Posted by: Christian | November 24, 2009

Long War Journal Recycles Tajikistan’s Finest Rumors

What’s with the insane rumor mongering being internalized by the upper echelons of our intelligence community? Via the Long War Journal, this is absolute, 100% fiction:

Members of a Tajik military unit that turned against the government a decade ago have have joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda. An unknown number of fighters who were loyal to rebel leader Mahmud Khudoyberdiyev joined the regional and global terror groups and have been fighting the Tajik government, the deputy chief of the Tajik National Security Committee said at a regional forum held earlier this month.

Right. And I have solid information that Abu Muqawama disappeared from the blogosphere today in order to join Cirque du Soleil and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

It continues:

Khudoyberdiyev was a colonel in the Defense Ministry and led a brigade of troops. He led an unsuccessful uprising in 1997 and took control of a northern city in 1998 before fleeing to neighboring Uzbekistan. It is “unclear” if Khudoyberdiyev himself has joined al Qaeda, a senior US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

OK, I just read this and I’m really busy so I’m just gonna write this out stream of consciousness style… I’ve been studying the history of conflict and politics surrounding Mahmud Khudoberdiev for about five years now. I focused on the man as much as could be allowed by the secondary sources until I went to Tajikistan. I haven’t shared my research with anyone and I’ve only written about him publicly twice. Once at Registan under a pseudonym and just recently here when I saw him in the airport in Dushanbe.

The above info relayed to LWJ is comically false. He is dead. D-E-A-D. He has been so since 2001 when Nezavisimaia Gazeta reported that Col. Sergei Zvarygin put a bullet in his head in Uzbekistan [one of many sources that announced his death at the time]. Not a peep from the man since, which is not surprising as bullets in your head reduces your ability to speak according to 9 out of 10 head-shot specialists.

I know, I know. The government of Tajikistan put out an interpol arrest warrant for him. I think that has to do with the usual UZ-TAJ wrangling that covers all sorts of bitter personal and political disagreements that at times descend into ludicrous mutual accusations of perfidy. The best I can guess is that the government in Tajikistan either started believing the rumors or they just want to create a bargaining card. Sure, it’s possible that his death was faked or that the reports of his death are false. But really, he has not been heard of since then. Except for those ridiculous rumors that put him in charge of the Andijon massacre. And sorry, I lived in his hometown. They haven’t heard from him. His family is still there. So Mahmud-Aka, call home.

And (sarcasm warning) I’m pretty shaken that I lived in an Al Qaeda hotbed without knowing it. I mean really, his men joined AQ? Bugger me! I’m starting to think that all those local cab drivers that passed on blind corners were actually AQ operatives trying to kill me by suicide taxi (end sarcasm). Anyways, his men were Lakay/Loqay loyalists. They fought against the Islamists. They did not join AQ or the IMU. Nobody who fought as an ally of the Popular Front went on to join the IMU or AQ or the Taliban or anything. A few guys from the UTO did, yes. Those would be the enemies of Khudoberdiev. But some guys who supposedly lived as guests of the government of Uzbekistan since 1998 suddenly decided to join Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan?

Anyways, did you know that Khudoberdiev was an Afgantsy? That means he is a Soviet veteran of the Soviet-Afghan War. And he was an officer. So, he was politically correct, as they say. Anyways, some back ground from my longer Registan article:

After serving in Afghanistan as an officer, and significantly as a Central Asian nationality, Khudoberdiev returned to the Tajik SSR to wind down his career in the Turkistan Military District and later to an office as the Deputy Military Commander of the Qurghonteppa Oblast. But after independence the Tajik Civil War reached Qurghonteppa and Khudoberdiev was drawn in to the conflict. It is at this point that ethnicity, or the uncertainty thereof, becomes important. During the Soviet era the communists created kolkhozes (collective farms) that were quite often based on ethnicity or a local solidarity group, also known as an avlod. In Qurghonteppa, many collective farms were comprised of Gharmi Tajiks who had been deported there from their home region east of Dushanbe. Intentionally or not, these collective farms were put into competition for resources with ethnic Uzbek and Uzbek-Lakay (sic) farms. Additionally, ethnic Lakay from the area were sent out of their home region. Amazingly, there was even a Lakay revolt in the 1960s that was resolved with both force and concessions by the Soviets. In the 1990s both sides took the opportunity provided by civil war to attack each other, with local Gharmis siding with the United Tajik Opposition and Uzbeks/Lakays siding with the Popular Front.

Khudoberdiev is often identified as an Uzbek and his thrashing of the UTO forces in Qurghonteppa is noted. But is he really an Uzbek? He was actually an ethnic Lakay, an Uzbek-speaking group that, for many of its members, maintains a separate identity (in the last census about 1% of the population of Tajikistan claimed to be Lakay). “Uzbek” or not, what is significant is that he became to be viewed as a protector of ethnic Uzbeks in the Qurghonteppa region. His involvement began when he rounded up several tanks and formed a mobile armoured unit. One account relates that the UTO attempted to recruit him, and when he tried to maintain neutrality his house was burned and his relatives massacred (I call this the “Braveheart” version).

By late 1992 the Uzbek population in Qurghonteppa was granted autonomy. However, as part of the power consolidation process, the Kulobis who dominated the Popular Front turned on their allies and attempted to disarm the Lakays and Uzbeks in Qurghonteppa. A new region, Khatlon, was created with Qurghonteppe as a part of it in order to lessen the Uzbek/Lakay influence. In response, Khudoberdiev faced off with/rebelled against the Kulobi-dominated government several times before taking refuge in Uzbekistan, a country whose government gave him significant support. Not content to retire in Uzbekistan, Khudoberdiev mounted an invasion of the northern Sughd region in 1998. This time the government called on their former UTO enemies for support and a combined force repelled Khudoberdiev back into Uzbekistan. Of course Uzbekistan denied any involvement, as if a mobile armoured infantry unit can just hang out in Uzbekistan without the government noticing.

Anyways, if you want to make a wanted poster of the man, no worries. I’ve got that covered. I photographed his poster in Tajikistan (the translation is nothing interesting):


  1. […] via Long War Journal Recycles Tajikistan’s Finest Rumors « Ghosts of Alexander. […]

  2. Great post, as always, but I just have one question:
    Am I correct that you said Tajikistan is using the Interpol warning for Khudoberdiev as a sort of petty bargaining chip with Uzbekistan? Because that’s kind of awesome. If they’re inventing Wrongs that stand no chance of being Righted, there are a lot more folks in Tajikistan who learned from the fun Soviet School of Foreign Policy than I thought.

  3. AJK,

    Honestly, I have no way of knowing what they were thinking when they issued the warrant. I don’t know if they actually believe it or not. A lot of people in Tajikistan believe that he is still alive and lurking. But then again some people believe that Juma Namangani (of IMU fame) is also alive, leading an all-female team of Al Qaeda hotties who use night vision goggles and seduction techniques. I’m dead serious about that.

    But I really do see this as more of a continuation of the Karimov-Rahmon personal feud that began when Rahmon started to ignore big brother’s advice about power sharing during negotiations leading up to the 1997 peace agreement. They’re like a really bitter divorced couple accusing each other of child abuse and then progressively raising the insanity level in their mutual accusations.

  4. […] Ghosts of Alexander – Long War Journal Recycles Tajikistan’s Finest Rumors;  The above info relayed to LWJ is comically false. He is dead. D-E-A-D. He has been so since 2001 when Nezavisimaia Gazeta reported that Col. Sergei Zvarygin put a bullet in his head in Uzbekistan. Not a peep from the man since, which is not surprising as bullets in your head reduces your ability to speak according to 9 out of 10 head-shot specialists. "Do not walk on top of these rocks. Keep our history safe." Since 2003, security of the 5000-year old ziggurat of Ur, located near the modern city of An Nasiriyah, Iraq, has mainly been under control of coalition forces. However, responsibility for the ziggurat was transferred to Iraqi security forces, May 13. (photo by Pfc. J.P. Lawrence) […]

  5. One of the problems with blogs, fact checking becomes even more difficult.

  6. Yes, yes, well spotted in Dushanbe Airport. But it is somewhat remiss of you not to have also identified the fellow four places further to the right of the top row in your picture:

    Top marks for working it out.
    On balance though, as disinclined as I am to believe these reports, it strikes me as credulous in the extreme to prefer any theory propagated by Nezavismaya Gazeta.
    The resurgence of these Khudoiberdiyev stories comes direct from Tajik security services, who boasted this summer of having arrested some of his “bandit” associates. Whether he is as dead as you suggest is likely to elicit as much sensible conversation as a UFO-sighters convention, but Dushanbe has evidently seen fit to revive the bogeyman for some mysterious purpose.
    Very much in the same way it played now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t games over the Poppy-2009 sweep this summer. What we would be made to believe is that whether or not Khudoiberdiyev is alive, his legend very much lives on among among seditious parties in northern Tajikistan, which has seen some uptick in terrorism-related arrests over recent weeks, incidentally.
    So, sure, the story may be bullshit, but not the kind of bullshit that isn’t word a cursory glance.

  7. Yes, it’s definitely worth “a cursory glance.” The fact that so many people believe it is significant.

    But what’s the matter with believing Nezavismaya Gazeta? They and many others reported what appeared to be the final but minor footnote around the time it happened. I just happen to agree with the newspaper, not necessarily on the shooter, but that he is dead. Just because it was printed in a Russian newspaper doesn’t make it false. Time has shown the reports of his death to be quite believable.

  8. re: NG, they provided one of the most fantastical accounts of goings on in Tavildara this summer, as in this story:

    I do like the newspaper, but their Central Asian reporting can sometimes be a little far-fetched, not too put too fine a point on it.
    On balance, I would be inclined to think Khudoiberdy is dead, because he has always struck me as the kind of guy that could never keep away from mischief for this long.
    To reiterate, however, my reading of the disparate events (and there was something major going up in those mountains this summer, I have it on good authority) was an internal Tajik matter about consolidation.
    Anyone with access to any reporting at the time and the ability to read clearly knows that Khudoiberdy was no Islamist, but the Tajik military/security services are still going to try and sell that crap to their own people and their foreign counterparts. And there is every reason to believe that the remnants of Khudoiberdy’s forces are still scattered around, grumbling about this and that, while almost certainly getting up to no good.
    Since you did not take the bait on the picture quiz, I should reveal that it is none other than the Mullo Abdullo mentioned in your post. Another dead/non-dead fighter come back to supposedly torment the Tajik government. And he features rather prominently in that NG report, by the way.

  9. Well, we agree on NG. I probably should have tossed in all the citations on his death in Tajikistan. I just wanted to use the NG one as it named a shooter.

    As far as this summers events being about “internal consolidation,” I would agree and say that there is broad consensus on that among most people who pay attention to Tajikistan. But I’m sure there is someone somewhere who wrote that Mirzoev has ties to AQ, Taliban, etc….

  10. […] Long War Journal Recycles Tajikistan’s Finest Rumors […]


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