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'A Park Isn't A Graveyard': Tajikistan Secretly Reburies Remains Of The Elite

Relatives say they had been made aware of plans to relocate their ancestors' remains from Dushanbe's Aini Park but that nobody informed them when the reburials were actually taking place. (file photo)

Tajik authorities have secretly reburied the remains of several prominent national figures, including two former heads of the state, after disinterring them at a small cemetery inside a Dushanbe park in the middle of the night.

The city officials say the remains have been relocated from Aini Park to the Luchob Cemetery, a much larger burial site that caters to the elite in Dushanbe outskirts.

Relatives say they found out about the reburials only after the fact, although they had been generally aware of plans to relocate their ancestors' remains.

"We've been hoping that the authorities might invite us to [the reburial ceremony], but the graves were relocated without the knowledge of the families," said Surayo Rahimzoda, whose father -- a prominent poet -- was buried there.

Rahimzoda said she had no idea when her father's remains had been dug up and reburied elsewhere.

The strongest reaction came from Moscow-based Irina Tikhonova, the granddaughter of Jabbor Rasulov, a Soviet-era Communist Party head who ruled Tajikistan in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tikhonova accused Tajik authorities of "blasphemy" and threated to sue Dushanbe city officials.

"The remains of my grandfather were secretly buried in Dushanbe. Without informing or getting the consent of the family -- his children and grandchildren." Tikhonova wrote on her Facebook account.

"Had we been told, we would have brought the remains to Moscow and reburied them here," she added.

Tajik authorities insist that they informed all the relatives -- including Rasulov's family -- in the summer of the pending reburials, which took place in mid-October.

"Aini Park is a park and it shouldn't be turned into a graveyard," Dushanbe city official Obid Nazarov told RFE/RL on October 19.

"Those relatives who are complaining now: How often have they been visiting their ancestors' graves?" Nazarov said in an apparent jibe at Tikhonova, who told the AsiaPlus news agency that she last visited her grandfather's grave in 2008.

Tajik presidential aide Abdujabbor Rahmonzoda backed the city's move and said the relatives' complaints are misplaced, as they were informed in advance.

The authorities say the reburials took place in an appropriate manner with Islamic rituals. They say gravestones and busts have already been placed on the new gravesites, which will officially be presented in the coming days.

The tomb of Sadriddin Aini, a leading figure in Soviet-era Tajik literature, is expected to remain in the park, which has been named after him.

The six-hectare park, which is popular among locals, is currently being renovated with new pathways and gates.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.