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Afghan Turkmen Trapped Near Border With Turkmenistan

An Afghan Turkmen community in northern Afghanistan.
An Afghan Turkmen community in northern Afghanistan.

"Our village is surrounded...for six days we cannot go outside...bullets are coming from every direction."

Those were the words of ethnic Turkman Durdymurad Muhammatdurdyogly, a resident of the village of Marchak, in northern Afghanistan's Baghdis Province.

(We've been to Marchak before at Qishloq Ovozi.)

Muhammetdurdyogly was speaking to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, on April 21. Azatlyk has been tracking the plight of ethnic Turkmen in northern Afghanistan for many months. During that time the situation has gone from bad to worse.

Muhammetdurdyogly told Azatlyk on April 21 that fighting between Taliban militants and government troops had been going on in Marchak for six straight days. He said there were dead bodies lying on the ground all around Marchak and there were wounded villagers, but he could not say how many. "No one has information on what is even happening in the next house. For the last six days, we can't leave our home," Muhammetdurdyogly said.

Marchak has been surrounded on three sides by the Taliban for months. The fourth direction, north, is the Murghab River and the border with Turkmenistan, and that appears to be where most of locals headed to escape the fighting.

Muhammetdurdyogly did know that many people from neighboring areas had fled north; but since he does not dare to venture out of his home, he could not say how many.

Muhammetdurdyogly said the Taliban recently gathered fighters from neighboring districts and even a neighboring province before launching the assault on his district, also called Marchak. As far as he knew, there was only one village in the district -- Ortaqy Oba -- that was not under Taliban control.

Baha'uddin Qadisi is the chief of the Baghdis's provincial council. He confirmed to Azatlyk that there was fierce fighting in Marchak district for several days and it continued. He added that government troops in the area had been requesting air support from Herat, without saying if the troops received it.

Qadisi did not know that people of Marchak had fled to the Murghab River and were living in the forest and on islands in the river. Qadisi recommended finding the telephone number to contact the Baghdis governor and ask him.

So Azatlyk contacted Baghdis Governor Ahmadullah Alizai. He said fighting in Marchak ended on April 19. "Fighting took place outside the town [of Marchak] now it is over, and currently there is no problem," Alizai claimed. He said the Taliban had been defeated.

Asked what efforts were being made to return the people who fled toward Turkmenistan's border, Governor Alizai said, "We're trying; the operation continues to return the situation to normal." But he then said he had not heard of anyone fleeing their home and living in the forest along the Turkmen border.

Governor Alizai advised contacting an army spokesman to find out more information.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan shows no sign it is prepared to let the refugees from Marchak walk those few extra meters to find safe haven on the territory of Turkmenistan.

When speaking about the people who fled to the forest or islands of the Murghab River, Muhammetdurdyogly said locals had tried previously to cross over into Turkmenistan but were turned back by Turkmenistan's border guards.

Still, asked by Azatlyk if he had any hope that Turkmenistan might change this policy and show a bit more compassion, Muhammetdurdyogly said he hoped that at least the women and children could be let into Turkmenistan temporarily and that the wounded might also be admitted long enough to be treated.

Muhammetdurdyogly suggested the Taliban received recruits from Faryab prior to attacking government troops in Marchak. (A recent Qishloq Ovozi post was devoted to Afghanistan's Faryab Province). Faryab is the neighboring province to the east of Baghdis, also borders Turkmenistan, and, according to a member of parliament, is under Taliban control.

Azatlyk director Muhammad Tahir contributed to this report