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Tajikistan: Islamic Party Chairman Leaves Behind Powerful Legacy

Said Abdullo Nuri in a 1997 photo (ITAR-TASS) PRAGUE, August 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The death today of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party's (IRP) chairman, Said Abdullo Nuri, marks the end of a career that peaked at a crucial juncture in Tajikistan's post-Soviet history.

Nuri was a prominent and influential figure in Tajikistan in the 1990s -- once a staunch enemy of the government, then a major player in the peace deal that ended five years of civil war. Nuri then helped to form a coalition government among civil war rivals.

Read complete coverage of this topic in Tajik at the site of RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

Nuri died at his home in eastern Dushanbe and his burial is scheduled for August 10. Nuri had been ill for about two years and had largely faded from public view.

From Opposition To Compromise

Nuri was one of the best-known figures in Tajikistan in the decade that followed independence. He initially emerged as the leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) -- a coalition of groups opposed to rule by mainly Communist Party apparatchiks left over from the Soviet days.

Nuri signing the peace agreement that ended Tajikistan's civil war in Dushanbe on December 23, 1996 (TASS)

Nuri fled the country shortly after the civil war broke out in 1992. But he and his deputy -- a former chief mufti ("qazi qalon") of Tajikistan, Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda -- continued to lead the UTO from Afghanistan and Iran.

Nuri signed the Tajik National Peace Accord in 1997 on behalf of the UTO, ending a civil war that killed as many as 100,000 people and ravaged Tajikistan's infrastructure.

In comments to RFE/RL's Tajik Service today, former deputy Turajonzoda hailed Nuri as a man who pursued compromise in the national interest.

"Mentor Nuri had a very unique nature," Turajonzoda said. "He did a lot of good things during his short life. He was one of those personalities who, firstly, strived to prevent the civil war in 1992, and then tried to return [the country to] peace and stability. After the war was imposed on us and we had not other choice, we tried together with him to reach a fair peace deal so that our refugees could return from Afghanistan to Tajikistan with honor."

Return To Politics

When Nuri returned to Tajikistan in September 1997, he was greeted by supporters at the airport. He then led the National Reconciliation Council and worked with representatives of the government and UTO to form a new government -- in which the UTO received nearly one-third of all local, regional, and national posts.

"Mentor Nuri had a very unique nature," Hoja Akbar Turajonzoda said. "He did a lot of good things during his short life."

Despite his popularity, Nuri did not compete against President Imomali Rakhmonov in the 2000 presidential election. Owing to his deteriorating health, he was never mentioned as a possible IRP candidate in the presidential election due in November 2006.

More recently, Nuri faced slander charges after he alleged in an interview in January that there was official corruption at the Dushanbe waterworks.

Nuri in Munich in 2005 (RFE/RL)

In cautious remarks to RFE/RL's Tajik Service in April, IRP Deputy Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri dismissed the charges against Nuri as politically motivated:

"We have believed from the start that this was clearly a fabricated case and there was no need to go to court," Kabiri said. "But since some circles had an interest in [Nuri's prosecution], they brought the case to court. We will see what happens."

Nuri's death leaves the IRP without its most influential personality with just three months to go before a presidential election.

...With Long Ties To Islam

Nuri's ties to Islam go back many years. He was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1973 for distributing Islamic literature. In 1974, Nuri helped organize the banned youth group Islamic Revival ("Nahzati Islomi"). The spiritual leader of that group was a respected cleric, Muhammadjon Rustamov (also known as Mawlawi Hindustani), who also became Nuri's mentor.

In 1992, just before the outbreak of the civil war, Nuri was editor-in-chief of the "Islamic Tribune" ("Minbari Islom") newspaper.

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