The month of May holds dark memories for the Pamiris in Tajikistan
Berlin (2/5 – 100)
For the Pamiri ethnic minority and residents of the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) in Tajikistan, the month of May is a reminder of many dark memories.
On 14th May 2022, there was a riot in Khorog, the capital of GBAO, home to the Pamiri ethnic groups with unsimilar ethnicity, language, religion and culture from the rest of the Tajiks.
About 1,000 people gathered to peacefully demand the resignation of the regional leader, Alisher Mirzonabatov, affectionately called “The Butcher of the Pamir” and the fair investigation into the death of Gulbidin Ziyobekov, a Pamiri resident, who was killed by security forces in November 2021. In response, the authorities delivered an ultimatum to these locals that if the demonstrators did not disperse by 1600hrs on 16th May 2022, they would be dispersed and removed by force.
As 16th May loomed, the authorities cut off the internet and mobile phone network in the entire region and they were reported to remain cut off until the end of June 2022, making it extremely difficult to get any information and news from this region. Posts and encounters circulated widely on social media based on eyewitness reports indicated that security forces arbitrarily searched houses, seized mobile phones, and detained innocent residents. There are also numerous explicit accounts of torture and deliberate extra-judicial executions of locals detained during this operation conducted by the regime.
“In May 2022, the tyranny started when quiet protests demanding the resignation of the regional leader, Alisher Mirzonabatov – “The Butcher of the Pamir” and an investigation for the death of Gulbidin Ziyobekov, turned into tragic end for the Pamiri locals.”
Attacks by President Emomali Rahmon’s security forces on civilians continued on 17th May 2022, with the reported constant use of tear gas grenades. On 18th May 2022, the Ministry of the Interior announced that it would carry out an “anti-terrorist operations” in Rushan District, where mobile, landline, and internet communication was subsequently cut, and people were denied the right to leave or enter the district. The violence spread when residents attempted to block the road to Khorog with their cars to prevent a military convoy from passing.
The crackdown in Rushan led to casualties among protesters. Local witnesses reported that snipers and military helicopters were around the town to shoot at civilians. The violent dispersal in Khorog left several dead and wounded. At least 40 civilians were reported to have been killed.
On 22 May 2022, the regime executed the assassination of Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov, an influential local leader and a hero fighting against President Rahmon’s authoritarian regime. He was shot dead by the government security forces.
Mamadboqir Mamadboqirov, known locally as Colonel Boqir, was originally a military commander for the Tajik Pamiris during and after the civil war and was assigned as the security force of the country’s border with Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan.
Colonel Boqir was one of the last independent leaders in the autonomous region and the beloved leader of his neighborhood. Under his leadership in the community, Khorugh had one of the most vibrant and independent civil societies in Central Asia.
It was reported that Colonel Boqir went for a walk on 22 May 2022, the day that he was killed. While he was around town, Colonel Boqir was shot by security officers in a pick-up truck. They had received information about his movements and managed to track him down. They shot him first in the arm and then in the head. Another young man was killed and another injured when they ran in to protect him.
Many in the region who supported Colonel Boqir view him as a Pamiri hero. Thousands of people showed up at his funeral even though roadblocks were in place. Hundreds of Pamiri youths now use Colonel Boqir’s photo as their Facebook avatar.
The murder of Colonel Boqir signaled the end of an era of independent and autonomous leadership in GBAO. Many Pamiris believe that their freedom of opinion, association, and religion will be disturbed and limited to what the regime wants to administer in GBAO. They fear that they will be living under a securitized surveillance state. Many are trying to leave, for fear of being arrested, tortured or killed.
Currently, a lot of Pamiris are living abroad. The ongoing Pamiri diaspora is key to the region’s future. The new leaders within the diaspora are organized, educated and dedicated, and have been mobilized and further politicized by the May crackdown. Many of the Pamiri diasporas are deeply committed to stopping human rights abuse by the current tyrant Tajikistan government.
“We won’t give up our dignity or our autonomy.”
Those are the words of Colonel Boqir in a video he made in February 2022, three months before he was assassinated. The late Colonel Boqir is a Pamiri martyr against tyranny and injustice.