Wakhan Corridor residents contemplate mass exodus

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Washington Post The men and their families live in comfortable homes now and have profitable jobs. They had returned here to visit relatives and convince the remaining Kyrgyz residents of Afghanistan that it’s time to leave. “They can do better. There is no reason for them to stay here,” said Mohammed Arif, 55, one of the returnees. pamirArif’s father, Rahman Kul, a former leader of Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz minority, persuaded about a thousand people to follow him to Turkey in the 1980s. Those Kyrgyz eventually found their way to the middle-class city of Van, where they remain today. Some of the remaining Kyrgyz in the Wakhan are resistant to moving. They’re accustomed to life here. They have yurts insulated with carpets, sticks and scraps of recycled trash to keep them warm. Yaks provide milk, and donkeys move their belongings across the tundra. Plus, they live in what is probably the safest place in Afghanistan. One of the few rifles spotted in Little Pamir was being used as a pillar to prop up a windblown yurt. Wildlife rangers are more common than police officers. “We hear about suicide attacks and people dying in Kabul,” said Er Ali Bai, 58, a community leader. “God has been kind to us.” But long-standing opposition to a mass exodus is wearing down. It’s now possible to imagine an Afghanistan without a Kyrgyz community. ‘I just want to die’ As they contemplate whether to stay or leave, familiar tragedies continue to strike the Kyrgyz. Ibrahim’s only daughter died last year after suffering flu-like symptoms. Asadullah has one living son, but two others died of minor illnesses. Because no medicine is available, most families treat ailments — including children’s — with opium, which is delivered by traders who crisscross the Wakhan on horseback. Addiction has soared in recent years. One night this month, Abdul Samad pulled out a sack of opium. He held it to a fire, stuck it in a small pipe and inhaled. A few grams had cost him one sheep. “This addiction is making us all poor,” said Samad, 55, who insisted that he was smoking only to dull the pain of a foot injury. In a nearby settlement, one of the oldest members of the community, Abdul Rasul, 70, leaned against the wall of his yurt.corridor “I just want to die,” he said. It’s the young men, like Ibrahim, who will ultimately decide whether to uproot the Kyrgyz. Ibrahim also knows that as he gets older, the gap between his people and the rest of the country is unlikely to close. A road through the Wakhan will probably never be built, he says. There will be nothing to keep him here, except the same dull tug that kept his parents and grandparents from fleeing. “But we’re different from them,” Ibrahim said. “We’re tired of this place.”]]>

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