Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tajikistan’s Uzbeks ‘Vanishing’ – Thanks to Dushanbe’s Statistical Sleight of Hand

Paul Goble
            Staunton, September 8 – Throughout the Soviet period, Uzbeks made up from 21 to 23 percent of the population of Tajikistan; but since independence, their share of the Tajikistan population has fallen to 12 percent, less the result of differences in demographic behavior between the two groups than of Dushanbe’s manipulation of statistics.

            In the last Soviet census in 1989, Nurali Mingbayev writes in Centrasia.ru, there were 1,197,841 Uzbeks in Tajikistan, constituting a 23.5 percent share of the population.  But in the Tajikistan census of September 2010, there were 926,344 Uzbeks who then formed 12.2 percent of the total (.centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1441576560).

            According to these official statistics, the Uzbeks between 1989 and 2010 declined in number by 29.3 percent, a figure that is implausible because the fertility rates of the Uzbeks are almost the same as those of the Tajiks and because there was little outmigration of Uzbeks from Tajikistan during the civil war, in contrast to the ethnic Russians who fled in large numbers.

            Meanwhile, if one accepts the official census, the Tajiks increased every year by five percent and thus more than doubled their number in 21 years: In 1989, there were 3,172,420 Tajiks, but in 2010, they numbered 6,373,834.  No people in the history of the world has ever had that kind of increase in that period of time.

            Meanwhile, the official census shows, the “share in the population of almost all other ethnoses besides the Tajiks fell” over this period. The only groups which grew were the Afghans, Roma, and Tajik-speaking Arabs. The share of Kyrgyz “also did not increase over that 20 year period and formed [in both censuses] one percent of the population.”

            For these statistics to be true, one has to assume that the Tajiks had unprecedentedly high fertility rates and remained in their country rather than being gastarbeiters while all the other nationalities, including the Uzbeks, had almost no children or left in large numbers during that period.

            All of this is implausible, especially given that the ethnic Tajiks changed their share of the population of Tajikistan between 1937 and 1989 scarcely at all, rising only from 53 percent to 62 percent over 52 years, after in fact falling between 1926 and 1937, the Centrasia.ru analyst says.

            What is on view, he suggests, is “obvious falsification and massive distortion.”  The real share of Tajiks in Tajikistan is much lower than the census claims, and the real share of others and particularly of the Uzbeks is much higher.

            The methods Dushanbe employed to get the figures it wanted are familiar to anyone who has looked at censuses in the Russian Federation: the separation out of subethnic groups from nationalities the authorities want to present as declining in size and an increase in the favored group either by outside misrepresentation or the addition of other groups to it.

            But Dushanbe went further, re-identifying those who declared themselves to be Uzbeks as Tajiks especially in the major cities where Uzbeks in fact have remained the majority population. These steps as well as the replacement of Uzbek toponyms with Tajik ones have sparked protests, but the protests have been ignored, Mingbayev says.

            All this happened because the Tajiks needed an enemy, he continues, and the leadership chose the Uzbeks for this role. The Tajiks “have already driven out the ethnic Russians, they have liquidated the national autonomy of the Pamirs, [and] they are [artificially] assimilating the Uzbeks.”

            Mingbayev says that he very much fears that “very soon the Uzbeks will disappear entirely from [Tajikistan] statistics. Their number will be reduced each year, and then the number of Uzbek schools and Uzbek courses in universities will be closed. In Soviet times, there were about 150 Uzbek schools; now, half of them have been closed.”

This commentator’s report suggests that the level of Tajik-Uzbek tensions, not to speak of other difficulties in relations between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remains high despite the suggestions of some that they have eased. Given Tajikistan’s other problems now, they are likely to reemerge and further complicate the political situation there.

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