Freedom of expression brought by perestroika in the late 1980s is described as a double-edged sword for many Central Asian governments. Accepted axioms and decades-long established facts were put in doubt and history was about to be re-written. Among many other cases Uzbekistan’s demography was independently re-scrutinized by Tajik intelligentsia in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and claims were made about the inaccurate census statistics that put the number of Tajiks in Uzbekistan under one million. The process of Tajik national awakening was interrupted by a brutal civil war in 1992 and the reverse process accompanied by Tashkent’s swift repressive measures is still going on. Tajikistanweb will look into the past and present of Tajiks in Uzbekistan in a series of articles.
The post-perestroika years were abundant with talks about Uzbek chauvinism and Tajik irredentism that cast shadow over Tajik-Uzbek relations. The rise of national consciousness among Tajiks of both neighbouring republics appeared to be the gravest threat to Uzbekistan’s plans to build a uniethnic, unicultural and unisectarian state. The 1924 and 1929 national territorial delimitations as one of the most neglected areas of Soviet inter-ethnic relations were discussed among both republics’ academic circles. Facts that became widely known did not please the Uzbek authorities at all.
A process that began by the end of the 19 th century to promote a Central Asian Turkic national consciousness at the expense of the Persian one was inherited by the Soviet nomenklatura of the region. “The Pan-Turkists had their own interpretation for Karl Marx’ slogan, “Proletariats of the world Unite!” In their version, the slogan “international union of all the workers of all countries” and “the oppressed peoples of the world” were changed to “a union of all the Turks.” (Rahim Masov, The History of a National Catastrophe).
As a result Tajiks, the ancient Iranian sedentary population of Transoxiania, found themselves opposed to Uzbeks that had emerged from Turko-Mongolian nomads that migrated across the Kipchak Steppe in the fifteenth century (Olcott 1987: 7). However, the area was inhabited by some Turkic tribes even before the fifteenth century as cited by Atsuyuki Okabe:
“In ancient times, the settled people in the oasis area of Central Asia were Iranians. Since the sixth century, Turkic nomadic groups have penetrated in waves into the oasis areas including the Ferghana Valley to stimulate the Turkification of the Iranian people and to settle down in rural areas and the cities by themselves. However, despite the historical process of Turkification, an Iranian population survived in many places up to the twentieth century. While mingling with Turkic peoples and often using Turkic languages, this population preserved their mother tongue, the Persian-Tajik language, as well as Iranian traditions. In modern Central Asia they are called the Tajiks. And during the period of the Kokand khanate a number of Tajiks migrated into the valley from the southern mountain area, where the present Tajikistan is located.” (Atsuyuki Okabe, Islamic Area Studies with Geographical Information Systems, 2004, p.112)
Pan-Turkism was the main element of the newly-minted Republic of Bukhara. In all areas of the republic where the principle inhabitants were Persian (Tajik), schools were in Chaghatai Turkish. Tajik students in the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkistan and the People’s Soviet Republic of Bukhara had to learn by heart extremely racist and pan-Turkic verses as the one below:
Turanians rise, rush to arms,
Turks are free, Greece is finished,
May the Turks prosper!
May Kamal prosper!
Islam is established, the enemy is dead,
The Turkish world is illuminated.
With the efforts of Kamal Pasha, the Turkish army
Is turned into the Turkish nation.
Greece is finished, the Turks are free,
The city of Istanbul belongs to us again.
May the Turks prosper!
May Kamal prosper!
The Tajik academician Rahim Masov believes that “Tajiks’ lack of concern, especially their cosmopolitanism, cost them dearly.”
After Tajikistan was promoted to the status of Union republic in 1929, the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic received the bulk of the Bukharan republic, the Samarkand region, the Tashkent area, and most of the Ferghana Valley that were largely inhabited by Tajiks. The unfair delimitation was disguised under even a more unfair demographical record. According to a comparative study conducted by some experts after the 1926 census, its results for many rural districts, towns and regions of the Tajiks showed that more than 50% of the Tajiks had been re-identified as Uzbek.
The thorny process was abundant with quarrels and arguments between the Uzbek and Tajik authorities. One of them happened between Islamov and Khojibaev (Abdurahim Hajibaev), the Uzbek and Tajik delegates of a special meeting to address bilateral territorial problems.
Paul Bergne in his book entitled “The Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic” gives the following account of the quarrel:
“Islamov then tried a further diversionary tactic by venturing to reopen the question of areas surrounding Khojand, using economic, political and ethnic arguments wherever it suited him, without any regard to consistency. Kanibadam and Isfara (with Tajik majorities) should be part of Uzbekistan because of their economic links to Uzbek territory, and Nau (with Uzbek majority) should also belong to Uzbekistan on ethnic grounds, although it depended economically on Tajik territory. The exchanges got ever more personal and crotchety. When Islamov referred to 1926 census results, Khojibaev brushed them aside as “chuzh” (nonsense) and anyway challenged Islamov’s authority to reopen any questions that had already been agreed. For his part, Islamov pointed out that Khojibaev himself signed the 1926 census statistics for Surkhan-Darya, which indicated that he must have agreed them. At some stage, Khojibaev threw in a charge that Uzbeks in Tajikistan were three times as well treated as Tajiks in Uzbekistan, adding for good measure that Uzbekistan had not yet returned the 500,000 gold roubles which Tajikistan handed over earlier (no further details are given about when and why this money was transferred).
“Khojibaev adduced a number of historical arguments to support the Tajik case. Surkhan-Darya had been part of Eastern Bukhara. The Amir had had a summer residence in Dushanbe. The military-demographic census carried out by Russian general staff had described Bukhara as a Persian not an Uzbek state. He too yielded to the temptation to reopen other claims. Samarkand was only 70 km from the Tajik frontier and it was nonsense to say they could not administer it. The Kyrgyz had been allotted Osh, which was miles from Frunze (Bishkek). Even Tamerlane in his diary, held in London, described Samarkand as a Tajik city.” (Paul Bergne, “The Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic”, pp 120-121).
Tajikistan within Uzbekistan
During the five years of Tajikistan’s existence as an autonomous territory subordinate to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (1924-1929) Moscow had to deal with numerous disputes between Samarqand (Uzbek capital until 1930) and Dushanbe. Statistical discrepancies between censuses conducted in 1915, 1920 and 1926 added fuel to the fire. Not all the disputes, however, had been over census figures; some of them involved financial figures too.
In July 1927 the Soviet People’s Commissars of the Autonomous Republic of Tajikistan received a letter from Tajik representatives in Moscow where the government of Uzbekistan was accused of continuously using Tajikistan’s share of income for its own purposes. Perhaps “500 000 gold roubles” mentioned in the previous chapter was a part of the financial conflict discussed by representatives of both sides in 1929. The letter also alleged that Moscow funds allocated to Tajikistan were being used by Uzbekistan for its own projects. The third point of the letter accused Uzbekistan of using “the privileges afforded to Tajikistan as a politically important but backward republic to its own advantage to catch up with the other members of the Union. None of the allocations, however, reaches the people of the Tajik Autonomous Republic.”
Uzbek chauvinism practiced among Uzbekistan’s authorities and demonstrated especially in the system of education had been another matter of complaint of Tajik communists to Moscow.
The Tajik historian Rahim Masov who has conducted a massive research about the national territorial delimitation of the 1920s, has found a document in Tajikistan’s Central State Archive that lists Uzbeks’ ‘persuasion methods’ after the national-administrative divisions:
“1. It was announced that in Uzbekistan there is room only for the Uzbeks. Those who call themselves Tajik should go to Tajikistan.
2. Those who choose to stay in Uzbekistan must accept the official Uzbeki language. Therefore, the language of instruction was Uzbeki.
3. Research workers, especially teachers, who showed signs of nationalism, were released from their duty and placed in positions in which language did not play a role. This was done mostly in Samarqand, Bukhara, and Khujand.
When people were sent to Tajikistan on official business, a rumour was initiated that the person had been exiled to Tajikistan due to his affiliations or for his having identified himself as a Tajik.”
Thus, Uzbekistan’s infringement upon the economic and cultural rights of the Tajiks along with other internal and external motives prompted Moscow to seriously mull over Tajikistan’s separation from the Uzbek republic. This task inevitably triggered even more furious debates between Uzbek and Tajik officials that led to what has been described by Paul Bergne as ‘the final territorial battle’ between the two Soviet entities.
The 1926 census
As talks about separation took serious turn, the Uzbek authorities found it convenient to cling on to the latest census data obtained in 1926 and accepted by the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Soviet Union. As said earlier, the census gave Uzbeks the upper hand in many Tajik-populated districts and towns. For instance, according to the 1915 official statistics, there were 59,901 Tajiks living in Samarqand compared to 819 Uzbeks. The 1920 census professes that 44,758 inhabitants of Samarqand were Tajik against 3,301 Uzbeks. The reversal culminated in 1926 when census-takers alleged that there were 43,304 Uzbeks in Samarqand with only 10,716 Tajiks. The same kind of dramatic decline in the number of Tajiks was officially registered in other areas of the region too. Officially, most of the Tajiks were concentrated in the Eastern Bukhara, present-day Tajikistan.
No official explanation had been given to the downward movement of Tajik population figures in Central Asia. But Tajik leaders believed that in 1926 Tajiks of Samarqand, Bukhara, Surkhan-Darya and other regions of Uzbekistan were threatened with exile to mountainous Tajikistan, unless they were registered as Uzbek. Later, many people of those regions confirmed the claim.
Therefore, in 1929, Abdurrahim Hajibaev, a Tajik Communist leader, strongly protested the Uzbek representative’s statement about the accuracy of the 1926 census data. “He stated that that information, as far as it dealt with the Tajiks, was manipulated and flawed; in fact, it was a pack of lies… A. Hajibaev regarded the following statement a necessity, “I state and prove my statement that the 1926 census taken in Uzbekistan is fallacious. The Soviet and Party Uzbek officials themselves are in agreement with this statement.” ( CGA Tadzhikskoj SSR. F 35. – Op. 2. – D. 199.- L. 3; (Rahim Masov, The History of a National Catastrophe).
The Russian chairman of the Central Asian Economic Council Makeev supported Hajibaev by citing the following:
“Until the beginning of the national divisions, the language of instruction in all Tajik schools was Uzbeki. The Tajiks were persuaded to register themselves as Uzbek. The intensity of the persuasion was such that not only the general public, but the Tajik officials in the Party registered themselves as Uzbek.” (CGA Tadzhikskoj SSR. F 35. – Op. 2. – D. 199.- L. 4).
Makeev added, if the Soviet officials knew that the 1926 census ‘had been taken under these conditions, they would not have approved it. They would even have brought those who had doctored the data to justice.’
However, justice was not done to the ‘doctors’ of the fallacious biased data. Instead, all Tajik politicians who did not accept the 1926 census figures – Abdurrahim Hajibaev, Nusratulla Makhsum, Shirinsha Shatemur, Abdulqadir Muhiddinov and others – were later found guilty of igniting nationalism and executed.
Based on all arguments provided by Dushanbe, Khojand and its suburbs were added to Tajikistan in 1929. But most of Tajiks and their cities still remained beyond Tajikistan’s borders, and there seemed to be no end to the territorial dispute between the two neighbours.
Moscow as the final arbiter listened to all claims and counterclaims of both sides again and issued its own verdict on 3 February 1930. It rejected Tajikistan’s request for inclusion of Samarqand and Bukhara without further explanation, but decided to separate the Surkhan-Darya district from the Uzbek SSR and give it to the Tajik SSR. The task was supposed to be fulfilled within two months.
Uzbekistan could not accept the loss. Tashkent’s official protest followed Moscow’s decision immediately. Babeshko and Kleiner, two Uzbek leaders (of Slavic and German origins), asked Moscow to refrain from finalising the resolution and stated that ‘the data on the national composition and economic orientation of the Surkhan-Darya Okrug’ had not been heeded. Showing an unusual flexibility, Moscow decided to revoke its earlier decision on 13 February 1930, and Surkhan-Darya remained in the Uzbek territory. The reason is open to speculations.
One of the Speculations
In his book The Birth of Tajikistan, the late British diplomat Paul Bergne gives a perfect analysis of Moscow’s ambiguous decision-making regarding the Tajik-Uzbek territorial claims:
“Why did Moscow shrink from transferring Samarkand and Bukhara, or Surkhan-Darya? The practical arguments –geographical separation from the Tajik heartland, an Uzbek dominated countryside – were hardly persuasive. Had they been, Tashkent would have gone to Kazakhstan, and Osh and Khojand to Uzbekistan. As Dyakov (chairman of the Organisation Office of the Khojand Okrug until August 1929 – twc) himself admitted in the context of Ura Teppe, the decision was a political one. One can only speculate. Given the strength of the continuing “Young Bukharan” tradition in the government of the Uzbek SSR – where Faizulla Khojaev and Abdulrauf Fitrat were both prominent – the loss of that city in particular would have been an insupportable blow. As for making Samarkand the new capital of Tajikistan, for strategic reasons Moscow preferred a capital closer to the Tajik centre and of less consequence. The new statelet was perhaps too unstable and vulnerable. Russian memories of the Basmachestvo were too recent. Moscow was still worried about British machinations in the region. Should the Soviet grip on Tajikistan weaken, Dushanbe could be given up. The fate of Samarkand and Bukhara could not be viewed with the same equanimity.” (Paul Bergne, The Birth of Tajikistan, 2007, p. 131).
Submission to Uzbekisation
After the separation of Tajikistan from Uzbekistan Moscow received less complaints about Tashkent’s envisaged cultural assimilation of the Tajiks in Uzbekistan; not because the process had stumbled, but due to the lack of complainers within Uzbekistan. A full-fledged Uzbekisation programme was reaching the remotest parts of the republic and the Tajiks’ fears before and after the delimitation were coming true.
In 1925, Tajiks of Urgut district in Samarqand province tried to face the bitter reality by saying: “We are Tajiks, but our children will be Uzbeks.” (I. I. Zarubin, ‘Spisok narodnostei Turkestanskogo kraia’, Trudy Komissii po izucheniiu plemennogo sostava Rossii i sopredel’nykh stran, Numberg, Leningrad, 1925, p.7).
Later, Tajiks in Bukhara admitted: “In the past we were Tajiks, but now we become Uzbeks.” (O.A. Sukhareva, Bukhara, XIX-nachalo XX v. Pozdnefeodal’nyi gorod I ego naselenie, Moscow, 1966, p. 122).
The suppressed national consciousness of the Tajiks coupled with the Uzbek government’s persistent efforts to assimilate this huge ethnic group with the titular nation of Uzbekistan resulted in submission of the majority of Uzbekistani Tajiks and their passive acceptance of the harsh encroachment upon their human and ethnic rights. Throughout the Soviet years their rights to officially return to their real ethnic identity were denied. During the long reign of Sharaf Rashidov (1959-1983), one of the most notorious and corrupt Communist rulers of Uzbekistan, Tajiks’ situation in Uzbekistan reached catastrophic proportions, when millions of the citizens were deprived of their basic rights to speak and study in their native tongue, while Uzbeks in Tajikistan were enjoying all rights and liberties of an ethnic minority stipulated by the Soviet Constitution.
A Moment of Change
Gorbachev’s perestroika left no stone unturned to cure the incurable ailing corrupt empire. Only then, in the late 1980s, Uzbekistani Tajiks could raise their voices in protest over the infringement of their basic rights by Tashkent. Overwhelmed by the avalanche of glasnost-inspired complaints, the Uzbek authorities admitted their past discriminatory practices (Olivier Roi 1991: 24-5). Samarqand cradled the new Tajik nationalist movement and two organisations were established in the city to pursue the Tajik cause: Uktam Bekmuhammadov’s “Sayqal” Social and Cultural Association (SCA – 1989) and Jamal Mirsaidov’s National Cultural Centre of Tajiks and Tajik-speaking Peoples (NCC-1990). Later, the two merged into a coalition commonly known as “Samarqand”.
Now it is hard to believe that Samarqand’s charter with its bravely nationalistic tone had been approved by the Karimov regime. At the same time, the charter provides deeper insight into the plight of Uzbekistani Tajiks untold for decades. One of its paragraphs reads:
“The ultimate goal of the formation and activity of the Samarqand SCA is the achievement of the economic, political, social, cultural and educational goals of perestroika in the enclaves populated mostly by Tajiks and Tajik-speaking ethnic groups. It is necessary to awaken and foster in these peoples a sense of national consciousness and pride, to instil a positive work ethic, to encourage concrete efforts to eradicate bureaucratic red tape, corruption and parochialism, to strengthen the unity of all democratic movements of the region and the country, to maintain discipline and law and order, and to transfer all power to democratically revived soviets of people’s deputies.” (Political Organization in Central Asia and Azerbaijan: Sources and Documents; 2004, p. 401).
Determining the genuine size of the Tajik and Tajik-speaking population of the city of Samarqand, the Samarqand province and the territory of the Uzbek SSR as a whole, legislative resolution of the question of changing incorrect nationality entries in passports, forms and other identification documents according to the will of the bearer, granting Tajik the status of official language in the enclaves populated mostly by Tajiks and Tajik-speaking ethnic groups, resolving the question of unhampered education of children and youth in their native Tajik language, publication of newspapers, magazines, textbooks and other literature as well as the broadcast of radio and television programmes in Tajik, reviving former Tajik names of settlements, streets, and other sites, promoting national folk arts and crafts were among the organisation’s primary goals and tasks.
Samarqand also reserved the right to boycott ‘harmful, misguided and rash decisions, regardless of their source – even to the point of demanding national autonomy for the Tajiks and Tajik-speaking peoples of the Uzbek SSR, should all other constitutional means of achieving genuine equality for them be exhausted’. (Ibid.)
Tajiks Granted Liberties
An open letter was signed by 60,000 Tajiks (Mirsaidov 1995:8) and presented to Islam Karimov in 1991 pinpointing the above-mentioned demands. Karimov responded to many points of the demands adequately.
“The 1989-92 period saw limited improvements especially in terms of culture and education for the minority. Tajik-language education benefited during this period. The expansion of Tajik-language education, including the opening of new higher education courses teaching in Tajik in Bukhara, Samarkand and Termez, has been described as the ‘fruit of independence’. According to Tojiboy Ikromov, of Tashkent Tajik Cultural Centre, approximately two hundred schools in Uzbekistan provide Tajik-language education. (Stuart Horsman in Ethnicity and Democratisation in the New Europe, 1999, p. 204).
Furthermore, Tajiks were permitted to change the nationality entry in their internal passports. Subsequently, 35,000 ‘Uzbeks’ registered as Tajiks in Samarqand within one month in 1991 (Georgii Mirskii 1997:98). Besides, some Tajik programmes appeared on Samarqand regional television.
… not anymore
Then, nobody could imagine that all these exciting changes were merely temporary provisions to be wiped off quite soon. Not long after granting some liberties to the ethnic Tajiks, Tashkent intensified persecution of Uzbekistani Tajik leaders.
“Uktam Bekmuhamedov, leader of its (Samarqand’s –twc) radical wing, was sentenced in 1991 to a suspended prison term and was re-arrested at the end of 1992. Another radical leader, Professor Jamol Mirsaidov, was fired from his post at Samarkand University. (Political Organization in Central Asia and Azerbaijan: Sources and Documents; 2004, p. 401).
Many observers believe that political instability followed by a civil war in neighbouring Tajikistan had a traumatic effect on the Tajik movement in Uzbekistan and discredited it.
A Wave of Repressive Measures
Human Rights Watch has reported some of Uzbekistan’s repressive acts against pro-Tajik activists in the early 1990s:
Professor Jamal Mirsaidov, a member of the Samarqand Society and a member of the organising committee of the National Association of the Tajiks in Uzbekistan gave a speech at the World Congress of Tajiks in Dushanbe in September 1992. “Upon his return to Uzbekistan, Dr. Mirsaidov was charged with violating Article 62 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan.” (Human Rights in Uzbekistan, 1993: 10).
Dr Uktam Bekmuhammadov, senior secretary and committee chairman of the Samarqand Social-Cultural Association and chairman of the organising committee of the Samarqand Helsinki Group, “has numerous times been subjected to arrest on fabricated charges and to arbitrary administrative detention on several occasions for his peaceful activities.” (Human Rights in Uzbekistan, 1993: 12).
Benig Bagdesarian, an ethnic Armenian honorary member of the Samarqand Society, “was arrested together with Dr. Bekmukhammedov on June 4, 1991, on fabricated charges in connection with his participation in a hunger-strike demanding attention to the rights of Tajiks in Uzbekistan.” (Ibid.)
Those who tried to make their voices heard in the wider world paid dearly. One of the incidents constitutes the core subject of Murder in Samarkand, the much talked-about book by Craig Murray, the British ex-Ambassador to Uzbekistan. He had simply listened to Professor Mirsaidov’s grievances over Tajiks’ situation in Uzbekistan. The next day, Jamal Mirsaidov’s adolescent grandson was found tortured to death through beating with iron bars and boiling his body parts.
“Despite their public emphasis on more rights within Uzbekistan not union with Tajikistan, independence has led to increase state pressures on Tajik activists, who have been repressed or forced into silence.” (John Anderson, The International Politics of Central Asia, p. 144).
Not all the victims of Karimov’s repression belonged to the nationalist Tajik movement. Some of them were ordinary people, like thousands of ethnic Tajiks of the Surkhan-Darya region who were deported to central Uzbekistan in 2000. (Lena Jonson 2004: 163).
According to Mary Lee Knowlton, books in Tajik have been burned following an edict in 2002 (Uzbekistan 2005: 62). The act has been justified as a measure of the post-Communist library cleansing of undesirable books. But Tajik activists claim that many books by Persian classic poets in Cyrillic have been destroyed along with the unfortunate Leninist literature. The Sughdion publishing house in Samarqand produces limited material in Tajik (Foltz 1996: 215).
There has also been a substantial drop in the number of Tajik-language classes in Uzbekistan. “According to Mirsaidov, the 1996-7 academic year saw a two-to three-fold increase in the number of classes being transferred from Tajik language to Uzbek.” (Stuart Horsman in Ethnicity and Democratisation in the New Europe, 1999, p.204).
Bukhara-i Sharif, the first Persian (Tajik)-language paper of the region, bent under economic pressure and fell victim to Uzbekisation. It received governmental grants to re-emerge as an Uzbek-language paper.
Tajikistan’s Constructive and Destructive Roles
Throughout the years of Karimov’s anti-Tajik repression in Uzbekistan Tajikistan was engulfed in its internal political stand-offs that culminated into a full-fledged civil war (1992-1997). Uzbekistan was amongst its major players as well. But earlier Tajikistan had taken a keen interest in the welfare of the Tajiks in the neighbouring country.
“In 1988, Loiq Sherali, the secretary of the Tajik Writers’ Union, attacked Uzbek intellectual imperialism. He accused the Uzbeks of attempting to abrogate the work of Tajik or Farsi philosophers and poets. Though perhaps esoteric, the complaint publicly aired ethnic hostilities. Authorities were concerned. In January 1988 the editor of the Tajik party newspaper, Komsomoli Tojikiston, was dismissed for allowing ethnically divisive articles to appear in the paper. During debates over the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Gorbachev explicitly tied the Azeri-Armenian dispute to his concern that Tajiks might be encouraged by Armenian success in Nagorno-Karabakh to press claims against Uzbekistan. As Gorbachev feared, violence erupted in 1989 among villagers along the borders with Kyrgyzstan, and there were calls in the press for the rectification of the frontier with Uzbekistan. However, a parallel problem existed, raising the possibility of counter-territorial claims: a million Uzbeks reside in Tajikistan.” (Bernard A. Cook. Europe since 1945: An Encyclopaedia, 2001, p. 1232).
At that time Islam Karimov received a letter signed by a group of scholars from the Tajik Academy of Sciences entitled “An Address to Academics and Creative Intelligentsia of Brotherly Uzbekistan”. “The address referred, in part, to the necessity of rejecting the ongoing policies of assimilation of the Tajik population, eliminating the idea of a common cultural heritage with Uzbeks, expanding opportunities for studying the Tajik language, adopting the Tajik language in Bukhara and Samarkand, and maintaining a ‘fertile basis for the further development of Tajik culture’ in the name of the ‘traditional brotherhood and friendship’ of the two peoples.” (Aleksandr Jumaev in Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported? 2001, pp. 339-340).
At times Tajikistani intellectuals took the initiative to provide the schools in Tajik-populated areas of Uzbekistan with Tajik textbooks in order to turn them into Tajik-language schools. They had succeeded in some cases and the author had witnessed a couple of those transitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It did not take too long to see the reversal process.
Simultaneously, Tajikistan had been eager to show examples of tolerance to Tashkent:
“The late Soviet-era regime in Tajikistan made several conciliatory gestures towards the republic’s Uzbek minority. Bookstores specifically for Uzbek-language publications opened in three southern cities. A new Uzbek-language weekly was launched; two other Uzbek-language newspapers were already published in the republic. For years, schools which taught Uzbek had operated in districts with a high concentration of Uzbek inhabitants. Roughly a tenth of the republic’s radio broadcasts was in Uzbek.” (Karen Dawisha, Bruce Parrott, Conflict, Cleavage, and Change in Central Asia and the Caucasus, 1997, p. 299).
Even during the civil war some of Tajikistani political activists did not cease heeding the concerns of their languishing brethren in Uzbekistan.
“Almost all the opposition parties and movements of Tajikistan contend that the problem of Tajiks in Uzbekistan remains unresolved. This is emphasized in the statements of the leaders of opposition parties and movements, such as Mirbobo Mirrakhimov, Shodmon Yusupov, and others.” (Conflicting Loyalties and the State in Post-Soviet Russia and Eurasia, 1998, p.183).
But it was the Tajik civil war that discredited the Tajik movement in Uzbekistan and provided the Uzbek authorities with a justification to suppress it in the name of stability. Stuart Horsman reports about the traumatic impact of the Tajik war on Tajik intelligentsia in Uzbekistan and quotes a member of Samarqand Cultural Society as saying that “the internal conflict in Tajikistan is the main cause of cultural problems for Uzbekistan’s Tajiks.” (Horsman 1999: 202).
“In the Uzbekistani conservative analysis of Tajikistani events, the proliferation of political movements and demands for ‘radical’ political reforms are responsible for the civil war. Domestic groups were to be associated with external enemies attempting to destabilise Uzbekistan. As the war escalated, Uzbekistan’s opposition movements faced increased harassment (Brown 1993: 3-4). The ability to associate Uzbekistan’s Tajik community with instability in the neighbouring republic was emphasised by the regime.” (Ibid.: 207).
As soon as Tajikistan engulfed in civil war numerous Tajik-language schools in Samarkand province were closed in July 1992 (Nissman 1995).
In the same way, L. M. Drobizheva considers that Tajikistan’s civil war has dampened overt desires of Uzbekistani Tajiks to unite with Tajikistan, “as many prefer the relative stability of life in Uzbekistan and its comparative prosperity.” (Drobizheva 1996: 293).
Meanwhile, many in Tajikistan believe that Uzbekistan took an active part in destabilising its neighbouring country in order to keep Tajiks of Uzbekistan away from pursuing reunification.
The French expert Olivier Roy believes that the civil war in Tajikistan has considerably weakened the country and removed any threat of Tajik irredentism over Samarqand and Bukhara. In his book “The New Central Asia: Geopolitics and the Creation of Nations” Roy points out that the war has “distanced the Tajiks of Uzbekistan from notions of pan-Tajikism… In fact today it is only Tajikistan’s status as a Russian protectorate that prevents it falling into the Uzbek orbit.” (Roy 2007: 178).
Uzbekistan’s anti-Tajik policies have been accompanied by Islam Karimov’s ‘friendship’ rhetoric. After assisting the present Tajikistani regime to come to power he had said: “I have spoken about this in the past and again state: basically we are one people that speaks two languages: Tajik and Uzbek.” (Jumaev 2001: 340). But the reality remains too bitter to believe in his words.
There are still some functioning Tajik-language schools and papers in Uzbekistan that have survived Karimov’s racist approach. Many excuses are cited to justify their gradual disappearance, starting with economic regression. Nevertheless, nothing could justify the plight of Tajiks in Uzbekistan whilst poorer Tajikistan is doing its best to maintain the Uzbek minority’s rights by publishing Uzbek textbooks compared to a better off Uzbekistan who evades observation of Articles 4 and 18 of its Constitution that guarantee respect of and equal rights to all citizens of the country.
Officially, only 5% of Uzbekistani population are Tajik. The figures are totally misguiding. Therefore, most of directories, even tourist guides like World 66 refer to unofficial data:
“Due to the Soviet policy of cutting across existing ethnic and linguistic lines, most of Tajiks live outside border of what is known as Tajikistan today. The largest number of Tajiks are living in Uzbekistan, where the majority of Tajiks are forced to be registered as Uzbeks, but the real number of Tajiks living in Uzbekistan believed to be nearly 42 percent (11-14 millions) of the population.”
Only mutual respect can bring peace and prosperity to both Central Asian states.