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Tajikistan: On National Unity Day, Former Opposition Leader Looks Back At Peace Talks

Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda (file photo) Amid celebrations to mark Tajikistan's Day of National Unity on June 27, RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Darius Rajabian spoke with former Tajik Islamic opposition leader Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda. Turajonzoda was a member of the opposition delegation to peace negotiations during that conflict. A peace deal was signed with the Russian-backed government nine years ago today, on June 27, 1997, ending five years of bloody civil war. Turajonzoda talked about some of the highlights of the negotiations.

RFE/RL: What were the most memorable moments or days of the peace process?

Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda: From the peace process, I remember those days in 1995 when the negotiations in Moscow were postponed for three days because of the opposition side's protest. We protested, because Russian Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev shook hands with each of the Tajik government's representatives and then went on to read his statement. The statement was full of threats to Tajik opposition forces. Then he wished everyone well and was about to leave the room. But I said, "Mr. Minister, we didn't come here to listen to your exhortation. If you don't treat both sides equally, why did you choose to be the host of the negotiations and why did you invite us here?" We demanded an apology, saying we wouldn't be come to the negotiations unless they apologized. They did, and we returned.

RFE/RL: Looking back 10 years later, who do you think played the most prominent part in those peace negotiations?

Turajonzoda: Frankly, both sides played great roles. In 1996, both sides were almost equal politically and in terms of armed forces. Our mujahedin were high-spirited, and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) forces had vast regions under their control. Today, unfortunately, Tajik media -- especially the state-run media -- exaggerate the part played by the government side, trying to ignore what the UTO did. But it's normal not to boost one's rival during a political campaign, or not to give any credit to what one's rivals have done. Frankly, it's no big deal to me, because I know that it's just politicians' mindset.

RFE/RL: If you had an opportunity to turn the time back, would you choose the same path again or would you act differently?

Turajonzoda: Fortunately time does not move backward. Even if it did, peace would always be our only goal -- as it was our main goal in those days. Perhaps we would want to implement the peace accord in a slightly different way.

RFE/RL: In what way exactly?

Turajonzoda: Well, even then we knew that the transition period should have started only after handing over 30 percent of the power to the opposition, as was written in the peace accord. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Partly we blame ourselves for this, because we have always been willing to make too many concessions. I have never accepted the term "unilateral amnesty," and throughout the negotiations I insisted that all criminal cases [against opposition members] must be closed. If we had insisted further on that position, perhaps many of our friends and followers wouldn't have been jailed or forced into exile.

RFE/RL: Why you didn't you raise these issues during your days as first deputy prime minister?

Turajonzoda: We discussed these issues so many times. However, in my position as first deputy prime minister I had neither the power nor the responsibility to get involved in political or military issues.