The Civil War
In 1992, the civil war broke out. The causes of this war were complex and relate to some extent to the ethnic and regional tensions that emerged from the formation of the new Soviet Republic in 1924 (once again artificial lines on a map – created by outside forces – lead to conflict!) and to premature attempts to liberalize the Tajik political system.
At the end of the Soviet period, power in Tajikistan was tightly guarded by representatives of the Leninabad district in the North. Other regions of Tajikistan were demanding: equal participation in the political process; and the communist party to abandon its monopoly on political power, in favor of a multiparty system.
The refusal to share power coupled with a lack of political maturity on the part of the opposition- led to civil war.
The war was devastating.
It compounded the economic disruption caused by the break-up of the Soviet system and the people of GBAO (the Pamirs) and Karategin/Rasht found themselves virtually isolated from the outside world. People were starving. The mountainous terrain that protected them from the majority of the violence also contributed to their inability to access food.
Many had lost family members during the war and the country was crippled economically. Jobs were almost impossible to find. Public services, like schools and hospitals were in a shocking state and business nearly non-existent. The feeling of unease was perverse –with gunmen openly walking the streets, murder, robbery and kidnapping rampant. Gas , electricity and water were often cut and the winters long, dark and cold.
20,000 people died (of a population of 5 million) and around one in ten had fled their homes.
The organization that I work for is well respected in this region not only for the projects that they currently fund but for the humanitarian assistance they provided during the war. The crisis was largely ignored by the rest of the international community: few had heard of Tajikistan and many considered it Russia’s problem.
Help was not on its way.
In 1997, a peace agreement was reached. And to date, the peace process had been very successful. A result of the war has been a push for promoting cultural pluralism.
The economic situation in Tajikistan remains the most precarious of all of the Republics, however, the high level of literacy and the secular education achieved under the Soviet Union coupled with the political maturity of the parties since the 1997 peace agreement, offers hope that Tajikistan will prove more stable than its neighbors.
The People of the Pamirs
The Pamirs has been mostly protected from outside influence and occupation due to its isolated geophraphic location. This mountainous area, a large part of which is located in Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan, is one of the most inaccessible in the world.
Local tradition holds that the Pamirian people descended from the leaders of Alexander the Great’s invading army, who reached the area in fourth century B.C.
This may in part be true but their ethnicity can also be traced to the tribes that lived in Eastern Iran. Today, the Pamiris live in southern Central Asia, primarily in southeastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan.
The Pamiris are not a homogeneous group. They are composed of people who speak the Pamiri languages, (some are quite similar, others not easily understood among the different groups) the indigenous languages of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan region and in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province in Tajikistan, and adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam (followers of the Aga Khan). Aside from the Kyrgyz-speaking people in Murgab (more on this later) most people that live in the GBAO are Ismaili.
The Pamiris share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan, the Sarikoli speakers in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang Province in China, the Wakhi speakers in Afghanistan and the Wakhi speakers in Upper Hunza Gojal region of Northern mountainous areas of Pakistan.
During the Tajikistan Civil War from 1992–1997 the Pamiris were targeted for massacres, especially those living in the capital Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa Oblast.
In the early 1990s there was a movement amongst Pamiris to separate Gorno-Badakhshan from Tajikistan. This did not happen but the Pamirs remain an autonomous region of Tajikistan (you need a visa to get in).