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Tajikistan is a landlocked country located in Central Asia. It has an area of 55,251 square miles and a population of 6.8 million (2005 estimate). The capital of the country is Dushanbe, with an approximate population of 700,000. Tajikistan is bordered by China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and to the north, both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Over 90 percent of the land is mountainous, with most of the population located around river valleys that flow from glaciers in the Pamir and Fan mountain ranges westward into the Aral Sea Basin. The majority of the population is Tajik, a group strongly tied to the Tajiks of northern Afghanistan and to Iranians, with a sizeable Uzbek minority and small Russian and Kyrgyz minorities. Although the official language of the country is Tajiki-a language closely related to Farsi in Iran-the government also recognizes Uzbeki and Russian for educational and judicial purposes. The country is largely Sunni Muslim; however, there is a small minority of Shi’a Ismailis in the East.
Historically, the land now comprising the country of Tajikistan was lightly settled with the majority of the people living in the Hisor/Qaroteghin Valleys (now bisected by Dushanbe) and along the Zerafshan River, which flows to the historic cities of Samarqand and Bukhara. Prior to Russian advances in the region, the economy of the area was based on agriculture and transhumance pastoralism. This changed only slightly with the advent of the Soviet Union’s hold over the region and most people remained either farmers or herders, though on collectivized farms. Industry was little developed outside of aluminum smelting (that took advantage of the hydropower in the region) and the necessary production around cotton, the republic’s main agricultural crop.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan obtained independence on September 9, 1991. Nascent tribal and Islamist feelings exploded in the southern Vakhsh Valley and triggered a debilitating civil war lasting until 1997. The Russianbacked winners, represented mostly from the cities of Kulob and Khojand, have governed ever since under the leadership of Emamoli Rahmanov. The Rahmanov regime has attempted to bring stability to the country by holding multi-party elections and having one of the few legislatures in the region with an opposition party represented in the parliament. Continued destabilization caused by opium-financed warlords who provide the transport of opium products from Afghanistan, however, threatens this still fragile country.
Like most former Soviet countries, Tajikistan’s infrastructure is heavily tied to the other former Soviet republics. At independence, all of its roads, railroads, and pipelines led only toward Russia and the other former Soviet republics. Agriculture has remained the largest employer and cotton remains the most important economic indicator. The Tajik government, however, has maintained a monopoly on the cotton trade. Afghanistan’s instability and the sheer height of the mountains within and around Tajikistan have hampered the country in its ability to increase economic activity with neighboring countries. Recently, however, the government has expanded trade with a new bridge now linking Tajikistan to Afghanistan, and ultimately on to South Asia and their ports; and more importantly, a new road to China through the Pamir Mountains has already dramatically increased trade into the country.
- Shirin Akiner, Tajikistan: Disintegration or Reconciliation? (Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2001);
- Mohammad Reza Djalili, Frederic Grare, and Sharin Akiner, Tajikistan: The Trials of Independence (St. Martin’s Press, 1997);
- Richard N. Frye, The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion (Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996);
- Colette Harris, Gender Relations in Tajikistan (Pluto Press, 2004);
- Martha Brill Olcott, Central Asia’s Second Chance (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005).