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Uncle Samad Wants You! Tajikistan Taking Extreme Measures To Get Recruits Amid Failed Army Draft


New recruits drafted to the army attend a send-off ceremony in Tajikistan (file photo)
New recruits drafted to the army attend a send-off ceremony in Tajikistan (file photo)

Tajikistan’s latest military call-up season is embroiled in controversy over claims that local authorities cut off electricity and shut down mosques to force families to get their sons to enlist in the army.

But despite the extreme measures, authorities have failed to meet the enlistment quota and have extended the draft until mid-December, sources told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.

The Central Asian country's Defense Ministry officially announced that the two-month autumn call-up was successfully completed on December 1.

But two separate sources involved in the enlistment process in the capital, Dushanbe, and the southern Khatlon Province claim that at least 15 towns and districts failed to recruit the required number of conscripts, prompting authorities to prolong the call-up by two weeks, until December 15. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to media.

Military service is mandatory in Tajikistan for men aged between 18 and 27, with certain exemptions. It is not compulsory for women, although they can volunteer to join the army.

Many young men try to avoid conscription. One reason is that, as in many former Soviet countries, the Tajik Army is known for the brutal hazing of new recruits.

Potential recruits also fear being deployed to conflict zones. Several soldiers were reported killed or wounded in recurring clashes along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border in recent years.

To avoid the army, many conscript-aged men move to Russia during the twice-a-year drafts in the spring and fall. Some bribe doctors and enlistment officials to secure an exemption on medical grounds.

There are also overwhelming claims that the rich and powerful use their clout to get their sons out of military service -- leading to beliefs that conscription is only for the poor.

No Enlistment -- No Electricity

The shortage of eligible -- or available -- men in some areas has forced authorities to resort to extreme measures to fill compulsory enlistment quotas.

In the village of Dilbari, in Khatlon Province, authorities cut off electricity and sealed two of the village’s three mosques in October as part of their pressure to get people to sign their sons up for the army, several residents claimed.

Authorities closed off some prayer houses to put pressure on parents to get their sons to join the army.
Authorities closed off some prayer houses to put pressure on parents to get their sons to join the army.

The rural settlement is home to about 300 households and most of the conscript-aged men went to Russia to work as migrant workers.

“They told us you won’t get electricity until you return your sons from [Russia] and register them for military service,” a villager said on condition of anonymity.

Contacted by RFE/RL, local officials rejected the claim. But they said that the Dilbari village has the region's lowest number of men enlisting.

In addition, some school directors say they are being pressured by local officials to fill draft quotas.

A principal in the northern city of Khujand said she makes a list of all teachers, cleaners, librarians, and other employees at her school who have conscript-age sons.

“It’s very difficult to ask someone to send their son to the army. I offer them incentives -- like extra classes for teachers so they could earn more money. But I don’t have many options, I don’t have the power or resources to give them good benefits,” she told RFE/RL on December 13 on condition of anonymity.

In the northern city of Istaravshan, a family complained that their disabled son was detained by military recruiters and forced into the army.

Mehrovar Usmonov, 23, suffers from several medical conditions, including poor eyesight since he was a child. He has thus far been exempt from military service, according to his mother, Mahbuba Rahmatova.

Mehrovar Usmonov's mother, Mahbuba Rahmatova
Mehrovar Usmonov's mother, Mahbuba Rahmatova

Usmonov was taken in the streets while visiting the town of Konibodom in late November and was sent to a military unit to Dushanbe, his mother said.

In response to the family’s complaints, authorities said they were looking into Usmonov’s case and would release him from the army if the claims are confirmed by medical experts.

Seizing young men on the streets has become a routine procedure during military draft season in Tajikistan. Dushanbe resident Bahodur Mirzoev says his 14-year-old son, Kiyan, was briefly detained by recruitment officers in October.

The teenager was dragged into a car with tinted windows while on his way to a grocery store.

“He said one of the officers hit him on the back as they tried to heave him into the car. It has left a bruise for several days,” Mirzoev said. Kiyan was released after the officers realized he was a minor and apologized for their mistake.

'It's Our Duty To Serve'

One retired military recruitment officer in the northern province of Sughd told RFE/RL that he blamed young men for “trying to avoid serving their own country at any cost.”

“Our young men hide in Russia; they leave Tajikistan from March to December to evade the drafts. They return home only in the winter and this continues until they are 27 or until two children are born in their family,” the former officer said on December 13. Men who have two children are exempt from serving in the army.

“It’s our duty to serve in the army. Military service is mandatory,” he added. “Who will defend our country if everybody tries to evade [the draft]?”

Dodging military service is a criminal offense in Tajikistan, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Tajik authorities say they have improved the situation in the army by tackling the notorious hazing, upgrading military barracks, and providing nutritious food -- issues that have long been a major source of complaints by soldiers and their families.

But many Tajiks say a lot more needs to be done to make military service desirable. Some have suggested incentives, such as giving those who served in the army preference in getting state jobs, making it easier for them to enroll in universities, and subsidizing their college tuition.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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    RFE/RL's Tajik Service

    RFE/RL’s Tajik Service is a trusted source of local news, attracting audiences with compelling reporting on issues not otherwise covered by Tajikistan’s state-run media.

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