June 27, 1997, remains one of the greatest days in Tajikistan's nearly 25-year history as an independent country.
On that day in Moscow, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon (then Rakhmonov) and the leader of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), Said Abdullo Nuri, signed a national peace accord. It ended five years of civil war in Tajikistan that estimates now say left some 100,000 people dead.
The core of the UTO was the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (HNIT) and the era of peace in Tajikistan seemed to get off to a good start when President Rahmon, three days after signing the peace deal, arrived in Saudi Arabia to make the "umrah," the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca.
This year only those who sided with the government during the civil war are celebrating National Reconciliation Day. Their partners in peace, the HNIT, are once again outlawed.
On June 23, RFE/RL's Tajik Service, known locally as Ozodi, reported that a 35-year-old man was sentenced to five years in prison for propagating the ideas of the HNIT, a party that was legally registered less than one year ago.
Something To Brag About
For nearly 18 of the 19 years of peace in Tajikistan, the HNIT was part of the country's government. One of the provisions of the peace accord was that the UTO receive 30 percent of the places in government, from ministerial posts down to the village level. Most places went to the HNIT, which was the largest part of the UTO and had done most of the fighting. The percentage eroded away over the years until, in March 2015, the HNIT lost its last two seats in parliament.
During the roughly 18 years the HNIT was part of the government, the party demonstrated its dedication to the peace deal many times. The war might have ended but outbreaks of fighting continued. Sometimes it was former opposition members, sometimes it was former government allies who were responsible. The HNIT always sided with the government.
The HNIT had the credentials to speak authoritatively on matters of Islam, something that proved extremely valuable in countering the views of Islamic extremist groups. The HNIT was once the armed Islamic opposition, but it had reached an agreement with the government.
The HNIT's participation in governing the country was an example that cooperation between a secular government and an Islamic opposition was possible. The HNIT's presence in the government was a reminder to Tajikistan's people of a "happy ending" to a horrible time. The ability of the HNIT and President Rahmon's government to work together reinforced the idea that Tajikistan's civil war had truly been an incredible waste.
But after a few years, the harassment of HNIT members started; some were beaten, a few were killed. State media started reporting on alleged misdeeds by HNIT members, especially the party's leaders. HNIT leader Muhiddin Kabiri eventually fled the country as it became clear he would soon be charged with some crime.
The HNIT's attempts to hold public meetings or press conferences were sometimes broken up by the sudden appearance of groups of supposedly irate citizens who spontaneously banded together to vent at the HNIT. This, despite strict prohibitions on unsanctioned rallies and demonstrations.
Not long after the HNIT lost its last two seats in parliament in 2015, the Tajik authorities started to claim the HNIT, the second-largest party in the country, did not actually enjoy widespread popularity and that many of its branches around the country had effectively ceased activities.
On this basis, the authorities initiated procedures that in late August resulted in the Justice Ministry ordering the HNIT to cease all activities. At the end of September, the Supreme Court ruled that the HNIT was an extremist group and outlawed the party.
At the start of June this year, 14 leading members of the HNIT were convicted on dubious charges. Some were given lengthy prison sentences.
HNIT deputy leaders Mahmadali Hayit and Saidumar Husaini were sentenced to life in prison for their alleged, and unlikely, involvement in the supposed coup attempt Tajikistan's deputy defense minister led in September, just before the deadline the Justice Ministry ordered the HNIT to cease all activities.
Hayit and Husaini had been targeted before.
On April 19, 2013, two unknown assailants attacked the then-56-year-old Hayit outside his Dushanbe home after he helped plan a public event the HNIT was about to hold to mark the anniversary of the party's founding. He was taken to the hospital with "severe wounds to the head, face, eyes, ribs, back, and stomach."
On April 28, 2014, Husaini, his son, and another HNIT member were attacked in Tajikistan's eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Husaini said some 15 people were involved in the attack. He told Ozodi at the time he didn't intend to ask local authorities for help in apprehending the attackers because he believed some of the assailants were actually policemen.
End Of Reconciliation
Tajikistan is a poor country, the poorest in Central Asia. At least 25 percent of the country's eligible labor force is working abroad, mainly in Russia. There is little to distinguish Tajikistan today.
For 18 years Tajik authorities could say the country had the only registered Islamic party in Central Asia. Not anymore.
So this year Tajik authorities for the first time mark National Reconciliation Day without their partner in the reconciliation.
President Rahmon is marking the holiday in Gorno-Badakhshan, the poorest region of Tajikistan. He is not popular in Gorno-Badakhshan. The local Lal'i Badakhshan group established by the Pamiri population there was part of the UTO during the civil war.
Rahmon was in the regional capital, Khorog, on June 26 to present the government's gift to the people of Gorno-Badakhshan -- a 30-meter flagpole for an 8-meter-by-4-meter Tajik flag.
According to the president's press service, the project cost some 300,000 somonis (a bit more than $38,000); money that could have been better used in so many ways in this region.
This year's National Reconciliation Day celebration really marks the government's victory in a war it could not win 19 years ago. However, if the Tajik authorities continue on their present course, they could spark unrest and this might be one of the last Reconciliation Days the country marks.