The former prime minister of Tajikistan, Abdumalik Abdullojonov, was arrested in Ukraine last week at the request of Tajik authorities. Abdullojonov claims that his life would be in jeopardy if he were extradited to Dushanbe. He was declared wanted internationally 16 years ago. Tajikistan charges Abdullojonov, 64, with committing several grave crimes, including terrorism, attempted murder and establishing a criminal group, among others. He is also charged with organizing an attempt on President Emomalii Rahmon’s life in Khujand on April 30, 1997. The former prime minister is also incriminated in supporting a mutiny by Colonel Mahmoud Khudoyberdiyev in Northern Tajikistan in November 1998 (Fergananews.com, February 7).
Abdullojonov was born in 1949 in Khujand (Northern Tajikistan), to an aristocratic family. A grandfather of Abdullojonov was a famous Tajik professor of theology. After the October Revolution of 1917, his grandfather emigrated to Saudi Arabia and was an advisor to the Saudi king. Abdullojonov served as prime minister of Tajikistan in 1992–1993, i.e. at the very beginning of the country’s civil war, which lasted until 1997. He was an ambassador to Russia for two years after that. Abdullojonov was also a presidential candidate in 1994. In 1998, he emigrated to the United States, having been declared wanted by Tajikistan’s authorities a year earlier. Abdullojonov is a US “green card” holder (Fergananews.com, February 7).
Abdumalik Abdullojonov is a symbolic figure in modern Tajikistan’s political life. He is the leader of Northern Tajikistan, and his arrest has a strong connection to the tribalism problem in the country. Tajiks have failed to unite into a single nation. Tajikistan is divided in four main ethnic regions: Sughd (former Leninabad), Kuliab, Garm and Pamir. A popular joke under Communism said: “Leninabad rules, Kuliab guards, Garm trades, Pamir dances.” The domestic political struggle is, hence, indivisible from inter-ethnic confrontations.
However, Northern Tajikistan (Sughd province) differs from other parts of the republic and is stronger than the other regions. The Tien Shan mountain range physically separates Northern Tajikistan from other areas of the country. During the Soviet era, Northern Tajikistan actually had closer economic relations with Uzbekistan than with other parts of Tajikistan. Khujand, the main city of Northern Tajikistan, is less than three hours away by car from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, but more than ten hours from Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe. Even the appearance of northern Tajiks differs from Tajiks in the south of the republic. Northern Tajiks, unlike representatives of the ethnic group in the South, have facial features that more closely resemble those of ethnic Uzbeks. Under Communism, political power was consistently held in the hands of Tajiks from the North. Moscow relied on them because they were more assimilated compared to the rest of the population due to the fact that the Russian Empire conquered the Ferghana Valley earlier than the rest of Tajikistan. In May 1992, an opposition made up primarily of mountain Tajiks (natives of Karategin and the Pamir) tried to seize power from the “Northerners” by armed force. The Kuliab Tajiks supported the Sughd clan and took up arms against the Garm (of the Karategin Valley) and Pamir Tajiks. Abdumalik Abdullojonov represented Northern Tajiks in this Khujand-Kuliab alliance. However, in 1993, Abdullojonov resigned from his position over disagreements with President Rahmon, the leader of the Kuliab clan (Fergananews.com, February 7).
During the civil war, this author worked as a correspondent with Nezavisimaya Gazeta and met Abdumalik Abdullojonov many times. Abdullojonov displayed initial wariness toward this author and criticized his writings about the civil war in Tajikistan. However, after his resignation, the Tajik former prime minister invited the correspondent to a meal and apologized for his disparaging remarks. During his conversation with the correspondent, Abdullojonov discussed the possibility of the Kuliab and Sughd clans reaching an agreement on the distribution of governmental positions in the country. However, now Abdullojonov no longer believes such an agreement would be possible. The Tajik politician attempted to convince this author that if the Sughd clan held power in Tajikistan, it would be best for Russia as well as the Western world. Abdullojonov admitted that during the civil war, the Kuliab and Sughd clan alliance used Communist slogans, though he claims his backing of Communist ideology was a product of pressure from the Kuliab clan during his term in office. Abdullojonov discussed with the correspondent the pragmatism of the Sughd clan, saying that their priorities are business and profit, rather than Communism. Abdullojonov even added that while he was a student at the Odessa Institute, during the Communist era, he was involved in illegal capitalist transactions of goods on the black market. It is unclear, whether or not Abdumalik Abdullojonov was a true supporter of the rebellion of Northern Tajikistan, which took place in 1998, though in all probability he most likely was. During the rebellion, Abdullojonov’s representatives contacted the correspondent and proposed to fly him to Northern Tajikistan for an interview with the leader of the rebellion, Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiyev (Author’s interview with Abdumalik Abdullojonov, October 1998).
Nevertheless, after the defeat of the rebellion, Abdullojonov withdrew from political activity. This loss of influence by, until then, the leading politician from Tajikistan’s northern clan, was a massive victory for Emomalii Rahmon. Indeed, the removal of Abdullojonov from the political scene allowed President Rahmon to attempt to eliminate other clan competitors agitating for power in Tajikistan: In 2011, Dushanbe launched a military operation in Garm province; and in 2012, in Pamir (see EDM, July 24, 2012; September 13, 2012). Last week’s arrest of the former Northern Tajikistan leader in Ukraine, therefore, appears to be a similar effort by Rahmon’s government to keep Abdullojonov, and the northern clan he personifies, politically marginalized.