Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) is an autonomous region in eastern Tajikistan, located in the Pamir Mountains. The area of the region makes up almost half of the land area of Tajikistan, but only about 2-3% of the whole population lives here. Region borders Afghanistan, Chinese Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Kyrgyzstan. Recent events and unrest brought this forgotten region and its issues back to the daily news covering the region of Central Asia.
The latest outbreak of violence in April and May 2022 came after almost a year of tension and protests across the region. However, this situation follows nearly 30 years of pressure from the central government due to economic and political neglect of the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Tajikistan gained independence, this region tried to aim for its own future through political opposition. The aim was to create a subject for the minority of Shia Pamiri people in Sunny-majority Tajikistan.
During the Soviet era, the political and development focus was on western parts of Tajikistan. Most of the activity was around the cities of Dushanbe and Khujand. Internal disputes and the existence of multiple ethnic and religious factions resulted in a civil war, which broke out in 1992. The civil war ended in victory for the western part of Tajikistan. The leading figure in west Emomali Rahmon remained a president for another 30 years. In 1997, a peace agreement came into force, granting quotas for opposition members in the Tajik government. During the time, however, democratic visions of this agreement were continuously eliminated by Rahmon.
Tensions flared up again in November 2021, when security forces of Tajikistan killed a Pamiri man. This action sparked widespread protests. Dushanbe responded again forcefully by sending more soldiers and security forces into the region. This action was also followed by shutting down the internet.
Road to another civil war on the 30-year anniversary
Raised tension was again flared up by another killing of a Pamiri person in May 2022 during the rallies demanding justice for the mentioned killing in November. However, this time the response of forces was even more brutal and led to bloodshed.
On May 18th, Dushanbe launched a so-called “anti-terrorist operation”, which according to the local and UN reports, led to the killing of nearly 40 people in Rushon district. Schools, roads, shops and the internet were all closed or limited.
Local and foreign journalists were also attacked or forced not to inform about the violence under the threat of their licenses being evicted. This situation goes to show how bad and violent the response of the Tajik government was.
One of the informal leaders of GBAO Mahmadboqir Mahmadboqirov was killed a few days later. Dushanbe claims he was killed during internal disputes; the other side claims he was killed by Tajik security forces. Following his killing, the temporarily available internet was again shut down, not being available for the rest of the month.
The absence of internet connection and foreign media or journalists refrain the outside world from interfering since we do not know what is happening in the region.
Having said that, recent news coming from Tajik officials confirm an ongoing “anti-terrorist operation” in the GBAO. On May 31st, Tajik authorities claimed another 5 killed “armed terrorists”. The official number is now 26, local sources claim a much higher number of killed people. However, local sources and Tajik authorities have a different view on the background of the killings.
Author: Richard Straka