Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: Over 70 years the Soviet political system in Tajikistan embraced and coopted elements of the traditional culture, cultivated legal, semi-legal and illegal links amongst various units of society and restrained fissures within it. This system was based on the communist mono-organisational order, and, eventually, ‘the communists were better adapted to this neotraditional society than the mullahs or the “democrats”’. The system was altered and ultimately destroyed in the Gorbachev period, primarily by exogenous forces. In a society in which political life was characterised by consensual activity and direct bargaining by local and regional groups and self-interested politicians, the institutionalisation of political opposition was premature. All opposition figures were interested in gaining access to power rather than concerned with the expression of independent attitudes. The absence of a viable economy, the reluctance of the political leaders to form broad coalitions under the banner of nationhood, the flimsiness of the constitutional framework for political process, and the breakdown of state mechanisms of social control presaged a turbulent future for the independent Republic of Tajikistan. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The immediate consequence of Gorbachev’s political reforms in Tajikistan was a constant flux in the rules of the political game. The transition from a mono-organisational type of national elite to a disunified one was well advanced. Additionally, non-elite involvement in the political process showed potential for growth: in September 1991, approximately 20 per cent of Tajikistan’s population felt that they had been driven to the edge by the deteriorating economic situation, providing radicals from all elite factions with potential followers. The presence of deep cleavages in Tajik society, mainly of a sub-ethnic and regional nature, always suggested the possibility of an acute internal conflict; however, assuming that ‘civil wars are about a crisis in national sovereignty, and thus about the ability of nation-states to control national space’, it can be argued that the practical realisation of this possibility was conditioned by deliberate acts of (or inaction by) elite leaders affecting the functioning of the state. It was not inevitable that Tajikistan would follow the path of destruction; like the USSR, it ‘succumbed to ill-conceived reforms originating in the leadership, to poor governance, and to bad fortune’.

The relatively open social and political environment during the glasnost era in the Tajik SSR (late 1980s to 1991) allowed for increased freedom of expression and for the emergence of many new civil society groups and political parties. At the same time that political parties and various independent social groups were forming, the state bureaucracy was being restructured. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Gorbachev’s union-wide efforts at perestroika reforms included attacks on and removals of ‘conservative’ apparatchiks in favour of ‘reformist’ cadres who would assist rather than obstruct the implementation of reforms. In Tajikistan this created an intersection of interests whereby pro-perestroika reformists in the state bureaucracy were supported by, and in turn supported, the anti-incumbent agendas of the newly emerging political parties and social movements. Another agenda that must be factored into this political environment is that of the regional elites and their local patronage networks. Local elites in Leninobod, Hisor, Kulob, and to a certain extent in Qurghonteppa, worked to maintain their positions in the face of the perestroika bureaucratic reforms. On the other side, regional elites from the Pamirs and Gharm (including Gharmis in Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa Province) increasingly began to use the political parties and Gorbachev’s reforms as a vehicle to make political gains, as the government often appointed Pamiri and Gharmi reformists to newly vacated positions. Soon, region of origin became associated with support for, or opposition to, the perestroika reforms—both in the bureaucracy in Dushanbe and in the rural areas where local elites (for example, collective farm bosses and provincial/district leaders) had much to gain or lose from the reforms. In Qurghonteppa, the competition between Gharmi and Kulobi administrators for local government positions and control of collective farms was especially intense.

“The competition for state resources and positions of influence continued into the post-Soviet era. At the same time, political parties mobilised in opposition to the incumbent leaders, who also sought to mobilise their own supporters. The combination of an election failure on the part of the opposition, continuing harassment of the opposition and the increased use of large street demonstrations in the capital, plus the reckless rhetoric and actions on both sides, led to an increasingly dangerous political and social atmosphere. The overwhelming belief on the part of both sides—in the face of the mutual security dilemmas—of the need to arm themselves soon turned to escalating violence and eventually open military combat, mainly along the lines of the ‘deep cleavages’ mentioned above.

New Institutions and Reforms in Gorbachev-Era Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: The Extraordinary Session of the Supreme Soviet that sat in two stages from 29 August to 4 October 1991 introduced substantial changes to the political system of the Republic of Tajikistan: 1) the president was to be elected by popular vote forthwith; 2) the institution of vice-president was created; 3) the Cabinet of Ministers was to be formed by the president, but every member of the Cabinet was answerable to the Supreme Soviet; 4) presidiums of regional legislatures were abolished and, as at the district-town level, the chairman of the executive committee became head of the oblast soviet; 5) the president lost the ability to remove chairmen of executive committees at all levels. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Tajikistan’s parliament also addressed the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR and the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation with a passionate plea for help: “We face a real threat of food and energy crisis, ecological catastrophe and a new escalation of social and ethnic tensions … We are convinced that alone, deprived of our cooperation of many years, we cannot overcome the present deep crisis … We cannot imagine our future outside the Union and without ancient indissoluble ties that linked it [Tajikistan] with Russia and other brotherly republics.” Tajik government elites were quite prepared to cede attributes of independence and sovereignty for the sake of retention of the reformed Soviet Union.

On 31 August 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan elected the Gharmi Tajik Qadriddin Aslonov—its current chairman—to serve as interim president until the 24 November presidential elections. Opposition forces, which had insignificant representation in the national legislature, tried to find alternative ways to influence the decision-making process. Rastokhez and the DPT held one meeting after another in front of the Supreme Soviet’s building, demanding dissolution of the Supreme Soviet and new elections, the government’s resignation and prohibition of the Communist Party of Tajikistan (CPT). The Qoziyot and the IRP for the time being refrained from active political action, but, according to Narzullo Dustov, in late August to early September 1991, Akbar Turajonzoda, Tohir Abdujabbor and Dushanbe’s mayor, Maqsud Ikromov, held several clandestine meetings with acting president, Qadriddin Aslonov, in his house. The opposition, sensing its offensive advantage, continued to pressure the incumbents.

“Instead of merely acting as a caretaker, Aslonov had implemented major reforms (including banning the Communist Party and its activities while legalising the IRP) that ‘would destabilize the political situation, and polarize different forces in the republic’. In attempting to ban the activities of the Communist Party, Aslonov was attacking the tool with which the Leninobodis and their junior partners distributed patronage. Previously, the removal of the interior minister and the purge of Kulobis in law enforcement and security bodies (resulting in gains for Pamiris) were significant, as these actions removed the Kulobis’ guarantee of law enforcement protection. Now their farm bosses and regional politicians were ‘vulnerable to future reforms’. Markowitz cites this vulnerability as the key in the shift from ‘disaffection’ to defensive mobilisation.

“The response of the overwhelming communist majority (94 per cent) in the Supreme Soviet to Aslonov’s decrees—reforms that were reached without any consensus among communist leaders—was to force Aslonov out of office on 23 September during an emergency session of the Supreme Soviet and to appoint Rahmon Nabiyev, a previous first secretary of the Tajik SSR, to the chairmanship of the Supreme Soviet and to the position of interim president. The Supreme Soviet immediately moved to reverse Aslonov’s decrees—re-banning the IRP while reinstating the Communist Party. The Supreme Soviet reintroduced a state of emergency and martial law in Dushanbe and instructed the procurator-general, Nurullo Khuvaydulloev, to investigate the incident with Lenin’s monument. In response, the opposition restarted their demonstrations in Dushanbe, this time for three weeks.”

Protests in Tajikistan in September 1991

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “On 21 September, the IRP brought its supporters by bus from the Vakhsh Valley and from the mountains of Gharm/Qarotegin to the city, where they camped. In response (or possibly planned ahead of time), on 22 September, Aslonov ‘decided to accommodate the crowds by placing a ban on the activities of the Communist Party and by seizing all its property’. The same day, Mayor Ikromov authorised the removal of Lenin’s statue from the central square of Dushanbe, an action that was carried out in front of cheering demonstrators. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“On 24 September 1991, the IRP, the DPT and Rastokhez, in defiance of martial law, brought 10, 000 people to a demonstration in the capital. This was a well-planned event: the participants had tents, medical units, a press centre and a 300-strong security force; the chairman of the permanent meeting, imam-khotib Qosim Rahmonov from Qurghonteppa, admitted to enjoying generous financial and material support from the southern and eastern districts as well as from City Hall. The state of emergency had no effect in Dushanbe as thousands moved into the city to join the protests. This failure on the part of the government is no surprise considering not only the Tajik government’s lack of effective security forces, but also that the Soviet military announced that it would not enforce the state of emergency. In response, deputies in the Supreme Soviet voted to end the state of emergency on 30 September 1991.

“In addition to its previous demands, the opposition pressed for the resignation of Nabiyev, procurator Khuvaydulloev and the chairman of the State Broadcasting Committee, Otakhon Sayfulloev, as well as for the reversal of the Supreme Soviet’s decisions made on 23 September. For the first time ‘democratic’ and ‘Islamist’ oppositions openly confronted the government as a unified movement; however, some Tajik liberal intellectuals were appalled. According to Narodnaia gazeta, the prominent academic Rahim Masov left Rastokhez in protest against the chaos unleashed by the meeting frenzy [mitingovschina] and the conviction that political goals can be attained through pressure, which conviction is espoused by leaders of various parties who draw in people remote from politics … The meeting, its conduct, the masses of people brought from the districts—not from the city!—mainly the elderly and adolescents … created an impression of a well-directed theatrical performance. Foreign journalists who arrived in Dushanbe somehow discerned a protest of defenders of democracy in what was happening … The clergy had become the moving force, the spring of the events, though democrats and Rastokhez posed as its organisers.

“The Supreme Soviet’s supporters organised parallel demonstrations in Dushanbe, using methods similar to those of the opposition: people were transported to the capital city from Kulob and Hisor on orders from local strongmen. In Leninobod, industrial managers issued warnings to the opposition that unless pressure on the parliament stopped they would go on strike. On 30 September, work in 11 of the largest factories in Khujand stopped. Political turmoil seriously affected Tajikistan’s economy, especially agriculture.”

Moscow-Imposed Conflict Regulation

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: In the meantime, Gulrukhsor Safieva, by then a USSR people’s deputy, and seven Sufi leaders from Gharm and Qarotegin went on a hunger strike. This move received sympathetic coverage in the Moscow-based media. Telegrams from opposition supporters poured into the Kremlin requesting intervention. Gorbachev reacted by sending a conciliation team to Dushanbe. The activity of this team formed one of the stranger events in the modern history of Tajikistan and once again highlighted the ineffectual character of Gorbachev as the leader of a multinational state. The team comprised two members of his Political Consultative Committee: St Petersburg’s mayor, Anatolii Sobchak, and vice-president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, academician Evgenii Velikhov. Both were ardent reformist democrats but had no experience of Central Asia, so they were accompanied by an advisor, an American citizen, Alexander Yanov, a history professor from the City University of New York. The juridical status of the Sobchak-Velikhov expedition was dubious—it had not been invited by the government of independent Tajikistan, and it had no clearly defined agenda. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Velikhov disclosed in October 1991 that the president of the USSR had not bothered to determine their powers or to discuss possible actions and outcomes, and went on with a remarkable narrative of the mission: “Gorbachev did not hold any briefing with us prior to our departure … we just packed up quickly and flew to Dushanbe … We did not receive any useful information from Yanov … We did not offer any solutions … but we said sternly that we would not go back to Moscow while people starve themselves to death in the square … Though I am not a specialist in this field, I have made the following conclusions, having acquainted myself with the developments in situ: I believe, a union between Islam and democracy is necessary in the republic today. And if this union is durable and if its activities are open and understandable for the people, it will be the basis for consolidation of the main forces in the society.”

Between 1 and 4 October 1991, Sobchak and Velikhov conducted a series of negotiations with Rahmon Nabiyev, the Supreme Soviet leadership, Qozikalon Turajonzoda and major opposition figures, and spoke in front of the meeting in Ozodi Square. As a result, most of the opposition’s demands were met: 1) the CPT (which changed its name to the Socialist Party of Tajikistan on 21 September) was suspended for two months pending an investigation of its activities during the coup; 2) the state of emergency was lifted; 3) the ban on the formation of religious parties was lifted; 4) Rahmon Nabiyev stepped down as the chairman of the Supreme Soviet for the duration of the presidential race and was replaced with Akbarsho Iskandarov, a Pamiri; 5) representatives of the DPT, Rastokhez and the Qoziyot were included in the Electoral Commission of the Republic of Tajikistan; 6) presidential elections were postponed from 27 October to 25 November in order to allow opposition parties to campaign properly; 7) new parliamentary elections were promised, but without setting a specific date.

Sobchak addressed the meeting in front of the Supreme Soviet with the following words: “Our task is to assist democratic forces and all political movements of the republic to find a common platform, something that would unite you all in order to help the republic start solving its economic and social problems.” A Tajik eyewitness commented on this address as follows: “People like Sobchak fly here from Leningrad and without understanding anything make speeches in front of Islamists gathered in the square: ‘Citizens of Leningrad greet in your presence true democrats. You are the future of Tajikistan. Already the great democrat Herzen said’ … Well, if you ask bearded Gharmis who watch the orator from Leningrad expressionlessly who Herzen is, you are unlikely to get a coherent answer. It is laughable.”

“While their attempts to rally the crowds may have fallen flat, Sobchak and Velikhov, perhaps, unbeknownst to them, tipped the balance of power in favour of the elite factions from Gharm, Qarotegin and the Pamirs. They had a strong bargaining chip in dealing with the incumbent Tajik leadership: the threat to sever financial support from Moscow. As Yanov frankly admitted, had they been sent with a similar mission to the economically strong Ukraine, they would have achieved nothing. Central Asian leaders, Nazarbaev in particular, severely criticised Sobchak’s ‘mediation efforts’ at the time. Sobchak, while publicly declaring himself to be one of the ‘initiators’ of the unification of ‘democratic forces in the center with the national-democratic movements in the republics’, also acknowledged the important divides in Tajikistan: ‘There are also serious difficulties in relations among different sections of the Tajik population … Hence, when we hear today talks about various clans, existing in this or that locality, we realize the danger they create for national consolidation.’

On 26 October 1991, the IRP held its first congress in Dushanbe. Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda was re-elected as its chairman and Davlat Usmon became his deputy. Although the congress that represented 15–20 000 members of the party reiterated the policy line aimed at building a ‘law-based democratic secular state’, Himmatzoda put forward the thesis about moving to an Islamic state of Tajikistan by non-violent means, remarking that ‘Western countries have their democracy and we shall have ours. Our democracy is incompatible with the Western one.’ The legalisation of the IRP and the suspension of the CPT were undoubtedly the most important political events in Tajikistan in autumn 1991.

As Grigorii Kosach has noted:”[T]he communists were not in a position to resume their legal activities until December 1991, when the ban on them was lifted. But by now this was a party that had been divorced from Tajikistan’s power structures and lost not a few adherents … The absence of the centre’s tutelage and the communists’ loss of control over the entire ruling elite turned the confrontation between the two political camps into an open bid for power by the opposition, in which the differences in ideology and principle became ancillary to other considerations. The two camps would clash in earnest during presidential elections in November 1991.

Run Up to the Presidential Election in Tajikistan in 1991

Presidential elections were scheduled for November 1991. The two main candidates were Rahmon Nabiyev aqnd Davlat Khudonazarov. Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In September 1991 the number of candidates for the presidency exceeded twenty. Every region and every substantial political organisation (except the CPT) had nominated a hopeful. By 24 November, only eight remained. From the abovementioned figures, only Rahmon Nabiyev and Davlat Khudonazarov were serious contenders, with other candidates such as Hikmatullo Nasriddinov (Kulob) and Akbar Makhsumov (Gharm) not strong candidates.30 Nabiyev represented the bloc of Leninobodis, Kulobis and Hisoris, and Khudonazarov was supported by elite factions from Gharm, Qarotegin, the GBAO (Pamirs) and muhajirs (that is, Gharmis in Qurghonteppa Province). The legitimate question is, then, why would strongmen in Kulob support Nabiyev versus their recognised leader, Nasriddinov, and, similarly, why would Gharmis vote for Khudonazarov rather than their own Akbar Makhsumov? The answer may be partially found in population statistics. No politician with a power base in only one particular region could have counted on electoral success and success would be heavily dependent on voters’ behaviour in highly heterogeneous Qurghonteppa and Dushanbe, which accounted for one-third of the total vote between them. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Regional Composition of Tajikistan’s Electorate: 1) Leninobod oblast: 31 percent; 2) Qurghonteppa oblast: 21 percent; 3) Gharm zone and eastern districts of republican subordination: 16 percent; 4) Kulob oblast: 12 percent; 5) Dushanbe: 12 percent; Hisor: 5 percent; 6) GBAO (Pamirs): 3 percent. [Source: Itogi Vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1989 goda po Tadzhikskoi SSR, Vol. II (Dushanbe: Goskomstat TSSR, 1991), pp. 10–39]

Rahmon Nabiyev

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: the incumbent candidate, Rahmon Nabiyev, was not unfamiliar with top-level leadership, as he had been first secretary of the Tajik SSR from 1982 until 1985 when Gorbachev removed him due to his lack of enthusiasm for planned reforms. Outside analysts offer critical appraisals of his character. Whitlock assesses the then fifty-nine-year-old unfavourably, stating that he had heart issues, a drinking problem and a poor work ethic. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Shahram Akbarzadeh has come up with the following characterisation of Rahmon Nabiyev: ‘a hardliner with no reformist pretences. As the epitome of the Soviet “nomenklaturnyi” [sic] he was used to top-down command with no taste for compromise. Nabiyev had no experience in negotiating policies with diverse political currents or in seeking support from his opponents.’ This description needs some qualification. Nabiyev was a master of traditional clan politics and temporary coalition-building, and by no means was he bound by any ideological commitments. In 1990, especially in the period preceding the twelfth session of the Supreme Soviet at which Mahkamov was elected president of the Tajik SSR, Nabiyev became quite close to Akbar Turajonzoda, Asliddin Sohibnazarov, Tohir Abdujabbor and other influential opponents of Mahkamov.

Opposition groups sponsored Nabiyev’s comeback to politics after five years of inactivity and separation from the summit of power and ‘actively promoted his image as an advocate of the independence of Tajikistan and the well-being of its people. All their publications contained one refrain: weak-willed Mahkamov must be replaced by strong Nabiyev. Undoubtedly, the Qoziyot and the IRP rendered Nabiyev serious assistance. He suited them in the transitional period.’ As soon as Qahhor Mahkamov stepped down as president and the IRP was legalised, the tone of the opposition’s statements changed rapidly: ‘The election of Nabiyev [as chairman of the Supreme Soviet] is wrong … Aren’t there any other cadres in our republic apart from Mahkamov and Nabiyev … How often is Nabiyev sober? Whose fate is more attractive to Nabiyev—Pinochet’s, Mussolini’s or Ceausescu’s?’

In the autumn of 1991, Nabiyev managed to rally the majority of the northern ‘clans’ around him. He formed an alliance with Abdumalik Abdullojonov; the latter was offered indemnity from any inquiry into the activities of the Ministry of Grain Products, and his relative, Temur Mirzoev, was promised the position of mayor of Dushanbe. A prominent politician, Safarali Kenjaev, who had a power base in the Ayni district of the Leninobod oblast, as well as in Hisor, became Nabiyev’s campaign manager. Sayfiddin Turaev, representative of a powerful Uroteppa (Istaravshon) group of clans and another runner-up for the presidency, was seriously weakened when one of his associates, deputy procurator-general, Amirqul Azimov, defected to Nabiyev’s camp. Nabiyev also had a substantial following in the Kulob oblast. By October 1991, the group of Hikmatullo Nasriddinov had become largely a spent force, for it had failed to use the post–February 1990 elite settlement to improve economic conditions in the Kulob region. Local groups, such as Oshkoro, and charismatic strongmen, such as the criminal authority Sangak Safarov, canvassed for Nabiyev. Generally, Kulobis remembered Nabiyev’s tenure as the party leader in 1982–85 as a period of growth and prosperity; this perception received a further boost when in September 1991 massive shipments of food and consumer goods from Leninobod to Kulob commenced. Unsurprisingly, more than half of all telegrams and letters from labour collectives nominating Nabiyev that were received by the Electoral Commission originated from Kulob.

Davlat Khudonazarov

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The IRP, the DPT, La’li Badakhshon, Rastokhez and a number of creative unions and public associations nominated the Pamiri cinematographer Davlat Khudonazarov as their presidential candidate. Khudonazarov is a unique and tragic figure in the political history of Tajikistan. At the age of sixteen, he was admitted to the All-Union Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. His work as a cameraman and later film director won accolades throughout the country and abroad. Although his father, Khudonazar Mamadnazarov, was a high-ranking CPT official, Khudonazarov himself was always at loggerheads with the Soviet establishment. He was a disciple of Andrei Sakharov, and after becoming a USSR people’s deputy in 1989, he joined the reformist Interregional Group faction in the Soviet parliament. Gorbachev coopted him to the CPSU CC alongside 60 other reformers. Khudonazarov did not formally belong to any political organisation in Tajikistan, but his ties with the DPT and Rastokhez were well known. Khudonazarov was one of the few Tajik politicians who openly castigated regionalism in the republic’s politics. Khudonazarov understood that, being a Pamiri, he had no chances of being elected on his own, so he accepted the endorsement of the force to which he had natural antipathy—that is, the Islamists. Even then he knew that his victory would require a major miracle. Still, Khudonazarov decided to fight to reform the system. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

The opposition banked on Khudonazarov for purely pragmatic reasons: he was likely to attract the votes of the cosmopolitan intelligentsia and the Pamiris. Even more importantly, Khudonazarov had exceptionally good ties in the Kremlin (as well as later in the West) and could provide the opposition with the international publicity it so badly needed. Indeed, during the presidential campaign, Moscow-based journalists spared no effort to support his cause; Channels 1 and 2 aired a series of trailers in November that urged the voters in Tajikistan to make a decision in Khudonazarov’s favour.

Khudonazarov’s colleagues had the following to say about his qualities. 1) ) Ella Pamfilova, USSR MP: ‘As a presidential candidate, Davlat is marked by a truly statesmanlike way of thinking … He is one of those politicians who can introduce an element of lofty morality to politics.’; 2) Iurii Ryzhov, chairman of the Science Committee of the USSR Supreme Soviet: ‘If we want to come to a civil society and social justice, we need people with a European mode of thinking. Davlat is one of them.’; 3) Vladimir Volkov, USSR MP: ‘He enjoys great authority with the leaders of Russia, Boris Yeltsin in particular. Personal links between state leaders are extremely important, voters in Tajikistan should remember this.’; 4) Aleksandr Iakovlev, chief advisor to President Gorbachev: ‘Democracy is the essence of life for him. He is a Man of Freedom of the perestroika epoch.’ Khudonazov’s supporters even attempted to solicit endorsement from as far abroad as California, with the presumption that the president of Stanford University would have an interest in the upcoming elections in Tajikistan.

Campaign for the Presidential Election in Tajikistan in 1991

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “During the campaign Nabiyev put emphasis on stability and gradual change, while Khudonazarov and his would-be vice-president and the DPT deputy chairman, Asliddin Sohibnazarov (who represented the interests of a group of districts to the east of Dushanbe bordering on Gharm), actively exploited the themes of reformism, nationalism and Islam. Sociological monitoring conducted by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tajikistan showed that Nabiyev’s supporters had a much clearer idea about their candidate than those of Khudonazarov. Nabiyev had managed to capitalise on his image as an experienced and paternalistic leader; it is noteworthy that in both cases commitment to democratic ideals did not feature as an important criterion. Moreover, Khudonazarov’s nationalist stance eventually repelled the non-Tajik voters (aside from of course the Pamiris), and Nabiyev acquired a substantial lead amongst all ethnic electoral cohorts. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Nabiyev’s selection of Narzullo Dustov as vice-president was a carefully designed measure: the latter was born in Darvoz, in the Pamirs, but his paternal ancestors used to live in Baljuvon of Kulob. Dustov was a hardworking transport official devoid of any political ambitions, who had a reputation of being not particularly clever. He had no patronage web behind him but enjoyed the reputation as a person sympathetic to the problems of the common people. In his election program, Nabiyev announced that ‘the accelerated growth of productive forces of the Kulob oblast, the GBAO, Qarotegin Valley and other mountainous districts should become the decisive element of our socio-economic strategy’, but, overall, this document was little more than an assortment of populist promises and did not touch upon the principles of state building in independent Tajikistan at all. The problem of sub-ethnic fragmentation in the country deserved one short line: ‘regionalism has increased.’

Results of Presidential Election in Tajikistan in 1991

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: The returns of the poll on 24 November 1991 were as follows: Nabiyev, 56.92 per cent, and Khudonazarov, 30.07 per cent. Generally, traditional factors proved to be decisive in the election’s outcome. The structure of the vote corresponded to the regional affiliation of the candidates: Nabiyev and Dustov scored 80–100 per cent in northern constituencies, 90 per cent in Kulob, but, for example, only 0.02 per cent in Qalai Khumb in the GBAO. The vote in Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa was split fifty–fifty. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Nabiyev’s team had skilfully used prejudices to smear Khudonazarov: he was pronounced unworthy of becoming the leader because ‘he was born illegally, for he was conceived by his real father when his mother was married to another man’. Khudonazarov, an Ismaili Pamiri, endured pro-incumbent taunts during the election campaign labelling him a ‘Badakhshani kafir’ (that is, a non-Tajik and an infidel). Mullahs in Kulob habitually referred to Khudonazarov as an unbeliever or a heretic, successfully ‘fanning the fire of suspicion and hatred against the Ismaili sect’.

Personal Qualities Most Appreciated by Loyal Voters in Presidential Candidates (October 1991: A) Rahmon Nabiyev: Ability to unite different parties: 48 percent; Modesty: 57 percent; Moral purity: 48 percent; Good knowledge of Tajik literature and language: 42 percent; Knowledge of economics: 63 percent; Faithfulness to Islam: 17 percent; Attention to people’s needs: 64 percent; Skills of managing the state: 68 percent. B) Davlat Khudonazarov: Ability to unite different parties: 34 percent; Modesty: 25 percent; Moral purity: 32 percent; Good knowledge of Tajik literature and language: 44 percent; Knowledge of economics: 18 percent; Faithfulness to Islam: 70 percent; Attention to people’s needs: 20 percent; Skills of managing the state: 68 percent; 19 percent. [Source: Vybory Prezidenta Respubliki Tadzhikistan: Sotsiologicheskii monitoring (Dushanbe: Press-sluzhba KM RT, 1991), p. 21.; Note: The survey involved 1361 respondents in all regions and districts of Tajikistan, except the GBAO]

Election Preferences of Ethnic Groups, October– November 1991: I) For Rahmon Nabiyev (28–31 October, 14–16 November): A) Tajiks: 66 percent; 58 percent; B) Uzbeks: 89 percent; 74 percent; C) Russians and Ukrainians: 56 percent; 79 percent; D) Other nationalities: 47 percent; 73 percent. II) For Davlat Khudonazarov (28–31 October, 14–16 November): A) Tajiks: 28 percent; 26 percent; B) Uzbeks: 14 percent; 16 percent; C) Russians and Ukrainians: 35 percent; 15 percent; D) Other nationalities: 41 percent; 16 percent. Source: Vybory Prezidenta Respubliki Tadzhikistan. Sotsiologicheskii monitoring (Dushanbe: Press-sluzhba KM RT, 1991), p. 20.

“The opposition claimed the vote was fraudulent, arguing that Khudonazarov had actually received 40 per cent of the vote; however, Khudonazarov accepted defeat with bitterness but as something naturally determined; the opposition chose not to challenge the results, although there were likely irregularities, ‘in view of the widely regarded fairness of the election process’. In other words, the opposition could only realistically claim that its losing margin was less than official figures. On 2 December 1991, Rahmon Nabiyev took an oath as the first popularly elected president of the Republic of Tajikistan. Clearly, the elections and the accusations and rhetoric surrounding them ‘further polarized forces in the republic’.

Rahmon Nabiyev’s Presidency

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Nabiyev was certainly capable of maintaining the elite’s consensual unity using his authority, flexibility, communication skills and personal charm in a stable mono-organisational political system. But in December 1991, he inherited a system that had become highly unstable, where the old rules of the elite settlement had been annulled and new ones had not yet emerged. In the neighbouring republics at the time, Islom Karimov and Saparmurat Niyazov were feverishly constructing overtly authoritarian regimes, while Nursultan Nazarbaev and Askar Akaev opted for quasi-democratic coalitions dominated by a strong executive. Nabiyev as president remained somnolent: ‘he was sure that after gaining power, he would inherit automatically absolute subordination to the will of “the First,” which had existed before, when the system itself reliably guaranteed the functioning of various spheres of the Republic’s life … Nabiyev was not ready to work under new conditions.’ [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In late 1991, a think tank attached to the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Tajikistan sent a detailed memorandum to the Presidential Office, pinpointing the main problems that the regime faced. This document concluded in particular that: 1) under conditions of deepening economic crisis and decaying social welfare, political struggle is conducive to processes of disintegration in society; 2) the government’s authority is weakened by the instability of legal foundations, the absence of mechanisms to carry out laws and decisions and weak control over their implementation, which leads to misuse of power by local structures; 3) the unceasing redistribution of political and economic powers between the centre and peripheral organs and executive and legislative institutions disorients the populace; 4) the structures of presidential authority are characterised by blurred functions, lack of levers of social mobilisation and inherent instability.

“The economic situation in the country was critical. Food shortages were common in the cities. In his radio address to the people on 29 January 1992, Nabiyev said: ‘You all know better than anyone else … that the republic has no reserves and no potential. The budget has been fixed only for the first three months of the year, unfortunately, and contains many faults.’ Yet, instead of cutting budget expenditure and introducing market reforms, Nabiyev, in a truly populist fashion, blamed greedy merchants and the nascent strata of businessmen for the economic troubles and launched an attack on them under the new law ‘On Strengthening Control over Cooperatives’: ‘In Dushanbe, regional centres and districts … cooperatives, small enterprises and procurement shops began to be liquidated. Tens of thousands of people were rendered jobless.’Tajikistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1991, but relations amongst its member states desperately lacked proper institutionalisation. Nabiyev showed remarkable slackness in this respect—for instance, by June 1992, Tajikistan remained the only Central Asian republic that had not signed a cooperation agreement with the Russian Federation.

Problems with Rahmon Nabiyev’s Presidency

“Nabiyev’s attempt to build a strong presidency failed miserably. He could not even run his personal office properly. His chief of staff, Karim Abdulov, who had a staff of 33 people, has left a scathing description of how the office operated over the 10 months in 1991–92: “Nobody worked with us. The President did not have time. The Vice-President met with our officers once, and that was it. Every Councilor and Adviser worked on his own problems. Weekly briefings were deemed unnecessary by the President … Most meetings of the President took place without preparation … [Eventually t]he traffic of visitors began to be controlled by the group of Anatolii Omoev [Nabiyev’s bodyguard of many years] … Day by day Omoev’s and his friends’ clients poured in to talk with the President … However, government officials who wanted to discuss issues of state importance did not have a hope of being given an audience.” [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: The aggregation of pro-Nabiyev support was implemented by a variety of vertical and horizontal structures, united temporarily by considerations of preserving the status quo. It would have taken immense institutional craftsmanship to make them stick together. Following his victory, Nabiyev did nothing to create a political machine behind his regime. In early 1992 it was disclosed that ‘the relations between R. Nabiyev and the Communist Party are rather complicated. According to sources close to the President, R. Nabiyev will try to finish the Party off because he had suffered from the Party arbitrariness in the mid-1980s.’ The Supreme Court of Tajikistan cleared the CPT’s name and on 18 January 1992 it held its twenty-third congress, but Nabiyev refused to restore the bulk of its property, including the building of the Central Committee in Dushanbe. The newly elected CPT leader and Mahkamov’s long-time ally, Shodi Shabdolov, was not on speaking terms with Nabiyev.

“Nabiyev rewarded his supporters by promoting them to senior positions in the civil service. Of course, he was not unique in making non-merit-based bureaucratic appointments and sinecures for loyalists the order of the day, but in a nascent independent state like Tajikistan there was a great need for skilled bureaucrats and stable government structures. Experienced personnel from Mahkamov’s era faced wholesale dismissal; entire ministries were dissolved and then resuscitated, chaos prevailed, and the ‘heavy burden of serving the people and dealing with the republic’s problems landed on the shoulders of just 7–8 capable officials’.

“Experts’ recommendation was clear: it was imperative to consolidate social control by all possible means through establishing a strong presidency; they also believed that it could be done quickly and painlessly. Nabiyev failed to heed this advice. He made mistake after mistake. He did not even try to gain control over regional administrations (as Karimov successfully did in Uzbekistan in January 1992 by introducing the institution of appointed governors who existed parallel to elected soviets). He was in no hurry to set up national armed forces. He retained General Anatolii Stroikin, invited in July 1991 from Kazakhstan, as the chairman of the Committee of State Security—the successor to Tajikistan’s KGB; Stroikin ‘could not orient himself properly in the intricate and complex situation, which led to a split in [Tajikistan’s] security organs’.

“After his inauguration, Nabiyev appointed a new cabinet. Akbar Mirzoev, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Kulob oblast, became premier. Nabiyev also secured the election of Safarali Kenjaev as the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, instead of acting chairman, Akbarsho Iskandarov. Thus the prerogative of the Pamiris and Gharmis to head Tajikistan’s legislature was violated. Both Mirzoev and Kenjaev had substantial political resources of their own and could act independently of the president. As an opposition observer wrote in May 1992 in an article entitled ‘The Flailing King’, ‘in the ruling triumvirate Nabiyev is just a figurehead … whose brain has shrunk due to excessive consumption of alcohol, and who, naturally, does not play any role in running the state’. While this statement was an obvious exaggeration, Hikmatullo Nasriddinov, who at the time chaired one of the Supreme Soviet committees, concurred that ‘Akbar Mirzoev considered some of the requests, suggestions and edicts of Rahmon Nabiyev unacceptable and even rejected them or left them unattended’. Clearly, the presence of regional strongmen at the top undercut state capabilities to extract and distribute resources, mobilise the masses and regulate social relations.”

Opposition During Nabiyev’s Presidency

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Following the presidential elections, there was a lull in the struggle amongst elite factions, while they regrouped and prepared for future battles. Relative tranquillity was also maintained by the personal efforts of Nabiyev, who met with Qozikalon Turajonzoda and opposition leaders more frequently than with his own executives. This provided a feeble alternative to working out an overarching intra-elite pact, which theoretically should have: a) confined the sphere of political action to rational, controllable processes, such as elections and parliamentary debates; b) precluded intervention of extraneous forces in decision-making; and c) envisaged a more equitable distribution of benefits amongst regional factions. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In regards to the president’s strategy for dealing with the opposition, Nabiyev and his allies, perceiving themselves as ‘powerful and unchallengeable … began a crackdown against the entire opposition’. Nabiyev’s tactic was to initiate a broad attack against both his internal competition within the Communist Party and all the opposition parties at the same time; however, his purges pushed some government figures into the opposition while his attacks on opposition figures and parties served to help unite them against the political leadership of Tajikistan. The result was a larger and more united opposition.

“At the beginning of 1992, the government strengthened its campaign against the opposition parties. The government began legal proceedings against members of the DPT, Rastokhez and the IRP. In addition, the government passed new laws restricting press freedom and the right to assemble in public. Freedom of expression was also curtailed, with government prosecutors charging various opposition leaders with insulting government leaders. The conflictive environment persisted in Tajikistan and needed only a single impetus to erupt into violence. It came in March 1992.

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.

Last updated April 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.