KHATLON PROVINCE -- Although one native of Bokhtar District is back in Tajikistan after almost a year as an insurgent in Syria, authorities remain concerned about Khatlon Province's contribution to the ranks of militants in the Middle East.
Last year, authorities detained 238 members of terrorist or extremist groups in the province, said Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, according to a May 13 statement by his press office.
Speaking to an audience of Khatlon Province residents and leaders in Dangara District, Rahmon warned, "Currently, 507 residents of the province ... are fighting in Syria and Iraq. According to our figures, 60 have been killed."
Bokhtar is the Tajik district with the highest proportion of residents who left to fight in Syria and Iraq, a Tajik law enforcement source told Caravanserai on condition of anonymity.
"In a [district] with a population of 24,000, about 90 people have joined terrorist groups in the past three years," said the source. "We haven't confirmed the exact number of deaths because most [of the affected parents] are hoping their sons will return. [Some] parents don't believe that their children are fighting for 'jihadists'."
Earlier, Caravanserai reported on Tajik parents, who, misguidedly or not, insist that their children are "trapped in Syria" and hope for their homecoming.
Tajik families hope children will return
The return of ex-"Islamic State" (IS) militant Parviz Kosimov, now 21, from Syria in May 2015 has given hope to other parents in Khatlon Province that their radicalised sons and daughters will come home.
Kosimov stayed silent about his nine-month-long ordeal for two years before deciding to reach out to other young Tajiks through talks and meetings.
Kosimov's return "gives hope to many people", Faizullo Rajabov, official in charge of religious affairs for Bokhtar District, told Caravanserai.
His mother, Tojikhon Bobiyeva, is hoping that he can rebuild his life.
She said she never stopped believing that he had been duped into going to Syria and that he would come to his senses.
He lacked "enough religious education, so it was easy to recruit him", she told Caravanserai.
"I tried to understand why he did it," she said. "I didn't condemn him because I understood that he might be completely deluded."
Meanwhile, Bobiyeva hopes that her son will be able to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, though presently the Education Ministry does not allow former militants to return to school.
"He committed a grievous mistake that he profoundly regrets," she said. "I want him to forget the whole nightmare and continue his life."