FIVE YEARS OF STRUGGLE


The war-shattered economy has prompted hundreds of thousands of
impoverished Tajiks to abandon their country.
By Vladimir Davlatov in Dushanbe

The fifth anniversary of the Tajik peace agreement should be a joyous
occasion, but instead it serves as a poignant reminder of the terrible
price paid by its people.

While the politicians talk of five years without war, the public mourns
the brothers, husbands and sons who never came home.

"I still cry, I want so much for my husband to be alive," said Zebunisso
Nuriddinova, who brought up her four children alone and now prays that
conflict will never return to Tajikistan.

The civil war began soon after the country declared independence from 
the disintegrating Soviet Union on September 9, 1991, and the economy has
never recovered from the conflict.

International organisations estimate that 80 per cent of the population
lives below the poverty line. Many factories still lie silent and 
empty, and the standard of health care and education is poor.

Yet the anniversary is a special time for some Tajiks. Muzaffar 
Zulshoev is returning for the first time since he fled his homeland in 1994 - 
one of hundreds of thousands who escaped to Russia, Kazakstan, 
Turkmenistan, Afghanistan or Iran as the civil war raged.

A former United Tajik opposition fighter, Zulshoev settled in Russia, 
but the change of scene could not wipe out his terrifying memories. His 
voice trembled as he told IWPR, "I can still see it to this day. Explosions,
shootings, panic... no, I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it.

"But now I am home. Here are my parents, brothers, sisters... and my
mountains."

In common with many refugees, Zulshoev worked on construction sites 
across Russia and carries several photographs of the friends he met there -
Tajiks who have chosen to settle in Russia and raise their families 
there.

Now that he is home, Zulshoev is delighted to see that Dushanbe is free 
of tanks and armed crowds, but his future is far from secure, as some
opposition fighters have been persecuted.

Sukhrob Negmatov had sought refuge in Iran but returned to his family
after peace was declared in 1997. His past as an opposition fighter has
haunted him, however, and he claims he has met with nothing but 
problems over the past five years.

"Will it be the fifth anniversary?" he asked. "I don't even remember 
it. It is good that the agreement was signed and we have peace, but quite
honestly I have erased those war years from my life."

Negmatov shares the opinion of many who took part in the Tajik 
conflict, believing that the whole thing was simply over government posts.
Opposition plans to build an Islamic state were quickly sidelined after
its leadership received ministerial portfolios within the new
administration.

The peace agreement marks an important stage in the country's history 
but, for many, five years has not been long enough for the physical and 
mental scars to heal, and Tajiks are continuing to leave their homeland.

Around half a million Russian-speakers have abandoned Tajikistan over 
the past ten years, and that same number leaves each year to take up 
seasonal work in Russia.

Dushanbe pensioner Lyubov Ivanovna agrees that the situation has 
improved yet understands why so many people turn their backs on the country.

"Yes, it is calm at the moment, but there is no good health care or
education for our children, and the pension is small," she told IWPR.

"Even though the war is over we're still better off in our historic
homeland of Russia."

Vladimir Davlatov is the pseudonym of a journalist in Tajikistan




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