the first stage of Madina Shokirova’s wedding as monied Central Asians often stagger grand nuptials into multiple stages across different locations.

By process of deduction, it is possible to surmise this wedding was organized under the guise of a surprise visit to Tajikistan’s Sughd region by a delegation of top Uzbek businessmen and “members of the intelligentsia” on October 16-17. As officials in Sughd region told RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, the businessmen visited Khujand and Isfara to “become acquainted with the activities of industrial enterprises, companies and cultural institutions in the area.”

“The visit was unexpected, but pleasant,” Muzaffar Yunusov, a spokesman for the Sughd regional administration, told Radio Ozodi.

Although Shokirov has most of his commercial interests in Uzbekistan and Russia, he also has roots in Tajikistan, which is where he originally appears to be from, although it is also evident he has long been settled in Russia. In fact, Shokirov has had a spot of trouble in Tajikistan in the past, which might explain the element of subterfuge in the Isfara wedding.

A curious vignette is provided courtesy of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, back in 2002. Although it was far off the time when Tajik President Emomali Rahmon would have to run again for office, he was already looking around for possible rivals, the newspaper reported.

“One example is the story of Ilhom Shokirov, who is, by the way, a high-ranking official in the Russian government (!). The devil got it into his head that he wanted to return to his historic homeland to visit his parents,” the newspaper wrote.

But upon arrival in Tajikistan, Shokirov was scooped up the security services and placed in detention without access to a lawyer.

“Why did they pick him? Just because, as they believed, Shokirov planned to take part in upcoming presidential elections. Or he wanted to support somebody else that wanted to take [Rahmon’s] place,” the newspaper stated, without ever revealing the source of its reporting.

Novaya Gazeta goes on to claim that Shokirov cooled his heels in Tajikistan for at least five months, virtually without a squeak from the Russian government.

“President [Rahmon], they say, is very proud that he has a Russian in his dungeons: ‘Everybody thinks we are puppets of the Kremlin, but we have a big Russian official in our jails. And they just put up with it,’” Novaya Gazeta writes, citing a putative Rahmon in what sounds like a largely impressionistic account.

In any event, Shokirov must subsequently have been released and gone on to greater things, but it is hard to imagine he does not bear a grudge against his former captor, which makes the wedding in Isfara all the more remarkable.

For all that little is known about this intriguing web of facts and half-facts, there is much about which to speculate wildly. An immensely rich businessmen with purported ties to the Russian government, close family ties to the most influential men in Uzbekistan and a bone to pick with the leader of Tajikistan? What could be more tantalizing?

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