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Tajikistan: Memories Of Civil War Leave Youth Cautious About New Revolution

Young Tajiks have been following recent events in Kyrgyzstan with interest. However, many of those who grew up during the country's civil war of the 1990s are well aware that street demonstrations can lead to confrontation and bloodshed. Several of them told RFE/RL they prefer political disputes to be settled through legal means. With 40 percent of Tajikistan's population under the age of 30, the authorities might well have to start listening to the country's young people. RFE/RL correspondents Salimjon Aioubov and Golnaz Esfandiari report. For more on the rise of political youth groups, see RFE/RL's special website "The Power of Youth." --> /specials/youth/

Prague, 11 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- When you ask young people in Tajikistan about recent events in Kyrgyzstan, they remain cautious.

A student from Tajikistan's National University in the capital Dushanbe watched the Kyrgyz events on television. She told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that she was worried about the same thing happening in Tajikistan.

"They attacked government buildings, set them on fire, the same happened in Tajikistan and led to the civil war," she said. "It doesn't have a good future."

The scenes of looting and violence in Kyrgyzstan remind many Tajiks of the 1992-97 civil war that left more than 50,000 dead and devastated the country. In the spring of 1992, large-scale demonstrations in Dushanbe turned into violent clashes between supporters of the government and the opposition.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mohammad Zahir Habibov is a member of the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan. He believes that Tajik citizens, especially young people, do not want a repeat of the Kyrgyz events in their country.

"Our people have experienced these type of demonstrations and these actions will not be repeated in Tajikistan, I know it for sure," Habibov said.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan both held parliamentary elections on 27 February. Opposition groups and international organizations criticized the polls in both countries as undemocratic.
"The Kyrgyz developments show other Central Asian governments that people did not like and disagreed with the policies of the [Kyrgyz] government and the president. People did the right thing." - Tajik student in Ukraine

In Kyrgyzstan, protests over elections led to an uprising and the ousting of President Askar Akaev.

In Tajikistan, the ruling party of President Imomali Rakhmonov won a majority of seats in parliament. Calls by several opposition parties for the elections to be declared invalid have been dismissed.

Other Tajiks see more hope in the Kyrgyz events. Niloufar is a 23-year-old university student in Kyiv. She witnessed that country's Orange Revolution in November-December 2004 and expresses support for the people's protests in Kyrgyzstan.

"The Kyrgyz developments show other Central Asian governments that people did not like and disagreed with the policies of the [Kyrgyz] government and the president. People did the right thing," Niloufar said.

A young Tajik living in the Kyrgyz capital told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that he really enjoyed seeing political developments unfold in Bishkek. He said that he wishes Tajik youth would mobilize themselves in the same way.

In recent years, many young Tajiks have become active in civil society and youth NGOs have flourished. However, young people did not play a strong role in the February parliamentary elections. Many observers believe that Tajik youth are not ready to take an active role in the country's politics.

Dushanbe-based political analyst Fakhredin Khalbek is one of them. He said young people who grew up during the civil war are demoralized and distance themselves from politics:

"Young Tajiks are more passive [now] than at any other time and you don't see them much in political life. I don't believe that young people in Tajikistan will [become a driving force] like youth in Ukraine or Kyrgyzstan or Georgia," Khalbek said.

Zafara Rahmoni is in her 20s and a member of Tajikistan's Islamic Revival Party, which has just two seats in the Tajik parliament. She was also a candidate in the recent parliamentary elections. She said young people who cast their vote in February were dissatisfied with the results. However, she believes that fear of bloodshed prevented them from taking their discontent to the streets.

"If we would have wanted to demonstrate against vote rigging and the undemocratic [nature] of the elections, one thing would have prevented us and that is the fear people have. [People] said if the Islamists come into power, the events of 1992 will be repeated and because of that fear they didn't raise their voice," Rahmoni said.

Tajik opposition parties, who gained only a few seats in the new parliament, have said that they are trying to resolve their problems through legal means.

In the meantime, Rahmoni, said young people should push for democratic reforms. "We the youth of Tajikistan should have a role -- I don't mean in the government's policies -- but in the policies that would improve the economic and social situation," she said. "We should do our best to make Tajikistan one of the world's advanced countries."

In Kyiv, Niloufar said she believes the creation of a youth organization similar to Kyrgyzstan's KelKel or Ukraine's Pora will help young Tajiks get more involved in their country's political life.

"I think there should be an organization that would bring together young people who want to play an active role in the development of Tajikistan. [Such an organization] would be of benefit to Tajikistan," Niloufar said.

Such an organization, however, would have to overcome the trauma many Tajik young people feel about their country's turbulent past.

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