Islam and Communism:
Tajikistan in Transition


Iraj Bashiri

The University of Minnesota

Department of Slavic and Central Asian Languages and Literatures

© Iraj Bashiri, 1996

"Islam and Communism: Tajikistan in Transition," was originally read at the conference entitled The Case of the Former Soviet Central Asian Republics, held at the University of Minnesota, April 11-13, 1996. It is submitted to appear as part of the proceedings of that conference. The material is also being revised to be included in Bashiri's forthcoming Role of Russia in the Tajik-Uzbek Conflict: 1876-1996. Islam and Communism: Tajikistan in Transition


With internationalism and nationalism far in the future, ideology, ethnicity, regionalism, and tribalism are the dominant building blocks of identity in the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. Each individual is either a Turk, an Iranian, a Muslim or a Communist and everyone has a particular tribal, clan, or regional affiliation. A combination of these factors determines an individual's identity as well as trustworthiness and employability. More importantly, often these very factors constitute the death sentence for an individual or a group.

The Tajiks' search for identity began in the 1970's and continues to the present. In the early 1990's, tired of the exploitative measures of the Soviets, an anti-Russian attitude prevailed. This trend was particularly strong among the Tajik intellectuals who could no longer tolerate personal humiliation, foreign control over their agricultural output, and the plunder of their mineral resources. By establishing Tajiki as the sole official language and Islam as the future religion of the republic, they forced many of the Soviets, especially the Russians, out of Tajikistan.1

It is the thesis of this paper that neither measure proved useful. Conversely, the Tajiks were pushed deeper into the Russian and Uzbek spheres of influence. More poignantly, they were thrown into a war that they had not bargained for.

Historical Background

The Tajiks are an Indo-European people with a long history as settled agriculturists in the Vakhsh and Zarafshan river valleys. Their Zoroastrian faith was supplanted by Islam in the 8th century, but by the middle of the 9th, they had regained their past glory. As masters of Bukhara for a century and a half, they promoted their Iranian culture and Islamic thought. Defeated by the Karakhanids and the Ghaznavids, they became vassals of the Turks. In subsequent centuries, they served the Mongols as judges, advisors, and religious scholars.

During the Timurid era, most Turko-Mongol tribes settled down and, in the process, dislodged the Tajiks and pushed most of them out of their traditional settlements and pastures. A dispersed people, some, like Kamal Khujandi, left their homeland permanently. Others joined Timur's reconstruction crews at Samarqand, while still others, a majority, took to the Hissar and Qarategin mountains. The inhospitable Kuhistan is now the hardy Tajiks' last stronghold.

During the rule of the Manghits, in the 19th century, Tajiki continued to serve as the official language of the Emirate of Bukhara, but almost all prominent governmental positions were transferred to non-Tajiks. Manghit Amirs, especially Haidar, made a point of degrading the Tajiks, using their services only when they were absolutely indispensable. For instance, after Amir Muzaffar's 1868 humiliating defeat at the hand of the Russians, Tajiks were included, as translators and religious scholars, in the embassies that visited Russia. Between 1869 and 1884, Ahmad Makhdum Danish made three such trips to St. Petersburg.2

During the Soviet era, the Tajiks identified the Communists as their true benefactors and saviors from the ever-present Turkish threat. Hoping that the new order would protect their national integrity, they became staunch supporters of Communism and active developers of the socialist society. Within a decade, authors like Sadriddin Aini convinced the Soviets and the Tajiks alike that the bond of brotherhood between the two was unbreakable and that Tajikistan would showcase socialist efforts on the eastern front of socialist progress. And he did all that with revolutionary poetry and with stories that depicted the atrocities of the Amirs, especially Abdulahad and Alim Khan. In response, the Soviets funneled a good deal of the all-Union national aid to the development of Tajikistan.

This fervor, albeit in a more subdued form, continued during the Stalin era. In subsequent decades, authors like Fazliddin Muhammadiev questioned the validity of the older guards' claims regarding both past accomplishments and future glory. Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost' dealt the final blow, shattering the myth by which most Tajiks had lived.

The Tajiks as a People

As mentioned, after the demise of the Samanid dynasty, the Tajiks survived as a people but were never again in positions of authority; they were ruled by various powerful Turko-Mongol overlords. This situation was still true in the 1890's when their Russians and the British struggled for hegemony in the region, i.e., when the famous test of will known as the "Great Game," changed the pattern of rulership in Central Asia. As a result of an international agreement signed by the contending powers, the Tajik-inhabited territories were divided evenly between Britain and Russia. The southern half of the population became a permanent part of the kingdom of Afghanistan while the northern half, an area that stretched from the Chirchik River (Tashkent region) to the Panj River, remained under Russian control.

This direct interference by infidels in their cultural life prompted some Tajik intellectuals to seek new alliances, especially with the Muslim rulers of Afghanistan and Iran. They were interested in strengthening their common traditional Islamic bonds by allowing Pan-Islamism, promoted by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and others, to influence their activities. But, although this strategy, i.e., resort to the tested patterns of the ancients, had worked in the past, in this case it proved to be ineffectual. The new century ushered in access to printing, innovative methods of instruction, and entirely new fields of study. Furthermore, efficient means of communication had rendered the traditional patterns of government obsolete. In addition, fresh concepts about liberty, justice, and equality were coming to the fore and military superiority, Western military victories in particular, attracted the attention of the youth. By 1910, the Amir and his defunct army were already objects of derision.

But rather than Pan-Islamism, which drew on the traditional sources of political, economic, and social power, especially of the Ottoman Empire, the new movement promoted Pan-Turkism, i.e., a union of all Turks as a major contending force against the West and its interests in Islamic lands. Unlike Pan-Islamism and the Tajiks that supported it, the Turks readily embraced the Western ways. In fact, intending to beat the West at its own game, they adopted the Western culture, promoted Western-style values, and down played their interests in the traditional societies. Their proximity to Europe and to the technological sources of Western powers facilitated the achievement of their goals.

As menrioned, during the early decades of this century, the Tajiks occupied a vast area in present-day Central Asia from the Chirchik River in the north to the Panj River in the south. In the west, their territory extended from Charju in present-day Turkmenistan to the Wakhan Corridor in northeastern Afghanistan. The population of the western territories of the region, however, was not exclusively Tajik. Interspersed there were large pockets of Uzbek tribes controlling the economics of the area. Similarly, the decisions regarding whether traditional ways or an adoption of Western values should guide the socio-economic and the political policies of the region were also entirely in the hands of the chiefs of these tribes. The members of the tribes were not a part of the population proper yet, but they had the potential of disrupting the harmony that had existed over centuries; they would put an end to the old order. In fact, they threatened, and continue to threaten, the truly Tajik settlements in the Ferghana Valley, in the Gharategin highlands, and in the Darvaz and Kulab regions. The most vulnerable regions, besides northern Zarafshan, were Surkhan Dariya, Qashqa Dariya, and Hissar-i Shadman.

In addition, as mentioned, this population was not homogenous. The cities and towns were populated by the Tajiks who administered the educational and judicial systems while most of the countryside belonged to the Uzbek tribes. With the advent of Soviet power, as predicted, the long-standing modus vivendi between the countryside and the towns evaporated, subjecting the Turks and Tajiks alike to modernization, Soviet style. Large Uzbek populations found their way into the traditionally Tajik-inhabited settlements like Sughdiana, centered on Samarqand, the Ferghana Valley, Surkhan Dariya, and Qashqa Dariya.3

At the time of the rise of Soviet power, the picture was pretty clear. The tradition-bound Tajiks lived in cities like Samarqand and Bukhara surrounded by large Uzbek tribes ready to move in and force them out. The Tajiks' main allies were the Islamic clergy and the Amir's government--two forces that, at the time, were themselves in contention.4

Entering Central Asia in full force, the Soviets settled the Turkish tribes by force, strengthened the power of the westernized Turks, educated a cadre of Soviet and Communist leaders unsympathetic to traditional values, and allowed the process of Sovietization to take its course, i.e., eliminate the undesirable elements, including the Tajiks. The traditionalists, of course, responded. They formed Basmachi contingents and defended their cultural heritage as well as their property, and faith. In general, however, they were no match for the powerful atheist Soviets who, equipped with modern weaponry, devastated the towns and the countryside. The traditionalists killed Soviet agents, teachers, and artists while the Red Army sought out and killed not only the leaders of the Basmachis but those who might have aided the movement by supplying provisions and sheltering the wounded and the disabled.5

Early in the 1920's, the Turkish-Tajik rivalry had run its course. The Turks had emerged as a power in Central Asia to be reckoned with while the Tajiks had been pushed down the scale both in terms of numbers and in terms of influence. For instance, they were not members of any of the powerful committees that decided the fate of the region. Viewing the situation from a distance, Vladimir Ilich Lenin decided to diminish the rapidly growing power of the Turks. In the past, coalitions of Turkish and Mongol tribes had brought devastation to both Asia and Europe. The monolithic nature of Pan-Turkism, often confused with Pan-Islamism, resembled the meteoric rise of Chingiz Khan; the Turks' momentum had to be stopped at all cost.

In 1923, therefore, Lenin called for the implementation of a series of national-administrative divisions. As a result of those divisions, the monolithic political and economic power of the leaders of the Turkish tribes was taken away and placed in the hands of the Center in Moscow. A semblance of power was evenly distributed among a select number of tribal chiefs who were sympathetic to Communism and who were likely to promote the Socialist order.

The Tajiks and the Uzbeks

The historical development of the Tajik nation under Soviet rule and thereafter can be summarized in the following four phases:

Actually, the difficulties of the Tajiks began before the advent of Soviet rule when new-method schools became the focus of attention. These schools which advocated the use of the most modern techniques for instruction, as opposed to the traditional Qur'anic schools, were promoted by the Tartars, especially by Isma'il Ghasprinski who directed the reformists' efforts from his headquarters in Baghcha Sara. The issue of whether to adopt the new wave of education entering Central Asia from the north or continue the Islamic traditions split the intellectual pool that administered the social, educational, and judicial offices of the Emirate of Bukhara. It also split the inhabitants of the kingdom very much along ethnic lines as Turks and Tajiks. This latter distinction had always exited, of course, but the new-method schools aggravated the situation by introducing the Sunni/Shi'i dichotomy as well.7

As mentioned earlier, some Tajik intellectuals tried to stem the tide of westernization by gravitating to Islamic traditions. But, in spite of the support of the Amir and the Muslim clergy, they were not able to contain the zeal of the reformers. At the end, the reformers, whose ranks consisted of ethnic Turks from Central Asia, Turkish POWs who did not wish to return to their homeland of Turkey, and Tajik intellectuals returning from Istanbul, gained the upper hand. Before long, the Amir of Bukhara and the tradition of kingship with which the Tajiks were familiar and with the support of which they had prospered disappeared from Central Asia. The Tajiki language, the official language of the Emirate, was displaced by Uzbeki.

As was shown above, as a first step, the Soviets created two distinct administrative entities in Central Asia: the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkistan within the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of Bukhara, a transitional kingdom dependent on Russia militarily, economically, and politically. The Tajiks of the north--as opposed to those of Afghanistan--were divided evenly between these two entities. Since the leadership of both republics consisted of either Turks or of Soviets sympathetic to the Turkish cause, the well-being of the Tajiks as a people was adversely affected. Aided by their intellectuals and notables, the Turkish tribes gradually moved into the cities and villages and displaced the Tajiks. The latter were forced to either renounce their Tajik ethnicity and identify themselves as Turks or migrate away from their traditional centers of culture: Samarqand, Bukhara, and Khujand.

The Pan-Islamic movement, in which the Turks had a large share, gradually gave way to Pan-Turkism. This to the point that the inhabitants of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkistan, against all Soviet dicta, considered Turkistan to be the "Land of the Turks." Consequently, they were not only unsympathetic to the cause of the Tajiks but antagonistic to the promotion of either the Tajik language or the Tajik cultural traditions; even though, over centuries, the Tajiks' ancient heritage had nurtured the ancestors of those who now sought to destroy it. To this end, and to impart meaning to the designation of their Republic, i.e., the Republic of Turkistan, under various pretenses, they burned the libraries, placed Islamic scholars in concentration camps, and closed or destroyed the Tajiks' schools and mosques. Many Tajiks were forced to abandon their ancient heritage and embrace the Turkish language and the tribal culture of the Turks.

But, as mentioned, the Tajiks were not the only victims of unbridled Pan-Turkism. The Soviet Union itself, whose resources were being used to promote Pan-Turkism, was increasingly alarmed and, eventually, went on the offensive. To stem the tide of Pan-Turkism, a complex process known as the national-administrative divisions was created and mandated to divide the Turk-o Mongol groups in Central Asia along ethnic, i.e., Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kyrgyz lines. As a first step in the implementation of the order, the Central Asian Bureau of the Communist Party of Russia established a special commission. This commission, in turn, appointed three subcommittees to deal with the affairs of the Kyrgyz, the Turkmens, and the Uzbeks. The Tajiks were allowed one representative. He was appointed by the Center for the single purpose of articulating its wishes albeit in Tajik terms.8

As a result of the national-administrative divisions, Bukhara and Sughd proper were assigned to Uzbekistan as were the towns and villages of the Ferghana Valley and Khujand. This unfair division deprived the Tajiks of their two major centers of culture, i.e., Bukhara and Samarqand. The latter, the socio-economic and political hub of ancient Sughd, became the capital of the newly-formed republic of Uzbekistan.9 Along with Samarqand, its art center that took pride in innovations in music and performing arts, the agricultural complex centered on the Zarafshan River, and the trade center that drew on the boundless resources of the Silk Road passed into Uzbek hands.

To the west, two other major regions, Surkhan Dariya and Qashqa Dariya, were assigned to Uzbekistan. At the time both regions were heavily populated by Tajiks and both were major cotton production centers. Today Surkhan Dariya is a noteworthy asset for Uzbekistan, rich in oil, natural gas, and coal. It also boasts of major centers for metallurgy and for the production of food stuffs produced from fruits grown in its orchards and vineyards.10

Similarly, Qashqa Dariya is rich in oil and natural gas. Additionally, it has food processing factories and cotton ginning and is heavily involved in the production of building materials and carpet weaving. Qashqa Dariya's rich harvest of wheat and barley, the produce from its orchards, and its silk factories contribute a great deal to the economy of present-day Uzbekistan. The Tajiks were deprived of all of that thanks to the manner in which they were treated by the Soviet system and by their Uzbek brethren.11

The 1924 national-administrative divisions effectively ended the process of Turkification. Each "nation"--Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan--became involved in its own internal and regional problems, leaving the national and international affairs to the Center in Moscow. The pressure on the Tajiks, however, was not decreased; in fact, a new process placed even more stringent controls on their actions and far more restrictions on their educational, cultural, and economic interests. This process, known as Uzbekization--a direct descendant of Turkification--went into effect immediately after the inclusion of Tajikistan as an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan SRR.

Uzbekization would not have happened or would not have been carried out with the intensity it was carried out if the Tajiks had not been placed in receivership in Uzbekistan SSR. The intentions, of course, were good. The Center hoped that within a few years the more advanced Uzbeks would help their Tajik brothers achieve the degree of social and political consciousness required for achieving and, indeed, maintaining an independent nation of their own. But the Uzbeks viewed the situation differently. They felt that Uzbekistan belonged to the Uzbeks; those who could not or would not identify themselves as Uzbek were asked to leave the republic. Thus, in spite of the fact that the very formation of the republic, especially its ethnic boundaries, was haphazard and incomplete, the Uzbeks forced their will on the nationalities that wished to remain in their republic.

Rahim Masov, who has analyzed the archival materials dealing with this very sensitive era of Russian, Turkish, and Tajik relations, summarizes the Uzbeks' treatment of the Tajiks as follows:

  1. Uzbekistan announced that within its borders there was no room for non-Uzbek ethnic groups. Those who insisted in remaining Tajiks were advised to move to Tajikistan;

  2. The language of the Republic of Uzbekistan was identified as Uzbeki. As the sole language of the land, it became the instrument of government as well as of education. Tajiki schools were closed and Tajiks who wished to aspire to official positions were advised to learn Uzbeki;

  3. Research workers and teachers with Tajik leaning were replaced by Uzbeks or other Turks;

  4. Incorrigible Tajiks and Tajik sympathizers were exiled to Eastern Bukhara, i.e., to present-day southern and eastern Tajikistan.12

According to Masov, Uzbekistan treated Tajikistan as if it were one of its own poor provinces. For instance, the Uzbeks used the Central funds allocated for the development of backward Tajikistan for furthering their own projects. But worse than that, they compromised Tajikistan's aspiration for independence and denied it the possibility of acquiring a national identity of its own.13

What was the cause of the almost meteoric rise of the Turks, in general, and of Uzbeks, in particular? Masov argues that the Uzbeks manipulated the 1926 census so that its results emerged as almost the opposite of the results achieved in all previous censuses. Those censuses had shown large Tajik populations and negligible Uzbek numbers. Archival materials, too, support Masov's assumption and arguments.14 But what Masov does not bring into the equation and which, to a large degree is outside the purview of archival documents, is the drastic social upheaval that followed the forced settlement of the Turkish tribes.

The matter, of course, cannot be settled easily. There is no question that many Tajiks adopted Uzbek identity to hold on to their lucrative jobs and to be able to prepare for the future of their children. Many declared themselves Uzbek just to enter the job market and exploit it while, many others were forced to leave Uzbekistan for Afghanistan and Iran. These groups were automatically added to the Uzbek population at the expense of the Tajik numbers. Then, there is the inflow of large numbers of thus-far unregistered tribal Uzbeks who entered the census for the first time. These large numbers, too, must be added to the Uzbek population. But, in spite of all these factors, it is hard to imagine that the increase could reach beyond parity, especially since no calamity had befallen the Tajiks and their birth rate is proverbially high.

Earlier in this study it was stated that Tajik society's major building blocks for identity consisted of, among other things, ethnicity and ideology. With respect to the former, it was shown that Tajik ethnicity has suffered a great deal as a result of the Turkification, Uzbekization, and Sovietization processes. In fact, Uzbekization, the most devastating of all, promises to control Tajikistan's destiny for a long time to come. Any major gravitation of Dushanbe to ethnicity is likely to create grounds for the cession of Khujand from the republic. In more recent times, there is also the fear that Tursunzada and Hissar might do the same. It remains to ideology, therefore, to fulfill the Tajiks' wishes. In other words, will Islam be able to provide the Tajiks with their desired identity? This is the question to which we now turn.

Islam in Tajikistan

If we do not include the far-out regions in the discussion, Islam in Tajikistan can be divided into a Sunni majority and a Shi'ite minority. Each of these, in turn, can also be divided into smaller groups. For instance, the Sunnis are either Hanafis or practitioners of Wahhabism. And the Hanafis are either mainstream, sovietized Muslims who pay lip service to Islam or they are militant, practicing believers. The Shi'is are either Ithna Asharis or Isma'ilis. The Ithna Asharis are either mainstream or fundamentalist. In general, as the following chart indicates, the sovietized Hanafis and the strict Wahhabis occupy the opposite poles of Tajikistan's religious spectrum; the rest of the creeds fall somewhere in between.

Geographically, the Isma'ilis live in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast' and the Wahhabis in the Kuhistan region, especially in the mountains of Qarategin. The mainstream believers, Hanafis as well as Ithna Asharis, live throughout the rest of the republic.

The Sunni Believers

The Hanafi Sunnis form the majority of the population of Tajikistan. Before the Second World War, they were the target of the most intense anti-religion campaigns of the Soviet atheists and the "society of the godless."15 During the War, the anti-religion campaigns were relaxed and, soon after, the Muslims were put in charge of their own affairs. In fact, the Muslim clergy were hired by the State to administer the affairs of the faithful properly and to supplement the State's efforts in promoting Communism. The next and, indeed, the last severe phase of anti-Muslim propaganda was during the Khrushchev era. That, too, did not last long and evaporated with the ouster of Khrushchev in 1964.16 As we shall see, the decision to allow the Muslims a degree of freedom was instrumental in the shaping of future events in the south. The civil war in Tajikistan grew out of the incompatibility of three competing ideologies: Communism, Islam, and Democracy.

In the early 1920's, after the failure of their initial bid for total autonomy under ethnic and Islamic banners, Hanafi Sunnis, Tajiks included, accepted the Russian language as a medium for exchange of ideas, regarded Islam as the culture of their forefathers, and welcomed Communism as the wave of the future. In the case of Tajikistan, the gravitation to Communism was even more appealing because, in Communism they saw a solution to their long-lost identity problem, i.e., they recognized Communism as a deterrent to an ever-present Turkish threat.17

The 1940's were crucial years in the formation of Islam in Central Asia. What was introduced as a policy of relaxation of opposition to Islam, however, turned out to be a policy of dividing the faithful into two camps: sovietized Muslims vis-a-vis militant Muslims. Nevertheless, after WW II, the Tajiks participated actively in promoting Communism and in administering the affairs of the socialist state. Since sovietized Muslims formed the majority of the followers of Islam, militant Muslims resorted to dissimulation to mask their true identity. There they waited patiently for an opportune time to strike against those who had "sold" Islam to the Communists. And, it should be added, they took, and continue to take, revenge on that body. An example is the recent murder of the mufti of Tajikistan along with his family and two of his students in Hissar. Without the cooperation of the Mufti and compliance of his followers, the state would not have functioned properly. It was on the sovietized Muslims that both the Communist Party and the Soviet government drew for the formation of their cadres.

To such Soviet values as hard work, dedication to duty, and abstention from wealth and power, the Tajiks added their own undivided love for poetry, music, and dance. This was a legacy that they inherited from the Samanids of the 9th and 10th centuries, an Iranian dynasty with which the present-day Tajiks identify. Soviet Tajikistan, taking full advantage of this unique talent, created a major entertainment industry and funded the production of a series of films--"Rustam and Suhrab," "Bizhan and Manizhe," and "The Story of Siyavosh,"--all based on Firdowsi's monumental epic, the Shahname. Furthermore, stunning spectacles based on the life and works of medieval sages like Umar-i Khayyam, Muslih al-Din Sa'di, and Jalal al-Din Rumi were presented to screen- and stage-struck audiences.

This unique and particular emphasis on Tajik culture troubled the militant believers, but more so the Wahhabis. They asked, for instance, why should, in an Islamic country, scientific atheism be emphasized at the expense of scientific research; why should entertainment qua entertainment supplant entertainment for relaxation from work; why should wine bars, movie establishments, opera houses, and ballet theaters dot the map of the city instead of research centers and institutes of technology for the use of the indigenous people? More importantly, they asked, who allowed these innovations and who stood to benefit from them? This body, too, is held responsible and its members are eliminated. The murder of acadmic Muhammad Asemi is an example of reaction toward this latter group. The remainder of this paper will be devoted to a partial explanation of those questions.

The Cultures of Qarategin and Vakhsh

The Vakhsh River originates in Kyrgyzstan. There it is called the Kizilsu. In the Qarategin mountains of Tajikistan it is referred to as the Surkhab (lit., red water). Surkhab irrigates the high valleys of Qarategin as well as provides water for such towns as Gharm, Jirgatal, Hait, and Tajikabad. Some ten other fortifications scattered throughout the mountain region are also served.

Qarategin was incorporated in the Emirate of Bukhara in the late 1880's, during the time of Amir Muzaffar, and remained there until the fall of the Emirate in 1920. From 1918, until it was conquered by the Red Army in 1923, Qarategin served as a stronghold for the anti-Soviet Basmachi movement. Even today, in spite of seventy years of Sovietization, Qarategin continues to harbor intensive anti-governmental activities.

Outwardly, the towns of Qarategin resemble any of the other towns of the former Soviet Union. On paper, a town like Gharm reports to have over 50 schools, 4 pharmacies, 4 hospitals, 29 clinics, 8 kindergartens, and 38 libraries. Inwardly, however, Gharm and its neighboring towns and fortifications are hotbeds of Wahhabi activity. Over decades, the Qarateginis have acted against Soviet dicta and promoted their own brand of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism.

Wahhabism was established by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1787) in Arabia. Known as the Wahhabiyyah, it is one of the most strict sects within the Hanbali school. In pursuit of tawhid (oneness of Allah), the Wahhabis recognize only those rituals, like prayer, that deal directly with Allah and which, according to their belief, preserve the purity of the creed and of the individual. The Wahhabis acknowledge the authority of the four schools of law and the six books of hadith and they condemn gravitation to saints and the visitation of their tombs. In this context, for instance, in the late 19th century, they attacked and destroyed a number of major Islamic cities, including Mecca, Medina, and Karbala. In 1881, they destroyed the tomb of al-Hussein, son of Ali ibn Abi Talib. And in 1886, they shattered the Hajar al-Asvad, the sacred Black Stone--the centerpiece of the Hajj rituals for all Muslims.

Furthermore, for the Wahhabis, gravitation to worldly matters constitutes bid'at or innovation. The inclusion of the name of Allah in anything but prayers can easily end in an individual's identification with kufr (sacrilege). And in the Wahhabi code, kufr is invariably punishable by death.

Unlike the rest of Tajikistan, drinking of alcohol, listening to music, and dancing have no place in a Qarategini wedding toi (celebration). These activities are prohibited by the strict Wahhabi code as are smoking tobacco, the use of silk, gold, ornaments, and jewelry.18 In addition, there is a strict dress code for women. It consists of a cloak that covers the body from the bottom of the foot to the top of the head with only the fingers and the palms of the hands showing.

Socially, too, women are restricted. They do not have the right to appear in public, especially where men gather such as in the market place. If a woman must leave the house, she should do so properly attired and in accompaniment of her husband. Unmarried women must be accompanied by an elder brother. Only prostitutes, the Qarateginis believe, would behave otherwise.

All Soviet efforts at educating the Qarateginis met with failure. Soviet teachers were the prime targets of the wrath of the Qarategini males who accused them of luring their daughters into prostitution. Teachers who asked students to remove their heavy clothing, or who advocated the wearing of colorful dresses, were automatically labeled apostates and punished accordingly. Many Soviet educators lost their lives in the Qarategin mountains trying to reach the Qarategini youth. Qarategin, therefore remained, and to a great degree still remains, a closed society up in the highlands.

Farther to the west, and at a much lower elevation, the Surkhab joins another river, the Khingab. Together they form the mighty Vakhshab or Vakhsh River. The Vakhsh, some 800 kilometers long, winds through the inhospitable Vakhsh plain before it joins the Panj with which it forms the Amu River, one of the lifelines of the Aral Sea. The expansive estuary of Vakhsh is a patchwork of swamps, bogs, thickets, and often long stretches of gray, arable land.

After their victory over the Basmachis in the south, the Soviets assessed the Vakhsh Plain for development. Positive results committed all-Union funds for the development of the region and the modernization of the town of Qurqanteppe. The centerpiece of the plan was a major network of canals, including the Great Vakhsh, for the irrigation of projected vineyards, orchards, and mechanized cotton plantations as well as the development of a major citrus industry. The plan also included the building of a hydroelectric station at Narak, where the Surkhab and the Khingab meet. Funds were also ear-marked for a railway to connect Stalinabad (present-day Dushanbe) to Qurqanteppe and the Panj district in the far south.

Agriculture alone, however, was not the reason for the expenditure of large amounts of all-Union funds in Tajikistan. An assessment of the mineral wealth of the region, from Hissar to Badakhshan, showed a great potential for the development of a hydrochemical complex in the future. And, in fact, a major agro-industrial complex was created in the Yavan region, slightly to the south and east of Dushanbe, in the 1970's and 1980's.

Returning to Qurqanteppe, once the Central funds were released, in the early 1930's, a large number of Tajik workers from the north, especially from Kan-i Badam, Asht, Isfara, Astaravshan, and Ferghana, were moved to the south. Each family was assigned living quarters and a defined responsibility. The key words were cooperation and progress. The former to get the job done efficiently, the latter to showcase the benefits of socialism at home as well as at the gates of India, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The northern Tajiks, and other Soviets, set about fulfilling the plan. At the center of the region, they upgraded the town of Qurqanteppe into the most important Soviet cultural center in the south. In the city, they built cotton and cotton-oil combinats, fruit factories and canneries, carpet-weaving factories, schools, libraries, theaters, and ballet and opera houses. In the country, they developed large-scale kolkhozes, sovekhozes, orchards, and stockyards.

Thus, by the end of World War II, Qurqanteppe was one of the major contributors to the Soviet economy, especially in the production of high-quality cotton. In fact, it guaranteed the USSR's "cotton independence." This paradise of cotton fields, orchards, and livestock yards was to serve a still more fundamental role. It was to represent the cooperation of a rapidly-growing industry with a major agricultural complex. More importantly, it pioneered the harmonious union of urban and agro-industrial lifestyles.

As mentioned earlier, World War II played a major role in the lives of the Muslims of the former Soviet Union. It forced the Soviets to relax their intense anti-religious campaigns and, in the mid-1940's, allow the opening of some mosques and madrasahs in Central Asia. In Qurqanteppe, it allowed the faithful to assert themselves more forcefully and to participate in affairs both at the city and rayon levels. Their involvement enhanced the viability of the region, making it a more cosmopolitan place. When individuals from the community were chosen to represent Soviet Islam at the international level, political prestige was added to the already phenomenal economic prosperity of the region.19

The original developers of Qurqanteppe had advisedly excluded the Qarateginis from contribution to the development of the Vakhsh complex. They were aware of the potential of violence and of the disastrous consequences of regional strife for their unique plan. In the early 1950's, however, due to chronic labor shortages, a rather large population from Qarategin, including families from Jirgatal, Gharm, Hait, and Tajikabad, was moved to Qurqanteppe. Here they were welcomed by the original settlers, were assigned accommodations in various towns and villages, and were taught the skills necessary for carrying out their duties properly.

Predictably, there was trouble ahead, trouble rooted in regionalism and ideology. Regionally, Tajikistan is divided into two distinct socio-economic and socio-political areas of interest: north and south. The Zarafshan mountains make the distinction absolute. The north or Leninabad, added in 1929, is well-off, more ancient, and more cultured. It is also predominantly populated by Uzbeks and Uzbek-Tajiks. After Moscow, it was the political center where major decisions concerning Tajikistan were made. Until 1993, the First Secretaries of the Communist Party of Tajikistan were northerners. The Vakhsh complex's third task, therefore, was to foster southern loyalty to Tajikistan's northern overlords.

The south, known in the area as the "Kuhistan" or Highlands, is not as monolithic. Comprised of four major divisions--Dushanbe, which includes Qarategin; Badakhshan; Kulab; and Qurqanteppe--the Kuhistan is a hotbed of regional strife. Each region has the potential of claiming hegemony over the rest. It is natural, for instance, for a Qarategini to consider a Kulabi or a person from Qurqanteppe as a usurper of his land and identity. The same is true for a Kulabi vis-a-vis a Badakhshani. They identify each other by appearance, mannerisms, language, and ancestry. And they judge, reward, and punish each other by these, rather than by any other standards.

Having established themselves in Qurqanteppe, the Qarateginis decided to oust the northern settlers from their territory. But since during the Stalin and Brezhnev eras entertaining such thoughts was not advisable, they waited and used this time to educate their young in their own, rather than in the required Soviet, tradition. In addition, when their children reached employment age, the Qarategini adults cooperated with each other in placing them in key positions, mostly as assistants to directors of kolkhozes, managers of hydroelectric stations, foremen of major factories, and the like. Before long, the administration of Qurqanteppe was within the reach of the Qarateginis.

During the glasnost' era, ushered in by Andropov and Gorbachev, using regionalism as a ploy, the Qarateginis turned on the old settlers with vengeance. Claiming Vakhsh, rather than Qurqanteppe, as an extension of Qarategin, they accused the northerners of squatting on southern land. In this claim they had the upper hand. They enjoyed the full protection of their clans; while the northerners, having been moved as individual families, had lost their clans' protection. Unable to withstand the pressures of the southern clans, the old settlers gave in and left for the north. The Qarateginis made sure that none of the wealth of the region was moved to the north.

The mass exodus of the northerners meant a virtual economic paralysis for the Qurqanteppe region. But that was of no concern to the Qarateginis who had been brought there against their will in the first place. Large numbers of Qarateginis, too, left the region and returned to their highland homes. With them, however, they carried all the wealth accumulated in Qurqanteppe--tractors, combines, cars, furniture, even light bulbs. In their wake, they left a shell of abandoned houses, factories, and governmental centers and a population of Hanafi Muslims and hardy Communists trapped in a sea of seething Qarategini hatred.

Obviously, economic gain was not the main impetus for the Qarateginis to turn on their neighbors as they did. They had intended to impose the Qarategini code on the entire population of the Kuhistan. To this end, they had already begun a slow purge of the Soviets by killing off individuals here and there. That sporadic killing now took an ominous turn. People were taken away in droves never to be seen again. The victims consisted of Muslims who were reported to have been negligent in their prayers, Soviets who were given to "unethical" behavior, and men who had failed to protect the honor of their family and the community by allowing their wives and daughters to appear in public improperly dressed. Needless to say that the Communists were a prime target.

These atrocities reached a boiling point in 1992, when innocent Tajiks, helpless Russian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Turkmen Communists were slaughtered in large numbers. In addition, many more were dying in Kulab because of a blockade imposed on food stuffs to the region. There were reports of mass starvation and of people feeding on sorghum and tree bark. Finally, Russia and the governments of the region responded.

Two popular Tajik Communist commanders, Sangak Safarov and Faizali Saidov were dispatched to Kulab and Qurqanteppe, respectively. Their mission was to eliminate the so-called Muslim fundamentalists and restore order. The story of the Tajik Civil War is the story of the military activities of Sangak and Faizali, the heroic deeds of other Tajiks, like Rustam Abdul Rahim, and of the politics of the north, the south, Uzbekistan, and Russia. That story has not yet been told, and is outside the purview of this report.

Summary and Conclusions

In this essay, two of the major components of Tajik identity--ethnicity and ideology--were examined. It was shown that each of these facets of Tajik culture has certain problems and that neither has the ability to steer the politics of the republic away from chaos.

Tajik ethnicity has been marred by centuries of Turko-Mongol overlordship. During the Soviet period it was cruelly assaulted and diminished; today it is hostage to the whims of Uzbek and Russian hegemons. Under the prevailing tense circumstances, the Tajiks cannot claim their lost cultural centers; neither can they strengthen their ethnic bonds with other Iranian peoples or establish Tajiki as the true official language of their republic. Such moves are likely to create grounds for the Uzbek-dominated Khujand, Tajikistan's only ancient cultural center, to secede from the republic.

Similarly, Islam that had served as a refuge for the Tajiks has become more of a liability than an asset. Associated with traditionalism, i.e., backward thinking, it has been subjected to persecution by the modernists and communists alike. Besides, Wahhabism, the brand of Sunni Islam prevalent in Tajikistan, is by nature restrictive of societal growth in the western or even modern sense. It cannot afford the religious tolerance and the homogeneity required in nation building. In sum, Tajikistan has a long way to go before it can achieve an identity of its own.

"Islam and Communism: Tajikistan in Transition," was originally read at the conference entitled The Case of the Former Soviet Central Asian Republics, held at the University of Minnesota, April 11-13, 1996. It is submitted to appear as part of the proceedings of that conference. The material is also being revised to be included in Bashiri's forthcoming Role of Russia in the Tajik-Uzbek Conflict: 1876-1996.

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