TAJIKISTAN: Post-Soviet Fragmentation

September 13, 1992|By KATHY LALLY

MOSCOW — Moscow. -- Just a year ago, the huge statue of Lenin that stood in silent rebuke over the main square of Dushanbe in Tajikistan crashed to the ground. As the stony-faced head snapped off at the neck and amputated arms were carted off, Tajik society began a dismemberment that led last week to the routing of the president.

The president, an old-line Communist party boss who was accused of being a drunk, had held out for a year against a reform-minded coalition of nationalists, democrats and Muslims. While he withstood protests that sometimes counted as many as 100,000 demonstrators outside the presidential office, the country was breaking apart.

The political uncertainty inflamed religious, ethnic and ideological differences, but other sinister forces were gathering: The clans that asserted themselves through the Communist party, giving the Tajik branch a distinctly local character, were preparing for battle.

This is where the deepest danger appears to lie for Tajikistan, despite the fears in the West that an Islamic fundamentalist revolution is in the making and that Iran will hasten to draw Tajikistan into its camp.

Even if all the other fragments of society can bring themselves together in harmony, it seems unlikely the clans will cede authority without a bloody fight consummating in a vicious civil -- war. War could easily produce another Yugoslavia among Tajikistan's various ethnic groups.

Davlat Khudonazarov, an opposition leader, acknowledges the peril. "It's a feudal hierarchy of nomenklatura that doesn't want to give up its power," he says. "We must be like Gandhi."

While the opposition generally appears to be led by people who share Mr. Khudonazarov's idealism, they are unleashing forces they can no longer control.

Tajikistan is about 59 percent Tajik, 23 percent Uzbek and 8 percent Russian, with a few Tatars and Kyrgyz as well. A majority of Tajiks are Muslim by tradition, but most are just beginning to learn the tenets of the religion.

The clans, organized by regions, have specialized over the years. The clan from the Kulyab region south of Dushanbe, for example, controls the Interior Ministry. The clan from the Leninabad region to the north has always provided the $l Communist party leadership.

Rakhmon Nabiyev, the president until last week, was of course born in Leninabad. By many assessments, he was counted among the bad guys and should have been run out long ago. Mr. Nabiyev, 62, was a relic of the Brezhnev regime. Leonid Brezhnev, who ran the Soviet Union for 18 years until he died in 1982, presided over the era of stagnation when government here truly earned its reputation for incompetence and corruption.

Mr. Nabiyev worked his way up through the Communist party ranks, and in 1982 he became Tajikistan's party leader, which meant he ran the country. He was thrown out of office in 1985 when Mikhail S. Gorbachev began his clean-up of the party

But his Leninabad clan persevered, and a year ago, with Mr. Gorbachev and Communism on the way out in Russia, the loyal Communist Mr. Nabiyev was maneuvered into the office of president in Tajikistan by the Communist-dominated parliament.

The Communists made way for Mr. Nabiyev for two reasons. A mild reformer, following the example across the former Soviet Union, had banned the Communist party. Then Lenin tumbled to the ground.

The mayor of Dushanbe had given permission for the statue to be torn down. It crashed to the ground during an unsuccessful attempt to remove it whole. The Communist leadership watched in horror as thousands of Muslims gleefully cheered. Later, Mr. Nabiyev and other government officials showed reporters a videotape of that night.

They groaned in physical pain when Lenin's head rolled off. They were outraged as they watched demonstrators throw stray shards into Lenin's neck as if cleaning up a broken cup. "It was barbaric," they said later.

While Lenins have tumbled across many of the republics of the former Soviet Union, they have been untouched in Russia and among the faithful like the Communists of Tajikistan. To them, he remains a benevolent figure unblemished by the party's recent past.

Mr. Nabiyev rescinded the ban on the Communist party. He enforced a ban on the Islamic Renaissance Party. And, naturally enough, he moved quickly to consolidate the power of his clan by appointing its members to government offices throughout Tajikistan. They have little desire to find themselves out of work.

The clan-dominated Communists, however, face a remarkable array of opponents. The spiritual leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party is Akbar Turajonzoda, known by his religious title of kazi. The kazi, a scholarly 39-year-old, commands enormous respect from the Muslims of Tajikistan. The Islamic party, the largest of the opposition, reportedly has more than 70,000 members in a country of 5 million people.

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