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Yodgor Faizov: The Greatest Wealth of GBAO Is Its People

The Chairman of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of the Republic of Tajikistan and CABAR.asia summarize the results of one year of his work.

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Yodgor Faizov has been the chairperson of GBAO since October 2018. Photo: CABAR.asia
Yodgor Faizov has been the chairperson of GBAO since October 2018. Photo: CABAR.asia

Yodgor Faizov officially took the lead in GBAO on October 1, 2018 by Decree of the President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon. He superseded Shodihon Jamshed on this position, whom the President criticized during a working trip to Khorog on September 15 of the same year. According to Rahmon, in GBAO, primarily in Khorog, the administrative center of the region, criminal groups have become active. The President gave a month to law enforcement agencies of the country and region to restore order. A month later, senior officials of security and law enforcement agencies were replaced. To resolve the situation and to seize arms, an interdepartmental headquarters of law enforcement agencies in GBAO was created.

Before an assignment to a position of GBAO’s Head, Yodgor Faizov for a long time worked in the Aga Khan Foundation programs in Tajikistan, and since 2004, as its executive director in Dushanbe. Rahmon appointed Fayzov not without a reason: he is a native of this region; he began his career in local branches of the Komsomol.

GBAO is a unique region in terms of its social, geographical, cultural, political characteristics. Pamiri peoples live here; they differ from Tajiks in culture and language.

In recent years, there has been a confrontation between the central government and local unofficial leaders of this region, primarily in its administrative center Khorog. The situation escalated in 2012 when clashes between security forces and unofficial leaders’ supporters broke out in Khorog. Then, negotiations resolved the conflict, but the contradictions between these forces persist to this day.

In such a difficult situation, Yodgor Faizov headed his small motherland a year ago. The editorial team of CABAR.asia spoke with Faizov about the main directions of his work and his intentions to change the situation in GBAO for the better.

CABAR.asia: Many Tajiks and foreign observers were surprised at your appointment to the position of the Chairman of GBAO. Why do you think the President of Tajikistan offered this position to you?

Yodgor Faizov: This question is not for me. You should ask the President of the country, why during those days and hours he decided to entrust this responsible position to me. I personally asked him this question and named several experienced people, since I have been outside the public administration system for 26 years. The president said that he analyzed the situation, and at that moment, according to him: “it is you who must take this position. Despite the fact that you have a good job and salary, travel the world, you are obliged to do this work for the good of the country and the people”. All media discussed this topic, even international ones, asking a question “Why Faizov?” The news was unexpected even for my family and friends.

What progress have you achieved during this time?

During the reception of citizens. Photo: press service of the GBAO administration
During the reception of citizens. Photo: press service of the GBAO administration

Unfortunately, I cannot boast of any outstanding achievements over the past year. The only progress achieved with the support of the people, the president and other bodies, I believe, is the strengthening of peace and comfort, and the reduction of people’s enmity towards government officials. Thank God, there is much less of this. Other relationships and a different level of trust are formed. In one of the interviews, I already noted that people expect a lot from me and I am afraid that I will not be able to satisfy these expectations.

You noted that people expect a lot from you and you may not satisfy these expectations. Some experts note that the powers of the Chairman of the region, determined by the Constitution and the Law of the Republic of Tajikistan “On GBAO”, are limited to the level of the President’s representative. Many departments do not comply with him; within the framework of his powers, the Chairman of the region cannot do much. What do you think about this?

The powers of the Chairman of GBAO, just like those of the Heads of any other region, are not so broad. Despite the fact that the title of the Chairman of the region sounds solid, sometimes we have to address ministers and heads of other departments to resolve even the simplest issues. I do not even have the authority to dismiss an ordinary worker in the spheres of agriculture, education or healthcare, if there is no consent of the minister. I cannot even permit to mine gold, which is washed by the river [Panj, in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya] to the Aral Sea.

Luckily, the only thing that helps me and that I have the authority to use is a direct contact with the President. I can directly contact him at a personal meeting or by phone [with a request], and then with his assistance, issues are resolved at the level of ministries and other departments. We meet with many people, investors and want to establish partnership with them, but without the permission of the central authorities and other structures, it is impossible to do anything.

What measures do you implement to remove these obstacles? Have you submitted certain proposals to the government?

Many times. I put forward such proposals at several meetings and in official correspondence. The President personally also raised this issue, some problems were resolved, but many remained. We will continue with these efforts. I am not saying that the Chairman of the region should have the absolute authority; everything should be decided together with central authorities and other departments.

However, the higher-ups should hear the initiatives and voices to know what kind of demands and problems exist.

On Security

Can we have your input on the security issues that President Emomali Rahmon mentioned during his visit a year ago? Do those groups and individuals that were referred to as “organized criminal groups” in the security forces’ statements collaborate with the authorities?

Heads of security forces on the meeting with President Rahmon in September 2018. Photo: president.tj
Heads of security forces on the meeting with President Rahmon in September 2018. Photo: president.tj

The situation has improved a lot. People’s attitude was originally very positive. Only the sector of the youth who violated the rules was opposed: they drove the cars without license plates and with tinted windows. More than 8 thousand foreign tourists visited GBAO, people came from other regions of the country and there were no incidents. There were minor difficulties that did not have a major impact. Of course, the foundation of this is both the wisdom inherent in Badakhshani people and the peaceful policy of the Leader of the Nation.

As for the mentioned groups, almost nothing remained of their former authority and influence.

Do the leaders of these groups collaborate with GBAO administration?

In some cases, we cooperate; on many issues, we disagree with each other. It is impossible to solve all the problems in one year. This is unrealistic. A person, who had an influence for 20 years, had a group, authority, and income… It is impossible to deprive him of this in one year. Therefore, it would be wrong to say that we have no serious problems since there are forces that can complicate the situation at any specific time.

The most important task was to withdraw the population and youth from these individuals’ control. If earlier they could bring tens of thousands of citizens to the streets with just one word, now, perhaps, they will be able to find only 1,000 people or only 300. If earlier they openly interfered with the government bodies or prevented them from working, today there are very few such cases.

What, as you think, led to this situation?

This is also our, authorities’ fault. Tajik people, especially highlanders, are very sensitive to injustice. If they know that someone, whether a civil servant, a police officer or a prosecutor, is dishonest, they immediately turn away from him/her. During a year of work, I felt that people immediately turn away as soon as they observe injustice. When we cannot respond to citizens’ requests fairly and competently, do not intend to solve their problems, they apply to other people.

Therefore, they demonstrated their protest, “expressed their frustration”.

What do you think about the work of the interdepartmental headquarters of law enforcement agencies created to ensure security in the region?

Work continues but takes a different form. Previously, more attention was paid to security issues; they were searching for weapons and the source of possible threat. Nowadays, more attention is being paid to the rule of law and even to problems that are not in the headquarters’ focus. For example, paying fines, bank loans and other issues that have not been resolved for many years.

Sometimes their work is simultaneous with ours. There are even situations that must be resolved by the Chairman of the region, but they work on them.

Does this happen in alignment with you, or they act independently?

Of course, we may disagree on many issues. I am saying that there cannot be dual power in one area: on the one hand, the Chairman of the region, and on the other, the headquarters. We are politically literate enough to strive to work together. However, sometimes there are situations when we disagree with each other’s work and then I call them and prove that this issue should have been resolved differently.

As the Chairman of the region, do you think there is a necessity for this headquarters?

On that very day, when I will be confident that I can manage the whole situation as a whole, I will appeal to the President and say that there is no longer any need for the headquarters’ function. So far, I have no such confidence. Now the headquarters is an auxiliary agency for me, a support.

The presence of “roadblocks” in the region is criticized. Checkpoint officers are also accused of corruption. Does this not harm the image of the region, one of the most attractive regions in Tajikistan for the tourists?

Roadblock in Khorog. Photo: vkd.tj
Roadblock in Khorog. Photo: vkd.tj

The opinion of the local population is the most important. Many young people come to me requesting to remove the roadblocks. However, another part of the youth, in particular mothers and women say that the time has not yet come to remove them. People are tired of the previous years’ mess.

For tourists, certainly, this creates some difficulties. Since I speak English, having met tourists on the street, I ask if they encounter problems. They often say that it would be better to remove these posts. If we decide to keep them, then there should be civil officers and fewer soldiers, just like in Europe or America.

Now we are discussing whether to completely remove them, to reduce their number or so that there should be less military people. The population has not yet decided. However, one thing is clear: relations with the population have changed a lot. If there is a complaint about a checkpoint saying that someone has treated a person rudely, then that officer leaves the GBAO territory on the same day.

On Investors and Misunderstandings

Giving a Chinese company development rights for the Yakjilva silver mine caused heated discussion among the local population and in the Tajik segment of social networks. What do you think about this?

Honestly, this situation put me in an awkward position. I did not understand such a reaction, why people protest. I think that we did the right thing by bringing at least one investor to GBAO. Apparently, people who do not have sufficient knowledge of investment issues misunderstood the situation.

First, the process started back in 2016. The mine was delegated to this company back then. In August 2018, with President’s participation, we held the opening ceremony of this enterprise.

This happened before I accepted the position of Chairman of the region. As an ordinary citizen of the country, I was pleased that the foreign company began working in Badakhshan. This year, the Parliament only confirmed all the work that has already been completed. I ordered to post the text of the agreement with the company on social networks so people could read it, because I do not see anything wrong with that.

Today, we think that GBAO’s future development is connected with the mining industry and we can accelerate its development by attracting foreign capital. There is no other way. The government does not have the opportunity to invest $50 million for the area at an altitude of 4.5 thousand meters.

In our country, many other similar joint ventures work already: Sangtuda-1 and Sangtuda-2 hydroelectric power plants, many enterprises in the Zeravshan Valley. I strive to ensure that there were at least 10-15 such enterprises in the region, not just one.

Is it possible that the reason for such reaction lies in the fact that the public has not received complete information on this issue?

We have published the agreement. When I worked at the Aga Khan Foundation, more than 20-30 agreements with the government were signed. There was nothing in excess there. Under such an agreement, the Serena Hotel was built in Badakhshan, during the construction of which the government exempted us from certain taxes, in particular VAT.

Everything is transparent here also. The government knows about 450 tons of silver reserves there and the number of people this company will hire: a certain number during the first year and a certain number during the second year. During the third year of work, 80% of employees should be locals. In the first years, the extraction of raw materials will be organized, and in the fourth and fifth years, the plant will be constructed. The company pays six types of taxes; it is exempted only from two taxes: income tax and value-added tax for 5 years.

Murghab district where Yakjilva is located is one of the highest mountain districts of Tajikistan. Photo: ozodi.org
Murghab district where Yakjilva is located is one of the highest mountain districts of Tajikistan. Photo: ozodi.org

That is, are you sure that such a partnership is beneficial for Tajikistan?

What may conflict with our interests here? If the core of discontent is that the share should be 50/50, then the situation is different. When an investor makes 100% of investments, the state receives only taxes and jobs. In Badakhshan, there are 150 silver mines with reserves of 450 tons. If someone except Chinese investors is interested in them, we are ready to delegate those mines under certain conditions. In addition to those, there are also strategic mines that cannot be delegated under such conditions. Only with a share of 50/50, 60/40 or 70/30.

The reason for such calculations is that those mines have more reserves, the location is convenient and the market is already formed. However, mines located at an altitude of 4.5 thousand meters above sea level cannot be delegated under such conditions. In 2018, this company produced outputs for 26 million somoni, provided jobs for 202 people, 127 of them were local residents.

Foreign capital is not attracted when life is easy. We are also forced to accept some investors’ conditions.

On Economic Development

GBAO is a subsidized region. What can be done to solve this problem? Was it considered that the income from the licenses for hunting, mining, and customs duties remained in GBAO budget?

I raised that question at government meetings, in an interview, and I will repeat it now. If the situation remains the same, then we will need subsidies in the next 100 years. I worked for the Aga Khan Foundation for 26 years, a lot has been done during this period, but when it comes to economic development [as the head of the Foundation in GBAO], I cannot boast of anything.

During this period, there were no investments in the economic development of the region except the international Kulob-Darvaz highway and the Pamir Energy company. A lot of money was allocated to the social sphere; therefore, there are many schools, medical clinics and other institutions.

However, almost nothing has been done for production and industry development. Therefore, if we do not attract the investments that we spoke about, the region will remain subsidized. However, the problem is different: obtaining permits is a difficult process and after several months and even years, the investor gets frustrated with it, turns around and leaves. For this reason, we ask that certain powers be given directly to us.

In particular, at a meeting of the PDPT (the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan, led by President Emomali Rahmon), the President addressed the Minister of Finance and the Head of the Committee for Environmental Protection, asking whether these 6 million somoni (approximately $620 thousand) are such a large sum [for the republican budget], that is worth bringing from Murghab to Dushanbe. Previously, 20% remained in Murghab, 20% – in the regional budget. He said that 60% should remain in Murghab, and the remaining 40%, if necessary, should be transferred to the republican budget.

The problem is a quite complicated, since, on the one hand, we get 280 million somoni of subsidies (about $28.9 million) and, if we calculate customs duties, the amount will decrease by 40-50 million somoni (about $4.1-5.1 million). The reason why Badakhshan was deprived of income from customs duties is clear. These Foundations were transferred to other people and for other purposes, but now the money will return to Badakhshan. Nevertheless, the most important thing is the organization of production enterprises in the region.

What do you think about the idea of opening the Consulate of China in the city of Khorog?

I am not a diplomatic official, but I have experience working in an international organization. When we talk about the opening of the Chinese Consulate in Badakhshan, one question should be answered: “How many people travel to China through GBAO?”

If this number is within 15-20 people, then it is not necessary. If there are at least 50 people, it changes the situation. The second point: if it is difficult for our region’s residents to obtain a visa in Dushanbe, then there is reason to talk about this issue.

We are still analyzing the situation. For proper planning, we must study the potential of the region.

If we are talking about opening a Chinese Consulate in Khorog for Afghan citizens to obtain Chinese visas here, then the problem of obtaining Tajik visas by Afghan citizens should be solved first. Thousands of citizens of this country want to enter our country, but cannot obtain a visa.

In the context of the possible highway construction from China to Afghanistan through Tajikistan’s territory, experts note that this will create good conditions for trading and the presence of a Chinese Consulate will only benefit this…

The governments of Tajikistan and Pakistan are very optimistic about the prospects of the Wakhan transport corridor. Even the Aga Khan Foundation is making efforts in this direction and encouraging everyone to cooperate in this matter.

However, the government of Afghanistan is totally against it. Afghans have good skills in trade and politics; the existence of a direct road to Pakistan means for them the cessation of the work of thousands of people and production capacity in Sher Khan Bandar and other places. Other states influencing Afghanistan also hinder this.

Due to the created market, bridges were built, the free economic zone “Ishkoshim” exists and we hope that this will bear fruit. The Asian Development Bank will repair the entire road from Faizobod to Ishkoshim up to our border, and we hope the security situation on the other side of the Panj improves.

On the Tourism Development and Related Problems

Tourism is one of the high-potential sectors of the GBAO economy. What is being done so that local residents make a profit on tourism?

Sure. This, certainly, has nothing to do with me or my leadership in the region. There are many factors; one of them is the opening of the borders of Tajikistan with Uzbekistan. You can see that 48 thousand tourists came to Panjakent from Samarkand only.

Foreign tourists in GBAO: Photo: akdn.org
Foreign tourists in GBAO: Photo: akdn.org

A tourist never visits just one country. In addition, there are two other factors: electronic visas and security in Badakhshan.

Continuing the topic of tourism. Experts state that one of the inhibitive factors is obtaining special permission to enter GBAO for foreign citizens. Is this procedure necessary? What benefits does it have? What is being done to remove these and other bureaucratic procedures so that foreign citizens can freely enter and stay in GBAO?

We discussed this issue at various levels, including the President. Power structures: the State Committee for National Security and border guards advocate for it, since the border is near and they have to know who comes here and why.

This is a big problem. There is only one improvement: when you apply for an electronic visa, this permission is issued along with the visa. The tourists always find ways to solve the problem and travel companies have also already found ways to deal with the issue. The process has been greatly simplified, but still not enough.

I did not agree with this while I was working at the Aga Khan Foundation, and still do not agree today. On the whole issue of permission to enter Badakhshan, most of all I oppose the special permission to visit Sarez Lake. I do not agree with the existence of any of these permits.

Previously, there was regular airline service between Dushanbe and Khorog. Will it resume? Why is this issue not resolved for so long? After all, this could strengthen the connection between the regions and increase the volume of passenger traffic.

I could not solve this problem. I wrote about this to the President and, when I was in Dushanbe, I met with him. Every time I meet with him to solve 15-60 issues. He gives directions and decides what can be solved and what is impossible. The President said that this issue could not be resolved. The situation with Tajik Air is very difficult.

There are no small planes and helicopters for such flights in Tajikistan. There was only one small plane for transporting wounded in military operations. I applied for this plane. There was an order from the Prime Minister and letters to various international organizations and structures. However, the response of the International Civil Aviation Organization states that this plane is not recommended for the passenger carriage.

At the last government session, I raised the issue of our need in the airline service again. Especially for senior citizens. So far, I have to contact the Aga Khan Foundation every week for assistance in transporting the sick and needy.

Transport infrastructure plays a crucial role in the tourism industry development, as well as in strengthening connections with different parts of the country. When will the main Khorog-Dushanbe highway be repaired? When will the main roads connecting large towns within GBAO be repaired?

The issue of repairing the Darvaz-Vanj section of the highway up to the Rushan district has already been resolved and the works will begin in June next year. Repair of the Yoged- Qalai Khumb section has already begun. This year, we received the equipment and, if you noticed when you were driving here, the roads in the center of the Rushan district have already been repaired. In addition, many roads were repaired in Ishkoshim and Roshtqala districts, in the center of Vanj district and we are trying to repair roads in the Bartang valley. This year, the road there was closed only for one or two days. Only in Ishkoshim, the road was closed for 21 days. Serious repairs will be carried out only on the Khorog- Roshtqala section, in other places there will be only small repairs.

What about the resumption of the international road construction from Rushan to Murghab?

We have this in the plans, but this is still a long way off. Until the repair on the Darvaz-Vanj section is completed, it is not worth talking about this. The most damaged road is to Rushan.

The international investment forum Pamir Invest is held annually in Khorog. However, there are few investors in GBAO. Why?

Holding a forum does not mean that the next day money will flow to the region. This is a long process. One needs to remind of Pamir and its potential for years to attract couple or more investors.

What projects have interested the investors?

In previous years, when the forum was held, there were more people asking for money than investors. This year we tried to attract more investors; we invited 30-40 such people. Of the 26 proposed projects, eight were selected. One of these projects is under my consideration; it is aimed at breeding yaks and increasing meat production in Murghab. Other projects are aimed at processing fruits and vegetables in Vanj, etc. We hope that of these eight projects, two or three will be implemented. We hope for this maximum.

Another question: what spheres the investor is willing to invest in, what markets exist, both domestic and international. Mines are a topic for a separate discussion, since we are talking about longer terms and investments of $50-100 million. There are very few such investors.

Participants of the Pamir Invest Forum in Khorog, August 6, 2019. Photo: osce.org
Participants of the Pamir Invest Forum in Khorog, August 6, 2019. Photo: osce.org

Not a single investor will come to the region where there are no roads or to our region with the poor roads. It is important that there are electricity, roads, water and, most importantly, the state’s protection of its capital. Capital security. For example, one investor started to work in Vanj, and then another company entered and stated that he should close his business; in such situations, there will be nothing left from the country’s authority. Another factor is corruption. The requirements to pay 10%-20% are excessive.

Small projects in Badakhshan are more beneficial for investors: fruits, meat, stones, tourism, and entrepreneurship. However, we will not be able to develop the economy on this.

The region has the highest prices for food and goods of first priority. Critics say this is due to monopoly. What could the regional administration do to diversify the supply of food and various goods at lower prices? What is being done to ensure that a certain part of the goods is produced inside the region?

At Ismoil Somoni Square the products are sold from two trucks. I, as the Сhairman of the region, call my friends in Dushanbe and buy onions in the Giprozem market at 1 somoni 15 dirams; all the employees of the Chairman’s office are selling onions in this square. 42 tons of potatoes were brought from Vanj district for sale. The Chairman’s office does this.

We have several problems. First of all, GBAO cannot provide itself with grain and bread. The reserves are only for 2-3 months. It is not our fault, it is natural conditions. A separate topic for discussion is the provision of rice, butter, and other products. We can fully provide ourselves with potatoes, vegetables, and milk.

But two serious problems exist: first, our knowledge of land farming is at a very low level. What kind of landfarming is that when we collect 16 centners of wheat and 80 centners of potatoes from one hectare of irrigated land? At one of the meetings of the Chairman’s office, the topic was “smart use of the land”. I said that what we do is not smart at all, but ignorant use of the land!

We manage the land just as badly as we manage the harvest of fruits and vegetables. The market is also not fully formed. There is neither a strong state system nor a good entrepreneur who could establish this business. This is not the work for the Chairman’s office. On the other hand, the population constantly says that we had better do this work instead of staying in offices with papers, there will be more benefits from us.

We have to change the attitude. I live in a village. My neighbor takes the money sent by his son from Russia, goes to Khorog and buys potatoes there, while his land is not used. We have the opportunity to reduce the cost of goods of first priority taking into account the capabilities of the region.

We are the only region where the Aga Khan Foundation brings seeds, fertilizers and fuels every spring; the government established Tajikagroleasing. There are even customers. The food supply agency asks if we have 5-6 thousand tons of grain to buy from us. We do not!

I am not saying that we can provide ourselves for 100%, but we must try.

On Other Issues

Some say that you are actively struggling with false reporting. Is this problem relevant for GBAO?

In 2018, thanks to false reporting, the region “produced” 55 thousand tons of potatoes. If that was true, would there really be a need to import 80% from the outside? In reality, there were no more than 20-25 thousand tons.

Has anyone been punished?

No, nobody was punished, but the numbers were reduced. At a government session, they asked me why we reduced the area of used land by 1,300 hectares. I said that this land did not exist. Nobody visited the town of Vahdat for 6 years, the Rushan state boarding school – for 10 years, the forest near Tem – for 4 years, the land in Barsem was washed away by mudflow, the Surkhsangov area of Vanj district was not visited for 10 years, and the land in Dangara – for 20 years. Everything that we excluded was listed as cultivated land of the region.

Roshtqala district reported that they have 35 thousand chickens. Even Vanj does not have this many, where people are most involved in breeding chickens. I went to Roshtqala to see how many chickens there are in each household of each village. There were very few; where did 35 thousand come from? We excluded these numbers.

I told the districts’ Chairmen that when they report such numbers, they have to consider what will happen in a week if, God forbid, the roads are closed. They should bring potatoes, onions and other products, so that people do not die of hunger. Can they guarantee it? No! If not, then they should tell the truth.

There was a video in social networks which showed how drivers, near Khorog market, gave the traffic police officer money without leaving the car, and drove on. How do you comment on this?

I saw this video. We worked on this. Of course, they never admitted their guilt. They claimed only two things: that this was orchestrated and that those people did this on purpose.

That is, according to them, it was done on purpose?

Yes, set up. It was suggested to organize the face-to-face meeting so that they would say who exactly took the bribe. As a result, this man was dismissed, but he still did not admit his guilt.

It is not a secret that bribery and corruption are everywhere. In GBAO there is less of that than in other regions. I have not received complaints that someone demanded a bribe, there are more complaints about a rude attitude, such as “your time has passed, now our time has come”.

You cannot speak with our people from a position of strength. They are ready to lose their head, but not to bow it.

Khorog’s population constantly complains about problems with the supply of clean drinking water. What can the authorities do to solve this problem?

This problem is still not resolved. The water supply system became obsolete. In 2014, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was planning to allocate Foundations, but the Ministry of Finance did not accept this money, because 50% was allocated as a loan, and 50% as a grant. I went to the President; the money was allocated and the Ministry approved – 8 million euros.

Is it enough?

Enough. We will remain without water if we do not resolve the issue of irrational water use. 80% of drinking water goes for irrigation of gardens and backyards. Water meters have been installed in state institutions and such meters should be installed everywhere. There is no other way.

Photo by the press service of the GBAO administration
Photo by the press service of the GBAO administration

Existing channels were repaired to provide irrigation water. The problem of providing Khorog with water will be solved in the next two years.

How do you assess the civil society’s potential, role and importance in the region development? How closely do local authorities in GBAO work with the civil sector in solving the current problems in society?

During my work at the Aga Khan Foundation, we organized 328 village organizations and more than 200 mahalla committees in the region. At one of the meetings, I noted that the problems are caused by the two sides: both by state bodies, which see civil society as an opponent, and by civil society, which is very weak.

When it is necessary to appoint the chairman of the mahalla committee in the village, educated and competent people refuse this job. They appoint a driver or just an outgoing person to this position, who then can establish contacts neither with international organizations nor with government agencies.

There are also very few initiatives from the civil society. This was the reason that in Khorog, instead of civil society, organized criminal groups or gangs appeared with their own criminal methods. Civil society, consisting of scientists, teachers, and journalists, was left on the fringes.

Then the government saw the civil society as the opposition. Today the situation has already changed, but the strong civil society still does not exist. The local authorities do not have sufficient knowledge about civil society, cooperation with it, writing projects; there is a view that civil society will take their jobs.

Previously, one of the topics discussed on social networks was the deployment of a military garrison in the center of Khorog. Is its relocation being discussed?

Honestly, I did not even think about it and there are no plans. A lot was built. If we continue to relocate it, it will cost a lot of money to rebuild it. I do not think that today we have enough Foundations for this.

Now, the expansion of the city is discussed, in particular in the microdistrict of Tem. Available funds must be allocated there.

I am aware of the political context of this issue, but it is necessary to analyze the economic side of the issue. No one even considered how much land this military station has.

Yodgor Faizov’s Bio
Born in 1961 in the village of Porshinev, Shugnan District, GBAO, Tajik SSR. After graduating from high school in Porshinev, he enrolled to the Tajik Agricultural University (1979-1984). 1984 – 1986 – Specialist, Department of Agriculture of GBAO, Tajik SSR. 1986 – 1993 – First Secretary of the Komsomol of the city of Khorog, GBAO, Tajik SSR, then – First Secretary of the Komsomol of GBAO, Tajik SSR. 1993 – 2001 – Project Manager in the Aga Khan Foundation in Tajikistan projects “Pamir Relief and Development Programs” (PRDP), “Rural Support Programme”, “Mountain Societies Development Support Programme” (MSDSP). 2001 – 2004 – General Manager of the “Mountain Societies Development Support Programme” of the Aga Khan Foundation in the Republic of Tajikistan. 2004 – September 2018 – Executive Director of the Aga Khan Foundation in Tajikistan. October 2018 – present – Chairman of GBAO, Tajikistan.
On Leadership Style

People online talk a lot about you walking to work. Please, tell us the reasons.

When I worked as the Director of the Aga Khan Foundation, my house was in the area of the Opera and Ballet Theater. I walked from there to work – Tajikpotrebsoyuz (Tojikmatlubot); I walked from work to the Ismaili center to pray, and then again walked home. I always did this, although I had both personal and official cars.

In Dushanbe, I even used buses and trolleybuses. In Khorog, I do this for two purposes: first, for my health and second, to meet people; when I walk, I talk with 40-50 people and find out about their problems. I am doing this regularly, because one day I will walk among them again.

Some say that you decided not to celebrate Independence Day on a grand scale for financial reasons. Is this true?

Celebration of National Unity Day in Khorog on August 27, 2016. Photo: prezident.tj
Celebration of National Unity Day in Khorog on August 27, 2016. Photo: prezident.tj

We decided to save on many holidays. We cut all expenses. Previously, there were so many holidays and feasts that we already lost count of them. Now even guests from Dushanbe eat in our dining rooms. No more grandiosity and feasts. No more three or four dishes. We removed half of this. Only local juices and fruits now. If it was my decision, I would cancel half of these holidays.

Despite the fact that the legislation of Tajikistan states the need to protect local languages, this is one of the urgent problems. Is there a separate program for the development of local languages, for example, the implementation of media projects or the creation of media resources in these languages?

I am often criticized on this issue. Some say that after my appointment as the Chairman of the region, the state language usage has declined. Previously, when you entered this building, no one spoke local languages. When I arrived, I started to speak this language [Shugnan – one of the local GBAO languages]. I thought it was good, but now I doubt whether I did the right thing. I think that it is impossible to improve knowledge of the language if you do not speak it [constantly].

We have experts, but most of them speak the state language poorly. There are no language skills due to the fact that they speak little of it. At state television channels, various concerts and events, songs in local languages are also performed.

Come here on the reception days and you will see that communication is entirely in local languages. We removed the restrictions. However, it is quite possible that this is wrong. For example, on Language Day, I visited the headquarters, and when presenting gifts to those for whom the state language is native, they clearly and solemnly pronounced: “The honored Chairman of the region has arrived to present the award”. And when they received their awards, they said: “I serve the country and the Leader of the Nation”.

However, when it was the turn of those whose native language was local and they were saying: “Honored Chairman of the region…”, they stammered, which made me feel sorry for them. I was at a crossroads.

On the one hand, it creates such situations, on the other hand, there is a law that does not prohibit the use of local languages. These are not dialects. This is the unique cultural wealth of Tajikistan. My wife works as a teacher at school. She consciously speaks only Tajik with students so that they get used to it.

If books and scientific researches are written in local languages, they can be saved. In this regard, even our state language is under threat. There are few books, information, and researches in Tajik. This problem is relevant, in particular, for students and researchers.

At your meetings with people and some trips to the regions, we can also see schoolchildren reading poetry. What do you think about it?

When I attended one of the meetings and they began to read poems about Tajikistan and Badakhshan, I asked why do we need this. I said that this should not be repeated. They replied to me that they do this because people have always done so and this is part of our culture of greeting guests. Second, today I am in this position, but I can leave tomorrow, and when other Chairmen and Ministers come, what would they do if the children could not put two words together? I was confused.

Several days ago, when I visited Rushan district, the children read poetry so well that I did not even believe that they were local. Therefore, I asked them a question in Rushan language and realized that they were local.

Our people are very smart and talented. When we talk about natural resources, gold, silver – they are under heavy stones and billions are needed for them to be of any use. The greatest wealth of GBAO is human and intellectual potential.

Therefore, I am confused. It is good that they do not read poetry about me. Once there was a case when in the Sagirdasht jamoat of the Darvoz district, they began to read poems about me; I asked them to stop and totally refused to listen. On the one hand, this may be good, but such behavior does not comply with any international standards.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project

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