Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tajiks Remember When They Forced Moscow to Change Border with Uzbekistan

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 18 – An article about a Tajik protest in February 1925 that blocked the train of Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin and forced Moscow to revise Tashkent’s approach to its Tajik minority and then change the border between the two Central Asian republics in Tajikistan’s favor has proven to have more than historical interest.


            On the one hand, numerous comments posted on it show that Tajiks still feel very strongly about what they see as Uzbek insensitivity and even oppression of their nation.  And on the other, these same comments highlight the feeling still very much alive among Tajiks that pubic actions can force the hand of Moscow, Tashkent and Dushanbe.


            In an article entitled “How the People of Konibodom United with Tajikistan,” Tajik journalist Akmal Mannonov describes an incident that is little known outside the Tajik community but that is clearly still very much a matter of extreme sensitivity and national pride (


            In 1917, the Tajik portion of the Fergana valley – “from Khodzhent to Konibodom, Asht and Isfara” – was included in the Turkestan Republic, he writes, and then at the end of 1924, it became part of Uzbekistan, something that meant that it was at risk of “repeating the fate of Samarkand and Bukhara are remaining outside of Tajikistan.”


            But the Tajik population in Konibodom was anything but happy about this arrangement, and on February 8, 1925, they blocked the train of Soviet president Mikhail Kalinin and forced him to agree to pay attention to their demands that their language be respected and ultimately that they be included in Tajikistan rather than Uzbekistan.


            Even before the Bolshevik revolution, the Tajik-speaking people of Konibodom were noted for the knowledge of languages and even their supplying of translators of the Russian mission in Kashgar. There were numerous medrassahs and at least 2500 people involved in religious instruction.


            In January 1918, the city was included within the Kokand district of the Fergana Oblast of the Turkestan ASSR. That oblast was predominantly Uzbek speaking, and its leaders did little to help the Tajik speakers, frequently keeping funds intended for them from reaching their intended destination, according to the Tajiks.


            The situation deteriorated after the national territorial delimitation in 1924 when the Konibodom residents work up to discover that they were included within Uzbekistan and that the government insisted on the “’Uzbekization’” of the Tajiks. Almost immediately, the situation boiled over.


            On January 15, 1925, the city’s residents sent a letter to Stalin demanding that they be included in Tajikistan or at least that their language and cultural rights be respected. Nothing happened, and when Kalinin came through their city on the way to a Bolshevik party meeting, the Konibodom residents took their chance and blocked his train.


            Confronted by this popular anger, Kalinin had no choice but to agree to push what the city’s residents wanted, and the results were not long in coming: Moscow instructed Uzbek officials to recognize the linguistic and cultural rights of the Tajiks and ultimately transferred the territory of the city to Tajikistan, thus in the minds of the Tajiks saving it from Uzbekification.


            Borders among the Soviet republics were changed more than 200 times between the end of the Russian civil war and the death of Brezhnev, typically to address the economic and political needs of Moscow or republic leaders but only rarely in response to popular demonstrations.


            The transfer of Konibodom was one of the rare cases in which it was popular activism that forced Moscow’s hand, and judging by the comments appended to Mannonov’s article, many Tajiks are proud of what their ancestors did and apparently view it as a model for how they should act as well.


            If indeed some of them act on that, such demonstrations could exacerbate the situation not only in Tajik-speaking regions of Uzbekistan but become a model for minorities in other post-Soviet countries as well, one more way in which Putin’s talk about Moscow’s need to protect Russian speakers abroad may have some consequences that he would not want.




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