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Tajikistan: Troops Open Fire on Protesters in Volatile Province

A rally in the eastern Tajik town of Khorog turned violent today after government troops opened fire [ru] on protesters, injuring two people in the legs. Khorog is the capital of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (GBAO), a high-altitude region that has recently witnessed a large-scale military offensive by government troops after a local strongman, Tolib Ayombekov, was accused of murdering a senior security official on July 21, 2012. One of the individuals the government blames for aiding Ayombekov (and for being involved in a range of other criminal activities), wheelchair-bound former opposition fighter Imomnazar Imomnazarov, was killed [ru] by unidentified assailants in his home in Khorog early in the morning today.

Tajikistan's leading independent news agency Asia-Plus reports [ru] that following Imomnazarov's quick funeral, about 100 people gathered in front of the local government building in Khorog to protest the murder. Some of the protesters threw stones at the office, leading troops that guarded the building to open fire. The incident angered local residents who began to gather on the square in front of the government building. According to Asia-Plus, some 3,000 people, including residents of nearby villages, participated in the protest, demanding that the government pull out its troops from the region, dismiss the head of the provincial administration, and allow the locals to elect a new governor.

Square in front of the provincial government building in Khorog where the protest took place today. Lenin's monument on the square has recently been replaced with that of Ismoil Somoni. Image by Flickr user kudinov_dm, uploaded October 4, 2008 (CC BY 2.0).

The authorities have confirmed [ru] that Imomnazarov was killed by a grenade tossed from outside his house and said they were investigating the incident.

[For an insightful analysis of what the recent conflict in GBAO is all about, read Christian Bleur's post on Ghosts of Alexander blog. Global Voices has also reported on how the natives of GBAO (both within Tajikistan and abroad) used social media to draw international attention to the situation on the ground during the government military operation in the region].

Today's incident in Khorog has left Tajikistani netizens wondering who was behind Imomnazarov's killing and what implications the incident might have. Underneath a news report about the killing on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Tajik service (ozodi.org), an anonymous user asks [ru]:

Какой идиот мог убыть этого человека в такой момент, когда даже маленкая разборка может привести к повторной гражданской войне в Таджикистане?

What kind of an idiot could kill the person at a moment when even a minor altercation may lead to a new civil war in Tajikistan?

Jam Kadyrov asks the same question on Facebook, offering [ru] his analysis:

Кому на руку это убийство? Да всем, кто замешан, кроме простого народа, только вот что странно:

1 – Убивать правительственным силам – несподручно. Только-только уладили большой конфликт и вновь вызывать его?..

2 – Убивать памирцам: для малого народа – это позор и вряд-ли кто на это пошел бы, тем более что личностью он был известной и весьма уважаемой.

3 – Третьи силы? Интересно – кто? Кому нужно взорвать регион, зная, что вторая гражданская обернется “билетом в один конец”?..

Однозначно – провокация… Кому-то необходимо столкнуть лбами простой народ. Либо кто-то сводил свои счеты под шумок, в такой ситуации можно все что угодно свалить на любую из сторон…

Who benefits from this killing? Well, everyone except for the ordinary people. But here is what I find strange:

1. For government forces it would not have been smart to kill [Imomnazarov]. They have just resolved a major conflict; why would they start it again?..

2. Have the Pamiris [this is how the natives of GBAO are collectively known] killed him? For a small people, [such a murder] would be a disgrace, and hardly anyone would go for it, particularly because [Imomnazarov] was such a prominent and respected individual.

3. Outside forces? It is interesting, who? Who needs to blow up the region while knowing that the second civil war would be a “one-way ticket”?…

I am confident that this was a provocation… Someone needs to pit ordinary people against each other. Or someone was just settling scores on the quiet, because in such a situation anything can be blamed on any of the sides…

Many other netizens did not believe that the government had nothing to do with the killing. The moderator of Tajikistan's largest Facebook group, Platforma, wrote [ru]:

Вот это да! До чего таджикские властимущие кровожадные и мстительные! Значит война продолжается.

There we go! The people in power in Tajikistan are so bloodthirsty and revengeful! It means the war goes on.

Another user, Suhrob Kasymov, added [ru]:

Подчищают за собой. Тактика называется умиротворение для отвода глаз, а затем ликвидация наиболее активных. Сопротивление гасится методами адресных убийств. Теперь каждый потенциальный лидер будет знать, что в любой момент может быть ликвидирован.

They are clearing the mess they have left. This tactic is called reconciliation as a deliberate diversion, followed by the elimination of the most active [conflict participants]. Any resistance is overcome through targeted killings. Now every potential leader would know that [he or she] might be eliminated at any moment.

Underneath a news report on TopTJ.com, Ravshan_1980 explains [ru] why he thinks the government had something to do with the killing:

Как это возможно? В городе, заполненном правительственными войсками и КГБ-шниками, убивают человека, за которым без всякого сомнения велась круглосуточная слежка – и правительство не в курсе кто это сделал? Никогда в это не поверю! Я уверен, что правительство отлично знает о том, кто и почему убил Имомназарова. Причина банальна: он слишком много знал и слишком много говорил.

How is it possible? In a town filled with government troops and [State Committee for National Security personnel], a person is killed, who was without doubt being watched around the clock – and the government does not know who has done it? I would never believe it! I am confident that the government knows very well who killed Imomnazarov and why. The reason is banal: he knew too much and he talked to much.

Meanwhile, a group of young natives of GBAO has called [ru] on the President of Tajikistan to end violence in the region through peaceful means.

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