Ethnic cleansing or counter-terrorist operation in Tajikistan?

The statement from the Commander of Russia's Ground Forces about the risk of local conflicts in Central Asia infuriated the leadership of Tajikistan. Indeed, an armed conflict followed soon afterwards. Experts and local authorities differ in their estimates of the scale of the conflict. It is either a counter-terrorist operation or an act of genocide.

The confrontation between the armed forces and guerrillas near the city of Khorog, Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan, that sparked on July 25th at night began to decline. However, automatic fire could still be heard in the city and on its outskirts, reports News-Asia. On Wednesday morning the parties sat down to negotiate table, and the operation of the government forces had been suspended for several hours. Around 12:00 local time (13:00 Moscow time), it was said that President Emomali Rahmon has decided to implement full ceasefire, Asia-Plus said. "This decision was made due to the fact that there are wounded people and that dead bodies may decompose in the streets," the chairman of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region Kodiri Kosim said.

According to other sources, during the negotiations the rebels received a requirement to deliver the murderers of General Abdullo Nazarov, whose death actually triggered the special operation. Tajik authorities said that all others, who voluntarily lay down their arms and surrender to the authorities, would not be prosecuted. It is not clear whether the killers of the general are going to be found or not.

Officials from the administration of Tajikistan said that there was a special operation conducted in Khorog to capture the perpetrators involved in the killing of Nazarov.

"The crime was committed by members of the illegal armed group led by a resident of the city of Khorog, a border detachment commander, Ishkashim Tolib Ayembekov. He organized an illegal armed group that was dealing with the trafficking of drugs, tobacco products, and precious stones for many years, news agency Khovar quoted officials with Tajik special services as saying.

According to the report, the president created a special commission, which was conducting negotiations with Ayembekov and his supporters for three days. The government offered him to lay down arms and deliver the murderers of the general. "Ayembekov categorically rejected the proposal and began to mobilize armed criminal entities - he started the armed confrontation," special services said.

The rebels tried to assassinate Prosecutor of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region Nafasbek Dilshod on July 23. The official stayed alive, although he remains in a critical condition. And today it was reported that, unknown assailants attacked military prosecutor Khairullo Saidov in Khorog. The official was sent to the city as the head of the operational-investigation group to investigate the assassination of the general, Asia-Plus reports.

It was also announced that there were 30 militants killed and 40 were captured as a result of the operation. Government troops lost 12 people, over 20 were injured. It was stressed out that there were no civilians injured or killed.  

However, the sources familiar with the situation, reported a large number of civilian casualties. According to one version, the murder of the General was merely a pretext to start the ethnic cleansing in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. The operation had supposedly been planned in advance. News agencies reported that there were as many as 100 civilians killed.

"The sniper attack in Khorog has killed seven residents this morning, including four children, two men and one woman," Radio Ozodi (Freedom) said.

"At four o'clock in the morning (on the night of July 24), government forces began the aerial bombing of Khorog. Women and children were killed!" Mehmonsho Mehmonshoev, the chairman of the charity fund of motherhood and childhood "Find Me, Mama" said.

"It's ethnic cleansing. We contacted our relatives by satellite. They told us that the city was being bombed from the air. There's a lot of destruction, and many civilian casualties," the chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan in Gorno-Badakhshan, Alim Sherzamonov told the BBC Russia.

The rumors of the special operation to be conducted against the remaining opposition groups (those who participated in the fighting against the government during the Civil War of 1992-1997) appeared earlier this month. The rumors appeared when the Defense Ministry started military exercises in the vicinity of Khorog.

"The authorities decided to establish their own order in Badakhshan - the way it was done in other eastern regions of the country. The murder of General Nazarov was the reason for the current cleansing," Alim Sherzamonov, the head of the regional organization of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan's Badakhshan said.

"The essence of this operation is not so much criminal as it is political. All political and economic spheres of Tajikistan are criminalized. I am convinced that this is a continuation of the process to get rid of opposition in power and business structures," Alexander Knyazev, a senior researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies said.

Tolib Ayembekov is a former warlord, who fought in the Civil War on the side of the United Tajik Opposition against the Popular Front. Ayembekov took the sitting President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, to power. Tolib Ayembekov is a brother of another legendary field commander in the Pamirs  - Abdulamon Ayembekov, better known as Alesh the Hunchback. The street, where he grew, was named after him in Khorog posthumously. City residents consider him a hero for his generosity and justice, for the fact that during the Civil War, when Badakhshan was in the blockade, he actually saved them from starvation. Later, when the power was still weak, Alesh the Hunchback headed self-defense units of Badakhshan. After the Civil War, Tolib Ayembekov was integrated into government structures on the basis of the General Peace Agreement and became the commander of the Ishkashim border detachment.

Tajik media reported yesterday that the city of Khorog was virtually cut off from the world due to the lack of communication, including telephone and Internet communication. A number of independent news sites, according to some sources, were closed to Tajik users. "State agencies and shops are closed, the city is completely encircled, all districts are cut off from each other," Sulaiman Shohzoda, a human rights activist said.

As a result, about 60 tourists from Austria, Germany, France, Kyrgyzstan, Poland and Russia have been trapped in the city with local residents.  

"We believe that the Tajik authorities will take necessary measures to ensure the safety and interests of Russian citizens who may be in the area of ​​the special operation," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov