Sentiment towards Americans

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capitannemo
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Sentiment towards Americans

Postby capitannemo » Sun Jan 07, 2018 6:55 pm

Hi all,

I am planning on a bicycle touring trip on the Pamir Highway for this summer, but am trying to understand all the issues around safety along the Afghanistan border. I've spoken with a French national who rode the highway this past summer (2017) and it sounded as though security threats were minimal. Are there any particular anti-American sentiments in the region given ridiculous U.S. policy changes with the current U.S. presidency? If not, any overall advice on convincing loved ones of how safe it actually is to travel alone in Tajikistan? I have seen the recent thread on solo female travel, and being a male, it seems that it would be that much safer for me (half-asian, half-caucasian male, early 20's, American).

Any and all advice would be appreciated in this regard. Also, I am new on the forum so I hope I am following all the guidelines set forth for forum use.

Cheers!
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AreWeThereYet?
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby AreWeThereYet? » Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:37 pm

Hi there,

I travelled around the Pamir Highway last May, albeit not on a bike (cheater, I know) and I can provide a bit of feedback on security and other things.

The French guy you met is sort of right, in the sense that the Wakhan doesn't feel at all 'edgy'. The most security I saw was on the Dushanbe-Khorog leg of the journey, especially along the Afghan border, with the occasional Army patrol and police checkpoint, but if I had to be honest it felt a lot more about drug smuggling control than terrorism. Besides, our driver bribed every single check-point but for one, manned by OMON, that felt a bit more 'martial'.

With regards to anti-American sentiments, I'm not American so I can't exactly gauge how widespread it'd be, but in my travels in Central Asia only once I was asked whether I was American and I definitely got the impression that it wouldn't have been OK if I said I was. People are fairly open and friendly, and they'll judge you more by how you behave than by what nationality you have. Besides, it's not as if you've got to show your passport to everyone!
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steven
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby steven » Mon Jan 08, 2018 8:29 am

Hi capitannemo,

thanks for being so considerate and reading all that first! Being American is fine. People are really into conspiracy theories that emanate from Russian tv, so they will accuse you of wanting to sink their economy etc, but if you don't speak the local language it will fly over your head. In any case, they don't see a contradiction in believing all this conspiracy stuff and at the same time becoming your friend and wanting to emigrate to US!

In Bishkek US is very loved due to the large USAID and AUCA (and before, army) presence.
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby capitannemo » Mon Jan 08, 2018 7:54 pm

AreWeThereYet? wrote:The French guy you met is sort of right, in the sense that the Wakhan doesn't feel at all 'edgy'. The most security I saw was on the Dushanbe-Khorog leg of the journey, especially along the Afghan border, with the occasional Army patrol and police checkpoint, but if I had to be honest it felt a lot more about drug smuggling control than terrorism. Besides, our driver bribed every single check-point but for one, manned by OMON, that felt a bit more 'martial'.


AreWeThereYet, was the bribery at the checkpoints because you were in a vehicle or what was the understanding around why that was necessary? The French cyclist who I spoke to said he didn't have to bribe anyone in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan.

Steven, thank you for the information. Do you have a sense of how risky it is to travel in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as opposed to a western european country such as France or the UK? When discussing the risk associated with this trip with family, it is difficult to recognize and convey what risk is simply that risk portrayed by the media and real risk. How do you think/talk about risk in these countries that are less traveled?
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby AreWeThereYet? » Tue Jan 09, 2018 6:45 am

capitannemo wrote:
AreWeThereYet? wrote:The French guy you met is sort of right, in the sense that the Wakhan doesn't feel at all 'edgy'. The most security I saw was on the Dushanbe-Khorog leg of the journey, especially along the Afghan border, with the occasional Army patrol and police checkpoint, but if I had to be honest it felt a lot more about drug smuggling control than terrorism. Besides, our driver bribed every single check-point but for one, manned by OMON, that felt a bit more 'martial'.


AreWeThereYet, was the bribery at the checkpoints because you were in a vehicle or what was the understanding around why that was necessary? The French cyclist who I spoke to said he didn't have to bribe anyone in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan.

Steven, thank you for the information. Do you have a sense of how risky it is to travel in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as opposed to a western european country such as France or the UK? When discussing the risk associated with this trip with family, it is difficult to recognize and convey what risk is simply that risk portrayed by the media and real risk. How do you think/talk about risk in these countries that are less traveled?


Our driver was greasing wheels just because he decided we were late and wanted to make up time.

In terms of danger, I'd say the biggest risk derives from road traffic and not terrorism, kidnappings and so on. If you check various Foreign Offices' websites you won't find a great deal of mentions about Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. The last violent flare-up in Tajikistan was due to drug smuggling, and not due to political-ideological reasons.

It's interesting you use the UK, or France as your yardstick. Over here in the UK we've had, if memory doesn't deceive me, 4 terror incidents in the past year between bombings, stabbings, car attacks, and Paris had what we all know; still, people flock here with no second thoughts, or very few. Similarly, I had friends and family going to Vegas days after the mass shooting at that concert, and still they were concerned about me visiting the Aral sea region!
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby steven » Tue Jan 09, 2018 8:16 am

I would agree that in terms of terrorism, Europe is much more dangerous than Central Asia. Road traffic is indeed the major danger. Don't cycle after dark!

But it's tricky to explain that to people back home who do not travel and just watch a lot of news. They hear an Uzbek or a Kyrgyz made a terrorist attack in the West and think it must be really dangerous where they come from. Sounds counterintuitive to say that it is a lot safer, but that is how it is.
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby bwv812 » Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:43 pm

AreWeThereYet? wrote:In terms of danger, I'd say the biggest risk derives from road traffic and not terrorism, kidnappings and so on. If you check various Foreign Offices' websites you won't find a great deal of mentions about Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. The last violent flare-up in Tajikistan was due to drug smuggling, and not due to political-ideological reasons.


There's no doubt that road incidents are likely the biggest source of danger, but I'm becoming less sanguine about the risk of danger in the region. Over the past 5 years insurgents have made real gains in Afghanistan, and now threaten the borders of Tajikistan in a way they really didn't used to. The rise of Isis and the sheer number of foreign jihadis fighting there has been a wake-up call for countries around the world, be they in Europe, North America, or Central Asia. And with many returning home after the fall of Isis, I'm more inclined to accept government concerns of terrorism at face value, and not just as a pretext for suppressing citizens.

It's also worth saying that the 2012 conflict in Khorog is more reasonably seen as a political/ideological conflict rather than one over drugs. Basically everyone (at least in the region) believes this is just window dressing for a conflict designed to weaken or eliminate politically influential pamiris.

That being said, I don't believe that tourists are a target of terrorism in the region, and I imagine terrorists are more likely to strike targets that wouldn't be particularly visited by tourists.

AreWeThereYet? wrote:It's interesting you use the UK, or France as your yardstick. Over here in the UK we've had, if memory doesn't deceive me, 4 terror incidents in the past year between bombings, stabbings, car attacks, and Paris had what we all know; still, people flock here with no second thoughts, or very few. Similarly, I had friends and family going to Vegas days after the mass shooting at that concert, and still they were concerned about me visiting the Aral sea region!


I suppose the more important metric is the individual tourist's chance of being affected. European countries get thousands of times more visitors, so even one incident in Central Asia could affect a greater percentage of tourists than a dozen incidents in Europe. But in both cases I think the risk is low enough for it not to be a major concern.
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby capitannemo » Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:07 pm

This is all very useful information for me and I appreciate it!

I used the UK and France as a metric because people still hardly raise an eyebrow about traveling there despite significant and nonsingular terror incidents there in recent years. It illustrates the point well that you made, Steven, regarding what is on the news and what is ground-truth.

bwv812, thanks for the insight on the political climate there and recent relevant events. The last point about terrorist targets is also reflected on the U.S. foreign travel website, so that is useful for me to know!

Do any of you know Americans on this site that I might be in touch with regarding travel in Tajikistan? As it stands I need an American to comment on their experience there in order for people in my life to feel that it is fully accurate. I trust all that you've so kindly shared with me, it's just a hurdle that I need to deal with.
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby bwv812 » Sat Jan 13, 2018 9:21 pm

capitannemo wrote:Do any of you know Americans on this site that I might be in touch with regarding travel in Tajikistan? As it stands I need an American to comment on their experience there in order for people in my life to feel that it is fully accurate. I trust all that you've so kindly shared with me, it's just a hurdle that I need to deal with.


I mean, how are the locals going to know you are American, and not Canadian, Australian, British, European, or whatever? I'm pretty sure this isn't like some parts of Afghanistan where the few people who might be in a position to know your citizenship (though I think they mainly just target foreigners) will sell you out to kidnappers or anything. The folks running homestays don't ask for your passport, and the only place you might show it is at security checkpoints and borders.
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Re: Sentiment towards Americans

Postby seysearles » Mon Jan 15, 2018 3:06 am

capitannemo wrote:This is all very useful information for me and I appreciate it!

I used the UK and France as a metric because people still hardly raise an eyebrow about traveling there despite significant and nonsingular terror incidents there in recent years. It illustrates the point well that you made, Steven, regarding what is on the news and what is ground-truth.

bwv812, thanks for the insight on the political climate there and recent relevant events. The last point about terrorist targets is also reflected on the U.S. foreign travel website, so that is useful for me to know!

Do any of you know Americans on this site that I might be in touch with regarding travel in Tajikistan? As it stands I need an American to comment on their experience there in order for people in my life to feel that it is fully accurate. I trust all that you've so kindly shared with me, it's just a hurdle that I need to deal with.


Hey, i have an American passport which I carried with me in all through Central Asia and the Pamirs in June 2017. I am a dual citizen of American and Australia and I typically will use whichever passport gets me cheaper visas to the country I am travelling in. It's anecdotal but my experience travelling through this region is that you are perceived first and foremost as a foreigner with literally no distinction between any of the variety of nationalities you could be. You say that you're an Asian-American which also makes me think that you will probably be presumed to be Japanese or Korean even if you explicitly tell them that you're American. Your accent wont be differentiated from any other foreign accent by the vast majority of the locals you interact with. Having said all of this I never encountered one whiff of resentment or aggression from any of locals. On the contrary i was surprised at how indifferent most people were towards us. I think we forget how multilayered and ethnically diverse the history of the region is, which ironically is a lack of cultural awareness on our part, not theirs. The Pamir for example are almost caucasian in appearance. I met some locals who could have walked down a street in Stockholm and passed as ethnic Swedes. I would really encourage you to go ahead with your trip and not be overly concerned with the safety beat up. The Islam that is practiced in Central Asia is a genuinely moderate one akin to Indonesia or Malaysia by my estimation. It was actually very eye opening for me to see such a passive form of the religion being applied. All the more reason to experience it.

Its a really cool part of the world and it would be a shame for the false perception of risk preventing you from seeing it.
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