A fragile peace is shaken

Tajikistan, July 14, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Garm residents celebrated the National Day of Reconciliation last month. Photo: Amy Spindler/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Amy Spindler/Mercy Corps  </span>
    This small Kyrgyz girl attended our food distirbution in Dombrachi, near the Kyrgyz border. She deserves to grow up in a country without war. Photo: Amy Spindler/Mercy Corps

Just a couple of weeks after celebrating the National Day of Reconciliation, tensions are rising here in Rasht. The ghosts of the civil war that I’ve written about seem to be more than just apparitions. My colleague, a refugee during the civil war, woke up last night afraid that soldiers were at her door. My neighbor, a former United Tajik Opposition commander and still highly influential in Rasht, is offering interviews to the media. The Garm militia has sent its men up into the nearby mountains to block any militants from coming here.

And my beloved colleagues have advised me not to travel this week, telling me stories of checkpoints being ambushed with the possibility of a foreigner being taken. “But it’s unlikely,” they say calmly. The roads in and out of Rasht are choked with checkpoints.

“We have a problem with foreigners,” the military police told me at the time. Rumors were swirling that more than 300 militants had come from Afghanistan and Pakistan, some seeking asylum and others trouble. Many are followers of feared former warlord Mullo Abdullo, who has supposedly spent the last few years with the Taliban. And while the government claims it’s supporting an operation to combat drug trafficking, the locals say it is to squash any uprising. Reports of attacks on government checkpoints abound. And then there is the killing of Mirzo Ziyoyev.

Our work continues near the border with Kyrgyzstan this week. We are finishing the distribution of 800 metric tons of wheat flour, oil and lentils. The work is demanding and not without its problems —somehow all tied to transportation and the road — but spirits are high as we’re welcomed warmly into the communities.

I lived in southern Kyrgyzstan for two years and am surprised by how much Kyrgyz I still understand and speak. Every conversation starts with me happily exclaiming: “I understand you!” Of course, community members in these remote and marginalized villages are also surprised that I speak Kyrgyz. Many of them do not speak Tajik, limiting their opportunities for work and education. During distribution, I talk to the women about breastfeeding, complementary foods for their babies and the success of their greenhouses.

Touring a greenhouse in the early morning, a volunteer named Delbar beams as she shows me ripe cucumbers, round tomatoes and flowering melon vines. The Kyrgyz communities were skeptical when Mercy Corps introduced greenhouses, wondering if they would work in such a harsh climate. “But eating is believing. Now we ask one another about our greenhouses as if they are our children,” Delbar says.

We laugh. There is a cool drizzle this July morning and the sun begins to peek through the clouds. Quietly. Peacefully.