Tajikistan's Jihad Tourists

Commentators blame poverty and lack of education.

Tajikistan's Jihad Tourists

Commentators blame poverty and lack of education.

Tajikistan's government is worried about the numbers of young people going off to fight in Syria and Iraq, and is finding it hard to prevent them other than arresting them.

Analysts in Tajikistan say the willingness of young people to join the jihad has a lot to do with poverty, unemployment and low levels of education.

While trials of people accused of membership of banned groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are common, arrests of would-be fighters are only just beginning. The first such case was that of a 45-year-old man from Spitamen in northern Tajikistan, who was allegedly planning to join a Palestinian armed group.

In January, Interior Minister Ramazan Rahimzoda told reporters that at least 200 Tajikistan nationals were fighting abroad, mainly in Syria and Iraq.

While it is not always clear which groups these fighters are with, Islamic State is known to have a significant contingent of Tajiks, in addition to combatants from the other Central Asian states.

In the Soghd region of northern Tajikistan, experts say young people are most often recruited into Islamic extremist groups in urban areas that were once industrial but suffered economic collapse and large job losses in the post-Soviet year.

Recruitment is also taking place in the southern Khatlon region, which is agricultural and poor. Provincial prosecutor Davlatshoh Gulahmadzoda told a recent press briefing that the numbers now fighting in Syria were “alarming” and “a threat to Tajikistan”. His office has information on 31 individuals from Khatlon who are believed to be fighting abroad.

East of Khatlon lies Badakhshan, a vast and sparsely populated mountain region. No one there has been charged with extremist activity, because the people here are mainly Ismaili Muslims, not Sunnis like most of Tajikistan’s population.

Sardorbek Azorabekov, who advises the regional government on religious matters, says the authorities keep a close eye on Muslim prayer-houses in any case.

Reporting by Kamar Ahror from Soghd region and Zainura Sultonbek from Badakhshan. 

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.  

Tajikistan, Syria
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