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Tajik Army Abuses Tackled

Military officials sacked for trying to forcibly enlist youngsters.
By Gulnora Amirshoeva

The authorities are cracking down on army personnel who violate recruitment procedures.


Over the past few months, nine senior military officials have been sacked for enlistment offences. In one recent case, a lieutenant-colonel was found guilty of abuse of power by an army court.


Recent violations include forcibly conscripting those unfit for military service or are underage and buying conscripts rounded up by police officers.


The army authorities are struggling to achieve their enlistment targets because so many young Tajik men work in Russia and many of those who stay behind attempt to dodge the draft.


Men between the ages of 18 and 27 are obliged to serve two years in the Tajik army, but most are reluctant to do so largely because of the poor conditions and the rampant bullying.


Conscripts speak of being regularly humiliated by their superiors and being forced to go without food for days.


Many parents do whatever they can to help their sons evade army service, the most common way being to bribe a doctor to exempt them on medical grounds.


Ramilya Salimova, from Vakhdat near Dushanbe, told IWPR that even though her son was the only breadwinner in the family, and therefore not required to do military service, she got hold of a medical certificate to say that he was unfit for the army.


“I decided to do this just in case – and a medical certificate was cheaper than bribing an enlistment officer,” she said.


Military officials say that around 50 per cent of young men of enlistment age suffer from diseases, which disqualify them for service. In the first eight months of 2004, there were 1,849 cases of tuberculosis alone. It’s not clear how many such medical-grounds exemptions are bogus.


Another typical way of avoiding service is deferring it by going to university and then leaving the country after graduation. “Young men will enrol in institutes and when they receive their diplomas disappear. Only a tenth of graduates actually serve in the army,” said Lieutenant- Colonel Yunus Murodov.


In a recent survey, around 75 per cent of respondents said that conscription-age men try to evade service because of rampant bullying and poor food and clothing.


“I would rather got to university for five years than serve two in the army,” said Dushanbe resident Rustam Karimov. “Who wants to put up with hazing and going hungry?”


Driving along the border highway between Dushanbe and Khorog last year, this reporter witnessed young soldiers coming up to vehicles and asking for bread.


“When I visited my grandson at his military unit, I saw soldiers who could hardly walk from hunger and were wearing threadbare uniforms,” said pensioner Darvesh Jaborov. “ I thought, how can an army like this protect Tajikistan?”


With so many young men reluctant to serve, military enlistment officials struggle to achieve conscription targets, and increasingly break the law to try and do so.


Enlistment of underage soldiers is a common violation. Vasiddin, from Shokhmansur, has been forced to go into hiding because a local policemen had been trying to draft him. Vasiddin’s mother said the officer had told her that “he would catch our son and give him hell, and then send him to the army, even though he is not yet 18”.


Recruitment officers also frequently seize army-age men from the streets or literally drag them out of their beds, rarely bothering to issue a summons, which the law requires them to do.


Other illegal practices include buying conscripts from policemen and families.


And there have been instances when police have sold conscripts they’ve rounded up to rich businessmen who use them as unpaid labour.


“We all thought my neighbour’s son was serving in the army, but then we found that he was building a house with other boys for a Tajik [oligarch], and only received poor food in return,” said a Dushanbe resident.


In another disturbing case, enlistment officers drafted two mentally-ill boys, promising their mother that they would pay her 50 US dollars a month for each. She protested when she wasn’t paid and was subsequently accused by the authorities of selling her children.


Conscription abuses appear to have created a climate of fear among families with teenage sons.


Malika Jaliliova, a Dushanbe resident, told IWPR, “ Every night, I wake up, fearful that a military car might drive into the yard to take away my student son.”


The authorities are now attempting to crackdown on enlistment violations, sacking nine senior military officials so far this year for such offences.


In one of the most recent cases, an army court convicted Lieutenant-Colonel Rashid Khojaev from Faizabad of abuse of power, after two of his subordinates brutally beat a man for trying conceal the whereabouts of his son.


Gulnora Amirshoeva is an IWPR editor in Dushanbe. Some of the names of interviewees have been changed to protect their identity.


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