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Tajik Kids Told To Keep Tabs On Dads Abroad To Prevent Militancy


Many Tajik children are left with their mothers as their fathers have gone abroad -- mainly to Russia -- to find work.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Alarmed by reports that Central Asians working abroad are being brainwashed and recruited into extremist groups like the Islamic State, authorities in northern Tajikistan are calling on kids to help keep tabs on dad.

Schoolchildren as young as 11 in the northern district of Isfara have been instructed by teachers and local authorities to make frequent phone calls to their fathers working in Russia as seasonal laborers. The idea is to get updates on their everyday routines and whereabouts, share the details with school administrations, and hopefully prevent Tajik nationals from joining with Islamic militants.

A school administration in Isfara openly admits that teachers are asking students to gather information about their fathers, an effort that is vaguely reminiscent of Stalin-era attempts to get children to inform on their parents in the Soviet Union.

Sobirboy Tuychiev, a deputy school director in the village of Chorkuh, says schoolchildren are also being asked to plead with their fathers not to join extremist groups.

"First we gather information from the children about where in Russia their fathers or brothers work and what kind of work they are engaged in," Tuychiev says, noting that they have obtained parents' consent.

"The children make phone calls to their fathers and brothers and ask them to just keep their nose clean and return home with heads held high," he adds. "Meaning, don't go off track."

Many Tajik migrants, such as this one called Sherzod, have been recruited by Islamic extremists while working in Russia.
Many Tajik migrants, such as this one called Sherzod, have been recruited by Islamic extremists while working in Russia.

​When a migrant worker returns home from Russia, Tuychiev says, the children are asked to let authorities know.

A law-enforcement official in Dushanbe told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that the measure is a part of authorities’ broader project to combat terrorism threats in the country's most “vulnerable” areas.

Once dubbed the Islamic Triangle of Tajikistan, Isfara -- especially its Chorkuh area -- is locally known as one of the most religiously conservative pockets of Tajikistan's otherwise relatively liberal north.

Dozens of Isfara residents have been arrested in the past decade for alleged links to extremist groups, such as the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which in 2015 pledged allegiance to the extremist Islamic State group.

The area came under scrutiny in 2014, when authorities said that at least 20 people from the district had gone to Syria and Iraq to join IS extremists.

Authorities said that the 20 alleged militants -- all of them from Chorqishloq, a village of some 3,000 inhabitants -- had been migrant laborers in Russia. Local officials suggested they had been brainwashed and radicalized while working in Russia.

Desperate to prevent more people from joining with Islamic militants, the local government has since organized meetings with villagers at teahouses, mosques, and schools. Imams have been asked to explain to young men attending mosque sermons that the conflict in the Middle East is not the holy war they might think it is.

Saadi Yusufi, a Dushanbe-based expert on social affairs, suggests the new effort to bring children into the effort to prevent radicalization could work.

"It might have psychological effects especially for men who are mulling over joining extremist groups but are still undecided," says Yusufi. "In such a situation, when children plead with their fathers not to go astray, it can sway the fathers' decision and make them think twice."

In the southern Khatlon Province, meanwhile, women are being told by local authorities to be vigilant for any signs of radicalization among men in their families, both at home and away.

Just days after the deadly subway attack in St. Petersburg on April 3 -- an act blamed on natives of Central Asia and deemed to be terrorism by Russian authorities, although no group has claimed responsibility -- Khatlon authorities and women's groups began meetings with rural women to discuss the threat posed by recruiters.

The gatherings are being held across the province, where authorities explain to women how to help prevent their husbands, sons, and brothers from falling under the influence of extremist groups.

"Talk to your men, tell them to stay away from extremist groups, tell them not to get involved in anything suspicious while working abroad," religious affairs expert Saidahmad Qalandarov told women in one of the Khatlon meetings filmed by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.

Qalandarov told the women that if they don't want their male relatives to be killed and to kill others, they should act now.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, with reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Shahloi Gulkhoja and additional reporting by Tajik Service correspondent Orzu Karim in Khatlon.
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