POLITICAL MANOEUVRING IN KYRGYZSTAN  As party seen as troublesome is
sidelined by its partners, some see the shift as a way of allocating
top posts to president’s party and allies.  By Timur Toktonaliev


rules and simple corruption make travel between Central Asian states a
complex and unpleasant business.  By Almaz Rysaliev, Askar Aktalov,
Inga Sikorskaya, Dina Tokbaeva, Timur Toktonaliev, Lola Olimova


systems increasingly unsustainable, Moscow analyst says.  By Timur


MULTIPLE MARRIAGES IN TAJIKISTAN  Polygamy now so commonplace that
some say legalising it might be best option.  By Haramgul Qodir

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As party seen as troublesome is sidelined by its partners, some see
the shift as a way of allocating top posts to president’s party and

By Timur Toktonaliev

With the formation of a new ruling coalition in Kyrgyzstan, President
Almazbek Atambaev’s Social Democrats have successfully engineered an
overwhelming majority in parliament while excluding their former
partner Ata-Jurt, even though that party came first in last year’s

After protracted negotiations, the Social Democratic Party of
Kyrgyzstan, signed a coalition deal with the Ata-Meken, Ar-Namys and
Respublika parties on December 16. Shortly afterwards, they agreed
that the small Respublika party would get the prime minister’s post.

The new governing bloc controls 92 of the 120 seats in parliament.
This majority is important because under the 2010 constitution, which
reduces the powers of the president, the majority party or coalition
gets to form a government.

Until two weeks ago, the governing coalition consisted of Ata-Jurt –
which came first in the October 2010 parliament polls but did not
secure a majority – plus the Social Democrats and the smaller

After winning the October 31 presidential election Atambaev,
previously the prime minister, was inaugurated on December 1. His
party walked out of the coalition the following day, citing
disagreements on various matters including judicial reform and
economic policy.

There is little doubt that Atambaev waited till he had secured the
presidency to ditch Ata-Jurt and forge an alliance more to his liking.

When the coalition broke up, Social Democrat Damira Niazalieva said a
new grouping was needed to bring together like-minded members of
parliament and make lawmaking more effective.

“We would like to see old as well as new partners in the new
coalition,” she told the state news agency Kabar on December 2.


Ata-Jurt, which came to the fore only last year, was never a partner
the long-established Social Democrats were going to be comfortable

“That coalition was an enforced one,” Pavel Dyatlenko, a political
analyst with the Polis Asia think-tank told IWPR. “It didn’t emerge
because the [constituent] factions shared a common view of
Kyrgyzstan’s present and future.”

The Ata-Jurt party has a pronounced Kyrgyz nationalist streak, and its
unexpected electoral success last year followed ethnic violence
between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south in June 2010, after which the
established parties in the then interim government, including the
Social Democrats, were accused of inaction.

Ata-Jurt was also seen as a vehicle for former allies of President
Kurmanbek Bakiev, ousted following mass unrest in April 2010.

To remain in the political game, the Social Democrats had little
option but to work with and accommodate Ata-Jurt.

“It was a transitional coalition, designed to maintain stability,”
Dyatlenko said.

He added that the frictions were already in evidence.

“There were cases where the Ata-Jurt faction came out against the
coalition government, and thus breached the coalition agreement,” he

Marat Sartpaev, the pseudonym for a blogger who writes for the leading
website www.neweurasia.net, said Ata-Jurt’s star seemed to be waning
after an initial burst of popular enthusiasm following the June 2010
ethnic violence.

“Times have changed and that topic [nationalism] no longer tops the
agenda,” Sartpaev said in a December 9 blog posting.

Ata-Jurt will be none too pleased at being ejected from government. So
far, its statements have been measured. Speaking to journalists on
December 16, its leader Kamchybek Tashiev said that the party planned
to unify opposition groups to prevent power being concentrated in
Atambaev’s hands.

Ata-Jurt suffered another setback on December 14 with the resignation
of parliamentary speaker Ahmatbek Keldibekov, a politician from the
party who was assigned the post as part of the coalition share-out.
His resignation came after he was subjected to a parliamentary
investigation and a threat from Ata-Meken to call a vote of no
confidence in him.

Analysts say Keldibekov was seen as building up his own position at
the expense of other institutions.

“He was replaced because the speaker and parliament were trying to
place themselves on the same level as the government and president,”
Dyatlenko said.

Tashiev was fairly cautious on the loss of the speaker’s post, as he
himself has had public differences with Keldibekov.

“It isn’t necessary to keep Keldibekov in the job to ensure the
legislature is independent. That would be wrong thinking,” Tashiev
told IWPR. “It’s just the usual political struggle between someone who
held power and others who wanted that power.”


As it sidelines Ata-Jurt, the Social Democratic Party will have to
reward those who have joined it in government. These include the
long-established Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys, which stayed outside the last
coalition, and the newer Respublika, which was part of it but is no
doubt hoping for a bigger share this time round.

After announcing the coalition on December 16, the partners agreed
that Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov was to be Kyrgyzstan’s new
prime minister. The post of speaker went to Asylbek Jeenbekov of the
Social Democrats, who was previously deputy speaker.

Somewhat surprisingly, a seven-member faction within Ata-Jurt signed a
separate agreement with the coalition on December 16. They include
well-known politicians like former Bishkek mayor Nuriman Tyuleev and
Marat Sultanov, a former speaker and finance minister.

But this development had already been predicted by Sheradyl
Baktygulov, an expert on state governance, who argued that Ata-Jurt
was not a homogenous force, so some members were likely to align
themselves with the winning side while others went into opposition.

According to Baktygulov, all this merely show how little Kyrgyzstan’s
politics have changed – it is individuals, not policy or ideological
differences, that count.

“The only real thing that can force coalitions to break up are the
personal interests of the leaders, the politicians who are in
coalition, and those [groups] whose interests are represented by
members of parliament,” he said.

“It’s all about which of our friends and relatives is to get a
government post. The basic thing is to ensure that more of our friends
and relatives get them, as opposed to the friends or relatives of

Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR editor in Kyrgyzstan



Political tensions, trade rules and simple corruption make travel
between Central Asian states a complex and unpleasant business.

By Almaz Rysaliev, Askar Aktalov, Inga Sikorskaya, Dina Tokbaeva,
Timur Toktonaliev, Lola Olimova

Twenty years after the newly-independent states of Central Asia began
marking off their borders, residents say they avoid travel to
neighbouring countries whenever they can, as the experience is so
stressful and unpleasant.

IWPR asked people in various countries to describe what the journeys
they make involve. Across the region, common themes emerged – massive
bureaucracy, obstructive behaviour, extortion and harassment by
frontier officials.

The atmosphere at crossing-points is tense at the best of times, and
whenever two governments fall out, innocent travellers suffer the
consequences. Apart from feeding a sense of injustice and
powerlessness, the hostile treatment of travellers tends to reinforce
negative stereotypes about neighbouring nations.

In practical terms, obstructive practices and corruption have had a
dampening effect on the movement of people and goods, and thus on
economic prosperity in the region. Many traders either buy off customs
officers or turn to smuggling.

This willingness to turn a blind eye and wave people and goods through
unchecked in return for a bribe is also bad for security – the very
reason that Central Asian governments give for imposing ever more
rigorous controls.

Despite the many obstacles, Central Asians continue to put up with the
difficult business of crossing borders to engage in trade, to travel
in transit to other states, or just to visit relatives on the other


Akbar Matislamov from Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan travelled to the
Uzbek capital Tashkent at the end of October, after his elder sister
fell seriously ill there.

He was relieved to be able to cross into Uzbekistan at all, since the
country had only recently reopened border crossings with Kyrgyzstan,
after a clampdown imposed after ethnic violence in and around Osh and
Jalalabad in June 2010.

However, he did not have an easy trip.

Flying would have cost him 600 US dollars return, so he went overland
to the Dustlik checkpoint, not far from Osh.

While queuing for passport control, a young man in civilian clothing
came up to him and told him he would have to pay 100 soms, about two
US dollars, just to go through the check.

“I thought he must be some kind of fraudster. But he was right. The
Kyrgyz border guard standing by the passport control window wouldn’t
let me go up to it. I recalled what the other guy had told me and
discreetly slipped him 100 soms. He refused to accept it and looked at
the guy without a uniform who was standing nearby, so I approached him
and gave him the 100 soms. Then I was allowed into the passport
control area,” Matislamov said.

“At passport control, I spotted another guy, also not in uniform, who
was collecting passports with 100 som notes stuck inside them. He put
the money in his pocket and handed the passport to the Kyrgyz border
guards, who allowed people through. I gave him 100 soms, too.”

Once Matislamov reached Uzbek controls, staff there asked for 5,000
Uzbek soms, about three dollars.

“It goes without saying that the money went into their own pockets,” he added.

On returning to Osh at the end of his trips, Matislamov found he had
been lucky to get into Uzbekistan at all. Friends and relatives said
they had been turned back when they tried to visit relatives in the

“They said the Uzbek [authorities] allowed only 200 or 250 out of 600
or 700 people to cross,” he said. “Neither Uzbek or Kyrgyz border
guards would explain the reason for these restrictions.”


Shirmanay Sharipova lives in Andijan, on the Uzbek side of the border,
and often comes to Kyrgyzstan for the giant wholesale market at
Karasuu. She too is grateful that the border is no longer sealed off,
but said even when it was, traders were still sneaking across by
bribing border officials. The only real difference was that traders
had to pay more to cross.

Occasionally the central authorities in Tashkent would dispatch a team
to check that border officials were enforcing the closure. When that
happened, she said, “ the border guards wouldnt allow anyone near the
border. Anyone who risked it was shot at, beaten up and had their
goods seized”.

Further north, Kyrgyzstan also has a border with Kazakstan, and
customs controls there have also been tightened up – in this case
because of changes to bilateral trade regulations. In July this year,
Kazakstan changed the customs rules for trade with Kyrgyzstan,
imposing levies on goods weighing more than 50 kilograms. The changes
stem from Kazakstan’s accession to a customs union with Russia and
Belarus, of which Kyrgyzstan is not a member.

Kyrgyz traders who earn a living by shifting cheap Chinese consumer
goods into Kazakstan suddenly found trading a whole lot more

At the main crossing-point, called Ak Jol, IWPR editor Timur
Toktonaliev watched as Kyrgyz traders tried to get across.

“On my way to the bridge [that forms the crossing], I passed a group
of around 30 women sitting on their goods. There were several dozen
people crowded around the first checkpoint in the middle of the
bridge. I saw a woman putting on several dresses [to conceal them],”
he said. “I witnessed border guards meting out rough treatment,
pushing back women and young people with big backpacks, kicking their
bundles and throwing them away.”

Toktonaliev saw how people were getting round the customs limits.
Traders divide up their goods and pay ordinary travellers to take
smaller amounts across for them.

Jyrgal, a woman from a village outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek,
comes to the border especially to fill this new role. She waits for
traders to arrive in cars loaded with goods, and then ferries their
items across on foot, piece by piece.

On this occasion, she paid the relatively small bribe demanded by
Kyrgyz border officials and the larger one the Kazaks asked for, and
got two packs weighing about ten kilograms each into Kazakstan safely.
The trader paid her 1,500 Kazak tenge – 11 dollars – for carrying the
consignment, of which she earned seven dollars net, after bribes.

“The controls were tightened [again] in September, but the situation
hasnt really changed,” she said. “Sometimes you can cross with big
packs or cartons weighing several dozen kilograms, or divide them into
smaller bundles and go across several times. Whether or not you get
through depends on how much of a bribe you offer.”

>From their position of strength, Kazak officials are meaner, she said.

“You get insulted and sworn at, and they demand bigger bribes of five
to 12 dollars. If the ‘porters’ refuse to pay, they don’t get allowed
through and their goods get confiscated,” she continued. “A couple of
times, I saw conflicts when a group of women whose goods had been
seized wouldn’t let the minibus containing their things move off.”


The Kazak-Kyrgyz border trouble is a result of trade arrangements,
made worse by petty corruption. In other cases, though, the issues are
really about politics.

The Tajik and Uzbek governments have long had a fraught relationship,
with tensions over water, energy and other points of difference. This
plays out on the way travellers are treated.

Rustam works for a computer company in Tajikistan, but as a Russian
passport holder, he does not need a visa to enter Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan nationals have a tougher time of it.

“I’ve saw how people with Tajik passports have lots of problems
crossing the border. There is a buffer zone there.... Those 200 metres
take two hours to get through,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands of Tajiks, Iftikhor Sherov spends much of
the year working in Russia. The only practicable overland route is
through Uzbekistan, and that leg of the train journey is always

“Everywhere else, there are the normal border checks – they verify
your ID check and that’s it. As soon as we cross into Uzbekistan, the
trouble starts,” he said. “They check everything. I brought a lot of
magazines and newspapers [from Moscow] and they confiscated them.
Maybe they are just bored and killing time. But crossing the Uzbek
border takes a long time.”


Often, officials just exploit all the formal powers at their disposal
to give travellers a hard time and extract illicit payments.

Aset Narimanov, from Almaty in southeast Kazakstan, described his
“nightmare trip” to Uzbekistan.

Perhaps unwisely, he ignored the advice of friends that flying, at
first sight the costlier option, would work out cheaper than going
overland in the end.

As with many travellers, he found it easier to get out of his own
country than to enter another.

Arriving at the crossing 100 kilometres south of the Kazak city of
Shymkent, Narimanov found himself in the midst of chaotic scenes.

“As soon as I got off the minibus, I was surrounded by crowds of
people offering various kinds of services – to exchange my money, sell
me fruit, drive me to Tashkent, get me to the front of the passport
queue or help me take banned items over the border. But my documents
were in order so I refused,” he said.

“I passed through the Kazak side relatively quickly, because they let
their own people through with virtually no fuss – as long as you don’t
give them a reason, that is. [At the Uzbek crossing] the first thing
you face is medical controls, where you have to undergo health checks.
With no hint of embarrassment, the doctor would openly pass anyone who
offered a bribe.

“Last was the customs controls. I filled in a customs declaration,
putting down the amount of money I had on me while entering
Uzbekistan. The customs official opened my wallet and counted the
cash. ‘What’s this?’ he asked as he put several coins on the table.
‘By the law, these are smuggled items as you haven’t declared them.
You will have to stay here.’”

Such tactics are designed to “scare people and force them to pay a
bribe”, Narimanov added.

“My Uzbek friends later told me that if you annoyed customs officials
in Uzbekistan, they might plant drugs on you... They told me that as
Kazaks are seen as citizens of a wealthier country, they are subjected
to particular rigorous checks so as to find an excuse to squeeze out
more money out of them,” he added.

Narimanov pointed out that while it was officials in Uzbekistan who
mistreated him, he could see the same thing happening to Uzbek
nationals entering Kazakstan.

“I saw [Kazak] border guards obstructing an Uzbek man, saying he
hadn’t obtained registration upon arrival. He protested that he didn’t
need to, as he had a migration card. They took him away somewhere.”

IWPR’s director for Central Asia, Abakhon Sultanazarov, described his
own experience of travelling between Kyrgyzstan and eastern
Tajikistan, where the difficult mountain drive is made even harder by
the bureaucratic hurdles along the way.

“This is the stretch of border that refrigerated vehicles and KAMAZ
trucks use to take goods from Bishkek to the Pamirs [eastern
Tajikistan]. I’ve seen how the drivers are required to pay bribes. It
can be a substantial amount of money, depending on how much their
freight weighs and whether the supporting documents are in order,” he
said. “Various offices need bribes – the border guards, the customs
officials, the environmental unit ... If you don’t pay, you’ll find
your ecological certificate is held up for no reason.”


Many of those interviewed for this report were able differentiate
between their bad experiences on the border and attitudes in
neighbouring countries generally, but others are less generous –
particularly younger people, who never knew the Soviet period when
everyone was living in the same country.

“We’re all neighbours living in the same region. But once you cross
the border, you feel as though you’re entering enemy territory,” Zebo
from Tajikistan said. “Of course, once you’re in the country – for
example in Uzbekistan – you feel comfortable enough. You understand
that your relatives live here, and you understand the language. People
are the same as back home. So why create difficulties? I just don’t
understand it.”

Karim Khushvakht, also from Tajikistan. admitted that the difficulties
he faced travelling in transit through Uzbekistan had coloured his
view of the country.

“I was never a chauvinist nationalist but to be honest, ever since
then, I’ve hated the Uzbeks,” he said.

Narimanov enjoyed his stay with friends in Uzbekistan, he had a nice
time there enjoying sightseeing.

“Although I don’t believe Uzbek border guards and customs officials
are chauvinists, their unchecked behaviour and the cheek with which
they force ‘rich’ Kazak citizens to pay them big bribes make my blood
boil,” he said.

Lola Olimova, Almaz Rysaliev, Inga Sikorskaya, Timur Toktonaliev are
IWPR editors in Tajikistan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan respectively.

Askar Aktalov is a reporter for the K-News agency in Bishkek.



Authoritarian systems increasingly unsustainable, Moscow analyst says.

By Timur Toktonaliev

Political systems based on monopoly rule by one party and one leader
with power concentrated in his hands are proving less and less suited
to current realities, a Central Asia expert in Moscow says

Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asia department at the Institute
for Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, spoke to IWPR
on a visit to Bishkek.

In the December 4 election to the State Duma, the lower house of
Russia’s parliament, the United Russia party of former president and
current prime-minister Vladimir Putin performed unexpectedly poorly,
getting just under 50 per cent of the vote, compared with its 64 per
cent share in the 2007 polls. Although United Russia beat its
challengers hands down, the loss of its two-thirds majority means it
can no longer push through constitution changes unchallenged.

The vote ended in mass demonstrations in Moscow and smaller protests
in other cities across the country. Participants complained of
widespread ballot-rigging and demanded a rerun.

As it stands, the election result is going to force Russia’s leaders
to give a greater say to the other parties represented in the Duma,
and United Russia may have to seek working coalitions with others.

Yet it was precisely this kind of coalition-building that Russian
president Dmitry Medvedev warned Kyrgyzstan about last year, when the
country held a referendum introducing greater parliamentary democracy
and a stronger role for political parties. Medvedev said parliamentary
rule in Kyrgyzstan could lead to power being handed to extremist
political forces.

IWPR asked Grozin whether Russia was now being forced to follow the
same path towards pluralism.

Andrei Grozin: In form and substance, the next Russian Duma is going
to look more like the current parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic than
the previous one, in which United Russia took decisions unilaterally –
including constitutional amendments – and paid heed to its opponents’
views only very rarely and very reluctantly.

Recent statements made by both the current Russian president and the
prime minister, who is tipped to become the country’s next president,
on the need to forge a broad coalition in the State Duma, suggest this
is what is likely to happen.

Now that United Russia has a simple but not a constitutional majority,
it is clear it will they will have to negotiate with the Communists,
create a closer alliance with Just Russia, and try to reach an
accommodation with the Liberal Democratic Party. This ongoing search
for consensus will probably be as much of a feature of Duma politics
as it is in Kyrgyzstan.

I say that without passing judgement, without saying it’s a good or a
bad thing. Russia will have to emulate a lot of the things that are
going on in the Jogorku Kenesh [Kyrgyz parliament], with of course
some differences because of the specifics of its own system.

United Russia, as the governing party, continues to occupy a dominant
position, so it will negotiate with other parties from a position of
power. There aren’t dominant parties of that kind in the Jogorku
Kenesh. We can see roughly five equal centres of power that have
emerged there.

IWPR: Are you saying that whether they want to or not, former Soviet
republics including Kyrgyzstan’s Central Asia neighbours are going to
have to realise that the old ways of ruling are becoming obsolete?

Grozin:I think one can conclude that this is the case – not least
because the Central Asian states face an increasing number of
challenges related to security, economics and many other complex
matters. Global geopolitical transformations are affecting all

It looks as though the super-presidential mode of government which
exists in four of the five Central Asia countries is not as effective
as it was previously, during the transition from the Soviet political
system to independence.

Maybe there were good reasons for building states with strong
presidents at that time. But a lot of challenges and problems have
emerged since then, and it’s likely there will be even more in future.

Vertical hierarchies in which there’s one person at the top taking all
the decisions and ruling on all foreign and domestic policy matters
are no longer effective. In many ways, the “Arab Spring” is a good
example of this.

IWPR: What about the future of Kyrgyz-Russia relations under President
Almazbek Atambaev, who called Russia a strategic partner during his
inauguration ceremony on December 1?

Grozin: I don’t think Almazbek Atambaev should be described as
pro-Russian, as some observers put it. It seems to me that he’s pretty
flexible, and I’ve been watching him over a long period.

His remarks about the strategic partnership with Russia being a
priority should be noted. But it’s apparent that given Kyrgyzstan’s
domestic politics, developments within the elite, the president will
defend the national interest, and only after that will he consider the
views of partner states.

There will be more of an emphasis on Russia’s interests, as it’s
obvious the president sees Moscow as Kyrgyzstan’s principal donor and
sponsor in various sectors including security. But the interests of
other traditional partners will also be considered, above all China
and the United States.

IWPR: You have said Kyrgyzstan will not be affected by instability. Do
you think, then, that Kyrgyzstan has exhausted its potential for

Grozin: In the short term, there probably isn’t going to be any source
of conflict. I can’t guarantee 100 per cent that next spring there
won’t be a fresh bout of turbulence. It’s commonly believed in Russia
that something always happens in Kyrgyzstan in the springtime.

I was really talking about something else. Looking at the current
situation in Kyrgyzstan, it appears to me that the present pluralist
system of decision-making and consensus-seeking that takes various
interests into account is more durable and conducive of stability than
a vertical hierarchy is.

Some people may be troubled by all the backroom deals, hidden power
struggles, and distribution of government seats and resources. These
things can be seen as negative aspects.

But when one analyses it politically, this kind of system is more
cohesive in the face of destructive pressures than a system where one
person is responsible for everything.

In consequence, I believe that Kyrgyzstan has a greater chance of
stability than neighbouring states that appear to be stronger, better
developed and more powerful than it.

Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR editor in Kyrgyzstan.



Polygamy now so commonplace that some say legalising it might be best option.

By Haramgul Qodir

The rise of polygamous marriages since Tajikistan became independent
two decades ago has left “second wives” with few legal and economic

The tradition of polygamy experienced a resurgence after 1991 – before
that, the Soviet authorities cracked down hard on what they regarded
as an ugly vestige of the past. A survey conducted last year by the
Centre for Strategic Studies in Tajikistan indicated that one in ten
men had more than one wife.

Tajikistan’s secular legislation bans polygamy, so second and third
marriages are contracted outside civil law, using only the Muslim
wedding rite used as “nikoh” which for many people is far more
meaningful. Attempts by the authorities to force clerics to demand a
civil wedding certificate before blessing a marriage have so far

When marriages – often including monogamous ones – are not registered
with the civil authorities, wives enjoy no legal protections or rights
to a share of property if they separate.

Ruzigul, a 29-year-old Dushanbe resident, has found herself in a
difficult situation as the third wife of a man who is gradually
distancing himself from her and their children.

“These days, he comes only once a week. Sometimes he doesn’t bring any
money for months at a time,” she said. “But what can I do?”.

Ruzigul has two children with her present husband, and two from an
earlier marriage.

When she agreed to a religious marriage, she was aware that her
husband already had a legal wife, but not that he also had a second
one. At the time, she was struggling to make ends meet, and her job as
a waitress did not pay enough to pay cover the rent and look after her

Her first husband, whom she married at 15, went off to Russian as a
labour migrant and never came back. She also had a second husband, who
left her after a year.

Ruzigul is not keen to go through the Islamic divorce rite, as she
would find it hard to remarry, and at least this way she still has the
social status of a married woman.

One of the main factors behind the rise in polygamous marriages is the
consistent gender imbalance that has been a feature of Tajikistan
since independence in 1991. First there was the 1992-97 civil war in
which many men were killed or displaced. Then came the mass exodus of
labour to Russia and other countries in search of work. While many
husbands send money home to support their households, others settle
down and marry again.

For women like Ruzigul, entering into a polygamous marriage can be an
economic necessity.

“It is understandable that despite the shortage of men, women still
want to get married and have children. That is why they agree to
become second or third wives,” sociology expert Rustam Samiev said.

Karomat, 24, believes she made the right decision when she became
second wife to a government official with a well-paid job. She says
his family knows about the arrangement.

“I did work, but my small salary wasn’t enough to live on,” she said.
“Now he’s bought me a flat. I don’t work but I live well.”

Oinikhol Bobonazarova, head of the Perspektiva Plus NGO, said polygamy
was now widely accepted, given the country’s Islamic inheritance and
the lack of any effective legal sanctions.

“In the Soviet Union, people were afraid and kept it secret. Now
almost every government official has two or three wives,” she said.

“Even fathers agree to them [daughters] becoming second or third wives.”

A government official who has two wives himself told IWPR that since
the people in charge were Muslim like the bulk of Tajikistan’s
population, they saw nothing really wrong with the practice.

According to Bobonazarova, families’ expectations of their daughters
are commonly low.

“Traditionally, every family here will have two or three girls. They
don’t study, and they aren’t brought up to fend for themselves. The
only thing they are taught is to how to become a housewife,” she said.

Social affairs commentator Bobojon Qayumzod points out that while
Islam allows a man to marry up to four wives, it also requires him to
treat them and provide for them in an even-handed manner. “That isn’t
what happens here,” he added.

Bobonazarova said that when couples bound only by Islamic marriage
separated, “the women and children have no economic protection”.

Husbands are required to provide for their children in the event of a
separation, but this is harder to enforce when there is no wedding

First wives often have little choice but to accept their husbands’
decision to marry again.

Shahlo, 41, said her husband took a second wife despite her objections.

“No first wife … will agree to her husband having several wives,” she
said, adding that she was jealous but realised there was nothing she
could do about it.

“If he can find a good, pure woman, then let him marry her,” she said.
“But I don’t think she will be able to compete with me.”

The fact that polygamy is now so commonplace has led even some
advocates of women’s rights to suggest that legalising it might be the
answer. At least that would provide wives with legal protections, and
impose rules on their husbands.

Bobonazarova said that the financial obligations stemming from
legalised polygamy in Iran meant that there were “very few cases” of
it in that country.

Haramgul Qodir is a freelance journalist in Tajikistan.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
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