Tajikistan - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

Read about Tajikistan: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Tajikistan, landlocked republic in southeastern Central Asia, bordered on the north by Kyrgyzstan, on the north and west by Uzbekistan, on the east by China, and on the south by Afghanistan. Dushanbe is the country’s capital and largest city. Tajikistan contains the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (Badakhshoni Kuhi), an ethnically based political subunit that occupies about 45 percent of the country’s territory.

In Tajik, the official state language, the country is called Jumhurii Tojikiston (Republic of Tajikistan). Tajiks, who speak a form of Persian, constitute a majority of the country’s population. In 1929 Tajikistan became the Tajik (or Tadzhik) Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Tajikistan became independent in 1991. Shortly after independence, a civil war broke out between the Communist-dominated government and opposition groups. The two sides formally signed a peace accord in June 1997.


Tajikistan covers an area of 143,100 sq km (55,250 sq mi), making it the smallest country in Central Asia. Tajikistan is extremely mountainous, and almost half of the country lies above an elevation of 3,000 m (equivalent to 9,843 ft). The Pamirs, a highland region, occupies eastern Tajikistan and encompasses Gorno-Badakhshan. The region serves as a connecting point for several of the world’s highest mountain ranges. Northeastern Tajikistan contains the highest mountain in the former Soviet Union, Ismail Samani Peak (7,495 m/24,590 ft), which rises in the Pamirs. Massive ranges of the Tian Shan mountain system occupy northern and central Tajikistan, with smaller spurs extending across the northwestern portion of the country into Uzbekistan. Foothills and steppes (semiarid grassy plains) occupy the western third of the country. Lowland areas are confined to river valleys in the southwest and to the extreme north, where a finger-like strip of territory extends into the fertile Fergana (Farghona) Valley (the remainder of which is in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). Tajikistan experiences frequent earthquakes, as it lies on an active seismic belt that extends throughout the entire southeastern section of Central Asia.

Rivers and Lakes in Tajikistan

Mountain glaciers feed Tajikistan’s numerous swift-flowing rivers and streams. The major rivers are the Syr Darya, which flows through the Fergana Valley in the north; the Zeravshan (Zarafshon), located in the northwest; and the Kofarnihon, Vakhsh, and Panj rivers, which together drain more than three-fourths of Tajikistan’s territory. The Panj forms the western half of Tajikistan’s southern border with Afghanistan. The confluence of the Panj and Vakhsh rivers on the extreme southwestern border forms the Amu Darya, the largest river in Central Asia. The Kofarnihon is also a major tributary of the Amu Darya. Most lakes in Tajikistan lie in the eastern Pamirs region. The largest is Lake Karakul (Qarokŭl), which is located in the northeast at an elevation of about 4,000 m (about 13,000 ft).

Plant and Animal Life in Tajikistan

Plant life in Tajikistan varies by region. Vegetation on the steppes includes drought-resistant grasses and low shrubs. Vast fields of wild poppies and tulips grow on the steppes where they rise into the foothills. The mountain slopes are covered with dense forests of coniferous trees, such as spruce. The mountains also contain grassy meadows, where wildflowers such as wild iris and edelweiss bloom in summer. Ancient forests of wild walnut trees are found on the lower mountain slopes.

Wildlife is abundant and extremely diverse. The endangered snow leopard, which has long been illegally hunted for its fur, inhabits the mountains. Also in the mountains are numerous varieties of mountain goat and sheep, including the Siberian horned goat and the rare markhor. The golden eagle nests at high elevations. Brown bears, lynx, wolves, and wild boar inhabit lower mountain regions. Animal species on the steppes include deer, wolves, foxes, and badgers.

Natural Resources of Tajikistan

Only 7 percent of Tajikistan’s land area is cultivated due to the mountainous terrain. Tajikistan’s rivers contain substantial hydroelectric potential. Mineral resources include deposits of gold, silver, iron, lead, and tin.

Climate in Tajikistan

The climate of Tajikistan varies by region and altitude, with the greatest temperature differences between alpine and lowland areas. The lowland areas have a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. In the northern lowlands, at Khujand, the average daily temperature in July is 27°C (81°F), and in January it is -1°C (30°F). Summer temperatures can reach highs of 48°C (118°F) in the valleys. Between June and October, strong dust storms are common in semiarid areas. In the eastern mountains the average daily temperature in July is less than 10°C (less than 50°F), while in January it is –20°C (-4°F). Extreme winter temperatures can fall below –60°C (below -76°F) in the eastern Pamirs. Precipitation is generally meager in the lowlands and mountains, although the precipitation that does occur can cause landslides.

Environmental Issues in Tajikistan

The environment of Tajikistan suffers from several decades of ecological mismanagement under the Soviet system. Tajikistan was one of the leading suppliers of cotton in the USSR. Pressured to fulfill export quotas, farm managers saturated the land with chemical fertilizers. Harmful levels of toxic pesticides, herbicides, and defoliants are now found throughout the food chain in Tajikistan. Excessive tapping of rivers for the irrigation of cotton crops has caused high levels of soil salinization, which in turn requires more intensive irrigation to maintain crop yields. Irrigation in Tajikistan directly affects the water levels of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which both drain into the Aral Sea, a large saltwater lake that lies in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The Aral Sea has shrunk to less than half its original size due to reduced inflow from these two rivers since the 1960s.


The population of Tajikistan (2009 estimate) is 7,349,145, giving the republic an average population density of 52 persons per sq km (133 per sq mi). The lowlands of northern and western Tajikistan are the most densely populated areas. Large cities include Dushanbe, the capital, a modern city located in the Hisor Valley of western Tajikistan; and Khujand, an important cotton-processing center located in northern Tajikistan’s Fergana Valley.

Tajikistan was the least urbanized republic of the former USSR. In 2003 only 24 percent of the population lived in urban areas. From the late 1950s strong urban growth, fed by immigrants from other republics, was matched by rapid growth in the rural population. Between 1959 and 1989, the population of the republic increased by more than 100 percent due to a high birth rate and improvements in medical care. During the early 1990s, however, the growth rate began to decline due to civil war and emigration.

Ethnic Groups and Languages in Tajikistan

Tajiks constitute the largest ethnic group in Tajikistan, making up about 65 percent of the population. The peoples who live in Gorno-Badakhshan, located in the Pamirs, are classified as Tajiks, although their languages and customs are distinct. The largest minority group in the country is the Uzbeks, who constitute nearly 25 percent of the population. Uzbeks live primarily in the Fergana Valley and in the vicinities of Kŭlob in south central Tajikistan and Tursunzoda in western Tajikistan. The next largest minority group is Russians, although they began leaving the country in large numbers in 1989. By the mid-1990s Russians represented only 3 percent of the population, as at least half of the Russian population had emigrated to Russia. Other ethnic groups include Tatars, Kyrgyz, Ukrainians, Turkmens (or Turkomans), and Koreans.

Tajiks descend from the Aryans, an ancient people who spoke Indo-European languages. This differentiates them from the other Central Asian peoples, who are of Turkic descent. The official state language is Tajik (or Tojiki), an Indo-Iranian language that is another form of modern Persian. The Tajik language originally developed in a modified Arabic script. However, the Soviet government forced the Tajiks to adopt a modified Latin (Roman) alphabet in the 1930s, and then a modified Cyrillic script (the script of the Russian language) in 1940. These changes were part of a program to increase literacy and to foster loyalty to the Soviet regime by isolating the Tajiks from the written works of their own heritage and kindred peoples outside the USSR. In a move toward greater sovereignty under the Soviet system, the government of Tajikistan declared Tajik to be the official state language in 1989. The 1994 constitution recognizes Tajik as the official state language and Russian as the language of interethnic communication. The country’s language law calls for the gradual return to a modified Arabic alphabet, but the change has not been systematically implemented.

The peoples of Gorno-Badakhshan speak several Iranian languages of a group called Pamiri, which is quite distinct from Tajik. A small community of Yaghnobs, who are also classified as Tajik, speak Yaghnobi, another Iranian language. Tajikistan’s minority groups tend to speak their own native languages. Uzbeks speak a Turkic language, as do other indigenous Central Asian peoples.

Religion in Tajikistan

The predominant religion in Tajikistan is Islam. Most Tajiks and Uzbeks, amounting to about 80 percent of the population, are Sunni Muslims. About 5 percent of the population are Shia Muslims. Most of the country’s Shias, notably the peoples of the Pamirs in the Gorno-Badakhshan region, are Ismailis.

Arab conquerors introduced Islam to the region of present-day Tajikistan, along with other parts of southern Central Asia, in the 8th century AD. The peoples of the Pamirs were introduced to the Ismaili religion, a Shia Muslim sect, in the 11th century. During the Soviet period, the officially atheistic Communist regime severely restricted religious practice. Then in the mid-1980s when the Soviet government eased many of its restrictions on religion, a resurgence in Islam began in Tajikistan. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed even more religious freedom, and more Tajiks turned to their Islamic heritage. However, the government of Tajikistan has attempted to suppress Islamic groups, which it perceives as a threat to its hold on power.

Education in Tajikistan

Most people age 15 and older in Tajikistan can read and write, a result of the Soviet system of free and universal education. Until the 1920s, when the Soviet authorities introduced secular (nonreligious) education, the main education centers were Muslim madrasas (religious schools). In principle, a general education involving the completion of seven grades is compulsory for all children. However, the government has not maintained adequate state funding for schools due to the country’s economic and political instability. Institutions of higher education in Tajikistan include the Tajik State University, the Tajik Agricultural University, and the Tajik Technical University, all located in Dushanbe. The Tajik Academy of Sciences, also located in Dushanbe, is an important research institute.

Way of Life in Tajikistan

The majority of people in Tajikistan have a rural way of life, and many live in traditional rural villages. Those villages situated near rivers or irrigation canals usually contain several hundred single-family houses, but those located on the steep mountain slopes are much smaller. People in rural areas wear mostly traditional garments, while those in the cities wear Western-style clothing. More than 80 percent of Tajiks live below the poverty line, as defined by the United Nations (UN). Government officials and their close associates constitute a small wealthy elite.

Literature in Tajikistan

Tajiks share a literary heritage with other Persian-speaking peoples. Many important contributions to Persian literature emerged from Bukhara (in present-day Uzbekistan) during the 9th and 10th centuries, when the city was an Islamic center of learning under a Persian dynasty, the Samanids. Several prominent cultural figures lived in Bukhara during the 10th century, including Rudaki, who is venerated as the father of Persian poetry, and the Persian philosopher-scientist Avicenna.

A modern body of literature emerged from Bukhara in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably with the works of Abdurauf Fitrat. A dramatist and teacher who also became active in nationalist politics, Fitrat wrote poems, tracts, dramas, and scholarly books in both the Tajik and Uzbek languages. His early work, including Munozira (Dispute, 1909) and Bayonoti sayyohi hindi (Statements of an Indian Traveler, 1911-1912), was concerned with Islam in the modern world and social and political reforms. During the Soviet period, Tajik novelist Sadriddin Ayni and poet Mirzo Tursunzoda gained widespread recognition. Tursunzoda won the Lenin Prize in 1960 for his poem Sadoi Osiyo (The Voice of Asia; 1956).

In a tradition that is common throughout Central Asia, the epos (a partly historical and partly legendary poem) is performed to a melody by a minstrel. This tradition, which dates from prehistoric times, has preserved an ancient oral literature. Because the poems and stories are delivered orally rather than in written form, they were accessible to what used to be a largely illiterate population.

Theaters and Museums in Tajikistan

The Tajik National Theater, consisting of nine different theaters, was founded in Dushanbe in 1929 for musical comedy, ballet, opera, and puppetry. Tajikistan’s largest museum is the Tajik Historical State Museum, located in Dushanbe. Also in Dushanbe are the Behzod Museum of History, Regional Studies, and Art; the Ethnographic Museum of the Tajik Academy of Sciences; and the Firdavsi Library, the oldest national library, housing a collection of historic manuscripts.


Tajikistan was the poorest of the former Soviet republics. Civil war wracked Tajikistan’s economy from the time of independence until a peace accord was signed in 1997. Turmoil in the south destroyed much of the region’s infrastructure, created thousands of refugees, and sorely disrupted agricultural production. A large number of Russian-speaking people, many of them technically skilled workers or professionals, fled the country to seek safety and more favorable economic conditions. The combination of these factors caused the gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of goods and services produced, to drop an average of 16 percent a year between 1990 and 1996. However, in 1997 the GDP began to rebound. GDP was $3.71 billion in 2007.

Economic reforms planned at the time of independence were mostly suspended because of the war. After the war, the government was able to focus on the difficult process of transforming the centrally planned economy of the Soviet period into one based on free-market principles. The government turned to mass privatization—the selling of state assets to the private sector—as a way to generate revenue, promote foreign investment, and gain support from international financial institutions such as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank). Although the reform process proceeded rapidly beginning in 1997, Tajikistan continued to face many serious economic problems, both as a legacy of Soviet central planning and civil war and as a consequence of economic transition.

Agriculture of Tajikistan

Agriculture forms the foundation of Tajikistan’s economy. The sector employed 67 percent of the workforce in 2000. The principal crop is cotton, which is grown on irrigated lands along the tributaries of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The cultivation of cotton is a legacy of the Soviet period, when government planners mandated that cotton be grown as an export crop. Cotton continues to be an important source of revenue. Other major crops include grain, primarily wheat; vegetables, particularly potatoes, onions, and tomatoes; and fruit, such as grapes and apples. Silkworms, who feed on the leaves of mulberry trees, are also cultivated for the production of raw silk. Raising cattle and sheep is also important. Much of the best farmland is held by collective farms, which lease agricultural plots to private farmers.

Mining and Manufacturing in Tajikistan

Mineral resources in the republic are extensive. Tajikistan has metals such as gold, silver, iron, lead, and tin; mineral fuels, mainly coal; and industrial materials such as phosphates and semiprecious stones. Much of the country’s mineral resources have yet to be developed. Many are in remote mountainous areas where the lack of transportation and severe weather make mining difficult. Several foreign companies have entered into joint ventures with the government of Tajikistan to mine gold, silver, and coal.

Some industrialization has taken place since the 1930s, but manufacturing still accounts for a relatively small part of Tajikistan’s economy. While Tajikistan produces substantial amounts of cotton, only about one-tenth of it is processed into textiles inside the country. Heavy manufacturing is limited to a few concerns, principally a massive aluminum plant located in Tursunzade, west of Dushanbe. However, the country has no deposits of aluminum ore and must import the raw material from other countries, mainly Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Energy in Tajikistan

Mountain rivers provide ample sources of hydroelectric power in Tajikistan, and an extensive hydroelectric power system was built during the Soviet period. Massive dams produced 98 percent of the country’s electricity in 2006, with the rest coming from thermal plants fueled by natural gas. Large quantities of electricity are needed to refine aluminum; the abundant supply of electricity in Tajikistan is why Soviet planners built the massive aluminum smelter in Tursunzade. New power stations are being built in Tajikistan with international assistance, positioning the country to become a major exporter of electricity in the region. Tajikistan is dependent on imports for other energy sources, including gas and oil.

Currency and Trade in Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s chief trading partners are other former Soviet republics, principally Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. The country is also developing trading relationships with European and Asian nations.

In 2000 Tajikistan introduced a new currency, the somoni, to replace the Tajik ruble. One somoni is made up of 100 dirams. The government issued the new currency in the expectation that it would help facilitate the transition to a market economy. For example, the new currency was designed to simplify financial transactions, as 1 somoni replaced 1,000 Tajik rubles. The Tajik ruble had been in use since 1995, when it replaced the Russian ruble. In 1994 Tajikistan had joined the “ruble zone,” comprising Russia and some other former Soviet republics, but Russia’s economic problems caused a severe shortage of rubles in Tajikistan. By issuing its own currency in 1995, the country gained control over its own monetary policy.


After Tajikistan became an independent republic in 1991, a period of political instability delayed the drafting of a new constitution to replace the one of the Soviet period. In 1994 voters approved a new constitution that formally established Tajikistan as an independent republic with a presidential system of government. In a 1999 referendum, voters approved constitutional amendments that created a new, two-chamber legislature and extended the presidential term of office from five years to seven.

Executive of Tajikistan

A president is head of state in Tajikistan. The president is directly elected for a term of seven years. Although the constitution imposes a limit of two consecutive terms, constitutional amendments passed in 2003 created an exception for the standing president, Imamali Rakhmonov, allowing him to run for two additional terms after having served two consecutive terms. The president appoints the prime minister and the members of the council of ministers, subject to legislative approval.

Legislature of Tajikistan

The legislature of Tajikistan comprises a lower chamber, the Majlisi Namoyandagon (Assembly of Representatives), and an upper chamber, the Majlisi Milliy (National Assembly). The 63 members of the Majlisi Namoyandagon are elected by popular vote for five-year terms; 22 are elected by proportional representation (in which representatives are elected from party lists in proportion to the number of votes each party receives), and 41 are elected from single-member constituencies (geographical areas that each have one representative). The 33 members of the Majlisi Milliy are indirectly elected for five-year terms; 25 are selected by local deputies, and 8 are appointed by the president. The Majlisi Namoyandagon acts on a permanent basis, while the Majlisi Milliy convenes at least twice per year.

Judiciary in Tajikistan

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court is the highest court in Tajikistan. Other high courts include the Supreme Economic Court and the Constitutional Court. The president appoints the judges of these three courts, with the approval of the legislature. Other courts include the Military Court, the courts of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, and local courts. The judges of all courts are appointed to ten-year terms.

Local Government of Tajikistan

For purposes of local government, Tajikistan is divided into Soghd Region (formerly Leninabad Region), Khatlon Region, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, and the capital, Dushanbe. The regions and Dushanbe are subdivided into districts. In addition, a number of districts in the central part of the country are not part of any region. Dushanbe is administratively independent of the regions. Dushanbe and the regions are administered by local councils, whose members are elected to five-year terms. The president appoints a chairperson to head each council.

Political Parties of Tajikistan

The People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), led by President Rakhmonov, dominates the government. Other parties holding seats in the legislature are the Communist Party of Tajikistan (CPT) and the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP).

In 1993, during the civil war, the Supreme Court banned a number of opposition parties. During the war, the IRP led the formation of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a coalition of opposition parties and paramilitary forces fighting the government. Under the terms of the 1997 peace agreement, UTO members were guaranteed inclusion in government. The ban on opposition parties and their media was formally revoked in August 1999. Opposition parties that reregistered that year included the IRP, whose leader, Said Abdullo Nuri, also led the UTO; Lali Badakhshon, which advocates greater autonomy for the Gorno-Badakhshan region; and Rastokhez (Resurrection), a nationalist party advocating freedom of religion.

Defense of Tajikistan

Tajikistan did not have armed forces separate from the Soviet security system during the Soviet period. After independence, Tajikistan developed its own armed forces. The paramilitary forces of the UTO began to be integrated into the national armed forces in 1998, under the terms of the peace agreement ending the country’s civil war. In 2006 Tajikistan had an army of 7,600 troops.

In response to the civil war in Tajikistan, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)—a loose alliance of most of the former Soviet republics—sent in a peacekeeping force of about 25,000 troops from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. After the civil war, Russia continued to maintain a military presence in the country. In 1999 Russia and Tajikistan signed a treaty that allows Russia to lease a military base in Tajikistan for ten years, with an option to renew thereafter. Tajikistan contributes forces to the CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Force, formed in 2003 under the auspices of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. The joint force also includes troops from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. Its stated aim is to combat a broad range of border security issues, including illegal migration, drug and weapons trafficking, and terrorism.

International Organizations in Tajikistan

Tajikistan became a member of the CIS in December 1991. The country was formally admitted as a member of the United Nations (UN) in 1992.


Tajiks are descendants of the Indo-Iranian peoples who inhabited the ancient regions of Sogdiana (in southeastern Central Asia) and Bactria (northern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan) before recorded history. Sogdiana included the northern portion of present-day Tajikistan, and its people spoke an ancient Iranian language. In the 6th century BC Sogdiana became a satrapy (a province ruled by a satrap, or Persian governor) of the Achaemenid Empire of ancient Persia. Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, conquered the region in the 300s BC, but Macedonian control collapsed with Alexander’s death in 323. Sogdiana was known to the Greeks as Transoxiana. In the 100s BC Sogdiana was included in the vast empire of the Kushānas, an area that at its height stretched from Central Asia to northern India. Sogdiana was then a central hub on the Silk Road, a collective term for the ancient caravan trade routes that linked China with the Middle East, India, and imperial Rome.

Invasions by the Huns and the Western Turks, nomadic tribes from the north, occurred between the 4th and 6th centuries AD. Then in the 8th century, Arab invaders conquered the region and introduced Islam, which thereafter remained the predominant cultural influence. In the 9th century a peaceable and affluent Persian dynasty, the Samanids, gained control of the region. The Samanids were allied with the Sunni caliph (religious and secular leader) of Baghdād, and they developed Bukhara as an important center of Muslim culture. The Samanid dynasty weakened in the late 10th century, however, and a number of Turkic hordes, most notably the Seljuks, fought over the region until the great conquest of the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan in the 13th century. The region then became part of the vast empire of Turkic conqueror Tamerlane in the 14th century. Under Tamerlane, who established the Timurid dynasty, Samarqand (in present-day Uzbekistan) became the center of cultural and political life.

In the 16th century, part of present-day Tajikistan was included in the Bukhara khanate (state ruled by khans) that was established by the Shaybanids, an Uzbek dynasty. Meanwhile the desolate Pamirs region remained outside the khanate and under the control of various local rulers and chieftains. In the early 1700s the Qŭqon (Kokand) khanate was formed in the Fergana Valley and included the city of Khujand (in present-day Tajikistan). By the mid-18th century the Manghits, another dynasty of Bukhara rulers, rose to power in the region.

Russian Conquest and Soviet Rule

The rule of the Manghits had become fractured by the time Russia invaded Central Asia in the latter half of the 19th century. Russian forces took Khujand and Bukhara in 1866. Bukhara was forced to become a vassal state in 1868, and the khanate of Khiva fell in 1873. Qŭqon was formally annexed in 1876. In 1916 many Tajiks and other Central Asian peoples rebelled against the Russian government when it attempted to conscript them into the Russian Imperial Army.

The Russian Empire collapsed during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Bolsheviks (Communists) seized control of the Russian government. With the Russian government in upheaval, the Central Asians grabbed the opportunity to rebel against Russian rule, establishing armed rebel groups that came to be known by the Russians as basmachis. Despite fierce resistance, the Bolsheviks proceeded to bring Central Asia under their domination. In 1921 the northern part of present-day Tajikistan became part of the Bolshevik-designated Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR). The Turkistan ASSR also included present-day Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, a small portion of northern Turkmenistan, and southern Kazakhstan.

After the Bolsheviks emerged victorious against their enemies in the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), they established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. By the mid-1920s the basmachi rebellion was mostly subdued. In 1924 the Bolsheviks decided to delineate new borders in Central Asia, carving up the region among its majority ethnic groups. That year the Soviet authorities created the Tajik (or Tadzhik) ASSR, making it part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). Then in 1929 the Tajik ASSR was upgraded to the status of an SSR, which made it a separate political entity from the Uzbek SSR. At this time the Soviet authorities transferred the territory of Khujand, located in the Fergana Valley, from the Uzbek SSR to the Tajik SSR.

The national delimitation policy of the Soviet authorities aimed to assign ethnic groups to particular homelands. However, the desire to break up older regional entities to which inhabitants might maintain allegiance also played a part in the process. Furthermore, centuries of interethnic cohabitation in Central Asia rendered clear-cut divisions impossible. A large proportion of Tajiks continued to reside outside the borders of the Tajik SSR (mostly in the cities of Bukhara, Samarqand, and Toshkent in the Uzbek SSR), while many Uzbeks and other groups resided in the Tajik republic.

Isolated on the far southeastern fringe of the Soviet Union, the Tajik SSR was at first only nominally important in the new Soviet state. In the 1920s the Soviet authorities encouraged local peoples to become active in the Communist Party of Tajikistan, which was the only legal political party. However, during the purges of the 1930s, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin expelled many Tajiks from the local Communist Party apparatus in an attempt to eliminate any opposition to his rule.

The collectivization of agriculture, in which all farmland was placed under state ownership, was completed in the Tajik republic in the 1930s, although the policy met widespread resistance. In the 1960s the Soviet authorities instituted a policy to increase cotton production in Central Asia, and the Tajik republic eventually became the third largest cotton-producing republic in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, heavy industries were introduced in the Tajik SSR, such as the aluminum plant at Tursunzade near the border with the Uzbek republic. When Dushanbe was designated the capital of the Tajik republic in 1924, it was no more than a village, but it developed rapidly into a modern city.

Reforms and Repression

An opportunity for greater local autonomy (self-government) presented itself in the 1980s under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev introduced a program for political reforms called glasnost (Russian for “openness”). Although reform was gradual and limited in Tajikistan, this program allowed, among other things, the formation of unofficial political groups. The government of the Tajik republic relaxed its censorship policies, and the increased freedom fostered a renewed interest in Tajik culture. In 1989 the Tajik Supreme Soviet (legislature) declared Tajik the official state language.

In early 1990 social unrest broke out in Dushanbe. Protestors called for democratic reforms and challenged the government to address the scarcity of work and housing. Demonstrators clashed with police, and the local government declared a state of emergency. Some 5,000 Soviet troops were dispatched to Dushanbe and suppressed the demonstrations. Opposition parties were then refused official registration.

In August 1990 the Tajik Supreme Soviet asserted the sovereignty of the Tajik republic. Although it fell short of a declaration of independence, the assertion did indicate a desire for less centralized control over local affairs. In November the first secretary of the Communist Party of Tajikistan, Qahhor Makhkamov, was elected by the legislature to the new post of president. His only opponent was Rakhmon Nabiyev, who had served as first secretary of the party from 1982 to 1985. Makhkamov resigned in August 1991, after a failed coup attempt in Moscow by Communist hardliners to take control of the Soviet government. In reaction to the Tajikistan government’s support of the coup attempt, some advocates of reform began antigovernment demonstrations, which continued sporadically over the succeeding months. The chairperson of the Supreme Soviet then stepped in as acting president.


In September 1991 the Tajik Supreme Soviet declared Tajikistan’s independence from the Soviet Union, following similar declarations by most of the other Soviet republics. The USSR officially collapsed in December. Most of the former Soviet republics, Tajikistan included, joined a loose political alliance called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

After Tajikistan’s independence, Communist officials who were resistant to democratic and economic reforms continued to control the government. In November 1991 Nabiyev, the onetime head of the Communist Party of Tajikistan, won the country’s first direct presidential election with 57 percent of the vote.

Renewed antigovernment demonstrations began in Dushanbe in March 1992 after Nabiyev dismissed some prominent sympathizers of the opposition from his government. The officially banned opposition parties staged demonstrations calling for Nabiyev’s resignation. The opposition was composed of the Islamic Rebirth Party and pro-democracy secular groups (Rastokhez, the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, and Lali Badakhshon). In early May government troops fired on the demonstrators, killing several people. Violent clashes between the opposition and pro-government forces soon escalated into civil war.

In September the opposition seized Nabiyev in Dushanbe and forced him to announce his resignation. In November the Supreme Soviet abolished the office of president and appointed a hardliner official, Imamali Rakhmonov, head of the Supreme Soviet, and as such, head of state. The Supreme Soviet also elected a new neo-Soviet government, maintaining the longtime regional bias in the political power structure. Government officials came from the Khujand, Kŭlob, and Hisor regions, whereas the opposition was based in the southern Qŭrghonteppa (Kurgan-Tyube) region, the Garm (Gharm) Valley to the east of Dushanbe, and Gorno-Badakhshan in the east.

The Islamic-democratic alliance formed a military coalition called the Popular Democratic Army and held control of Dushanbe until December. They agreed to hand over the city when the new government was formed, but militias loyal to the government attacked and captured the capital anyway. Opposition rebels fled to the mountains east of Dushanbe and to Afghanistan. The Islamic opposition, from bases in Afghanistan, continued to wage guerrilla warfare along Tajikistan’s southern border. Fighting between government and rebel forces also took place in Gorno-Badakhshan. The Islamic Rebirth Party rebels, who established a political coalition of parties and individuals and armed supporters called the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), reportedly received the support of Afghan mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters). The continuous fighting killed tens of thousands and drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in late 1992 and early 1993.

After reestablishing control, the government renewed its campaign of suppression and persecution of the political opposition. Activities of the press were severely constrained, and opposition newspapers were closed. Many journalists were arrested, several disappeared, and others were found dead. Prominent opposition leaders were also placed under arrest. The Supreme Court officially banned all opposition parties in June 1993, leaving the Communist Party of Tajikistan as the only legal party in the country. Later in the year members of the government or close associates formed a number of pro-government parties, including the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT).

By December 1993 Russia and all of the Central Asian states except Turkmenistan had deployed a CIS peacekeeping force of about 25,000 troops to Tajikistan. The troops were stationed to guard the Tajikistan border with Afghanistan and fight the Islamic guerrilla groups operating within Tajikistan and from bases in Afghanistan. In early 1994 President Rakhmonov announced the government was willing to negotiate with the opposition, which had been urging peace talks since 1993. In September both sides reached a temporary cease-fire accord and agreed to seek reconciliation through political means. The cease-fire took effect in October, and the United Nations (UN) sent an observer mission to monitor it.

In an election held in November 1994, the people of Tajikistan elected Rakhmonov as president while simultaneously approving a new constitution that reinstated the presidential system. Opposition parties were not allowed to field candidates, and international observers found the election neither free nor fair. The opposition was also excluded from legislative elections held in February 1995. Candidates affiliated with the Communist Party of Tajikistan and its ally, the PDPT, dominated the new legislature, called the Majlisi Oli (Supreme Assembly).

With the help of the UN, peace talks between the two sides continued on an on-and-off basis after the establishment of a cease-fire in 1994. By mid-1996 Russia, which backed the Tajikistan government, began to view the rise of the Taliban, an Islamic movement in Afghanistan, as a bigger threat to its interests than the UTO. Russia urged the Tajikistan government to make some concessions to obtain a peace agreement with the UTO. The talks resulted in a new cease-fire agreement in December. However, some Islamic rebel factions and other armed groups caused further sporadic fighting.

Negotiations over the terms of a formal treaty continued, and in February 1997 Rakhmonov and the leader of the UTO, Said Abdullo Nuri, signed a preliminary peace agreement. In subsequent negotiations, the government agreed to legalize the opposition parties it had previously banned and to include opposition leaders in 30 percent of high-level government posts. In June of that year, both sides signed a peace accord that incorporated these government concessions. The two sides also formed the National Reconciliation Council (NRC), a joint council of government and opposition representatives that would oversee implementation of the peace terms. Nuri returned to Tajikistan, ending five years in exile in Iran and Afghanistan, as chairperson of the NRC.

In January 1998 Rakhmonov announced the government would grant amnesty to all opposition leaders in exile. He also agreed to appoint one of the Islamic opposition’s leaders as first deputy prime minister. In 1999 the UTO twice suspended its participation in the NRC, claiming the government was not upholding its promises or acknowledging UTO demands. In September of that year, voters approved major constitutional amendments in a national referendum. The amendments created a new bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, extended the presidential term of office from five years to seven, and legalized the right to form religion-based parties.

In November 1999 Rakhmonov was reelected president in a basically uncontested election, after the electoral commission barred three of his challengers from running. Legislative elections were held in 2000 for the new 63-seat lower house, the Majlisi Namoyandagon (Assembly of Representatives). The majority of seats went to Rakhmonov’s party, the PDPT. As provided for in the 1997 peace treaty, members of the opposition were appointed to 30 percent of all government posts. After the elections the NRC was dissolved, having fulfilled its mandate, but many divisions within the country remained unresolved.

In June 2003 a popular referendum approved a package of constitutional amendments. One of these exempted President Rakhmonov from a two-term limit, allowing him to stand for two additional terms after the expiration of his second term in 2006. Another of the approved amendments abolished the constitutional guarantee of free, state-funded health care and higher education.

Rakhmonov’s ruling PDPT won by a landslide in the 2005 legislative elections, which international monitors said were marred by widespread voting irregularities. The PDPT captured 51 seats, giving it nearly complete dominance of the lower house. Only two other parties, the Communist Party of Tajikistan and the opposition Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP), won enough votes to gain seats. In November 2006 Rakhmonov was reelected by a landslide to a third term as president. He faced no real competition in the election, as opposition parties refused to field candidates and boycotted the polling. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported widespread voting irregularities and criticized the election process for failing to meet democratic standards.

© The Globe Encyclopedia. All rights reserved. Distributed by ASThemesWorld