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Why Tajikistan?

Written by on Wednesday, 16 November 2005
Politics and Society, Tajikistan
12 Comments

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.

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12 Comments »

  • Peter says:

    Good luck.
    There’s a Tajik guy at the checkout in my canteen who I speak Russian to, and I desperately need something to talk about to dissipate the awkwardness. So keep the posts coming!

    Reply

  • Venichka says:

    Interesting stuff. Look forward to reading more here.

    One minor point/clarification:
    I presume the word “Russian” should be inserted in the paragraph at where i have marked “***”:

    “Tajikistan is the only Central Asian republic with a sustained and significant *** military presence. These troops show no sign of leaving any time soon, and in 2004 were increased and reaffirmed. ”

    Although if I rememebr correctly, Tajikistani troops have recently taken over some border patrol duties (along border with Afghanistan) from Russia??? I think there was some scepticism as to how effective the new troops would be at keeping out drug-traffickers etc?

    Anyway, keep up the good work

    Reply

  • James says:

    Glad to hear you like the blog, Venichka, and neweurasia appreciates any comments, criticism, and new information, as always.

    It’s funny that you mention Tajikistan taking over border patrol duties and Russia being skeptical, since I was busy writing about that exact topic when I saw your comment. There have also been some issues with Tajik border guards running into old Russian mines, which I posted on earlier.

    Reply

  • Tajiki says:

    Why is it awkward and obscure? because it is small and new country? because a large number of americans are simply dumb and do not even know that europe is not a country and iraq does not have border with america???

    Reply

  • Tajik boy says:

    I think your second reason to blog Tajikistan is no longer valid. Tajikistan is no longer the poorest republic in Central Asia. Please change it to reflect the latest information. here is a link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/guides/456900/456938/html/nn4page1.stm

    If having a bipartisan parlament is an indication of a democratic (hence pro-west) government Tajikistan beats all other countries in the region as it has intergrated a real opposition in the government.

    Re: Venichka’s comment: I think every nation has a right to defend itself by its own means and having a national army patrol borders is no surprise. Of course after having been repressed by Russians for so long the country needs time to get to a needed level. The ride could be a bit bumpy in the first few years but it is worth it. No russian can effectively speak the language of Afghans which is persian and understand these folks as Tajiks.

    Reply

  • James says:

    Tajiki:
    No one said Tajikistan is “awkward.” As far as obscurity… obviously I don’t think it should be obscure, but the reality is that for your average citizen in the US or Europe… it just is. Obscurity is, of course, relative, and a big part of neweurasia’s mission is eliminating it, and increasing understanding between cultures. Please do not take offense.

    Reply

  • James says:

    Tajik Boy:

    That BBC article is interesting- I haven’t seen that data anywhere else. Here is what I have seen.
    According to the CIA World Factbook:
    GDP Per Capita Income (Purchasing Power Parity)
    Tajikistan: $1,100
    Turkmenistan: $5,740
    Kazakhstan: $7,800
    Kyrgyzstan: $1,700
    Uzbekistan: $1,800

    According to World Bank estimates used by the UN (and the BBC article also cites WB sources, which I don’t understand)

    Country or Area 2001 2002 2003
    Kazakhstan 5,330 5,897 6,671
    Kyrgyzstan 1,637 1,632 1,751
    Tajikistan 913 981 1,106
    Turkmenistan 4,303 5,133 5,938
    Uzbekistan 1,600 1,667 1,744

    Also consider this article, which cites Tajikistan as not only the poorest country in Central Asia, but as having the “the lowest per capita Gross Domestic Product among the 15 former Soviet republics.”

    Reply

  • Tajik boy says:

    James:

    We are comparing apples to oragnes here. BBC Data is based on 2000 constant US$, while the data you refer to gives estimates based on current US$. Constant US$ are used to negate the effect of the exchange rates hence are more representative of real economic performance.

    Thanks for the article, but I think it could be a bit too old. It is based on both economic and political data that is at least 4-5 years old. The world has definitely moved forward (including Tajikistan) since then. You can’t assume the country to be the poorest in Central Asia if it’s GDP has been growing at 9.6% for the past 4 years.

    My objective here is not to discredit your ability to reason, but merely make the blog more accurate. Overall I am pretty glad that someone (not Tajik I assume based on your name) has decided to dedicate his time to Tajikistan. Cheers!

    Reply

  • James says:

    Tajik Boy:

    No worries, I really do appreciate your input. In this case however, I think the BBC article may well be a misprint. Here’s why I think so (beyond what I outline above).

    Open the article in Internet Explorer, and mouse-over the graph in the article you cite. The following message pops up:

    “…Kazakhstan has the highest GDP/cap, Tajikistan the lowest…”

    This from the very same article, and over a graph that doesn’t support that statement. I think the legend is simply mislabled.

    I know Tajikistan is doing well right now. My posts indicate as much. However, I have yet to see any data to suggest they have overtaken other Central Asian repbulics, although that day may well come soon.

    Reply

  • [...] “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,” writes James Pickett in the inaugural post of neweurasia’s Tajikistan blog.  “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” [16.11.2005]. [...]

  • [...] reasons to despair… As our introduction, we would like to use the opening paragraph from Why Tajikistan? by [...]

  • [...] “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,” writes James Pickett in the inaugural post of neweurasia’s Tajikistan blog.  “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” [16.11.2005]. [...]

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