TAJIKISTAN CIVIL WAR

TAJIKISTAN CIVIL WAR

In 1992 a short-lived coalition government broke down, sending the country into a civil war that was won nominally when the old guard forces captured Dushanbe and named Imomali Rahmonov chief executive. But conflict persisted, based partly on the geographical and clan divisions of the country and partly on the political question of reform versus reaction. Between 1993 and 1996, fighting flared, mostly in limited engagements, in several regions of Tajikistan and across the border in Afghanistan. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Generally referred to as the ‘Tajik Civil War’, the violent conflict in southern Tajikistan lasted from late spring 1992 until its official end in June 1997 with the signing of a peace agreement and power-sharing arrangement...The first phase of conflict that finished at the end of 1992. During this early period the majority of fatalities occurred—including both civilians and armed combatants.” [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“In May 1992 the political competition and street protests in Dushanbe transitioned into an extended period of violent conflict, with the worst of the violence occurring over the next seven to nine months. The central government—now an uneasy power-sharing compromise—became largely irrelevant as killing, looting and destruction of property spread throughout southern Tajikistan, driving people to flee to any location safer than their homes, including to Afghanistan. At first much of the violence lacked broader coordination as no well-organised armed forces with acknowledged leadership existed at the outbreak of the civil war. The political leadership of the opposition and central government had very little, if any, control over the people apparently fighting in their name. As the conflict worsened, leaders of the militias emerged—very few of them familiar to those outside their home areas. Men of various backgrounds rose to prominence based on their ability to recruit, arm and lead men in the war. They would successfully use a variety of recruiting and mobilising techniques based on pre-exiting structures, networks and loyalties. This epilogue will provide a brief overview and short analysis of the most important phase of the civil war: from the outbreak of violence to the military victory of the anti-opposition Popular Front forces in December 1992 and the arrival in the capital of Tajikistan’s new leader, Emomali Rahmon. ><

The Tajikistan civil war was a confused, chaotic, multi-sided affair, characterized primarily as a power struggle between competing clans and regions even though it was cast as a battle between neo-Communists and a coalition of moderate Muslims, democrats and intellectuals. The participants in the civil war included clans and warlords who aligned themselves with the neo-Communists and clans and warlords who aligned themselves with a small Islamic force. The warlords wanted control of the country's meager assets.

Brent Hierman described the civil war in Tajikistan “as a war fought between regional elites; specifically, following the collapse of the center, networks of elites, organized according to region, mobilized their supporters against one another in an effort to gain control of the existing state institutions”. In addition to the attempt to take control of state institutions, the militias would seize state assets, land and private property. ><

A description of events leading to the 1992 civil war is contained in Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh's "The 'Tajik Spring' of 1992." Sergei Gretsky has covered aspects of the civil war in two articles, one appearing in Critique (Spring 1995) and the other in Central Asia Monitor (No. 1, 1994)

Costs of the Tajik Civil War

By some estimates the Tajikistan civil war between 1992 and 1997 left between 65,000 and 150,000 dead, which works to about one or two percent of the entire population of Tajikistan. Most of the dead were Tajiks. About 1.2 million people, 20 percent of the population, were displaced. Between 500,000 and one million refugees fled and the economy collapsed.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Early guesstimates (which went almost entirely unchallenged) for the conflict as a whole cited the number of deaths as high as 100 000; however, a later study put the number at 23 500, with 20 000 of these deaths occurring in 1992. This should in no way lessen the emphasis on the level of suffering during the war. Aside from the deaths of combatants and numerous unarmed civilians, the conflict generated a massive number of refugees and internally displaced persons, led to large-scale destruction and looting of property, resulted in the rape and torture of many, and further harmed the already fragile economy while devastating the livelihoods of many in Tajikistan. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

Background Behind the Tajik Civil War

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In the twilight of the Soviet era, the pattern of escalating political competition in Tajikistan became increasingly based on regional affiliation. The relatively open political and social environments allowed for groups and individuals to mobilise and demand changes to the structure of the state and society—whether through elections, bureaucratic appointments or large demonstrations in the capital. Regional elites who were Gharmi and Pamiri were especially likely to back Gorbachev’s reforms and, later, the Tajik opposition parties against the northern elites—and their secondary allies from Kulob and Hisor—who dominated the central government. At stake for regional elites were not just powerful positions in the capital, but also local administrative and collective farm positions that involved the distribution of and control over local economic resources. In Qurghonteppa this resulted in competition between Gharmi Tajiks who backed the opposition and Kulobi Tajiks who backed the government and worked against the reforms. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The use of mass demonstrations in the capital, and the accompanying threats of violence, brought the political competition into the streets and increasingly into the hands of reckless individuals who were prepared for the use of force. By the time the government weakened and violent conflict started in May 1992, the only willing and able factions were the Gharmi Tajik-dominated IRP and their Pamiri allies in the security forces on one side and the Kulobi and Hisor-based actors on the other. While at this time there were still numerous exceptions to the rule of region of origin determining political loyalty, it is clear that the factions had a strong regional base and composition, especially in regards to those in leadership positions. This regional factor was to increase steadily as the level of violence increased throughout southern Tajikistan in the summer and autumn of 1992. ><

Who was Fighting in the Tajikistan Civil War

The conflict in Tajikistan often was portrayed in Western news reports as occurring primarily among clans or regional cliques. Many different lines of affiliation shaped the configuration of forces in the conflict, however, and both sides were divided over substantive political issues. The old guard had never reconciled itself to the reforms of the Gorbachev era (1985-91) or to the subsequent demise of the Soviet regime. Above all, the factions in this camp wanted to ensure for themselves a monopoly of the kinds of benefits enjoyed by the ruling elite under the Soviet system. The opposition coalition factions were divided over what form the new regime in Tajikistan ought to take: secular parliamentary democracy, nationalist reformism, or Islamicization. Proponents of the last option were themselves divided over the form and pace of change. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Popular Front — the pro-government, neo-Communists — was supported by the Kulyabi clan from the south and the clan from Khujand region in the north, which had good relations with the Soviet elite. Among their members were many ex-convicts and unrepentant Communists blamed for a number of human rights violations. The Islamic forces, was supported mainly by the Garmis (or Garms) from the remote southern province of Garm, the Pamiris (Badakhshans) from the Pamir region of Gorno-Badakhshan and clans from the Kurgan-Tyube valley.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “At the beginning of the conflict the issue of regional identities being politicised was readily apparent, with Kulobi Tajiks dominant in pro-government demonstrations and Gharmi Tajiks heavily over-represented in the religious wing of the opposition. Region of origin (for example, Kulobi and Gharmi) would quickly become a matter of life or death as militias and even neighbours began to kill based on a person’s origin. This would apply also to ethnicity in the case of Uzbeks and Pamiris, who came to be identified with the ‘pro-government’ and opposition sides, respectively. With the logic of mobilising for conflict based on these identities, the cleavages between Islamists, democrats and incumbent ‘communists’ became increasingly useless in terms of analytical value. “ [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The first phase of the civil war went beyond ethnic Tajiks fighting each other, and included ethnic Uzbeks and Pamiris on opposite sides allied to their Kulobi and Gharmi Tajik allies, respectively. And even this is too simple a description, as it is not possible to neatly classify the main combatants into monolithic blocs based on ethnicity and, for Tajiks, region of origin. Ethnicity, religion, social organisation, migration, state-building, politics and economics in Tajikistan (especially during the Soviet era)” all “played a role in shaping the loyalties and actions of individuals and groups during the prewar era through to the outbreak of conflict. When the power struggles in Dushanbe led to civil unrest and violent conflict, national-level elites and local powerbrokers mobilised support from the local level, drawing on and appealing to ties of identity, shared economic concerns and common security dilemmas. Language, ethnicity, sub-ethnic identity, religious sect, region of origin, collective farm affiliation, family ties, professional relationships, political party membership, employer–employee ties and government patron–client networks have all been cited as factors in determining individual and group participation or non-participation in the conflict. Each one of these categories played a role in determining behaviour during the civil war—of course some of them to a far lesser degree than others.” ><

The so-called Islamic forces, or Muslim rebels, consisted of Muslim extremists, moderate Muslims, intellectuals, democrats and Tajik clans and warlords—primarily from Garm and Gorno-Badakhshan—that opposed the government. The rebels fought under the leadership of Islamic Renaissance Party and numbered around 5,000. The Muslim rebels were based in Afghanistan. They were believed to be armed and supported in part by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Tajikistan shares an 800 mile border with Afghanistan. The rebels were also aided by sympathizers in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Algeria. Opposition politicians were based in Iran. They went under the name of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO)

Protests and Instability at the Time of Tajikistan Independence

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the political and social atmosphere became less restrictive. Civil society groups and political parties began to form and agitate for further changes. After some time the political foes settled into two opposing coalitions: the incumbent leadership dominated by elites from Leninobod along with their primary junior partners from Kulob and Hisor, and the opposition coalition that included new political parties such as the mostly urban Democratic Party of Tajikistan, the Gharmi Tajik-dominated Islamic Revival Party, and the Pamiri party La’li Badakhshon. The first post-independence presidential election of November 1991, after some difficulty and the replacement of the top government candidate, was won by the incumbent forces’ candidate, Rahmon Nabiyev, at the expense of the opposition coalition and their cinematographer-turned-politician candidate, Davlat Khudonazarov—a man supported by anti-conservative politicians, journalists and cultural elites at the Union/Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) level. This was followed by a period of government crackdowns and harassment of the opposition, resulting in large anti-government street demonstrations in the capital starting in early spring 1992. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The largest contribution to the opposition’s demonstrations was by the Islamic Revival Party (IRP). Meanwhile, the incumbents, geographically isolated in the capital from their home base in northern Tajikistan and unable to easily summon their supporters to the streets, relied instead on their junior Kulobi partners whose province was adjacent to the capital. The IRP’s mobilisation effort also had a regional aspect. The leadership of the IRP, despite their pretentions to being a party for all (Sunni) Muslims, was heavily staffed by Tajiks with roots in one particular region. The IRP was more accurately a party for Muslims that was overwhelmingly dominated by Gharmi Tajiks. ><

“As the demonstrations intensified and eventually turned to violence, political and social authorities who could not quickly mobilise manpower for violent conflict became powerless. The skilled technocrats increasingly lost power to savvy rural strongmen and religious leaders (for example, mullahs) who could call on the support of men willing to fight. The urban intellectuals and reformists of groups such as the Democratic Party were helpless in the face of military mobilisation. Soon it was clear that the real players in the conflict were the Kulobi Tajik militias allied to local Uzbeks and militias from Hisor on one side against the IRP’s mullahs and their Gharmi Tajik followers allied to Gharmi-dominated Dushanbe street gangs and Pamiri police officers and militias on the other.” ><

Civil War Breaks Out in Tajikistan in 1992

The civil war in Tajikistan broke out less than a year after independence when long-buried clan and political animosity erupted. In August 1992 anti-government demonstrators led by a coalition of Islamic, nationalist and Western-oriented parties raided the presidential palace. Tajikistan President Rahmon Nabyev escaped but was cornered at the airport trying to flee to Khujand. Nabyev was forced to resign and was replaced by Akbarshah Iskandarov, who led a coalition that included members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and secular democratic parties. The power sharing arrangement didn’t work. Divisions arose along clan lines and civil war ensued.

Supporters of Iskandarov were attacked by forces loyal to Nabyev. Iskandarov resigned and the Emomalii Rahmon, a Kulyabi from the Kulyab district, was chosen to take his place. The opposition regarded him as no better than Nabyev or Iskandarov.

There was fierce fighting in the summer off 1992. There were pitched battles around the city of Kurgan Tyube. The neo-Communists, known as the Popular Front, fought the Islamic-democratic rebels, who later fought under the name of Popular Democratic Army (PDA). Each side had about 7,000 to 8,000 men armed mostly with automatic rifles.

Initially the Russians didn’t take sides. Russian soldiers made money by selling weapons to both sides. But in the end Russia sided with the neo-Communist because it had ties to the old Soviet leadership in Tajikistan and the Russian army and it worried about links between the Garmis and Muslim extremists.

First Phase of the Tajikistan Civil War in 1992

The Kulyabis launched a scorched earth offensive in the Garm and Kurgan-Tyube valleys. The PDA retaliated by preventing Rahmon from entering Dushanbe. Khujands and Kulyabs, fighting for the neo-Communist government, forced their way into Dushanbe, installing Rahmon as president. They were led by the warlord Sanjak Safarov, who had spent 23 years in prison on murder charges.He launched an ethnic cleansing campaign directed at anyone from the Garm or Kurgan Tyube valleys.

In October 1992, just when it seemed that the Garmis were going to capture Kurga Tyube, the Popular Front showed up with 10 Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers. After that every time there was a battle the Popular Front showed up with more armed weapons. The Popular Front had ample supplies of fuel and spare parts, all of which were provided by the Russians. Kurgan Tyube fell to the Popular Front within days.

An election in November 1992 did little diffuse the situation. The opposition refused to participate. By December 1992, the Popular Front had won the first phase of the civil war. Pro-Communist Kulyabs rulers were installed in January 1993. By this time an estimated 20,000 people had died. Thousands had fled their homes. Tajikistan was in ruins.

Second Phase of the Civil War

What followed the bitter fighting in 1992 was a low-intensity guerrilla war against the government by rebels, based primarily across the border in Afghanistan. Most of the fighting took place in southern Tajikistan and was characterized by raids across the border by rebels based in Afghanistan.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “At the end of 1992 the armed opposition suffered a heavy defeat and fled to mountainous areas of eastern Tajikistan and, importantly, to a safe haven in Afghanistan, where the ‘Islamic’ opposition attempted to regroup. The character of the war from this point was more that of a counterinsurgency with sporadic guerrilla warfare, as well as smaller operations against opposition strongholds in the mountains of the peripheral areas of the east, rather than what was seen during the first year: a complete collapse of the state and a fight that was roughly equal until October 1992.” [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

The pro-Communist Kulyabs rulers banned opposition parties; rounded up, imprisoned and tortured opposition leaders; muzzled the press; and committed other human rights violations. The government was dominated warlords from Kulyab.They were backed up by their own militias and by 25,000 Russian troops.

In the summer of 1993, Garm guerrillas captured entire districts in Garm after heavy fighting and inflicted a large number of casualties on poorly-trained Tajik troops. Sukumi was the site of some of the heaviest fighting. Elections in November 1993 and a new constitution establishing a presidential system, approved by a referendum on November 6, 1994, again did little to diffuse the situation as the opposition refused to participate.

Civilians were caught in the middle and were forced to choose sides based on their birthplace. The place name marked on their passport could mean the difference between life and death.

Fighting and Terror in the Tajikistan Civil War

Most of the fighting in the Tajikistan civil war took place in the summer and autumn. In the winter there was too much snow and cold. The pro-Communist Tajikistan government was armed with tanks, armored personnel carriers and weapons and supplies brought in on Russian supply lines and logistical support. At the height of the conflict there were around 25,000 Russian troops — 17,000 border guards and 8,000 peacekeepers — in Tajikistan.

The rebels were armed with grenade launchers, small arms and relied on guerilla tactics: ambushes and raids from Afghanistan. Many Russian troops were placed along the border of Afghanistan where they both deterred rebel raids and were targets . It was not unusual for more than 25 Russian border guards to be killed in a single raid. Sometimes the dead were decapitated. One Russian border guard told the Washington Post, “This is a pretty serious enemy. They’re pretty well armed, well disciplined, well trained...That’s why the battles with them are so fierce.”

During the civil war there were a number of fierce battles in the Tavildara Valley, north of Dushanbe. Islamic guerrillas were based there. The rugged landscape enabled a small band of well-positioned guerrillas to hold off an army.

Gunfire was a nightly occurrence. Residents of Dushanbe were gunned down on the streets. Many residents remained in the homes for months and survived on starvation rations. One Russian man was captured by gangs and impaled on a fence. One of his neighbors told the Wall Street Journal, "I heard him screaming all night, screams that didn't even sound human. People were thinking, 'Could that be my son? But they were too afraid to venture out."

Fighting in Southern Tajikistan in the Civil War

While the most devastating phase of the civil war in Tajikistan was fought in the rural south, the capital managed to avoid the worst of the conflict (there were assassinations, kidnappings, theft, and so on, in the capital, but nothing on the scale of what was happening in the south). The main zone of violent conflict was the economically significant Vakhsh Valley of southern Tajikistan, a few hours’ drive south of the capital, Dushanbe.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “At independence, the Vakhsh Valley was part of Qurghonteppa Province—an administrative region with a high degree of social and political-bureaucratic fragmentation where competition for resources occurred increasingly along lines of ethnicity and, most significantly, mainly along lines of region of origin: the Gharmi Tajiks from the mountainous area of Gharm (Qarotegin and Darvoz) and the Kulobi Tajiks from the foothills of the neighbouring Kulob Province. Again, as mentioned above, the blocs in the conflict were not monolithic and should be seen as the end result of not just long-term historical and cultural factors, but also more recent political and economic competition, as well as a result of the initial tactics and strategies of mobilising for political struggles and war. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

Russia and the Tajikistan Civil War

Russian troops arrived in Tajikistan in significant numbers in 1992 to halt the fighting and maintain a presence to keep the peace. The civil war prompted Russia to place Tajikistan under Moscow control and 20,000 Russian troops were sent in. The Russian military had larger presence in Tajikistan than in any other former Soviet republic.

In 1993 a multinational CIS force, formed of soldiers from the former Soviet states but dominated by Russian units, entered the country with the primary mission of enforcing the southern border, across which opposition forces had received substantial support. The Russians provided the Tajikistan government with heavy weaponry, manpower and money. According to some estimates 70 percent of Tajik budget came from Moscow.

Through their presence in Tajikistan, the Russians developed a market for their weaponry and helped install a Moscow-friendly government there. But the effort was expensive. The cost of transporting weapons and supplies to Tajikistan were high, plus Russian soldiers earned triple pay for duty in Tajikistan.

The Tajiks generally welcomed the Russians and believed that if they left the civil war fighting would be even worse and Tajikistan would become the next Afghanistan. One Tajik man told the Wall Street Journal, “It’s good thing the Russians are here. If they left, that would be the end of Tajikistan. We don’t see them as foreigners. We think of them as our won.” Another said, “Thanks to the Russians we can live quietly. We have no problems with them. The problem is Tajiks can’t stand one another.”

Many Russians believed in a Central Asian domino theory: that if Tajikistan fell to Muslim extremists the rest of Central Asia would soon follow. In 1993, Russian president Boris Yeltsin declared, “Everyone must realize that this is effectively Russia’s border not Tajikistan’s.” One Russian border guard told the Wall Street Journal, “Afghanistan is full of arms, drugs and Islamic extremists. If we left, the border would be open, and this stuff would go all the way through Uzbekistan, through Russia, all the way to Europe, even to America.”

Other Russians worried that Russian involvement in Tajikistan would result in a big mess like Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. Most Russian citizens in Tajikistan left early in the war. Russians that hung around were shot by snipers as they walked down the street.

The civil war in Tajikistan gave the leaders in other Central Asian nations an excuse to crack down on Islamic extremists in their own country.

Hunger and Hardship in the Tajikistan Civil War

The Tajikistan economy collapsed during the civil war. The government broke down. Workers went months without their wages. Cotton fields were unattended. Moscow made Tajikistan a economic protectorate by providing over half of the government’s $100 million or so annual operating expenses. The most basic things were in short supply. Markets were empty. Bread lines were common in Dushanbe.

Children scavenged through garbage dumps. Hungry pensioners waited outside a bread factory in hopes that someone might throw them some scarps while elite Russian troops guarded the same factory 24 hours a day.

Working couples earned enough money when paid to buy a loaf of bread a day to feed their families But they weren't paid. One elderly woman with children told Time in winter of 1994: “Last year I got some flour and sugar for my eldest son killed by the war, but what do we eat now?”

Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. About 100,000 ended in Afghanistan. Many able people were killed, forced to flee silenced. The Aga Khan foundation effectively kept the Pamir region from starving with donations of food and money.

Peace Talks in the Tajikistan Civil War in 1996

In April 1994, peace talks arranged by the United Nations (UN) began between the post-civil war government in Dushanbe and members of the exiled opposition. Between that time and early 1996, six major rounds of talks were held in several different cities. Several smaller-scale meetings also occurred directly between representatives of both sides or through Russian, UN, or other intermediaries. Observers at the main rounds of talks included representatives of Russia, other Central Asian states, Iran, Pakistan, the United States, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE-- after 1994 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the first two years, these negotiations produced few positive results. The most significant result was a cease-fire agreement that took effect in October 1994. The initial agreement, scheduled to last only for a few weeks, was renewed repeatedly into 1996, albeit with numerous violations by both sides. As a result of the cease fire, the UN established an observer mission in Tajikistan, which had a staff of forty-three in early 1996. *

None of the talks led to an agreement on peace terms, however. In early June 1996, the civil war in Tajikistan intensified once again, and observers saw similarities between Russia's military activity there and its occupation of Chechnya. Russian air attacks on opposition villages in south-central Tajikistan contravened a three-month extension of the UN-sponsored cease-fire (originally signed in 1994). In the campaign, apparently coordinated with Moscow, Tajikistani troops moved with Russian air support eastward into the country's narrow central corridor toward opposition strongholds. Meanwhile, the Rahmonov regime refused to reconvene UN-sponsored talks as scheduled, and the UN Observer Mission in Tajikistan (UNMOT) was refused access to the combat zone. In August 1996, opposition troops moved close to Dushanbe amid intensified fighting that ended yet another cease-fire agreement. *

Fighting in the Tajikistan Civil War in 1996

In the fall of 1996, the government's military position was unfavorable as rebel forces drove from Afghanistan into central and eastern Tajikistan. In December Rahmonov signed a peace agreement with Sayed Abdullo Nuri, leader of the opposition Islamic Rebirth Party. The agreement called for a National Reconciliation Council that would be a forum to negotiate the terms of a permanent peace. In the months that followed, the Rahmonov government negotiated with the United Tajikistan Opposition to reintegrate the political and military organizations of the two sides. Scattered fighting continued into the spring of 1997, however. *

According to a Russian report in May 1996, the Tajikistani army was lacking 40 percent of its nominal officer cadre, and only 40 percent of those in service, many of them callups from the reserves, had a military education. The Tajikistani force was evaluated as inferior to its opposition in training and armament. Instances of troop mutiny reinforced that opinion, paralleling the situation in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In both Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Russian troops operated in a highly unstable civil war atmosphere, and the opposing sides were deeply divided within themselves. *

As the civil war continued, the Rahmonov regime took steps to avoid internal sources of opposition. Although the new constitution approved in November 1994 contained substantial guarantees of human rights (also staples of all the Soviet-era constitutions), prescribed legislative and review functions for the legislature, and mandated an independent judiciary, in fact the country's governance amounted to one-man rule based on declarations of emergency executive powers extended from 1993 and 1994. The result has been imprisonment, exile, and assassination of opposition political figures and some foreign observers. Rahmonov won a decisive victory in the presidential election of 1994, with opposition only from a second hard-line politician of similar background, in what was generally labeled a rigged outcome. The unicameral legislature offers decisive majority support for Rahmonov's programs, and the judiciary is fully under the control of the president, who has the power to dismiss any judge. The Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province, which accounts for nearly 45 percent of the republic's territory, has disputed status and is a main stronghold of separatist opposition forces. *

End of the Tajikistan Civil War

The Tajikistan civil war ended with a peace accord in June 1997 that came about after Russian troops helped put down the rebels and Russian diplomats and Rahmon’s commanders pressured Rahmon and the neo-Communists to negotiate with the rebels, offer a general amnesty and adopt a new constitution.

The peace agreement brokered by the United Nations between the government and the opposition called for both sides to merge, with members of both sides serving in the cabinet. A power-sharing organization, the National Reconciliation Commission, was set up with the head of the United Tajik Opposition, Sayid Abdulloh Nuri, as its leader. The opposition was given 30 percent of the seats in the coalition government.

A cease-fire had been declared in 1996. The agreement was about power- and profit-sharing. Leaders on both sides were given substantial property and access to ways to make money. Russian soldiers that participated in the fighting switched roles and became peacekeepers and border guards. Their presence was largely supported by the local population because they helped to end the war and kept violence from flaring up.

“The IRPT had two of the 63 seats in parliament prior to the March 2015 elections, nowhere near enough to influence the country's politics, but at least the party was represented in parliament.” The IRPT lost all of its seats in the March 2015 election.

Fighting After the End of the Civil War

After the 1997 peace accord, the rebels kept a base only 32 kilometers outside of Dushanbe. Instead of being disbanded some rebel units were absorbed into the government army, with their old chains of command and loyalty to a warlord intact.

There was fighting, violence and instability after the peace accord was signed. This included abductions, political assassinations, car bombings and pitched battled between the forces of rival warlords and between the forces of rival warlords and the presidential guards.

The Khujandis and members of the Uzbek minority were angered because they were effectively excluded from the power sharing arrangement. In November 1998, fierce fighting between an Uzbek faction and the government broke it in the Khujand region. Over 200 people were killed before the Uzbek rebels fled into the hills. Relation between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were strained.

In 1998, there was a major shootout in downtown Dushanbe after three members of the opposition were arrested.. Government forces used tanks and artillery to drive the rebels into the hills. Dozens were killed and scores were injured. Afterwards, the United Nations and the U.S. Embassy ordered their employees to leave the country. Many aid workers also left.

Most of the last remaining holdouts in Pamir region laid down their weapons when the Aga Khan visited and September 1998 and encouraged the people of Gorno-Badakhshan to make peace with the government. Only in 2001 did the threat of Afghanistan-based rebels subside.

Legacy of the Tajikistan Civil War

Timur Zulfikarov, the respected Tajik writer, wrote: “An old dusty Tajik in Dushanbe said: ‘If a single man dies of Perestroika, then what is this Perestroika for?’ But thousands have died, and millions will die if this bloody dark mute Cart of Death roaming across the smashed Russian Empire is not stopped. O Allah! Where is that old Tajik? Perhaps, killed in the civil war, or died of starvation? Who listened to this old man and other old men of our land? What is happening in our destroyed bleeding country? This is a revolt of children against fathers and grandfathers … And this is the most horrid revolt! The most bloody and horrific primordial troglodyte sin in the land of men!”

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “A generation after independence, the trauma of the civil war continues to dominate the trajectory of nation-building in Tajikistan. The memory of bloodshed and violence in the collective psyche has inoculated the country somewhat against overt conflict, yet the problem of regional divisions, especially when exacerbated by the idiom of political Islam, has not withered away. The government of Emomali Rahmon has pursued a distinct ethno-centric approach to national consolidation since 1997, focusing on the historical exceptionalism of the Tajiks, their moderate Muslim sensibilities, and the ‘othering’ of Turkic neighbours. A lavish celebration of the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid Dynasty in 1999 introduced a major new myth to the state-sponsored discourse of nationalism. The era of the Samanids was proclaimed the Golden Age of Tajiks (as well as all Iranians), a high point in their political, cultural and economic achievements during the Middle Ages. A subtle move of the centre of Iranian civilisation to the east and the magnification of the specifically Tajik component therein were accompanied by a less subtle attack on the Turco-Mongol invaders who destroyed the Samanids and subjugated the Tajiks for centuries to come. ‘The Tajik people who survived this terrible onslaught will never forget the tragic events of their history’, wrote Rahmon, who then tried to reassure Uzbeks and other Turks who ‘have all settled on the welcoming Tajik land and shared the fate of the Tajik people’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

“The construction of Uzbekistan as an existential enemy forms an important part of the official nationalist discourse in Tajikistan. The neighbouring country is routinely accused of suppressing ethnic Tajiks on its territory, undermining the economic prosperity of Tajikistan, and interfering with its internal affairs. The regime of Islam Karimov is regularly criticised for its alleged pan-Turkism and its plans to rekindle the civil conflict in Tajikistan. Greater domestic consolidation, strong government and national unity are touted as the conditions for Tajikistan’s survival in this difficult environment. Constant appellation to history is essential to the dramaturgy of this process, and it is publicly manifested in the endless succession of festivities celebrating the heroes of Tajikistan, from Spitamenes of antiquity to the communist leader of Tajikistan during the Brezhnev period, Tursun Uljaboev, who transcended their patrimonial loyalties and self-interest in the service of all Tajiks. For example, 2009 saw large-scale commemoration of the 110th anniversary of Shirinsho Shotemur, a Pamiri and one of the founding fathers of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, who stood up to Uzbek chauvinism and Stalin’s arbitrariness to defend his nation and lost his life as a result. ><

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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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