Peter Molnar: FAREWELL, GARM, 2007

Dear Tanya,

I am home from a trip to Tajikistan. I visited Garm and other places, and although I suspect that you know most of what I write below, something in this long message might be new to you. Because this may interest others who worked in Garm, I send them copies.(Tanya Atwater, Fred Fischer, Michael Hamburger, Denis Hatzfeld, Vladik Martynov, Zhora Popandopola, Steve Roecker, David Simpson, Brian Tucker, and Rob Wesson)

First, everyone knew of Vitaly fate, and all expressed sorrow when we discussed it. I had not realized that when you were there 2 1/2 years ago, he spent a long time in the hospital with heart problems. Many mentioned this.I guess therefore that some were not surprised by his death, if still I could see the pain in their faces.

I was there to help Becky Bendick (young scientist now at the University of Montana) and colleagues from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan set up a GPS network for future research. This was a project that I hoped to help someone start after you and Vitaly returned 2 1/2 years ago. Vitaly urged me to find a way to help Tajikistan. Finally, I found Becky, and she is an excellent person to carry this forward.Anyhow, I traveled much more in Tajikistan than I ever did while working in Garm in the 1970s.

Many names have been changed, such as Leninabad or Ordzhokonidzebad, but also for less clear reasons, the Garm region is now called Rasht. The town is still Garm, however. The anti-Soviet reaction is clear, and the pro-Islam attitude is also widespread.

I saw Sobit Negmatulaev briefly, in Dushanbe. He now manages a non-governmental organization that has installed some broadband seismographs in places like Garm and will install a couple more for a total
of 6 (I think). He apparently is still not married and trying to be active, though I am not sure how much he really does.

The base at Garm brought much nostalgia, as you can imagine.The placeis easily recognized, but only partly whole.The street where we lived is still intact. All of the buildings are there, and most are inhabited. The trees have grown tall, so that most houses are shielded from the street.Talip, the mechanic and driver whom I knew and who sometimes played football with us, now lives in the Amerikanski dom with a second family.The place looks beautiful with roses planted in the front and a vegetable garden on the west side. Plumbing seems to have fallen aside, as the toilet is now outside in the back (on the east side) - an outhouse as we call it in English. Talip told me that he put a lot of work
into fixing the house, but because he no longer works for TISSS, he might be expelled at some time. He pays no rent. He now drives a taxi from Garm to Dushanbe one day, and back to Garm the next.

Most people living on the base do not work for TISSS (nor, of course, for the Complex Seismological Expedition, which disappeared with the Soviet Union).Someone not associated with the base lives in Nersesov old house. He seems to be wealthy, by Tajik standards, and he has kept the exterior of Nersesov house in good shape. I am not sure who lives in your old house, but it too seems to be cared for well.

Another Tajik who worked on the base when I was there, Zainitdin Sirozhev, seems to be one of two people who work for TISSS and live on the base. He is responsible for the seismograph station there. He worked
for Sidorin years ago. I do not recall meeting him, but of course, he knew everyone. He asked about you, and about Brian, about Rob and Fred, and about Zhora too. He lives at the eastern end of the building where
Zhora lived. Again, the place is green with trees and flowers and with vegetables. Behind the house, not only does he grow vegetables, but also he keeps a cow and some chickens, plus maybe other livestock.
The grape vines that shade the area behind the house are huge: at the base two branches, each 25 cm in diameter, climb onto the pergola behind the house.

A couple of buildings just west of the road at the entrance of the base also seem to me to be in good condition. Trees surround them, and they seem to be maintained well and occupied.

Nearly everything else is destroyed.

The kameralka (the building where we worked - where your office was, where "mine" was, and where Brian had northern end is a shell. Steps at the south end still lead into a basement, but I did not dare try to descend into it.

The dining hall (stolovaya) also is just a shell with no roof. Boris Pavlovich house, which had two floors, is a shell with just the floor left. The swimming pool is there, but not used. Some equipment is part of it, and mud fills the bottom. The old bathhouse is destroyed; only the pipes and furnaces remain. The garages behind the base, which blocked errant soccer balls (footballs), is totally destroyed.

There is one new item back southeast of the garages - a rusting tank. In fact, we saw remnants of tanks all over. Becky counted 14 in the little valley where Tavil Dora is. I saw a comparable number along the Obikhingou west of Tavil Dora. Remnants of war are hard to miss.

The statue at Khait was a casualty too. The head lies in the deep grass beneath the remnants of the body.

Apparently Garm was a hotspot in the civil war. No fighting at all occurred in the area near Khorog and somewhat north of it. Apparently, religion played a role in the civil war, with the opposition being much more fervently Moslem than the government, especially the government in Soviet times.

Talip told me that he is quite religious and prays five times a day, but in Soviet times, this was hard to do. One had to do it secretly. (Talip apparently shares the same root as the word Taliban, suggesting that his
family was seriously religious.) He said that for a few days, the government forces set up east of the base, and the opposition was west of it and in the hills above the base. For a few days they could not leave the house even to get water, of food of course. He was shot - a bullet passed through his abdomen. His wife showed me the scar from a bullet through her arm. Worst, his young son took a serious wound in the buttocks, and apparently it has taken sever operations to prevent him from being an invalid.

Land mines have taken many legs off people, and still every once in a while a cow is blown up. We saw signs elsewhere warming of land mines.

Although I was surprised to find Dushanbe to be a pretty city, with many trees and many attractive buildings (because I remember an ugly city), and with little evidence of poverty, the infrastructure of the country seems to be decaying. Roads are terrible. Still it takes 5 hours to drive from Dushanbe to Garm. East of Garm, roads were worse. Only in Dushanbe did we see a gas station where gas was pumped into gas tanks of cars. In most places gasoline was stored in jerry cans or big temporary containers, and it was measured using buckets. With a funnel it was transferred to cars.

Not surprisingly, everyone is poor. Salaries are ~$30/month. Teachers earn no more. Zanitdin receives less from TISSS. So, most have two jobs. Everyone whom I asked said that life was much better in Soviet times. Most thought that Putin is very good, at least for Russia. Of course, all thought Gorge Bush was the worst they could imagine. (Who could argue with that, except that they think he actually makes decisions; they did not seem to realize that he is a puppet.)

Yet, some things never change. Tajik hospitality is every bit as generous as it was 30 years ago. We were always fed well when we were guests, which proved to be often. Such experiences were a sweet reminder of how good life was in Garm 30 years ago.

I have some photos, which I will send to you (next week), but because they can fill mailboxes, I will send them to others only after they request them.

Peter Molnar
Department of Geological Sciences

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES)
Benson Earth Sciences Building, Campus Box 399, Room 462C
University of Colorado at Boulder
(for Fedex: 2200 Colorado Avenue)

Boulder, Colorado 80309
phone 303 492 4936; fax 303 492 2606;

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