Monday, January 27, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Dushanbe Upset by Tajiks who Restore Russian Endings to Their Names

Paul Goble

                Staunton, January 27 – During Soviet times, officials pressed many non-Russians to add the suffixes  “-ov” or “-vich” to their names in order to make them more Russian. After 1991, many non-Russians dropped those suffixes in order to make their names more non-Russian. Now, there is a backlash at least in Tajikistan, and officials there are upset.

            Tajikistan’s procurator general Sherkhon Salimzoda complained in Dushanbe’s official government newspaper, that young people in his Central Asian country are increasingly restoring the Russian suffixes to their names, something he said reflects shortcomings in the educational system (

            Salimzoda said that surveys carried out in universities and military units showed that this phenomenon was widespread and reflects “a low level of self-consciousness and patriotism,” something that he implicitly urged the Tajik authorities to take immediate steps in order to counter.

            He noted that over the last three years there had been 177 cases in which individuals at the state Commercial Institute had restored the Russian endings, 113 cases of the same phenomenon at the Pedagogical University, and 223 at the State Medical University. During the same period, “only two” Tajiks in these schools had dropped the Russian endings.

            These shifts are not terribly numerous given that Tajikistan’s total population is more than eight million, but because they are occurring or not occurring among the younger and more educated generation, they provide a useful measure of the way in which national self-identification is developing.

            Some of the students clearly have chosen to restore the Russian endings because they expect to be migrant workers in Russia and feel they will encounter fewer problems there if they have Russian-sounding names. But the attitude of the Tajikistan authorities, as Salimzoda’s article shows, is quite negative.

In 2007, the president of Tajikistan dropped the “-ov” suffix from his name and become Emomali Rakhmon instead of Emomali Rakhmonov. Other officials followed him in doing so, including former economics minister Ful Bobozoda and Salimzoda himself who earlier had gone under the name Salimov.

                Tajikistan represents an extreme case in the fight over last names in the former Soviet space because so many of its people are in the Russian Federation and because Rakhmon has chosen to make this an issue. But similar changes and reversals are happening elsewhere as well, and they represent a far more accurate measure of identity changes than almost anything else.

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