A Tale of Two Cities
Iraj Bashiri

copyright, Bashiri 2000


Boulder, Colorodo

The Boulder County seat, Boulder City, Colorado, is located on the Boulder Creek, at the base of the Flatirons Range of the Rocky Mountains. Originally a mining town and named for the large stones in the area, Boulder was settled first in 1858. Almost a century later, it became the center for a considerable government industrial-educational complex. Today Boulder has a population of 96,000 engaged in ranching, mining, and technology and tourism development.

Culturally, Boulder was home to an innocent nature-loving community whose idyllic existence has sometimes bordered on the zany. To me, before going there, Boulder was just another small university town like Ann Arbor, Michigan or Madison, Wisconsin. Then I mentioned to Ian, one of my students from Colorado, that I was planning to travel to Boulder on business. "I have not been to Boulder myself," he said, "but I have a brother who lives there. According to him, some Boulderites continue to live in the 1960's." His response evoked in me that familiar wacky image of little hick towns in which everyone knew everyone else, where the sheriff helped old ladies with their groceries, and where your parking fine was a word of advice from the sheriff's deputy.

Imagination, however, although a useful tool for survival and for coping, can play tricks on us by distancing us from reality. Just walking down the Pearl Street Mall and visiting the stores, restaurants, and places where the youth of Boulder hang out is sufficient to dispel any such thought. The impact of the New Age on the city is overwhelming as is the zeal of the populace for breaking away spiritually from the canons of the ancients and physically from the binds of our mortal coil.

Actually, there is a bit of "Walden" in and around Boulder City, a love for nature that lodges itself serenely in the subconscious. Walking down the back alleys, for instance, you come across some beautifully arranged flowerbeds and rock gardens. In fact, I came across one rock garden in front of a mansion near the University of Colorado that attracted and retained my attention for quite some time. A single buttercup amid the green, the purple, and the blue was so captivating that I could not let go of it. Maybe the name "Buttercup" had something to do with it. Those familiar with Chingiz Aitmatove's Farewell Gulsary! know the predicament of Tanabai Bukasov who had to let go of his dying horse "Gulzari" or buttercup. The Boulder Creek, festooned with lilies and the city streets with blue columbine, fireweed, and bluebells would not allow you to forget where you were.

Outside Boulder, love for nature has transformed the countryside into a network of nature trails such as the Switzerland Trail, the Little Raven Trail, and the Overland Trail. In a more specific sense, love for nature is reflected in the affinity that most Boulderites feel for vegetarian, toxin-free foods vis-a-vis the usual meat, white bread and coffee or tea; their emphasis on an alternative medical care and the use of fresh air, pure water, sunlight, rest, exercise, nutrition, temperance, and trust in Divine power complements their attitude towards a quest for freedom and restoration of the natural order, a hallmark of the 1960's.

More than anything, the community orientation attracted my attention. The population votes on every measure that affects the direction the town takes. For instance, in 1959, the "Blue Line" legislature secured the prevention of development along mountain backdrop. Eight years later, the tax payers approved the purchase of open space for the creation of a greenbelt around the community. Similarly, 1n 1971, a fifty-five foot height limitation was put on new buildings, and in 1976, a 2% growth limitation was approved.

These limitations are draconian and elitist on the one hand and restrictive and progressive on the other. It all depends on what kind of society should be allowed to take shape and serve the future needs of Boulderites. Without a doubt, many families would not be able to cope with the rising prices and will have to leave. But those who remain would have the opportunity to live their lives as they please. Today, for instance, it does not seem unusual at all to come across groups of people, in rags and long hair, hugging and kissing in public in front of the Boulder Courthouse. I had seen similar scenes in the mid-1960's when I lived in Liverpool. But Liverpool was the home of the Beatles; everyone there wanted to outdo the Beatles. That the trend has survived in Boulder only goes to prove that cultural messages can be preserved and promoted as an alternative lifestyle. Are not, after all, these same long-haired, carefree people the cutting edge for the resolution of many of the artistic, industrial, and educational issues that seek their solutions in the new millennium?

Drastic change arrived in Boulder in the 1980's. The younger generation of the Boulderites allowed the establishment in the city of a key section of the National Bureau of Standards, the US branch of the World Data Center of Solar Activity, and the National Center for Atmospheric research. These centers and their affiliated industries put the city on the road of rapid progress. They also created a scarcity of space and restrictions on peoples' movement. Bans were placed on the usual parking spaces, bikes, and skateboards, and leashes were put on dogs. Before long, an unbridgeable gap occurred in the lifestyles between the Yuppies and their parents. The latter group was literally forced to find comfort elsewhere, mostly in the neighboring towns of Broomfield, Longmont, and Lafayette. Boulder proper has, to a considerable degree, become a haven for the jet set and the Saab 9000 Turbo crowd, who are rich, carefree, and mobile.

Finally, in every paradise there is likely to be a snake. Boulder is no exception. The cold-blooded murder of innocent 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey mars Boulder's clean slate but by far falls short of denying the city its deserved reputation as a beautiful, progressive high tech town rivaling the larger boom towns of the nation.



Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Pre-Soviet Dushanbe was originally a complex of three small villages (qishlaq) centered on the Varzob (also called Dushanbe) River. On Mondays, the inhabitants of these villages gathered there and bartered their goods. In time, the marketplace, called Dushanbe (Monday), became a booming residential center, attracting people from far and near. Today Dushanbe has a population of over 600,000 engaged in farming, livestock raising, trade, and light industry.

After the fall of the Emirate of Bukhara (1920), Amir Alim Khan, the last Amir of the Manghit line, stayed a while in Dushanbe and nearby Hissar before he left permanently for Kabul, Afghanistan. His short residence there added to the prestige of the town. Soon after the departure of the Amir, however, the town became an unwilling haven for the anti-Soviet Basmachis. Partially controlled by the deposed Amir from Afghanistan, the Basmachis (the Muslim population of Central Asia that struggled to uphold Islamic values in jurisprudence, education, religious rites, ownership, and marriage rites) disrupted the normal social order in the Kuhistan region of present-day Tajikistan.

During the early years of Soviet rule, especially during the 1924 territorial divisions, due to their complicity in the Basmachi affair, Tajiks were marginalized. Expelled from the Republics of Turkistan and Bukhara, they were re-settled in Stalinabad, the Soviets' name for Dushanbe. Here they achieved independent Soviet Republic status in 1929 and were gradually integrated into the Soviet system. After 1937, plans were put into motion to bring Dushanbe up to the level of other Soviet capitals. To this end, municipal buildings were built, statues of the leaders of the nation and the community were installed, and, like everywhere else, parks, theaters, libraries, and educational institutions dotted the landscape.

The real capital and cultural center of the Soviets of the region, however, was Khujand. Even the Tajiks themselves did not feel quite at home in Stalinabad. Their real cultural centers were the ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarqand, both of which the Soviets had handed over to the Uzbeks. Stalinabad, thus, although pretty on the outside, was culturally an empty town up for grabs. Between 1940 and 1960, Stalinabad became the agricultural center of the Kuhistan and was allowed the development of a modicum of light industry. Soviet citizens from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as well as Tajiks from as far as Asht, Darvaz, and Khorogh came to the town, settled in distinct mahallas or sections of Stalinabad and contributed to the city's prosperity. Then, between 1961, when Khrushchev changed the name of the city back to Dushanbe, and 1990, Russian, Ukrainian, German, Korean , and other nationalities contributed expertise for the upgrading of the lagging Soviet economy.

Unlike Boulder, its sister city, Dushanbe did not have city fathers who could see to its proportional growth. Instead, it had a controlling body that imposed on it any measures that would benefit the larger nation. If a people were dislocated in some part of the Soviet Union due to war, famine, earthquake, or political exigencies, Dushanbe had to accept them, accommodate them, and feed them, even at the expense of its own population. In the long run, these impositions weakened the little sense of ethnic harmony that had kept the original community together. The town began to disintegrate.

The coup de gras to the integrity of Dushanbe was dealt in February 1990 in the course of the so-called "Dushanbe Uprising". The uprising, a calculated move on the part of the southern coalition, which intended to overthrow the northern (i.e., Khujandi) government, set the scene for a prolonged parliamentary debate which, in turn, fueled a bloody conflict among Dushanbe settlers as well as between the Muslims and the Communists of the Republic. This conflict gradually transformed itself into a major civil war in the south. The repercussions of the conflict came back and roosted at Dushanbe's door, shattering to bits the residual sense of urbanity that had held the original settlers together.

The deterioration of the urban life in Dushanbe did not end there. As a result of multifarious changes introduced, especially a new language law that demanded conformity within five years, the contributors to the recently-achieved prosperity of the city migrated to places from which they had hailed, leaving the original inhabitants, unfamiliar with the technology that runs the city, on their own. Worse yet, Kulabis, Gharmis, and Hissaris who were even less educated than the original inhabitants of Dushanbe, moved into the city and filled the vacuum. With them they also brought a newly-created free market, trade in drugs, and Afghan-inspired lawlessness. After the formation of the Dushanbe Mafia, the capital joined the rest of the republic in lack of stability and a perennial lack of security.

The two sister cities, although similar in natural beauty, are as different as night and day. Boulder is a progressive city populated by yuppies, artists, health-nuts, nature-lovers, and alternative life-style advocates. Its economy is based on the free market and enterprise and its citizens seek the good life. Dushanbe, on the other hand, is populated by a people suffering the consequences of a failed central economy. Theirs is a day-by-day struggle for survival. Their energy is focused daily not so much on creativity and pursuit of capital but on the simple pleasures of life: family, food, language, defense of ethnic identity, and achievement of basic freedoms.

What is admirable, I believe, is that in spite of such glaring dissimilarities, the cities of Boulder and Dushanbe have ushered in an era of mutual understanding and cooperation among Americans and Tajiks. It is always easy to make friends when good times roll but it is equally difficult to stay steadfast friends when calamity hits. When the boom went bust and all those who had courted Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union decided to cut their losses and leave, the Boulderites stayed with their Tajik friends. My feeling, from talking to their representatives, is that they intend to stay by them until prosperity returns to their sister city and beyond.

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