WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 564, 1. February, 2009

RUSSIAN LEADER TRIES TO KEEP UZBEKS ON SIDE  Will President Medvedev succeed in 
restoring Tashkent’s pro-Moscow orientation?  By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek 
(RCA No. 564, 30-Jan-09)

KYRGYZ ARMY BILL SPARKS FEARS OF CRACKDOWN  Civil groups warn that new 
legislation could allow authorities to deploy military to crush public 
protests.  By Mirgul Akimova in Bishkek (RCA No. 564, 30-Jan-09)

SPECIAL REPORT

MARRIAGE VOWS NOT ALWAYS ENOUGH IN TAJIKISTAN  Missing out on a 
state-registered wedding can be storing up trouble for wives in future years.  
By Mukammal Odinaeva and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe (RCA No. 564, 30-Jan-09) 

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RUSSIAN LEADER TRIES TO KEEP UZBEKS ON SIDE 

Will President Medvedev succeed in restoring Tashkent’s pro-Moscow orientation? 

By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek 

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Tashkent last week was an attempt 
to shore up his country’s alliance with Uzbekistan. The relationship has been 
close in the last few years, but has been growing more distant over recent 
months. 

The only major document signed at the end of the Russian leader’s talks on 
January 22 and 23 was a gas supply agreement that had already been reached 
earlier, under which the Uzbeks are to increase the amount of natural gas they 
export to Russia. 

The real purpose of Medvedev’s visit may have been to sound out the intentions 
of his counterpart Islam Karimov ahead of a joint summit of the Collective 
Security Treaty Organisation, CSTO, and the Eurasian Economic Community, 
EurAsEC, scheduled to take place in Moscow in February. 

The Uzbeks have blown hot and cold on the CSTO over the years as they have 
shifted between pro-Moscow and pro-western orientations, and last autumn they 
announced they were withdrawing from EurAsEC. 

After his three-hour private meeting with Medvedev, President Islam Karimov 
said only that the talks were “very frank”, but that they had brought some 
clarity and would provide a basis for further decisions. 

Analysts say Moscow is determined to prevent Tashkent slipping out of its 
sphere of influence and pursuing either its own ambitions for regional 
dominance or seeking alliances with western states. Karimov pursued both these 
policies through the Nineties and the first half of the present decade. 

In 2005, international criticism of the massacre of civilians in Andijan caused 
Karimov to break with his western partners, close down the American military 
airbase set up to assist Coalition operations in Afghanistan after 2001, and 
renew ties with Moscow. 

>From around the beginning of 2008, however, Tashkent publicly began putting 
>out feelers to the West again, and both the United States and the European 
>Union reciprocated with renewed attempts at dialogue. 

In April last year, the Uzbek leader attended a NATO summit in Bucharest, while 
in October he signalled he might be amenable to the kind of energy cooperation 
in which European states have expressed interest. The same month, the EU eased 
sanctions imposed because of Tashkent’s refusal to allow a full international 
investigation into what happened in Tashkent. 

Signs that Uzbekistan was about to change direction again seem to have alarmed 
the Kremlin, which regards Central Asia as its backyard from the point of view 
of security and in recent years has sought to exert greater influence over what 
happens to oil, gas and electricity produced in the region. 

“Russia is now even prepared to sustain losses in order to remove the western 
presence from Uzbekistan,” said Farhad Tolipov, an academic in Tashkent. 

Another local analyst, based in the eastern town of Fergana, believes Medvedev 
used his visit to engage with Karimov “so as not to derail his ambitions to 
draw Tashkent into Moscow’s sphere of influence”. 

He added that the Russian leader probably also wanted to check whether Karimov 
would be attending the CSTO summit after pulling away from EurAsEC last year. 
“The Kremlin is worried that Karimov might now refuse to be part of the CSTO as 
well,” he said. 

The CSTO was set up in 2002, developing out of the Collective Security Treaty 
signed in 1992. Its current members are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakstan, 
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks were members of the pact, but 
Karimov felt the others did not back him up sufficiently when militants of the 
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan staged armed incursions in 1999-2000. Dismissing 
the bloc as “of no benefit”, he declared a moratorium on his country’s 
participation. 

After Andijan and the reorientation towards Moscow that followed, the Uzbeks 
renewed their membership of the CSTO in July 2006, and the upper house of 
parliament formalised full membership at the end of March 2008. 

All the CSTO states, with the exception of Armenia, are also members of 
EurAsEC, established in 1995 with the aim of promoting free trade and a customs 
union. Yet Karimov’s instinct has always been to go it alone, and despite 
accords on greater integration signed by both the security and economic blocs, 
he has kept strict border controls and barriers to free trade in place. 

In September 2008, all four Central Asian members of EurAsEC appeared to be 
close to a deal that would allow the region’s water and energy resources to 
mutual advantage. This has been a constant bone of contention between the two 
oil- and gas-rich states, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan, and the Tajiks and Kyrgyz 
who control the sources of rivers that keep their neighbours’ agriculture 
alive. Both sides feel they get a raw deal from the other – the former claiming 
they are starved of water in the farming season, and the latter complaining 
that their wealthier neighbours charge them commercial rates for natural gas 
supplies. 

In the end, no final agreement was signed because the Uzbeks were reluctant to 
enter into a multilateral agreement on water resources that transcend national 
boundaries. 

Their decision to withdraw from EurAsEC can therefore be seen as a rejection of 
other Central Asian states, but Moscow took it badly, perceiving it as a blow 
to its own reputation as regional leader. 

In an attempt to reel the Uzbeks back in, Medvedev offered them surprise 
olive-branch during his trip, saying Russian-led projects to build 
hydroelectric power stations in the region would take into account the 
interests of all Central Asian states, not just the beneficiary countries. 

Uzbekistan has expressed concern at plans to complete the giant Rogun 
hydroelectric dam scheme in Tajikistan and a series of power stations called 
Kambarata in Kyrgyzstan. These Russian-financed projects could would make these 
states more self-sufficient in energy, but could result in restricted water 
flows to the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, respectively. 

Tashkent has repeatedly expressed concern over the dam projects, as Uzbek 
scientists fear the consequences could be catastrophic for a heavily-populated 
country that is largely dependent on irrigation by these two great waterways. 

Uzbekistan-watchers say that after Medvedev’s visit, Tashkent’s true intentions 
remain far from clear. 

Since independence in 1991, its leadership has shifted back and forth between 
Russia and the West for reasons of political convenience, and sometimes 
depending on how strong or vulnerable it feels its position is in the Central 
Asian region. 

Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political scientist who now lives abroad, thinks 
the government wants to see what kind of policies US president Barack Obama’s 
administration will adopt towards the region before taking a definitive stance. 

“Karimov is waiting for the new US administration’s position to become clear on 
Central Asia and Uzbekistan,” he said. “In the interim, he can flirt with 
Moscow.”

Inga Sikorskaya is IWPR’s editor for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.


KYRGYZ ARMY BILL SPARKS FEARS OF CRACKDOWN 

Civil groups warn that new legislation could allow authorities to deploy 
military to crush public protests. 

By Mirgul Akimova in Bishkek 

Civil society representatives have expressed alarm that the Kyrgyz authorities 
are pushing through legislation that would allow them to use the army to quell 
protests at a time when tensions between the government and opposition are 
deepening.

A group of non-government organisations is calling on President Kurmanbek 
Bakiev not to give his assent to the law, which contains a clause allowing the 
armed forces to assist police in maintaining “public order and security” as 
well as in rescue and disaster relief operations.

The bill, which sets out a framework under which Kyrgyzstan nationals are 
conscripted into the military and offers the option of alternative forms of 
service, was passed by parliament in December and now only needs the 
president’s signature to become law.

In a January 27 letter to Bakiev, the Kyrgyz parliament and the human rights 
ombudsman, 18 NGOs outlined their fears that as Kyrgyzstan’s economic problems 
deepened, the authorities were trying to tighten their grip by reserving the 
right to deploy the army on the streets.

“The economic situation is deteriorating, and the number of dissatisfied people 
is growing,” said the letter. “Peaceful assembly and religious freedoms are 
either limited or banned in the country.... There are rumours that freedom of 
expression may also be restricted or banned.” 

The petition said the bill ran contrary to the constitution, which says the 
armed forces cannot be used to resolve domestic and political issues. 

The adoption of “unconstitutional” laws at a time of political and economic 
instability could have “serious and unpredictable” consequences, the NGOs 
warned.

Earlier in January, a number of other civil society organisations issued a 
statement protesting against the law. Another petition was sent to the 
president on January 20, by the Voice of Freedom group and the Association of 
Civil Society Support Centres, urging Bakiev to veto the law.

Analysts interviewed by IWPR agree the legislation could radically reshape the 
way the security forces are used in Kyrgyzstan.

“Public order is [constitutionally] the responsibility of the Ministry of the 
Interior, not that of the army,” said Isa Omurkulov, a member of parliament 
from the Social Democratic Party.

Dinara Oshurakhunova, who heads the NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil 
Society, told IWPR that the police and army – which come under the interior and 
defence ministries, respectively – must be kept separate.

“Each institution has specific roles – the army’s role is to defend the state 
from external enemies, while that of the police is maintain law and order 
inside the country. The roles of these two institutions should not be 
confused,” she said.

Oshurakhunova said she believed that the authorities were planning to use the 
army to rein in the opposition.

The draft law comes at a time of growing political tension in Kyrgyzstan, which 
has been deeply shaken by the global financial crisis.

In December last year, opposition groups joined forces against a backdrop of 
soaring unemployment and fuel shortages, and presented a list of radical 
demands, including the resignation of the president.

On January 12, at its first formal meeting, the United People’s Movement, UPM, 
announced that it planned to hold nationwide protests demanding an improvement 
to the economic crisis in the country. 

Oshurakhunova said that as financial turmoil continued, people were expecting 
conditions to get worse.

“Many people expect the prices for basic services and food to rise in the near 
future, which will cause living conditions to deteriorate,” she said.

She said that the country’s leaders should focus on tackling the underlying 
problems such as energy shortages and the soaring cost of food and basic 
services, which are driving people into the arms of the opposition.

“Instead of drafting anti-crisis plans and measures to overcome the financial 
and socio-economic crisis, officials are introducing tighter measures to 
suppress potential public unrest,” she said. 

Abdygul Chotbayev, a former member of Bishkek city council and before that the 
first commander of Kyrgyzstan’s National Guard force, is concerned that the 
authorities are responding to public discontent by introducing greater 
restrictions. 

“By engaging the army in domestic affairs, the authorities are trying to become 
stronger,” he said.

Chotbayev cited the so-called revolution of March 2005, when the then president 
Askar Akaev was ousted after people took to the streets to protest against his 
authoritarian regime. He warned that if the legislation was passed, such a 
revolt would be crushed by the army,

“If the army were to become involved in such a situation, whom should it 
defend, the authorities or the people? The answer is quite obvious – the army 
would have to defend the authorities,” he said. “What we are witnessing today 
is the authorities striding towards an authoritarian regime”

Omurkulov, whose Social Democratic Party opposed the law in parliament, where 
it is a tiny minority against the governing Ak Jol party, said he thought the 
government had grown alarmed by the opposition’s new-found unity and 
assertiveness.

“The authorities are concerned about the consolidation and radicalisation of 
the opposition, whose ideas and proposals on reforms have been ignored,” said 
Omurkulov.

He said he believed the authorities were preparing to clamp down on opposition 
activities, pointing out that the government has been buying defence and 
security equipment and has earmarked more money for the presidential bodyguards 
in this year’s budget.

“They have bought modern weaponry including night-vision devices, eavesdropping 
equipment, and water-cannons. The authorities are preoccupied with militarising 
the state in order to remain in power, instead of using the money to pay wages 
and pensions,” he said.

However, the authorities have dismissed these concerns.

Asanbek Baytikov, deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Defence, 
Security, Law and Order, and Legal Reform, confirmed that more money had been 
spent on providing bodyguards for the president and procuring modern weapons. 
But he said there was nothing sinister about this.

“Increasing spending on defence capacity is a good thing, and it’s also 
important to support the state bodyguards, who are paid out of the government 
budget like anyone else,” said Baytikov. When budget funds are allocated for 
any sector, it’s a sign the country is growing and developing.” 

During a parliamentary debate on January 26, Defence Minister Baktybek Kalyev 
insisted there was nothing ominous in the bill’s wording. 

“There are many situations when we employ our conscript soldiers in various 
peaceful activities as set out in defence ministry regulations. These 
activities do not include dealing with domestic political matters,” he said.

Begaly Nargozuyev of the ruling party Ak Jol said Kalyev’s speech convinced him 
that the army would deploy only in emergencies, such as an outbreak of 
inter-ethnic fighting or looting. 

“We have enough [interior ministry] personnel – about 17,000 policemen – to 
maintain public order. Rallies [against Bakiev] in 2006 showed us that the 
police can successfully deal with thousands of people,” Nargozuyev told IWPR. 

Major Kurman Nasirov, deputy head of the defence ministry’s legal department, 
also argued that the law was uncontroversial, adding, “I think certain 
politicians and human rights activists want to play up this bill for PR 
purposes. This clause is not a new one, as it was earlier included in rules for 
army service approved in August 1998.” 

Yet Ismail Isakov, a former defence minister who recently defected to the 
opposition, said the president should refuse to sign the bill.

Allowing the army to intervene in public order matters could prove highly 
dangerous, he said.

“The army is not the police. It will use live ammunition because it doesn’t 
have batons or rubber bullets like the police,” he said.

Isakov said soldiers had a right not to disobey their superiors if their 
conscience so dictated, and could also be held accountable for harm done to 
civilians even when they were carrying out orders. 

“Despite the fact that every soldier must follow his commander’s orders, the 
[army] rules include a clause stating that he has a right not to do so if the 
order is wrong,” he explained. “If something happens, the individual who fired 
the shot will be accused, not the person who gave the order.” 

Mirgul Akimova is a pseudonym for an independent journalist in Bishkek.


SPECIAL REPORT

MARRIAGE VOWS NOT ALWAYS ENOUGH IN TAJIKISTAN 

Missing out on a state-registered wedding can be storing up trouble for wives 
in future years.

By Mukammal Odinaeva and Lola Olimova in Dushanbe 

More and more married women in Tajikistan are being deprived of property 
rights, especially if they get married without going through the legal 
formalities. 

IWPR has spoken to numerous Tajik women, some of whom went through the state 
registry office and others who were only married by a cleric, and discovered a 
pattern of discrimination when property disputes emerge within the family, 
especially when couples separate. 

Under Tajikistan’s secular legal system, women have equal rights, so that in 
the event of a divorce, they can claim half the assets acquired by a couple in 
the course of a marriage. 

However, these rights are often denied to them by the husband’s relatives, and 
many are not sufficiently well educated to be aware of the legal position, or 
cannot afford to hire a lawyer. 

After divorce, and also if the husband dies, women commonly lose both property 
and home, since traditionally a bride goes to live with her husband or his 
parents. 

In such cases women have the right to redress through the courts, even if they 
do not claim it. 

The legal position is significantly worse for the many Tajik women, and perhaps 
the majority in rural areas, who do not go through the state marriage 
registration procedure, confining themselves to the Muslim wedding rite known 
as “nikoh”. 

Official statistics show that while marriage is more common than ever, the 
number of weddings registered with the state has fallen by 60 per cent since 
1991. 

In such cases, the law recognises neither marital status nor the rights and 
protections that go with it. Because the marriage never existed in the eyes of 
the law, dissolving it becomes a simple matter. Under a rule taken from Islamic 
law, the man merely has to repeat the Arabic word “talaq” three times, which 
carries the meaning “I divorce you”. In Tajikistan, the phrase “se talaq” – 
“three talaqs” – is sometimes substituted. 

According to lawyer Yelena Kamalova, unregistered marriages create many 
problems both for women and their children. 

“It means that a wife cannot be recorded [officially] as living in her 
husband’s house and does not legally own property acquired by either spouse 
during the marriage,” she said. 

Children born of these marriages cannot be given the father’s surname without 
his consent, and because divorces in such cases have no legal status, women 
cannot claim child-support money. 

“Those hasty marriages have terrible consequences,” said a gender rights 
expert, who asked not to be named. “After a divorce, a woman and her children 
end up with no property and no income.” 

The trend towards religious-only weddings appeared after the end of the Soviet 
Union, as Tajik society reverted to traditional practices, and the presence of 
state institutions and the public services they provided diminished in the 
countryside. 

The increasing number of women below the poverty line have limited access to 
education and employment. 

Women are caught between social pressure to look after house and children and 
the need to earn money to supplement the household income. New brides in 
particular, are expected to be subservient to their husband’s family and do all 
the menial tasks, and the mother-in-law exerts considerable control over her 
life. 

“It is no secret that conditions have changed and almost every woman now has to 
work outside the family,” IWPR was told by a gender rights expert who asked to 
remain anonymous. 

“At home, she still has to run the house, take care of any sick and elderly 
family members, and bring up the children. But how many women do you know who 
have their own house, land plot, or car? Usually, all the family property 
officially belongs to the husband,” she said. 

This overwhelmingly Muslim society has also seen a return to polygamy, in part 
because social upheaval caused by a civil war and severe economic downturn in 
the post-independence years has left women with few options. 

Since polygamy remains illegal, second or third wives are necessarily 
“unofficial”. 

In theory, the clerics who perform the “nikoh” rite are supposed to demand to 
see a marriage certificate issued by the registry office, known here by the 
acronym “ZAGS”. However, many flout this rule as it is divine blessing, not 
that of the state, that carries real significance for many people. 

“Any Muslim man wishing to get married can go to any village in any part of the 
country, pay the mullah and contract marriage according to the nikoh 
tradition,” explained political scientist Rahmon Olmasov. “The mullah will 
never ask him whether he’s [already] married or not, whether he has children, 
or whether he’s able to provide financially for both his first and second 
families.” 

The gender rights expert believes mullahs often conduct weddings without asking 
too many questions because the fee is an important source of income for them. 

Lola Jalilova, an activist with a women’s rights group called Dilafruz, in the 
southern town of Qurghonteppa, says she has seen many cases where young women 
have suffered. 

One of them involved a woman called Sadbarg, who appealed for help from the 
group after being thrown out of the family after five years of 
legally-registered marriage. 

It all went wrong when her husband Ismat’s married sister moved in. Ismat’s 
family, and especially his mother, started accusing Sadbarg of infidelity, an 
unpardonable offence in rural Tajikistan. 

“My mother-law and sister-in-law competed in trying to slander me as possible…. 
Only my father-in-law was on my side, consoling me when no one else was 
around,” recalled Sadbarg. 

Ismat was pressured into making his wife stay at home, warning here, “If you 
try to leave the house during the next six months, I will say ‘se talaq’.” 

She continued, “I obeyed, for the sake of my children and my marriage, I didn’t 
go out for six months. I cooked and washed the clothes. In all that time, I did 
not leave the house, I did not see the sun, the stars or the fresh air, I did 
not meet my own relatives or the neighbours, I did not hear music or even a 
kind word. I wanted to prove I was innocent.” 

However, this period of seclusion did not create peace, and her husband’s 
family kept insisting he throw her out of the house. “At last, Ismat gave in to 
the pressure and said, ‘Get out of my house’. He turned me and my son out of 
the house.” she said. “Now I live with my parents but I don’t want to keep 
silent any longer. I am not a slave.” 

The Dilafruz group supported Sadbarg’s legal action and she cleared her name in 
court. The judge also ruled that Ismat must allow Sadbarg back into the house. 

In the end, Sadbarg found herself unable to do so. In the courtroom, Ismat said 
the words “se talaq”, ending the marriage de facto. 

ABUSE BY RELATIVES 

Sabohat, a woman from a village just outside Dushanbe was – unlike Sadbarg – 
legally married, but that did not stop her in-laws taking matters into their 
own hands. Once again it was the arrival of a sister-in-law that ended what in 
her case had been 15 years of marriage. 

After life under one roof became impossible, her husband Nurullo filed for 
divorce under pressure from his family. 

Sabohat was unable to move back in with her parents as her brothers were in 
residence there and had started their own families. She found a temporary place 
to stay in a kindergarten, but received no financial help from her husband. 
Last summer she filed a court action which resulted in a ruling in her favour. 

Once again, the husband announced a separation with the “talaq” formula, but 
even so, judges said he must give her a separate place to live in his home, 
plus alimony payments. However, Sabohat felt uncomfortable and did not go back 
to the house. 

A further case involves Mutabar, a mother of three who had been legally married 
for 18 years, but nevertheless found herself divorced without her consent. 

Her husband had been away from their home in Vahdat district east of the 
capital Dushanbe for three months some time, serving with the military, when he 
told her by phone that he had divorced her. 

He had somehow managed to persuade a ZAGS office to approve a legal divorce. 
This could only be done using connections and bribery, as Tajik law requires 
the participation and consent of both partners. 

But then he told her that he was not divorcing her the way that really counts 
from society’s point of view – by saying “talaq”. 

“I’m not driving you out, we’ve got three children,” he said, according to 
Mutabar’s account. “But I’m going to bring a second wife into the house. 
There’s room enough for everyone.” 

Mutabar went to court to contest the divorce, but to her surprise, the judge 
ruled that the certificate issued to Ismat was valid. Then she brought an 
action to divide their common property, which included their three-storey 
house. Her husband managed to hold up the process for a year, and when Mutabar 
appealed to a higher instance, the case had to start all over again. 

Another woman interviewed by IWPR, Firuza, has spent the last decade fighting 
to reclaim the house her husband built in the southern district of Kulob before 
his death. When he first became ill, the family moved to the capital so he 
could get treatment. In the interim, his brother moved his family into the 
Kulob house and refused to vacate it when Firuza was widowed. 

Now living in her father’s home with her two children, Firuza has yet to obtain 
justice. The Supreme Court of Tajikistan has issued rulings in her favour but 
these are being ignored. 

Like many others, she feels her rights are ignored because she is a woman and 
lacks connections. “I’d have won quickly enough if my father or brother had 
been a prosecutor or a judge,” she said. 

MIGRATION PUTS STRAIN ON WOMEN’S ROLE 

Another factor affecting women’s rights is the fact that their husbands may be 
absent from the family home for long periods of time. Hundreds of thousands of 
Tajiks work abroad in Russia and Kazakstan, sending back money to support their 
families. 

Some go only for the warmer seasons when most casual labour is hired, but 
others spend longer stretches abroad, or even settle down there. 

Their prolonged absence can lead to marriage breakups and exacerbate relations 
between the wife and her in-laws. 

Muhayo’s husband left for Russia a month after they got married in the village 
where they live in Fayzabad district. After that, she faced constant hostility 
from her mother-in-law, who complained that she had not brought a sufficiently 
large dowry to the marriage. 

She says her mother-in-law mistreated her, lied to her husband about her on the 
phone and would not let him know that Muyaho had borne him a child, and 
withheld the substantial sums he was sending home from Russia. 

A local woman’s group called INIS helped Muhayo bring a legal claim for money 
to support her and the child, who was legitimate as the marriage had been 
properly registered. The mother-in-law denied all knowledge of money payments 
or even the man’s whereabouts. 

In this case, the judge ruled in Muhayo’s favour and required the mother in law 
to return her personal property and pay compulsory child support. This is now 
happening and Muhayo is looking forward to her husband’s eventual return. 

Raihona Haqberdieva, who heads the Dilafruz group in Qurghonteppa, says the 
social consequences of mass migration and extended separation have not been 
fully understood yet. 

One obvious sign of change she has noticed is that men whose marriages are 
based only on a nikoh ceremony have taken to dissolving the union from 
thousands of kilometres away. 

“There are many women coming to our crisis centre whose husbands have said 
“talaq” to them over the phone. This is a new phenomenon for Tajikistan. It 
means a new technology has brought more harm to our women,” said Haqberdieva. 

That is what happened to Zebo, a 25-year-old with two small children in the 
Bokhtar district of southern Tajikistan, whose husband found a new partner in 
Russia. 

After he called to say the words, Zebo was left with no financial support from 
him, while his family did not provide her and her children with shelter. 

She is now dependent on her mother, 62-year-old Bibifotima, whose monthly 
pension is just 30 US dollars a month, and on her elder brother who has four 
children of his own and also works abroad. 

The Dilafruz group is helping her press an alimony claim for 25 per cent of her 
husband’s income. Her case might look weak in legal terms, as there was no ZAGS 
registration, but the women’s group is optimistic as a number of similar cases 
have ended in success. 

Some Muslim clerics say the rules that the faith sets out on marriage and 
divorce have been badly distorted by custom and practice. 

Domullo Murodjon Sobitzoda, the senior cleric at Qurghonteppa’s central mosque, 
says Islamic law unreservedly recognises women’s property rights including in 
the divorce cases. 

“It is contrary to Islam and the precepts of Sharia to leave a woman with 
nothing. This happens because people are ignorant of Islamic law,” he said. 

Another senior cleric, Domullo Saidbek, who is imam or prayer-leader at the 
Kazi Abdurashid mosque in Dushanbe and also a prominent theologian at the 
Al-Termezi Islamic Institute, is concerned at the growing number of divorces 
and the unfair treatment of women. 

“It reaches absurd levels. They ring up or send a text message to say ‘talaq’ 
to their wives, or they get their mothers or other family members to say it,” 
he said. “That runs counter to Islamic law on marriage, and also to any respect 
for one’s wife both as an individual and as the mother of one’s children. They 
[women] are in any case already humiliated and economically dependent in their 
husbands’ homes. Sharia does not recognise such divorces.” 

Saidbek said that based on Koranic readings, “It does not matter if the house 
belongs to the husband, his wife and children have every right to live there.” 

When it came to divorce, he said, “All the property acquired during the 
marriage must be divided equally as long as the ex-wife had a part in acquiring 
it. And any property that she [initially] brought with her remains her own.” 

EDUCATION KEY TO CHANGE 

Women’s rights experts interviewed by IWPR agreed that the main obstacle that 
needs to be addressed is poor education and lack of awareness. 

These days, many rural families do not believe daughters need advanced 
schooling. If they have to choose, it will usually be a son that goes on to 
further education. 

“They don’t think about the consequences and pay little attention to their 
daughters’ education, and that’s where the problems stem from later on,” said 
Haqberdieva. 

Girls are mainly taught how to run the house so they will be able to take care 
of their future husbands and children. (For an article on this issue, see 
Tajikistan: Teenage Girls Dropping Out of School, RCA No. 481, 02-Feb-07.) 

The authorities are now trying to address this issue. A test-case prosecution 
of a man in the southern Khatlon district last year for preventing his 
daughters from attending school has apparently had a salutary effect. Teachers 
in many schools said overall attendance rates for girls improved after the case 
received wide coverage. 

The gender rights expert interviewed by IWPR said rights groups and government 
both had work to do, and should collaborate. 

“Local government bodies must monitor and register marriages, so that they 
issue the official certificate and only after that comes the nikoh,” she said. 
“That’s directly within their mandate.” 

A local group called the Gender Education Centre is setting up a mobile 
information and advice service to help women defend their rights in matrimonial 
disputes. It will also provide them with legal representation free of charge. 
Finally, the group has held practical training sessions to make women’s centres 
and human rights groups across the country more aware of how the law should 
work. 

The broader aim of the project, funded by the United States embassy in Dushanbe 
and a local coalition called From Legal Equality to Real Equality, is to get 
the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of 
Discrimination against Women put into practice in Tajikistan. 

Mukammal Odinaeva is an independent journalist and Lola Olimova is IWPR editor 
in Tajikistan. 


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