Tajikistan – Chapter One

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Tajikistan

There is a cruel irony in the lessons of Tajikistan’s migration history, and it is for scholars to determine to what degree the Stalin regime’s forced population movements created the cleavages of the recent civil war. After the Bolsheviks defeated the Central Asian resistance fighters and brought the region under Soviet control, Moscow’s economic planners set out for the territory’s vast, arid plains. Their vision was to create huge collective farms for cotton, which would be harvested and shipped back to Russia.

The two major rivers of the region were siphoned off for gargantuan irrigation canals, and thousands of Tajiks were forcibly relocated from Garm district to perform backbreaking labor. Once resettled, many Garmis built separate villages and coexisted along side settlements of Tajiks and ethnic Uzbeks who were native to the south. Sharing the same Persian language with the local Tajiks, the immigrants from Garm quickly came to regard the south as their adopted homeland, although they preserved their own regional accent and traditions.

Locally, the Garmis earned a reputation for hard work and enterprise. By the end of the 1980s, they held administrative positions on the huge state farms and managed the majority of shops in the towns. According to some analysts, the prominence and relative prosperity of the Garmis bred resentment among other Tajiks and local Uzbeks, and this was only kept in check by the system of Soviet security.

At the national level, by contrast, the Garmis were largely excluded from political power. The Tajik communist elite, hailing from the north, formed a strategic alliance with Tajik clans in a key southern cotton-producing district called Kulob.

When Tajikistan gained independence in September 1991, following the abortive coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, the long-excluded groups of Tajiks—Garmis and Pamiris from Gorno-Badakshan—actively participated in the peaceful street protests aimed at dislodging the communist-backed leadership.

Camped in the center of Tajikistan’s gentle, tree-lined capital, the opposition drew a variety of followers, from pro-democracy intellectuals to Islamic fundamentalists. By May 1992, a counter-demonstration of government supporters from Kulob pitched camp at the opposite end of town and gunfire broke out after both camps obtained hundreds of weapons.

After several days of negotiating and shooting, the president ceded power and formed a coalition government with portfolios for the opposition.

But the battle quickly shifted from Dushanbe to the south, where Garmis and other opposition forces battled with the Kulobi militias defending the old order. By October, the Kulobis gained the military edge with crucial support from the former Soviet forces in Tajikistan and from neighboring Uzbekistan.

The Kulobis, led by prominent local criminals and now named the Popular Front, launched a campaign to kill or expel

all Garmis from the south, looting and burning their villages. Having completed that, the Popular Front pressed on to Dushanbe, where they arrested and killed scores of prominent Garmis and Pamiris, often on the mere presumption of their sympathy with the opposition.

By year’s end, the government forces were solidly in power, buttressed by the Kulobis, as well as Russia and Uzbekistan. Some 100,000 Tajik refugees were huddled in northern Afghanistan, while another 600,000 were internally displaced. Estimates of the dead range widely from 20,000 to 60,000. More than 100,000 Tajiks, many of the land’s best-educated citizens, fled to neighboring countries.

For the next five years, the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), trained and armed in Afghanistan, waged a low-intensity

conflict with government forces until signing the peace accord in June 1997.

via Tajikistan – Chapter One.

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