questioning over an article suggesting the president might be unwell.   By IWPR 
staff in Central Asia 

UZBEK IDENTITY CRISIS IN TAJIKISTAN  Residents of border areas are facing hard 
choice between citizenship switch and eviction from their homes for many years. 
 By IWPR staff in Tajikistan 


BABY TRADE WORRIES TAJIKISTAN   By Salimakhon Vahobzade in Dushanbe 


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Journalist called in for questioning over an article suggesting the president 
might be unwell. 

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

After the Kyrgyz authorities accused the media of spreading misinformation 
about President Kurmanbek Bakiev’s recent absence from political life, 
journalists hit back, saying it was the government’s fault for being 

Media-watchers interviewed by IWPR say the dispute is indicative of the poor 
relationship between government and the media, and some fear it reflects an 
overall decline in freedom of speech. 

After the popular Russian-language Central Asia news site Ferghana.ru published 
an article on March 18 speculating about whether President Bakiev’s month-long 
absence was because he was in poor health, its local representative Sultan 
Kanazarov was questioned by officers of the National Security Committee, KNB. 

According to an op-ed published later on Ferghana.ru, during the March 26 
interrogation, Kanazarov was pressured to disclose sources for the story. KNB 
officers reportedly told him that the original article was untrue and had given 
rise to speculation about the president’s health.

The Ferghana-ru piece came out two days after Bakiev was due to return from 
leave in Germany on March 16. At the time it was published, there were already 
rumours going around that he was undergoing medical treatment. In the end, the 
president was away for almost a month, between March 3 and 28. 

Bakiev’s press office consistently denied the reports that his absence had 
anything to do with his health, but on his return, the president gave an 
interview in which he revealed that he had in fact undergone a course of 

In his April 1 op-ed, Ferghana.ru’s chief editor Daniil Kislov wrote, “We 
regard the unjustified accusations made against the Ferghana.ru representative… 
as a case of open pressure on the media, on journalists and on freedom of 

He rejected the KNB’s suggestion that Ferghana-ru had spun the story out of 
thin air, adding, “It is the silence of officials, the vacuum of information 
from the authorities, that has given rise to various rumours about the state of 
the president’s health.” 

Kanazarov told IWPR that formal charges had not been brought against him or the 
news agency. 

“If we had broken the law, official charges would have been laid,” he said, 
agreeing with Kislov that the problem lay not with the media but with the 
dearth of information available from the government and its spokesmen.

When he arrived back in Bishkek, Bakiev told the Moscow newspaper Vremya 
Novostey that he did not have to account for his whereabouts, and suggested 
that rumours that his health was poor were being spread by the opposition. 

After opposition parties failed to win seats in parliament in an election held 
in December, some groups set up an informal body called the “Alternative 
Parliament”. Others formed a more radical underground Revolutionary Committee, 
which called on Bakiev to resign by a deadline of March 24, the anniversary of 
the “Tulip Revolution” which brought him and his allies to power in 2005. 

Opposition groups are concerned about the implications of the criticism 
directed at Ferghana.ru. The Ar-Namys party, for example, issued a statement on 
April 1 questioning remarks that Bakiev made at a cabinet meeting, where he 
urged law-enforcement agencies to exercise control over the media. 

“This statement could be interpreted as an attempt to pressurise the handful of 
remaining independent press outlets,” party member Vitaly Iskakov told IWPR. 
“We are witnessing a setback not only in freedom of speech, but also in the 
democratic principles we had in the Nineties. We are now under a soft 
dictatorship – and the media are the first target under dictatorship.”

Ilim Karypbekov, the director of the Media Representative Institute, a 
non-government watchdog organisation, takes a different view, saying there is 
no reason for the media to panic. He believes the president’s concerns were 
specifically about the rumours around his health, but predicted that “strict 
action against the media is unlikely to follow”.

Elena Voronin of Interbilim, a support group for local non-government groups, 
says the mystery that surrounded Bakiev’s long absence is symptomatic of a 
broader problem.

“The information vacuum that appeared during the president’s absence shows that 
the government has little trust in its people, and that it is actually afraid 
of its people. They are afraid the public will take action if certain 
information is released,” she said. 

Describing the questioning of Kanazarov as “outrageous”, she said officials 
“know no bounds” and are “employing the authoritarian methods of Stalinist 


Residents of border areas are facing hard choice between citizenship switch and 
eviction from their homes for many years.

By IWPR staff in Tajikistan 

Uzbek residents of a pocket of northern Tajikistan complain they are being told 
either to change citizenship or leave the country. 

The map of the area they live in looks so much like a jigsaw puzzle that anyone 
could be confused about where they live. 

More than 1,000 residents of the Spitamen and Ghonchi districts of Tajikistan 
have been told they must decide whether they want to be Tajik or Uzbek 
nationals, and that if they choose the latter, they may have to leave.

Ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks live on both sides of the border so this is not so 
much about ethnicity as passports. These people are mainly Uzbeks who ended up 
living in Tajikistan following an exchange of territory between the two 
republics more than half a century ago. Tajikistan was awarded these lands in 
exchange for an area that was flooded when a new hydroelectric power station 
was built in the 1940s. 

At the time, it did not really matter - everyone was a citizen of the Soviet 
Union and borders between the different republics were merely administrative. 

After both states became independent in 1991, these communities continued to be 
treated as if they were part of Uzbekistan. Many acquired the new Uzbekistan 
passports, worked for the public sector there, retired people were paid Uzbek 
rather than Tajik state pensions, and they had a secondary school funded by 
Tashkent. The Uzbek currency remains in common use here. 

The situation is complicated by the fact that this stretch of border has not 
been demarcated on the ground, so it is not clear where exactly it runs.

These days, which passport you hold does matter. The two countries have had a 
sometimes difficult relationship since independence, and require each other’s 
citizens to obtain visas. 

Residents say the authorities in Tajikistan told them they must make a 
definitive choice – either to become Tajikistan nationals or leave. 

One local official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the problem came under 
the spotlight during the run-up to the Uzbek presidential election held 

He said Tashkent went ahead and opened a polling station for Uzbek nationals in 
Spitamen district without submitting a formal request to do so. 

“The Uzbeks ignored the fact this was not their territory and did not make an 
official request to open a polling station, even though they were supposed to 
do this,” he said. “That indicates that they regard this territory as theirs 
and they behave accordingly.” 

The Tajik authorities responded by banning the use of the polling station, 
although they allowed people to cross freely into Uzbekistan to vote there.

Now that the problem was no longer dormant, the provincial authorities for 
Soghd region, which includes the areas in question, decided to take action. 
Deputy governor Vahob Nabiev visited local communities in February and urged 
people to make up their minds about which citizenship they want.

Ilhom Jamolion, who heads the Soghd administration’s press office, said the 
suggestion had been phrased in approptiate terms, and represented a genuine bid 
to resolve the anomaly between residence and citizenship. 

It could not be normal to have a situation where Uzbek nationals had been 
living in Tajikistan for the last decade and a half, he said.

“We simply explained to people that they’re free to choose. If they choose 
Tajik citizenship, they can remain living here. But if they want to retain 
Uzbek citizenship, they should address themselves to officials in Uzbekistan, 
and it will be up to them [officials] to think of somewhere for these people to 
live,” said Jamolion.

The head of Spitamen district, Habib Saidov, told IWPR the Tajik authorities 
were acting legally because the land was theirs.

“We have never forced anybody to acquire our citizenship; we have suggested 
that they decide what citizenship they would like to have, since they are 
living on our territory,” he said.

He insisted that after the deputy governor met residents, they agreed there was 
a problem and promised to make a decision.

Villagers interviewed by IWPR said that in deciding which way to jump, they 
were really weighing up the relative economic risks, rather thinking along 
political lines. Most people interviewed by IWPR feared losing their Uzbek 
wages and pensions, and other benefits such as natural gas and electricity, 
which they get when others in Tajikistan go short, especially in winter.

Rahmon Hojakeldiev, the head of a neighbourhood council in the Abdurahmoni Jomi 
community noted that Uzbek-national pensioners living there got about 120,000 
Uzbek soms (about 100 US dollars) a month, while Tajik passport-holders could 
expect the national average of about one tenth of that amount.

Yet Hojakeldiev insisted he and many others there were not planning to take out 
Tajik citizenship. 

He said officials in Uzbekistan had been telling local people not to worry and 
that everything would be sorted out when border demarcation was completed.

“They told us that as soon as the authorities decide on the border, we can stay 
if we want to or we can become Uzbek citizens. They told us they’d get 
everybody to Uzbekistan and wouldn’t leave anybody behind,” he said. 

Yusup Hapkulov, who lives in the same neighbourhood as Hojakeldiev, is one of 
the minority who hold Tajik citizenship here. But he too is concerned that his 
fellow villagers are being forced into a situation where they must either 
accept Tajik nationality or be forced from their homes.

“We have a good life – they [officials] shouldn’t disturb us,” he said.

Jura Yusufi, deputy chief editor of the Varorud newspaper, believes the Soghd 
regional government made the right decision.

“I think the Tajik side is right. Citizens of another country who live in a 
given country permanently should adopt its citizenship or leave. This is in 
line with international rules,” said Yusufi.

Other observers, however, argue that regional governments should take a more 
nuanced approach to the situation facing communities divided by 
recently-created borders, who wish to maintain family ties and trading links 

Analyst Ismoili Sugdi said the problem facing the Uzbek citizens in Tajikistan 
is ultimately a product of the longstanding tensions in relations between 
Tashkent and Dushanbe, which means they have been unable to agree on border 

“I think only official Dushanbe and Tashkent can solve this issue, so it is 
high time for them to sit down at the negotiating table,” said Sugdi.

He argues that people living in border areas could be given the option of 
having dual citizenship. 

Whatever the solution, Sugdi said things cannot be just allowed to carry on as 
they are.

“The current situation is laying the basis for inter-state hatred. Only a 
certain group of people benefits, while he ordinary people as a whole suffer,” 
he said.



By Salimakhon Vahobzade in Dushanbe 

I first learned about baby trafficking in a conversation with my husband’s 
relative, who works for the Prosecutor General’s office in Tajikistan. She said 
that the trial of a woman who sold her child for 90 US dollars was about to 

Hearing this made me wonder what makes people try and sell their children, and 
also how society treats such parents. I called the IWPR office in Dushanbe to 
pitch this idea for a story, and they gave me the go-ahead to write it.

It took almost two weeks and a great deal of effort to gather the material for 
the report, which was written in the middle of February, when the weather was 
unusually cold and transport worked badly.

There was no electricity in our neighbourhood for a week – the transformer 
burnt out and we were left without light. Electricity at work was also cut off 
from 9 am till 5 pm and I had to go to the IWPR office to type up this 

I also had some difficulties in securing interviews for the piece and had to 
make use of some of my existing contacts.

I managed to talk to a Supreme Court judge, Larisa Kabilova, who noted that 
child-trafficking appeared to be on the rise.

“One gets the impression that selling under-age children has become a kind of 
business for some mothers,” she told me.

When researching the story, I also tried to contact many law enforcement and 
government officials, international and non-governmental organisations, 
representatives from political parties, sociologists, and prominent scientists. 
Once contact had been established, I stayed in regular touch with them.

State officials are sometimes less than eager to cooperate with journalists. 
They are reluctant to discuss problems the country is experiencing because they 
are scared to lose their jobs.

Parliament sources I spoke to asked me not to name them, and I respected their 
wishes as being a parliamentarian correspondent, I plan to work with them in 

They gave me “friendly” advice not to raise this issue, because “it casts a 
shadow on our nation”. “Why do you need this? Do women in other countries not 
sell their children? You will insult our ancient nation!” one said.

I wanted to draw parliament members’ attention to the problem of baby 
trafficking and convince them to consider giving social support to single 
mothers. My research showed that sociologists believe that most mothers are 
driven to sell their babies out of poverty and desperation, rather than greed. 

However, I failed to secure an interview with anyone from the committee on 
women and family affairs.

I got in touch with Colonel Azimjon Ibrohimov, head of the Tajik interior 
ministry department that deals with human trafficking, whom I met last year 
when writing about deported prostitutes from United Arab Emirates. He agreed to 
meet me the next day.

During this interview, the colonel revealed that the number of women selling 
their children appeared to be on the increase. The police recorded 13 cases of 
human trafficking involving minors last year, while two months into 2008, there 
were already six cases.

Ibrohimov also said that while in the past, mostly young mothers tried selling 
their babies, now older women were getting involved.

I wanted to speak to someone in charge of an orphanage. However, I had problems 
in contacting the director of a particular orphanage in the capital city of 
Dushanbe. I tried to get hold of him for almost two days. He was not there when 
I visited.

I then decided to try the head doctor at another Dushanbe orphanage that cares 
for 60 under-fives - Saodat Nabieva. She kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Nabieva believes that vulnerable women were increasingly attempting to sell 
their children as they no longer had the social safety-net they had back in 
Soviet times.

The most challenging aspect of the feature was securing interviews with the 
traumatized women who were punished for selling their children. Some of the 
mothers I approached refused to look at me - they averted their faces and did 
not answer my questions. Others wrapped themselves up in their scarves and 

My nephew, a gynecologist, put me in touch with 17-year-old Ravila. For my 
work, I encourage all my friends and relatives to report interesting 
information to me. The teenager, who was staying in a maternity house, was his 

I traveled to the other part of the city in order to speak with Ravila, when 
she came to the doctor’s for her appointment.

I first hear about Rajab and Istad, a couple who remain childless after 21 
years of marriage, after Istad came to my work to ask for help in adopting a 

Although the couple, who have their own small business, had applied to become 
adoptive parents, the childcare authorities in Dushanbe turned them down, 
saying they were too poor. 

They live in one room in a worker’s hostel and share a bathroom, kitchen and 
outside lavatory with other tenants. 

Istad conveyed the desperation which many childless parents have to conceive.

“If we could adopt a boy, I would stay at home and look after him and he would 
receive all our love and care,” she said.

“If somebody suggested we could buy a baby, we probably wouldn’t say no.”

Salimakhon Vakhobzade is an IWPR contributor and a correspondent of Narodnaya 
Gazeta (People’s Newspaper).

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