Astonishing claims have emerged from authoritarian Uzbekistan today that the glamorous daughter of former dictator Islam Karimov has died from ‘poisoning’.
The sensational reports about ex-billionaire Gulnara Karimova – who has been locked away out of sight since her father purged her in 2013 – cannot be immediately verified.
The 44-year-old was reported several months ago to have been shut away in a psychiatric hospital, while other accounts say she was held under house arrest, and one report suggested she was living in exile in Israel.
She was prevented from attending her autocrat father’s funeral in Samarkand in September and her friends have been increasingly concerned about her fate.
The extraordinary claim comes amid a presidential campaign and the rumours could be seen as a dirty trick to embarrass the authorities.
A Central Asian news website claimed an anonymous source in Uzbek National Security Service SNB had told them Gulnara died in the capital, Tashkent, on 5 November.
Karimova-Tillyaeva announced the creation of the foundation in ain which she also explained some of the goals of the organization.
“In order to perpetuate the memory and principles of my father, my mother and I have created the Islam Karimov Foundation.
Plans for the foundation are to create a museum to the first president of Uzbekistan and to publish the works of the father-founder of our republic’s independent statehood,” Karimova-Tillyaeva said.
But the foundation isn’t to be devoted entirely to perpetuating Karimov’s post mortem cult of personality.
Another objective is to promote the historical, cultural and literary heritage of Uzbekistan inside and outside the country.
It will also organize educational and cultural programs to take full advantage of the potential of Uzbekistan’s youth, as well as train university lecturers, teachers and health workers, Karimova-Tillyaeva gushed.
“I ask the lord that he bless the soul of my father in that other world. And that in this world, all our good and noble strivings for the prosperity of our Uzbekistan be destined to be fulfilled,” she concluded.
Well may Karimova-Tillyaeva and her mother, Tatyana Karimova, pray to the lord, given that some observers had predicted the late president’s family could be in for a rough landing following the sudden death of their pater familias.
Both will be vividly aware of the plight of Karimov’s eldest daughter, Gulnara, who is believed to have been languishing under house arrest since 2013 on corruption-related charges.
Nothing certain is known of the Gulnara Karimova’s current situation or of what it is that truly landed her in trouble in the first place, although she did claim, as her life was crashing around her ears, that it was her mother that was somehow responsible for masterminding the downfall.
As it happens, the elder Karimova daughter was herself something of a self-styled philanthropist in happier times.
In the mid-2000s, she set up the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation, or the Fund Forum, with goals suspiciously similar to those outlined by the soon-to-be-formed Islam Karimov Fund — promote culture, education, arts and so on.
One key side-benefit of Fund Forum for Karimova was that she was able to swan around the world on would-be humanitarian missions, brushing shoulders with celebrities, fashion designers and other generally glamorous types. Domestically, the fund was intended to convey an image of Karimova as a compassionate figure deeply invested in national culture and the welfare of the people.
And not “the single most hated person in the country,” as she was once memorably described in a stolen US State Department cable.
For while she cast herself in a saintly light, there were many grumblings of her underhanded business practices, which she was only able to get away with because of who her father was.
If Karimova-Tillyaeva is attempting a similar charm offensive, it may be bearing fruit, at least going by the large number of Facebook comments.
Reactions were overwhelming positive, but it will depend on how the fund is run if that is to remain the case for long.
“The main thing is that the Karimov Foundation not become a heavy burden for businessmen and farmers, who are usually forced to donate money for these foundations.
This is something that Lola’s sister, Gulnara Karimova, was always very good at,” exiled Uzbek journalist Ulugbek Khaydarov told EurasiaNet.org.