MURDER INVOKES GHOSTS OF TAJIKISTAN’S PAST  A clash between two police units in 
a former opposition stronghold reflects the lingering mistrust between the 
sides in the civil war.  By IWPR staff in Dushanbe

TAJIK TRADERS PROTEST FEE HIKE  In a remote and poor region, female traders are 
up in arms about a new levy imposed by government.  By Iftikhor Mirshakar in 
Khorog and Jamila ?ajidova in Dushanbe

treason law is changed, many high-profile prisoners have no chance of claiming 
amnesty.   By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

accept a government offer of bonds to settle unpaid bonuses.  By Tolkun 
Namatbaeva in Bishkek

KYRGYZSTAN SCHOOLS YOUNG PEOPLE FOR EXPORT  Training people up to get jobs in 
Russia and beyond may ease unemployment at home, but some fear for the 
long-term consequences.  By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek


addicts and sex workers, HIV is now spreading across the community at large.  
By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad


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A clash between two police units in a former opposition stronghold reflects the 
lingering mistrust between the sides in the civil war.

By IWPR staff in Dushanbe

The death of a police commander in a shootout has highlighted underlying 
tensions that have persisted in Tajikistan since a bloody civil war came to an 
end in 1997.

Colonel Oleg Zakharchenko of the OMON or riot police was shot dead on February 
2 in Garm, a small town high in the mountains 150 kilometres east of the 
capital, Dushanbe.

What makes this case unusual is that the violence was between two units 
subordinate to the Tajik interior ministry - Zakharchenko’s team, who had 
driven up to the remote township from Dushanbe, and the district police in 

The head of Garm’s organised crime squad, Mirzohoja Ahmadov, has been accused 
of Zakharchenko’s murder. 

The official version put out by the interior ministry is that Zakharchenko and 
a number of policemen, together with Rajabali Mahmadaliev, head of the national 
police directorate for combating organised crime, were sent up to Garm to 
attend a meeting concerning the performance of the local police. 

According to the authorities, the group was approaching the local organised 
crime squad building when it came under fire from Ahmadov’s men, Zakharchenko 
was shot in the head as he attempted to intercede, and four of his comrades 
were injured in the firefight. 

Ahmadov tells a different story, telling IWPR that his men were the victims of 
an unprovoked attack and only fired in self-defence.

“I went to the window and saw armed men wearing masks getting out of a jeep. I 
wanted to get out by the back entrance but I saw the building was surrounded. 
My people didn’t open fire on them – it was they who started shooting,” he 

Since his men had no idea the assailants were police, they had no option but to 
defend themselves, said Ahmadov, adding, “There’s a ministerial instruction not 
to allow armed men to come into your area and to defend yourself from a 
surprise attack. I followed that instruction.” 

Ahmadov said his officers were also forced to act because the building they use 
is also home to various civilian organisations, both government and 
non-government. “There was panic in the building…. There were people from those 
organisations working there that day,” he said.

He concluded, “After we injured one of the armed men in masks, they fell back 
and the firing stopped. I didn’t know who these people were. It wasn’t until 
the minister rang up and said, ‘You’re going to answer for Zakharchenko’s 
death’ that I found out it was him and OMON.” 

Although accounts of who is at fault differ, the incident is clearly not the 
result of an unfortunate misunderstanding between two arms of the police. 

Contrary to the official report that the Dushanbe team had arrived for a 
conference, Ahmadov insists they attacked him because he was at one time an 
opposition guerrilla leader in the 1992-97 civil war.

Like many members of the United Tajik Opposition, UTO, Ahmadov and his men were 
amnestied and went through a disarmament process as part of the 1997 peace 
deal, and were then “reintegrated” – in their case recruited as the local 
police force. 

As the paramilitaries on both sides were reined in and some UTO leaders were 
brought into government, the peace deal seemed to work unexpectedly well given 
the bitterness and suspicion left behind by the conflict. Making police 
commanders out of guerrilla chiefs like Ahmadov seemed a pragmatic step in the 
Garm valley, a stronghold of the UTO and in particular its leading force, the 
Islamic Rebirth Party.

In the years since then, however, the government of President Imomali Rahmon 
has gradually reversed the balance, removing most of the senior UTO members 
from posts at national level, and charging some of them with crimes. In 1995, 
for instance, Democratic Party head Mahmudruzi Iskandarov, a former UTO 
commander also from the Garm valley who had returned to civilian life as a 
politician and head of Tajikistan’s gas monopoly, was arrested and jailed. 

Ahmadov says his employers have also been out to get men like him who are lower 
down the rung. 

He says his police are the only ex-UTO unit left in the Garm valley – the rest 
have been picked off one by one. “Many opposition supporters from Rasht [Garm 
region] are now in jail, while some live in Russia and are scared to return 
home as fear persecution,” he said.

Ahmadov claims this was the seventh attempt to arrest him to date, and that he 
has not even visited Dushanbe in the last six years because of the danger he 
feels he would be in.

He says he has done his job as a police commander conscientiously, and is not 
about to go into hiding even though he is likely to be convicted of 
Zakharchenko’s killing, “I don’t think I will be proved not guilty; someone has 
to pay for the man’s death.”

The argument that the interior ministry was on a mission to remove Ahmadov was 
supported by a story in the Vecherny Dushanbe newspaper, which quoted anonymous 
sources in the ministry as saying a decision had been taken to close down the 
organised crime squad in Garm. 

“The fighters [Ahmadov’s men] refused to surrender their weapons. Then a unit 
commanded by Zakharchenko was sent to Garm to disarm them, only to be fired on 
with automatic weapons without warning,” said the source. 

The incident shows how old antagonisms have remained alive despite the peace 
that has lasted since 1997. But most of the analysts interviewed by IWPR played 
down fears of a return to conflict, saying memories of the bloodshed of those 
years were too vivid for people to contemplate renewed warfare. 

At the same time, analysts warn that in a country stricken by poverty and 
economic problems, the government would be unwise to provoke hostility by going 
out of its way to target figures like Ahmadov.

Political analyst Parviz Mullojanov said the attempt to arrest the police chief 
was part of a general strategy of ousting former opposition commanders. 

Such cases also showed, he said, how parts of the 1997 peace deal remained 
unresolved. “The specific mechanism for the amnesty was not properly worked 
out,” he said. “As a result, many former opposition combatants never went 
through the amnesty process and in consequence don’t feel safe. When people are 
in a tense state like this, they are liable to react spontaneously and 

Rashid Abdullo, another political expert, said that while there was no 
opposition strong enough to take on the authorities in Dushanbe, memories of 
the conflict remained vivid on both sides and a complete reconciliation had not 
yet happened. 

All sides, he said, are “constantly revisiting the very recent past”. 

Both Abdullo and Mullojanov agreed that the latest incident showed Tajikistan 
was not quite as stable as it appeared, in large part because of its continuing 
economic problems and the constant shortages of gas and electricity – recently 
exacerbated by an exceptionally cold winter.

“Social tensions in the country, and in Garm especially, have reached their 
highest level since the end of the civil war because of societal problems and 
the energy crisis. At the same time, the level of trust in the authorities is 
falling significantly,” said Mullojanov.

“At a time like this, the authorities would do well to avoid any steps that 
might further complicate an already difficult situation.”

IWPR’s journey to Garm to interview Ahmadov highlighted the rigours of life in 
the remote mountain valleys of eastern Tajikistan.

Reports of the clash had reached Dushanbe, and no taxi driver wanted to risk 
the trip. 

“They say there’s gunfire there,” one elderly driver told IWPR. “I wouldn’t 
drive you there for any money.”

In the end, another driver agreed to go to Garm for 300 US dollars, a massive 
premium on the usual price of around 20 dollars.

The road was hard going because of recent snowfalls and black ice, but there 
were no police checkpoints until the administrative boundary of the Rasht 

Garm itself was quiet. Local media reported that international organisations 
had recalled their staff from Garm following the incident. But IWPR found that 
local people were going about their business as usual. 

Because of the intense cold and the lack of electricity, only one food shop and 
a cafeteria were open in Garm, while other businesses were shut.


In a remote and poor region, female traders are up in arms about a new levy 
imposed by government.

By Iftikhor Mirshakar in Khorog and Jamila ?ajidova in Dushanbe

Every morning, despite the cold, 50-year-old Begim Saidova loads up her barrow 
with goods and takes it to the central market in Khorog, the main town of the 
mountainous province of Badakhshan in southeast Tajikistan. 

She is lucky because she lives fairly close to the market, unlike many other 
traders who have to walk many kilometers over mountain tracks to get there. 

Saidova started trading in basic consumer goods several years ago, when she was 
widowed and left with two children to look after. After borrowing the 
equivalent of 1,000 US dollars from a bank as start-up capital, she began 
trading to eke out a living.

But hers is no capitalist success story. Each month, she barely turns a profit 
from her backbreaking work, what with repaying her loan, renting a market stall 
and travelling to and from the distant Tajik capital Dushanbe where she buys 
her wares wholesale.

When reports reached Khorog of an imminent hike in the fee that traders pay to 
operate legally, women like Saidova were naturally concerned.

On February 5, about 500 women working as market traders in Khorog staged a 
protest outside the local government offices against plans to introduce a much 
more expensive trading license than the current one, warning that this would 
put them out of business. 

The women currently pay 46 somoni, about 13 dollars, a month for the right to 
trade at the market, but they have heard that the authorities want to charge 
them 350 somoni, equivalent to more than 100 dollars. 

After the mayor, Nazarbegim Muborakshoeva, came out to talk to the enraged 
women, she promised a special commission would investigate the matter and give 
them a firm answer. 

Such was the level of concern in the area that two days after the 
demonstration, the television station in Khorog held a live debate with local 
tax officials, who did not say when the changes would come into effect. 

So far, the license fees have remained unchanged, but the traders still fear 
hefty rises are around the corner.

Trading licenses are obligatory for all market traders in Tajikistan. Obtained 
from the local tax office, they serve both as a work permit and as proof that 
the holder has paid a fixed business tax. 

Nusratullo Davlatov, deputy head of the Tajikistan’s tax agency, says the idea 
of a so-called “super-license” was put forward by the International Finance 
Corporation, IFC, a wing of the World Bank, and is now under review in the 
Ministry of Finance. 

The idea is to incorporate three other levies now paid separately – income tax, 
sales tax and welfare contributions – into the license fee.

“The tax collection system will thus be simplified and that is good both for 
taxpayers and the tax agencies,” said Davlatov.

IFC representatives told IWPR that the new unified payment should cut the 
administrative overheads of tax collection and make the system more 
transparent. The new fee should not amount to significantly more than what 
traders are already paying as separate taxes, and should make it easier to 
start up a business, they said. 

Bahor Kamarov, deputy head of private-sector studies at the Centre for 
Strategic Studies, which is attached to the Tajik president’s office, supports 
the proposal in principle but says the sales-tax component of the new license 
fee must be adjusted according to traders’ ability to pay and where they live. 

Badakhshan is a case in point. One of the poorest and least developed regions 
in Tajikistan, there is little money around to pay higher taxes. High 
unemployment rates force many men to leave for temporary jobs in Russia and 
elsewhere, and about half the 2,000 traders registered in Khorog are female. 

The women say they have few other options. “With so much unemployment and the 
constant price rises for essential foods, the only chance for many women and 
their families to survive is by trading at the market,” said one trader, who 
gave her first name as Saida.

Like her colleagues, Saida is hoping the talk of expensive new licenses is no 
more than a rumour. But Begim Saidova is seriously worried about the 
possibility. She has her two school-age children to feed and clothe, and one of 
them needs medical treatment. For her, paying more for a trading license would 
imperil the family’s survival. 

“If the price of a license goes up, we will have to raise the prices of our 
goods accordingly, but who’s going to buy them?” she asked. “Prices have 
already hit the pockets of customers, and unfortunately people here are very 

Iftikhor Mirshakar is chief editor of the Pamir-Media news agency. Jamila 
Majidova is a correspondent for the Central Asia and Caucasus journal.


Until all-embracing treason law is changed, many high-profile prisoners have no 
chance of claiming amnesty. 

By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

In the latest mass release of prisoners in Turkmenistan, no political prisoners 
of note were freed. Lawyers and human rights activists say this will not happen 
until the authorities change repressive legislation on treason, which 
automatically rules out the possibility of amnesty.

On February 13, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov signed an order to amnesty 
1,269 prisoners in honour of National Flag Day, including a number serving life 
sentences. All but 238 of them were jailed last year, in other words under 
Berdymuhammedov’s rule rather than that of his predecessor Saparmurat Niazov, 
who died in December 2006. 

Flag Day actually falls on February 19, but Berdymuhammedov’s announcement was 
published in the press on February 14 – the anniversary of his inauguration as 
president one year ago.

Berdymuhammedov pointed out that he was delivering on a pledge to free a group 
of convicts on every state holiday. Turkmenistan has numerous national 
celebrations, the most notable of which are Constitution Day on May 18 and 
Independence Day, October 27, and there is every likelihood more prisoners will 
walk free in the course of this year. 

It is, however, highly unlikely that the list will include many political 
prisoners, or more precisely those convicted of criminal offences for clearly 
political reasons.

A mass amnesty in September, for example, did not see significant political 
figures among the 9,000 people released. That dashed hopes raised by the 
release of 11 people the previous month whose cases were clearly identifiable 
as political. 

Legal experts say that apart from the political will at the top, one major 
obstacle to freeing high-profile prisoners is the extensive scope of 
Turkmenistan’s treason legislation, under which many of these cases have been 

The law was amended in 2003 to embrace a range of offences other than those 
normally classed as treason in other countries. For example, it includes vague 
categories such as anyone who “sows doubts” about the policies of the 
president, whom the wording specifically defines as Niazov; anyone attempting 
to damage the country politically or economically; and officials who “place 
personal interests above the national interest”. 

Furthermore, the definition of treason also includes anyone who aids and abets 
the above offences, or fails to report them to the authorities.

A conviction for treason carries a mandatory life imprisonment with no 
possibility of amnesty or pardon.

As a lawyer in Turkmenistan pointed out, the law as it stands can be applied to 
almost anyone. 

“As long as we have this unparalleled legal provision that criminalises any 
expression of discontent with the status quo, all amnesties will be useless,” 
said the lawyer. 

The treason law was made more severe following a failed attempt on Niazov’s 
life in November 2002.

In the wave of detentions that followed, 55 people were swiftly convicted of 
treason while similar charges were later brought not against other senior 
officials deemed to be suspect, but also their relatives.

In a society where extended family and clan ties are important, the application 
of the “aiding and abetting” clause to relatives is seen as a powerful 
instrument of control.

“In his instructions to the security services concerning accused persons, 
Niazov told them to check [distant] family members for treason… which meant 
that 20 or 30 more so-called traitors could then be revealed,” explained 
Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Bulgarian-based Turkmen Helsinki Fund for Human 

Because of the closed nature of Turkmenistan and the lack of reliable 
information on the judicial and penal system, no accurate data exists as to the 
total number of people convicted of treason in Turkmenistan.

The consensus among human rights activists is that at least 1,000 people are 
currently serving life sentences for this offence. 

Begmedova argues that Berdymuhammedov needs to show his mettle by admitting 
that some of the laws passed when Niazov was in power were flawed, and then 
scrap them. 

An analyst in Turkmenistan disagreed, saying, “Officially abolishing this 
notorious ruling would mean Berdymuhammedov admitting that mistakes were under 
his predecessor’s rule - and the new president is not ready for that.” 

Yet Vyacheslav Mamedov, chair of the Netherlands-based Civil Democratic Union 
of Turkmenistan, does not believe the terms of the treason law “tie 
Berdymuhammedov’s hands” or prevent him from granting an amnesty to political 
prisoners if he really wants to.

A journalist in Ashgabat agreed, arguing that it would “cost the authorities 
nothing” to ignore the current treason law and free those convicted under it. 

He pointed out that there is even a precedent for this. The 11 figures pardoned 
last August included Turkmenistan’s mufti or chief Islamic cleric Nasrullah ibn 
Ibadullah, who was sentenced under the treason law in 2004. He was found guilty 
of involvement in the 2002 assassination plot against Niazov, although most 
observers believed he was punished for speaking out against the harsh sentences 
handed down in earlier trials, and for other criticising other government 
policies. Iklym Iklymov, a businessman convicted of treason for the 
assassination plot, was also among those released.

A local government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would 
be unwise to read much into this one-off action. 

“So what?” said the official. “Note that no mass releases [of convicted 
traitors] has yet taken place. The current law on treason still serves as a 
psychological barrier that Berdymuhammedov does not dare break through.” 

(The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their 


Schoolteachers are refusing to accept a government offer of bonds to settle 
unpaid bonuses.

By Tolkun Namatbaeva in Bishkek

Teachers in Kyrgyzstan have given a chilly response to plans to compensate them 
for unpaid bonus payments with government bonds. 

The cash-strapped state owes teachers a significant sum after making wage 
commitments that it now cannot or will not live up to. 

In early February, Finance Minister Tajikan Kalimbetova admitted to parliament 
that the government owed its 120,000 schoolteachers about 2.4 billion soms, 
equivalent to 70 million US dollars. 

The government has earmarked a total of 80 million dollars for education in 
this year’s budget.

Kalimbetova said the government planned to pay the outstanding sum it owed not 
in cash but in bonds, which recipients could eventually turn into money.

The unpaid funds date back to a law passed in April 2004 which awarded 
generous-sounding bonuses to teachers according to length of service. Teachers 
who had worked for at least five years were entitled to an additional ten per 
cent or more on top of their current monthly salary; those with ten years of 
service were awarded 20 per cent and those with 15 years behind them were to be 
paid a 30 per cent bonus.

The mood of rejoicing in teachers’ common rooms was short-lived. None of the 
extra payments have ever been paid out. 

After growing tired of demanding the money, teachers from the northern Issykkul 
region filed a law suit against the Ministry of Education late last year. This 
has served as a precedent for their colleagues in other regions, including the 
capital Bishkek, who have launched similar actions.

Bakyt Kurmanalieva, a science teacher from the village of Koltor, in the 
Issykkul region, told IWPR that going to court had proved effective. On 
February 19, the Pervomaysky district court in Bishkek ruled in favour of 
teachers from her village, and ordered the ministry to pay out the money it 
owed them.

“According to the court, I am now owed 33,000 soms [about 1,000 dollars],” she 
said. “There are about 20 other plaintiffs - teachers from our village - and 
the ministry owes them about 20,000 soms each.” 

Kurmanalieva said such sums were “a huge amount of money” for a village 

She insisted the money should be paid in cash, not government securities. “You 
can’t keep your family on that,” she explained. “I have four children and could 
use that money right now to buy clothes, and food. We want cash, not pieces of 

Teachers’ salaries are now among the lowest in Kyrgyzstan and even those who 
have specialist subjects earn only 80 or 90 dollars a month. 

With pay so poor, there is a reluctance to enter the profession and a 
particular dearth of young teachers in rural areas. According to the education 
ministry, the southern Osh region is short of at least 500 teachers.

Bolot Maripov, an adviser to the finance ministry, confirmed that payment would 
be forthcoming, but only in the delayed form of bonds. 

“The decision to pay the teachers in bonds means the payment will be delayed, 
but the government will have to pay up at some point,” he said. ‘It’s true that 
two and a half billion soms is a significant sum for the budget, but this is 
still achievable.” 

Political observer Marat Kazakpaev said the court cases had set an important 
precedent, and the government would do well to use some of the income from the 
lucrative Kumtor gold mine to pay the teachers. Under a recently revised 
agreement with the contractor, the government is expected to earn higher 
revenues from the mine.

“It isn’t right to pay them off with bonds,” said Kazakbaev.

Gaisha Ibraimova, a former education minister who now runs a private school in 
Bishkek, agreed that the bond offer was “inadequate”, especially since 
teachers’ salaries no longer amount to a living wage.

“Paying them off with bonds under such conditions is simply robbery,” said 
Ibragimova. “Besides, these bonds cannot be cashed in as soon as the teachers 
would like.”

Tolkun Namatbaeva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.


Training people up to get jobs in Russia and beyond may ease unemployment at 
home, but some fear for the long-term consequences.

By Asyl Osmonalieva in Bishkek

Labour officials in Kyrgyzstan are actively encouraging vocational colleges to 
train young people to work abroad.

The idea is that more young people should become proficient in the blue-collar 
trades that are in demand in Russia and other labour-hungry countries. Some 
analysts are warning, though, that the policy could come at a high demographic 
cost to Kyrgyzstan in the long term.

Early this year, Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for Migration signed an agreement 
with a local vocational school to train young people for a month to equip them 
for working in South Korea.

Igor Gromov, a senior official from the committee, told IWPR the impoverished 
country could no longer cope with providing assistance to its growing number of 
unemployed. It had to get used to the idea of exporting substantial numbers of 
its workers to relieve the social and economic burden at home, he said.

More than 100,000 young people reach working age every year, but relatively few 
find a decent job in the small, sluggish Kyrgyz economy and many go abroad to 
work as seasonal migrants, mainly in Russia, but also in Kazakstan and 
countries further afield.

“The current situation in Kyrgyzstan is characterised by a surplus labour 
force,” explained Gromov. “In this situation, temporary labour migration is the 
best alternative, so as to relieve tension in the domestic labour market and 
give migrants an opportunity to provide for themselves and for their relatives 
back home.”

Gromov believes accepting the fact that exportable labour is a resource could 
help Kyrgyzstan draw up more pragmatic development strategies to benefit itself 
as well as the countries where its workers go.

According to official statistcs, there are about 350,000 Kyrgyzstan nationals 
working in Russia and Kazakstan, while unofficial estimates put the number 
closer to two million. Turkey, China, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea 
are other popular destinations.

“We need to train potential migrants so that they can be competitive and more 
sought-after in the Russian labour market”, said Gromov. 

For a start, he said, they needed to have a basic knowledge of Russia’s 
language and laws.

Though most Kyrgyz in the capital, Bishkek, speak Russian well, this is not 
always the case in the countryside, and especially in the south. Moreover, many 
emigrants from rural areas know little about Russia’s laws and customs or about 
what rights they have there. Ignorant of the law and possessing few marketable 
skills, all too many end up in dead-end jobs, earning extremely low salaries 
and working in dismal conditions.

Vocational colleges in Kyrgyzstan accept that many of their students plan to 
take their newly-acquired skills abroad.

“Our students want to acquire not only diplomas but also the skills needed for 
work in Russia or Kazakstan,” said Bolotbek Shatmanaliev, director of a college 
in Bishkek.

“If our businesses paid their workers decent wages, we would not have such an 
outflow,” said Tilek, a student on a vocational course who intends to look for 
work in Russia once he completes his course. “I want to find a well-paid job 
there as an electrician.”

The remittances migrants send home have become one of the biggest contributors 
to the Kyrgyz economy. During the first nine months of 2007, migrants from 
Russia alone are believed to have sent back more 700 million dollars.

The State Migration Committee is now looking at job markets in other countries 
to soak up more of the surplus labour. 

Following negotiations last year, South Korea granted Kyrgyzstan a quota of 
2,000 places for workers. 

The committee has also held talks with Poland and Italy with a view to 
persuading these countries to admit students from Kyrgyzstan to do seasonal 
jobs. However, as Gromov admits, this idea did not win much support from the 
rectors of Kyrgyz universities, who feared losing their students for good.

Nurbek Omurov, of the International Organisation for Migration in Kyrygyzstan, 
praises the new emphasis on training personnel so that their skills match the 
needs of labour-importing countries.

“External migration relieves the domestic labour market, the economy improves 
thanks to migrant remittances, and the migrants themselves gain new skills that 
they can apply later back in Kyrgyzstan,” he said.

Omurov said Kyrgyz officials would soon be visiting Manila in order to learn 
from the experience of this long-term major exporter of labour. “The 
Philippines is the biggest exporter of labour migrants [in the world],” he 
said. “The country has almost half a century’s worth of experience in 
concluding deals with countries to receive migrants, and this will be useful 
for us.”

At the same time, Omurov admitted that giving migrants better skills to work 
abroad did not resolve the dilemma of how to retain enough qualified people to 
keep the economy going.

Cholpon Jakupova, a lawyer and former head of the State Labour Committee, 
complained that people forget about the downside of so many able-bodied 
youngsters leaving the country.

“The Kyrgyz nation, which is few in number, may simply lose its ability to 
reproduce itself if so many people of childbearing age, and who are active, 
energetic and ready to deal with challenges leave the country,” she warned.

Apart from the demographic consequences of sustained emigration, the export of 
skilled labour was paving the way for a prolonged economic crisis, said 

“It’s already impossible to launch many industrial projects simply because of 
the shortage of people,” she said.

Jakupova argues that deliberately training young people so that they can go 
abroad is not the right policy. 

“Young people are not linking their future with that of their country,” she 
asserted. “The fact that so many young people say there is nothing worth 
staying in Kyrgyzstan for is… really worrying.”

Asyl Osmonalieva is an IWPR contributor in Bishkek.



Once largely confined to drug addicts and sex workers, HIV is now spreading 
across the community at large.

By Abdumomun Mamaraimov in Jalalabad

Doctors are warning that the HIV is spreading fast in southern Kyrgyzstan, 
partly as a result of poor hygiene in hospitals but also through ignorance 
about how the virus is contracted. 

Until recently, the incidence of infection was highest among drug users and sex 
workers, but the virus is now becoming more common among other parts of the 
population, including children.

The southern region of Osh has become the epicentre for new cases. Tugolbay 
Mamaev, senior doctor at the region’s AIDS Centre, said infection rates had now 
reached a worrying level. 

The Kyrgyz health ministry recorded a total of 1,500 cases of infection among 
the total population of five million in 2007, a 15-fold increase on the level 
recorded in 2002. Almost half the figure for 2007 - which include existing 
cases as well as new ones - were in Osh region, and one-third of the total were 
in the city of Osh itself.

“The distribution of the virus has shifted from the high-risk category to the 
general population,” said Mamaev, adding that undergoing treatment at beauty 
salons and tattoo parlours, and also the circumcision ceremony that is standard 
practice for this predominantly Muslim population, could all be potential 
sources of transmission.

Last year, Osh region recorded 41 cases of HIV infection among children. It is 
unclear how they contracted the virus and a special commission is still looking 
into possible sources. One precaution that has been taken is to require 
pregnant women to undergo HIV tests. 


HIV and AIDS are relatively new to southern Kygyzstan. The first known case 
here was recorded only ten years ago. Now the numbers of new cases are 
increasing by 80 or 90 each year. Last year, Osh region saw 191 new cases.

While officials investigate the rise in infections, many pregnant women believe 
poor standards of hygiene in the hospitals are at least partly to blame. 

One woman named Anna spoke of her concerns when she and her child underwent 
hospital treatment in Osh.

“What are you supposed to do when you go to hospital for medical treatment and 
contract a fatal infection as a result?” she asked.

Anna said she had been forced to pay three times the normal fee to ensure that 
clean new syringes were used for her intravenous injections. 

Despite this, she noted that needles from different patients were used to draw 
the anaesthetic novocaine from one common container. 

“I told the doctors about it many times but they didn’t care,” she said. “They 
were completely indifferent.” 

When she heard that HIV had been detected in the hospital, Anna got herself and 
her baby tested. “Everything turned out fine,” she recalled with relief. 


While patients query standards of hygiene in hospitals in southern Kyrgyzstan, 
doctors insist the main factor behind rising infection rates is the low level 
of awareness about HIV/AIDS, and the poor quality of the information available. 

“Given the current level of awareness, nobody around here is safe from HIV 
infection,” said Dr Mamaev.

Mamytbek Ismailov, senior doctor at the AIDS centre in the neighbouring region 
of Jalalabad, agreed. Printed literature about HIV/AIDS had been issued in a 
variety of local languages but it was clearly not enough, he said.

International donors have done much to help combat the growth of HIV in 
Kyrgyzstan. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has given 
the country 17 million dollars over the last four years and has pledged a 
further 28 million over the next five years. 

But the money does not filter down to remote country districts, especially in 
the south. “Nobody seems concerned with the HIV/AIDS problem in rural areas,” 
said Dr Ismailov. 

“At village level, this work is entrusted to the staff of the health and 
hygiene inspection service and they’re only interested in checking cafes,” he 
added. “I’d eat my hat if I heard they’d ever visited a school to talk about 

Ismailov said staff from his AIDS Centre managed to give one lecture a year in 
each of the region’s colleges and universities. But this was not enough, he 
said, adding, “Such work should be conducted at least once a week, but we don’t 
have the resources.”

Azat Kerimbaev, deputy senior doctor at the Osh Regional AIDS Centre, said 
getting the message across about safe sex was not easy, and at times the staff 
faced open hostility from traditionally-minded locals. 

He doctor recalled one angry parent telling him, “You’re just advertising 
condoms. If I find a condom in my son’s pocket, I’ll kill him”.

Several years ago a new book for older children called “Healthy Lifestyle”, 
caused controversy in Kyrgyzstan because it contained a chapter on safe sex. 
Some public figures considered it outrageous and accused the book’s authors of 
encouraging teenage depravity.

Since then, public figures such as the clergy have tried to be more 
constructive, helping shoulder the burden of public education on this sensitive 

Muslim clerics have discussed HIV/AIDS with their congregations, but according 
to one imam who wished to remain anonymous, the campaign has not yielded much 
in the way of results. 

“First, the imams themselves know little about this issue. Second, the people 
who visit mosques are devout people who are usually far removed from the world 
of drug addiction and prostitution,” he said, adding that in his view it was 
the latter groups that needed education programmes.

A growing number of programmes address drug addicts and sex workers. According 
to Mamaev, injecting drug users can get free disposable syringes every day. 

But he says these outreach programmes have not yet spread their net wide 
enough, although 85 per cent of HIV-positive people in Kyrgyzstan are recorded 
as habitual drug users. 

“To get real results, we need to cover at least 60 per cent of drug users but 
so far we’ve only been working with 20 per cent of them,” said Mamaev. 


Osh’s role as a hub for HIV infection reflects its strategic position on 
international drug routes. The city acts as depot and transmission point for 
heroin and opium coming in from Afghanistan via Tajikistan for onward shipment 
to Kazakstan, Russia and the rest of Europe. 

According to the Kyrgyz interior ministry’s anti-narcotics department, between 
three and five tons of various kinds of drugs are smuggled through Kyrgyzstan 
every day. Much of it goes via Osh. 

Inevitably, the flow of illicit drugs means they are cheap and readily 
available at this early stage in their journey, and the seemingly unstoppable 
growth in Afghan opium production has inevitably fuelled heroin use in southern 

Kyrgyz police say there are 7,500 officially registered drug addicts, of whom 
4,200 are intravenous users. More than 1,700 of these addicts live in the Osh 
region, and most inject drugs.

But data from the Osh AIDS Centre suggest the official figures grossly 
underestimate the real scale of the problem, and indicate that the total for 
this one region is at least 15,000. 

“Drugs are very accessible here,” Dr Mamaev noted. “In addition, many young 
people turn to the drugs trade because of the area’s economic problems.” Osh 
region is one of the poorest in the country.

Many young drug users have criminal records and according to Dr Kerimbaev, are 
extremely careless about their health.

“These people care about absolutely nothing,” he said. “I never saw any of them 
in hysterics or even shedding a tear after receiving a positive test result for 

He sees a clear connection between organised crime and the rise of HIV. “I’ve 
never heard of the drug mafia suffering a setback, so the number of people with 
HIV/AIDS is bound to increase,” he said. 


Another factor behind the intensive spread of HIV is that prostitution has 
become big business in the south. Local newspapers are fuller than ever of 
advertisements for apartments rented by the hour or night.

“You have such apartments in every high-rise block,” one resident of Osh city 
claimed, adding that many of the “night moths”, as prostitutes are known here, 
come from neighbouring Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is thought to have the highest rate of HIV infection in the region, 
with about 38 carriers for every 100,000 members of the population, and the 
rate of new cases is rising fast.

Karasuu, home to a famous wholesale market, is typical of the new HIV 
epicentres in southern Kyrgyzstan. It holds second place to Osh city for 
recorded infections. 

Thousands of migrants from Uzbekistan, China and other countries work 
temporarily in the market here, living in the backs of their lorries and 
conducting transient sexual relationships. 

“Nighttime carousing with prostitutes is a pretty usual thing round here,” says 
Bakhtiar, 30, who sells Chinese clothes at the market. 

Whether awareness programmes will be enough to halt the spread of HIV in an 
area like this is unclear. But if the battle for hearts and minds does not 
start being won soon, experts fear Kyrgyzstan’s south will one day be dealing 
with an epidemic of far larger proportions.

Abdumomun Mamaraimov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad.

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