Five deaths under unclear circumstance suggest culture of violence continues.
Five conscripts have died in non-combat situations in Tajikistan in the last six months, and many of the relatives blame an enduring culture of bullying, although defence officials say they are addressing this.
The body of Nurali Haidarov, 20, was brought home to Shartuz in southern Tajikistan at the beginning of August. He had been serving with the frontier guards, and officials said he drowned accidentally in the river that forms the border with Afghanistan. His relatives believe he was shot in the head.
In four other cases – the deaths of Firdaus Rahmatov, Abduvahhob Qayumov, Parviz Dustmatov and Azam Ubaydulloev – military authorities say they are looking into allegations that they were assaulted by other solders. So far nothing has come of these investigations.
Known as “dedovshchina”, bullying is a systematic rather than casual system of violence that emerged in the Soviet armed forces. The idea was to beat, humiliate and coerce the new batch of conscripts into obeying those who had served for a longer period. Despite attempts to halt the practice, it remains common in Tajikistan and other post-Soviet states.
Defence ministry spokesman Faridun Mahmadaliev insists that levels of violence are falling thanks in part to anonymous hotlines, and even CCTV cameras installed in some units.
Analyst Rustam Gulov says the only way to change this culture is to replace conscripts with paid professional volunteers, or – if the government cannot afford the costs – at least to reduce the amount of time soldiers are required to serve.
Nilufar Karimova 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.