Tajiks are especially proud of their language. For millennia they have carefully preserved it, passing it from generation to generation, like a kind of a relic, trying not to distort it to much by borrowing too many foreign influences. Arab conquerors came close to destroyed the original tongue of Tajiks. However, Tajiks managed to bring back their language. It can be enjoyed today in Tajik classics: epics, songs and poems. [Source:]

Despite long-standing Soviet efforts to differentiate between the Persian speakers of Central Asia and those elsewhere, Tajiks in Tajikistan describe all of the major literary works written in Persian until the twentieth century as Tajik, regardless of the ethnicity and native region of the author. In Soviet times, such claims were not merely a matter of chauvinism but a strategy to permit Tajiks some contact with a culture that was artificially divided by state borders. Nevertheless, very little Persian literature was published in Cyrillic transcription in the Soviet era. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Under Soviet rule, writing had to correspond closely to official views. The main topics were the civil war in Central Asia, collectivization and industrialization, and Communist Party politics. Very little Persian literature was published in the Cyrillic alphabet. [Source:]

The national epic of the central Tajik heroic legend, Gurugli, is set to music. Tajikistan's Persian-language literature is covered in the chapter "Modern Tajik Literature" in Persian Literature , edited by Ehsan Yarshater.

Tajik Writers

Tajikistan claims ancient poets Omar Khayyám and Alisher Navoi as part of its literary tradition. Firdowsi is appreciated for creating epic poetry as a way to educate the people. Famous Tajik poets and novelists include Mirzo Tursunzade and Sadriddin Ayni. Ayni is remembered for his efforts to expunge all Arabic expressions and references to Islam in the Tajik language.

Three writers dominated the first generation of Soviet Tajik literature.Sadriddin Aini (1878-1954), a Jadidist writer and educator who turned communist, began as a poet but wrote primarily prose in the Soviet era. He witnessed most of the upheavals of the Soviet era, including the fall of the Khanate of Bukhara. His works include three major novels dealing with social issues in the region and memoirs that depict life in the Bukhara Khanate. Aini became the first president of Tajikistan's Academy of Sciences. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Abu'l-Qasem Lahuti (1887-1957; in Tajik,Abdulqosim Lohuti) was an Iranian poet who emigrated to the Soviet Union for political reasons and eventually settled in Tajikistan. He wrote both lyric poetry and "socialist realist" verse. Another poet, Mirzo Tursunzoda (1911-77), collected Tajik oral literature, wrote poetry of his own about social change in Tajikistan, and turned out various works on popular political themes of the moment. Since the generation that included those three writers, Tajikistan has produced numerous poets, novelists, short story writers, and playwrights. *

The most popular living writer Timur Zulfikarov is known for is ability to write in ancient Persian styles. A poet, playwright, and novelist, he was born in Dushanbe in 1936. He was the screen writer for nine films including “Man Follows Birds” and “Tasfiya, Tajikistan. On the civil war period in Tajikistan, Zulfikarov wrote: “An old dusty Tajik in Dushanbe said: ‘If a single man dies of Perestroika, then what is this Perestroika for?’ But thousands have died, and millions will die if this bloody dark mute Cart of Death roaming across the smashed Russian Empire is not stopped. O Allah! Where is that old Tajik? Perhaps, killed in the civil war, or died of starvation? Who listened to this old man and other old men of our land? What is happening in our destroyed bleeding country? This is a revolt of children against fathers and grandfathers … And this is the most horrid revolt! The most bloody and horrific primordial troglodytes in in the land of men!”

Epic Storytelling Kept Alive in Boysun District

Ravsan Rahmoni of Tajikistan State University wrote: “Interesting elements of ancient tradition still alive are songs, dances, storytelling, and arts and crafts. In the villages of Boysun district, the wellsprings of these arts, as of people’s daily work, go back to their ancient roots. We will not mention all of them, but will note that during evening get- togethers a prominent feature is the telling of stories from Ferdawsi’s Shahnama. From this it is clear that the people still love and enjoy their ancestral epic. Not only do they recount these tales, but they have such an affection for their favorite hero, Rustam, that they even make later heroes and kings pay their respects at his tomb. In one of the tales about Rustam, which I recorded from Rahim Sarif (Pasurxl village, born 1925), Iskandar [Alexander the Great] expresses a desire to see Rustam’s tomb, which is at the daxma~i sohon (ossuary of the kings). [Source: “Traces of Ancient Iranian Culture in Boysun District, Uzbekistan” by Ravsan Rahmoni, Tajikistan State University, translated by J. R. Perry]

“According to the narrator, Zol[Zal, Rustam’s father] lived a very long life, up until the time of Alexander; he supposedly drew a circle around the daxma-i sohon that no one could breach save with his help. Iskandar, with Zol’s help, enters the daxma-i sohon and reads Rustam’s testament. According to our narrator, the tomb of Jamsed [Jamshid] is also there. There is supposed to be a great treasure buried beneath the tombs of Rustam and Jamsed, which even financed the building of the Great Wall of China. Although based on materials in the Shahnama, the folktale version has been vernacularized and its conceptual context changed in interesting ways.

Tajik Legend of the "Princess Castle"

Sights in Tashikurgan—the Tajik-Pamirs region of far western China include the Stone Town, Princess Castle, Alaimuger Castle, Xiangbaobao Ancient Graves, Gaizi River Ancient Courier Station and Bamafeili wailimazha. Chief among them is the Princess Castle, which is located on a mountain about 10 kilometers to the south of Dabuda. Tajik people take great pride in this ancient relic. According to legend, in the ancient times, Tashikurgan was a vast deserted plain on the Congling (the present Pamirs). When Silk Road traders began passing through the region it became a busy trading hub and a place full of vigor. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, ~]

Afterwards, a Han Chinese princess from the Central Plains of China accepted the marriage request of a Persian king, and embarked on a journey to Persia. She arrived in Congling at the time a war happened and the road was blocked and and she was forced to seek shelter on deserted high plateau. A Persian ambassador was sent to take care of her. He ordered his guards to closely guard her and protect her. While the princess was on the plateau she was united in wedlock with the solar god a of mountain in the area and became pregnant. The ambassador did not dare report this news back to the Persian king. Instead he ordered his soldiers and guards to construct a palace and town on the mountain for the princess to settle in. ~

The princess gave birth to a clever and handsome boy. When he grew up, he became the king of his Pamir homeland and established the Jiepantuo Kingdom, which means "mountain road". People called the capital "Kezikurgan", which means the "princess castle". There is a strong current of Chinese propaganda to this legend. According to Chinese government sources: “Since then, the royal family of the Jiepantuo Kingdom called themselves "the natural race of the Han nationality and the sun", and called their first ancestor mother as the "person of Han nationality". ~

According to historical documents, Jiepantuo Kingdom was another name for the Fang Kingdom, established by the ancestors of the Tajik in what is now far-west Xinjiang in the A.D. 2nd century and disappeared in the 8th century. However, the ruins of what is described as the princess castle is still present. ~

What They’re Reading: Dushanbe’s Living History

On the current Tajik literary scene, Alii Muhammadi Khorasoni, author, poet, and critic at the Tajik Academy of Sciences, told Foreign Policy magazine: “On the one hand, there are many authors writing about the social and political situation in Tajikistan through poems, novels, and journals. Tajikistan also has a rich tradition of mystical writing, a mainstay of Tajik literature across time. Today, we see this mostly in the lyrical verses of poets like Kamol Nasrallah and Alii Muhammadi Ajamii.” [Source: Katherine Yester, Foreign Policy, October 20, 2009]

What are the most popular titles on sale today? “Anything that deals with the cultural heritage of Tajikistan, praise of the homeland, and moral dignity. Nasrullah’s book of poems Do Not Divide Tajikistan Any More and Urun Kuhzod’s book Contemporary Tajiks are both popular.”

Where do people usually get their books? “Mainly from small, private bookshops. There are two large bookshops next door to each other in Dushanbe, The Common Bookstore and Publications of Culture and Education, where many people go. Unfortunately, in [small] towns, we don’t have these, and it is difficult for people to get books.”

How has Tajikistan’s independence affected the way its authors write about its history? Today, historians write a history of Tajikistan that is limited to Tajikistan. But history of the Tajiks cannot be limited to these borders. Tajiks are living in other countries as well...Our bookstores today are richer and more diverse than ever before. There are many Iranian titles in Persian script. [There] are books in Russian. But we also have some writers in English. For instance, I recently saw a translation of Walt Whitman.”

What does Tajikistan’s literary past and present say about the country’s future? “It has a great influence both in terms of language and style. Rudaki wrote his verses 1,100 years ago, and people today understand his writings without difficulty. Tajik classical literature influences writers from India, Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, and elsewhere. It is also important because it has great moral and ethical value. Coming generations should nurture it.”

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.

Last updated April 2016

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