VIOLENT PROTESTS IN 1992 BEFORE THE TAJIKISTAN CIVIL WAR

DEMONSTRATIONS IN DUSHANBE IN THE SPRING OF 1992

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The government coalition struck first. On 6 March 1992, the pro-opposition mayor of Dushanbe Maqsud Ikromov, was arrested on charges of corruption. On 11 March 1992, one of the Rastokhez leaders, Mirbobo Mirrahim, was sentenced to two years of imprisonment for defamation of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Safarali Kenjaev. On 25 March 1992, Kenjaev convened the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and led televised investigations into the Interior Ministry, particularly its failure to act against anti-government demonstrators in September 1991. Kenjaev’s efforts were focused on the head of the ministry, Mamadayoz Navjuvonov—an ethnic Pamiri. Kenjaev’s investigation recommended that Nabiyev dismiss Navjuvonov, ‘for blatant violations in personnel policy, inept leadership, connivance in illegal privatising of state-owned vehicles and personal immodesty’. The government attacks on Navjuvonov led several hundred Pamiri members of La’li Badakhshon—who viewed the firing of Navjuvonov as an ‘intolerable insult to their nationality’ — to start demonstrating in Shahidon Square against the government and in support of Navjuvonov. Navjuvonov himself also framed his case in regional-ethnic terms and ‘accused the Government of persecution towards the Badakhshani [Pamiri] people’. The mood amongst some Pamiris, at least in their home region, had already been quite confrontational earlier in the winter. In December 1991 demonstrators organised by La’li Badakhshon in Khorugh gathered and demanded that the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) declare independence and recall its deputies from the Supreme Soviet in Dushanbe. A compromise was reached with local authorities, who agreed to declare the Pamirs an autonomous republic within Tajikistan. A motion was passed by the GBAO soviet and then sent to Dushanbe for ratification (which never materialised). [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The opposition saw this as a good time to counterattack. The Pamiri demonstrators were soon joined by supporters of other opposition parties, including the DPT and the IRP. This began the next phase of the opposition alliance, the first being for the November 1991 presidential elections. As in September 1991, reinforcements from rural areas of Gharm and Qurghonteppa were brought in, and very soon the number of people in Shahidon Square reached 3000. On 27 March 1992, Shodmon Yusuf (DPT), Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda (IRP), Davlat Usmon (IRP), Tohir Abdujabbor (Rastokhez) and the chairman of La’li Badakhshon, Amirbek Atobek, on behalf of the participants of the meeting, put forward a list of demands, which included: the resignation of Kenjaev; the release of Ikromov from custody; dissolution of the Supreme Soviet; adoption of a new constitution; organisation of multi-party elections to the new legislature—the Majlisi milli; and cessation of reprisals against the opposition. The leaders of the young political groups that developed in Tajikistan were, as noted by Akiner, ‘inexperienced and prone to adopt extreme, uncompromising positions’. These tactics were soon to be employed by the opposition at Shahidon Square. The opposition’s initial demands escalated, and by mid April the opposition began to make increasingly radical demands, including the resignation of Nabiyev. ><

“The ability of the opposition to coordinate effectively in a unified manner against the government—in addition to being a by-product of the government attacking all elements of the opposition at once—was, in the opinion of Kilavuz, thanks to the mediating efforts of Qozi Turajonzoda, ‘who established links between formerly unrelated opposition groups’. The IRP, however, contributed the most to the demonstrations at Shahidon Square, as this organisation had a strong network extending into many rural areas, unlike their allies. The IRP leadership was able to mobilise support through mullahs at mosques and collective farms, with the Turkmeniston farm—the home base for then IRP third-in-charge, Sayid Abdullo Nuri—mentioned most prominently. While some demonstrators came to Shahidon willingly—and expressed their enthusiasm—IRP-affiliated mullahs coerced those less enthusiastic with threats of religious penalties.” ><

Government Response to the Spring 1992 Demonstrations

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Nabiyev, Kenjaev and Dustov urgently summoned representatives of the power agencies in order to make an inventory of what forces they could count on. The results were not encouraging for them: 1) the state councillor, Major General Bahrom Rahmonov, disclosed that Nabiyev’s edict on the creation of a 700-strong national guard, dated 22 December 1991, was never implemented, and that the National Guard servicemen who took an oath in January 1992 in front of Vice-President Dustov were in fact disguised Russian soldiers assembled to ‘intimidate the opposition’; 2) the chairman of the Defence Committee, Major General F. Niyozov, reported that he had received 37 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and other heavy equipment, which, however, could not be used for lack of trained personnel; 3) the military commissar of Tajikistan, Major General M. Mahmadjonov, said that he had prepared lists of 1000 officers and NCOs of the reserve ready to be drafted; further questioning revealed that those lists contained only names, without addresses, military qualifications and personal data, and, henceforth, were useless; 4) the deputy minister of interior, Major General A. Qahhorov, deplored the preponderance of Gharmis and Pamiris in the police force, who not only refrained from active action against the demonstrators but deserted to them in whole units, following Shodmon Yusuf’s appeal; 5) the Committee for State Security (KGB) chairman, General A. Stroikin, proclaimed the neutrality of his officers in domestic strife and expressed the personal opinion that the opposition meeting was not a ‘serious business’ anyway; ) the Border Troops commander (under CIS/Russian jurisdiction), General L. Martovitskii, said that his soldiers would not interfere in Tajikistan’s domestic affairs under any circumstances; ) the Dushanbe military commandant, also the commander of the Russian 201st Motorised Rifle Division (MRD), Colonel V. Zabolotny, explained that without explicit permission from the president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, and the commander-in-chief of the CIS Armed Forces, Air Marshal E. Shaposhnikov, he could not help the government of Tajikistan in any way. ><

“Having no desire to acquiesce to the protesters’ demands and unable to resort to coercion, the government set up the Committee for Protection of Constitutional Order (CPCO) on 28 March 1992, which comprised activists from Leninobod, Kulob and Hisor. On 1 April 1992, they organised a mass meeting in support of President Nabiyev and the Supreme Soviet. Thus, two permanent sit-ins came into existence in Dushanbe: one in Shahidon Square backed the opposition, and another in Ozodi Square, in front of the Supreme Soviet, supported the government. ><

“In Shahidon Square slogans of political pluralism, freedom of the press and human rights may have been uttered, but, as a correspondent of the Russian reformist newspaper Nezavisimaia gazeta observed, “[T]he vast majority of the ‘democrats’—bearded people in peasant robes and skull-caps—had a weak understanding of political intricacies and quite often did not understand the very word ‘democracy,’ but during confidential conversations eagerly told the correspondent that they had been instructed to come to the meeting by a mullah. ><

“The ‘defenders of the constitutional order’, assembled only a mile away, had been mobilised by traditional leaders in a similar fashion. In the village of Avangard in the Bokhtar raion, the chairman of the local soviet together with the village mullah explained to the residents in plain words that the government did not send grain to the village any longer because of ‘non-Muslim mullahs’, democrats and ‘Rastokhezis’; the CPT used to feed them, but once the ‘Rastokhez mullahs’ came to the fore, their dinner table went empty; Turajonzoda was the ‘puppet of Iranians’, but, inshallah, Nabiyev assisted by Russian soldiers would dispose of him. After this fiery pep talk, enthusiastic crowds boarded buses and lorries and motored to Dushanbe to join the Ozodi Square meeting. Demonstrators were soon able to affect government business in Dushanbe. In particular, the new session of the Tajik Supreme Soviet started on 11 April 1992 but immediately voted to suspend until the demonstration ended. By 12 April, Nabiyev—increasingly frustrated with the negotiating tactics of the opposition—remarked on radio that their demands ‘are increasing day-by-day’.” ><

Opposition Protestors Takeover the Tajikistan Parliament

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “On 12 April 1992, Qozi Akbar Turajonzoda and six Sufi leaders announced their support for the opposition. The number of protesters in Shahidon Square had swollen to 50 000 by then. The government was plunged into panic, and a split in the ruling coalition emerged. Two Kulobis who held a personal grudge against Nabiyev, Davron Ashurov and Hikmatullo Nasriddinov, resigned from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. Akbar Mirzoev, on the pretext of illness, real or feigned, withdrew from the power struggle. On 19 April, Nabiyev gave demonstrators an ultimatum to leave by the next morning or security forces would use ‘more drastic measures’; however, no ‘drastic measures’ materialised, either because security forces were unwilling or because Nabiyev was bluffing. Whatever the case, Nabiyev would likely have appeared increasingly ineffective and weak. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“On 20 April 1992, the thirteenth session of the Supreme Soviet commenced, which was supposed to find a solution to the political crisis. On 21 April the Supreme Soviet passed a vote of confidence in Kenjaev (‘against his resignation’). In response, the same day, armed squads from the opposition occupied the parliament building and took some 20 people hostage, including 16 MPs and two deputy premiers. Safarali Kenjaev, either as a response to the taking of hostages or as a result of his inability to control the capital, resigned and opposition forces withdrew. On the morning of 22 April, the hostages were released and the opposition was granted many of their other demands, besides just the resignation of Kenjaev. While these concessions ended the opposition’s round of protests, they also re-initiated pro-government demonstrations, which began again on 24 April in Ozodi Square, where protesters—many of them Kulobis mobilised by the Kulobi mullah Haydar Sharifzoda and the Kulobi underworld figure Sangak Safarov—demanded Kenjaev’s reinstatement, the removal of Turajonzoda as Qozi of Tajikistan and the rescinding of concessions granted to the opposition. ><

“As a response to, or emboldened by, the Ozodi Square demonstrations, the government appointed Kenjaev to chair the State Security Committee (the KGB successor). Kenjaev replaced Anatolii Stroikin, who was blamed by vice-president, Narzullo Dustov, for not preventing the taking of deputies as hostages. Kenjaev’s appointment resulted in the opposition restarting its demonstrations in Shahidon Square. There were now two very large, sustained demonstrations in the capital making demands from the government in opposition to each other. By 29 April, when the Supreme Soviet finally met—and postponed the session the same day due to the lack of a sufficient number of deputies —as many as 100 000 people were on the streets demonstrating. At the same time, a third demonstration with about 7000 people was initiated by a group of Dushanbe residents and tertiary students at Sadriddin Ayni Square, demanding an end to the first two demonstrations. ><

“On 30 April 1992, Nabiyev introduced direct presidential rule in Tajikistan, but both the opposition and Nabiyev’s confederates ignored it. All elite factions hastily armed themselves, and their leaders negotiated directly, bypassing the president. Kenjaev and Dustov met with Turajonzoda, Khudonazarov held talks with Haydar Sharifzoda, and, generally, the political process in Tajikistan degenerated into a squabble amongst region-based strongmen. In Davlat Khudonazarov’s words, ‘the political antagonism was reflected externally through inertia (a red flag with hammer or sickle for the government, a tri-colour banner for the opposition), but it was regional antagonism that was rapidly gaining strength’. On 6 March 1992, Mirzo Samiev and Abdullo Ochilov, the only two Leninobodis in the DPT top leadership, left their party and joined Nabiyev’s camp. That same month the Kulob regional organisation abandoned the DPT. Charoghi ruz, the de facto publication of the ‘liberal’ opposition that used to preach national unity of the Tajiks, suddenly admitted that in Tajikistanregionalism has never been a malaise, it is rather a social phenomenon that, to an extent, is a natural part of the national psyche of our people … Politicians who understand the situation in the republic well have not criticised the rise of localistic organisations, they have come to head them. Any constructive political dialogue between the government and opposition became virtually impossible, not least because of the weakness of the central authorities. Opposition leaders realised that they could gain more by exerting direct pressure on government structures. ><

“The most alarming development in April 1992 was the rapid militarisation of the struggle for power: most political figures of any degree of prominence, including Kenjaev, Khudonazarov, Turajonzoda, Abdullojonov and even Qahhor Mahkamov, acquired private armed units. Political assassinations became a harsh reality. On 3 May 1992, the editor-in-chief of the pro-government newspaper Sadoi mardum and member of the Supreme Soviet, Murodullo Sheraliev, was gunned down. Four days later a popular radio journalist and DPT activist, Olim Zarobekov, was killed. Anarchy and violence were engulfing Dushanbe, and, as in February 1990, criminal structures made their entry to the political arena.” ><

Organised Crime and the Political Mess in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: In 1990, there were more than 1200 known criminal recidivists living in Tajikistan. Many of them formed gangs specialising in extortion, narcotics, smuggling and gambling. The number of these mafia-type entities rose from four in 1989 to 22 in 1992. The notorious gang of Rauf Soliev (a Samarkandi) that operated in Dushanbe consisted of several hundred well-armed people; it was alleged that the gang enjoyed the patronage of Tajikistan’s procurator-general, Nurullo Khuvaydulloev, and had taken an active part in the events of February 1990. An important feature of organised crime in Tajikistan is its rootedness in traditional social institutions. A contemporary study showed that in the country ‘a criminal group is frequently organised and maintained by ties of kinship amongst its members’. Quite often a criminal gang encompasses male youths from one mahalla, and, given the regionalistic patterns of settlement in Dushanbe and other cities, it is sensitive to issues of sub-ethnic rivalry. Soliev’s gang was based in the capital’s suburb Obdoron, inhabited primarily by Kulobis; his deputy, Yaqubjon Salimov, was a Kulobi, which may explain the gang’s involvement in the anti-Mahkamov coup in 1990. On the other hand, Dushanbe’s Ispechak and Shomansur quarters, populated by Gharmis, had their own mobsters. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“On 29 April 1992, 13 criminal groupings that had assumed the collective name of Youths of Dushanbe City (YDC), mostly of Gharmi extraction, from Shomansur, Ispechak, Ovul, Qozikhon and Qarotegin Street, held a meeting in one of Dushanbe’s squares where they supported the opposition’s political demands and demanded Nabiyev’s resignation.Two days later armed units from Shomansur attacked the TV centre. They encountered no resistance from the ‘neutral’ police and handed control of the centre to the opposition. As Aziz Niyazi has described the Islamist movement in Tajikistan, ‘to say the least, the IRP turned into a regionalistic, monoethnic organisation that found itself associated with mafia and other corrupt groups’.The same characterisation could have been applied to practically every political organisation, pro-government or opposition: ‘each side’s regionalist ties solidified in response to the security threat posed by the other side’, and political leaders were not fastidious in using the underworld elements with whom they were linked by business, conjugal and patrimonial ties. One of the founding fathers of Oshkoro in 1989 was sixty-one-year-old Sangak Safarov, who had spent 23 years in jail on various charges, including homicide. His influence in the Kulob oblast was hard to overestimate. According to the region’s chairman of the executive committee, Qurbon Mirzoaliev, who became acquainted with Safarov in 1980, he was honoured to be addressed as ‘brother’ by bobo Sangak—then ostensibly an obscure bar owner. ><

Regionalism and the Spring 1992 Tajikistan Protests

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The counter-demonstrators, who set up close to the opposition demonstrators, were brought in mainly from Kulob, Hisor and Leninobod. Numerous writers focus on the prominent role of Kulobis at the counter-opposition demonstrations, some in very explicit regional terms. Roy, for example, writes that the ‘Leninabadis then received back-up from the Kulabis’, while Rubin notes that ‘[s]ince the Khujandis had no forces in the south to counter the mobilization of Garmis and Pamiris by the DPT and IRP, they called on the Kulabis’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

When, on 1 May 1992, Nabiyev declared a state of emergency, he relied on men from Kulob to man his newly formed ‘National Guard’. Atkin focuses on one particular Kulobi—stressing that Nabiyev relied on Sangak Safarov to lead the counter-demonstration at Ozodi Square. Parviz Mullojonov also emphasises the presence of Kulobis, noting that earlier in April thousands of counter-demonstrators arrived in Dushanbe from Kulob with the assistance of Sangak Safarov and the Kulobi mullah Haydar Sharifzoda. Kilavuz expands the geographical base of mobilisation and notes that Safarov was also able to bring demonstrators from the Qurghonteppa region, presumably some of the many Kulobis living in Qurghonteppa. While some express puzzlement at the alliance between the incumbents and these particular Kulobis, this arrangement with Kulobi powerbrokers was likely a continuation of the political arrangements leading up to November 1991, when Sangak Safarov and Akbar Mirzoev—a client of Nabiyev’s and the chairman of the Kulob Province Executive Committee—mobilised support for Nabiyev’s election campaign. ><

“Whitlock, among many others, mentions that the ‘pro-government’ side did not organise demonstrations to challenge the opposition’s presence in the street until very late. In contrast, she notes the early opposition success in mobilising Pamiris and Gharmis. This successful mobilisation showed resilience over time, and as late as 30 April large vehicle convoys bound for Shahidon were leaving Gharmi and Pamiri areas of eastern Tajikistan. These anti-government demonstrators had one particular reason for feeling safe in Dushanbe. Schoeberlein-Engel writes that because most of the police in Dushanbe were Pamiris, ‘many in the city believed that this would deter Nabiyev and his predominantly Leninabadi government from staging a violent crackdown’. On 2 May, however, Nabiyev circumvented the security forces and formed a ‘National Guard’ (also known as ‘Presidential Guard’) by distributing weapons to the counter-demonstrators while unnamed persons also distributed weapons to the demonstrators at Shahidon. Schoeberlein-Engel explicitly labels the newly formed and armed National Guard as composed of out-of-town ‘Kulobi demonstrators’. After several days of clashes, with the state unable to control the violence, the counter-demonstrators retreated from Dushanbe. As a result, Nabiyev wavered and entered into a power-sharing agreement with the opposition in the form of the Government of National Reconciliation (GNR), which included many Gharmis and Pamiris. ><

Spring 1992 Tajikistan Protests Become More Violent

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “With a majority of the opposition-aligned deputies absent, the Supreme Soviet voted on 30 April 1992 to confer special presidential powers upon Nabiyev for the next six months. These powers included: control over the legislative, executive and judicial branches; the right to ‘suspend’ any political party or organisation; and the right to end rallies and demonstrations. The opposition soon publicly restated its demand for the resignation of Nabiyev at a 2 May 1992 press conference. On 3 May, the Supreme Soviet reappointed Kenjaev as its chair (a position he would hold in addition to remaining chair of the National Security Committee), scheduled new Qoziyot elections for 14 May, and recommended that Turajonzoda be arrested. At the same time Nabiyev decreed the creation of a ‘national guard corps’ (alternately ‘President’s Guards’ or ‘National Guards within the Presidency’; hereinafter ‘National Guards’) within two weeks. In response, Ozodi Square demonstrators, ‘[i]ntoxicated with [their] first major victory’, demanded the repeal of all earlier concessions given to the opposition. The time line for the creation of the National Guards was shortened drastically when, on the same day, the government armed anywhere from 400 to 3000 demonstrators at Ozodi Square. This armed unit—dominated by Kulobis—was to presumably report directly to Nabiyev and Kenjaev. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“On the night of 3–4 May, the Shahidon demonstrators attempted to enter the presidential palace, but were stopped by security forces. The Ozodi demonstrators then tried to move on Shahidon Square, but were also stopped by security forces and turned back. On 5 May, a state of emergency signed by Nabiyev was declared on radio. This included: a curfew from 9 pm to 5 am, demonstrations and strikes were prohibited, the activities of political parties, ‘popular movements’ and ‘other social organizations’ were banned, and the City of Dushanbe area of responsibility was to be put under the control of the military commissar of Tajikistan, Major General Mamadjonov. In response to a question about how the government would deal with some of the more ‘outrageous’ demands of the opposition, an aide to President Nabiyev replied, ‘What measures were used in [the] Los Angeles [riots] last week?’ ><

“At this time (midday on 5 May) there were 100 000 demonstrators in Dushanbe. It was on this same day that the violent conflict started, but not in the city. Several people were killed in a shooting at a blockade outside the city in the Yovon district at the Lenin (Rudaki) district crossroads. Soon after, shooting started in the city. Overnight, pro-opposition forces took control of the TV building, the presidential palace, the railway station, the main roads and, briefly, the airport. By the morning of 6 May, all main routes into the city were blocked by ‘opposition patrols’ checking incoming and outgoing cars.On the same day, some members of the Supreme Soviet attempted to flee the city, while opposition supporters took four deputies hostage. As for Nabiyev, he took refuge in the blockaded Supreme Soviet building. During the previous night, ‘the power ministries—that is, those whose personnel had the right to carry arms—took sides’.At 10 pm guardsmen at the Presidential Palace joined the demonstrators. At 2 am ‘a large number of Interior Ministry men—the police force—came over to the opposition, bringing with them their arsenal. The Security Ministry, still generally known as the KGB, stayed with the government.’ ><

According to a report by the Henry Dunant Centre, the opposition forces rapidly gained momentum and resources: If the opposition’s arsenal was initially nothing more than a few hunting rifles and some Molotov cocktails, it quickly developed. For example, when they occupied the Presidential Palace, the opposition forces already had 250 automatic weapons and one tank. Also, on May 5, an entire OMON unit (Special Forces) of the Ministry of the Interior joined the opposition. This contributed 12 tanks, and 600 Kalashnikovs. Local police stations also quickly became a good source of weapon procurement. ><

Efforts to End the 1992 Spring Protests in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: On 6 May, Major General Bahrom Rahmonov, an advisor to President Nabiyev and the man picked to lead the National Guards, joined the opposition. The next day, the top two men in the Interior Ministry also joined the opposition. This was especially significant in the capital as the deputy leader in the ministry was the commandant of Dushanbe. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“In response to the growing chaos, CIS military officers forcefully persuaded the government and opposition to compromise. In particular, Colonel Viacheslav Zabolotny of the CIS 201st MRD forces—a Belorussian—demanded that the opposing sides meet, and threatened the leaders of both sides with arrest if they did not reach an agreement. On the morning of 7 May, the preliminary agreement was announced on the radio. The initial protocols on the Government of National Reconciliation, which were signed by all the main government leaders—including Nabiyev and Kenjaev—and opposition leaders plus Khudonazarov, included: bilateral disarmament, dissolution of the National Guards, the halting of all ongoing investigations, the removal of blockades from all buildings and facilities, no prohibitions on parties and organisations, dissolution of the Presidium and Presidential Council, the placing of the Committee for National Security and the Committee for Defence under the control of the GNR, and the banning of all further rallies, including the ending of both demonstrations. Immediately after the signing of the GNR agreement many of the pro-government demonstrators started to leave Ozodi. Later in the day Nabiyev decreed the end of the state of emergency and announced a plan for the disarmament process. Nabiyev had clearly lost, and on 7 May 1992 he signed a protocol accepting the opposition’s demands, dismissing senior government figures, disbanding the National Guards and lifting the state of emergency. For two days it was not clear who controlled the situation in Dushanbe; opposition leaders announced the creation of the Supreme Consultative Council, but at the same time an armed group that had occupied Tajikistan’s radio station, presumably the Youth of Dushanbe City, broadcast a statement on behalf of the ‘Revolutionary Council of the Union of Progressive Forces’ claiming to have taken over the state. After a short period of confusion, the opposition chose to refrain from a blatant violation of constitutional norms and on 9 May made Nabiyev sign a power-sharing agreement. The president ceded most of his powers to the cabinet, including control over personnel appointments, coercive structures and mass media. Fresh parliamentary elections were slated for December 1992. ><

“Certain individuals seemed unhappy with—or perhaps even emboldened by—the government’s concessions. One DPT member stated that ‘we can’t say that the victory is total and final … The struggle is continuing. We have beheaded the dragon, but his poisonous tail and claws are still here.’ Meanwhile, many opposition demonstrators remained at Shahidon Square and demanded the resignation of Nabiyev. By 10 May there were—with further negotiations ongoing—still thousands of demonstrators at Shahidon, amid a ‘mood of irreconcilability’. The leaders of the DPT, La’li Badakhshon and Rastokhez called for an end to the Shahidon Square demonstrations. In fact, much of the top opposition leadership rejected the demand for Nabiyev’s immediate resignation for reasons of stability. One leader, the DPT’s Shodmon Yusuf, called for Nabiyev’s resignation, but only once the situation had stabilised under a new government. ><

“The Islamic opposition negotiated in a somewhat different style. In Dushanbe ‘radical activists’ of the IRP continued their protests at Shahidon, demanding the removal of Nabiyev and his cabinet, the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet and trials for the government leaders—demands that were not supported by IRP leader Himmatzoda. On 7 May, Mullah Qiyomuddin, going by the title ‘General Sayyid Qiyomuddin Ghozi’, had led 10 000 protesters in a chant: ‘What do you want?’ ‘Islam, Islam, Islam!’ ‘Do you want an Islamic state?’ ‘Yes, Yes, Yes!’ ><

“Qiyomuddin was one of the last hold-outs on the issue of Nabiyev’s continued leadership. On 12 May he bluntly announced that ‘everyone responsible for the bloody events, first and foremost President Rakhmon Nabiyev, deserves a just punishment by law’. Another of those who went against the top echelons of the opposition on the issue of Nabiyev’s potential removal was future IRP leader Abdullo Nuri. On 12 May he was quoted as saying that Nabiyev ‘must resign. After this bloodshed, he has no right to remain in power … that is my last word.’ IRP deputy leader, Davlat Usmon, also denounced Nabiyev and forcefully stated that the death of protesters who attempted to storm the KGB building ‘closes the door to negotiations’. Of course, Usmon was at this time negotiating privately for the position of deputy prime minister. But even after this point Usmon maintained that ‘[o]ur main demand is the resignation of Nabiyev’.” ><

Outcome of the Efforts to End the 1992 Spring Protests in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “On 11 May, after further negotiations mediated by Zabolotny, Nabiyev signed another decree on the GNR coalition, with eight of 24 cabinet positions going to the opposition and Nabiyev remaining in office. After the announcement an unstated number of the remaining protesters at Shahidon Square began to leave; however, some demonstrators stayed. On 13 May, with negotiations ongoing, the now opposition-controlled state TV channel urged demonstrators to stay in Shahidon Square for the next few days. Finally, on 14 May, the opposition demonstrators left Shahidon. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“Some analysts make a note of the opposition receiving only one-third of cabinet positions, after remarking that the opposition had forcefully taken the capital. They frame the concessions as the opposition failing to make significant gains; however, the GNR was in fact dominated by representatives of Gharm and Badakhshan, which is why its legitimacy was immediately rejected by Kulob and Leninobod. The opposition gained more control over central decision-making than corresponded with one-third of the seats in the Cabinet. ><

“In many spheres, most importantly security, the opposition did in fact dominate, or at least make significant gains. In other cases the gains were made via the removal of pro-incumbent officials. Examples include the following. 1) On 12 May, the government announced that elections for the head Qozikalon were cancelled, keeping safe the position of Turajonzoda—a man the counter-demonstrators had the most grievances with and who was arguably the most influential opposition member. 2) On 12 May, after negotiations, Nabiyev decreed that a Majlis (national assembly) would be formed. This 80-person assembly, which was to be split evenly between the government and opposition, was supposed to have functioned until new elections on 6 December 1992. 3) On 13 May, Davlat Usmon, the deputy leader of the IRP, gained the position of deputy premier, as the deputy president position was abandoned. Usmon’s duties required him to ‘oversee’ the National Security Committee (KGB), the Procuracy Office and the Defence Committee. In addition, he ‘would be responsible for the law enforcement bodies’. Further areas of control included customs, archives, religious and regional policies. 4) On 13 May, as part of the announcement of new cabinet positions, Navjuvonov regained the position of interior minister. 5) Rastokhez leader, Mirbobo Mirrahim, took over state TV and radio, allowing the opposition to control the airwaves. 6) Rezo Tursunov, recently appointed chair of the Committee for National Security (KGB), fled immediately after the GNR was announced. 7) On 13 May, the opposition announced that Kenjaev and the vice-president, Narzullo Dustov (a Kulobi), both fled the city after the GNR agreement. ><

“8) The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet decided to appoint Akbarsho Iskandarov, an ethnic Pamiri (but not an opposition member), to what had been Kenjaev’s position: chair of the Supreme Soviet. 9) Opposition members Sayfiddin Turaev, Akbar Turajonzoda and Asliddin Sohibnazarov were made members of the Supreme Soviet Presidium. 10) A new constitution was to be drafted by July 1992 by a commission that included five representatives from each of the following organisations: the IRP, the DPT, Rastokhez, La’li Badakhshon and the Qoziyot. 11) Opposition forces captured the main leaders of the counter-demonstrators, all of whom were Kulobis and at least one of whom was tortured for an extended period. 12) Major General Bahrom Rahmonov—as well as many in the Interior Ministry—had joined the opposition. On 11 May, Rahmonov announced at a press conference that the armed forces of Tajikistan consisted wholly of those present at Shahidon Square. 13) The armed (and unarmed) Kulobis at Ozodi Square had left Dushanbe defeated while opposition supporters celebrated. ><

Incendiary Rhetoric, Rumors and Security Dilemmas

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Throughout the protests both sides engaged in inflammatory rhetoric and the spreading of rumours. Some accusations, however, were based on leaders’ actual statements, which were often hastily retracted. DPT leader Yusuf was especially guilty of this, demonstrated by his veiled threats against non-Tajik ethnicities and his suggestion that Afghanistan may have a role to play in supporting the opposition. Yusuf’s position on Afghanistan was briefly shared by General Rahmonov, who then also retracted his statements. The likely force behind the retractions and apologies of various opposition figures was Turajonzoda, who would usually contradict the more extreme positions in the opposition and attempt to reassure the public. The discourse on the role of Islam was also a destabilising factor in spring 1992. Statements on the opposition side concerning the establishment of an Islamic state had to be refuted, with Turajonzoda again having to get involved in moderating IRP statements. As part of the GNR, the IRP ‘had to tone down its fundamentalist slogans’ as it was now a partner with Rastokhez and the DPT. The opposition also accused the pro-government demonstrators at Ozodi Square of being against Islam—accusations that the Supreme Soviet condemned as lies. Furthermore, both sides made threats of violence against the other. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“As early as the first half of April this type of rhetoric did not escape the notice of President Nabiyev, who said in a radio address: “Today we have two alternatives. We can either listen to common sense or whip our horse of emotions … At the meetings slogans have appeared which are of a provocative nature. The more we had hindered them the louder these slogans would have sounded. Those slogans from which comes the scent of war and blood cannot under any circumstance be connected to democracy. Neither side of the increasingly rancorous political conflict in the capital heeded Nabiyev’s warning. For example, RIA reported that ‘government supporters in Ozodi Square had threatened to kill [Turajonzoda] … And issued an ultimatum for the opposition to clear Shahidan square or they would empty it themselves’. Eventually even Nabiyev joined the chorus of angry voices. ><

“One incident is credited as particularly reckless. This occurred when Mullah Qiyomiddin announced at Shahidon Square that opposition demonstrators were armed with 27 000 weapons, a move that opposition supporter Gavhar Juraeva argues was ‘an attempt to forestall officially sanctioned violence against the opposition’. On 24 April, the IRP chairman denied the rumours about 27 000 armed men, saying only that ‘self-defence groups’ had been formed. Sulton Hammad, a security adviser to the opposition, later said that ‘[i]t was a bold rather than a realistic number. But his declaration ignited rumours that both sides were arming their people, which forced each side to think about the need to actually arm their people.’ Zartman labels this a ‘classic security dilemma’, in that he believes the mullah was attempting to deter a potential forceful government response to the opposition demonstrators. Davlat Usmon, at the time the IRP leader, later explained what happened: ‘Before May 1992 we did not think of taking up arms. But, when on April 27–28 a rumour appeared that the government was preparing an armed militia we also started to act. We armed the first 40–50 people. All they had for weapons were one pistol, two grenades and 30–40 hunting rifles. We then started to prepare Molotov cocktails.’ ><

Outbreak of Fighting in Dushanbe

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “On 1 May 1992, Nabiyev made the last desperate attempt to create a loyal military force behind the presidency. His Decree No. 76 provided for the formation of a Special Tasks Battalion (STB), also referred to as the National Guards, from volunteers in Ozodi Square. Soon after, on 2 May, the demonstrators at Ozodi Square matched the opposition rhetoric on weapons when Mullah Haydar Sharifzoda called for the Ozodi crowd to be given weapons to defend against opposition demonstrators. A while later the CIS garrison commander in Dushanbe had to deny Turajonzoda’s allegation that a CIS armoury in Kulob had lost its weapons. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“On 3 May the security dilemma was in full effect as the government distributed as many as 1700 assault rifles to pro-government demonstrators at Ozodi Square. In response, firearms were issued to the Shahidon Square militia, headed by ‘people’s General’ Mullah Qiyomiddin from Qurghonteppa who, with active cooperation from the head of the State Automobile Inspectorate, Colonel Habib Sanginov, cut the roads leading from Kulob to Dushanbe. Opposition commanders reached a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with police authorities in Kofarnihon whereby the latter surrendered weapons and vehicles to Qiyomiddin’s forces.

“Both the police and the military present in Dushanbe made claims of neutrality. Colonel Zabolotny, the head of the CIS 201st MRD, said that his unit would only act on orders of the top CIS commander and that his unit—in which only officers and warrant officers were armed—was ‘adhering strictly to a policy of neutrality’. On the police side, a Slav commander in OMON—a special police unit within the Interior Ministry—announced on 6 May that OMON units would be maintaining neutrality, only guarding their locations and patrolling the city. On the same day, however, they did repel an attempt by the opposition to take over a local radio station. And, as earlier mentioned, one OMON unit had already joined the opposition. ><

“As mentioned above, on 5–6 May, Major General Bahrom Rahmonov joined the opposition. Rahmonov, an ethnic Uzbek who was initially appointed to head the National Guards, switched to the opposition side. He declared himself a grandson of Sufi sheikh Abdurahmon from Qarotegin (Gharm) and was promoted to chair the National Defence Committee under the GNR. At a press conference on 11 May he was asked: “[W]hat forces do the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Tajikistan have at its disposal at present and what do you have under your command at the moment? He said: “I can say unambiguously that at present the armed forces of the Republic of Tajikistan consist of all the people present here in the [Shahidon] square at the moment. I can’t say more than that just now. Rahmonov, while having had good relations with the opposition and local journalists, unsurprisingly admitted that relations between Nabiyev and himself were poor.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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