Not Even Tajikistan's All-Powerful President Can Stop Forced Military Recruitment

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The traditional season of forced recruitment into Tajikistan's military is well underway, despite President Emomali Rahmon ordering a stop to the practice earlier in the year. As draftees try to avoid two years in the country's underfunded, under-heated barracks, stories of violent kidnappings are just as common as they were last year

Since Tajikistan's military is always short of conscripts, members of the military commissariat use an illegal recruitment practice known to the public as “oblava”. Typically, oblava involves the abduction of men between the ages of 18 and 27. Drafts occur every autumn. 

Stories of oblava are legend. RFE/RL's Tajik service Ozodi reported earlier this month that as a result of a severe beating by recruitment officers, Saidali Hakberdiev, 24, did not come to his senses for two days. According to the victim's father, Mirzoali Hakberdiev, an inhabitant of Panjakent city in northern Tajikistan, military officers grabbed his son from his family house without any prior notice on November 4, and proceeded to beat Hakberdiev inside a military vehicle heading downtown. As a result, Hakberdiev fainted, suffering serious injuries to his eardrums and temporarily losing the ability to speak.

In October, Ozodi published another story about an illegal recruitment drive at the Medical College of Kurghonteppa. Ardasher, one of the students of the college told Ozodi that students locked the doors of a classroom from the inside and some students even jumped out of the windows, but recruitment officers waited for hours and eventually entered the classroom. 

Public reaction to these events has focused on the fact oblava appears to be continuing against the will of Tajikistan's strongman president, Emomali Rahmon. Bandai Khudo, an Ozodi reader writes

Believe me, I get sad whenever I see or hear about such illegal actions. On February 16, 2014, the “president” himself officially banned the practice of “oblava.” Do the words of the president not affect the “oblava” squads, or do those squads have a separate order from the “top”? 

Suggestions of duplicity seem justified. After all, Tajik officials frequently tell the media that websites which have been shut down have not been shut down, and police regularly detain halloween participants despite the fact that no formal ban on the holiday has been implemented. Many Tajiks complain that citizens with elite connections are never considered for the draft.

Gharib, a commenter on Ozodi, complains about rule of law in Tajikistan:

I am really sorry that human rights are valued similarly to the rights of livestock in our motherland. The President promised there would be no “oblava” anymore, but these words have remained on paper. “Oblava” and violence in the military is one of the main reason our youth flees to Russia and other countries to work. 

However, some readers of Ozodi's articles on the topic believe serving in the military is the obligation of every Tajik man. Mayramoy calls on all Tajik men to join the army. She writes

Hey you cowards! How long are you going to talk behind the curtain?! My two sons served the military and came back home with their heads held high. Instead of draft-dodging or migrating you should serve the military. Appreciate the peace and solidarity we have! If you would voluntarily join the army, there would be nothing to talk about! Where is your feeling of patriotism and bravery? 

However, Ardash argues that the demands for bravery and patriotism do not apply to the sons of highly-placed officials:

A grandson of Queen Elizabeth II served in Afghanistan, even though there was a war. Why don't our officials send their children to the military? Then perhaps the conditions in the army would improve…When I see some of the soldiers, I want to cry. They are either working at a dumb commander's house, or they are being beaten and abused in the barracks. Commanders do not even interfere in these cases. I repeat that unless the children of officials are recruited, the conditions in the army will not improve in the next 100 years.

References to oblava have also found a way into popular culture. Here one of Tajikistan's politicised rappers spits on the topic of forced conscription (see video above).

I was expelled from the university for fighting. I spent a month at home, and then one day the ‘oblava’ squad came for me. I closed the door, put on my grandma's dress and said: “Come in, my dears.” I opened the door in her national costume and glasses. “My grandson is in Moscow,” I said. And they said: ‘Dear grandma, we will not fall for your tricks. Get him into the car. Take off his clothes.” I threw a punch at one of them, and jumped out of the nearest window. I was running and they were chasing me. How had they noticed? Perhaps I had forgotten to wear my grandma's birthmark. And her headscarf… Suddenly I was crawling. They had caught up with me. One of them beat me over the head, and I soon found myself serving in the military."

Source: Global Voices Online

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