Tajik society has traditionally revolved around extended families that shared adjacent houses in a single walled compound. The pattern has been disrupted somewhat by the construction of apartment blocks with only enough room for nuclear families and the breaking up of extended families as individuals move to wear the work is. Patriarchal family structures are the norm. The head of the house is the elderly father or the patriarch of the family. Kin relationships are distinguished by gender and by age among siblings. Descent is determined through the father although women keep their family name after they get married.

Eden Naby wrote in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures: “Tajik society retains few objects of cohesion except those determined by general Central Asian customs and recent history. Cleavage between urban and rural groups also depends on a person's place of origin and descent. Bukharan immigrants socialize with each other, as do people of various valleys. Soviet institutions and the workplace have brought them together, as has a common language, but without strong economic and political institutions, the social fabric is fragile and susceptible to influence from Islamic, nationalistic, and other forces. The core of social organization remains the extended family and the region.”

People are distinguished more by region than by class. There are numerous Tajik subdivisions and clans, most of which are based on region. These include the Kulyabus and Khujandis. The main subgroup is the Badakhshanis (Pamiri Tajiks), which is divided into the Shugni, Rsuhani, Wakhi and Ishkashim clans.

According to Everyculture.com: “Most class variation involves the distribution of wealth. People from different classes attend the same parties and celebrations, but the wealthy usually host a party in a restaurant. Urban residents have the highest social status, especially those who work in the national government and international organizations. Bankers, directors of enterprises, intellectuals, and professionals follow; at the lowest level are workers and peasants. Military and religious leaders have high status, although they may not be wealthy. People in the cities wear Western fashions, while villagers dress more traditionally. People who work for the government often are imitated by lower classes in their speech and mannerisms. [Source: Everyculture.com]

Tajik Customs and Social Norms

The Tajik people pay great attention to etiquette. Juniors must greet seniors and, when relatives and friends meet, they will shake hands and the men will pat each other's beard. Even when strangers meet on the road, they will greet each by putting the thumbs together and saying "May I help you?" For saluting, men will bow with the right hand on the chest and women will bow with both hands on the bosom. Guests visiting a Tajik family must not stamp on salt or food, nor drive through the host's flocks on horseback, or get near to his sheep pens, or kick his sheep, all of which are considered to be very impolite. When dining at the host's, the guests must not drop left-overs on the ground and must remain in their seats until the table is cleaned. It would be a breach of etiquette to take off the hat while talking to others, unless an extremely grave problem is being discussed. [Source: China.org]

Important values include loyalty to family, village and region. One the main unifying forces has traditionally been hostility towards outsiders, including Russians. Bennigsen and Wimbush wrote in 1986: “akasalism” or “local rule by white beards” is “observed by Tajiks more generally than by any other Muslim nationality of Central Asia.”

The way in which people conduct their lives is affected by the opinion of others. When a crime is committed, the authorities are usually contacted and the rule of law is invoked. However, when a social rule is broken, the clan will deny privileges to the offender, who may be beaten or ostracized. [Source: Everyculture.com ||||]

Avlod: Traditional Extended Patriarchal Family

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “ Avlod, a word of Arabic origins, is a term used in Tajikistan to describe an extended patriarchal family that serves as an informal mutual support structure. Kamoludin Abdullaev refers to the avlod as ‘the basic unit of sedentary Tajik society and dominant institution of power’, while noting that the ‘avlod system provided survival, autonomy, and adaptability to its members, serving traditionalism and sustainability of the society’. In a big patriarchal family in Tajikistan, the oldest active male member concentrates power in his hands; he controls all major expenditures, he determines the division of labour within the family, and he decides upon the future of junior members—who should continue education and who should go to work in the fields, and so on. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Even if grown-up sons separate from the parental household, they cannot claim absolute economic independence, for they continue to belong to the kinship group of a higher order—the so-called avlod, which ideally embodies all males descending from the common ancestor seven generations before. Avlod, in its ideal form, is based on: a) commonality of property (mulkiavlodi) in land; b) tight spiritual bonds, vested in common sacred places (mazors), an assortment of the spirits of the dead (arvoh), and traditions of blood feuds; c) compact settlement of its units, usually around one big yard—havili; and d) a uniformity of action in relations with the outer world. Under Soviet rule mulki avlod was craftily adapted to the realities of collectivisation; collective farms in Tajikistan were often created on the basis of pre-existent communal landownership, and, like their ancestors, members of an avlod continued to work jointly on the same allotment, disguised as a kolkhoz brigade.

“Of course, these characteristics belong to the avlod in its idealised form. Numerous exceptions and variations exist. For example, one anthropologist noticed that the elite families she met in Dushanbe, the Hisor Valley and Samarkand traced their prestigious lineages quite far back to a notable ancestor. Meanwhile, amongst the villagers she studied in Varzob, no-one was able to trace their lineage further back than four generations. Instead of patrilineal lineages, they stressed (often horizontal and occasionally matrilineal) networks of kin in the present, as these networks had—in their daily struggles to survive and get ahead—a high level social and economic significance. Exceptions may exist also in regards to terminology. In labelling a descent lineage or a kinship group or network in Tajikistan one will find local and contextual variations such as: avlod, qaum, elkheshi, khesh, toyfa, kynda, tup, and so on.

“The avlod’s main distinction from the undivided patriarchal family is the fact that it presents, in its ideal form, the entity of all relatives over seven generations, both dead and alive, and as such can incorporate more than one family. Both types are derivatives of the primordial agnate clan, which means that they are essentially kinship systems. The concept of avlod is related to the phenomenon of mahalla—the neighbourhood community in a city block or village.” On Mahallas. See Below.

“Abdullaev notes that while the Soviet system ‘eroded’ the avlod to a certain extent, it continued to exist as a ‘parallel system of power’. Navruz Nekbakhtshoev also argues that the Soviet structures and programs indirectly altered the avlod, as well as pushing it out of the ‘legitimate public space’; however, he notes that despite these changes the avlod is still an important concept in Tajikistan today, as noted by the use of ‘which avlod are you from?’ as a common question. The answer to this question would include a recitation of ancestry because of the importance of the exchange of ‘genealogical information’ in determining ‘identity’ and ‘difference’, as kinship differences are not visible. For the Uzbeks in Tajikistan who no longer have ‘tribal divisions’, the social structure is also based on the avlod, though significantly less than for Tajiks. The avlod structure ‘encompasses’ approximately 46 per cent of the detribalised Uzbeks compared with 82 per cent of certain Tajik ‘subgroups’—the Kulobis being at the highest range. Meanwhile, Shirin Akiner argues that the avlod is most prevalent among the resettled groups from Darvoz and Qarotegin (Gharm), who resisted assimilation most noticeably.

Avlods and Land Ownership

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Subsidiary smallholdings also constituted part of the avlod property and played an increasingly important role in maintaining the economic viability of kin structures in circumstances where collective farms were constantly reorganised, enlarged, combined or transformed into state farms. During the 1980s, the number of people who worked exclusively on private family plots in Tajikistan increased sixfold and reached 7 per cent of all those employed, and in some areas, such as the Gharm district, such people accounted for almost one-third of the entire rural workforce. Even employees of collective farms tended to spend a substantial amount of their time on private allotments: in 1985 an average kolkhoznik would work only 187 days at the farm, devoting the rest to his or her personal garden, orchard or vegetable patch. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“As Sergei Poliakov, the most prominent scholar of ‘traditionalism’ in Central Asian societies, has written, ‘the second part of rural economy—what is referred to as private small-holdings of kolkhozniks and workers of state farms … is not regulated, controlled and explored by the state’. In Qarotegin (now known as Rasht) in the 1980s, it was the order of the day for a family to earn 30–50 000 roubles a year simply by selling apples from the avlod orchard—a sum equivalent to the annual salaries of 18 to 30 people working at the farm. All revenues from wages and commercial activities went to the family fund and all spending was controlled by the head of the avlod, even in cases where junior members of the family lived separately. The head’s authority was unquestionable and he effectively prescribed the rules of behaviour to the members of the family.


Tajik communities have traditionally been divided into mahallas — neighbourhood communities in a city block or village — which are governed by responsible and respected elderly persons. Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: Residents in a given territory often form a cohesive and exclusive entity that has its own organs of self-administration (mahalla committees, sanctioned and recognised by the civil authorities), gathering place (usually a mosque) and an array of ritual events. The mahalla committees are rarely elected but rather are formed by people of influence—be they local elders, spiritual leaders, wealthy merchants or, in the civil war era, armed gangs’ commanders. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Tajik mahallas are virtually the same as Uzbek mahallyas. Karina wrote in discoverUzbekistan.com: “Mahalla is a city district or block. But however it is not at all like the ones we are familiar with in the other cities of the world. It is a peculiar settling of people who are linked by family bonds. It is a collective of people united by the rules and laws, traditions and joint work. It is a complex firm organism, the beginnings of which are folk wisdom, national traditions and practical activity. In order to gain an understanding of these formulations let's turn to history of town planning in Central Asia. [Source: Karina, discoverUzbekistan.com]

According to orexca.com: “ Some mahallas were established from the union of craftsmen, who had workshops close to their houses. Such mahallas got their names thereby. Some mahallas were named in honor of monuments and sights, which were located on its territory. Others got names after a city or village, from which the residents of these mahallas came. The mahalla feature is that all residents aim to live in peace and harmony with each other, respect and care for the elders, help each other, watch over the cleanness and order on the street. Also, the whole mahalla helps its residents in weddings, funerals and other events.

Mahallas as a Social Force in Tajikistan

A mahalla is a keeper of Tajik traditions. It is more than a place; it is an entire system of relations between inhabitants of one quarter, which has existed in Tajikistan over centuries and which has influenced on the development of Tajik traditions and life style. In some way, it is the form of community, united on a small area. Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: Mahallas “carry out a wide range of duties: they: 1) form public opinion; 2) monitor observation of shari’a, adat and localistic patterns of behaviour; 3) impose penalties on violators, including money payouts and ostracisation; 4) sanction real estate transactions; 5) collect municipal taxes; 6) organise ceremonial affairs—for example, weddings and funerals. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“It is, however, the mahalla’s role as a means of transmission of socially significant information and of regeneration of the traditional ways of life that appears to be paramount for understanding political processes in contemporary Tajikistan. Poliakov, describing the situation in the late 1980s, has written that the mahalla … has ideological life entirely and firmly in its hands. The committee and its active members, the elders, use very refined techniques to direct the education of the youth. The channelling and, even more important, the interpretation of information is extremely simple: the forty-year-old father passes it from the mosque to his twenty-year-old son and his year-old grandson … In rural areas the mahalla controls all aspects of life for people … even more completely than it does in the city.

“One more recent study notes that in villages in Tajikistan the mahalla takes on an extra meaning. Here the mahalla can be used to refer to the entire community, and even to the community leader, the rais. Many have noted the longevity of the mahalla as a relevant social institution. Other scholars write that the guzors and mahallas that pre-existed the Soviet Union in Central Asia were integrated into Soviet power structures and functioned as a unit of the state. Olivier Roy cites the mahalla as a relevant entity before, during and after the Soviet era in Tajikistan. He argues, in line with his analysis of other identity categories and institutions, that the mahalla survived collectivisation and population transfers and was ‘reincarnated’ in the collective farm. Similarly, in an urban context, Soviet-era population transfers often involved people from the same mahalla being resettled in the same apartment building. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Mahalla Organization

According to orexca.com: “ A mosque or chaykhana is considered the center of mahalla. Once the area of mahalla was determined by the voice of muezzin, who called people to pray from the top of a minaret: those houses, where his voice could be heard, were deemed to be a part of that mahalla. Chaykhana is the place where men gather to discuss news and inner life of the quarter (gap). Also they discuss many issues in everyday life, because mahalla is a self-governing administrative unit.

Karina wrote in discoverUzbekistan.com: Each mahalla has its center guzar, where the mosque and school attached to it, choyhona, hauz a small quadrangular pond planted around with trees were located. The hauz served as the only source of drinking water for the entire population of the mahalla. The water in it was changed once a month and even more rarely. It was cleaned also rarely 1-2 times a year the water was let out and silt and loam was scooped out which of course meant sometimes epidemics arouse in mahallas. Apart from this grocers were located here so one could buy lepyoshkas (flat cakes), kurt (balls from dry cottage cheese), nasvay (powder mixture of tobacco and limej, which oriental men put under the tongue (very rarely women). Here there were also the barber shops and small workshops for repairing shoes and copper crockery. [Source: Karina, discoverUzbekistan.com +++]

“The mosque stood out from other buildings with its walls from baked brick. All the other houses, with the exception of the rich people's houses were made from self-made clay bricks. Clay was mixed with chopped straw and water; bricks were formed and dried in the sun. Each spring green sprouts came out amicably and some roofs were completely overgrown. You will not be able to see these buildings in Tashkent anymore as well as in other cities. They remained only in kishlaks (villages).For building a new house men used to gather on hasher where everyone came for 2-3 hours to the neighbor and helped to lay bricks, hammer in bars and bring out garbage. +++

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “It is appropriate to note in this context that the mahalla mosque in Tajikistan is not necessarily a centre of purely religious activities. In fact, its function as a communicative hub of the community—gapkhona or mehmonkhona—is at least equally meaningful and certainly dates to pre-Islamic times. Unlike the Friday mosque, the mahalla prayer space is primarily perceived as ‘the public gathering point of the male population of the mahalla; kitchen utensils are kept there and hearths are set up in its yard’. In the mountainous areas east of Dushanbe the meeting place of a mahalla mosque is often referred to as alovkhona, or ‘the house of fire’—clearly a survivor of Zoroastrian rites. During outbreaks of civil disorder in 1990 and 1992, all the grown men of the mahalla formed a self-defence unit, regardless of their nationality or political and religious affiliation. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Mahalla Way of Life

Life in mahalla has traditionally been based on unwritten rules. The law of “shafat” protected residents from “strangers” who broke adopted norms and mores. If any resident of the mahalla wanted to sell his house, first he offered it to his relatives, then to his neighbors and then to other residents of the mahalla. No-one could break this rule. Today many Makhall rules and laws have been softened. [Source:orexca.com]

Karina wrote in discoverUzbekistan.com: Aged men aksakals in the morning after the prayers took their places in choyhonas, young men left for work, boys under 5-6 years jumped on sticks on streets, played ahichkas (Ashichkas articular bones of a sheep, the cavities of which were filled with lead. It was required to knock them down from a specific distance. The one who gains the most wins) and lyangas (Lyanga a piece of sheep wool with a coin or a piece of any metal stitched to it. It was required to hit the lyanga with a twisted foot or the toe of the foot the largest amount of time).[Source: Karina, discoverUzbekistan.com +++]

“Twenty years ago ashichkas and lyangas were in use in the cities but now one can meet them very rarely. The girls with mothers stayed at home to keep house to sweep and water the floor, stitch quilts, embroider skullcaps, cook, bring water, make jams from fruits, clean the crockery, etc. On festive and not so festive occasions men went to one of the houses for morning plov (at 5-6 o'clock) and in the evening women gathered for festal toy. They brought baking in big basins (toghara) covered with clean table-cloths dastarhans for the festive table. Even now one can meet a dressed up woman with appetizingly smelling dish. +++

“Strict customs prevailed and prevail till now. A girl to be married or a young bride came out to sweep the yard or the area in front of the gates with the first rays of sunshine. The not removed leaves in front of the gates mean one thing: either the mistress of the house is ill, or a lazy woman leaves here. Life in urban apartments relieved many women from this necessity but however sometimes one can still see a young woman near a many-storied house. This means that in this family a wedding was celebrated not long ago and the bride is probably from a small city where this way of life remained. If you go along a mahalla, all the kiddies and oncoming people will certainly greet you. It is required to answer these greetings and you will feel the necessity of it yourself, without my advice. One wants to say something pleasant to the smudgy half-dressed children with smiles. With houses people inherit the corresponding status and respect and importantly those customs and norms of human relations which were formed through centuries.

Mahalla Today

Today, there are several thousand mahallas in Tajikistan. Some of them are not limited to a quarter of cottages and private houses, now a mahalla can be a group of multistory houses. As before, mahalla helps people to live in peace and harmony, playing an important role in culture and life style of its residents. [Source:orexca.com]

Karina wrote in discoverUzbekistan.com: At present times mahallan committees of respected citizens are created which decide the questions of allocation of welfare among the poor and families having many children, help holding family holidays (apportion tables, chairs, crockery, covers). Many committees have created clubs of interest for teenagers repair shops, workshops and ateliers. [Source: Karina, discoverUzbekistan.com +++]

“Many mahallas have their own sport grounds and as decades ago in mahallas there are clean streets with aryks (small irrigation ditches), fruit trees, which in spring abundantly cover the streets with white and pink petals and in summer with small fruits of cherries, apricots, apples. The fruits are usually not gathered from trees but are left to children. Among foreign specialists who live and work in Tajikistan it is accepted to settle in mahallas since this is pleasant, interesting and good for health.” +++

Tajik Society in the Soviet Era

In 1982, Rahmon Nabiyev, then first secretary of the Communist Party of the Tajik Republic, said: “From the heights of the present day we can clearly see the heroic path covered by the Tajik people, toilers of the republic, during the years of Soviet power, the path from feudalism to developed socialism, from a state of possessing no rights to freedom, from poverty and ignorance to a peak of economic and spiritual prosperity.” Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “However bombastic and preposterous this statement may appear, the Great Socialist Myth did indeed take root in Tajik society, at least in its upper strata. And ‘once a myth has been propounded in a closed society, it can be nurtured and developed through the almost unlimited controls at the disposal of the regime’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The socialist type of modernity created serious identification problems, of which national identification was just a part. Traditional forms of spatial organisation were supplemented by affiliation with the Soviet Union and Tajikistan; in fact, as far as this affiliation was concerned, it was quite possible to speak about the ‘fusion of national and imperial identities under both the Tsarist Russia and, in a different way, the Soviet regime’. The fact that socialism was mapped onto the heterogeneous Tajik community by external forces need not have undermined the viability of new identities. Soviet authorities created the national republic of Tajikistan; it was associated with communist rule in people’s minds, and remained a potent source of identity so long as the regime’s coercive and redistributive functions remained intact.

“The Soviet drive towards modernisation of Tajikistan yielded ambiguous results. Accelerated economic development, growth of education, secularisation of culture and political mobilisation of the masses altered the fabric of Tajik society considerably. The profundity and irreversibility of these changes, however, were questionable.”

Traditional Tajik Patriarchal Society During Soviet Rule

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “For 70 years traditional family structures and values in Tajikistan continued to exist parallel to and independently of official ideology, concealed from the eyes of strangers and proving to be ‘something difficult to control even for a Soviet-style state’. With the weakening of the communist monolith in the late 1980s, they began to play a more salient role in local politics. When alternative political organisations and social movements, such as Rastokhez and the Democratic Party, emerged in Tajikistan, their rank-and-file membership consisted more so of avlods, mahalla committees and men’s unions related to the political leaders by blood or otherwise, rather than individuals sharing their programmatic ideals. The Islamic Revival Party, despite its stated ideology, employed the same tactics. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In times of political instability, traditional institutions tend to play an ever-growing part in providing security and welfare to the populace in Central Asia. It has been revealed that even in the period of Soviet stagnation, and even in such a cosmopolitan and heavily industrialised city as Tashkent, at least 30 per cent of indigenous males were actively involved in the gap and tukma activities. In Tajikistan, where the process of urbanisation was far less advanced and a high percentage of city-dwellers were still employed in agriculture, this figure must have been much higher. Moreover, beginning in the late 1980s, quasi-traditional structures began to evolve in hitherto unaffected areas. In the Dushanbe suburb of Bofanda, for example, residents of four nine-storey apartment buildings decided in 1989 to pool their efforts to cope with day-to-day problems, such as frequent power failures and garbage disposal. They furnished a gathering place in the yard (which also served as a mosque), and elected a mahalla committee, comprising a vocational schoolteacher, a cinema director and the supplies manager of a tannery cum self-taught mullah. This mahalla would not be different from thousands others around the country, but for the fact that 80 per cent of Bofanda residents at the time were workers at the Tajik textile combine and thus mostly non-Tajiks. As a result, only 10–15 people attend purely religious events in that community, while the rest are more interested in maintenance and leisure activities.

“In summary, the kinship-familial setting of Tajik society has coped well with the realities of Soviet rule. The seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent party-state machine failed to alter significantly the major attitudes to the problems of human existence and cultural order amongst the Tajiks. The communist regime, although it was the only sanctioned political system in the society, could not transform what Shmuel Eisenstadt has called the second level of organisational activities—that is, the traditional collectivities and communities ‘whose systemic boundaries are organised or patterned around symbols or likeness of common attributes and of participation in them, but which are not necessarily structured as systems with clear organisational boundaries’. The interaction of the state and traditional society did limit the effectiveness of the state, but the way in which the two operated helped, in certain situations, to gain people’s acceptance of communist rule. For example, in one village an observer noted that by the late Soviet era most of the government officials were from the village itself. These officials, being tied by traditional bonds, used the state to assist those in their family and patronage networks. The result was an acceptance of Soviet rule and then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, ‘deep shock, confusion, and disbelief’, followed a year later by yearning for a return to the ‘former Communist status quo’.

Tajik Social Institutions Adapted to Soviet Collective Farms

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “During the communist era the Soviets maintained control at the national level over the distribution of resources and the promotion of cadres; however, in the rural areas the Soviet security apparatus and central government representatives had much less of a presence than in the cities. In the rural areas during the early Soviet era the government allowed already established local leaders to be the middlemen between the people and the state. This allowed some local leaders to maintain their own power bases. The government did not destroy the pre-existing solidarity groups (such as qaum, avlod, mahalla). Instead it often formed collective farms (kolkhozes) from some of these groups, allowing their structure to remain intact throughout the Soviet era. Within the kolkhoz, the qaum and mahalla were often duplicated/transported wholesale into the work brigades and housing estates (uchatska). [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In Olivier Roy’s words, the kolkhozes ‘became the new tribes of Central Asia’. The phenomenon of the creation of collective farms on the basis of pre-exiting avlods, as described by researchers in the 1950s, was noted above. Sergei Poliakov makes a similar argument based on later research. He describes land administration in rural Central Asia as having been changed ‘in name, but not in substance’ by collectivisation, with local patterns of authority transferred into the collective farms and the ‘customary way of life unaffected’. And, like Roy, Poliakov also notes that collective farms and work brigades in rural Central Asia were formed on the basis of traditional communal solidarity groups. He provides as an example 13 avlods in a town in northern Tajikistan being established as 13 kolkhozes. And after these 13 farms were united into a single kolkhoz, these avlods became discrete work brigades.

“There was an attempt by the Soviets to break apart these traditional solidarity groupings, starting in the mid 1950s, when the state restructured the kolkhoz. At this time the government (at a higher level) started to appoint the head of the kolkhoz and to consolidate multiple kolkhozes into one state farm (sovkhoz). These changes, however, did not destroy the solidarity groups, which often remained intact. Sometimes, the kolkhoz itself became a new solidarity group. In either case, relatively autonomous communities persisted. Collectivisation placed considerable resources under the control of collective farm bosses; however, the patterns of farm-boss strength and patronage varied considerably throughout the Soviet Union, and within Central Asia, though generally speaking the Soviet state relied on farm bosses for mobilisation of rural labour, resource distribution, effective use of technical resources, and fulfilment of agricultural plans. The collective farms soon became ‘critical instruments of social control’. The kolkhoz leadership, thanks to its monopoly on the distribution of resources within the community, as well as the option of physical force, was able to control the inhabitants of the kolkhoz. The kolkhoz was also able to assist members who had left the community. Kolkhozniks who moved to cities were able to rely on a network of former members of their kolkhoz as well as the collective farm leadership’s connections in the Communist Party bureaucracy.

“State control over collective farms was inadvertently weakened during Khrushchev’s time in office and even further during Brezhnev’s tenure. By this time collective farm chairs ‘emerged as Soviet style local strongmen’. Farm chairmen and factory bosses were engaged with regional politicians in patronage networks in which the exchange was protection and access to resources for the bosses in return for illicit income for the politicians. For example, in Qurghonteppa the Leninobodi elite had endeavoured to install their own people (Leninobodis, those of Leninobodi descent or ethnic Uzbeks) as collective farm chairs and district raikom secretaries in order to control the region’s wealth-producing bases, while Kulob, with its relatively modest economic base, was of much less interest to the Leninobodi elite. In Kulob, local authority figures embezzled agricultural profits while taking over local law enforcement and judicial agencies as a way to protect their scheme. By the end of the Soviet period, farm bosses and regional politicians in Kulob exercised ‘significant influence’ over law enforcement agencies and the courts while increasingly relying on illegal income. As for the Gharmi Tajiks in Qurghonteppa, they were, towards the end of the Soviet era, more focused on ‘free enterprise’ and positioned themselves in opposition to the collective farm directors, who were often Uzbeks or Kulobis.

Inability of the Soviet to Change the Tajiks

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: ““The most important failure of Soviet rule in Tajikistan was that it could not reform the world view of the Tajiks, based on traditional allegiances and the omnipresent spirit of collectivism, which made an individual completely dependent on institutions such as the family, neighbourhood, solidarity network and, at a higher level, on a coterie of fellow-regionalists. A prominent Soviet anthropologist, Lyudmila Chvyr’, produced a scathing verdict on the state of affairs in the republic at the end of the communist period: ‘Inhabitants of each of these regions considered only themselves to be the real, “pure”, “genuine” representatives of their people, regarding others as Tajiks of sorts, surely, but not quite conforming to the ideal of “Tajikness”. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In a handful of cities, in industrial enterprises, scholarly institutions and government agencies, activities were ostensibly no different from patterns of mono-organisational socialism elsewhere in the USSR. At the same time, in rural areas that were of little interest to Moscow-based industrialisers and where ‘even the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) proved to be incapable of setting up a network of informers’, an ethno-cultural mentality based on traditional patrimonialism, popular Islam and regionalism had survived unscathed, and any breakdown in the mechanisms of social control would inexorably transpose it into the realm of political action.

“Answering the question of why the Soviet experiment in grandiose social transformation ultimately failed lies beyond the scope” here. “It is imperative, however, to try to understand why people in Tajikistan could not be ‘successfully assimilated as “new Soviet men”’ over almost seven decades.” It appears that social forces such as the family, religious community, and sub-ethnic regionalism had the ability to challenge the monopoly of state agencies in making and enforcing rules in Soviet Tajikistan on

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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