fear of attacks keeps LGBT community in shadows.  By Yevgenia Kim,
Yekaterina Shoshina, Dina Tokbaeva, Umed Olimov, Olimbek Olimov,
Mehrangez Tursunzoda


nation-state encourages alienation, obstructs solutions to common
problems.  By Shahodat Saibnazarova

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Prejudice, abuse and fear of attacks keeps LGBT community in shadows.

By Yevgenia Kim, Yekaterina Shoshina, Dina Tokbaeva, Umed Olimov,
Olimbek Olimov, Mehrangez Tursunzoda

When Alisher’s father discovered his son was gay, he beat him with an
army belt, kept him at home for a month, then sent him from Tajikistan
to a religious college in Iran to “knock the nonsense out of him”.

It did not end there. While in Iran, Alisher learned that his father
had hired men to beat up his boyfriend, so he fled the college for
Russia, where he now works on a market stall.

“My family doesn’t know my whereabouts, but after everything that’s
happened to me, I don’t want to go back,” the 23-year-old told IWPR.
“I know that my parents and the rest of the family won’t understand
me. If I were to return, I would only face hatred and revulsion.”

Alisher’s story may seem extreme, but the homophobic attitudes he
faced are not unusual in the Central Asian state of Tajikistan and, to
a lesser extent, neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Gay rights groups and individuals have told IWPR that police
harassment and the threat of public beatings in Tajikistan – and
rejection and the fear of being fired in Kyrgyzstan – force many gays
to remain in the closet or leave their families and migrate to more
tolerant countries,.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, there have
been some improvements to gay rights in both countries. Homosexuality,
which could lead to several years in prison during the Soviet era, has
been decriminalised. And in Kyrgyzstan, which is generally more
liberal, there are fewer cases of public intimidation and abuse than a
decade ago, according to Maxim Bratukhin, head of local gay NGO

In the capital Bishkek and elsewhere there are about a dozen gay
rights organisations, as well as cafes and nightclubs where members of
he lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LBGT, communities can

But gay activists say advances have been too slow, particularly in
neighbouring Tajikistan, where homophobia is more deeply entrenched.

Kiromidin Gulov runs one of Tajikistan’s only gay rights groups, Equal
Opportunities, and said people sometimes attack gays, while even NGOs
concerned with human rights show little interest in the issues they

His organisation recently held a public event to which it invited a
host of NGOs and rights groups, but only two people turned up.

The problem, Tajik activists say, is that the public do not equate gay
rights with human rights. Without wider support from NGOs, the media
and government, they believe gay rights campaigns are unlikely to

Homophobia tends to be more prevalent in the poorer and more
conservative south of Kyrgyzstan, though only a tiny fraction of
people nationwide live openly gay lives. There are between 18,000 and
36,000 actively gay Kyrgyzstan nationals, according to a 2011 report
on HIV by local NGOs and international organisations, but of that
number, only 20 in Bishkek and five elsewhere had told their families
and colleagues.

One 34-year-old lesbian from Talas, a town in northern Kyrgyzstan,
told IWPR that she planned to emigrate this spring due to the
prevailing prejudices.

The widowed mother of two has been planning to move since 2006, when
she attended an LGBT parade in Prague and realised how liberated other
countries could be.

“I felt free amongst others who were like me. No one was pointing the
finger at me. There [homosexuality] is normal,” she recalled of the
Czech event. “[In Kyrgyzstan] you live in constant fear – it’s a very
unpleasant situation.... I don’t want to live the rest of my life like

At 18, she was a victim of “bride kidnapping” – abducted and pressured
into marriage.

“I’d always known I was lesbian, but I couldn’t do anything about it
as I lived in a small village where everyone knows everyone else,” she
said. Once married, she said, “It was very difficult; I was merely

Although she does not believe people would attack her if her
orientation became known, she says, “I still don’t feel secure and I
have to ensure no one finds out – not friends, not relatives, not

She predict, “I don’t think our society will develop an understanding
of [homosexuality] any time soon. Maybe in 20 or 30 years.”

The desire to emigrate is widespread. A report jointly produced by
Equal Opportunities and the Kyrgyzstan-based LGBT group Labrys found
that many want to leave for Russia or Kazakstan, where no visa is
required and the language is not a problem. Failing that, people in
Kyrgyzstan head for the capital Bishkek, where Bratukhin says “the
atmosphere is more liberal”.

Homophobia is common in the workplace, and one woman from Bishkek said
her boss sacked her after her homosexuality became public knowledge.

“My female colleagues shunned me. I was simply fired and not given any
explanation,” she said.

Homophobia can also be take more subtle forms. Another Bishkek
resident who tried to keep his homosexuality secret was surprised when
his boss approached him on his leaving day for a quiet word.

“Even though you’re gay, you were very good at your job,” the manager confided.

Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet state, is more conservative in
outlook, and gays face more serious hostility, so that many live like
members of a clandestine political movement.

Activists say gays live in fear of violence and abuse at the hands of
the police, while the public ridicules them. As a result, many want to
leave for Russia or Kazakstan, according to a joint October report by
Equal Opportunities and the Kyrgyzstan-based gay group Labrys.

Like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan’s population is predominantly Muslim, and
Gulov said a small minority of religious extremists would support
severe punishment for homosexuality like stoning to death.

A bigger problem, though, is abuse from the police and general public.

“Sexual and physical violence against gay and bisexual men perpetrated
by the police... is very common,” the Equal Opportunities/Labrys
report said.

Some police still treat homosexuality as if it were still a crime,
arresting “suspects” and detaining them for days, activists say, and
horror stories circulate.

When one 28-year-old gay woman reported that her ex-husband had raped
her in December 2010, a police officer advised her to remain silent
“and be grateful that her former husband did not kill her”, the report

One gay man told IWPR that when he reported a robbery to the police,
the officer insulted and intimidated him, and detained him at the
police station for the day.

Activists also claim that some policemen use websites to contact gay
men anonymously, before blackmailing or harassing them.

One Dushanbe resident in his early forties told IWPR that
cash-strapped policemen have blackmailed many people he knows.

“There are some people who contact you, gain your trust and then
become threatening,” said the man, though he added that life for gay
people in Tajikistan was not impossible.

One former Tajik police office said gays were unwelcome.

“Gay men are not accepted here,” he said. “Maybe people do say
unpleasant things to them, but the police force isn’t a finishing
school. It’s a tough job.”

Allegations of police abuse fit into a wider pattern of homophobia,
and openly hostile attitudes are common.

Furqat Anvarov, 19, recalled with approval a recent attack on a gay
man near the Philharmonic concert hall in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

“I think those guys did the right thing,” Anvarov said of the
attackers. “If I’d been there, I would have joined in the beating, so
that they’d learn.”

A 42-year-old woman in Dushanbe also said she disliked gays, adding
that a man’s proper role was to establish a family and raise children.
Tajikistan is short of men due to deaths in the 1992-97 civil war and
the subsequent mass labour migration to Russia, and the interviewee
said any remaining bachelors should get married.

“If my child turned out like that, I would reject him,” she added.

Gulov cited cases where gay Tajik nationals were subjected to forced “cures”.

“One young man was tied to a radiator and left in the cold with no
food for a weekend. Prayers were chanted to expel the ‘evil spirits’,”
he said.

Another man’s homosexuality became a local scandal, with neighbours
quizzing his relatives and people taunting him in the street.
Eventually, it became too much to bear.

“The young man couldn’t take it any longer and hanged himself,” Gulov said.

(Some names of interviewees have been changed to protect their identities.)

Umed Olimov, Olimbek Olimov, Mehrangez Tursunzade are IWPR
contributors in Tajikistan. Yekaterina Shoshina is a student at the
Bishkek-based American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Yevgenia
Kim is a journalist in Bishkek and Dina Tokbaeva is IWPR regional



Narrow vision of nation-state encourages alienation, obstructs
solutions to common problems.

By Shahodat Saibnazarova

Of the five Central Asian states, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are
arguable the most entwined with one another, culturally and
economically. Yet despite – or perhaps because of – their proximity,
they have consistently had the worst of relationships.

Recent expressions of this dismal relationship include trains
containing vital supplies for Tajikistan held up inside Uzbekistan,
and a rise in the price of the natural gas that Tashkent sells
Dushanbe. The Tajiks are heavily reliant on their larger neighbour as
most of their imports and exports have to transit through that
country, and their economy runs on Uzbek fuel. From their perspective,
Tashkent is using its position of advantage to bully them.

For its part, the Uzbek government has accused its mountainous
neighbour of failing to curb Islamic militants in the past. These
days, the main frictions are around the ongoing work to complete the
giant Roghun hydroelectric scheme. While the Tajiks say it is their
right to relieve their chronic shortages of electricity, the Uzbeks
say the dam will reduce water levels on the Amu Darya, a major
arterial river in Central Asia, and starve them of irrigation for
their agricultural sector.

IWPR asked historian Kamol Abdullaev, who lectures at Ohio State
University, to explore the history of the relationship, and look at
ways of breaking out of the vicious circle.

Kamol Abdullaev: Since I'm a historian, I will start by going back
almost 100 years, to when the Tajiks and Uzbeks lived in the Kokand
Khanate and the Bukharan Emirate, parts of which became the Turkestan
Region [of Imperial Russia]. In other words, they never lived in
nation states.

Under Soviet rule, there was initially no demarcation of ethnicity.
The Central Asian leadership of the time was largely bilingual and of
dual ethnicity. Ethnic consciousness was effaced, and there wasn’t a
fiercely expressed sense of nationalism. Effectively it was continuity
from the previous state of affairs in Turkestan Region and the
Bukharan Emirate.

What we have inherited is the nation state as conceptualised later on
in the Soviet period. It is an ethnic nationalism centred on
statehood, the premise being that a particular ethnic group should
reside within its own state, and that it owns everything located on
that territory.

Uzbeks were defined as a Turkic nation, and Tajiks assigned to the
Iranian group. But this is really an artificial construct – the Uzbeks
aren’t wholly Turkic, and the Tajiks are not wholly Iranian.

We have more in common than sets us apart. But it’s often the case
that people with a great deal in common home in on tiny points of
difference. They ignore all the things that unite them, and dig away
at anything that divides them.

Nationhood/ethnicity and the structure of the nation state have become
a battle-ground of interpretations. After the break-up of the USSR,
the idea of looking for new ways forward emerged. Some kind of
Tajik-Uzbek or Uzbek-Tajik association clearly exists – “Turk-o-Tojik”
[Turkic and Tajik], the term that used to be used. It’s only natural
that there’s both an attraction and a repulsion there, and that there
are misunderstandings and conflicts. I think this will be the case for
a very long time.

IWPR: Such misunderstandings are hardly in the interests of peoples
who are fundamentally so close to each other. By raising freight
transit fees, Uzbekistan sends a message that it controls trade
routes, switching off the gas underlines Tajikistan’s dependence on
Uzbek resources, and there’s the categorical disagreement over Roghun.

Abdullaev: I don’t want to delve into the ferocious debate on the
Roghun power station or the transport problems here. These issues are
hugely politicised, and need to be resolved by technocrats and
specialists in calm environment.

IWPR: How can the two countries seek common ground?

Abdullaev: I believe we need to consider creating a federation between
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, on the model of Russia and Belarus. Both
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan would win as a result.

In order to connect Tashkent with the Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan had
to lay a new railway and other communications via Angren. Yet the most
convenient way of getting there is still through Khujand and
Kanibadam, in Tajikistan.

We need to move towards a realisation that we cannot get by without
one other, that border restrictions need to be eased, and that we
should think about a federative state.

We’re not talking about a loss of independence or sovereignty – each
state will have its own laws and constitution .

The issue of Samarkand and Bukhara remains important to both
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. [These cities in Uzbekistan have
significant Tajik-speaking populations, and are the subject of
occasional territorial claims by nationalists in Tajikistan.] I
believe the problem would be resolved by a federative state. The
younger generation in Tajikistan has never visited Samarkand or
Bukhara, just as there are Uzbeks who never go to Tajikistan. It’s
entirely possible to resolve this. Samarkand and Bukhara aren’t the
exclusive property of Uzbekistan or Tajikistan – they belong to the
entire world, to the people of Central Asia. If Tajiks can travel
there without having apply for a visa, it will cease to be an issue.

We’re talking about a frozen conflict that could be reignited sooner
or later. Hence, we need to promote integration. Let me say again that
I’m not talking about a complete merger of the two states, but a
gradual process of moving closer together.

IWPR: There is a substantial Tajik minority living in Uzbekistan, and
many Uzbeks in Tajikistan. What about them?

Abullaev: There are a lot of Tajiks living in Uzbekistan, and people
from Samarkand and Bukhara were naturally drawn towards Tajikistan
after independence. Many of them travelled to the country.
Unfortunately, the civil war [in Tajikistan in 1992-97] altered that
trend. The group we call the Tajik population in Uzbekistan is
considering how it should identify itself. It’s a little unclear at
the moment, but they are reluctant to identify themselves with the
Tajiks, or with Tajikistan in particular, since that country is going
through difficult times. But who knows? It might all change in future.

IWPR: One often hears it said that the misunderstanding isn’t so much
between the two countries as between their leaders, Uzbek president
Islam Karimov and his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rahmon.

Abdullaev: It isn’t about the individual personalities of the two
presidents, it’s the fact that integration into a federal structure
will entail the loss of certain powers, the loss of total authority
over territory they consider their own. No president – and the Uzbek
or Tajik leaders are no exceptions – is going to embrace changes that
lead to a weakening of his authority. It’s important for them to
control territory, resources and revenue.

My personal impressions is that that presidents Karimov and Rahmon
used to emphasise how close their two nations are. Uzbekistan always
said it wouldn’t leave Tajikistan on its own. Uzbek leaders realised
that Tajikistan had lost out from independence, as it lacks resources,
most of its communications with the outside world depend on
Uzbekistan, and it is unlikely to survive without Uzbekistan.
Officials including President Karimov have articulated sober,
reasonable arguments of this kind. So miracles may be possible.

IWPR: Has some shift in ideology affected the Uzbek-Tajik relationship?

Abdullaev: The ideology in both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is
exclusively ethnic; it is founded on ethnic nationalism. That doesn’t
suit either Tajiks or Uzbeks because during the Soviet period we had
dual identities, as Tajik or Uzbek but also as part of a greater
whole, the Soviet people.

The outside world views Central Asia as a single region – no one
divides us into Tajiks or Uzbeks.

The ideology disseminated at state level and by official media is one
of national exclusivity, of the nation as sovereign and exclusive
owner of its territory – Tajikistan for the Tajiks, Uzbekistan for the
Uzbeks. It’s a narrow interpretation of ethnic nationalism. It can be
called state-based nationalism as it is defined by geographical

I think we need to resist this trend, and the only way of doing that
is to develop civil society via various initiatives. For instance, I
would love to get together with my Uzbek colleagues, or invite them to
visit, since I don’t get to see them now, unfortunately. I wrote my
dissertation in Tashkent, the cultural capital of Central Asia since
Soviet, even Tsarist times. I know colleagues in Tashkent who think
along similar lines. Sadly, since visa requirements were introduced in
2001, I have not been to Tashkent.

IWPR: How realistic are these ideas of commonality and rapprochement?

Abdullaev: It can’t be just one more artificially created ethnic
entity. It has to be about creating a civic identity. Tajiks and
Uzbeks also marry Tatars, Russian, Koreans and others. We need to
create a broader platform of civic values that encompasses all these

At its heart will be the concept I called “Turk-o-Tojik”, the classic
description of the Central Asian population. It includes a
bilingualism that has now disappeared. Fewer and fewer people are
speaking Uzbek in Tajikistan, and even if they know it, they won’t
speak it. Similarly in Uzbekistan, I’ve often met colleagues there who
acknowledge only later that they are ethnic Tajiks.

Ethnic nationalism has its attractions, but those are now dimming. It
never really inspired mass support, just as other past ideologies –
pan-Turkism and pan-Iranianism – didn’t survive. We Tajiks get on very
well with Iran and try to maintain good relations with it. But that
doesn’t mean we want to find common cause with it. Uzbekistan, too, is
a long way removed from ideas of pan-Turkism.

I believe that the dalliance with ethnic nationalism and romantic
“pan-” movements will gradually fade away, and that people will come
to realise how important it is to establish solid, lasting, shared
civic values.

Shahodat Saibnazarova is IWPR radio editor in Tajikistan.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
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