When people in Tajikistan discuss whether the celebration of New Year can be reconciled with religious beliefs of the country’s population, it is one thing. But when angry youths kill a man dressed as Santa Claus, calling him an “infidel”, you know that things are getting worrisome.
Parviz Davlatbekov, 24, was murdered in a knife attack in a residential area of Dushanbe early in the morning on January 1. He had dressed as Santa Claus (known more commonly in Tajikistan by its Russian name, ‘Ded Moroz’ or ‘Father Frost’) and was on his way to a party at his relatives’ place when some 30 young men attacked him. According to witnesses, the men shouted “infidel” as they beat Davlatbekov, referring to the Christian origins of Santa Claus as a character. Davlatbekov was rushed to the hospital, where he died the next day of wounds inflicted in the attack.
Tajikistan was part of the officially atheist Soviet Union for almost 70 years. During the Soviet rule, most Tajik families began celebrating the New Year and accepted Santa Claus as the holiday’s main attribute. Following the country’s independence in 1991, most Tajiks continued celebrating the New Year, and Santa Claus remained a widely accepted symbol. However, the increasing religiosity of Tajikistan’s population, more than 95 percent of which are Muslims, has recently given rise to debates over whether the celebration of the New Year and the holiday’s attributes contradict Islamic beliefs. For instance, Saidmukarram Abdulkodirzoda, the head of the Council of Ulems (the highest religious authority in Tajikistan), recently announced that the New Year holiday is “alien to our people and our religion.” Yet, New Year has remained an official holiday in the country, and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon delivers a televised New Year address every year.