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Post Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Created by John Eipper on 09/15/11 6:57 AM

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Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 09/15/11 6:57 am)

I have never visited Kyrgyzstan, which is spelled funny because it is a Russianized transliteration from the Turkic original, transliterated again from Russian into Latin letters. How's that for globalization?

Central Asia is fantastically interesting. I have visited Kazakhstan a few times--a really nice, civilized, neat, interesting place--but that is as far as I have gotten to date. Next on my list is the fabled Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

My household staff is from Tajikistan. Tajikistan is unique in Central Asia for speaking not a Turkic language, but Persian. Some Iranians find a breath of fresh air in the freedom of Dushanbe--ironically, Soviet, post-Soviet Dushanbe. The Soviets left behind a basically secular society--religion beaten out of the population by official atheism--and left behind their fantastic education, making Central Asia oddly more civilized* than the Middle East. The great Iranian director Makhmalbaf made his film Sex and Philosophy in Dushanbe. Although it is quite chaste by Western standards, it could not have been made in Iran. He beautifully captured the smell and taste of post-Soviet Central Asia--I wrote about it a couple of years ago in this space.

*I suppose that my use of the word "civilization" will get some hackles up. I am using it not in an emotional, judgmental way, but in a cold, factual way. The failed Soviet system left a strange legacy. The Soviet economic system failed to create wealth, and although Russia has clawed its way back up into the ranks of higher-income countries, the former Soviet republics in Central Asia (with the big exception of Kazakhstan) are extremely poor. So the GDP per capita of Tajikistan is only $2,000--compared to more than $10,000 in Iran, which is a solidly middle-income and not poor country. But the literacy rate in Iran is less than 80%; while in Tajikistan it is practically 100%. I have argued that Iran is a democracy, contrary to the opinions of some WAISers. Tajikistan is nominally a democracy, as well, but less so than Iran in practice, in my opinion--Tajikistan is a kleptocratic, one-party state like many other former Soviet republics. But Tajikistan is a secular, religiously tolerant, and highly educated society.  These are, in my opinion, marks of civilization which are lacking in most nations of the Middle East. It is this odd combination of that kind of civilization with extreme poverty which I was commenting on. It is superbly evoked in Makhmalbaf's film.

JE comments:  I don't think the adjective "civilized" can ever be used except in the judgmental sense.  "Civilization" (noun) is different, such as the Mayan, Bantu or Byzantine "Civilization."  While subjectively I agree with Cameron and associate "civilized" with "secular," I also acknowledge that many in the world don't.

Cameron's post on the Makhmalbaf film Sex and Philosophy (1 February 2009) can be read here:


Yesterday I spoke with our colleague and my occasional phone buddy Robert Gibbs, who's visited both Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.  I cajoled Bob to send us his thoughts in response to Madeline Uraneck's report of 13 September.  (Sorry to put you on the spot, Bob, but you've now been officially cajoled!)

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  • Tajikistan and Iran: Two Questions (John Eipper, USA 09/15/11 7:28 AM)
    Just thought of two questions I wish I had appended to Cameron Sawyer's post of 15 September: 1) How mutually intelligible are the Tajik Persian and Iranian Persian languages? 2) How open and practical is travel between, say, Tehran and Dushanbe? Are visas required for citizens of either country? Are there direct flights?  (Confession:  I first was going to ask if the "border is open," but there is no Tajik-Iranian border!  For a WAIS E-i-C it's always advisable to keep the atlas handy.)

    I could probably find answers to these questions on Wikipedia, but I think we'd benefit more from WAIS expertise.

    (For colleagues still waiting for their posts to appear: I'm going to soldier on throughout most of today. Volume has been huge of late, and extremely interesting. My thanks to all for keeping the good content flowing to WAIS HQ. Pax et lux.)

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    • Tajikistan and Iran (Massoud Malek, USA 09/15/11 5:42 PM)
      The word Taj means crown in Persian, and Tajiki is the language of the kings. The official language of the courts in Central Asia was Persian. Tajiki is spoken in Tajikistan, Samarkand (Uzbekistan) and Bukhara. The Tajiki of Tajikistan is very close to Farsi spoken today in Iran. Bukhara Tajiki is also close to Farsi, but in Samarkand they use many Turkic words. I had no problem at all communicating with people in Dushanbe or Bukhara. My wife is from Samarkand. At first, it was not always easy to communicate with her, because of her use of Russian words or very poetic words found in Hafez and Saadi's poems. Members of my family always smile when she uses those poetic words.

      In Samarkand and Bukhara, people often asked me to recite a famous poem from Hafez:

      "If that Shirazi Turk would take my heart in hand

      I would remit Samarkand and Bukhara for his Hindu mole."

      A Young Turkish eunuch with a mole symbolized beauty and innocence in the Middle East.

      When I got to the border of Tajikistan from Uzbekistan, I asked the officer if he sees many Iranians. He told me to go outside and look at the license plates of all the trucks waiting to enter the country. I saw mostly Iranian plates with a few Turkish ones. Markets in Dushanbe are full of Iranian goods, including Coke and Pepsi bottled in Iran!

      JE comments: I've found this discussion on Central Asia to be extremely informative. Samarkand is now on my "bucket list" of places to visit.

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    • Tajikistan and Iran (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 09/16/11 3:40 PM)
      JE posed two questions on 15 September:

      "1) How mutually intelligible are the Tajik Persian and Iranian Persian languages? 2) How open and practical is travel between, say, Tehran and Dushanbe? Are visas required for citizens of either country? Are there direct flights?"

      There is a Wikipedia article on relations between Iran and Tajikistan:


      I can add to what is written there that despite the common culture and language, and generally friendly relations between the countries, the differences are large. The Tajiks are nominally Sunnis (as we all know, the Iranians are mostly Shiites, and the two sects do not get along very well). Probably worse than being Sunnis from the Iranian point of view, the Tajiks are culturally liberal. They generally do not wear any kind of Islamic dress, and like in France, hijab is actually banned by law in Tajiki schools and universities (and the government is considering banning hijab in all public places). Most Tajiks enjoy a glass of wine or a shot of vodka from time to time--and great wine is made in Tajikistan. In Iran, by way of contrast, people have been sentenced to death for drinking alcohol, and the hijab is mandatory.

      Tajikistan had a bloody civil war in the early 1990s. The rebels were supported by the Iranian government, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. The secular Tajik government was supported by Russia and Uzbekistan. The secular government won in 1997. I would imagine that given the fact that they were on opposite sides of a bloody war, there is a certain amount of distrust between the Islamic Republic and the secular government of Tajikistan, despite outwardly friendly relations.

      Although there is apparently a friendly cultural exchange between Iran and Tajikistan, Tajikistan is still very much in the Russian sphere of influence, culturally, economically, and politically. Although Tajik or Persian is now nominally the state language of Tajikistan, the Russian language is still the most important language of the country--many Tajiks in the cities cannot speak Persian, a situation which is touchingly portrayed in Makhmalbaf's film. The language of instruction in Tajik universities seems to be mostly Russian--in fact, the websites of the Tajik National University and The Tajik Technical University are not even available in Persian.



      The dramatic theaters of Dushanbe perform in Russian, with the exception of the Lahuti Dramtic Theater, which performs in Persian and Russian on alternating days. Incidentally, Dushanbe has a fine ballet company which has produced world-famous ballet stars like Lutfi Zakhidova, Malika Sabirova, and Furukh Ruzimatov. Ruzimatov was the star and principle dancer of the Kirov for years and a rival to Mikhail Baryshnikov. The Iranian National Ballet was shut down in 1979, and as far as I can tell, ballet is banned in Iran today. See:


      The protagonist of Makhmalbaf's Sex and Philosophy is a dance instructor, something which may be more significant than I realized at the time.

      Another reason for close ties between Tajikistan and Russia is the huge number of Tajik guest workers in Russia. This is a natural and synergetic thing, I suppose, considering the grinding poverty and unemployment in Tajikistan, and the labor shortages in Russia--the Russian economy would probably collapse without the highly educated, hard-working, and Russian-speaking Tajik workers one sees everywhere in Russia. Remittances from Russia amount to nearly 40% of Tajik national income.

      To answer JE's question about flights: There are two flights a week to Tehran from Dushanbe. There are multiple daily flights to Moscow from Dushanbe, daily flights to Moscow from Khudzhand, daily flights from Dushanbe to St. Petersburg, twice weekly flights from Dushanbe to Ekaterinburg, and weekly flights to a number of other Russian cities including Sochi, Irkutsk, Samara, Surgut, Novosibirsk, Orenburg, Krasnoyarsk. You can fly to Ekaterinburg not only from Dushanbe, but from Khudzhand and Kurgan-Tyube. Likewise to St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk. You can also fly direct to Dubai twice a week, to Frankfurt once a week, to Kiev once a week, or to Almaty in Kazakhstan twice a week. You've even got a budget airline choice through Riga on Air Baltic.



      In sum, however, while there are occasional direct flights to Tehran and Dubai, there is daily direct service only to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the vast majority of flights from Tajikistan go to the Former Soviet Union.

      Iranians, like Americans and citizens of the UK, must have a visa to travel to Tajikistan, but are the beneficiaries of a simplified regime where the visa can be obtain on the spot in the airport. Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Georgians, and most other citizens of the Former Soviet Union need no visa to visit Tajikistan.

      JE comments: Most informative.  Given the dire poverty of today's Tajikistan, I wonder how much nostalgia exists (if any) for the old USSR.

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  • Civilized, Civilization, Culture (Alain de Benoist, -France 09/15/11 1:24 PM)
    John Eipper wrote on 15 September:  "I don't think the adjective 'civilized' can ever be used except in the judgmental sense. 'Civilization' (noun) is different, such as the Mayan, Bantu or Byzantine 'Civilization'."

    Right. There are many, many different uses and meanings for the word "civilization."

    Of of them is to be understood through to the opposition between "culture" and "civilization" (an opposition familiar to the German mind, but unfamiliar to Anglo-Saxon minds).

    For Oswald Spengler, "civilization" marks the very (socio-historical) moment when a great culture begins its decay. A "culture" is organic, a "civilization" is mechanical. "Civilization" means decadence of a culture. "Civilization" means "terminal" (a culture is reaching its end).

    The famous book by Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations, was significantly translated to German under the title Kampf der Kulturen.

    JE comments: As Alain points out, in this hemisphere we don't have any of the Spenglerian sense of "civilization." Indeed, "culture" and "civilization" are often used interchangeably (in my field you see a lot of "Civilization and Culture of X" courses). "Culture" has the less controversial ring of the two, however, as "civilization" is typically bandied about in a judgmental way.  For Sarmiento in Argentina, for example, the choice was between civilization or barbarism.

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  • Tajikistan and Iran (Sardar Haddad, USA 09/16/11 1:33 AM)

    Cameron Sawyer wrote on 15 September: "I have argued that Iran is a democracy."

    The regime in Iran is not democratic.  It selects the candidates for its so-called elections, and only agents of the regime are included as candidates. The regime has banned many political groups (supporters of Mohammad Mossadegh, Pan-Iranists, and many others). The regime has imprisoned, tortured and murdered many political activists, writers, journalists, artists, lawyers, students, union leaders and others. Individuals who have been killed by the regime include Dariush Forouhar (leader of a political party) and his wife Parvaneh. The regime also imprisoned and killed writer Ali Akbar Saidi-Sirjani, and journalist Zahra Kazemi. These are just some examples of its anti-democratic activities.

    The regime uses various schemes to censor publications and the Internet.

    Despite the repressive activities of the regime, Iranians continue the movement for freedom and democracy. There have been many examples of undemocratic regimes being replaced by democratic governments in the past thirty years, and Iranians will succeed in replacing the undemocratic regime with a democratic government.

    John Eipper asked: "How mutually intelligible are the Tajik Persian and Iranian Persian languages?"

    I have spoken with Tajiks, and Tajik Persian and Iranian Persian are quite similar, and it is easy for a person who knows Persian to understand both. Some Iranian singers are quite popular in Tajikistan.

    You can watch a concert by Iranian singer Leila Forouhar and Tajik singer Manijeh in Dushanbe:


    You can listen to Tajik poet Farzaneh Khojandi who writes Persian poems:


    Many cities in Central Asia (Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkand, and others) have been part of Iran, and some people in those areas still speak Persian. You can watch Uzbek singer Yulduz Turdieva perform a Persian song at:


    I have enjoyed speaking Persian with Tajiks and Afghans, and I appreciate their music.

    John Eipper wrote: "there is no Tajik-Iranian border."

    Actually, when Afghanistan and Tajikistan were part of Iran, China and India were Iran's neighbors. Iranians have historically benefited from trade and cultural exchanges with these neighbors.

    JE comments:  Yesterday (15 September) we heard from two long-silent WAISers, Mendo Henriques and then Sardar Haddad.  I'm happy that both are doing well.  Sardar:  many thanks for the YouTube links.  I've learned a lot about Tajikistan and Samarkand (Uzbekistan) over the last two days.

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