Resurgence of Islamic Radicalism in Tajikistan’s Ferghana Valley

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 15

The Ferghana Valley is one of the most unstable regions in Central Asia. In early 1989, pogroms of Jews and clashes with Meskhetian Turks broke out and resulted in the deaths of 150 people. Subsequently, 15,000 Meskhetian Turks fled from the Ferghana Valley. In 1990, clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people and in the destruction of more than 1,000 houses. An uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May 2005 seriously aggravated the situation in the Ferghana Valley.

Social instability in the Ferghana Valley is a result of the high population density (the highest in Central Asia) and a shortage of arable land. The fact that a great majority of the population of the valley lives in rural areas is the main factor destabilizing the situation. Additionally, the population of the valley is more religious than the population of any other region in Central Asia. It was here that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) emerged. Currently, the radical Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is the most active in the valley.

Although the Uzbek authorities managed to suppress the Andijan uprising, there is little confidence that the peace will last. The problem is that in the 1920s, the single ethnocultural region of the Ferghana Valley was divided between three states: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Even today, the Tajik, Uzbek and Kyrgyz parts of the Ferghana Valley remain closely linked. Therefore, even if Uzbekistan manages to maintain control over its part of the valley (which seems unlikely), there is not any guarantee that the metastasis of the Andijan crisis will not spread to the neighboring countries of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The Andijan Link

In mid-January, in the Tajik city of Kayrakkum, the Andijan events were replicated on a smaller scale. Armed people stormed and seized a detention center and in the process killed a policeman and also freed an associate who belonged to an Islamic terrorist organization. According to Tajik authorities, after the attack the militants managed to hide in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Two days later, Abdugafor Kalandarov, the chief prosecutor of the Sogd district of Tajikistan, stated that the IMU has become noticeably active in the Ferghana Valley. According to the prosecutor, authorities managed to find whole arsenals of weapons concealed by militants (Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 15). “Today, the IMU has become an international organization,” Kalandarov told Jamestown. “It includes Tajiks as well. [The IMU is] united in its wish to build an Islamic state in Central Asia by military means. It is possible that after the supression of the Andijan uprising, some militants moved to Tajikistan along with their weapons.”

In addition to Kayrakkum, the Tajik town of Isfara has also been affected by Islamic militants. The town of Isfara is located in the Isfara region of the Sogd district and is regarded as the unofficial capital of the Tajik part of the Ferghana Valley. The population is much more religious than in other cities of Tajikistan. About a year ago, the special services in Isfara detained 20 members of the extremist organization Bayat. According to local authorities, members of the organization killed protestant pastor Serghey Bessaraba, who had been actively involved in spreading Christianity among Tajiks. They also torched a few mosques whose imams cooperated with the authorities. While being apprehended, the members of Bayat put up resistance. It is noteworthy that members of Bayat had not resorted to such radical measures before. Intially, they planned to order the district in line with the norms of Sharia and create some semblance of the Iranian revolutionary guards.

In 1990, the current leader of the IMU, Tahir Yuldashev, created a similar Islamic militia in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley. It can be assumed that Bayat maintained close links with the IMU. According to Muzasharif Islamuddinov, the former mayor of Isfara and a current deputy of the Tajik Parliament, who spoke to Jamestown, “It was in 1997 that people in our district heard for the first time about Bayat when law enforcement agencies arrested a citizen of Uzbekistan for committing a murder who was a close relative of one of the leaders of the IMU. At that time, the investigation discovered that the murderer was linked with the underground organization Bayat.”

According to the imam of the Hazhan mosque, Huri Ibadulo Kalozade, Bayat probably emerged in northern Tajikistan in the early 1990s. “At that time a flood of foreign Islamic priests rushed to Tajikistan,” Kolozade explained to Jamestown. “There were members of the organization called Bayat among them.” According to authorities in Dushanbe, Tajik citizens belonging to Bayat fought on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan and some of them are now in captivity at the U.S. base in Guantanamo (Eurasia Daily Monitor, May 3, 2004).

Speaking with Jamestown, the mayor of Isfara, Mukhiba Yakubova, said, “I believe that Bayat is a purely terrorist organization which aims to destabilize the situation in northern Tajikistan.” Yakubova also said that lately policemen have been finding buried caches on the outskirts of Isfara containing shotguns. “We can only guess whom these weapons belong to. Maybe they simply belong to hunters, or to terrorists,” Yakubova said.

The activity of Islamic radicals in the Isfara district is a very alarming signal since Isfara is located at the crossroads of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek sections of the Ferghana Valley. Isfara is only 10 kilometers from the Batken district of Kyrgyzstan through which mujahideen of the IMU were fighting their way to Uzbekistan in 1999 and 2000. Additionally, Isfara is located about 50 kilometers from the Uzbek city Kokand, where in November 2004 an uprising against Uzbek authorities broke out. Indeed, according to Ahmadzhon Madmarov, a human rights activist from the Ferghana Valley, many residents of Kokand participated in the Andijan uprising.

Chain Reaction

Uzbeks make up about 30 percent of the population of southern Kyrgyzstan. The majority of Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan have relatives in Uzbekistan. Today, no one in Kyrgyzstan denies that there were Kyrgyz citizens among the participants of the Andijan uprising. “It is not a secret that there are members of the Akramiya movement in the south of Kyrgyzstan,” said Sadikdzhak Mahmudov, the head of the Osh human rights organization Rays of Solomon. “Almost all of them are local Uzbeks,” Mahmudov continued. “It is interesting that they all had known in advance about the planned uprising and a few days prior to the events went to that city.”

It appears that Akramiya—founded in 1996 after an ideological split within Hizb ut-Tahrir—has been active in Kyrgyzstan for many years (RFE/RL Uzbek Service, May 11, 2005). According to Samsibek Zakirov, a representative of the committee for religious affairs of the Osh district, “In 1998 some people appeared who tried to convince people not to visit mosques as it is a sin and pray at home instead. As far as I understand, a refusal to visit mosques is one of the conditions of Akramiya teachings.”

Despite the fact that the last 439 Uzbek refugees were sent from Kyrgyzstan to Romania, a great number of refugees from Uzbekistan still remain in the Republic. Their number, according to the estimates of some Kyrgyz human rights activists, may be as high as several thousand (, December 8, 2005).

Last fall, one of the leaders of the uprising in Andijan, Kabul Parpiev, granted several interviews to the Western media. According to the Central Asian website, both Uzbek and Kyrgyz special services are still looking for Kabul Parpiev on the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The Uzbek special services fear that “Kabul Parpiev is assembling people in Kyrgyzstan to invade into Uzbekistan” (, December 8, 2005).

In the opinion of Aselbek Eghembediev, an employee of the Fund for Social Tolerance, based in Batken, the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan has become increasingly tense since the May Andijan events. For example, as Eghemberdiev says, leaflets calling for revenge against the Uzbek authorities for the carnage in Andijan were circulated in the Kyrgyz city Kizil Kiya which borders Uzbekistan (located 40 kilometers southeast of the Ferghana Valley).

Policemen Found Weapons in the Same City

The ideology of Hizb ut-Tahrir is in fact quite exotic from the Western point of view. The party believes that democracy is unacceptable to Muslims. At the same time, the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir always stress that they condemn violence. The softer policy of the Kyrgyz authorities toward extremist organizations accounts for the fact that the main centers of Islamic radicals are located in this Republic. Here, they control their followers both in Uzbekistan and in Kyrgyzstan. For example, the unofficial “capital” of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia is located in the Kyrgyz city Karasu.

The imam of the central mosque in Karasu, Rafik Kamaluddin, told Jamestown that “the Uzbeks live on both sides of the Ferghana Valley both in the Andijan district of Uzbekistan and in Osh district of Kyrgyzstan.” He continued, stating, “During the Soviet Union, the city Karasu, which was one single city, has now been divided by the border into two parts: Kyrgyz and Uzbek. Nowadays, Islamic radicals of Uzbekistan flee to Kyrgyzstan in fear of repression. The majority of these people settle down in Kyrgyz Karasu. A narrow channel separates us from the Uzbek part of the city. Perhaps that is exactly why our city is called the capital of Hizb ut–Tahrir.” For instance, as witnessed by this author, every five minutes a homemade boat with people unwilling to pass the customs check crosses the border channel. In the opinion of Kammaluddin, the people cross the border illegally to avoid paying bribes to the Uzbek customs officials. One factor is obvious: the border remains transparent and one can transport not only leaflets, but also weapons.

Destabilization of the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is also promoted by the lack of firm authority in post-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan. As Jamestown stated in the past, the current vacuum of power in Kyrgyzstan provokes inter-ethnic clashes. For example, the relationships between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have become heated in the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley. The fact that the population of neighboring Uzbekistan may become involved in the clash if it erupts makes possible consequences hard to predict. An example of this spillover effect took place in 1990 in Osh district. Osh is situated just a few kilometers from the Uzbek border and is about 60 kilometers from Andijan. During the Kyrgyz-Uzbek carnage in the Osh district in 1990, crowds of residents of the Andijan district who were coming to help their compatriots were stopped at the Uzbek–Kyrgyz border with great difficulty (Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 10).

One can assume that the Andijan turmoil was simply the first symptom of the destabilization of the situation in the Ferghana Valley. In fact, a chain reaction effect has taken place here. A crisis in any part of the valley inevitably leads to cataclysms in adjacent territories, and that, in turn, provokes new shocks in neighboring countries.