Tajik authorities say they are probing gunfights that killed at least four people and sparked antigovernment protests in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan Province. The government in Dushanbe blames the violence on local drug dealers. Protest leaders, however, say the latest crisis has much deeper roots in the autonomous region that was the scene of deadly clashes in 2012.
What sets Badakhshan apart from the rest of Tajikistan?
Known in Tajikistan as "The Rooftop of the World," Gorno-Badakhshan is an autonomous, mountainous province in eastern Tajikistan.
Gorno-Badakhshan makes up nearly 45 percent of Tajikistan's territory but only 3 percent of the country's population lives there.
Most of Gorno-Badakhshan's population of 250,000 are followers of Ismailism, a branch of Shi'ite Islam, while most people in the rest of Tajikistan consider themselves Sunni Muslims.
Gorno-Badakhshan is home to a number of languages and dialects that belong to the Pamiri language group. While Tajik is the official language in the province, Pamiri languages -- such as Shughni, Rushani, Bartangi, and Yazgulyami -- remain the local population's common, everyday languages.
What sparked the recent violence?
Khorugh, the administrative center of Gorno-Badakhshan, was the scene of a deadly gunfight on May 21 that killed four people and sparked antigovernment protests.
Tajik authorities say a police operation against a small group of drug dealers led to the shoot-out that killed a policeman, two alleged drug traffickers, and a civilian bystander. Several people, including civilians, were injured and taken to the hospital.
The gunfight led to protests by local residents who condemned the police's handling of the operation in a downtown residential area. Several buildings, including the provincial police headquarters, were set on fire by angry protesters.
What are the protesters' demands?
Protesters are demanding a thorough and fair probe into the May 21 events. They also want the authorities to dismiss the heads of regional law enforcement agencies, and not to prosecute those involved in setting fire to administrative buildings.
Officials have rejected the demand to release those believed to be responsible for setting the buildings ablaze.
Besides concrete demands connected to the latest events, Gorno-Badakhshan residents have more long-standing grievances that have led to the crisis, says protest leader Alim Sherzamonov.
The last time Gorno-Badakhshan was in the headlines was in 2012, when government forces clashed with militants. Is there any connection between those clashes and the recent violence?
Dozens, including many civilians, were killed and injured in clashes between government forces and local militants in June 2012 sparked by the fatal stabbing of a high-level security official.
Sherzamonov accuses the government of continuously fabricating "pretexts to eliminate those the authorities believe were involved in the 2012 clashes."
Protesters say they believe the authorities "have blacklisted up to 200 Gorno-Badakhshan residents, mostly young men, in connection with the 2012 events." Sherzamonov says protesters demand that the authorities "fully pardon" them.
How far back does this mutual mistrust between Dushanbe and Badakhshan go?
The crisis in Gorno-Badakhshan is described by protest leaders as "long-standing and deep-rooted."
While everyone insists there is no mood of outright separatism among protesters, they have reiterated demands for "more autonomy."
Sherzamonov says the local population is suspicious of Dushanbe's policies in Gorno-Badakhshan, especially the appointment of people from other regions to high-level government posts in the province.
They want all governors -- provincial and district -- in Gorno-Badakhshan to be elected by the local population.
They are demanding that high government positions, including heads of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system, be given to residents of Gorno-Badakhshan.
Language issues remain another sensitive topic. A lack of programs in Pamiri languages on national television and radio has long caused discontent in Gorno-Badakhshan.
Many in Dushanbe, in turn, regard the region with some suspicion.
People in Gorno-Badakhshan have more loyalty to Ismaili spiritual leader the Aga Khan than to President Emomali Rahmon, says Dushanbe-based analyst Saimuddin Dustov.
The Aga Khan Foundation has been involved in multimillion-dollar investment and charity projects in Gorno-Badakhshan and other parts of Tajikistan, but the Ismaili spiritual leader has stayed out of politics there.
Dustov says that while there is mutual respect between the Aga Khan and the Tajik government, there has never been real trust between them.
By Farangis Najibullah and RFE/RL's Tajik Service
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