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Qishloq Ovozi

Afghan civil defense commander Gurbandurdy (screen grab)
White-bearded Gurbandurdy and his 120-man civil defense force have two enemies.

They also have two friends -- the Afghan and Turkmen governments -- who seem to have forgotten them.

They are preparing to make a last stand, but in their current situation, it seems only a matter of time before the Taliban get them, or nature does.

Gurbandurdy and his village militia live in the Qarqeen District of Afghanistan's Faryab Province. Their village is on the border of Turkmenistan. The enemy to the south, east and west is the Taliban and members of militant groups allied to the Taliban, who are well armed, sufficiently funded, and extending their area of influence in this part of northern Afghanistan.

The enemy to the north is the river that separates Afghanistan from Turkmenistan in this area -- the Amu-Darya.

The river is moving gradually southward. It is pushing the border further south, eating away precious agricultural land on its southern bank and chasing the inhabitants of villages, like Gurbandurdy’s village, into the desert.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, has been helping shed light on the situation just over the Turkmen border in Afghanistan.

Very little has been reported about this area. It's far from Kabul and Kandahar and not many foreign troops pass through this northwestern corner of Afghanistan.

Azatlyk obtained footage of Gurbandurdy and some of his fighters, one of whom would be around retirement age in many countries.

Gurbandurdy is not a young man himself and says in one video that he has been fighting for his country for nearly three decades, "under jihad and after."

The videos speak for themselves, unfortunately they are in Turkmen and we don’t have subtitles to go with them. So below is written text of what they say. The videos are all short: from 15 seconds to just over a minute.

Some necessary background information: Turkmenistan’s government has pledged to help in reinforcing the riverbank on the Afghan side of the Amu-Darya, something it has done in the past. Nurjan is one of the commanders of Gurbandurdy’s militia.

Gurbandurdy:

Most of the security posts on Afghan-Turkmen borders are ours. I am on good terms with Turkmenistan for a long time, I did not allow any infiltration during the period of jihad, or during the Junbish's time [when ethnic Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum was ruler of the town] and no threat will be posed to Turkmenistan.Godwilling everything is under control. Nothing has happened in the past, nothing will happen in the future. But Turkmenistan promised to build us a retaining wall. Since the Taliban arrived in the area of our village, Turkmenistan has stopped sending people and told us they would not send anymore. We ask them to help us.

Watch original video here

Gurbandurdy:

I am commander Gurbandurdy. I am commander of the Qarqeen district, I was the commander during jihad time, around 27 years ago. I continue to be the commander, because my people wanted me to be so. Groups like the Taliban started coming to our district, and killing our doctors and teachers.

Watch original video here

Nurjan:

We took up arms to protect our village and people. Gurbandurdy is our commander. Five months ago, terrorists started coming to our village and we took up arms to protect our people. We ask Turkmenistan to return our land. The river is destroying our land. Villagers are moving to the desert. This is our biggest request to Turkmenistan -- that they do something about the river. Because by taking up arms we are also protecting Turkmenistan and therefore helping them. The biggest contribution Turkmenistan can make to us is to build a wall along the river. They [Turkmenistan] should not cheat people with this little help [in this small matter]. They should not be claiming they are helping us with these little things. If they want to do something, they should do something serious. This is our request to Turkmenistan and [President Gurbanguly] Berdymukhammedov.

Watch original video here

Old Man:

As you can see, at this age I am protecting the border with weapons in my hands. The river has destroyed us. We look for help from Turkmenistan.”

Watch original video here

-- Bruce Pannier
According to a release from the Kremlin's press service on March 10, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev was supposed to make an unexpected visit to Moscow on March 10 and 11. Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported early March 10, "Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will pay an official two-day visit to Russia on an invitation from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, the Kremlin said in a statement." The statement continued, "Putin and Nazarbaev are expected to hold talks on Tuesday."

But Nazarbaev never showed up and the Kazakh president's press spokesman Yerzhan Nukezhanov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Azattyq, on March 11 Nazarbaev had no plans to go to Moscow and this information was distributed by the Russian president's administration.

News that Nazarbaev was heading to Moscow was strange from the start. He was just there on March 5 to meet with Putin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss the three countries' CIS Customs Union/Eurasian Economic Community.

On the evening of March 10, Russian and Kazakh news agencies reported Nazarbaev and Putin had spoken by telephone. The main topic of the conversation was Ukraine and Crimea and reportedly Nazarbaev said he "understands the position of assumed by Russia, which is defending the interests of ethnic minorities in Ukraine, as well as its own security interests."

It must have been an uncomfortable discussion for Nazarbaev since parts of Kazakhstan were incorporated into the Russian empire in the mid-18th Century, just like Crimea was. And the "ethnic minorities" referred to in reports were almost surely Russians in Crimea. A significant percentage of Kazakhstan's current population is ethnic Russian/Slavic and like Crimea, most of Kazakhstan's ethnic Russians live in areas near the border with Russia.

Following the telephone conversation with Putin, Nazarbaev had two more discussions: one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and another with U.S. President Barack Obama.

According to the Kazinform news agency, Nazarbaev "confirmed the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis through dialogue between all interested parties" in his conversation with Merkel.

Reports said Obama encouraged Nazarbaev to play an active role in finding a peaceful outcome for Ukraine.

March 11 came and Nazarbaev never arrived to meet with Putin in Moscow and Nazarbaev's spokesman Nukezhanov told Azattyq that Putin's invitation was for a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community and there was no need to go since the meeting happened last week.

So the Kremlin's press service made a mistake about a visit from the Kazakh president?

When was the last time the Kremlin's press office made a mistake about a visit from a head of state from another CIS country?

When was any time the Kremlin's press office made such a mistake?

Merhat Sharipzhan of the RFE/RL's Central Newsroom and Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service helped in preparing this report.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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