Military conflict, potential humanitarian crisis in Tajikistan: PLEASE HELP RAISE AWARENESS

This is the text of a press release I have put together based on other excellent notes written by Tajik colleagues around the world. Please, please help us raise awareness in the international community about events taking place RIGHT NOW in Khorog, south-east Tajikistan. We are all absolutely clear that we want PEACE and we want the world to help us achieve that. Thank you.



Date: July 27 2012

Civilians killed in military conflict, potential humanitarian crisis in Tajikistan, Central Asia

Armed conflict in the town of Khorog, south-east Tajikistan, on the border with Afghanistan, has been continuing since the early morning of 24 July 2012[1]. Tajik security and military forces has started an operation involving reportedly over 3,000 personnel with automatic arms, armed personnel carrying vehicles and helicopters in the densely populated areas of the town, with no prior notice to or evacuation of the population. According to the Guardian newspaper, ‘the fighting marked one of the worst outbursts of violence in the impoverished ex-Soviet nation since a 2010 government campaign to wipe out Islamist militants’[2]. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting calls the clashes ‘unprecedented’[3]

All lines of communication have been terminated and all roads to Khorog are also reportedly closed. More than 30,000 residents of the Khorog area, including women, children and elderly, are trapped in this conflict. The communications blackout has left many hundreds of Tajiks living outside the Khorog region without any knowledge of whether their families and loved ones are safe or have been victims of the conflict.

Reports by the BBC have suggested over 200 casualties[4]. The Economist has reports of ‘dozens of civilian casualties[5]. Video footage from the region is slowly emerging, and providing evidence of heavy gunfire[6].

Apart from the human dimension element of the situation, it poses a risk of escalation and deterioration of the situation in the Central Asian region. There are reports of armed groups gathering on the Afghan side of the border in the area of Khorog, so there is a high potential for a cross-border conflict. Even if there are militants in the area, the lives of innocent people must not be put in danger[7].

Independent local news agency Asia Plus reports that as at 09.33 BST Friday 27 July, the government has called an end to a temporary ceasefire[8]. This raises the serious possibility that fighting will resume and yet more civilians will be killed or injured in a battle that has nothing to do with them.

With no way to import food or for people to travel safely around, and with unconfirmed reports of corpses in the streets of Khorog, an international humanitarian crisis is brewing. It is not clear whether those who have been wounded received adequate medical care. The surrounding Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Region is the poorest in Tajikistan.

The actions by the Tajik authorities represent violations of the commitments and obligations of the Republic of Tajikistan under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other UN human rights instruments, the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and American Embassy in Tajikistan have expressed their concern over the violent clashes[9] and called for lines of communication to be opened.

CNN has reported on a peaceful demonstration in Washington, D.C.[10] by Tajik-Americans. Peaceful demonstrations have also been held in Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia and London, UK. Social media networks such as the newly created Peace in Khorog[11] group on Facebook, with nearly 1,000 members, are acting as informal support networks to the many Tajiks from the region dispersed around the world.

Citizens of Tajikistan around the world call for peace, for the immediate and permanent withdrawal of troops from Khorog and for lines of communication and humanitarian aid.

This is a plea to the international media to raise awareness of the conflict and human rights violations taking place in Tajikistan.



[7] The principle of proportionality (article 51(5)(b) IAP) is a basic principle that states that even if there is a clear military target it is not possible to attack it if the harm to civilians or civilian property is excessive to the expected military advantage.

4 thoughts on “Military conflict, potential humanitarian crisis in Tajikistan: PLEASE HELP RAISE AWARENESS

  1. Whoa, Emma, I’m not really convinced of your arguments here on a number of points:

    1/ Most of the news reports now suggest far fewer deaths than the 200 you report. Your number suggests sensationalism when good reporting tends to err on the side of caution.

    2/ Where do you base your claims for human rights violations? From all that I’ve read (which is pretty much everything that has been written) and learned second-hand (from those still in contact with the area) there hasn’t been any suggestion of human rights violations at this point. There may be a case of excessive use of force at some stage but we need first hand evidence of this both venturing down that dangerous avenue.

    3/ There a legitimate rationale for forces to be in the district to address a criminal act (which, for some reason you don’t mention). Some might say that the government was waiting for an opportunity to strike but nevertheless the crime can’t be denied and if it was perpetrated by the alleged prime suspect (who you also don’t name) then force of arms was always going to be a likely route to ensure custody.

    In summary, I think you’ve taken a big leap into the dark here and I don’t follow your reasons for doing this. I certainly don’t think any sensationalism around these desperately sad occurrences helps any Tajik or the local economy.


    1. Dear Tony,

      I appreciate you taking the time to read the press release and provide your feedback. I don’t agree with your view that this is sensationalism or a leap in the dark. Further, I am personally rather upset by your connection to the economy rather than to the more basic issue of human life. Nonetheless, everyone is entitled to their own views, which is why I’m choosing to publish your comments here.

      Re your point 1: You will see in the press release that I make multiple references to other sources, such as the BBC (who used the figure of ‘more than 200 people’ being killed – this may include both military and civilian personnel). So if you don’t believe that the BBC is providing good reporting, I’d encourage you to feed back to them directly.

      Re your point 2: The press release notes that actions by the Tajik authorities represent violations of the government’s commitments and obligations of the Republic of Tajikistan under the UN Charter and others, as noted. Perhaps I could refer you to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’. Further articles of the Declaration are also relevant if you wish to consider whether there have been human rights violations.

      Re your point 3: I have also referenced other articles that provide background to the events that are unfolding. It is not the job of the press release to reiterate these. If, as you suggest, there is a ‘legitimate rationale for forces to be in the district to address a criminal act’ does that create a legitimate rationale to kill civilians? No. Does that make it alright to cut off communication in the region so that no one is able to contact their families or friends? No.

      Emma Sabzalieva


  2. NJ Baker

    Thank you Emma. It’s so hard to get information, and what I’m getting, including a video clip of ongoing shootings, is terrifying. Blocking all communication and travel to the region is unacceptable – and an old trick in that part of the world, as we well know. Thank you.


    1. Hi NJ,
      Thanks for your comments. As at today, things seem a lot calmer as it looks like negotiations are going well. Asia Plus is managing to get some stories out: see I’d also recommend for background.
      Social media has been a source of support for many Tajiks outside Khorog, although of course because of the lack of totally reliable/objective news, many rumours have been doing the rounds as well. It seems now that most people have been able to contact their families and that most phone lines are back up and running. But we don’t know how lasting the current calm is.
      What’s also emerging is a rather shocking story about the treatment of the soldiers in the Tajik army. I have read reliable first hand accounts of young conscripts with no battle experience whatsoever being used as frontline defence for snipers and special forces. Some of the injured have not been treated. Local people are feeding some of the soldiers because they have no food. Parents and families of the soldiers are asking openly to find out what’s happening with their sons and brothers. This is the first time such concerns have been voiced.


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