TAJIK MOSQUE CLAMPDOWN COULD BACKFIRE  The authorities in the capital are 
trying to stop the preaching of radical Islam, but intrusive action against 
mosques may anger a wider constituency of Muslims.  By Nafisa Pisarejeva in 

concern that corruption and poor record-keeping may allow babies to be spirited 
out of hospitals for illegal adoption.  By Aziza Turdueva, IWPR contributor in 

lingua franca at home and abroad, but Kyrgyz and Uzbek parents often opt for 
Russian schooling because the teaching is better.  By Kamil Satkanbaev in Osh


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The authorities in the capital are trying to stop the preaching of radical 
Islam, but intrusive action against mosques may anger a wider constituency of 

By Nafisa Pisarejeva in Tajikistan

A clampdown on unofficial mosques in the Tajik capital is aimed at weeding out 
extremist preachers, but critics warn that heavy-handed tactics risk alienating 
moderate Muslims.

Like the rest of this predominantly Muslim country, Dushanbe has witnessed a 
boom in mosque construction in recent years. Mosques sprang up all over, the 
place, often built on charitable donations or growing out of local community 

Islamic institutions such as mosques and madrassahs or religious schools 
formally come under an official “directorate” with close links to the state. 
The Tajik authorities keep a close eye on Muslim groups outside that structure, 
and have for example arrested many members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an outlawed group 
with extremist views. At the same time, Tajikistan is the only Central Asian 
state to have a legal and mainstream Islamic political party, the Islamic 
Rebirth Party, IRP. 

Two years ago, the city authorities in Dushanbe decided to take a closer look 
at the situation for fear that the unsanctioned prayer houses might be being 
used to preach radical messages. A specially created commission ran checks on 
the city’s mosques both for their legal status and to see whether the buildings 
met planning and public health requirements. 

When that investigation concluded at the end of 2006, the prosecution service 
stepped in. Three months on, prosecutors have recommended that 13 mosques 
should be demolished, and that another 28 should be allowed to stay open as 
long as they formally register with the authorities. They also found that 29 of 
the “unofficial” mosques should be reclassified as legal.

An official from the Dushanbe prosecutor’s office told IWPR that it was a 
question of ensuring that everyone complied with the law.

“We are all Muslims and we observe the precepts of Islam. But at the same time, 
we must obey the law. Any organisation has to operate within the law,” said the 
official, who did not want to be named.

One imam in Dushanbe told IWPR that the reason many mosques remain outside the 
law is that the bureaucracy involved in winning registration is daunting.

“Sometimes they don’t register us, or they delay granting legal status to 
mosques,” he explained. “So it’s simpler for us to operate illegally.” 

Said Ahmedov, a senior office-holder at a business institute in Dushanbe who 
formerly served as advisor to President Imomali Rahmon on religious affairs, 
believes that the authorities are right to clamp down on unregistered mosques 
because of concerns that some might have been used by extremist preachers. 

Ahmedov said there was a danger that more radical forms of Sunni Islam – the 
main faith in Tajikistan – were being imported by clerics who had spent time 

“If there are no controls, there’s a risk that other strands [of Sunni Islam] 
will be propagated and gain influence. Some imams [prayer leaders] have studied 
abroad, a number of them in Saudi Arabia, where they fall under the sway of 
Wahhabism, which is alien to Tajikistan. That poses some risk,” he said.

“Religious figures must work alongside the state to monitor the situation and 
ensure that these teachings are not purveyed in the mosques and madrassahs.”

Ahmedov concluded that while the kind of people who veer towards extremist 
views tend to be “uninformed about Islam and poorly educated”, the government 
should take care to ensure that supervision of religious affairs takes place 
within the law, “so that the rights of [other] believers are not abused”. 

But critics of the mosque clampdown say it is part of a long-running and 
heavy-handed government campaign to contain and control the practice of Islam, 
and as such risks alienating devout Muslims and making them more receptive to 
extremist views.

The head of the IRP, Muhiddin Kabiri, accused the government of trying to make 
Islam the bogeyman because its own social and economic policies were bankrupt.

“When the authorities realise they’re running short of the trust people have 
invested in them, they resort to the tried-and-tested method of looking for the 
source of evil,” he said. “In recent times, religion has been this source of 

Attitudes in Tajikistan are still imprinted with the experience of the 1992-97 
civil war, in which the IRP led an armed insurgency against a government that 
is still largely in power. That conflict, which ended in a peace deal that gave 
the IRP legal status and some posts in the administration, has been widely if 
inaccurately depicted as a war between Islamic guerrillas and a secular 

Kabiri argued that the attitudes of some senior officials are still coloured by 
this view. 

“Even though public attitudes to religion and faith-based organisations have 
changed for the better, and people no longer see these things as a threat, 
there are certain groups which would like to revive this [anti-Islamic] 
sentiment and create the impression that it is specifically religious 
organisations that flout the law and other standards,” he said.

He accepted that many mosques fail to comply with planning and other 
legislation, but he said this was due merely to ignorance of the law. 

Kabiri’s views were reinforced by another senior IRP figure, Hikmatullo 
Saifullozoda, who said, “There are people in the higher echelons of power who 
regard Islam - and religion in general – as their enemy.” 

The authorities argue that they are simply upholding the law, but they may not 
have helped to win this argument when they decided to send police into a number 
of Dushanbe mosques in mid-March to catch children who should have been at 

One such police raid, at Dushanbe’s main mosque on March 16, ended in scuffles 
as angry members of the congregation tried to stop police taking away children 
who had come to attend the midday Friday prayers. Eyewitnesses said the 
confrontation began to turn nasty as police brought in reinforcements and the 
crowd swelled to 1,000 to defy them. In the chaos, the children managed to 
break free and the crowd turned into an impromptu demonstration. 

Dushanbe’s chief prosecutor Qurbonali Muhabbatov insisted the police had acted 
according to the letter of the law.

“Current legislation on religion states that children under 18 cannot attend 
the mosque for Friday prayers. They must be at school at this time,” he said.

But Saifullozoda said this kind of incident creates bad feeling among observant 
Muslims, and warned that this in turn could be exploited by extremist groups 
like Hizb-ut-Tahrir which are looking for new recruits.

“It suits certain groups if the authorities move against religion, as they can 
turn this [resulting hostile] sentiment to their own advantage,” he said. 

Nafisa Pisarejeva is an IWPR correspondent in Tajikistan.


Two arrests have heightened concern that corruption and poor record-keeping may 
allow babies to be spirited out of hospitals for illegal adoption.

By Aziza Turdueva, IWPR contributor in Bishkek.

A Kyrgyz health ministry investigation into maternity hospitals around the 
capital has revealed holes in the system that may have been exploited to sell 
babies for adoption.

The health ministry set up a commission to investigate hospitals in Bishkek and 
the neighbouring Chu region after two staff members were arrested on suspicion 
of trying to sell a newborn baby.

The two, a hospital departmental head and a midwife, were arrested after an 
investigation conducted by the Kyrgyz police’s organised crime squad. They have 
since been released on bail.

Kasymbek Mambetov, state secretary at the health ministry, said the case 
involved a baby that was taken from its mother in the maternity ward of the 
National Hospital. 

According to Melis Turganbaev, the head of the organised crime department, said 
the mother was later told by medical staff that the baby was dead. 

The arrests led to Turganbaev’s unit receiving a number of calls from people 
who had been told that their newborn children had died, and who now wanted 
their cases to be investigated by the police. 

In March, a commission set up by the health ministry seized medical 
documentation going back three years from all the maternity and special care 
units in Bishkek as well as the regional hospital in the Chu region. 

The ministry announced the findings of its investigation at a press conference 
on March 28. Deputy health minister Madamin Karataev said there did not appear 
to be an organised racket selling babies, but irregularities had been uncovered 
in the paperwork for registering births and recording transfers of babies to 

Cases cited at the press conference included birth certificates issued for 
stillborn babies, and death certificates for newborns that did not record the 
cause of death.

Some paper trails showed babies being transferred to children’s homes in 
Bishkek, with no record that they actually arrived. In other cases, individuals 
claiming to be guardians or relatives arrived at hospitals to claim children, 
but medical staff failed to check their identities. 

As a result of the investigation, the heads of the hospitals where malpractice 
was identified were issued with official reprimands, and instructed to take 
disciplinary action against staff members found to be involved in abuses. 

The ministry also decided to set up special adoption units within all maternity 
units, so that babies do not have to go to children’s homes before they can be 
legally adopted.

Turganbaev said he had been urging the health ministry to investigate its staff 
for some months. His officers launched their own investigation after receiving 
tip-offs that babies were being sold by maternity hospital staff. 

Some hospital staff say the pitifully low wages paid in the public healthcare 
sector may tempt some to consider arranging an illegal “sale”.

“The average monthly wage for a doctor is 1,200 soms [35 US dollars]. Of course 
that’s no excuse for committing a crime, but it’s a factor one needs to bear in 
mind,” said Talant Mamytov, a surgeon at a Bishkek hospital.

Medics say the social stigma of having a child outside marriage in Kyrgyzstan 
means that if a woman plans to give up her baby for adoption, she may be happy 
not to register the birth with the authorities. With no formal paperwork, the 
child is more vulnerable to abduction.

“If a [family’s] daughter gives birth without a husband, it carries a life-long 
stigma, and not just the woman, but also for her parents and all of her 
relatives,” said Maria Asanova, an obstetrician at a Bishkek maternity 

Asanova noted that this happened in well-off as well as poor families –she 
knows of a number of cases where women from well-to-do homes have absconded 
from hospital after giving birth.

Gulnara Juraeva, an 18-year-old resident of the Nooken region of the Jalalabad 
in southern Kyrgyzstan, is facing this kind of social pressure – she is eight 
months pregnant and is planning to give up the child because the father has 
refused to acknowledge it. 

“It’s seen as a disgrace for a husbandless woman to have a baby… Now I am 
forced to give my child up to someone else. I am very worried about who my 
child will end up with. But I have no other choice,” she said.

She said her mother is “scared of rumours and is ashamed in front of the 

Jamila Kubatova, a staff member at an orphanage in Bishkek, said many of the 
babies which come up for adoption have mothers with a background of 
prostitution or drug and alcohol abuse, and this can leave the children with 
congenital health problems.

Prospective parents tend to want to adopt a healthy child, so many of the 
babies at Kubatova’s orphanage will never find a home.

The shortage of healthy babies available for legal adoption could tempt 
prospective parents to consider trying to buy a baby. Even if they do find a 
child they want to adopt, going through the proper channels is a lengthy and 
complicated process.

Naykei Osmonova, head of the adoption department in Bishkek’s Sverdlovsk 
district, reeled off a list of 17 documents that prospective parents must 
produce in order to proceed with an adoption. Once this is in place, a special 
commission checks that the paperwork is in order before deciding whether to let 
the adoption go ahead.

Kubanychbek Aidarov and Atyrkul Imasheva encountered this bureaucracy when they 
tried to become the legal guardians of a newborn child they found abandoned on 
their doorstep early one morning. The couple had been together for nine years 
and were unable to have children of their own, so they were delighted at this 
chance to adopt a child.

“But we ran into a huge amount of problems collecting the documents together,” 
said Aidarov.

Osmonova insists that cutting corners on the paperwork could undermine 
children’s safety. “We need to be certain that the adopted child is going to 
reliable people,” she said.

Aziza Turdueva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


Russian is still an essential lingua franca at home and abroad, but Kyrgyz and 
Uzbek parents often opt for Russian schooling because the teaching is better.

By Kamil Satkanbaev in Osh

Increasing numbers of parents in southern Kyrgyzstan are sending their children 
to Russian-language schools instead of those where the teaching medium is 
Kyrgyz or Uzbek.

Some observers attribute the soaring popularity of Russian-language schools to 
the constant flow of labour migrants both to Russia itself and to Kazakstan 
where the language is vital for jobseekers.

Teachers in the south of Kyrgyzstan say classes taught in Russian is also due 
to the inferior standard of education on offer at Kyrgyz and Uzbek schools.

Russian remains an important language in Kyrgyzstan a decade and a half after 
the end of Soviet rule. As well as the Slav minority, who mainly live in the 
north of the country, many Kyrgyz and other ethnic groups are fluent in 
Russian. In the south of the country, Uzbek, related to Kyrgyz, is another 
important language.

Since independence in 1991, the authorities have made efforts to promote the 
use of Kyrgyz as the national language, especially for official purposes, 
although they have been careful not to marginalise Russian. 

But in spite of these attempts to foster pride in Kyrgyz, many parents in the 
south of the country are opting for schools and kindergartens where some or all 
classes are taught in Russian. 

In the city of Osh, for example, most children go to Uzbek schools, followed by 
Russian and then Kyrgyz. But in the last year alone, demand for classes 
conducted in Russian has led to these being introduced at three more schools 
which previously were monolingual in Kyrgyz or Uzbek. Of the city’s 54 schools, 
nine are Russian-only, 12 teach classes in both Kyrgyz and Russian, and another 
12 use Uzbek and Russian. The city also has 28 Russian kindergartens.

Asan Artykbaev, the head of school and pre-school education at the Osh city 
education department, attributes the change to the increasing numbers of people 
leaving for Russia and Kazakstan to take advantage of the better employment 
prospects there. When whole families are planning to go instead of just the 
male householder, they want their children to have a head start in Russian.

Zair Turtumamatov, a former maths teacher who now owns a mini-market in the 
Russian city of Samara, left to find work with his wife and children seven 
years ago.

“Our children don’t have a future in Kyrgyzstan,” he said. “Now two of my 
daughters go to school in Samara, and two years ago they received Russian 

Turtumamatov said fluency in Russian makes it much quicker to find a job there. 
His wife, for example, now earns 250 US dollars a month as a housekeeper and 
nanny – ten times the amount she used to make as a primary school teacher in 

Myrzabek Toichuev, another migrant, said a knowledge of Russian opens up more 
job options and offers higher earnings.

“Those who know Russian can work as waiters, as superintendents on building 
sites, or as bus and taxi drivers. Those who don’t – and there are many of them 
– go to work as builders, but not everyone is up to that kind of job,” he said.

In Kazakstan, too, Russian is the key to success, according to Kalicha Hamidova 
from Osh. 

“Many Kazaks, particularly those living in the capital and regional centres, 
don’t speak their mother tongue, and prefer Russian,” she said.

Gulchehra Ziyoeva, who works as a seamstress in the Kazak city of Almaty, said 
she was planning to move her children there from Kyrgyzstan, where they are 
currently at school.

“It would be difficult for them to find a job after school there [in 
Kyrgyzstan]. In Kazakstan, they will be able to earn a living when they grow 
up,” she explained.

Jenish Toichuev was a teacher for 12 years after graduating as a Russian 
linguist. Even though he is now a market trader in Osh, he does not regret 
having specialised in Russian at a time when it was falling out of favour. 

“When Soviet rule was drawing to a close and Russian stopped being popular, I 
nevertheless went to study at the philology faculty. Then the Soviet Union 
collapsed,” he recalled. “But I was convinced that Russian would continue to 
play an important role for a long time to come. And I wasn’t wrong.” 

Toichuev has sent his children to a school that offers classes taught through 
Russian. This is partly because the outlook for Russian is good as it is still 
so widely used in literature, on street signs, and in government and 
parliament; but also because the teaching is of a higher standard. 

Azam Abdurazakov, the headmaster at an Uzbek-language secondary school in Osh, 
regrets that he did not do the same.

“I admit that the quality of teaching at Russian schools is much higher than it 
is here. This [also] applies to all the Kyrgyz schools in our city,” he said. 

“I regret not sending my own children to a Russian school. They’ve forgotten 
the grounding in the language that they received at kindergarten.”

According to Abdurazakov, the difference in the quality of education becomes 
apparent when inter-school competitions are held – the children from 
Kyrgyz-language schools invariably come last.

Part of the problem, he said, is that the Kyrgyz schools are so poorly 
equipped. “They don’t even have laboratory classes for chemistry, physics and 
other subjects,” he said. “The children only receive theoretical knowledge. And 
that’s true of all the natural sciences. If there are no lab classes, how will 
the poor children know what chemistry is?”

The Uzbek schools are especially under-resourced when it comes to teaching 
materials, according Abdurazakov. They are short of textbooks printed in Uzbek 
even though school headmasters have repeatedly asked parliamentary deputies to 
provide more.

“For every ten books published for the Russian schools, there is one for Uzbek 
schools,” he said.

One member of parliament, Kamchibek Tashiev, said that the failure to produce 
Uzbek-language books in Kyrgyzstan has meant teaching materials are imported 
from neighbouring Uzbekistan. The danger there, he said, is that the textbooks 
come with all the ideological baggage of a foreign country. 

“We must not allow the ideology of another state to be disseminated in the 
schools. We must publish books containing the history and ideology of our own 
country,” he told journalists.

Paizylat Ikramova, a teacher at a school in the Naukat district of Osh region, 
said many parents were unhappy with the quality of the books that are published 
in Kyrgyzstan. They see them as inferior to the material used in 
Russian-language schools, which is imported. 

“They leave a lot to be desired and contain numerous errors. Parents see this, 
and so many of them prefer to send their children to Russian schools,” she said.

Another factor that hampers Kyrgyz-language schools is the shortage of 
qualified staff, especially in rural areas. 

Artykbaev said many of the students attending teacher-training college go off 
to work abroad once they graduate. Many will take blue-collar jobs rather than 
work as teachers in Russia, but they can still earn six times as much as a 
teacher in Kyrgyzstan.

Abdulhak Abdumalikov, a lecturer at the Batyrov University in Jalalabad, said 
that as a result, many schoolteachers were forced to give classes in subjects 
for which they never trained, simply because there is no one else to do it. 
“This doesn’t happen at the Russian-language schools, and that’s perhaps why 
everyone aspires to send their children there. They offer a high standard of 
education,” he said.

At the same time, Abdumalikov is concerned about the cultural values children 
from the Kyrgzy and Uzbek communities are exposed to when they attend Russian 
schools. They may end up with views and values that are not seen as appropriate 
in their own community’s culture, and Abdumalikov believes there is a risk of 
confused identities.

“After graduating from a Russian school, Kyrgyz and Uzbek boys end up as 
neither one thing nor the other,” he said. “Their level of knowledge may be 
much higher, but it’s hard to tell whether they are Russian, Kyrgyz or Uzbek.”

Kamil Satkanbaev is an IWPR contributor in Kyrgyzstan.

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