TAJIK HOMES, VILLAGES AND URBAN LIFE

TAJIK VILLAGES AND TOWNS

Tajiks in the mountains have traditionally lived in ksihlaks (villages) in one-story wooden houses that hung from steep mountain sides over rushing rivers or streams. The residents traditionally were members of loosely-defined extended families. Many villages today are organized in a collective-style or state farm-style arrangement that is a holdover from the Soviet period.

A traditional Tajik neighborhood in a city, town or large village is comprised of a number of houses built close to one another. The houses have courtyards and are surrounded by walls made of clay. The clay walls are joined together and streets run between rows of joined compounds. Cities and large towns also have large apartment blocks and other Soviet-style touches.

During the Soviet period there was an effort to move people into collective farm or state farms and into towns and cities. Many people today live in Soviet-style apartment blocks. More though live in Tajik-style kishlaks and neighborhoods that have been set up in cities and towns as well as villages. Most towns have several chaikhana tea stalls, where men hang out.

Tajik Homes

Traditional homes often follow the Central Asian patterns, with several units belonging to an extended family organized around a courtyard and surrounded by a wall for privacy, often with gardens, orchards or vineyard with the courtyard or compound.

Most Tajik homes are rectangular adobe houses with flat roofs arranged around a courtyard. These wood and mud structures have thick walls beautifully patterned niches, in which odd things can be placed. A typical bathroom in rural Tajikistan is an outhouse in the back of the house with cinder blocks walls and a metal roof. The toilet is sometimes a Western-style toilet but usually it is a hole in the ground surrounded by concrete. People squat instead of sit. Most guesthouses and hotels used by foreigners have Western style toilets.

According to Everyculture.com: During the Soviet era, a purely functional architectural style developed in the form of centrally planned development projects, government office buildings, and cultural facilities. More recent architecture emphasizes the revival of the Samanid and Timurid periods. Traditionally, baked brick was used in the construction of mosques, minarets, and mausoleums; calligraphic inscriptions were used to decorate walls. In the fourteenth century, the Timurids introduced the use of mosaic tiles. [Source: Everyculture.com]

Yurts are not seen as often in Tajikistan as they are in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. They are not really an Tajik thing as the Tajik have traditionally been a settled people, whereas Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Mongolians have traditionally been nomadic, and yurts were useful for people on the move. In the old days Tajik houses were separated into men’s and women’s halves. These days many traditional mud-wall dwellings have been replaced by low-slung concrete houses.

Traditional Tajik Houses and Possessions

Traditional Tajik homes are like miniature compounds. They have walls, large courtyards and often several buildings. The courtyards are often filled with gardens and fruit trees. The buildings and walls have traditionally been made from mud-brick or clay. Each compound is home to a man, his wife (or wives), his sons with their families, and unmarried children. A separate building houses guests. Courtyard gardens irrigated by canals that enters holes underneath the walls nourish apples, pears, apricots, grapes, melons, almonds, chickpeas and vegetables grown in courtyard gardens and orchards.

Tajik houses are mainly built of adobe and wood. They are usually tall and spacious with thick loam walls. The four sides of the houses are covered or bottomed by bricks. The rooftops of the houses are a little slanted. Some Tajik families cover their rooftop with a layer of iron sheet to make it water-proof. In some places, Tajik houses contain extended eaves above the verandas. In summer, people eat their meals or entertain guests under the eave. They can also store stuff there. The pillars inside the house are carved with patterns. In winter, a fire is lit in a fireplace, kang or stove to keep warm. Many of the Tajik families set up some grape trellises in their yards. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

The floors in people's homes are normally covered with felt pads, cotton and woolen oriental carpets (namad), rugs. Along the walls lie long narrow quilts (kurpacha), in the center of a room is a special cloth (dastarkhan) for food and drinks. Walls are decorated with suzane and carpets. There is practically no furniture in village homes. The majority of things are kept in special chests. Families often sleep on carpets with quilts over their bodies for warmth. In the morning the quilts are folded up and stored in chests. The possessions of many Tajiks consist primarily of carpets. Urban homes are more similar to Western-style homes. [Source: advantour.com]

Rural Life in Tajikistan

According to the CIA World Factbook: Rural population: 73.2 percent of total population (2015). About 85 percent of the population lives in the valleys and mountain areas above 1,600 meters. One Tajik man told Allen, "People's life is close to the land and the animals. If someday the social system finds a way to give security to the old, then the children will feel free to go."

The Chinese refer to the Pamirs as the "roof of the world" and many of the people that live here have little contact with the outside world. When a National Geographic photographer told a small a boy he lived in Paris, the boy asked him how many sheep he owned.

In the last decade of the Soviet era, the rural population of Tajikistan grew in both absolute and relative terms. By 1989 the rural population had risen to 3,437,498, or 68 percent of the total population, an increase of nearly 1 million people over the 1979 figure. By the 1980s, the republic had more than 3,000 inhabited villages, of which about one-quarter had 200 inhabitants or fewer. Observers have estimated that 75 to 89 percent of all Tajikistantis were villagers in 1990. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The rural standard of living is considerably below that of urban areas. Sanitation often is poor, and in many cases no safe source of drinking water is available. By the late 1980s, fewer than half of rural inhabitants and only 14 percent of collective farm residents had a piped-in water supply. In the same period, hundreds of villages lacked electricity, and some had no access to telephones or radio or television broadcasts (see Transportation and Telecommunications). Many rural areas experienced shortages of doctors and teachers. The ratio of hospital beds to inhabitants is much lower in rural Tajikistan than in urban areas and far worse than the average for the former Soviet Union as a whole (see Health Care System). Even large villages are unlikely to have libraries or other cultural facilities.

Urban and Rural Populations of Tajikistan by Region

Tajikistan: A) total population in 1989: 5,092,603; B) urban population in 1989: 1,655,105, (32.5percent); C) rural population in 1989: 3,437,498, (67.5 percent). [Source: Itogi Vsesoiuznoi perepisi naseleniia 1989 goda po Tadzhikskoi SSR Vol. II (Dushanbe: Goskomstat TSSR 1991) pp. 10–23.

Leninobod oblast: A) total population in 1989: 1,554,145; B) urban population in 1989: 522,384, (33.7 percent); C) rural population in 1989: 1,031,761, (66.3 percent).

Kulob oblast: A) total population in 1989: 619,066; B) urban population in 1989: 156,130, (25.2 percent); C) rural population in 1989: 462,936, (74.8 percent).

Qurghonteppa oblast: A) total population in 1989: 1,044, 920; B) urban population in 1989: 182,009, (17.4 percent); C) rural population in 1989: 862,911, (82.6 percent).

Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast: A) total population in 1989: 160,887; B) urban population in 1989: 20,154, (12.5 percent); C) rural population in 1989: 140,733, (87.5 percent).

Gharm group of raions: A) total population in 1989: 224,615; B) urban population in 1989: 9,510, (4.2 percent); C) rural population in 1989: 215,105, (95.8 percent).

Hisor raion, including the city of Tursunzoda: A) total population in 1989: 259 258; B) urban population in 1989: 65. 948, (25.4 percent); C) rural population in 1989: 193,310, (74.6 percent).

Urban Life in Tajikistan

Urbanization: urban population: 26.8 percent of total population (2015); rate of urbanization: 2.62 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.). Largest city and capital: Dushanbe: population in 2014: 801,000. Other Major Cities: Istravshan, Khujand, Kulob, and Qurghonteppa. The urban elite tend to be more Russified than other Tajiks. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Statistically, Tajikistan is the least urban of all the former Soviet republics. By the 1980s, the republic had nineteen cities and forty-nine "urban-type settlements" (the term used for populated places developed as part of Soviet planning). At the time of the first Soviet census, in 1926, when Tajikistan still was an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan, only 10 percent of its inhabitants lived in cities. By the 1959 census, urbanization had risen to 33 percent. This growth reflected not only the development of Tajikistan in its own right but the resettlement of people from other parts of the Soviet Union to occupy government, party, and military positions. It also reflected an influx of political deportees. Most of the immigrants went to Tajikistan's two largest cities, Dushanbe and Leninobod. During the period before 1960, some populated places also were reclassified as urban or incorporated into an existing city's boundaries, thus creating an impression of even greater urbanization. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The growth of the urban population continued for most of the postwar era. Between the 1959 and 1979 censuses, Tajikistan's urban population more than doubled, while the rural population increased almost as rapidly. However, by the 1970s the rate of rural population growth had begun to outstrip that of urban areas. After reaching a peak of 35 percent in the 1979 census, the proportion of the urban population declined. *

According to the 1989 census, although Tajikistan's urban population increased by 26 percent in the 1980s, the proportion of urban inhabitants in the total population declined to 32.5 percent during that period. By the start of 1991, the republic's five largest cities, Dushanbe, Khujand, Kulob, Qurghonteppa, and Uroteppa, accounted for 17 percent of the total population of the republic. Beginning with the 1979 census, emigration from cities exceeded immigration into them. In the 1980s, urban immigration also came predominantly from within Tajikistan rather than from other Soviet republics, as had been the case in earlier decades. As other ethnic groups emigrated from Tajikistan more rapidly beginning in the late Soviet period, the percentage of Tajiks in the cities rose. Nevertheless, Tajiks in Tajikistan were one of the Soviet nationalities least likely to move from villages to cities. Those who did so were usually single men reacting to the scarcity of employment in rural areas. *

Tajikistan's largest city, Dushanbe (which was called Stalinabad from 1929 to 1961), was a Soviet-era development. Badly battered in the Russian Civil War of 1918-21, the village experienced a population drop from more than 3,000 in 1920 to 283 by 1924, and few buildings remained intact. Nevertheless, in 1924 Dushanbe was chosen as the capital of the new Tajikistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Centrally planned development projects inaugurated in 1926, 1938, 1965, and 1983 established housing, government office buildings, cultural facilities, and sports and recreational facilities, as well as the municipal infrastructure. With the addition of about 100 factories, Dushanbe also became Tajikistan's industrial center. It is the headquarters of the republic's radio and television broadcasting facilities and film studio. Several institutions of higher education and scholarship are located there. *

“Soviet-era industrial development projects played a major role in the growth of cities on the sites of former villages. For example, Regar, which was established in 1952, is the center of Tajikistan's vital aluminum industry, as well as several factories dedicated to other activities. Norak and Yovon (Russian spelling Yavan--site of a large chemical plant), were developed as industrial centers near Dushanbe to play specific economic roles in the Soviet system.

Urban Development in Dushanbe

On a development scheme for Dushanbe, EurasiaNet reported in 2015: “A master plan to reinvent the capital city has been gaining momentum in recent years and has led to numerous Soviet-era government offices being removed to make way for hastily built replacements. One notorious late addition to the cityscape is the Dushanbe Plaza, a largely vacant 22-story business center dubbed the "wedding cake" for its higgledy-piggledy, pastel-hued melange of architectural styles. The bar at the top of the tower is known as a partying venue for children of the wealthy. [Source: EurasiaNet, October 21, 2015 ^^^]

“New constructions in Dushanbe are often distinguishable for size vastly out of scale with requirements. A national library, completed at a cost of $40 million and designed to hold a collection of 10 million books, was opened in 2012. The number of books now in the collection — mainly cast-offs donated by the general public — is still relatively small, so the premises are instead used to host public events.^^^

“Sites in the Dushanbe authorities' crosshairs” for demolition to make way for new buildings “include the Rokhat teahouse — a regular destination for visiting tourists — two theaters, the former presidential administration, the mayor's office and the parliament building. The structures are all the handiwork of Soviet-era architects, many of whom were relocated to Tajikistan during World War II.” ^^^

“Critics of the redevelopment plans are caustic about what they say is the authorities' lack of architectural taste. "They are victims of their own crassness, vulgarity and shortsightedness. It is impossible to contemplate the illogicality and conceptual squalidness of the buildings that have gone up in Dushanbe over the last five years," Anisa Sobiri, a well-known Tajik writer and poet, told EurasiaNet.org.” ^^^

Anger Over Dushanbe Demolition Plans

EurasiaNet reported: “Plans to demolish some of the most popular landmarks in Tajikistan's capital have sparked outrage. But with political repression intensifying, many residents in Dushanbe are being careful when expressing their feelings in public. In a desperate bid to halt the destruction, hundreds of city residents have signed an online petition addressed to President Emomali Rahmon and Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev, who is also speaker of parliament. The petition drew more than 600 signatures in the first day alone. [Source: EurasiaNet, October 21, 2015 ^^^]

“Reacting to a wave of Internet grumbling, Nurali Saidzoda, deputy head of the government's architecture and construction committee, told the Asia-Plus newspaper that the buildings selected for demolition were of negligible value and needed replacing with modern hi-tech substitutes. In the case of at least two sites — the presidential palace and the parliament — Saidzoda's argument is in direct contradiction to the Culture Ministry's recognition of the buildings as historical monuments. Their removal would technically be in breach of the law. ^^^

“Anger about the direction in which the city is headed has been confined mostly to the relative safety of the Internet. Online critics have been busy exchanging expressions of contempt for the city authorities. "We should tell those crooks that they insult the citizens with their silly initiatives and careless spending of funds in this time of crisis and stagnation," one Facebook user said.The names of Facebook users are not being published out of concern about potential reprisals against them by authorities. ^^^

“With Tajikistan currently in the grip of another wave of political repression — this one targeting the last opposition force still operating, the Islamic Renaissance Party — online critics concede there is little chance that frustration could boil over into street protests. "Dare to join a demonstration, and in the blink of an eye you'll be arrested and accused of being a member of Islamic State," another Facebook user remarked dolefully. Among the many pictures being circulated online as a gesture of unhappiness is one of Nurali Saidzoda, the government official arguing for the redevelopment, stamped with the red block letter "Under Demolition."” ^^^

“The anti-demolition petition calls for the preservation of what it says "was built with love by our ancestors." "All these buildings symbolize the motherland — for those who live in Tajikistan and for those who live abroad," reads the petition, which even its proponents acknowledge stands little chance of altering demolition plans.” ^^^

Motivation for Dushanbe Development

EurasiaNet reported: “As to the motivations for the desire to recast the image of Dushanbe, two theories prevail online. One is that officials are eager to promote an exclusively ethnic Tajik national identity by removing architectural traces of the Soviet legacy. Another popular theory holds that corrupt officials are looking to profit from potential kickbacks and embezzlement associated with new construction projects. [Source: EurasiaNet, October 21, 2015 ^^^]

“Although property prices across the board are sliding, prime real estate still remains robustly profitable, so the incentive to build in prime areas is strong. "Downtown areas are lucrative. Elite property is a specific segment of the market, where buyers are paying for exclusivity," Dushanbe-based economist Konstantin Bondarenko told EurasiaNet.org. Bondarenko said some of the public properties being targeted for removal are especially attractive as no compensation payouts are required, since the buildings "belong to nobody." "Factors like this are a serious motivation when making decisions on demolition, even though the sites are of cultural and historical value," Bondarenko said. ^^^

“There are very few construction companies in Tajikistan, and all of them have connections to influential government officials or their relatives.” in 2014, Beg Zukhurov, head of the state communications agency and a relation of the president by marriage, oversaw the demolition of another Dushanbe landmark — the downtown central post office. A soaring, 30-story building that will outstrip even the Dushanbe Plaza is earmarked for the spot and will house the communications agency. ^^^

The property will be added to an already impressive real estate portfolio under Zukhurov's control. In August, the communications agency opened a hotel and swimming complex in the town of Kulyab, which has traditionally been deemed the power base of the president's entourage.

Image Sources:

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.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016


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