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Tajik Officials Ban 'New Year's Trees' To Protect Forests

Imitation pine forests at the Panjshanbe bazaar in Khujand on December 30
KHUJAND, Tajikistan -- The pine trees that Tajik households traditionally display at New Year's have disappeared from markets in the northern Tajik city of Khujand following a ban on their sale, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

The Sughd Province's environmental agency banned the felling and sale of pine trees earlier this month with the aim of protecting the region's forests.

"There are five pine-tree forests in Sughd Province in the total area of some 80,000 hectares, and some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old," explained Ozod Yusufov, head of the local woodland protection agency.

"It takes many years to grow a pine tree, and the entire forests would disappear in a couple of years if we continued to cut and sell them every New Year," he said.

As a legacy of the country's Soviet past, many Tajiks still celebrate New Year's with private gatherings and street parties.

Officials have launched a special operations dubbed Archa (pine tree) to ensure that citizens obey the ban.

As a result, RFE/RL correspondents report, Khujand's ancient Panjshanbe Bazaar was filled with plastic trees, children's party costumes, and New Year's tree decorations as local residents did their last-minute shopping. Some merchants were dressed in colorful Father Frost costumes to attract customers.

"It doesn't make a big difference if you get a plastic tree or the real one," said Faroghat Usmonova, a Khujand resident, who purchased a decorated imitation tree in the Panjshanbe Bazaar.

"I bought this tree to make my children happy," she said. "All they want is to decorate it with shiny ornaments and find their New Year presents under the tree."

Plastic trees have also been erected in Khujand's shopping centers, restaurants, and schools as well as in government buildings.

As New Year's Eve and January 1 occur on a weekend this year, Tajik authorities made January 2 a public holiday as well.