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Central Asian Cold Warrior Ruzi Nazar Dies In Turkey

Ruzi Nazar was eulogized as "probably the last of the Cold War warrior-spies." (undated file photo)
Ruzi Nazar was eulogized as "probably the last of the Cold War warrior-spies." (undated file photo)

Ruzi Nazar, who was born in the year of the Bolshevik Revolution and spent most of a long lifetime battling against Soviet domination of Central Asia, died in Turkey on April 30. He was 98.

Eulogized by a Turkish newspaper as "probably the last of the Cold War warrior-spies," Nazar was probably less prominent in the West than his daughter, Sylvia Nasar, the author whose book A Beautiful Mind was turned into an Academy Award-winning film in 2001.

The Uzbek-born Nazar's relative obscurity may not be surprising, since most of his life was spent in pursuits that demanded he keep a very low profile.

Aside from a stint with the Red Army, Nazar was almost constantly struggling behind the scenes against the Soviet government, from World War II to Moscow's war of occupation in Afghanistan.

He helped Hitler's Germany organize the Turkestan Legion, which was composed of former Red Army soldiers like himself and established to fight against it. He was again on the anti-Soviet side in the Cold War, working for the United States and the CIA.

Nazar was also involved in establishing radio stations to broadcast to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union -- Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Ruzi Nazar was given a hero's welcome by Uzbek President Islam Karimov when he returned in 1992.
Ruzi Nazar was given a hero's welcome by Uzbek President Islam Karimov when he returned in 1992.

Born in 1917 in the city of Margilan, in what is now eastern Uzbekistan, Nazar was 10 years old when his older brother Yoldash Kari was executed by the Soviet government for alleged involvement in nationalist resistance.

Nazar himself fell under suspicion as he grew up, but after World War II broke out he was conscripted and sent to Ukraine, arriving shortly before German forces swept across the land. Nazar was wounded and a Ukrainian family took him in and nursed him back to health.

Discovering that he was in Ukraine, the Germans offered the already staunchly anti-Soviet Nazar a chance to help form the Turkestan Legion.

Anxious to help Central Asians throw off the shackles of their Soviet masters, Nazar saw common cause -- at least temporarily -- with Nazi Germany in the fight against Soviet forces. He would later fend off accusations that he was a Nazi.

Together with others from Central Asia such as Vali Qayumkhan, Baymirza Hayit, and Mustafa Shokay, Nazar helped form the Turkestan Legion, which eventually was stationed in northern Italy as the war drew to a close.

Knowing the 1945 Yalta agreement called for the repatriation of Red Army soldiers to the Soviet Union, Nazar returned to Germany in the last days of the war.

There, he managed to get documents discharging him and his friends from the military before they all went into hiding as Allied troops took control in Germany.

Nazar was in Rosenheim, controlled by U.S. forces, when he finally decided to emerge from his place of concealment. While there he met Ermelinde Roth, who in 1946 would become his wife.

Nazar spent most of the next five years working with fellow Central Asian nationalists, trying to come up with plans that could one day liberate their homelands.

Nazar also met nationalists from other Soviet republics, such as Ukrainians Stepan Bandera and Yaroslav Stetsko.

In 1951, Nazar was invited by the CIA to come to the United States and work in a new Central Asian unit.

A May 2 article in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News told the story of what may have been one of Nazar's missions abroad.

In 1954, two pilgrims on a bus carrying 21 Soviet Muslims to Mecca berated other passengers, saying they were not true Muslims but servants of atheists in Moscow, and later pasted anti-Soviet posters on walls in Mecca and threw tomatoes at Soviet Muslims.

The two pilgrims were Nazar and Hamid Rashid, both working on behalf of the CIA.

From 1959 to 1971, Nazar was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

He returned to Washington in 1971, but his adventures were not over yet.

Nazar quietly entered Iran in 1979, posing as a German-Afghan carpet seller, with the purpose of assessing the situation of the dozens of Americans taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy by student supporters of the Islamic Revolution.

While in Iran, he took part in Operation Argo, the rescue of six U.S. diplomats who flew out safely in January 1980 -- the subject of an Academy Award-winning 2012 film.

In the 1980s, Nazar traveled to Afghanistan as part of U.S. efforts to organize resistance following the Soviet invasion and helped to establish groups that would later become the mujahedin.

Nazar was actively involved in gaining the release of ethnic Uzbek Soviet prisoners in Afghanistan, two of whom still live in the United States.

In May 1992, Nazar was finally able to return to Uzbekistan, which had gained independence when the Soviet Union fell apart the previous year.

He was given a hero's welcome by Uzbek President Islam Karimov and was reunited with surviving family members in Margilan.

Nazar was always a welcome guest in Uzbekistan, where Karimov still rules through what opponents and rights groups say is oppression.

The Hurriyet Daily News article said "Nazar was probably (since we may not know the more secretive and currently living ones) the last of the Cold War warrior-spies. He spent his final years in the Turkish Mediterranean resort town of Side, where he passed away."

Nazar's friend Enver Altayli, who worked as an agent of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, wrote a book titled Ruzi Nazar: The CIA's Turkish Spy.

Altayli has called Nazar a "great patriot of the Turkic World...and a dear son of Turkestan."

With reporting by Shukhrat Babajanov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and Hurriyet Daily News
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