Recalling How Kyrgyz helped during Tajik Civil War in 1992-1997

On June 29th neighboring Tajikistan  celebrates National Reconciliation Day. The civil war, which began in 1992, lasted for five years and killed more than 100,000 people. Columnist Almaz Batilov talks about Kyrgyzstan’s contribution to ending the war.

Written by Almaz Batilov on, translated and adapted by Bagymdat Atabaeva (originally published 14:44 27.06.2018, renewed 12:44 05.10.2019)

With more than 100,000 dead during the Civil War, the same amount of Tajiks have gone missing as a result of the war. More than 200,000 Tajiks have been forced to seek asylum in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States, member states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) and Afghanistan. Today, the aftermath of the civil war continues to affect not only the former Soviet Union but also countries in the Middle East. In 1997, Kyrgyzstan worked tirelessly to end the civil war in Tajikistan and bring peace. Unfortunately, most Kyrgyzstanis and Tajiks are currently unaware of this historical fact.

With the initiative of Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in the USSR in 1985, political and economic reforms began in the country. They were aimed at radically changing the Soviet system. However, in the former Soviet republics, civil strife and wars erupted because of various social, economic, and national conflicts and political problems.

© Sputnik / Ratushenko

How the Civil War began?

In 1988, war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, while in 1992, a civil war broke out in the neighboring Tajikistan. The main reason for this was the difficult economic situation in the country. Secondary, reason for the conflict was that religious radicalism has intensified. During the “perestroika” period the “Revival of Islam”, “Rastokhez”, and “Lali Badakhshan” parties were formed in Tajikistan to fight against the Communist Party’s elite. Unfortunately, this political confrontation turned into an inter-regional war.

During the Soviet era, most of Tajikistan’s leadership positions were held by the natives from Leninabad. The men of the Kolop region, on the other hand, were close to the group of natives, so they dominated the state security forces. At the same time, the two groups used various barriers to prevent high-ranking officials from Garm, Gorno-Badakhshan, and Gissar. That’s why there were sayings among Tajiks: “Leninabad rules the country, Kolop is always at war with a weapon, while Garm is the palace of creativity and art, and Badakhshan is a place to dance.”On November 24, 1991, Tajikistan’s first presidential election was won by Rahmon Nabiev from Leninabad descent. Opposition forces and mullahs, who support his main rival, local Pamir director Davlat Khudonazarov, have protested and called on his supporters to stage anti-government rallies. Kolop, Leninabad and Gisar groups held rallies in support of Nabiev in Dushanbe’s Ozodi Square. Meanwhile, representatives of Karategin, Gorno-Badakhshan and Matchinsky districts of Leninabad are located in Shahidon Square, where the opposition is fighting for its interests. On May 5, 1992, bloodshed broke out between the two groups, sparking a civil war.

© Sputnik / R. Mangasaryan

“Vovchiks” and “Yurchiks” (In the Russian-speaking environment, supporters of the Islamists were called “vovchiks” (from the word Wahhabism), and supporters of the Popular Front – “yurchiks“, on behalf of Yuri Andropov (was the sixth paramount leader of the Soviet Union and the fourth General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), because of the significant number of former police officers and the KGB of the Tajik SSR in their ranks.)

Islamist opposition leaders have begun killing dissident members. At the time, Islamist groups in Afghanistan were said to be supplying militants with weapons. Anti-government parties form a coalition called the United Tajik Opposition. Proponents of the government have called opposition supporters “vovchiks.” This meant that he “adhered to the views of Wahhabism.” The Vovchiks were led by prominent cleric Said Abdullo Nuri. Authorities form the People’s Front of Tajikistan. They called themselves “yurchiks.” The Yurchiks honored Yuri Andropov, the glorious head of the USSR’s Security Committee and head of state. Their leader was Sangak Safarov, a respected figure in the criminal world. Because Sangak was the best organizer and orator with a word in his mouth, he was highly respected by his supporters despite the fact that he has spent a total of 23 years in prison.

© Sputnik / A. Zamakhin

The ambassador, who arrived on an armored carrier

During the civil war in Tajikistan, there were rare incidents in the practice of world diplomacy. The Chinese ambassador boarded an armored personnel carrier at the residence of Tajikistan’s first president, Nabiev, to negotiate the opening of an embassy. Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to Tajikistan at the time, Eric Asanaliev, said that the neighboring country’s foreign ministry had taken this step to ensure the Chinese ambassador’s safety.

© Sputnik / Ratushenko

A step towards reconciliation. How Kyrgyzstan intervened?

During Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war, more than 200,000 people were forced to flee their homeland and seek asylum in another country. It caused $ 10 billion in damage to the country’s economy. Therefore, the desperate Tajik elite sought to resolve the situation.

Negotiations between opposition forces led by President Emomali Rahmon, who came to power in early 1994, and Said Abdullah Nuri (led the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan from 1993 until he died of cancer in 2006) will last until mid-1997. Meetings in Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have unfortunately failed.

© Sputnik / Ratushenko

In May 1997, one of the most important talks took place in Bishkek with the intervention of the president of Kyrgyzstan at that time, Askar Akaev. This conversation was very fruitful. Kyrgyzstan’s then-ambassador to Tajikistan, Eric Asanaliev, took part in six rounds of four-year Tajik talks. Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva and the head of the Defense Ministry’s General Military Intelligence Service, General Jumabek Asankulov, analyzed the situation in the neighboring country and developed a strategy at the state level to end the civil war. As Kyrgyzstan made a significant contribution to the 1994 reconciliation of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Kyrgyzstanis have used the experience of ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Negotiations between official Dushanbe and the United Opposition, which took place in Bishkek for three days, were successful. As a result, on June 27 of that year in Moscow, the United Opposition and official Dushanbe signed a general agreement on national reconciliation with the establishment of peace. Thus, the peace process in Tajikistan gradually began.

It is unfortunate that in the recent history of independent Kyrgyzstan most people are unaware that former President Otunbaeva and General Asankulov and diplomat Asanaliev have worked hard to bring peace to the neighboring country. In addition, I believe that it is very important for the public to fully analyze and draw conclusions from the civil war in Tajikistan.

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