Fresh fighting over the weekend in eastern Tajikistan has heightened fears that the mountainous region, home to a disaffected ethnic minority and lucrative drug-trafficking routes, faces another cycle of violence this summer.
At least one gunman died early Saturday in an attack on the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security, the GKNB, in Khorog, authorities say. Two other attackers, who reportedly fired Kalashnikovs and hurled a grenade at the building, were injured and are in hospital. The GKNB has called the attack the work of terrorists, suggesting it is planning a forceful response.
The violence follows a shootout on May 21 between alleged drug dealers and police that left at least two dead. That set off a rampage in Khorog, with residents – angered at what they called the authorities’ heavy hand – burning government buildings, including a police station, the prosecutor’s office and a court building.
Late last week, according to local media, thousands of Khorog residents rallied to demand an investigation. A statement distributed by local civil society activists called the May 21 violence a government attempt to “create an atmosphere of fear and blind obedience to power.” Fresh on their minds is an unexplained, weeks-long military operation in 2012 that left at least 22 locals and as many soldiers dead. Activists also demanded an investigation into those events.
At least two people were killed in Tajikistan’s troubled eastern mountain town of Khorog on May 21, local news agencies reported, citing unofficial sources. Murky cases of violence are nothing new in the area: Khorog was the epicenter of a military operation in 2012 that killed dozens, including at least 22 locals, but was never clearly explained by authorities.
In one version of today’s events recounted by the Asia-Plus news agency, a shootout started when police attempted to arrest a brother of local warlord Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, leaving two supporters dead and a police officer in serious condition. In response to that, and possibly some subsequent arrests, angry residents reportedly burned down the police station. Estimates of the crowd varied from several dozen to 700.
Fergana News cited the head of the regional branch of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Alim Sherzamonov, as saying that riot police opened fire “without warning” when they encountered some sort of unofficial local powerbroker. "Spot checks of tinted[-windowed] cars were underway in the city; a car was stopped. The policemen began arguing with the driver, but then the OMON [riot police] came and opened fire without warning,” Sherzamonov said. “One person was killed on the spot and two injured. They opened fire because the guys in the car had informal power in the city. Weapons were used by one side only – the OMON."
An alarmingly high number of people have reportedly been injured in another interethnic clash on the undemarcated Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border overnight. As usual, media and officials in both countries are pointing fingers at the other.
According to the Kyrgyz Border Service, a clash involving 1,500 local residents started late on May 7 in Jaka-Oruk (by the Tajik village of Hoja-Alo), when Tajiks began throwing stones at Kyrgyz cars. Tajiks also burned a Kyrgyz gas station, a shop and two cars, the Border Service said in a statement. Nine people have been hospitalized, one in intensive care. Kyrgyz sources put the total injured at about 30.
Tajik officials say the Kyrgyz started it. “Clashes broke out after a group of young, drunk Kyrgyz men threw stones at a car belonging to a resident of the Tajik village of Vorukh,” an unnamed Sughd Province official told Dushanbe’s Asia-Plus news agency. He said seven Tajiks were hospitalized with head injuries and one received an injury from a hunting rifle.
Kyrgyz villagers are still blocking the only road connecting the Tajik exclave of Vorukh with the Tajik mainland, says Asia-Plus, reporting up to 60 injured total. That road runs through de facto Kyrgyz territory. Last night Tajik villagers blocked the road connecting Batken, the largest nearby Kyrgyz city, with Kyrgyz territory to the west. Vechernii Bishkek, citing Kyrgyz officials, reports that road is now open again.
Led by a flag bearer hoisting an image of Jesus, and six drummer girls in purple satin, about a thousand supporters of various nationalist causes marched for what they called “Russian May Day” in northwestern Moscow on May 1.
Young and old, men and women shouted, “Russia is for Russians,” “Glory to the Russians,” and angrier slogans, such as “get out, black dirt” – a reference to migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Indeed, it was migration that seemed to unite this broad swath of rightwing Russia.
“Russian citizenship for Russians. No to handing out citizenship,” some chanted. “Who are we? Russians! We are the power here!”
Several of the groups also yelled, “Cancel 282” – that is, Article 282 of the criminal code, which prohibits inciting ethnic hatred. Each of about 10 groups had its own flag, including a black-yellow-and-white-striped banner used briefly by Tsarist Russia in the 19th century. Other banners incorporated white power symbols. (The kolovrat, seen in several images above on a red flag, is sometimes called the Slavic swastika. Adopted by some rightwing groups, others defend it as an ancient pagan symbol for the sun.)
Tajikistan’s economic minister has one of the toughest jobs in his government: attracting foreign investment to the impoverished Central Asian country, which ranks poorly on international corruption and business-development indices.
Shortly after midnight, Bishop Pitirim of Tajikistan marks the start of Easter by leading several hundred faithful outside, each carrying a burning candle, to circle The Church of St. Nicholas in Dushanbe.
New statistics show migrant labor remittances are now equivalent to over half Tajikistan's GDP, crossing an important psychological threshold and emphasizing the Central Asian country's vulnerability to external shocks.
The impoverished country has long been the most remittance-dependent in the world, with cash transfers accounting for approximately half of the economy. Migrant transfers totaled more than $4 billion in 2013, the equivalent of 52 percent of GDP, the World Bank said in its most recent migration and development brief. That figure was 45.5 percent in 2010 and 48 percent in 2012. In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, the second-most dependent on remittances globally, remittances stayed level at the equivalent of 31 percent of GDP.
Both formerly Soviet countries are believed to have sent over one million migrants abroad, mostly to Russia and, to a lesser extent, to Kazakhstan. Remittances are also critical in neighboring Uzbekistan, which receives about one-third of all Russian wire transfers sent to former Soviet republics, accounting for the equivalent of about 16 percent of GDP last year.
Officials in Tajikistan do not like to acknowledge migrants’ importance to their economy. Last year the National Bank said it would stop reporting remittance data, claiming the information could be “politicized.” (The World Bank’s numbers come partially from Russia’s Central Bank.) Other officials have downplayed the role and number of migrants, apparently attempting to deny Tajikistan’s utter dependence on Russia.
A man wearing a cowboy hat and an American-flag shirt sits astride a Pershing missile. His face has been peeled away, exposing his skull. Nearby, a Kyrgyz grandmother in traditional dress, a naked child and a Russian Orthodox priest, among others, demand, in English, “No more Hiroshimas!”
The ruling coalition in Kyrgyzstan’s five-party parliament that collapsed on March 18 has reunited, comprising the same three parties.
“Unity Before Happiness,” as the last coalition was known, fell apart when Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev led his party out of the alliance after fighting for months with Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiyev over the fate of a Canadian-owned gold mine. Satybaldiyev spent much of his time in office battling accusations of corruption. But such recriminations are so frequently leveled within Kyrgyzstan’s parliament that its members are widely seen as more concerned with personal enrichment than tackling Kyrgyzstan’s urgent economic problems. (A poll of 1,500 Kyrgyz conducted in February found 75 percent believed parliament was either “very corrupt” or “somewhat corrupt.”)
Nevertheless, on March 31 the Social Democrats, members of Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys came together to form the lofty-sounding “For Strengthening Statehood” coalition.