Identification. The name "Tajik" may derive from the name of a pre-Islamic tribe, perhaps of Zoroastrian origin, and means "crown" or "royalty."
The Tajik people are of ethnic Persian descent and constitute the largest indigenous group in the country (about 65 percent of the population). Within this group are the Pamiris, who live in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province and number nearly forty thousand. The Pamiris speak a different language and belong to the Ismaili Shiite sect of Islam, while Tajiks are Sunni. Gorno-Badakhshon is surrounded by mountains, and is isolated for most of the year.
Other ethnic groups that were caught within the country as the borders in Central Asia were redrawn during the Soviet era include Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Kazakhs, Uyghur, and Bukharan and European Jews. Beginning in the eighteenth century, many Russians migrated to the area as soldiers and laborers. Other nonindigenous ethnic groups include Crimean Tartars, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Georgians, Osetians, Koreans, and Armenians.
When Tajikistan won independence in 1991, a struggle for power between the clans developed into a civil war. At that time, Islamic fundamentalists wanted to create an Islamic state. Political instability led to a collapsing infrastructure, corruption, and extreme poverty.
Location and Geography. Tajikistan borders Afghanistan to the south, China to the east, Kyrgystan to the north, and Uzbekistan to the west and has a land area of 58,809 square miles (143,100 square kilometers). There are numerous glaciers.
The Fergana Valley in the northern region is densely populated. It is separated from the rest of the country by mountains from which the Syrdariya and Amu Darya rivers bring rich soil deposits. In the Soviet era, the Vakhsh River was dammed for irrigation and electric power, and factories were built along its banks. Hot summers and frigid winters characterize the climate. The high mountain ridges protect the Fergana Valley and other lowlands from Arctic air masses, but temperatures drop below freezing more than one-hundred days a year.
The isolation of the Pamiri has kept them close to their ancient traditions. Although the people of the Khujand (Leninobad) region also are isolated, they are more accessible to the other republics. They were the ruling clan in the Soviet era.
Dushanbe (Stalinobod from 1929 to 1961), the capital, is in the west-central region and is the largest city. In 1924, it was chosen to be the capital of the new autonomous republic because of its low population and central location.
Demography. In 2000, the population was estimated to be 6,213,000. In the first years after independence many non-Central Asian peoples emigrated because of the establishment of Tajiki as the official language, dissatisfaction with the standard of living, and fear of political violence.
Linguistic Affiliation. Tajiki, which is closely related to Farsi, is the most widely used language. Villagers who have developed regional dialects have only a rudimentary understanding of the official language. In the Pamiri mountain regions, various languages have kept many characteristics of ancient Iranian. Russian is preferred in government and business transactions, and Uzbeki is used widely in the Khujand region.
Symbolism. The flag has a horizontal red stripe on top, a wider white stripe with a gold crown surmounted by seven stars in the middle, and a
green stripe at the bottom. Those colors represent sunshine and health, chastity, the journey on the right path of life, peace and stability, agriculture, the mountains, and the spring. The crown shows a royal house, and the stars represent friendship between nationalities, class, unity, and Islam.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. Before the Soviet era, the Republic of Tajikistan experienced population changes that brought political and cultural influences from Asia and the Middle East. The conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E. , led to the founding of Khujand and Panjakent. Under the Sassanians (third century C.E. ), the Persian language and culture and the Zoroastrian religion spread throughout the region. Conversion to Islam began in the seventh century. By the ninth century, it was the prevalent religion.
After the Uzbeki nomadic tribes conquered Central Asia, the future Tajikistan was divided into three states: the Uzbek-ruled Bukhara Khanate, the Kokand Khanate, in the Fergana Valley, and the kingdom of Afghanistan. These states lasted until the nineteenth century, when they were gradually overtaken by traders and settlers from the Russian Empire. In 1925, Tajikistan became an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan. In 1929, it was detached from Uzbekistan and given full status as a republic.
In 1991, Tajikistan declared independence from the Soviet Union, and Nabiyev was installed as president after a coup. Nationalism and anti-Russian feeling intensified, leading to a state of emergency and the suppression of opposition parties. Civil war broke out in 1992.
National Identity. Although the Soviet Union arbitrarily redefined the nation's borders, many Tajik intellectuals and nationalists believed that communism brought progress to their people and joined the Communist Party. During this period, Islam was the defining cultural element and helped consolidate the clans and reinforce ethnic solidarity.
Although the Soviet era brought stability, education, and an economic infrastructure, social integration among the ethnic groups has never been achieved. Today, people look to their history in developing a national idea, identifying with the Persian-speaking Samanids of Bukhara, who supported the revival of the written Persian language and the cultural ideals of the Zorastrians.
Ethnic Relations. The leaders of clans manipulate events to serve their own ethnoregional views. The Khojand clan in the north is identified with hard-line communism; the Kulab clan, also pro-Russian, gained control of the government after a power struggle in 1994; and the Garm clan of the Gorno-Badakhshn region is a stronghold of the Islamic Renaissance movement.
Although Sunni Islam is the most important cultural commonality, it has become a dividing force. The lack of leadership from the Islamic hierarchy allowed fundamentalists to proliferate after independence, and the revival of ancient traditions in the Fergana Valley could lead to conflict with the neighboring countries. However, tribal loyalties, Western cultural influences, and the growth of a free-market economy have militated against such movements. The hardships caused by the civil war and the economic transition have created a negative attitude toward sovereignty and a desire among many people to return to Soviet statehood.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Railroads do not link the northwest and the southwest, and only one highway connects Dushanbe in the southwest with Khujand in the northwest. In 1991, the five largest cities accounted for only 17 percent of the total population.
During the Soviet era, a purely functional architectural style developed in the form of centrally planned development projects, government office buildings, and cultural facilities. More recent architecture emphasizes the revival of the Samanid and Timurid periods.
During the Samanid period, baked brick was used in the construction of mosques, minarets, and mausoleums; calligraphic inscriptions were used to decorate walls. In the fourteenth century, the Timurids introduced the use of mosaic tile.
Today, communities are divided into mahallas, or neighborhoods, which are governed by responsible and respected elderly persons.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. With over 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line, food is scarce. A basic breakfast consists of tea and bread. A wealthy family may eat butter and jam and perhaps eggs or porridge. Soup often is served for dinner; it may contain a soup bone with meat, carrots, onions, and potatoes. Osh, a rice dish made with carrots, onions and meat, is served two or three times a week. At other times pasta, meat- and onion-filled pastries, and tomato and cucumber salads may be served. All meals are accompanied with large rounds of flat bread.
Restaurants usually offer Western and Russian food, and choihonas (teahouses) serve traditional foods. Guests often sit on a platform with a low table surrounded by thin mats.
Pork is never eaten. Bread may not be placed upside down; the crumbs are collected and disposed of ceremoniously. Tea is served to the host first to show that it is safe to drink. Islamic law forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but this prohibition often is ignored.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. On holidays and ceremonial occasions, the table is covered with small plates containing delicacies that represent the pride and wealth of the host. Osh usually is served. Sumalak, a dish made from the juice of wheat sprouts, is served during the Islamic New Year. The making of sumalak is a ceremony, as the women recite poetry, sing, and dance.
Land Tenure and Property. In 1992, legislation was passed that protected personal property and gave citizens the right to own, lease, and inherit land. Agricultural land remains under state ownership but can be leased. Leases can be sold and inherited.
In the Soviet era, the government owned all businesses. After independence, the parliament adopted a privatization law, to transfer ownership of businesses to the public. However, no enterprise is privatized without the approval of a committee or ministry, and officials frequently refuse to cooperate. In 1997, the government created a Higher Economic Court, to handle economic disputes. Judges are subject to pressure from the executive branch, local warlords, and criminal syndicates.
Commercial Activities. The dominance of cotton has limited the growth of food products. The country cannot meet basic domestic consumption requirements, especially for meat and dairy products. Although factories produce thread, most cotton is sent abroad for processing. There are small, obsolete factories for weaving and food processing. Drug traffickers control a large proportion of the economic activity.
Major Industries. After the damming of the Vakhsh River in the 1930s, Tajikistan became the third largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world. The dams also enhanced agricultural production through irrigation and provided energy for industries. The aluminum-processing plant at Regar has the largest smelter in the world. Other industries include mining, chemicals, metal processing, and building materials. All industries are constrained by outmoded equipment, low world prices, emigration of the skilled labor force, and civil war.
Trade. Exports to the United States include aluminum, textiles, machinery, and cereals. Imports from the United States include grain, dairy products, eggs, honey, machinery, and preserved foods. An Afghani company opened shops in Dushanbe to sell clothing, textiles, fruits, and nuts. In 1992, 36 percent of imports came from Russia and 21 percent of its exports went to that country. Fruits and vegetables, textiles, and paint were exported in return for automobiles, televisions, and other consumer goods. Tajikistan exports electricity to Uzbekistan in exchange for natural gas. Other trading partners include countries in Central Asia and Europe.
Division of Labor. Jobs are assigned according to education and specialization or they are regionally determined. Political leaders and people in law enforcement usually come from the ruling clan, farmers come from the Garm area, and the Pamiris dominate the fine arts. Technical and professional jobs often go unfilled, but the most pressing economic problem is unemployment, particularly among young people. Approximately three-fourths of graduates of middle schools do not go on to receive higher education and cannot find employment. Wages are so low that even professionals take low-skill jobs to supplement their incomes.