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IWPR Tajikistan: Tajik Families in Shock as Sons Die for Islamic State

Parents struggle to understand why young men went off to fight in faraway war.


As more and more young Tajiks go off to fight for Islamic State, families back home are having to come to terms with news that their sons have died far away in Syria and Iraq.

The government says about 520 of its nationals have headed off to join Islamic groups in the Middle East since the Syrian conflict broke out in 2011.  Their relatives in Tajikistan often say they had no inkling their sons were being radicalised. The lack of a body to bury makes it harder to deal with their deaths.

Khosiat Saburova is still paying off the loan she took out to pay for her son Bakhtiyor, 28, to travel to Russia to find work, as hundreds of thousands of Tajikistan nationals do. Bakhtiyor did not stay there long.

His mother subsequently found out that he died in Syria in March 2014. She remembers him as a good-hearted, well-behaved and sociable young man, the envy of other parents in the neighbourhood.

Another mother, Mayrambi Olimova, is still trying to extricate her daughter Gulru and three grandchildren from Syria. Loik’s husband took her to Moscow, and then on to Syria. Two months later he was killed in combat.

Olimova is afraid for her daughter as she has heard stories of taxi drivers promising to take women to the Turkish border but then selling them as sex slaves.

The law has changed to give the authorities more flexibility in dealing with those suspected of joining Islamic militants abroad. The government will help them with papers and a flight home from Turkey. When they arrive in Tajikistan, they are questioned, but are only charged if there is evidence they took part in hostilities. Combatants and recruiters, however, can face up to 20 years in prison.

It will be harder to stop people leaving in the first place. Some experts say that in Tajikistan at least, young people are drawn to Islamic State because it makes them feel valued and needed – feelings that are sorely lacking in their own high-unemployment society.

Nasima Muborokshoeva is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

This audio programme went out in Russian and Tajik on national radio stations in Tajikistan. It was produced under two IWPR projects: Empowering Media and Civil Society Activists to Support Democratic Reforms in Tajikistan, funded by the European Union, and Strengthening Capacities, Bridging Divides in Central Asia, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Norwegian foreign ministry.