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Qishloq Ovozi

President Emomali Rahmon (center) has been leader of the country since the early days of the 1992-97 civil war.

Tajikistan is marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Tajik peace accord on June 27.

Today Tajikistan has become practically a family-run business.

President Emomali Rahmon has been leader of the country since the early days of the 1992-97 civil war.

In the years since the war ended, Rahmon has gradually rid the government and the country of political opponents and his now-adult children are increasingly taking prominent state posts.

Independent media has been battered and is now barely surviving.

Corruption is rampant, the country remains poor, and hundreds of thousands of Tajikistan's citizens work as migrant laborers in Russia due to the lack of employment at home.

Some believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and many observers ask how Tajikistan's people can tolerate the excesses of the elite and remain relatively silent.

The answer is the civil war.

A generation has grown up since the war ended. They know only stories, but the people who lived through it remember it so well that most would endure anything their government does if it would mean Tajikistan would not fall again into civil war.

So let's remember, for a moment, how bad Tajikistan's civil war was.

Knowledgeable authors have written about how the war started as a result of rival demonstrations in Dushanbe in spring 1992; of how an unlikely coalition of democratic, Islamic, and local ethnic groups formed the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the government's battlefield enemy; and of the chaotic first months of the war that saw the boss of a state-run farm, Rahmon, propelled into a position of leadership with the support of pro-government, paramilitary chiefs.

Battles were fought in places few had ever heard of before -- villages and towns such as Komsomolabad, Garm, and Tavil-Dara in the mountains east of Dushanbe were the scenes of almost constant fighting.

Casualties were appalling for a country that at the time had a population of less than 6 million people. It wasn't uncommon for hundreds of fighters, mainly government troops, to be killed within just a week or two of outbreaks of fighting.

Cease-fires were continually reached by representatives far from the battlefield but rarely were observed for even 24 hours by the combatants. Only agreements to exchange the bodies of the dead stopped the fighting for any significant amount of time, and even then only in one or two places.

And this went on, over and over, for five years.

Somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of the population was displaced at any given time during the war.

Western neighbor Uzbekistan closed its border to Tajikistan's refugees, and northern neighbor Kyrgyzstan agreed only to allow refugees to transit its territory. Tens of thousands of Tajikistan's citizens, and many armed UTO fighters, chose to flee across the border into Afghanistan, where there was also a civil war.

Pro-government forces were bolstered by the presence of Russian border guards and the Russian 201st Division that remained in Tajikistan after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in late 1991.

Russian border guards were often involved in firefights with UTO forces trying to reenter Tajikistan from Afghanistan. Moscow continually denied that the troops from the 201st were involved in fighting in Tajikistan -- but air strikes on UTO positions, in particular, could not have been carried out by anyone else but Russian forces.

Uzbekistan sent troops and later Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan sent units also. Along with elements of Russian forces already there, they became the CIS Peacekeeping Force.

The UTO made no distinction between them and Tajik government forces. Not only did UTO forces attack these peacekeeping units (17 Kazakh troops were killed in one battle near the Afghan border) but the UTO also launched a campaign of terrorism against them, shooting them at bazaars away from the battlefield or blowing up their vehicles in towns and cities, including Dushanbe.

Pro-government forces were no better, especially the paramilitary forces known as the Popular Front. Their leaders behaved like warlords.

The city of Tursunzade, west of Dushanbe, where the largest aluminum plant in Central Asia is located, was the scene of numerous turf wars until eventually the young commander of the Tajik Army's 1st Brigade, Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiev, took control there.

Khudaiberdiev's unit was the best-armed and trained in Tajikistan's military and, far from bringing Tursunzade under government control, Khudaiberdiev used the city twice as a staging area to advance on Dushanbe while making demands for changes in the government.

The government's position was so weak that Rahmon had little choice but to concede to these demands, and eventually make Khudaiberdiev commander of the Presidential Guard.

Other units of the Tajik Army were equally undisciplined at times. In December 1996, two teams of UN military observers traveling to Garm were stopped at a government checkpoint. Troops there physically and verbally abused them, marched them into a field, formed them in a line, and staged a mock execution in which they fired above the UN observers' heads.

There were other groups such as the Sadirov brothers' gang. To secure safe passage for his brother and other members of the bandit group from Afghanistan to Tajikistan in February 1997, Bahrom Sadirov took UN and Red Cross workers, Russian journalists, and later Security Minister Saidimir Zuhurov hostage.

Again, the government could little but comply, though in the end the hostages were freed and, amazingly, government and UTO forces combined to attack the Sadirov band.

Noncombatants were targeted regularly. Chief Mufti Fatkhullo Sharifzoda and his family were shot dead in January 1996; the rector of Dushanbe's medical school, 65-year-old Yusuf Ishaki, was gunned down in May 1996; more than 40 journalists were killed during the civil war, many by assassins' bullets.

The people also suffered from the problems that accompany conflicts.

There were food shortages. In the northern Sughd region, Tajikistan's section of the Ferghana Valley, there was relative calm compared to the rest of the country, but lack of sufficient food led to demonstrations in Ura-Tyube and Khujand in May 1996. During rioting that erupted in Ura-Tyube, government troops opened fire on a crowd killing several people.

At the end of July that year, another riot broke out hundreds of kilometers away in Khorog, where refugees from fighting in central Tajikistan had taxed the supplies of basic goods. Three people were killed in a riot there.

There were typhoid outbreaks, made all the worse due to the near collapse of the country's medical system.

Even after the signing of the peace accord there were incidents of violence, but gradually things settled down and they became the exception rather than the norm.

The majority of Tajikistan's people remember this and much more. The conflict drained the nation and its scars are still visible 20 years later in many forms.

And if anyone has forgotten, the government makes sure to remind them by frequently referring to the horrors of the civil war, especially prior to elections, and asking if the people want the government they have now or want to risk returning to civil war.

Author's note: This is the first report on Tajikistan's civil war in Qishloq Ovozi. Another article on the peace negotiations during the civil war is coming soon and this week's Majlis Podcast will also look at Tajikistan since the civil war.

Salimjon Aioub (@Aioubzod) of RFE/RL's Centralasian.org contributed to this report. The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL
Then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Tajikistan's Nurek hydropower station in 2015. The station provides around 70 percent of the country's electricity.

There has been a lot of talk about hydropower in Central Asia since the start of May, and not just from the usual quarters.

Perhaps it's just officials watching the melting snows of spring and envisioning lights coming on in homes and factories across their countries, but hydropower seems to be a hot topic lately.

Of course, it's always been a big issue in mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where the immense potential of hydropower has barely been tapped and the great need of the two cash-strapped governments for additional energy makes hydropower especially attractive.

But the really big talk about hydropower in recent days is coming from (drum roll please) ... Uzbekistan.

That's right, the country that for years has continually raised objections -- and occasionally made some threats -- over the construction of large hydropower plants (HPP) in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has announced it will spend some $4.3 billion on developing hydropower over roughly the next decade.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyaev announced at the start of May that Uzbekistan would place a new emphasis on developing renewable energy resources.

At the start of June, Mirziyaev put his signature on the program to develop hydropower energy in Uzbekistan.

The program aims at constructing 18 new HPPs and modernizing 14 existing HPPs by 2021 at a cost of some $2.65 billion.*

Reports in Uzbek media did not provide many details about the size of the HPPs (mini, small, medium, or large) or their location, though there was least one hint from a trip Mirziyaev made to the southern Syrdarya Province in May when he said a new 15 MW small HPP would be built there.

Reports on the long-term hydroenergy program also mentioned there were other hydropower projects to be realized by 2030 that would cost an additional $1.7 billion.

According to Uzbekistan's program, once all these hydropower projects are completed, hydropower will account for 15.8 percent of the country's energy balance. (It currently accounts for 12.7 percent.)

Before we move on, that's $2.65 billion and $1.7 billion, or $4.35 billion in total, for Uzbekistan's hydroenergy development program.

Remember that number: $4.35 billion. It will be important further down.

Tajikistan is speeding ahead with construction of the Roghun HPP, a massive structure that when finished will generate some 3,600 MW and should make the country not only totally energy independent but allow it to export electricity.

There is need for haste.

Former Uzbek President Islam Karimov, whose death was announced on September 2, was a fierce opponent of construction of the Roghun HPP and the Kambar-Ata-1 HPP in Kyrgyzstan.

Mirziyaev's government has not elucidated its policy toward these large HPPs and, in the absence of a clear Uzbek position on Roghun, Tajikistan moved ahead. Already on October 29, it had blocked part of the Vakhsh River so construction of the Roghun HPP could begin in earnest.

On May 25, Bahodur Akramzoda, deputy chairman of the Majlisi Namoyandagon's committee for economics and the budget, said it is possible that three of the planned six units of the Roghun project could be launched before the end of 2018.

The Italian company Salini Impregilo signed a deal with Tajikistan to finish the Roghun HPP in July 2016. (Construction was started in 1976 when Tajikistan was a Soviet republic but had progressed little by the time the U.S.S.R. disintegrated in 1991 when all work effectively stopped.)

Mirziyaev has not commented directly on Roghun, but as RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq, noted in a recent report, then-Uzbek Prime Minister Mirziyaev responded back in July 2016 to a Tajik deal with Salini Impregilo by sending a note to the Tajiks expressing dissatisfaction with the plan and saying Tajikistan could solve its energy problems without the Roghun HPP.

On June 1, media outlets quoted Boriy Alihanov, the deputy speaker of Uzbekistan's Oliy Majlis, the lower house of parliament, as saying Uzbekistan was for rational and fair use of transborder water sources.

"This also concerns Roghun," Alihanov said, which really doesn't clarify Uzbekistan's position on the HPP.

And for the record, work has been under way for weeks on repairing and modernizing Tajikistan's Nurek HPP that currently provides some 70 percent of the country's electricity.

The World Bank provided a loan of $225.7 million for the project with other money coming from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Eurasian Development Bank.

Kyrgyzstan seems to have given up on the Kambar-Ata-1 HPP for now. The HPP would provide an additional 1,900 MW of electricity but without any foreign investors at present, the estimated $3 billion cost is prohibitively high for Kyrgyzstan.

Instead, Kyrgyzstan is devoting its attention firstly to overhauling the Toktogul HPP, which provides about 40 percent of the country's electricity.

On May 13, Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov attended the launch of a project for the reconstruction and modernization of the Toktogul HPP. When completed, it will add 240 MW to the HPP's electricity output and will cost some $120 million.

The work at Toktogul is badly needed as three of the four turbines at the HPP went out of commission in December 2015, temporarily causing electricity shortages to parts of the country.

In mid-May, the government also announced a tender for construction of 14 small HPPs. The HPPs would have capacities of between 3 to 20 MW and would be located, mainly, in remote and mountainous areas of the country.

Duishenbek Zilaliev, the chairman of the State Committee for Industry, Energy, and Resource Management, pointed out in a recent interview that such HPPs are especially valuable to mountain communities that could find themselves temporarily cut off from the rest of Kyrgyzstan by avalanches and landslides.

There are doubts after the problems with the Kambar-Ata-1 HPP that Kyrgyzstan would be able to attract investors.

But the small HPPs are relatively inexpensive, and on June 15 at least one news source said there were already six companies interested in the projects, though only one was a foreign company.

Kazakhstan has not announced any plans for new HPPs recently, but Astana is hosting an event called EXPO-2017 that is focused on renewable, or green power sources, including hydropower.

Now back to the $4.35 billion Uzbekistan is spending on its hydroenergy program.

As mentioned, construction of Kambar-Ata-1 is estimated to cost some $3 billion and Roghun is estimated to cost some $3.9 billion.

The money Uzbekistan is spending on domestic HPPs is more than enough to build either Kambar-Ata- or Roghun, but Tashkent has not mentioned any plans to take part in the neighbors' HPPs, though both countries have invited Uzbekistan to do so several times.

* Financing of this $2.65 billion is interesting in that it reflects the current general interest in foreign/international investment in Central Asia. Uzbek financial institutions are responsible for coming up with most of the money, but $572.8 million will come as loans and credits from the China Eximbank, $181.1 million from the Islamic Development Bank, $77.3 million from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and $98.4 million from the Asian Development Bank.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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