DWA 278:Oil and Politics in the Caspian Basin
Occidental College
Professor Walter Comins-Richmond



Historical Background

Before the Soviet era, which began in Central Asia in the early 1920s, the area designated today as the Republic of Tajikistan underwent a series of population changes that brought with them political and cultural influences from the Turkic and Mongol peoples of the Eurasian steppe, China, Iran, Russia, and other contiguous regions. The Tajik people came fully under Russian rule, after a series of military campaigns that began in the 1860s, at the end of the nineteenth century.

Ethnic Background

Iranian peoples, including ancestors of the modern Tajiks, have inhabited Central Asia since at least the earliest recorded history of the region, which began some 2,500 years ago. Contemporary Tajiks are the descendants of ancient Eastern Iranian inhabitants of Central Asia, in particular the Soghdians and the Bactrians, and possibly other groups, with an admixture of Western Iranian Persians and non-Iranian peoples. The ethnic contribution of various Turkic and Mongol peoples, who entered Central Asia at later times, has not been determined precisely. However, experts assume that some assimilation must have occurred in both directions.

The origin of the name Tajik has been embroiled in twentieth-century political disputes about whether Turkic or Iranian peoples were the original inhabitants of Central Asia. The explanation most favored by scholars is that the word evolved from the name of a pre-Islamic (before the seventh century A.D.) Arab tribe.

Until the twentieth century, people in the region used two types of distinction to identify themselves: way of life--either nomadic or sedentary--and place of residence. By the late nineteenth century, the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, who had lived in proximity for centuries and often used each other's languages, did not perceive themselves as two distinct nationalities. Consequently, such labels were imposed artificially when Central Asia was divided into five Soviet republics in the 1920s.

Early History

Much, if not all, of what is today Tajikistan was part of ancient Persia's Achaemenid Empire (sixth to fourth centuries B.C.), which was subdued by Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. and then became part of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, one of the successor states to Alexander's empire. The northern part of what is now Tajikistan was part of Soghdiana, a distinct region that intermittently existed as a combination of separate oasis states and sometimes was subject to other states. Two important cities in what is now northern Tajikistan, Khujand (formerly Leninobod; Russian spelling Leninabad) and Panjakent, as well as Bukhoro (Bukhara) and Samarqand (Samarkand) in contemporary Uzbekistan, were Soghdian in antiquity. As intermediaries on the Silk Route between China and markets to the west and south, the Soghdians imparted religions such as Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manichaeism, as well as their own alphabet and other knowledge, to peoples along the trade routes.

Between the first and fourth centuries, the area that is now Tajikistan and adjoining territories were part of the Kushan realm, which had close cultural ties to India. The Kushans, whose exact identity is uncertain, played an important role in the expansion of Buddhism by spreading the faith to the Soghdians,who in turn brought it to China and the Turks.

By the first century A.D., the Han dynasty of China had developed commercial and diplomatic relations with the Soghdians and their neighbors, the Bactrians. Military operations also extended Chinese influence westward into the region. During the first centuries A.D., Chinese involvement in this region waxed and waned, decreasing sharply after the Islamic conquest but not disappearing completely. As late as the nineteenth century, China attempted to press its claim to the Pamir region of what is now southeastern Tajikistan. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, China occasionally has revived its claim to part of this region.

The Islamic Conquest

Islamic Arabs began the conquest of the region in earnest in the early eighth century. Conversion to Islam occurred by means of incentives, gradual acceptance, and force of arms. Islam spread most rapidly in cities and along the main river valleys. By the ninth century, it was the prevalent religion in the entire region. In the early centuries of Islamic domination, Central Asia continued in its role as a commercial crossroads, linking China, the steppes to the north, and the Islamic heartland.

Persian Culture in Central Asia

The Persian influence on Central Asia, already prominent before the Islamic conquest, grew even stronger afterward. Under Iran's last pre-Islamic empire, the Sassanian, the Persian language and culture as well as the Zoroastrian religion spread among the peoples of Central Asia, including the ancestors of the modern Tajiks. In the wake of the Islamic conquest, Persian-speakers settled in Central Asia, where they played an active role in public affairs and furthered the spread of the Persian language and culture, their language displacing Eastern Iranian ones. By the twelfth century, Persian had also supplanted Arabic as the written language for most subjects.

The Samanids

In the development of a modern Tajik national identity, the most important state in Central Asia after the Islamic conquest was the Persian-speaking Samanid principality (875-999), which came to rule most of what is now Tajikistan, as well as territory to the south and west. During their reign, the Samanids supported the revival of the written Persian language.

Early in the Samanid period, Bukhoro became well-known as a center of learning and culture throughout the eastern part of the Persian-speaking world. Samanid literary patronage played an important role in preserving the culture of pre-Islamic Iran. Late in the tenth century, the Samanid state came under increasing pressure from Turkic powers to the north and south. After the Qarakhanid Turks overthrew the Samanids in 999, no major Persian state ever again existed in Central Asia.

Beginning in the ninth century, Turkish penetration of the Persian cultural sphere increased in Central Asia. The influx of even greater numbers of Turkic peoples began in the eleventh century. The Turkic peoples who moved into southern Central Asia, including what later became Tajikistan, were influenced to varying degrees by Persian culture. Over the generations, some converted Turks changed from pastoral nomadism to a sedentary way of life, which brought them into closer contact with the sedentary Persian-speakers. Cultural influences flowed in both directions as Turks and Persians intermarried.

During subsequent centuries, the lands that eventually became Tajikistan were part of Turkic or Mongol states. The Persian language remained in use in government, scholarship, and literature. Among the dynasties that ruled all or part of the future Tajikistan between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries were the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, and the Timurids (Timur, or Tamerlane, and his heirs and their subjects). Repeated power struggles among claimants to these realms took their toll on Central Asia. The Mongol conquest in particular dealt a serious blow to sedentary life and destroyed several important cities in the region. Although they had come in conquest, the Timurids also patronized scholarship, the arts, and letters.

In the early sixteenth century, Uzbeks from the northwest conquered large sections of Central Asia, but the unified Uzbek state began to break apart soon after the conquest. By the early nineteenth century, the lands of the future Tajikistan were divided among three states: the Uzbek-ruled Bukhoro Khanate, the Quqon (Kokand) Khanate, centered on the Fergana Valley, and the kingdom of Afghanistan. These three principalities subsequently fought each other for control of key areas of the new territory. Although some regions were under the nominal control of Bukhoro, or Quqon, local rulers were virtually independent.

The Russian Conquest

After several unsuccessful attempts in earlier times, the Russian conquest and settlement of Central Asia began in earnest in the second half of the nineteenth century. Spurred by various economic and geopolitical factors, increasing numbers of Russians moved into Central Asia in this period. Although some armed resistance occurred, Tajik society remained largely unchanged during this initial colonial period.

The Occupation Process

By 1860 the Central Asian principalities were ripe for conquest by the much more powerful Russian Empire. Imperial policy makers believed that these principalities had to be subdued because of their armed opposition to Russian expansion into the Kazak steppe, which already was underway to the north of Tajikistan. Some proponents of Russian expansion saw it as a way to compensate for losses elsewhere and to pressure Britain, Russia's perennial nemesis in the region, by playing on British concerns about threats to its position in India. The Russian military supported campaigns in Central Asia as a means of advancing careers and building personal fortunes. The region assumed much greater economic importance in the second half of the nineteenth century because of its potential as a supplier of cotton.

An important step in the Russian conquest was the capture of Tashkent from the Quqon Khanate, part of which was annexed in 1866. The following year, Tashkent became the capital of the new Guberniya (Governorate General) of Turkestan, which included the districts of Khujand and Uroteppa (later part of Tajikistan). After a domestic uprising and Russian military occupation, Russia annexed the remainder of the Quqon Khanate in 1876.

The Bukhoro Khanate fought Russian invaders during the same period, losing the Samarqand area in 1868. Russia chose not to annex the rest of Bukhoro, fearing repercussions in the Muslim world and from Britain because Bukhoro was a bastion of Islam and a place of strategic significance to British India. Instead, the tsar's government made a treaty with Bukhoro, recognizing its existence but in effect subordinating it to Russia. Bukhoro actually gained territory by this agreement, when the Russian administration granted the amir of Bukhoro a district that included Dushanbe, now the capital of Tajikistan, in compensation for the territory that had been ceded to Russia.

In the 1880s, the principality of Shughnon-Rushon in the western Pamir Mountains became a new object of contention between Britain and Russia when Afghanistan and Russia disputed territory there. An 1895 treaty assigned the disputed territory to Bukhoro, and at the same time put the eastern Pamirs under Russian rule.

Tajikistan under Russian Rule

Russian rule brought important changes in Central Asia, but many elements of the traditional way of life scarcely changed. In the part of what is now Tajikistan that was incorporated into the Guberniya of Turkestan, many ordinary inhabitants had limited contact with Russian officials or settlers before 1917. Rural administration there resembled the system that governed peasants in the European part of the Russian Empire after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Local administration in villages continued to follow long-established tradition, and prior to 1917 few Russians lived in the area of present-day Tajikistan. Russian authorities also left education in the region substantially the same between the 1870s and 1917.

An important event of the 1870s was Russia's initial expansion of cotton cultivation in the region, including the areas of the Fergana Valley and the Bukhoro Khanate that later became part of Tajikistan. The pattern of switching land from grain cultivation to cotton cultivation, which intensified during the Soviet period, was established at this time. The first cotton-processing plant was established in eastern Bukhoro during World War I.

Some elements of opposition to Russian hegemony appeared in the late nineteenth century. By 1900 a novel educational approach was being offered by reformers known as Jadidists (jadid is the Arabic word for "new.") The Jadidists, who received support from Tajiks, Tatars, and Uzbeks, were modernizers and nationalists who viewed Central Asia as a whole. Their position was that the religious and cultural greatness of Islamic civilization had been degraded in the Central Asia of their day. The Tatars and Central Asians who shared these views established Jadidist schools in several cities in the Guberniya of Turkestan. Although the Jadidists were not necessarily anti-Russian, tsarist officials in Turkestan found their kind of education even more threatening than traditional Islamic teaching. By World War I, several cities in present-day Tajikistan had underground Jadidist organizations.

Between 1869 and 1913, uprisings against the amir of Bukhoro erupted under local rulers in the eastern part of the khanate. The uprisings of 1910 and 1913 required Russian troops to restore order. A peasant revolt also occurred in eastern Bukhoro in 1886. The failed Russian revolution of 1905 resonated very little among the indigenous populations of Central Asia. In the Duma (legislature) that was established in St. Petersburg as a consequence of the events of 1905, the indigenous inhabitants of Turkestan were allotted only six representatives. Subsequent to the second Duma in 1907, Central Asians were denied all representation.

By 1916 discontent with the effects of Russian rule had grown substantially. Central Asians complained especially of discriminatory taxation and price gouging by Russian merchants. A flashpoint was Russia's revocation that year of Central Asians' traditional exemption from military service. In July 1916, the first violent reaction to the impending draft occurred when demonstrators attacked Russian soldiers in Khujand, in what would later be northern Tajikistan. Although clashes continued in various parts of Central Asia through the end of the year, Russian troops quickly brought the Khujand region back under control. The following year, the Russian Revolution ended tsarist rule in Central Asia.

In the early 1920s, the establishment of Soviet rule in Central Asia led to the creation of a new entity called Tajikistan as a republic within the Soviet Union. In contrast to the tsarist period, when most inhabitants of the future Tajikistan felt only limited Russian influence, the Soviet era saw a central authority exert itself in a way that was ideologically and culturally alien to the republic's inhabitants. The Tajik way of life experienced much change, even though social homogenization was never achieved.

The Revolutionary Era

The indigenous inhabitants of the former Guberniya of Turkestan played no role in the overthrow of the Russian monarchy in March 1917 or in the seizure of power by the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) in November of that year. But the impact of those upheavals soon was felt in all parts of Central Asia. After the fall of the monarchy, Russia's Provisional Government abolished the office of governor-general of Turkestan and established in its place a nine-member Turkestan Committee, in which Russians had the majority and provided the leadership. The Provisional Government, which ruled Russia between March and November 1917, was unwilling to address the specific concerns of Central Asian reformers, including regional autonomy. Central Asians received no seats in Russia's short-lived Constituent Assembly. The events of 1917 finally alienated both conservatives and radicals from the revolution.

In 1917 the soviets (local revolutionary assemblies including soldiers and workers) that sprang up in Russian areas of Turkestan and Bukhoro were composed overwhelmingly of Russians. In November 1917, a regional congress of soviets in Tashkent declared a revolutionary regime and voted by a wide margin to continue the policies of the Provisional Government. Thus, Central Asians again were denied political representation. Eventually, local communists established a figurehead soviet for Central Asians.

Having been denied access to the revolutionary organs of power, Central Asian reformers and conservatives formed their own organizations, as well as an umbrella group, the National Center. Although the groups cooperated on some issues of common interest, considerable animosity and occasional violence marked their relations. One group of Central Asian Muslims declared an autonomous state in southern Central Asia centered in the city of Quqon. At the beginning of 1919, the Tashkent Soviet declared the Quqon group counterrevolutionary and seized the city, killing at least 5,000 civilians.

Meanwhile, in 1918 the Tashkent Soviet had been defeated soundly in its effort to overthrow the amir of Bukhoro, who was seen by the communists and the Central Asian reformers alike as an obstacle to their respective programs. The attempted coup provoked a campaign of repression by the amir, and the defeat forced the Russian authorities in Tashkent to recognize a sovereign Bukhoran state in place of a Russian protectorate.

Impact of the Civil War

An acute food shortage struck Turkestan in 1918-19, the result of the civil war, scarcities of grain caused by communist cotton-cultivation and price-setting policies, and the Tashkent Soviet's disinclination to provide famine relief to indigenous Central Asians. No authoritative estimate of famine deaths is available, but Central Asian nationalists put the number above 1 million.

In the fall of 1919, the collapse of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in western Siberia enabled General Mikhail Frunze to lead Red Army forces into Central Asia and gradually occupy the entire region. In 1920 the Red Army occupied Bukhoro and drove out the amir, declaring an independent people's republic but remaining as an occupation force. Turkestan, including the northern part of present-day Tajikistan, was officially incorporated into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1921.

By 1921 the Russian communists had won the Russian Civil War and established the first Soviet republics in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belorussia (present-day Belarus), Georgia, and Ukraine. At this point, the communists reduced the party's token Central Asian leadership to figurehead positions and expelled a large number of the Central Asian rank and file. In 1922 the Communist Party of Bukhoro was incorporated into the Russian Communist Party, which soon became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Thereafter, most major government offices in Bukhoro were filled by appointees sent from Moscow, many of them Tatars, and many Central Asians were purged from the party and the government. In 1924 Bukhoro was converted from a people's republic to a Soviet socialist republic.

The Basmachi

An indigenous resistance movement proved the last barrier to assimilation of Central Asia into the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, more than 20,000 people fought Soviet rule in Central Asia. The Russians applied a derogatory term, Basmachi (which originally meant brigand), to the groups. Although the resistance did not apply that term to itself, it nonetheless entered common usage. The several Basmachi groups had conflicting agendas and seldom coordinated their actions. After arising in the Fergana Valley, the movement became a rallying ground for opponents of Russian or Bolshevik rule from all parts of the region. Peasant unrest already existed in the area because of wartime hardships and the demands of the amir and the soviets. The Red Army's harsh treatment of local inhabitants in 1921 drove more people into the resistance camp. However, the Basmachi movement became more divided and more conservative as it gained numerically. It achieved some unity under the leadership of Enver Pasha, a Turkish adventurer with ambitions to lead the new secular government of Turkey, but Enver was killed in battle in early 1922.

Except for remote pockets of resistance, guerrilla fighting in Tajikistan ended by 1925. The defeat of the Basmachis caused as many as 200,000 people, including noncombatants, to flee eastern Bukhoro in the first half of the 1920s. A few thousand subsequently returned over the next several years.

The communists used a combination of military force and conciliation to defeat the Basmachis. The military approach ultimately favored the communist side, which was much better armed. The Red Army forces included Tatars and Central Asians, who enabled the invading force to appear at least partly indigenous. Conciliatory measures (grants of food, tax relief, the promise of land reform, the reversal of anti-Islamic policies launched during the Civil War, and the promise of an end to agricultural controls) prompted some Basmachis to reconcile themselves to the new order.

Creation of Tajikistan

After establishing communist rule throughout formerly tsarist Central Asia in 1924, the Soviet government redrew internal political borders, eliminating the major units into which the region had been divided. The Soviet rationale was that this reorganization fulfilled local inhabitants' nationalist aspirations and would undercut support for the Basmachis. However, the new boundaries still left national groups fragmented, and nationalist aspirations in Central Asia did not prove as threatening as depicted in communist propaganda.

One of the new states created in Central Asia in 1924 was Uzbekistan, which had the status of a Soviet socialist republic. Tajikistan was created as an autonomous Soviet socialist republic within Uzbekistan. The new autonomous republic included what had been eastern Bukhoro and had a population of about 740,000, out of a total population of nearly 5 million in Uzbekistan as a whole. Its capital was established in Dushanbe, which had been a village of 3,000 in 1920. In 1929 Tajikistan was detached from Uzbekistan and given full status as a Soviet socialist republic. At that time, the territory that is now northern Tajikistan was added to the new republic. Even with the additional territory, Tajikistan remained the smallest Central Asian republic.

With the creation of a republic defined in national terms came the creation of institutions that, at least in form, were likewise national. The first Tajik-language newspaper in Soviet Tajikistan began publication in 1926. New educational institutions also began operation about the same time. The first state schools, available to both children and adults and designed to provide a basic education, opened in 1926. The central government also trained a small number of Tajiks for public office, either by putting them through courses offered by government departments or by sending them to schools in Uzbekistan.

From 1921 to 1927, during the New Economic Policy (NEP) Soviet agricultural policy promoted the expansion of cotton cultivation in Central Asia. By the end of the NEP, the extent of cotton cultivation had increased dramatically, but yield did not match prerevolutionary levels. At the same time, the cultivation of rice, a staple food of the region, declined considerably.


The collectivization of agriculture was implemented on a limited scale in Tajikistan between 1927 and 1929, and much more aggressively between 1930 and 1934. The objective of Soviet agricultural policy was to expand the extent of cotton cultivation in Tajikistan as a whole, with particular emphasis on the southern part of the republic. The process included violence against peasants, substantial expansion of the irrigation network, and forcible resettlement of mountain people and people from Uzbekistan in the lowlands. Many peasants in Tajikistan fought forced collectivization, reviving the Basmachi movement in upland enclaves between 1930 and 1936. The interwar years also saw small-scale industrial development in the republic.

The Purges

Like the CPSU branches elsewhere in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of Tajikistan suffered waves of purges directed by the central government in Moscow between 1927 and 1934. Conditions particular to Tajikistan were used to provide additional justification for the crackdown. Many Tajik communists were highly critical of the ferocity with which the collectivization of agriculture was implemented, and central party authorities were dissatisfied with the local communists' advocacy of the republic's interests, including attempts to gain more autonomy and shield local intellectuals. About 70 percent of the party membership in Tajikistan--nearly 10,000 people at all levels of the organization--was expelled between 1933 and 1935. Between 1932 and 1937, the proportion of Tajiks in the republic's party membership dropped from 53 to 45 percent as the purges escalated. Many of those expelled from party and state offices were replaced by Russians sent in by the central government. Another round of purges took place in 1937 and 1938, during the Great Terror orchestrated by Joseph V. Stalin. Subsequently Russians dominated party positions at all levels, including the top position of first secretary. Whatever their nationality, party officials representing Tajikistan, unlike those from some other Soviet republics, had little influence in nationwide politics throughout the existence of the Soviet Union.

The Postwar Period

The post-World War II era saw the expansion of irrigated agriculture, the further development of industry, and a rise in the level of education in Tajikistan. Like the rest of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan felt the effects of the party and government reorganization projects of Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64). Especially in 1957 and 1958, Tajikistan's population and economy were manipulated as part of Khrushchev's overly ambitious Virgin Lands project, a campaign to forcibly increase the extent of arable land in the Soviet Union. Under Khrushchev and his successor, Leonid I. Brezhnev (in office 1964-82), Tajikistan's borders were periodically redrawn as districts and provinces were recombined, abolished, and restored, while small amounts of territory were acquired from or ceded to neighboring republics.

During the Soviet period, the only Tajikistani politician to become important outside his region was Bobojon Ghafurov (1908-77), a Tajik who became prominent as the Stalinist first secretary of the Communist Party of Tajikistan in the late 1940s. After Stalin's death in 1953, Ghafurov, a historian by training, established himself as a prominent Asia scholar and magazine editor, injecting notes of Tajik nationalism into some of his historical writings.

The fate of Ghafurov's successors illustrates important trends in the politics of Soviet Central Asia in the second half of the twentieth century. The next first secretary, Tursunbai Uljabayev (in office 1956-61), was ousted amid accusations that he had falsified reports to exaggerate the success of cotton production in the republic (charges also leveled in the 1980s against Uzbekistan's leadership); apparently the central government also objected to Uljabayev's preferential appointments of his cronies from Leninobod Province to party positions. Uljabaev's replacement as first secretary, Jabbor Rasulov, was a veteran of the prestigious agricultural bureaucracy of the republic. Like first secretaries in the other Central Asian republics, Rasulov benefited from Brezhnev's policy of "stability of cadres" and remained in office until Brezhnev's death in 1982.

Rasulov's successor, Rahmon Nabiyev, was a man of the Brezhnevite political school, who, like his predecessor, had spent much of his career in the agricultural bureaucracy. Nabiyev held office until ousted in 1985 as Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (in office 1985-91) swept out the republic's old-guard party leaders. Nabiyev's 1991 installation as president of independent Tajikistan, by means of an old-guard coup and a rigged election, exacerbated the political tensions in the republic and was an important step toward the civil war that broke out in 1992.

All the post-Stalin party first secretaries came from Leninobod, in keeping with a broader phenomenon of Tajikistani politics from the postwar period to the collapse of the Soviet Union--the linkage between regional cliques, especially from Leninobod Province, and political power. Although certain cliques from Leninobod were dominant, they allowed allies from other provinces a lesser share of power. As the conflict in the early1990s showed, supporters of opposing camps could be found in all the country's provinces.

The forces of fragmentation in the Soviet Union eventually affected Tajikistan, whose government strongly supported continued unity. Bowing to Tajik nationalism, Tajikistan's Supreme Soviet adopted a declaration of sovereignty in August 1990, but in March 1991, the people of Tajikistan voted overwhelmingly for preservation of the union in a national referendum. That August the Moscow coup against the Gorbachev government brought mass demonstrations by opposition groups in Dushanbe, forcing the resignation of President Kahar Mahkamov. Nabiyev assumed the position of acting president. The following month, the Supreme Soviet proclaimed Tajikistan an independent state, following the examples of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In November, Nabiyev was elected president of the new republic, and in December, representatives of Tajikistan signed the agreement forming the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to succeed the Soviet Union.

Antigovernment demonstrations began in Dushanbe in March 1992. In April 1992, tensions mounted as progovernment groups opposing reform staged counterdemonstrations. By May, small armed clashes had occurred, causing Nabiyev to break off negotiations with the reformist demonstrators and go into hiding. After eight antigovernment demonstrators were killed in Dushanbe, the commander of the Russian garrison brokered a compromise agreement creating a coalition government in which one-third of the cabinet positions would go to members of the opposition. The collapse of that government heralded the outbreak of a civil war that plagued Tajikistan for the next four years.

Transition to Post-Soviet Government

In the late 1980s, problems in the Soviet system had already provoked open public dissatisfaction with the status quo in Tajikistan. In February 1990, demonstrations against government housing policy precipitated a violent clash in Dushanbe. Soviet army units sent to quell the riots inflicted casualties on demonstrators and bystanders alike. Using the riots as a pretext to repress political dissent, the regime imposed a state of emergency that lasted long after the riots had ended. In this period, criticism of the regime by opposition political leaders was censored from state radio and television broadcasts. The state brought criminal charges against the leaders of the popular front organization Rastokhez (Rebirth) for inciting the riots, although the Supreme Soviet later ruled that Rastokhez was not implicated. Students were expelled from institutions of higher education merely for attending nonviolent political meetings. The events of 1990 made the opposition even more critical of the communist old guard than it had been previously.

In the highly charged political atmosphere after the failure of the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow, Tajikistan's Supreme Soviet voted for independence for the republic in September 1991. That vote was not intended to signal a break with the Soviet Union, however. It was rather a response to increasingly vociferous opposition demands and to similar declarations by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a development in which Tajikistan played no role, the republic joined the CIS when that loose federation of former Soviet republics was established in December 1991.

The political opposition within Tajikistan was composed of a diverse group of individuals and organizations. The three major opposition parties were granted legal standing at various times in 1991. The highest-ranking Islamic figure in the republic, the chief qadi , Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda, sided openly with the opposition coalition beginning in late 1991. The opposition's ability to govern and the extent of its public support never were tested because it gained only brief, token representation in a 1992 coalition government that did not exercise effective authority over the entire country.

In the early independence period, the old guard sought to depict itself as the duly elected government of Tajikistan now facing a power grab by Islamic radicals who would bring to Tajikistan fundamentalist repression similar to that occurring in Iran and Afghanistan. Yet both claims were misleading. The elections for the republic's Supreme Soviet and president had been neither free nor truly representative of public opinion. The legislative election was held in February 1990 under the tight constraints of the state of emergency. In the presidential election of 1991, Nabiyev had faced only one opponent, filmmaker and former communist Davlat Khudonazarov, whose message had been stifled by communist control of the news media and the workplace. Despite Nabiyev's advantageous position, Khudonazarov received more than 30 percent of the vote.

In the first half of 1992, the opposition responded to increased repression by organizing ever larger proreform demonstrations. When Nabiyev assembled a national guard force, coalition supporters, who were concentrated in the southern Qurghonteppa Province and the eastern Pamir region, acquired arms and prepared for battle. Meanwhile, opponents of reform brought their own supporters to Dushanbe from nearby Kulob Province to stage counterdemonstrations in April of that year. Tensions mounted, and small-scale clashes occurred. In May 1992, after Nabiyev had broken off negotiations with the oppositionist demonstrators and had gone into hiding, the confrontation came to a head when opposition demonstrators were fired upon and eight were killed. At that point, the commander of the Russian garrison in Dushanbe brokered a compromise. The main result of the agreement was the formation of a coalition government in which one-third of the cabinet posts would go to members of the opposition.

For most of the rest of 1992, opponents of reform worked hard to overturn the coalition and block implementation of measures such as formation of a new legislature in which the opposition would have a voice. In the summer and fall of 1992, vicious battles resulted in many casualties among civilians and combatants. Qurghonteppa bore the brunt of attacks by antireformist irregular forces during that period. In August 1992, demonstrators in Dushanbe seized Nabiyev and forced him at gunpoint to resign. The speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Akbarsho Iskandarov--a Pamiri closely associated with Nabiyev--became acting president. Iskandarov advocated a negotiated resolution of the conflict, but he had little influence over either side.

The political and military battles for control continued through the fall of 1992. In November the Iskandarov coalition government resigned in the hope of reconciling the contending factions. Later that month, the Supreme Soviet, still dominated by hard-liners, met in emergency session in Khujand, an antireform stronghold, to select a new government favorable to their views. When the office of president was abolished, the speaker of parliament, Imomali Rahmonov, became de facto head of government. A thirty-eight-year-old former collective farm director, Rahmonov had little experience in government. The office of prime minister went to Abdumalik Abdullojanov, a veteran hard-line politician.

Once in possession of Dushanbe, the neo-Soviets stepped up repression. Three leading opposition figures, including Turajonzoda and the deputy prime minister in the coalition government, were charged with treason and forced into exile, and two other prominent opposition supporters were assassinated in December. There were mass arrests on nebulous charges and summary executions of individuals captured without formal arrest. Fighting on a smaller scale between the forces of the old guard and the opposition continued elsewhere in Tajikistan and across the border with Afghanistan into the mid-1990s.

The conflict in Tajikistan often was portrayed in Western news reports as occurring primarily among clans or regional cliques. Many different lines of affiliation shaped the configuration of forces in the conflict, however, and both sides were divided over substantive political issues. The old guard had never reconciled itself to the reforms of the Gorbachev era (1985-91) or to the subsequent demise of the Soviet regime. Above all, the factions in this camp wanted to ensure for themselves a monopoly of the kinds of benefits enjoyed by the ruling elite under the Soviet system. The opposition coalition factions were divided over what form the new regime in Tajikistan ought to take: secular parliamentary democracy, nationalist reformism, or Islamicization. Proponents of the last option were themselves divided over the form and pace of change.

In April 1994, peace talks arranged by the United Nations (UN) began between the post-civil war government in Dushanbe and members of the exiled opposition. Between that time and early 1996, six major rounds of talks were held in several different cities. Several smaller-scale meetings also occurred directly between representatives of both sides or through Russian, UN, or other intermediaries. Observers at the main rounds of talks included representatives of Russia, other Central Asian states, Iran, Pakistan, the United States, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE-- after 1994 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE), and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. In the first two years, these negotiations produced few positive results. The most significant result was a cease-fire agreement that took effect in October 1994. The initial agreement, scheduled to last only for a few weeks, was renewed repeatedly into 1996, albeit with numerous violations by both sides. As a result of the cease fire, the UN established an observer mission in Tajikistan, which had a staff of forty-three in early 1996.

Political situation

  • Following the break-up of the former Soviet Union, Tajikistan became an independent Republic on 9 September 1991. Largely unprepared for this new reality, Tajikistan soon faced an acute social and economic crisis as the previous interdependent central planning system disintegrated. The situation was severely aggravated by the ensuing civil war. The country experienced the emergence of various political platforms presenting divergent policies to deal with the rapidly deteriorating situation. The failure to maintain stability was largely caused by the struggle between different regional and political affiliations for the redistribution of power in the country after the collapse of the previous political system. The crisis was further compounded by ideological differences.
  • As a consequence, civil war erupted in May 1992, with the heaviest fighting taking place in the latter half of the year. The armed conflict continued for the next four years with varying degrees of intensity. The fighting resulted in many casualties, widespread human suffering and economic collapse. During the hostilities, an estimated 50.000 people lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands fled the turmoil with an estimated 600.000 internally displaced persons. 60.000 Tajiks took refuge across the border in Afghanistan. After the worst of the fighting subsided in early 1993, many internally displaced persons began to return to their communities. At the same time, a large number of refugees also returned to Tajikistan. By the end of 1996, 43.000 refugees had been repatriated to their homes, leaving an estimated 20.000 remaining in Afghanistan and many more in other neighbouring countries and the Russian Federation.
  • A complex process of inter-Tajik peace negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations began in April 1994. The peace talks concluded on 27 June 1997 with signing in Moscow by President Emomali Rakhmonov and the leader of the Union of Tajik Opposition (UTO) M. Said Abdullo Nuri of the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan (General Agreement). The General Agreement incorporates the previous protocols and documents that were signed during the negotiations. The General Agreement provides a comprehensive foundation for the National reconciliation process and set up a power-sharing arrangement in Dushanbe between the neo-communist government and Islamic rebels.

In practical terms, the General Agreement provides for a transitional of 12-18 months during which all the provisions contained therein are to be implemented, thus creating the necessary political, legislative and security environment under which all provisions are to be implemented, thus creating the necessary political, legislative and security environment under which new parliamentary elections which should have been held in the second half of 1998. Some positive results have been achieved but general elections foreseen in the second half of 1998 have been postponed to the second half of 1999.

  • Moreover on 4 November 1998 some 1,000 armed men led by rebel warlord Makhmud Khudoberdiyev attacked Tajikistanís second city of Khudzhant and other strategic points in the north, including the town of Chkalovsk. Government forces were called in and Russian peacekeepers in Dushanbe were put on alert. The rebels were opposed to1997 peace deal. Leader of the rebellion, Khudoberdiyev - a former army colonel who formerly had sided with Rakhmonov in fighting the Islamic guerillas and leader of the Uzbek ethnic minority - already led an abortive mutiny in August 1997 to protest against the General Agreement. The rebels threatened to blow up a dam if there demands (democratic elections and an interim government) were not met. On 10 November, after six days of heavy battles, the rebels were defeated by the joint forces of the Tajik government and the Islamist-led Tajik opposition. The Tajik government has released a list of those suspected of planning a coup - apart from former army leader Khudoberdiyev, the exiled former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullojonov is included. The government is also accusing Uzbekistan of military interference in the armed uprising - Uzbek president Karimov is said to have fully supported the organiser of the rebellion, Abdullojonov. Uzbekistan denies these charges. Moreover, the Tajik government suspects rebel leader Khudoberdiyev having fled into Uzbekistan, but the Uzbek government told that it has not given permission to the leaders of the revolt either to enter or to settle in Uzbekistan. However the Uzbek President and Tajik Prime Minister Yahye Azimov met in Tashkent on 8 January 1999 to discuss trade and economic cooperation. The two sides agreed on a formula to resume natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan.
  • On 12 November 1998, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of UN peacekeeping mission by six months. The Security Council also officially condemned the killing of three members of the mission and their civilian driver earlier in 1998. The security situation is still very hectic with persisting tension including murders. At a meeting in Dushanbe on 27 January 1999, Jan Kubis (UN Representative) and President Rakhmonov agreed on the need to expedite implementation of the 1997 Tajik peace accords. Kubis expressed concern at the delay in implementing agreements reached between Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Nuri and in disarming opposition and maverick armed formations. He also noted that no headway has been made on drafting amendments to the country's constitution, which the Commission for National Reconciliation has just begun discussing.
  • The United Tajik Opposition on 21 January 1999 agreed on another eight candidates for government posts, including nominees for the positions of first deputy interior, foreign, and security minister. The Committee for National Reconciliation has endorsed those candidacies, which must now be approved by President Imomali Rakhmonov.

Economic situation

Tajikistan experienced the disappearance of the previous economic system together with the effects of the civil war.

The economic and social upheaval caused by these circumstances has been compounded by Tajikistanís geographical isolation. The country suffered a severe drop in demand for much of the industrial production, largely due to high transport costs from Tajikistan to other republics and the discontinuation of Soviet states orders. As a result, with few exceptions, Tajikistanís once thriving industrial plants lie idle. Many industries operate at less than a quarter of the previous capacity. Shortages of fuel, frequent cuts in utilities, the absence of employment opportunities, the breakdown of health and educational services and facilities, and the market decline of law and order have caused immense hardship to urban and rural populations. At the end of 1996 the GDP was estimated to be 40 % of the 1991 level. This has sparked an economic migration including prominently most educated and skilled persons.

Two thirds of the population of 5.9 million reside in rural areas and depend on the agricultural economy.

Only seven percent of the territory is arable land suitable for agriculture. Some of this land is marginal and has suffered ecological degradation. Insufficient means to acquire agricultural inputs have resulted in low yields of farm products including cotton production, the largest source of foreign exchange and potential tax revenues. Few resources have been reinvested in agricultural infrastructure. Irrigation canals and farm machinery continue to fall into disrepair. Tajikistanís unemployment rate, estimated at 30 % by the World Bank, is the highest of any CIS country.

Absolute poverty, defined as the lack of basic essential needs, affects an estimated 80 percent of the Tajikistanís population.

Average salaries, estimated in 1996 at approximately USD 9.60, are well below the minimum consumption basket, estimated
at approximately 24.02 (1996 State Statistical Agency). Access to social services is a major constraint for improving living conditions. Essentially, most social services are in a virtual state of collapse. With a per capita income of USD 330, while note classified as a Least Developed Country (LDC), Tajikistan ranks among the 20 poorest countries in the world. Therefore Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia for which Echo is currently very active.

Bilateral relations

1989 Trade and Co-operation Agreement

A 10-year trade and economic and commercial agreement was signed with the Soviet Union in 1989 and came into force in April 1990. Until replaced by a new bi-lateral agreement, this remains the contractual basis governing the relations between the EU and all the eleven New Independent States. All Republics except Tajikistan and Azerbaijan have initialled exchanges of letters by which they agree, as successor states to the Soviet Union, to continue to apply the 1989 agreement.

General Data

Official name



143.100 km2


Duschanbe (600 000 habitants)

Population (1995)

5,9 million (Tadjiks : 65% ; Uzbeks : 25%; Russians : 3% declining)

Official language

Tadjik and Russian


Emomali Rachmonov

Prime Minister

Y. Azimov

Foreign Affairs Minister

Talkak Nazarov

GDP per capita (in 1995)

580 US $