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Tajiks Struggle For National Identity

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TAJIKISTAN'S civil war is being fought mostly on the southern arid plains of this former Soviet Central Asian republic.

But at the heart of the conflict is an air-conditioned office in the Tajik capital, complete with a fax machine, cordless phones, and plush sofas.

The office at Dushanbe's central mosque belongs to Haji Akbar Turajonzoda, the spiritual leader of the predominantly Muslim republic. Sitting behind a massive wooden desk, Mr. Turajonzoda described the fighting in the southern Kurgan-Tyube region of Tajikistan as a struggle between communism and Islam.

"The Communists want to close mosques ... and persecute mullahs," he said in an interview. "This kind of war has to be classified as a jihad [holy war]."

Ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union in December, the pro-Communist forces have been battling a democratic-Islamic coalition to determine the political future of Tajikistan. Early in September the coalition gained the upper hand by forcing the resignation of President Rakhman Nabiyev, a former Communist Party boss. Mr. Nabiyev was replaced by an interim government under Parliament Speaker Akbarsho Iskandarov.

Despite the recent setbacks, the conservative forces continue to fight, fearing the Islamic-dominated coalition could overpower Mr. Iskandarov's fragile government and establish a fundamentalist regime.

Turajonzoda, who is not technically a leader in the coalition, played down speculation about fundamentalism, calling it "scare-tactics" designed to get Russia and other states to prop up the flagging Tajik Communist partisans.

Islamic forces, Turajonzoda insisted, are fighting to establish a secular, democratic government. The ultimate goal is the revival of Islam, he said, but added that will take time because more than 70 years of Communist rule in Tajikistan has destroyed the people's religious awareness.

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