After Deadly Cyclist Attack, Tajik Minister Turns To Drama To Warn About Islamic State

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In official meetings and speeches in recent months, Tajikistan's interior minister has frequently warned about the dangers of the extremist Islamic State (IS) group.

Now Ramazon Rahimzoda has turned to the stage in an attempt to use drama to tell the tale of how joining IS can destroy lives and tear families apart.

The Heart Of A Mother is the story of a Tajik woman who goes to Syria in a bid to bring her IS-fighter son back home.

The play -- which was purportedly written by Rahimzoda and screened on August 5 by an elite audience that included Tajikistan's state committee for national security chief and culture minister -- will premiere at the Lohuti state drama theater in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on August 13. Veteran actress Maryam Isoeva will play the main character.

IS is a "hot" topic in Tajikistan, where the authorities say at least 1,200 people have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the extremist militant group since 2014.

IS also claimed the deadly July 29 attack on Western cyclists in Tajikistan, although the government says the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) was behind the assault, which resulted in the deaths of four foreigners.

Rahimzoda himself placed the blame for the incident -- even before an investigation could be conducted -- on the IRPT, a rival of the government headed by authoritarian ruler Emomali Rahmon.

The IRPT rejected the government's charge as "shameless and illogical," and an IS video showed five young men swearing allegiance to the militants -- including four who closely resembled four men killed by Tajik authorities shortly after the attack.

Rahimzoda's Interior Ministry is a key player in a state program to help return and rehabilitate Tajik citizens who voluntarily leave Syria and Iraq and prove they weren't involved in violence.

Poems For The President

Despite his professional background as a veterinarian and lawyer, Rahimzoda, 58, is apparently no stranger to writing.

He has written numerous poems that were published in Tajik media in recent years using the pen name Nihoni, Tajik for "hidden."

Some of the minister's poems are dedicated to President Rahmon, while others are on random topics, such the importance of the country's key Roghun hydropower plant, or the role of horses in people's lives.

The sycophantic ode dedicated to the long-serving Rahmon -- In Praise Of The Leader Of The Nation -- describes the president as the "king of kings," the "savior of the nation," the power behind the country's "achievements," and the "guarantor of its future."

Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan, which is the poorest country in Central Asia, since 1992. The country is beset with towering unemployment that has forced more than 1 million of its citizens to move to Russia to seek work.

The encomiastic poem flattering Rahmon has since been turned into a song, performed jointly by prominent singer Surayo Qosimova along with her two daughters and son-in-law.

Rahimzoda made news last year when he ordered police and other Interior Ministry workers to attend a theater performance at least once a month.

In December 2016, Rahimzoda warned overweight police officers to lose excess weight or face losing their jobs. Six months later, more than 100 police officers who missed the deadline to get into shape were dismissed.

Meanwhile, at the Lohuti theater, one actor gave a small spoiler for the minister's upcoming debut -- there is no happy ending for the Tajik IS fighter and his devoted mother.

But apparently there is a warning for other Tajiks not to follow in their footsteps.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.