A provincial court in Tajikistan has convicted Shamsiddin Saidov in absentia to 15 years in prison, Ozodi Radio reports. Saidov is a former member of the political council of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (PIVT).
Saidov was found guilty of extremism, terrorism and other crimes. The court heard nine witnesses and considered photographs on which Saidov is pictured sitting next to the PIVT leader, Mukhiddin Kabiri.
According to open sources, Saidov joined PIVT in the 1980s when the party was still operating underground. The authorities arrested him after one of the anti-Soviet protests in 1986 and forcibly deported him to Siberia.
When the civil war broke out in Tajikistan, Saidov left for Afghanistan where he represented PIVT’s leader at the time, Said Abdullo Nuri who died in 2006.
After the war in 1997, Saidov returned to his homeland and joined the National Reconciliation Commission. Until 2010 he led the International Department of PIVT. Saidov lives abroad now.
In 2017, Tajikistan passed a number of reforms amending the criminal legislation in order to allow convictions in absentia for especially dangerous criminals hiding abroad. Some observers noted at the time that the amendments seemed designed specifically to persecute PIVT leaders who had fled abroad. However, the authorities categorically denied such an interpretation of the legislative changes.
Until September 2015, PIVT had been the only officially functioning religious party in the post-Soviet space for 16 years. In August 2015, the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan demanded PIVT to cease its activities. And in September, the republic’s authorities accused the PIVT leadership of involvement in a military mutiny led by the former Deputy Minister of Defense, Abdukhalim Nazarzoda.
The Supreme Court then labelled the party a terrorist organization and ordered the arrest of its leadership. In June 2016, the court sentenced 14 members of PIVT’s political council to various prison terms, two of them for life.
The party leader. Muhiddin Kabiri, left the republic right after the parliamentary elections on 1 March 2015 – six months before the “rebellious” events of September. He later said that he had fled fearing that he would face a criminal case fabricated against him at home.
In September 2016, Interpol’s website listed the name of Kabiri among its wanted suspects. Nevertheless, the leader of the PIVT announced his intention to continue the activities of the party in exile. Kabiri rejects all charges against PIVT – he thinks that the September insurgency was the reason for the ban on the activities of the Islamic party.
Parts of Central Asia – a region where authoritarian rule has been the norm since the end of the Soviet Union – are liberalising, albeit modestly. In Uzbekistan, this has been the case since the passing of President Karimov in 2016. As for Kyrgyzstan, it experienced its first formal democratic transfer of power after the October 2017 presidential elections. Tajikistan, however, seems to go against regional trends and is steadily sliding towards consolidated authoritarianism. For much of the 2000s, this small landlocked country, located at the junction of Asia’s highest mountain ranges1, enjoyed a considerable degree of political pluralism (second only to Kyrgyzstan), and the highest degree of media freedom in all Central Asia.2 The end of this brief democratic opening coincides with the unravelling of the post-civil war power-sharing agreement. Tajikistan is still recovering from the bloody civil war of 1992-1997, which led to the loss of 60,000 to 100,000 lives and to the displacement of approximately 650,000 Tajikistanis.3
The conflict pitted regionally-based interest groups against one another in a struggle both for access to state resources and over competing ideological visions for the country’s future. The pro-government factions, drawn from the ranks of the Soviet-era bureaucratic elite and backed by the traditionally dominant lowland-dwelling Tajikistanis in the north and south of the country, were bent on defending the post-independence status quo. Independence had been thrust upon the Central Asian republics unexpectedly in 1991. Tajikistan’s political leadership, having with great reluctance shouldered their emancipation from Moscow, aimed to mitigate for these changes by preserving a degree of continuity with the Soviet era. This meant maintaining strong state control over the lives of the country’s citizens, especially in the economic, religious and national identity realms. The chief challenger of the status quo was the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a loose coalition of Tajik nationalists, moderate Islamists, liberal democratic activists and advocates for greater self-determination for the linguistically and confessionally distinct Gorno-Badakhshan region. The Tajik opposition’s aims were the relinquishment of Tajikistan’s Soviet legacy and a partial reorientation of the country’s political ties from the post-Soviet space towards the wider Persian-speaking world. The UTO was backed by the inhabitants of the rugged mountainous regions of central and eastern Tajikistan, by their regional-identity-preserving kinsmen in the cotton-rich southern lowland Qurghonteppa region, relocated there by force during the Stalinist era, and also by the liberal-minded parts of the urban intelligentsia.
The armed conflict was the culmination of a series of domestic crises, starting with the February 1990 riots (triggered by the rumoured relocation of Armenian refugees to Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital). Large-scale opposition protests in mid-1991, in reaction to the failed coup in Moscow, culminated in the resignation of then President Mahkamov and the outlawing of the Communist party. The emboldened opposition took to the streets again the following year, after the dismissal of the Badakhshani minister of interior Navzhuvanov.4 Firearms found their way into the hands of the participants of opposing rallies and town square sit-ins and violence eventually broke out. The fighting then spread to most parts of the country, as returning protesters and counter-protesters alike brought belligerent zeal to their own respective home provinces. The first months of the war were also the most violent. A pro-government paramilitary group known as the Popular Front initiated “sub-ethnic” cleansing, singling-out civilians on the basis of on their regional origins, first in the mixed Qurghonteppa region, only to bring this tactic over later to the capital. Tajikistan’s neighbours and other regional powers played an important role in both the civil war and the eventual peace talks. The government received fluctuating degrees of support from the Russian Federation and neighbouring Uzbekistan, while Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance5 supplied the UTO with arms, training and logistical support. As for Iran, it provided the opposition with ideological backing, most notably supporting the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the UTO’s most powerful constituent.
The article maps the peace process and post-war power-sharing in Tajikistan. It shows how the post-conflict political order unravelled, with the creeping monopolization of the executive branch by pro-government forces squeezing out all meaningful opposition. Nevertheless, despite the political and economic challenges and persistent regional divisions, no renewed larger-scale armed conflict has taken place in Tajikistan so far.6
THE PEACE PROCESS AND POWER SHARING: SHAKING THE TRADITIONAL INTER-REGIONAL POWER BALANCE
The end of the war in Tajikistan can be attributed to coordinated international efforts to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table. This reflected both new security developments in the region and an alignment of national interests among key regional players. This was most notably the case of Iran and Russia, brought together by the latter’s bid to complete the construction of a nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr. In early 1996, Russian foreign minister Kozyrev had been replaced by the more proactive Yevgeny Primakov, an expert in the Middle East, and Russia’s “soft underbelly” to the south regained prominence in Moscow’s policymaking. In Afghanistan just next door, the rapid northward advances of the Taliban after the fall of Kabul that same year allowed for some Russian arm twisting of the Northern Alliance, compelling the latter to stop supplying the UTO with weapons.7 External interference thus ensured that none of the two warring parties in Tajikistan could secure a decisive victory and that the only conceivable outcome would be a negotiated peace deal.
“Track Two” diplomacy laid the groundwork for official meetings in Moscow, Tehran, Islamabad and other regional capitals. These meetings set the modalities for an indefinite ceasefire, the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the demobilization of the “armed opposition” or their incorporation into the national army. However, a serious shortcoming of those peace talks and the peace process at large was that they excluded very early on some of the major regionally-based interest groups. This was notably the case of the more hard-line Islamists within the UTO and of the largely pro-government Uzbek minority. Conspicuously side-lined was also the historically dominant Leninabad Region in the north of the country, virtually unscathed by a civil war roaring at a safe distance two high mountain chains away, which gradually lost its political dominance to the southern Kulob Region.8 These exclusions led to several violent attempts to derail the peace process. The most high-profile case was a series of armed incursions by rogue ex-army commander Khudoiberdiev, a member of the country’s sizeable Uzbek minority, carried out from neighbouring Uzbekistan in 1996 and 1998. Furthermore, in remote parts of central and eastern Tajikistan, a handful of former UTO commanders kept engaging in skirmishes with government forces until as late as the mid-2010s.9
In light of this limited inclusiveness, the civil war and subsequent peace process did little to resolve the structural causes behind the original outbreak of hostilities, namely weak state capacity, extreme regional imbalances in access to resources, a regionally fragmented and weakly consolidated national identity, and chronic side-lining of both Islamist and liberal voices. The only deep change the civil war brought about was the southward shift of the inter-regional power balance. This change had manifested itself in the replacement, half way into the war, of Leninabadi President R. Nabiev by Emomali Rahmon, the current incumbent. The latter had worked as a chairman of a collective farm in the Danghara District of the southern Kulob Region, half-way between Dushanbe and the city of Kulob itself. The appointment of then inconsequential and seemingly weak Rahmon was a compromise between the economically and politically-dominant North and the high command of Tajikistan’s armed forces, which traditionally hailed from Kulob. Leninabad’s isolation from the rest of the country, the lack of more active Northern involvement in the civil war and the South’s brandished authenticity as the home of true Tajiks (as opposed to the more “Uzbek-flavoured” North), all contributed to this side-lining.
THE IMPLEMENTATION AND THE EROSION OF THE POWER-SHARING DEAL: EARLY RED FLAGS
The post-war arrangement granted 30% of the seats in the executive branch to the UTO. The necessity to “free up” the promised percentage served as an excuse for the newly dominant southern regional grouping to remove from positions of power the regional cliques that had been excluded from the peace negotiations.10 The ones bearing the brunt were the northern Leninabadis and the Uzbeks, but also to some extent non-Danghari Kulobis. Last but not least, none of the key ministries were ceded to former UTO commanders; they were all securely in the hands of the ascendant Southern political elites.11 Such repudiations from the executive branch, which the government could easily blame on exogenous constraints, like the implementation of an internationally-brokered peace agreement, were a sign of things to come.
The post-civil war power-sharing mechanism itself suffered an early blow in 2000, when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund pledged tens of millions of dollars of post-conflict economic assistance to Tajikistan under the condition that government spending will be noticeably slimmed down. Ministries, government agencies and state companies were thus disbanded or merged, in a way that consistently targeted those positions held by the opposition, rather than by the dominant, essentially Southern, power group.12 Disbanding existing ministries proved to be too limited of a tool in reshaping the post-war power balance. The post-conflict compromise was further undermined by a de-legitimization campaign against non-co-opted high-ranking members of the UTO still holding quota-related positions of power. The most common approach was the use of flimsy disciplinary or criminal charges against prominent ex-UTO commanders. This tactic was used in 2003 against Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov, deputy-chair of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT)13 and, in 2006, against Mirzo Ziyoev, minister of emergency situations.14
The slow pace of this marginalization suggests that Southern political elites had learnt from their Northern predecessors’ mistakes. Some experts claim that the escalation of violence at the start of the civil war in the early 1990s was set off by a full-on attack on the opposition by overconfident Northern political elites.15 The Southerners’ slow and cautious eviction of the opposition proved to be a more successful strategy. This explains why the IRPT was only outlawed in 2015, first by parliamentary vote and later again by a supreme court ruling. What begs an explanation, however, is the Islamic Renaissance Party’s surprising complacency.
A NEW POLITICAL AND SOCIO-POLITICAL REALITY: THE CONSTRICTION OF THE RULING CIRCLE AND OF THE NARRATIVE OF SECURING PEACE FOR TAJIKISTAN
Indeed, besides a handful of prominent exceptions, there does not seem to have been any serious backlash against the slow monopolisation of the Tajikistani state apparatus by an increasingly narrow regional clique. This self-restraint has been a striking feature of the post-civil war status quo in Tajikistan.16 It is true of the opposition in Tajikistan, but also of the bulk of the country’s adult citizenry, among which the desire to maintain peace seems to have trumped almost all other political demands. The still vivid memory of the anti-government protests in Shahidon Square in 1992, which set off a chain of events culminating in armed conflict, precludes any large-scale display of public discontent in an increasingly authoritarian state. Concurrent elections in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2005 were illustrative of the political apathy of Tajikistani citizens to cases of vote-rigging, while the same allegation in Kyrgyzstan led to the toppling of the regime.17 On a wider regional scale, the civil war in Tajikistan is used by autocratic regimes like Uzbekistan as a cautionary tale: it allows to present peace as incompatible with real political competition, let alone the legal existence of Islamist parties.
The people currently in power in Tajikistan seem to understand this deterrent effect very well. Moreover, the official narrative frames peace in Tajikistan as solely the President’s achievement. By imposing this narrative, Rahmon’s inner circle indirectly acknowledges that it can no longer simply rely on the fading recollections of Tajikistani citizens. Early on, primary school textbooks in post-war Tajikistan had included sentences like “We are fighting for peace”.18 More recently, a December 2015 law passed by the Parliament declared the current President “Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation” – local media outlets failing to write an unabridged version of this official title each time Rahmon is mentioned face hefty fines.19 As a legitimizing device, memories of the civil war and its atrocities had given way to a broader ideological narrative, hinging on the myth that Emomali Rahmon single-handedly ended the civil war in Tajikistan. Many state-commissioned posters and banners throughout the country convey this notion more or less explicitly.
However, these efforts might prove insufficient given Tajikistan’s demographic trends. While 7% of the population is between 18 and 25 years of age, a whopping 40% is under the age of 18.20 These cohorts have no personal recollections of the war of the 1990s. With time, the proportion of Tajik citizens with some degree of political consciousness but lacking the political self-restraint stemming from a first-hand experience of civil strife will increase dramatically. This will serve as a test for the credibility of the government’s one-sided narrative of peace-making, and could have a potentially destabilizing effect on the domestic situation – especially if the flow economic migrants, which is both crucial for Tajikistan’s remittance-dependent economy and a social and political “safety valve”, gets disrupted. The most important stabilising factor in Tajikistan’s political culture is thus slowly fading away. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s relative success in recruiting young Tajik migrant workers in Russia for their war effort in Syria and Iraq can serve as a red flag.21
Contrary to the prevailing official narrative, putting an end to the civil war in Tajikistan would have been hardly conceivable without an alignment of national interests amongst relevant regional players like Russia and Iran. While most short-term and medium-term goals of the peace process (the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and the end of hostilities) have been met, the erosion of institutionalised power-sharing mechanisms has greatly undermined the post-civil war status quo. With the structural tensions behind the war still unresolved, the only major stabilising force in Tajikistan is the considerable self-restraint of stakeholders, primarily of the opposition, which partly accounts for the IRPT’s passivity all the way until the recent government crackdown. All in all, post-civil war political developments in Tajikistan show a considerable degree of path-dependency, with wartime experiences and the peace process still determining political outcomes to a large extent. However, while this still holds true of the ruling elites, an increasing percentage of the population with no recollection of past hostilities would be less reluctant to refrain from violent contestation.
Jan Tomek is an Mlitt student of “Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asian Security Studies” at University of St Andrews and graduate of the SciencesPo Paris – Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) dual degree Masters’ programme in “International Affairs: International Security”. His areas of academic interest include regional politics and issues of identity, security and development in Central Eurasia (Anatolia, the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia). His current objective is to start a doctoral research focusing on Iran’s regional policy vis-à-vis its northwestern and northeastern neighbourhood.
Namely the Pamirs, the Karakoram Range, the Hindu Kush and, not far away, the northernmost edge of Himalayas.
According to annual reports of Reporters without Borders’ “The World Press Freedom Index” and Freedom House’s “Freedom of the World”
Akiner, Shirin and Catherine Barnes. “The Tajik civil war: Causes and Dynamics”. Accord, 2001, p. 18.
Splidsboel Hansen, Flemming. “The outbreak and settlement of civil war: Neorealism and the case of Tajikistan”. Civil Wars, 2:4, Winter 1999, pp. 1-22.
The commonly used name of the anti-Taliban “United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan”, founded in 1996, is to be understood here as all political and military factions in Afghanistan loyal to Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, including pre-1996 ones.
This article is based on the author’s fieldwork in Tajikistan from mid-March to late May 2016
Interview with Nurali Davlat, Dushanbe, May 13, 2016
Iji, Tetsuro. “Cooperation, Coordination and Complementarity in International Peacemaking: the Tajikistan Experience”. International Peacekeeping, 12:2, Summer 2005, pp. 189-204.
OSCE Centre in Dushanbe Spot Reports, 2010-2011
Nourzhanov, Kirill. “Saviours of the Nation or Robber Barons? Warlord Politics in Tajikistan”, Central Asian Survey, 24:2, June 2005, pp. 109-130.
ICG Asia Report N° 30 – “Tajikistan: an Uncertain Peace”, International Crisis Group. 24 December 2001
Nakaya, Sumie. “Aid and transition from a war economy to an oligarchy in post-war Tajikistan”. Central Asian Survey, 28:3, September 2009, pp. 259-273.
Asia Briefing – “Tajikistan’s Politics: Confrontation or Consolidation?”. International Crisis Group. Dushanbe/Brussels. 19 May 2004. p. 6.
Heathershaw, John. “Seeing like the International Community: How Peacebuilding Failed (and Survived) in Tajikistan”, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 2:3, November 2008, p. 348.
Tunçer-Kılavuz, Idil. “Understanding Violent Conflict: A Comparative Study of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan”. Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University, August 2007. p. 10, 154.
There have been questionable government efforts to establish links between the IRPT and former Deputee Defence Minister A. Nazarzoda, the instigator of the single-most recent security threat: a short-lived revolt ending with a fatal shootout in a mountain gorge not far from Dushanbe
Mahkamov S. and Š. Qosimova. ‘Zaboni davlatī (Tojikī) – Kitobi darsī baroi sinfi 3’ [The State Language (Tajiki) – A textbook for the third grade] 2003. This is probably also a reflection of Soviet-era discourse.
In early October of this year, after attending an OSCE human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), was detained by Greek police at passport control at Athens Airport. Kuzov was held under an Interpol ‘Red Notice’ warrant released by Tajik authorities, who accuse him of politically motivated extremism. On the 1st of December 2017, Kuzov was released from detention; the Greek court ruled out his extradition to Tajikistan on the grounds that charges against Kuzov were politically motivated.
Since 2015, the Tajik government, under the mantra of the “war against terrorism”, is pursuing its most intense human rights crackdown with the banning of the country’s main democratic opposition parties: IRPT and Group 24. The Tajik government has labelled these opponents as “extremist” groups in order to discredit them and legitimise security measures against their members. Further, the systematic jailing of political opponents and the country’s independent legal professionals, as well as the harassment of journalists and nongovernmental organizations, is rapidly becoming ‘normality’ in Tajikistan. Moreover, retaliation and collective punishment against the relatives of perceived government critics, in and outside the country, has been a constant feature of the crackdown. The authorities have often targeted the relatives of activists who have fled abroad and continued their vocal activism in exile. Since 2015, as the Central Asia Political Exile (CAPE) Database demonstrates, the government is systematically targeting critics and dissents abroad, by seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan. In September 2016 for instance, Dushanbe used tactics of collective punishment to retaliate against activists abroad who took part in a human rights conference set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Another tactic employed by the government is the practice of enforced disappearance to silence opposition critics. In 2015, Maksud Ibragimov, the activist for the Youth for the Rebirth of Tajikistan movement was abducted in Russia and sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment upon his forced repatriation to Tajikistan.
Further, as has been recently observed, increasingly autocratic dictators are using their formal and informal links between those ‘near and dear’ to them. Formal intelligence sharing arrangements through bilateral or multilateral agreements, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation structures, facilitate the targeting of the individuals and opposition groups abroad. In the light of the recent history of terrorist attacks in Russia, fighting terrorism has become a top priority for the Russian government. Given the large number of migrants in Russia from Central Asia and particularly from Tajikistan, and growing concerns about their possible radicalisation, cooperation between the FSB and national security services from Central Asian countries has strengthened. Individual cases from the CAPE database demonstrate how Russian security services have proven willing to detain, kidnap and extradite targetted individuals requested by the governments of Central Asia. The CAPE data highlights that the highest amount of forcible returns and disappearance are from Tajikistan. The recent case of Khurshed Odinayev provides a clear illustration of these observations:
On the 29th of November, the Supreme Court of Russian Federation decided to extradite Khurshed Odinayev, a citizen of Tajikistan, to his homeland despite the ban of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It’s important to note that prior to this decision, the Tadjik citizen, was also kidnapped from Federal Penalty Service Belgorod region on, two weeks before his release date from detention. Khurshed Odinayev was detained at the request of the Tajik authorities and placed in Belgorod City SIZO-3 (pre-trial detention centre) in the autumn of 2016. Back in his home country he is accused of supposedly engaging fellow citizens in military operations on the territory of other countries while staying in Russia.
Dictators around the world have embraced INTERPOL as a repressive tool to persecute dissidents beyond their home borders. In December 2017, the head of the national bureau of Interpol in Tajikistan, Abdugaffor Azizov told in the media, that the government has put 2,528 citizens of Tajikistan on the list of internationally wanted fugitives. In recent years, as our data demonstrates, the Tajik government has tried to control and persecute dissidents and activists abroad by issuing politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ through INTERPOL. Bruno Min from the organisation Fair Trials also notes that authoritarian states have misused INTERPOL mechanisms of international cooperation to export human rights abuses. The issue of politically motivated ‘Red Notices’ has led to the wrongful detention of many innocent victims, as in the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov. The US government acknowledged Tajikistan of misusing terrorism allegations as a pretext to target independent voices, including dissidents living abroad. On the 9th of November 2016 INTERPOL adopted a set of reforms to address these concerns. The reforms aim to strengthen the internal review process and make delisting decisions of the targeted individual binding on the organization rules and respect of human rights. Yet so far the implementation of these reforms to stop abusive requests from authoritarian states has been poor. As the case of Mirzorakhim Kuzov demonstrates, the real challenge for INTERPOL is to effectively review and distinguish between genuine criminal cases and those that are politically motivated.
Tajikistan’s appalling records in human rights, torture, enforced detention and forced repatriation of dissidents and political activists in and outside the country raises serious concerns, yet the international outrage, particularly from the European Union (EU), is barely audible. The EU’s current Central Asia strategy, adopted in 2007, forms the political template between Brussels and Central Asia’s five former Soviet republics. Given the rapid deterioration of human rights and freedom of speech in Tajikistan but also in the other four Central Asian states as CAPE database demonstrates, it is increasingly important to address human rights abuses in the region. Clearly future bilateral and international agreements in the region should leverage economic and foreign aid support based on meaningful human rights progress in the region, anything short of that would likely to result in empty promises.
In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.
In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”. Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.
The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue. The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world.
Amonullo Hukumov, the former head of Tajik Railways, has told the media that neither he nor his wife own any real estate abroad. But records obtained by OCCRP show that his family has spent over $10.6 million on luxury real estate in two of the Czech Republic’s most popular tourist destinations. The hefty price tag raises questions about the source of the family’s wealth.
Neither scandals nor forced retirement have slowed down the Hukumov family’s real estate purchases.
The wife and children of Amonullo Hukumov, once the powerful head of Tajik Railways, own six properties in Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, Czech resort towns known since the Soviet era as exclusive vacation spots for the elite.
Since buying their first property in December 2012, the Hukumovs have spent about US$ 10.6 million on two houses and four other buildings, including apartment and rental properties, according to sales contracts obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The family’s only other known foreign property is a Moscow apartment valued at $1.1 million.
Hukumov, 66, who also goes by the Tajik version of his family name Hukumatullo, retired from his position in February 2014, following controversy surrounding the arrest of one son for trafficking heroin and a speeding accident involving the second son that resulted in the death of others.
He has denied that he or his wife own properties in the Czech Republic, and their ability to acquire such impressive assets is hard to explain, given Hukumov’s role as a public official. According to governmental sources, state officials generally do not earn more than 5,000 Somoni ($625) per month.
His wife, Amina Musaeva, 57, owns a company that distributes Russian weapons and a construction service company in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, but little else is known about either of her businesses.
In June 2016, Hukumov denied that he or his wife own any real estate in Karlovy Vary.
“I’m not in the Czech Republic … I’m in Tajikistan”, he said in an interview with Radio Ozodi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service.
The building on the hill above the downtown of Karlovy Vary bought by Amonullo Hukumov’s family in 2015.
Credit: Pavla Holcova
Hukumov’s political career began in 1995, a few years after President Emomali Rahmon came to power. Hukumov is variously referred to in Tajik media as either a relative of Rahmon, or a family friend or close friend to the President but OCCRP could not confirm. He became a member of parliament and the later head of Naftrason, a state owned oil import company. In 2002, he was appointed head of the Tajik Railways. He received a disability pension from the state after his resignation claiming he suffered from diabetes.
While the salary of Tajikistani public officials is not considered public information, the size of Hukumov’s pension became household gossip in the country in early 2015, when President Rahmon criticized inflated disability pensions received by some disabled state officials.
As it turned out, Hukumov was receiving some of the highest pensions in the country – 8,400 Tajik Somoni ($1,200) per month, or more than 37 times higher than the country’s average pension.
During Hukumov’s reign as head of the railroad, it was well known as a major drug smuggling conduit for heroin travelling from Afghanistan to Russia according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2010 and 2011, more than 500 kilograms of heroin and other opiates were been found on trains originating in Tajikistan. A number of railroad employees have been arrested starting in the 1990s.
Representatives of the Hukumov family declined to comment for this story.
From Moscow Prison to Czech Luxury
The Hukumov family’s shopping spree for Czech property began in December 2012 with the purchase of a two-story house in a residential neighborhood of Marianske Lazne, a picturesque spa city in West Bohemia, surrounded by mountain forests, mineral springs, and green parks.
His son Rustam bought the house, which includes a private swimming pool, an outdoor fireplace, a garage, a garden house, and a large backyard for €440,000 ($572,000).
No one was home when reporters visited the house this past summer. There was no name on the doorbell or mailbox, no car parked outside, and the venetian blinds were shut. But the lawn was freshly cut and the roses well-tended.
Living in a luxurious home in a Bohemian spa town would have been a stark contrast for Rustam from his previous year which he served in a high security prison in Russia for the illegal sale of drugs.
Rustam was arrested with three others in June 2008 and charged with attempting to sell 9.3 kilograms of heroin in Moscow. Two years later, he was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison and fined 250,000 rubles (almost $8,100 at the time).
Rustam was found guilty of being one of two organizers of a criminal group. The court found that he had provided the group with mobile communications and transportation.
A higher court confirmed his verdict in December 2010. But a year later, the verdict was unexpectedly reversed and he was set free. According to RosPravosudiye, the Russian registry of court cases, the cases against his accomplices were not reconsidered.
Hukumov’s acquittal mirrored a similar decision made in Tajikistan at around the same time. One month prior, a Tajikistani court freed a Russian and Estonian pilot who had been sentenced to eight-and-a-half-years in prison for smuggling and illegally entering the country. Tajikistani and Russian media speculated that the two countries had traded the criminals, though the Russian Foreign Ministry denied any links between the two cases.
The Hukumov’s house in Marianske Lazne was not the first property the family bought abroad. Two years before Rustam’s arrest in Russia, in May 2006, they bought a 100-square-meter apartment in a new building near a massive Soviet-built exhibition center in northern Moscow. Rustam was registered as the owner.
In December 2009, a year and a half after his arrest, Rustam sold the apartment, worth 34 million rubles ($1.1 million at the time) to his sister Zarrina.
The family’s main house in the Czech Republic sits in a large garden in Olsova Vrata, a district on the outskirts of the spa town of Karlovy Vary. The house is located near an airport with scheduled flights to Moscow. A statue of Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut and the first man in space, greets visitors in the parking lot.
The main house of Amonullo Hukumov’s family located in the outskirts of Karlovy Vary bought by Amina Musaeva in 2013 for $1.1 million.Credit: Pavla Holcova
The house was bought by Hukumov’s wife Amina in April 2013 for $1.1 million. It came fully equipped with antique furniture, gold framed paintings, a porcelain statue, curtains brought from Italy and surveillance cameras.
When OCCRP reporters visited the property, it was not being use, and the mailbox was full of advertisements.
Neighbor said the family is not permanently living here. “I barely know them, I am not even sure, what is their name. I only have their phone number for cases something would happen.”
Amina bought the house at a what was likely a stressful time in her life.
In October 2013, her son Rasul, who was 16 at the time, caused a car accident in Dushanbe while driving his BMW without a driver’s license, which left three people dead and three injured. The police initially claimed that he had been speeding and had caused the accident. Nine months later, however, the police changed their mind, saying that, after conducting seven expert examinations of the accident, they had found Rasul innocent.
Instead, his parents were charged with a “lack of responsibility in upbringing and teaching of children.” The mother was ultimately found guilty of negligence in fulfillment of her duties of raising underage children for letting her son outside the home at night and unchaperoned at 2:30 am, when the accident took place. The court in Dushanbe found her guilty and fined her 120 Tajik Somoni ($25 at the time).
Millions in Retirement
Not long after Amonullo Hukumov’s retirement from the railroad following his sons’ scandals, the family bought a historical building located directly in the heart of the world-famous spa town of Karlovy Vary, on the iconic Hot Spring Colonnade on the banks of the river Tepla.
The Colonnade, one of five in the city, is a famous tourist attraction where hundreds of visitors come daily to enjoy the alleged curative benefits of the 15 mineral springs Karlovy Vary is well known for.
His wife Amina bought the building in May 2014 for 88 million CZK ($4.4 million).
The five-story building with 10 apartments is rented by the EA Hotel Esplanade, a hotel operated by the EuroAgentur Hotels & Travel, which claims to be the Czech Republic’s largest hotel company.
The Hukumov family also bought another building on the slope above the center of Karlovy Vary in May 2015 for 4.5 million CZK ($184,000).
The building was renovated and features a bright yellow facade, newly painted windows and walls.
Almost two years ago, the Hukumov family bought two additional properties in Karlovy Vary. In March 2016, Amina bought two buildings in the business district of Karlovy Vary for €4 million (at the time $4.3 million). The two ornate five-story buildings were built in a neoclassic style and decorated with floral reliefs, balconies and columns.
Two decades ago, one of the buildings was used as a bank, according to the receptionist. These days, the offices are rented to attorneys, a furniture shop, a plastic surgery clinic, and a fertility clinic with its own operating theaters and inpatient department.
In July of 2016, Amina gave the building to her daughter Zarrina, but with a clause that read: “The recipient is aware of the fact that the donor can appeal (the donation) in case of need or in case of ingratitude.”
In June 2013, Hukumov’s wife Amina established a real estate business in the Czech Republic. Originally, it was called MUS.AMINA and later renamed to Goldpari s.r.o.
Since its establishment, the company has seemed to have been used to buy three cars – a SUV Skoda Yeti for $19,000, a Ford Raptor for $32,000 and a Bentley for $116,000. The annual report for 2016 shows that Amina loaned 15.5 million CZK ($600,000) to the company. In 2014, she transferred 50 percent of the company to her daughter Zarrina.
It is not known how much the family is now earning from the rent on their properties.
Imam-khatib of a mosque in the Hakimi jamoat of the Nourobod district (Rasht Valley), Abdusattor Yusupov, accuses Iran in deaths of 150,000 nationals of Tajikistan.
In an article that was posted on the website of the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) under the Government of Tajikistan, Yusupov claims that the civil war in Tajikistan was provoked by Iran and under its financial support.
According to him, 150,000 nationals of Tajikistan were killed in that war.
Yusupov calls on the people of Tajikistan to be vigilant and rally around the Leader of the Nation President.
He says that Iran supports the Islamic revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which is banned in Tajikistan as a terrorist organization.
Recall, it is not the first such an accusation made against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
A paper by Qamar Nourulhaqov, an employee of the Center for Islamic Studies under the President of Tajikistan, titled Shiism: Ideology and Practice that was posted on Center’s website on October 20 and 21, 2017, accuses Iran of imposing its religious ideology on Tajikistan and attempting to export the Islamic revolution to Tajikistan. For this purpose, Iran has supported the IRPT for many years, the author says.
The paper in particular, notes that impasse in once friendly relationships between Tajikistan and Iran has been caused by Iran’s attempt to Islamize Tajik society and propagates ideas of Shiism. A general sense of the paper comes to the fact that the author demands that Iran stop its “political-and –religious game” in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan and Iran have traditionally close relations, sharing many similar cultural, religious and ethnic identifiers and Iran has been a major sponsor of essential hydropower infrastructure in Tajikistan, but Iran has angered Tajikistan by welcoming IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri, who is wanted by police in Tajikistan to face various terrorism charges.
Recall, Iran invited IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri to attend the International Islamic Unity Conference that took place in Tehran on December 27-29, 2015.
Tajikistan’s MFA said in a statement on December 29, 2015 that it was “greatly concerned” that “the head of the extremist and terrorist former IRPT, Muhiddin Kabiri, who faces charges of attempting to overthrow the government … has been invited to the conference.”
In April 2016, Tajikistan’s customs service introduced restrictions on the import of food products from Iran. Dry leaf tea, poultry and other goods were ruled unacceptable for their allegedly poor quality. In July 2016, the Tajik office of Iran’s Khomeini Imdod Committee, an international development fund, closed. In early July this year, the Iranian trade and culture center in the Tajik northern city of Khujand, which was particularly appreciated for its library services and fast internet, closed its doors. The shuttering reportedly came at the request of the Tajik authorities.
In August 2017, Tajik authorities have accused Iran of backing high-profile killings in Tajikistan during the Tajik civil war in the 1990s. In a documentary broadcast on Tajik national television on August 8, the Interior Ministry of Tajikistan claimed that Iran was allegedly interested in unleashing civil war in Tajikistan, and it allegedly provided assistance to the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and trained its militants in Iranian territory. The documentary also accused Iran of involvement in the murder of several Tajik social and political figures as well as 20 Russian military officers in the country during the 1990s Tajik civil war. The documentary further claimed that at the time, Iran had organized a plot to “eliminate Tajik scientists and intellectuals.
Iran’s Embassy in Dushanbe on August 9, 2017 released a statement, in which it dismisses “unfounded claims made in the documentary.” The statement posted on the Embassy’s website, in particular, described such claims as ‘regrettable’ saying there is no doubt that the documentary’s producers will not be able to mar cultural bonds and historic friendship between the two nations of Iran and Tajikistan.
It added that the noble nation of Tajikistan will never forget that Iran as one of the main founders and guarantors of Tajikistan’s peace and host of talks between the country’s conflicting sides, has played a constructive role in ending Tajikistan’s civil wars in 1990.
TEHRAN – The defeat of Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria has made the terrorist group to change the geography of its activities and Central Asian countries must be watchful of this threat, Iranian Ambassador to Tajikistan Hojjatollah Faghani warned in a meeting with Tajik Parliament speaker Shukurjon Zuhurov in Dushanbe on Sunday.
Faghani also voiced Iran’s willingness to share experiences with Tajikistan in counter-terrorism efforts.
Ambassador Faghani and Shukurjon Zuhurov also discussed ways to expand mutual relationship.
The two sides also discussed parliamentary cooperation and reviewed the latest regional and international developments, IRNA reported.
Referring to a recent visit to Tajikistan by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as the holding of a joint economic commission meeting in Dushanbe, Faghani said relations between the two countries are rapidly gaining momentum.
The Iranian diplomat also highlighted the need to exchange parliamentary delegations and friendship groups.
The Tajik speaker, for his part, said Dushanbe attaches special importance to ties with Iran in view of the two countries’ common language and historical and cultural commonalities.
He assessed the future of bilateral relations as promising.
On November 9, Foreign Minister Zarif met with President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe to discuss ways to improve economic and trade relations and coordinate their counterterrorism efforts in the region. Zarif also participated in the inauguration ceremony of Iran’s new embassy building in the Tajik capital.