PILGRIMS’ PROTEST IN KYRGYZSTAN  Claims and counter-claims of wrongdoing in the 
Muslim clerical establishment are a symptom of an organisation in need of 
change.  By Tolkun Sagynova in Bishkek 

and flooding get a chance to start again, though some analysts suspect their 
relocation to a sensitive border area is a form of social engineering.  By IWPR 
staff in Dushanbe 


winners as well as the awards ceremony held in London please go to: 

IWPR LAUNCHES CENTRAL ASIAN NEWS AGENCY: News Briefing Central Asia is a new 
concept in regional reporting, comprising analysis and “news behind the news” 
in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Available at: 

**** www.iwpr.net 

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA RSS: http://www.iwpr.net/en/rca/rss.xml 

TURKMEN RADIO: INSIDE VIEW is an IWPR radio training and broadcast project for 
Turkmenistan. View at: http://www.iwpr.net/?p=trk&s=p&o=-&apc_state=henh 

RECEIVE FROM IWPR: Readers are urged to subscribe to IWPR's full range of free 
electronic publications at: 

GIVE TO IWPR: IWPR is wholly dependent upon grants and donations. For more 
information about how you can support IWPR go to: 

**** www.iwpr.net 


Claims and counter-claims of wrongdoing in the Muslim clerical establishment 
are a symptom of an organisation in need of change.

By Tolkun Sagynova in Bishkek 

As Muslims in Kyrgyzstan prepare to set off on pilgrimage to Mecca later this 
month, there is mounting pressure on the country’s Islamic leaders, with 
allegations that the last Hajj was mismanaged. 

But as accusations of corruption and poor management fly around, commentators 
are saying the real problem is that the institution within which mainstream 
Islam is organised, a hierarchical “directorate” that is a holdover from Soviet 
times, is no longer capable of managing itself, let alone serving as 
interlocutor between secular state and the Muslim community. 

Demonstrations in the capital Bishkek and in Osh, the main city in southern 
Kyrgyzstan, were followed by the November 24 launch of a campaign to gather 
signatures in support of removing Murataly Ajy Jumanov as Chief Mufti of 

The first protest, on November 15, involved about 50 people who picketed the 
Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, the official governing body for 
Islamic affairs. The demonstration in Osh two days later was much larger, with 
2,000 people calling for the resignations of both Jumanov and Jolbors 
Jorobekov, who heads the State Agency for Religious Affairs. 

In a statement addressed to President Kurmanbek Bakiev the following day, 200 
Muslims from Osh and the other southern provinces - Jalalabad and Batken - said 
the problems that marred the last pilgrimage had still not been resolved. 

Late last year, as pilgrims prepared to set off on the journey to Saudi Arabia 
for the Hajj which took place in January 2006, about 2,000 found they were 
barred from going even though they had paid for their trips in advance. Some 
had sold their last cow just to get a chance to take part in what could be a 
once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience. Most have not got their money back. 

Kyrgyzstan had been given a quota of 4,500 pilgrims by the Saudi authorities, 
and travel arrangements were managed under the Spiritual Directorate, of which 
the mufti is head. 

An investigation by the parliament and the security service subsequently 
established that many of those travelling to Mecca as part of the Kyrgyz 
contingent were people from neighbouring countries, using false passports. The 
suspicion was that Kyrgyz nationals who had prepaid for their trips were bumped 
off the list – presumably after local Hajj organisers collected a bribe from 
the foreigners. 

Responding to calls for his removal, the mufti accepted that there had been 
some wrongdoing, but he said his office had looked into the matter and had 
dismissed a number of local officials. 

“The accusations should be addressed to the Hajj organisation headquarters,” he 
said. “We only offer them guidance on Islamic principles.”

Jumanov defended his own position robustly, saying, “As mufti and as the 
spiritual leader of the entire Muslim community, I categorically state that 
these demands are without foundation. I see no reason why I should resign. 

“I have never striven to cling to this post. I came here to do good things, not 
to engage in intrigue.”

The campaign against Jumanov appears to be more complex than a straightforward 
campaign by disgruntled pilgrims against a clerical leadership they think has 
failed them. At least some of the mufti’s opponents are in fact insiders. The 
November 15 demonstration in Bishkek, for example, was led by Nematulla 
Jeenbekov, who lost his job as deputy mufti in February because of his alleged 
role in the Hajj debacle, and Abdumanap Masaliev, dismissed from the Muslim 
directorate in October after being accused of misusing money.

Many commentators believe the Hajj issue masks a deeper power-struggle within 
the Muslim directorate, a powerful body that enjoys state backing and controls 
assets such as mosque buildings and Hajj finances. And although Kyrgyzstan has 
its share of radical groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, this battle among the 
mainstream Muslim clergy appears to be about control, not theology. 

A faction within the 30-member Ulema Council, the assembly of religious 
scholars which steers the Muslim directorate, seems to lobbying against its own 
chairman, Jumanov. Some members have written to State Secretary Adakhan 
Madumarov asking him to press for the mufti’s dismissal. 

By law Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, and the government cannot interfere in 
religious affairs except when radicals break the law. But it is an open secret 
that the government has a strong interest in running of the mufti’s 
administration, its key interlocutor and its channel of communication to the 
devout in this majority-Muslim country. 

The deputy mufti, Rahmatulla Egemberdiev, says his boss will not be ousted in a 
coup, “[He] can only be dismissed by a decision of the Ulema Council, and no 
less than 21 of its 30 members have to vote for this.” 

Jumanov’s opponents also want the removal of Jorobekov as the head of the 
government department concerned with religious affairs. He appears to have 
become a target because after last year’s fiasco, parliament insisted he take 
on the additional job of managing the Hajj organising committee. 

Jorobekov dismisses charges that corruption has taken place on his watch. In 
fact, he says, these attacks are coming from individuals who will no longer be 
able to make money on the side, because he has introduced new travel 
arrangements intended to eliminate corruption. 

“This year is the first time all the pilgrims from Kyrgyzstan will be going by 
plane. To save money, they used to take a bus which took 15 days and cost them 
1,800 to 2,000 [US] dollars a person. It’s 1,500 dollars if they fly,” he said. 

“Why is all this even being raised? Most likely because people were 
profiteering on the back of the Hajj. That’s going to stop with the 
introduction of air travel [because] using buses allowed them to take extra 
passengers and transport goods.”

He concluded, “Someone’s been making a profit here. That’s why 2,000 pilgrims 
were left stranded.” 

>From now on, he said, travel arrangements were being carefully coordinated 
>with police and the consular service, “I take great exception when people come 
>and threaten to hold demonstrations to get the mufti and me to resign. What 
>they want is to get visas and send people off to Saudi Arabia via their own 

Jorabekov said there was a “force” at work which reared its head last year as 
well, when attempts were made to take over the Muslim directorate and to 
disband his own government department. 

He indicated that Jumanov’s position was safe, at least for the time being. “It 
would get even worse if Murataly Ajy was sacked. We’ve looked at all the pros 
and contras and decided to keep him,” he said. “There are several [other] 
candidates for the position, based in Jalalabad and in Bishkek. There’s a lot 
of intrigue. But it’s all under control now.” 

Kadyr Malikov, an analyst with the Institute for Strategic Analysis and 
Forecasting, said the reason why the Muslim directorate found itself in a state 
of “perpetual discord and tension” was not just the personalities involved, but 
the way the organisation itself was structured, leaving too much power vested 
in the mufti himself. 

According to Malikov, the institution is in urgent need of reform, not just for 
its own sake but because the Kyrgyz authorities have to be able to influence 
the religious environment in the country. 

“In the years since we became independent [in 1991], Islam and the religious 
situation generally have been somehow left to one side. The state has not 
always attended to it…. A religious revival is increasingly encompassing all 
levels of society, and young people in particular are rapidly becoming 
Islamicised,” he said. 

“The role of the state is not, actually, to interfere in religious affairs, or 
to replace one spiritual leader with another whom the authorities deem more 
acceptable. No - its role is to facilitate the growth of Islam along positive 
lines, and create the frameworks within which that can happen.” 

Malikov ended with a warning, “If the state does not start engaging with Islam 
today, others will do so tomorrow.”


Families hit by unemployment and flooding get a chance to start again, though 
some analysts suspect their relocation to a sensitive border area is a form of 
social engineering.

By IWPR staff in Dushanbe 

A scheme to resettle families from southern Tajikistan to an area close to the 
Uzbek border is intended to offer some of the country’s most vulnerable people 
a fresh start in life.

Some analysts say the move is a controversial one in a country where ethnic and 
regional differences are an important political factor. 

Under the programme, 1,000 families from the Kulyab (Kulob) area are being 
relocated to areas close to Tursunzade, a town west of the capital Dushanbe. 

The government says the scheme is all about tackling poverty in one of the 
country’s poorest regions. “The government is conducting a phased resettlement 
of people from the overpopulated Dangara, Muminabad, Farhor, Moskovsky [now 
known as Hamadoni] and Shurabad regions, where unemployment rates are high,” 
said Deputy Agriculture Minister Sadokat Sanginova. As well as the districts 
listed by Sanginova, settlers will also come from the Vose and Khovaling 
districts and from Kulyab itself.

These areas around Kulyab are almost entirely rural, with little industry, and 
many people there have few economic prospects and no homes or land. Tursunzade, 
on the other hand, is home to the country’s major industrial producer, a giant 
aluminium plant, and is surrounded by fertile farmlands whose produce is easily 
transported for sale in the capital, just 80 kilometres away. 

Southern Tajikistan has been especially affected by the mass labour migration 
in recent years, in which hundreds of thousands of men are away doing seasonal 
work in Russia and Kazakstan while their wives tend the farm at home. Some 
never come back.

As well as chronic poverty, the resettlement programme also addresses a more 
immediate crisis facing people in the Hamadoni and Vose areas, where many homes 
were swept away by severe flooding last year after the Panj river on the 
Tajik-Afghan border burst its banks. These homeless settlers are being 
described as “ecological migrants”.

Anvar Boboev, the head of the labour and welfare ministry’s migration service, 
said the total number of settlers would equate to 5,000 people.

According to Boboev, the government has identified unused land near Tursunzade 
that these people could usefully occupy. 

“The two areas allotted to the settlers are located close to the border with 
Uzbekistan. It’s worth noting that this land hasn’t been populated for several 
years now,” he said, adding that “many heads of households from Kulyab have 
come to take a look at the land recently”. 

Boboev added that the farmland was short of water, but local government chiefs 
had promised to install irrigation systems by spring next year. 

Priority is being given to professionals like teachers, doctors and vets, and 
skilled workers like tractor drivers and specialist farmers. 

A government official told IWPR that another priority group consisted of young 
people with little hope of finding jobs in their home region, who would be 
trained to work at the aluminium plant or other industrial units around 

As well as land, each family will be given a grant of 3,000 somoni, worth about 
1,000 US dollars, so that they can build houses.

The offer has been seized on by people left behind by the economic problems 
that followed the collapse of the Soviet system – under which the Tajik 
republic was subsidised from Moscow – and the ensuing civil war. 

A reporter based in Qorghan-Tepa (Kurgan-Tyube), a town in southwest 
Tajikistan, described the desperate situation facing many rural people in the 
south generally, “There are virtually no men left in the villages – and men 
often commit suicide because of their hopeless situation. Many women have 
become [virtual] widows since their husbands have been in Russia for six or 
seven years and have set up new families there. Earlier, they would have been 
sending money home for food and clothes for the children, but now they don’t.” 

Women’s options, too, are limited. “Many young women are unable to go on to 
further education, because their parents won’t let them,” said a woman’s rights 
activist called Jamila. “There aren’t enough factories where they could work as 
seamstresses or do sewing as home workers…. The girls here are very good at 
stitching, spinning and weaving, but unfortunately there’s no place where they 
can use their skills. It means there’s an excess labour force.”

To avoid staying unmarried, which is seen as highly undesirable as well as a 
burden on the parents, many young women become second or third wives, in a 
society which has seen a resurgence of polygamy even though the law prohibits 

Around Kulyab, the large collective farms of the Soviet era – many of them 
growing cotton - persist in the form of “jamoats”, but harsh economic realities 
have led them to shed many of their workers.

Saidmahmad Oripov has one leg and in the absence of adequate welfare systems, 
is forced to beg in Kulyab’s town centre. He lives with his wife, who is also 
disabled, and two children in a trailer in the village of Tugarak in the Vose 
district. But the jamoat farmland has been privatised and the family has been 
told to move out. 

“I’ve asked the local authorities to give me some land, but they said there 
wasn’t any available,” Oripov told IWPR. “They’ve offered me a chance to move 
to Tursunzade - and I’ve agreed.”

Another village, Tagi Namak, which forms part of the same jamoat as Tugarak, 
typifies the problems of rural Kulyab areas. With a population of 25,000 and a 
high birth rate, 120 marriages a year mean more households looking to set up on 
their own land – but there is none available. 

In the last three years, the local authorities have issued lease rights on only 
20 tiny plots of a tenth of a hectare each in this village. But the land is 
virtually useless as it doesn’t have artificial irrigation – essential in this 
arid environment. Six years ago an official ban was placed on the distribution 
of irrigated farmland, due to the acute shortage of land in Vose district. 

“It is impossible to survive without an allotment of land,” said Ahyon 
Ismoilov, who lives in Tugarak. “I’ve got four children, and as well as my 
family, my three brothers and their families all live in my father’s house. 

“They’re waiting for me to go [to Tursunzade] so that my younger brother can 
take over my land.” 

Ubaid Sharipov, a retired teacher in Tagi Namak, is looking forward to moving 
to a new location after his house was destroyed in last year’s flooding. 

“Our house was washed away. I have several sons, and I can’t afford to buy a 
new house or apartment. Move to Tursunzade is the only choice I have,” he said. 
“I don’t know how we are going to live there, though. The land’s good, but you 
need money for construction materials to build a house. They’ve promised us 
1,000 dollars, but that’s not nearly enough.”

The apparent space in the labour market in Tursunzade and the neighbouring 
Regar district would seem to make the resettlement programme eminently sensible 
from an economic point of view.

However, some commentators are concerned that the government may have a 
secondary motive in moving Tajiks to a sensitive frontier zone with a 
substantial ethnic Uzbek population. 

The country’s recent history means such a policy could carry considerable 
risks. The different areas that make up Tajikistan have distinct identities, 
which in some cases were exacerbated by the 1992-97 civil war which was in part 
fought along regional lines. 

At the start of the civil war, a “Kulyabi faction” came to dominate the Tajik 
government, while the opposition guerrilla movement was formed along different 
regional lines. President Imomali Rahmonov, who has led the country since 1992, 
and won a further presidential term in November, is from the Kulyab area 
himself, as are many members of the administration. 

Poor rural Kulyabis – although they have not benefited from their leaders’ 
patronage – might therefore be seen as a particularly loyal group.

Then there is Uzbekistan, a powerful neighbour with which Rahmonov’s government 
has had a troubled and sometimes frosty relationship. In past years, the 
government in Tashkent was suspected of encouraging ethnic Uzbek figures such 
as Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, who led a succession of army mutinies against 

Tursunzade’s aluminium plant – still a lucrative source of export revenues 
despite its decrepit state – was the focus of clashes in 1996-97. A prominent 
local figure at the centre of the struggle for control of the plant was Ibod 
Boymatov, who had clear links to both Tashkent and Khudoiberdiev. 

Hojimahmad Umarov, a political analyst based in Dushanbe, is in no doubt that 
the government is acting out of a complex set of political and ethnic 

“The reason for resettling people from these areas…. is clearly that this 
[Tursunzade/Regar] border area is largely populated by Uzbeks,” he told IWPR. 
“It’s being done to avoid a repeat of events in the Nineties…. To ensure that 
this situation does not happen again, you need to have Tajiks living along the 
border. It being done in the interests of national security. 

“No one has discussed the matter in public, but everyone is guessing that this 
is the case.” 

Shokirjon Hakimov, a political analyst, said that if the government merely 
wanted to use up empty farmland, it would have done better to recruit Tajiks 
living in the Hissar valley, in which Tursunzade is located. 

“The Hissar valley has its own specific ways, its own traditions and customs,” 
he said. “If there really was a need, it would have made more sense to settle 
these villages with Tajiks from elsewhere in the valley.”

Hakimov said there was a risk that if there were tensions between local people 
and the outsiders from Kulyab, “things could play out as an ethnic dispute, 
with consequences that are hard to predict”. 

In Tursunzade, reactions were mixed to the prospect of settlers from Kulyab. 

Some were openly concerned about the idea. “We don’t need these Kulyab people 
here,” said a market trader in the city, who did not want to be named. “They 
will make their own rules.” 

A man who gave his first name as Said, reflected the view that the move is a 
deliberate social engineering project to shift the ethnic balance, “It’s our 
leadership’s policy – they fear that Tursunzade’s residents will…. ask for a 
referendum to hand the area over to Uzbekistan.” 

Others in the town were more welcoming – one Uzbek schoolgirl, for example, 
hoped the new arrivals would offer her more of a chance to learn to speak Tajik 

As there are only 5,000 households involved, there is a good chance their 
presence will have less of an impact than people think on both labour market 
and society generally in this densely-populated part of the country.

Halimakhon Sultanova, who works at the aluminium plant, said, “I have nothing 
against people from our own country moving here. They won’t be taking our 
houses, and they won’t take our jobs away, so why should we be against the 

**** www.iwpr.net 

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, 
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly 

The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, 
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better 
local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The 
service is published online in English and Russian. 

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and 
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal 
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Programme Manager: Saule 
Mukhametrakhimova; Editor in Bishkek: Kumar Bekbolotov.

IWPR Project Development and Support: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; 
Strategy & Assessment Director: Alan Davis; Managing Director: Tim Williams.

**** www.iwpr.net 

IWPR builds democracy at the frontlines of conflict and change through the 
power of professional journalism. IWPR programs provide intensive hands-on 
training, extensive reporting and publishing, and ambitious initiatives to 
build the capacity of local media. Supporting peace-building, development and 
the rule of law, IWPR gives responsible local media a voice.

Institute for War & Peace Reporting
48 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8LT, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1030  Fax: +44 (0)20 7831 1050

For further details on this project and other information services and media 
programmes, go to: www.iwpr.net 

ISSN: 1477-7924 Copyright © 2006 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting 

**** www.iwpr.net 

If you wish to change your subscription details or unsubscribe please go to:  

Reply via email to