Friday, May 14, 2021

Tajiks of Tajikistan and Tajiks of Afghanistan Said to Have No Interest in a Unified State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – A common error among those who believe that ethnicity is more important than citizenship is the belief that people of the same ethnic group on different sides of state borders invariably want to unite in a single state. Not only does that view often trigger violence and instability, but it frequently is simply not true.

            Ethnicity is a powerful part of identity, but it is never the only part. Identification with a particular state as well as historical experience both recent and in the distant past mean that groups which share many or even most ethnic characteristics may have little or no interest in combining to form a single state whatever some on either side or beyond may think.

            A clear example of this involves the Tajiks, who number approximately nine million in Tajikistan and approximately 14 million across the border in Afghanistan. Many outside observers, familiar only with an ethnic-linguistic map, assume that they would want to unite and form a single state if and when that becomes possible. In fact, they don’t.

            As the Central Asia portal of the Zen.Yandex media points out, “the Tajik people was divided already in antiquity” and “the last state when it was united in the cosmopolitan empire of Tamerlane.” Half a millennium ago, it was divided between the Bukharan khanate and the Safevid Iran, the latter of which lost control of it in the middle of the 18th century (

            Living in different states, the two groups of Tajiks diverged, with the divisions between them becoming even larger during the Soviet period when those south of the border remained heavily Islamicized while those north of it were secularized to a remarkable extent given Moscow’s war on religion.

            But according to Zen.Yandex, that is only one of “an enormous number of other cultural distinctions.” Those north of the border are far more interested in cooperating with Iran than those south of it, who still view Iran as an imperial threat.” They also divide in terms of their propensity to emigrate, with those in the north quite willing to do so and those to the south not.

            As a result, “despite their ethnic closeness, the two parts of this single people do not want political unity.” Members of each maintain contacts with each other. But now as in the past, there is no effort on either side to promote a single state, perhaps especially because both the north and the south have been subject to so much violence.


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