Tajik families fear for children, grandchildren caught up in Middle East wars

By Nadin Bahrom

Azimjon Alimardonov, shown July 1 in Kabadiyan, holds up photos of his grandson and children. He hopes to see them come back someday from Syria. [Nadin Bahrom]

Azimjon Alimardonov, shown July 1 in Kabadiyan, holds up photos of his grandson and children. He hopes to see them come back someday from Syria. [Nadin Bahrom]

DUSHANBE -- Parents in Tajikistan whose radicalised children went to Syria and Iraq, sometimes taking their own children with them, are hoping to see the safe reunion of their devastated families.

About 300 Tajik "Islamic State" (IS) members have been killed so far in Syria and Iraq so far, out of 1,141 Tajiks known to have joined IS since 2015, the Strategic Research Centre under the President of Tajikistan estimated in July.

Anguish and uncertainty

Villages and towns throughout Tajikistan have residents living in anguish, uncertain what happened to children and grandchildren who -- seduced by IS or dragged along by parents -- ended up in Syria and Iraq, where the group's so-called caliphate is shrinking by the day.

Mairambi Olimova of Kulyab, Khatlon Province, watches TV daily, hoping to find out what happened to her daughter.

Gulru and her husband joined IS in Syria in 2015. They brought along three children, and Gulru even bore a fourth, her son Khatab, in Syria. Her husband was killed in combat and never saw Khatab.

"She called me rarely," Olimova told Caravanserai. "In the past year, she dropped off the radar."

"After a year of silence, she called in April and said that, 40 days after Khatab's birth, she had remarried," said Olimova. "She always says everything is fine with her, but I know she says that to calm me down."

"I sleep with my door open so that if I die from grief, my neighbours can bury me," said Olimova.

'Children should not see war'

Eight members of Azimjon Alimardonov's family vanished into IS: three children, a daughter-in-law, son-in-law and three grandchildren.

The physical education instructor in Kabadiyan, Khatlon Province, has no idea where they are now.

Though he has not heard from his children since 2014, he is convinced they are all alive but afraid to come home. He pines above all for his grandchildren.

"I understand that [my children] left voluntarily, but why bring small children to a war?" he said. "I'm ready to scrape some money together and go to Turkey [to start searching for my family]."

"My older grandson is seven already," he told Caravanserai. "He shouldn't be seeing war. He should be going to school."

Kabadiyan District has gained unwanted notoriety for having 73 residents out of a population of 170,000 join IS.

A brother lost

Ashurmo Saidavliyeva of Bokhtar District, Khatlon Province, mourns her only brother, Makhmadsharif, who was killed at age 30 in 2014. Her grief is painfully private because she has never told their mother, fearing the impact of the news.

"I last spoke to my sister-in-law three years ago [on the phone]," Saidavliyeva told Caravanserai. "In November 2014, Sarvinoz ... told me that my brother had become a shahid [martyr] in Syria."

"A month later, she told me that she was being married off [to another militant] and that ... her 'new masters' banned her from talking to her first husband's relatives," said Saidavliyeva.

Cut off from reliable information now about her brother's family, she wonders what ever happened to her nephews, now ages seven, five and three.

"The last time I talked to Sarvinoz, she said it was tough to escape from Syria with three kids," she added.

Saidavliyeva has heard rumours that all three children are going to school in Syria, that Sarvinoz is working and that her new husband "is a Tajik but has already been wounded [in combat]", she said.

The dream of her and her family is to have her nephews come home and grow up in their late father's house, she said.

"We want the children to come home and live in peace," she said.

[Part I appeared on September 22.]

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I personally love Tajikistan, and so do my relatives.