Saturday, October 1, 2016

Tajiks Remember They Lost Their Independence to Soviet Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – There are many ways the former republics within the Soviet Union can be classified, but one of the most important is whether their current residents view their states as the restoration of something Moscow took away from them or as something that they achieved as a result of Soviet nationality policies.

            Ever more countries in the region now view themselves as the victims of Soviet policy rather than its beneficiaries, and that represents what may prove to be the beginning of the final stage of the disintegration of the former Soviet space so many in Moscow and in the West still talk about.

            Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania view 1991 the recovery of an independence that Stalin took away from them. Moldovans see things the same way, as do an increasing number of Belarusians and Ukrainians. Armenians and Georgians talk about their independence after the 1917 revolution. And Azerbaijanis see themselves as continuing the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.

            But in Central Asia, such discussions are far less common, given that the area was colonized by tsarist Russia and then divided up by Stalin’s policy of national-territorial “delimitation.”  Nonetheless, some Tajiks, are now looking back to the Emirate of Bukhara as a predecessor of their current state that Moscow suppressed.

            This past week at a meeting of Dushanbe’s Dialogue of Civilizations Club, Tajik historian Namoz Khotamov discussed “how we lost” not only Tajik’s national “independence” but also and importantly for the present and future, “Bukhara and Samarkand” (

                The Bukharan emirate, he pointed out, lost its independence in 1868 when Russian forces advanced and forced the emir to accept the position of Russia’s “vassal.”  But in 1917, the Russian Provisional Government confirmed the independence of the Bukharan emirate,” meaning that it was an independent state when the Bolsheviks seized power.

            After a time of troubles during the Russian civil war, Tajikistan was attacked and occupied by the Red Army under the command of Mikhail Frunze. “Objectively,” Khotamov says, this was “a progressive event.” The emirate of Bukhara was a backward and repressive state.

            But “at the time, the Bolshevik invasion and the revolutionary transformations which it led to brought the population many misfortunes and complicated the political, economic, and social relationships” among the Tajiks.  Among the most serious of these losses was the fact that “we lost our independence.”

            As a result, the Tajiks became the objects of Moscow’s policies rather than subjects in control of their own destiny.  Because of that, when Tajikistan was created, the Tajik cities of Bukhara and Samarkand were included in Uzbekistan, despite the urgings of Soviet foreign affairs commissar Georgy Chicherin that they be part of Tajikistan.

            Moscow’s decision to put Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan, Khotamov said, “had one additional objective reason: In January 1929, after the revolt of Afghan Tajiks, power in Kabul was seized by their leader Khabibullah Kalakani, more well-known as Bachai Sako.”

            “Stalin was afraid of the rise of yet another strong Persian-language republic neighboring Afghanistan and Iran, because he considered that they could unite and threaten the interests of Soviet Russia in Central Asia,” Khotamov concluded.

            As so often in this part of the world, these nominally historical discussions are not about the past but about the present and future, and to the extent that other Tajiks feel as the Dushanbe historian does, that both explains and represents a challenge to what the current Moscow government is seeking to do there.

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