Tajik media have been publishing more articles on regionalism lately. Unsurprisingly, most of them defend the unwritten ideology of the present political neopatrimonial establishment and some of them support it explicitly, like Safvat Burhanov’s article published in the latest issue of Ozodagon (Dushanbe), who calls for further preserving regionalist affiliations. According to him, regionalism saves nations from dissolution. The writer has failed to base his arguments on a convincing logic, thereby strengthening well-based theses on regionalism’s devastating effects upon a nation’s consolidation.
The following is the latest part of my research on regionalism in Tajikistan called Regionalism Vs Nationalism. The full version of the paper could be found in tajikistanweb.com.
Five years of modern Tajik history (1992-1997) have been stained with blood. The society reached the boiling point with the Union’s break-up and the collapse of the intertwined economic system where Tajikistan stood at the lowest level of significance. But some observers believe that it was Tajik regionalism in all its forms that caused the war.
This imputation could be argued based on the fact that in the late 1980s opposition groups – at least most of them – did not fall along regional lines. They started breaking down into regional subgroups and later separate entities as the country was rolling down the ditch of civil war. There was just one regional organization within the opposition (La’li Badakhshan) with an explicit regionalist name, but nationalist ideas.
However, during those five bloody years numerous organizations appeared with extremely regionalist agendas implied in their names, like “Mehri Khatlan”, “Ehyai Zarafshan”, “Ehyai Yaghnab”, “Hisari Shadman”, “Ehyai Khujand” etc. The word “ehya” means “rebirth” that explains regions’ anxieties during turbulent years as if each of them separately strived earnestly to survive the misfortune and get reborn. The war revealed Tajiks’ weakest point and segmented the tiny nation into smaller lots; the national cause of a newly-independent nation was forgotten altogether. Any doubts about the feebleness of the national solidarity were lifted. The regionalist lava oozed out of the war volcano to dissolve movements like Rastakhez whose agenda was a national rebirth rather than a regional one. Some regions started mulling over their own independence from Dushanbe.
“[by March of 1992] representatives of the northern
Although no definite regional lines could be drawn between the Popular Front and the Islamic Renaissance Party, the overall picture was one of solidarity between old allies – Leninabad and Kulab against rival regions. Their alliance had been made known by declaring Khojand and Kulab “sister-cities”.
“But with the dissolution of the Soviet institutions that enabled the Leninabadis to exercise social control, the Kulabi underworld’s ability to mobilize violence became crucial. Kulabis thus fit the prototype of a conservative impoverished group attached to an old regime by the small share of power it gave them and resistant to a new order that might displace them.” (Barnett R. Rubin, Jack L. Snyder, Post-Soviet Political Order, p. 151).
The first phase of the war (1993) brought the pro-communist Kulabis to power thanks to generous military and political support provided by Uzbekistan and Russia. And the power remained in their hands thereafter, despite Leninabadis’ wishful thinking that Kulabis would hand it over to the traditional leadership of the past decades. In fact, the old allies changed their roles: prior to the turmoil a Kulabi led the Council of Ministers in a Leninabadi (Khojandi) government, after the war it was precisely vice versa and the pattern has not changed so far.
“Although this change put an end to the dominant role of the Khujandis in Tajikistani politics, it did not end regionalism in Tajikistan. Rather, it simply transferred power from one region to another. Since then, power has remained in the hands of Kulabis. Other regions, with few exceptions, have been excluded from participating in the national government. The most important governmental or economic positions have been given to Kulabis.” (Nasrin Dadmehr in Robert Rotberg’s State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror, p. 253).
While regionalism is accepted by most Tajiks as one of the factors of the war, nevertheless some argue its crucial or primary causal role in the conflict pointing at ideological differences between the warring sides that constituted roughly pro-communists against Islamists and Democrats. Regionalism was rather a tool of manipulation of the conflict applied by losing Communists and foreign powers with their own vested interests in Tajikistan’s civil war, they believe. Barnett Rubin and Jack Snyder are convinced that this explanation might be closer to the truth, however, they try to dig deeper for a root cause:
“But one still must explain why people were susceptible to such manipulation. Such an explanation is offered by the “situational” approach to identity conflict. In situations of insecurity, such as those created by the collapse of an imperial hegemon, people fall back on whatever forms of solidarity are available culturally or politically.” (Barnett R. Rubin, Jack L. Snyder, Post-Soviet Political Order, p. 145).
Tajikistan’s civil war was a drama played on the post-Soviet stage that demonstrated perilous consequences of the lack of national consciousness. It could be largely blamed on the Soviet contradictory policies in Central Asia that fostered the Turkic, particularly Uzbek, nationalism at the expense of the Tajik one. Paul Bergne’s book The Birth of Tajikistan ends with the following paragraph:
“While the Soviet solution had seemed to offer a form of national identity,
The new government of Tajikistan that seized the power with a promise to restore “the constitutional (a.k.a. Communist) system” of the country soon reneged on its communist values. Emomali Rahmon, the leader of the new regime, left the Communist Party to build his own People’s Democratic Party effectively leaving Communists beyond the ruling circle and taking all his fellow communists in the government with him to the new party. Ostensibly he understood the necessity of cultivating a nationalistic policy in order to rule a united country rather than a loose confederation of khanates. Thus, the Samanid dynasty (819-992) was defined as the founder of the Tajik statehood and an extensive (equally expensive) propaganda campaign of Samanids was conducted throughout the country. Shah Ismail Samani’s statue replaced Ferdowsi in the main square of the capital. The Tajik currency changed the name from “ruble” to “samani” (somoni). And the president himself changed his own name by dropping the Russian suffix “-ov” off his surname.
“It is important to note that the nationalistic propaganda of the Tajikistani regime had another goal: to respond to the aggressive and anti-Tajikistani nationalistic policy of the neighboring Uzbek state. The Tajikistani government wanted to target those who denied the integrity of the Tajiks as a nation and thus the necessity of a Tajikistani state.” (Nasrin Dadmehr in Robert Rotberg’s State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror, p. 253).
However, the propaganda failed to win the nation’s hearts and minds due to contradictory ‘nationalism’ of the government. Everywhere Ismail Samani’s image is paired with the image of the incumbent president and their striking similarity hints the real purpose of the campaign which is nothing but another cult of personality of a new ruler. Besides the regional monopoly in politics and economy Kulab’s cultural eminence is promulgated by all possible means. The nation celebrated the 2700 th anniversary of the town; the date – unknown before - that makes Kulab the most ancient city in the entire country.
Other regions’ discomfort of being ignored and denied by the regime has effectively diminished the administration’s credibility as a national government. The regime’s implicit and explicit emphases on its regional roots contributes to its alienation from the people.
Whereas there is an urgent need for a real moderate, rational, and defensive nationalism for a country like Tajikistan that is surrounded by more rivals than allies. As put by Yaacov Ro’i in his Muslim Eurasia: Conflicting Legacies, “not for the first nor the last time, could defensive nationalism, mobilised against aliens, serve the cause of national integration.”
This kind of nationalism could be achieved only if the ruling elite choose to re-formulate their policies by replacing regional loyalties with meritocracy and ditching their narrow localist outlook. One cannot build a nation out of millions of angry people and a handful of supporters. For many people Tajik identity goes beyond the borders of the republic and they cannot adjust their expectations with the regime’s policies.
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