Earth above the clouds. Olga Abramenko – about violence in the Pamirs

The phrase that accompanies the news about Russia’s war against Ukraine has already become familiar: “It is not possible to check the information,” even if you introduce a special abbreviation. This applies not only to the reports of eyewitnesses in social networks, but also to the official statements of the warring parties, although it would seem that the whole world is closely following the events in Ukraine, journalists, human rights activists, and a special group for documenting war crimes work there.

Meanwhile, in a part of Eurasia far from Ukraine, in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan, another “special operation” (the authorities in Dushanbe call it anti-terrorist) unfolded, which did not find proper reflection in the world media and is perceived as a local phenomenon. Even human rights activists rarely write about the non-recognition and discrimination of the Pamir peoples, ethnic-religious and linguistic minorities, recently the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of minorities reacted to the situation in Gorno-Badakhshan. It is not possible to verify the scarce information from there, not only because the Pamirs are far and high, and not only because local journalists are under enormous pressure and cannot freely cover what is happening, but also for the simple technical reason that since November 2021, in Internet and mobile communications are disabled in the area.

With all the difference, eyewitness reports that nevertheless break through this iron curtain show that local residents see direct analogies with the war in Ukraine in the confrontation between the population and law enforcement agencies. Journalist Anora Sarkorova, who at one time was actually banned by the Tajik authorities from working in her profession and who now remains almost the only source of reports from the scene, reports the words of one of the residents: “Vamar is like Bucha. There are corpses everywhere. They are looking for people. They are being taken to departments police and the State Committee for National Security for interrogation and beaten to death.” Vamar is the center of the Rushan district, where on May 16 protesters blocked the road to the capital of the region, Khorog, in order to delay a military convoy (they knocked down trees, made obstacles from tires).

After Bucha, the world was convinced that the most incredible can be the terrible truth

They write that the security forces did not allow to take away not only the bodies of the dead, but also the still alive wounded protesters, who as a result bled to death and died. They write that in the Rushansky district there is a wholesale “cleansing”, that men are taken to the border commandant’s office – from their homes and from the hospital, they are tortured and after interrogations they are killed; Sarkorova names one of those dead – 44-year-old Shukhrat Rushtov. They write about numerous acts of looting. Reportedly, the death of 7 people who were in the garden in Wamara, from shelling with packages from a helicopter. They write that snipers shot down those demonstrators who tried to hide in the mountains. They write that 17 people who drove from Dushanbe to Khorog by car are missing, all of them are relatives or acquaintances of those whom the authorities call “organizers of the riots.” They write that the death toll could be about 40 people, but only 21 (or 25, or 27) of the dead were allowed to bury (including 30-year-old Zamir Nazarshoev, who died first), the rest have not yet been found. There are rumors that the bodies of those killed were thrown into the river, so many doubt that they will be found at all. They say that Tajikistan requested the extradition of about 350 Pamirs living in Russia, some of them have Russian citizenship (this is how the MMA fighter Chorshanbe Chorshanbiev, who had already been sentenced to 8.5 years, and the activist of the Pamir community Amriddin Alovatshoev, who was sentenced to 18 years). To all this we must add the phrase “it is not possible to verify”, because the reports of eyewitnesses through social networks are our only more or less reliable source of information. I don’t want to believe in all this, but after Bucha the world was convinced that the most incredible can be the terrible truth.

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The Tajik media write something completely different: “a special operation to neutralize armed militants in the Rushan district of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of the country has been completed”, not a single civilian was injured, only “terrorists” were killed and captured, weapons were brought in advance from abroad, among “militants” were “foreign mercenaries”… The Russian Foreign Ministry is developing this terminology – “criminal elements and extremists who joined them.” Data on the dead and wounded, on the use of weapons by the protesters differ significantly (the Tajik Ministry of Internal Affairs lists the models of captured pistols and machine guns, and in social networks they write that the protesters did not have firearms), but how to check this?

For many years, the authorities of Tajikistan have not found any other way to talk with the population, except for the military suppression of protest moods. Of the previous similar situations, the riots in 2012 were the bloodiest. Then troops were also brought into GBAO, there were also numerous victims, mobile communications were also turned off, and all this was also called a “special operation.” Since then, the military presence in the region has increased, and the Pamirs talk about today’s events as a routine: “Everything again went according to the usual scenario: helicopters began to fly, fire at us, snipers settled on the heights and began to shoot to kill.” But here is what distinguishes the current confrontation from the events of 10 years ago: then the civil society of Tajikistan was active, and a coalition of leading human rights organizations, following the results of a serious monitoring mission, published a detailed report on human rights violations, eyewitness accounts, and even (!) The reaction of the authorities – official responses to requests. In the current circumstances, this seems surprising, now there is no dialogue with the population as such, human rights activists and civil activists have no opportunity to influence the situation.

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This is exactly what the protesters on May 14 and 16 demanded – access for independent observers, local and foreign journalists to Gorno-Badakhshan: bodies of acts that took place on November 25-28, 2021 and caused protests, and then arrests, persecution, and convictions of the natives of the Pamirs. They also demanded to finally withdraw troops from the militarized region, with the exception of police and border guards, to stop the practice of intimidation, arrests, forced television confessions, and most importantly, they demanded guarantees that the Tajik government would not suppress peaceful protests by force.

In 2017, the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the situation of ethnic minorities in Tajikistan. We wrote that the government denies prejudice against the Pamirs, but such an attitude takes place: these people are identified visually, by a characteristic accent in the Tajik language, by the place of birth indicated in the passport; they are not taken into account separately in the population census (recording as Tajiks); the Pamirs, who mostly profess Ismailism, are often considered “wrong Muslims”, although average Tajiks have the most vague ideas about Ismailism; Pamiris are not appointed to government positions, considering them disloyal and suspecting the region as a whole of separatism; that the languages ​​of the Pamirs are neglected at the state level.

The subtitle of our report was: “From non-recognition to discrimination”, and some colleagues felt that we spoke too harshly (not to mention the Tajik authorities, who took the criticism with hostility). However, our then assessments, alas, were confirmed: the violation of the rights of the Pamirs led to the protests of November 2021 and their suppression, to new protests and to the current next “anti-terrorist operation” with numerous victims.

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Authorities accused several people of organizing the illegal rally on May 16, 2022 and subsequent riots. One of them, Alim Sherzamonov, an opposition politician of the Social Democratic trend, is abroad. The second is General of the Border Troops Kholbash Kholbashov; the Pamirs believe that he was kidnapped by the security forces. The third – the “informal leader” Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov – was killed on May 22. Press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: “As a result of internal criminal squabbles.” Social networks, citing local sources: “Shot by a sniper from one of the law enforcement agencies of the republic.” The Pamirs romanticize Mamadbokirov and consider his death heroic. Will we ever know what happened?

The fourth defendant is journalist Ulfathonim Mamadshoeva. She is charged with “public calls for a violent change in the constitutional order,” but no one knows where and whom she “called for.” The press has already told how Ulfathonim is respected in the Pamirs and in general in Tajikistan precisely for peacekeeping. I know Ulfat personally. It is painful for me even to think that she is in the dungeons of the State Committee for National Security, to imagine how much pressure she is subjected to.

The ambassadors of the EU and some Western countries called for a de-escalation in the Pamirs, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues responded. The religious leader of the Ismailis Aga Khan IV, extremely revered by the Pamirs, also called for peace. The leitmotif of his messages is the rejection of violence, unrest and any illegal activity, observance of laws, creation for the good of the country. Peace, openness, justice, cessation of political repressions – this is what should become possible in the Pamirs. This requires an independent investigation of the tragic events, with the participation of human rights activists and international observers. Unfortunately, it is now impossible to get to Gorno-Badakhshan, so civil activists should try to record eyewitness accounts as accurately as possible, to restore the course of tragic events. Bucha will wait for his tribunal. Sooner or later there will be a fair trial in Khorog.

Olga Abramenko – expert of the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial”

The opinions expressed in the “Blogs” section may not reflect the views of the editors.



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