Tashkent targets Tajik minority

Originally published
Human rights groups blow the whistle on Tashkent's discrimination against ethnic Tajiks
By Bakhtior Ergashev in Tashkent (RCA No. 49, 27-Apr-01)

The Uzbek education ministry has ordered the destruction of Tajik-language books in several parts of the country, claims the Independent Organisation for Human Rights in Uzbekistan, IOHR. The ban is said to affect Samarkand and Bukhara, home to the republic's largest Tajik communities.

The move stems from an executive order issued by the republic's council of ministers in May 1998, prescribing all books published before 1993 and deemed to be at variance with national ideology.

In compliance with that order, the education ministry issued its own instructions last year for all "ideologically incorrect" books, whether published before or after 1993, to be destroyed.

Since then, IOHR claims that the principal secondary school in Samarakand has signed over 2,336 technical and scientific textbooks and 1,835 novels for destruction. Almost 90 per cent were in Tajik.

Other schools have also joined in the campaign to destroy books left over from the Soviet era.

"Only Tajiks live in my village, but there is not a single book in Tajik left in my local library," complained Jamol Mirsaidov, a IOHR representative in Samarkand.

"The horrible thing is that world classics are being targeted: works by Avicenna, Shakespeare, Byron, Pushkin, Defoe and many others."

He believes the destruction of Tajik-language literature is comparable to the Taleban's recent annihilation of ancient Buddhist sculptures in Afghanistan.

As well as the book clampdown, Samarkand's educational institutions have dramatically reduced both departments teaching Tajik and classes in the language.

Tajiks are native to the country. In the early 20th century, their lands became part of Uzbekistan when the Soviet Central Asian republics were formed.

Following the creation of the Soviet republic in 1924, a campaign of "Uzbekization" was visited on the local Tajik population. Officially, around 2 million ethnic Tajiks live in Uzbekistan. Unofficial sources indicate the actual number may be as high as 7 million.

The Tajik community owes its present problems to recent tensions between the governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

After the Tajik civil war, the Uzbek Islamic opposition received military training in encampments in the east of the country left over from the fighting. From here, they launched a series of raids against Uzbekistan in the summers of 1999 and 2000.

Tajik communities on the Uzbek side of the border have been accused of collaborating with the rebels.

There is some truth to these charges. It's no secret the guerrilla raids did originate from Tajik territory and some local people, mostly Tajiks from mountain villages close to the border, were in contact with the rebels.

But Tashkent has been criticised for its indiscriminate response to the insurgency.

This spring, the Uzbek authorities moved to expel Tajik citizens who emigrated to Uzbekistan during the civil war.

An official from the Office of Entry, Departure and Registration of Citizens, OEDR, in Uzbekistan's southern Surkhandarya region told IWPR the eviction drive is to continue.

According to OEDR records, 47 Tajik citizens were deported from the Termez municipality, in Surkhandarya, in March. Tashkent insisted the deportees were in Uzbekistan illegally without official registration or permanent residence.

Sources claim many of the Tajikistan immigrants are in fact ethnic Uzbeks who had come to shelter with relatives in Uzbekistan.

Mirsaidov says the deportees are now living close to the Shartuz area in Tajikistan, near the Uzbek-Tajik border.

"They have nowhere to go - when the war began in Tajikistan, they sold their houses and went to live with their relatives in Uzbekistan," he said. " They have nothing."

The Uzbek interior ministry confirmed a number of Tajikistan citizens had been deported, but declined to give any reasons for the decision.

Police sources say the authorities are presently engaged in a campaign to track down Islamic guerrillas and criminals operating in Uzbekistan and are focusing on areas bordering Tajikistan. Tajik citizens usually top the police lists of suspects.

"It is now common practice in Uzbekistan to assume that every Tajik is a guerrilla, " said Mirsaidov.

But Tashkent's hardline on Tajikistan and its repression of ethnic Tajiks within its borders may in the end prove counterproductive to Uzbekistan's search of security.

Bakhtior Ergashev is a regular IWPR contributor