If one were to put all of the countries in the world in order by obscurity (at least to the West), Tajikistan would probably rank among the most obscure. As a small, land-locked nation in the middle of Central Asia, it gains far less media attention than its neighbors, who are themselves not well known. Uzbekistan has come on the radar recently because of the Andijan affair, Kazakhstan because of Rice’s and Ali G/Borat’s attention, and Kyrgyzstan because of the revolution. Turkmenistan, while arguably somewhat obscure as well, at the very least qualifies as notorious for its insane ruler who has a golden statue of himself and gives city-wide morality sermons.
But what about Tajikistan?
For this inaugural post in the Neweurasia Tajikistan Blog, I decided to list some reasons why this country does warrant closer attention.
- Tajikistan shares the largest border with Afghanistan of any of the Central Asian republics. This means that the country feels the effects of the war with the Taliban much more strongly than its neighbors.
- It is the poorest country in Central Asia, and one of the poorest in the world. It’s per capita GDP (PPP) is $1,106. Compare that to the second poorest Central Asian country, Uzbekistan ($1,744), as well as Chad ($1,210), Haiti ($1,742), Democratic Republic of the Congo ($697), and Sudan ($1,910). Incredibly, of these countries, only Congo is poorer.
- Tajikistan is not leaning west, as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan seem to be (or are at least striking a balance). Future posts and news will likely emphasize this point and look at who Tajikistan is courting instead.
- Tajikistan is the only Central Asian republic with a sustained and significant Russian military presence. These troops show no sign of leaving any time soon, and in 2004 were increased and reaffirmed.
- Tajikistan is the only Central Asian Republic to suffer a significant civil war. The war was fought between 1992 and 1997 between a broad coalition of interests called the United Tajik Opposition, and Emomali Rakhmanov’s Moscow-backed Russia-leaning old guard. Rakhmanov ultimately prevailed, and rules to the present day.
- The Soviet Union created Tajikistan later than the other Central Asian Republics. It was designated as its own constituent republic from what is now Uzbekistan in 1929. It is common for authors to write that the Soviet republics were arbitrarily divided up by Russia from what had previously been little more than a collection of tribes with no national identity. New research suggests that this is not the case at all, and the partition was a much more complex issue that involved input from developing national groups in the region itself. That being said, of all the republics, Tajikistan’s division had the least correlation with existing national identities, and therefore comes across as the most “arbitrary.” This division is a root cause of conflict to the present day.
Where will Tajikistan go from here? Stay tuned.