A former leading armed opposition figure, a businessman and a man trusted by President Emomali Rahmon.
Former deputy defense minister and general Abduhalim Nazarzoda was all these things before his sudden and inexplicable transformation into what Tajikistan’s state media have described as a terrorist bent on sowing unrest.
In a television report aired on September 7 on state television, Nazarzoda, who is also widely known by the name Hoji Halim, was depicted as a figure of the criminal underworld. He owns three illegally built dachas in the elite Varzob area outside Dushanbe, a construction business, and severals homes in the capital, the report said. Nazarzoda also has a bakery, expropriated land in Dushabe and illegally privatized a raft of other property across the country.
Nazarzoda was one of the very few remaining former opposition warlords that had managed to hold onto the government positions granted as part of the peace agreement that followed the civil conflict of the 1990s.
He was born to a family of manual laborers on January 1, 1964, in the collective farm settlement of Guliston, in the Rudaki district, near Dushanbe.
He completed his middle school studies in Dushanbe in 1981, and from 1983 he worked at a textile factory in the city. From May 1983 to May 1985, Nazarzoda served in the Soviet army.
After that brief stint in the military, he worked initially as a laborer in a construction company and then, through the year of Tajikistan’s acquisition of independence, as the head of a warehouse facility in Dushanbe.
In 1992, Nazarzoda became an active member of protests rally movement in Dushanbe. His associates have said Nazarzoda, always an eager hunter, took up his rifle to begin waging combat that year and joined the ranks of the armed opposition as a commander.
Shootouts in Tajikistan have once more exposed the fragile stability that only stands to be threatened by government efforts to marginalize all opposition to its rule.
Raids on police stations and military bases early on September 4 appeared well-coordinated and involved individuals that only recently occupied important government posts. According to the Interior Ministry, 17 were killed, including eight law enforcement officials and nine militant gunmen.
The sequence of events is unclear, but one of the first flashpoints seems to have been at a military base near the airport in Dushanbe, where a group of people intruded and carried away large amounts of small arms and ammunition.
A report carried on the Avesta.tj news website cited accounts provided by unnamed officials as saying that this armed group then headed to the town of Vakhdat, where they attacked the local police station.
The Interior Ministry said four police officers were killed in Vakhdat.
One of the alleged attackers killed was Ziyodiddin Abdulloyev, who was a field commander with the United Tajik Opposition during the civil war and was later appointed to a post in the Interior Ministry as part of the post-conflict settlement.
In a separate attack that occurred around the same time near the airport in Dushanbe, two special forces troops and one traffic policeman were reportedly killed in a shootout. Another opposition fighter, Junaidullo Umarov, who held a position in the Defense Ministry, has been linked to that incident.
Taking a leaf out of Turkmenistan’s book, Tajikistan may soon be getting its own statue of the president.
Asia-Plus website cited veteran politician Hikmatullo Nasriddinov as saying the time has come to erect a statue in honor of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. Just for safe measure, he also proposed bestowing Rahmon with the honorific of Hero of Tajikistan, for the second time.
Rahmon is hailed by local admirers, like Nasriddinov, for his role in leading Tajikistan out of the brutal civil war of the 1990s.
“In that distant Fall of 1992, when the historic 16th session of the Supreme Council of Tajikistan was being held in Khujand, I noticed in my capacity as a deputy that many experienced politicians did not at that time want to take the leadership of the country into their hands,” Nasriddinov told Asia-Plus in an interview. “Rahmon agreed to take on this heavy burden of the country’s leadership, saying at the time: ‘I will bring Tajikistan peace and reconciliation.’”
To see where the statue proposal might head, it might be salutary to consider the example of other countries in the region — namely Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan — where leaders have professed humility only to then accept plaudits, monuments and titles.
In April, political scientists at the Pedagogical University, Nosirjon Salimi and Holahmad Sami, wrote an article in state-run newspaper Tojikiston and on the ruling party’s website arguing that Rahmon should be granted the title of “Leader of the Nation.”
The Kazakh parliament bestowed the same accolade on long-time president Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2010, changing the constitution to allow him alone to stand for office indefinitely.
Salimi and Sami said in their piece that the title could serve as a unifying impulse for the whole country.
Kazakhstan is at the center of a fresh controversy over freedom of speech, following the suspension of a hard-hitting magazine which was one of the country’s few remaining independent voices.
International press freedom watchdogs have expressed outrage over the suspension of the Adam (Person) magazine over a linguistic technicality, in a court ruling that editor-in-chief Ayan Sharipbayev says is political.
“In Kazakhstan the closure of any media outlet is a matter decided by political bodies,” Sharipbayev told EurasiaNet.org on September 2. “Of course this is connected to politics.”
He said Adam — known for its gutsy reporting and criticism of the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev — would appeal the three-month suspension handed down by an Almaty court on August 27.
When Adam registered with the authorities earlier this year (after the courts had closed a previously existing independent magazine called Adam Bol), it gave its languages of publication as Kazakh and Russian – but in fact it prints only in Russian.
The ruling was “discriminatory and utterly disproportionate,” Johann Bihr of the France–based Reporters Without Borders press freedom watchdog said in a statement on September 1.
“The use of such absurd bureaucratic pretexts is typical and cannot hide the fact that the authorities clearly want to close this publication for good because they regard it as a nuisance,” he said. “We urge them to rescind this unjust decision and to end this persecution, which has gone on for too long.”
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is on a state visit to China hoping to shore up Astana’s tight-knit relations with a key strategic partner and drum up investment for his country’s ailing economy.
With China fighting its own battles, however, it may fall short of the largesse that is being expected.
As Nazarbayev made clear during a Sino-Kazakhstani business forum on September 1, Astana is eager for Beijing to broaden its investment portfolio — hitherto concentrated in Kazakhstan’s energy sector — and start pouring cash into the industrialization projects on which the government is pinning its hopes for recovery.
“I believe this visit is a turning point in Sino-Kazakhstani ties,” Nazarbayev said inremarks quoted by his office. “For over 20 years we have been actively cooperating with China, predominantly in the energy and natural resources sectors. In the new stage, we are starting to step up cooperation in the manufacturing sectors of the economy, including engineering and the processing of resources.”
Nazarbayev said that during talks on August 31 with Xi Jinping, the host president, the two leaders signed deals worth $23 billion to set up 25 joint projects. Another 20 deals are in the pipeline, he said.
Tajikistan’s justice system has set a disconcerting precedent by jailing an independent reporter for an offense purportedly committed when he was around six years old.
Human Rights Watch in a statement on September 1 decried the two-year sentence handed down to Amindzhon Gulmurodzoda, who was convicted on charges of forgery on August 18.
A court in Dushanbe found Gulmurodzoda, 33, who was formerly a reporter from the Tajik language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, guilty of obtaining falsified birth certificate in 1989. Prosecutors also accused Gulmurodzoda of obtaining a fake passport in 1998.
“The verdict is sending a chill throughout Tajikistan’s journalistic community as yet another example of the crackdown on free speech and independent voices,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.
The jailing fits into a broader pattern of suppression of dissenting or independent voices on Tajikistan’s political and media scenes.
On August 28, the Justice Ministry sent a letter to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan informing it that it was being abolished over alleged technical violations of legislation on political parties.
Less than two weeks earlier, IRPT’s printing house was closed over claimed health code violations, Interfax news agency reported. The government sanitary standards body said workers had not undergone regular medical checks and were not equipped with uniforms or provided with medical nutrition, as required by law.
Some of Tajikistan’s myth-building is out of this world, but it has really taken that literally this time.
Khovar state news agency reported on September 1 — to mark the post-Soviet-wide “Day of Knowledge” holiday no less — that a "small planet" in the solar system has been named after Tajikistan.
This rare honor was bestowed upon the country by something called the International Astrophysicists Union for contributions made by Tajikistan’s scientists to astrophysics and the study of the heavens, Khovar reported.
A certificate confirming that the planet is definitely real and that it has certainly been named after Tajikistan was handed to President Emomali Rakhmon by the president of the Academy of Sciences, Farhod Rahimi.
Where is the planet? Khovar gives pretty specific coordinates: 250 million kilometers from earth and 436 million kilometers from the sun.
Tajikistan — the planet not the country — orbits the sun once every five years, which is coincidentally equivalent to the term of the country’s parliament. The two Tajikistans are currently at peak proximity, so Tajik scientists are eagerly peering through their telescopes to work out what’s up there, Khovar reported:
“Tajik scientists are studying its physical and chemical composition, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.”
“We are witnessing a historic event. Kyrgyzstan has secured energy independence,” he said. “We had to ask our neighbors for transit. Now, nobody will turn off our power.”
The transmission route was needed to remedy a legacy of the Soviet Union, under which the Central Asian republics were linked by power grids and readily coordinated their respective needs. As a result, electricity to Kyrgyzstan’s south passed through Uzbekistan, while northern regions were supplied through lines in Kazakhstan.
Atambayev said Datka-Kemin will not only liberate his country from dependence on neighbors, but will also free it of onerous transit fees.
“For the transit of our own electricity from one region to another region of the country through the territory of a neighboring nation, we spent millions of dollars annually,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan had limited finances to undertake the transmission line project itself, so it secured a $390 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China to build the 405-kilometer line and the Kemin electricity substation.
The work was completed by Chinese company Tebian Electric Apparatus (TBEA) over a three-year period.
The agreement had its critics, like nationalist member of parliament with Ata-Jurt party, Ahmatbek Keldibekov.
Authorities in Tajikistan have followed through in their mounting campaign against their strongest political opponent by banning the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
The statement on August 28 from the Justice Ministry was curt and categorical.
"The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan is no longer a republican party,” the statement said, according to a report carried by state news agency Khovar.
IRPT now has 10 days to wind down operations.
Authorities argue that legislation regulating the operations of political parties mandate that there be representative offices of a party in most cities and district. The Justivce Ministry said IRPT has suspected its activities in 58 cities and districts, meaning it falls short of requirements.
“So it is that IRPT cannot present itself as an all-republican party and hold its congress,” the statement said.
The writing has for months been on the wall for IRPT, the only Islamic party in Central Asia.
On the evening of August 24, officials swooped in on the party headquarters in Dushanbe on the evening of August 24 and ordered the premises to be sealed. That has forced the party to relocate their base to the home of its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in self-imposed exiled in Istanbul.
A branch of the party in the northern Sughd province was closed in July after what the government said were thousands of appeals to the Justice Ministry.
A series of videos posted online featured party members suddenly announcing their intent to resign their membership. IRPT representatives say the members were acting under pressure from regional officials.
IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini said at a press conference on August 27 that the party would not be deterred from continuing operations, however.
IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini speaks at a press conference in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, on August 27, 2015.
Authorities in Tajikistan stand accused of resorting to all means possible to prevent the only vaguely credible opposition force, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, from holding a general conference.
Officials swooped in on IRPT’s headquarters in Dushanbe on the evening of August 24 and ordered the premises to be sealed, leaving the party homeless. That has forced the party to relocate their base to the home of its leader, Muhiddin Kabiri, who is living in self-imposed exiled in Istanbul.
The official explanation for the closure of the offices was the the building is embroiled in an alleged long-term ownership disagreement. Authorities maintain that the premises are registered to a company called Tijorat, which it says acquired the real estate illegally.
The offices were closed so hastily that large amounts of personal property belonging to members, including a car, could not be retrieved.
“We hope that the office really is sealed and that nobody dares to go inside. But there is a fear that they will something there that didn’t actually belong to us,” said IRPT deputy leader Saidumar Khusaini.
Pressure against IRPT has been mounting and systematic. A branch of the party in the northern Sughd province was closed in July after what the government said were thousands of appeals to the Justice Ministry. A series of videos posted online featured party members suddenly announcing their intent to resign their membership. IRPT representatives say the members were acting under pressure from regional officials.
Efforts by the party to explain its plight at a press conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Dushanbe on August 27 ran into problems before the event could even begin. Twenty minute before the briefing began, management from the U.S.-owned hotel announced they had to cancel because of a power failure.