On the facebook group aptly named “Peace in Khorog” created as it was in the wake of the war that took place in the streets of Khorog and terrorized an entire population, I came across an comment today that surprised me. The poster mentioned that certain songs had gained popularity at weddings in the Sughd region after what transpired in Khorog in July. On the one hand, there was Rahmon forcing a kind of détente after just having put people through hell by hosting a large dinner of 10,000 people (in a town of about 35,000) in a stadium where of course plov was served. On the other hand, people in Sughd were singing “We are from Badakhshan” and older songs by popular Badakhshani musicians that remain beloved in Badakhshan like Muboraksho and Daler Nazarov. This spontaneous outpouring of support for the people of Badakhshan seems more genuine and heartfelt than a highly stage-managed visit by the President after the events of this July.
I conducted research both in Badakhshan and Sughd as well as in other parts of Tajikistan and I can tell you most people in the Sughd region still dabbled in old stereotypes about Pamiris (the ethnic-religious minority that dominates in Badakhshan) since most of them had never even been there or really even knew or had a friend from the region. The occasion to talk about this would come up when they asked me where else I had been in Tajikistan and I would tell them of my long stay in the Bartang Valley. Remote even for people of Khorog, most people I encountered in other parts of Tajikistan were rarely familiar with the place. If they had ever even traveled to the region, it was to be at one of the famous springs like Garam Chashma where they went for rest and relaxation. The Pamiris encountered at these retreats were “nice and pleasant” enough. It is not that there is any real animosity amongst ordinary people that I talked with in Sughd against Badakhshanis (And I am also painting with a broad brush here as Sughd is a large province with many districts and a big city like Khujand and where people of Badakhshani ancestry have lived for many years most of whom moved there during the Soviet period).
I think there is a kind of innocence about people of Sughd (again just thinking about those I encountered and lived with in the region) who never saw the Civil War of the 1990s fought on their own turf including the death and destruction it wrought. But I was amazed that during the long Soviet reign more people had seemed to have traveled outside of Tajikistan through youth camps and professional trips to Moscow or St. Petersburg than within Tajikistan. People for the most part remained where they were except for the population transfers to the south, to Khatlon, where incidentally the civil war began.
I have always been struck by how little Tajiks in different parts of the country seem to know about each other. Former allies in the civil war no longer feel any affinity for each other (if they ever did). Those alliances were alliances of frustration born from the status of mountain regions during the Soviet period. The civil war did not translate into long-term networks or alliances (for example the reason why the troop incursion took place was ostensibly because of the murder of General Nazarov at the hands of Ayombekov – both fought under the UTO umbrella during the civil war and were subsequently co-opted into the government structures as part of the peace deal). Other incursions, into Rasht Valley (another so-called restive region) for example did not generate a message of unity and solidarity from the rest of the country. However it seems that the government in Dushanbe badly underestimated the outrage of this incursion. The usual narratives of Islamist threats and terrorism failed. Clearly there are other motives involved here as there were in the other incursions the government has undertaken in other parts of the country.
However, the solidarity generated by this event including reports of the mothers of soldiers from other regions just as unhappy as those in Khorog at what was happening, criticisms from all across Tajikistan including strong statements by heads of opposition parties largely relegated to the sidelines under Rahmon’s regime until now and a stunning declaration by Tajik journalist “We are all Pamiris now”shows something has clearly shifted in the country. During the civil war Pamiris were killed simply for being Pamiris. As an ethnic and religious minority they do not generally command the resources, attention or respect of their fellow citizens. This is then indeed a very important development. I am not sure where it leads but it is the first time ever that I know of where the rest of the country has come to feel united against the government of President Rahmon in such a spontaneous way.
People have grumbled about all sorts of things the central government has subjected them to including paying for shares in a hydroelectric power plant and a highly controversial religious law that restricted religious practice. But the fault lines have not been erased because of the lack of information people have about those of other regions and because of President Rahmon’s insistence that he alone was capable of uniting the people of Tajikistan. These spontaneous demonstrations of solidarity, in form of wedding songs, amongst the ordinary people mean something profound. There may not be lasting effects but it means people have come to identify with their fellow citizens (there is a pretty dominant narrative of Tajikistan as the artificial state within the country) if only as fellow sufferers under the heavy hand of the State. It is also good to remember that weddings are profoundly social and communal events in Tajikistan. Wedding celebrations are nothing to scoff at as evidenced by the fact that the government felt it necessary to pass a law to regulate them. So now a government official from the district is required to be present to monitor them for compliance. These songs serve then as a kind of protest albeit over plates of much delicious plov, or at least plov that was not served to buy the acquiescence of a traumatized nation.
For a thorough report on the events in Khorog, a report by anonymous found at this link
On his excellent site, Robert Middleton has compiled all the media reports pertaining to the events in Khorog and helpfully summarized them
My take on the events