Politics in an all the Central Asian states has been described as secretive and clannish. Compared to the traditional free-for-all, horse-mounted sport of buz kashi, politics in Tajikistan is typified by feuds between warring clans, temporary alliances, maneuvering and threats of violence. Particularly important is the rivalry between politicians of the northern regions and those of the south. The accumulated power of southerner President Imomali Rahmon’s clique has caused substantial resentment in the north, which had held a dominant position in the Soviet era.

After independence, politics was characterized by a long struggle for political power between cliques that sought Soviet-style dominance and opposition forces seeking to establish a new government. Opposition parties were banned in 1993 and operate from abroad. The Communist Party dominates politics, although the People's Party, the Party of People's Unity, and the Party of Economic and Political Renewal are recognized. [Source: Everyculture.com]

The two main factions are the southern Kulyabs and the northerners. President Emomali Rahmon represents the southern Kulyabs. His traditional rival Abdumalik Abdulladjanov represents the northerners. The north-south struggle also overlaps with friction between the hard-line Tajik government and Islamic-led opposition and discord between secular Muslims and conservative, fundamentalist Muslims — but even here the divisions often mask regional and clan rivalries.

Civil Unrest and Political Threats in Tajikistan

According to the OSAC: After the civil war, political violence diminished significantly. However, localized instability in the Rasht Valley, in Sughd Area (mostly in the Isfara Region), and in the Pamirs has occurred. 2013 and 2014 were relatively quiet with no significant incidents of political violence. [Source: “Tajikistan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State ^]

The potential for spontaneous civil unrest exists. Tajiks support their president and generally credit him for ending the civil war; however, government cronyism, pervasive corruption, and low standards of living are potential sources of discontent. Public demonstrations are rare. However, in September 2012, after a fire destroyed much of the Korvon market, hundreds of vendors who lost goods held a march in Dushanbe to demand that authorities compensate them for their losses. The situation was defused when the mayor met with the vendors on the same day and promised to arrange compensation. In October 2014, the externally-based opposition movement Group 24 released a video calling for demonstrations in multiple cities in Tajikistan. While the public response was negligible, the government reacted by blocking Internet access and dramatically increasing the visible security presence in Dushanbe. ^

Older Tajiks remember the privation and loss of civil war, and only the most extreme perceived injustices would bring them into the streets. The potential reaction of Tajikistan’s large youth generation – some 55 percent of the population is under 30 – is less predictable, but there is an increased tendency to organize demonstrations; i.e. several flash-mobs occurred in 2013. A high percentage of the younger generation works outside of Tajikistan and sends remittances to their families. ^

Politics in Tajikistan in the 1990s

As it is now, Tajikistan in the 1990s was governed by essentially a one-party system dominated by the Communist Party of Tajikistan. In 1994 presidential election had only one nominal opposition candidate with similar platform. Several opposition parties formed around 1990 and influenced events in early years of independence, but all now operate from abroad. Substantial maneuvering for power among former communist elements within and outside current government. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the first years of independence, politics in Tajikistan were overshadowed by a long struggle for political power among cliques that sought Soviet-style dominance of positions of power and privilege and a collection of opposition forces seeking to establish a new government whose form was defined only vaguely in public statements. The result was a civil war that began in the second half of 1992. A faction favoring a neo-Soviet system took control of the government in December 1992 after winning the civil war with help from Russian and Uzbekistani forces. *

Creating the Soviet-Era Government of the Tajik Republic

In 1959 Nazarsho Dodkhudoyev, the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Tajik SSR, claimed, in a book intended for external audiences: “The Tajik people decide all their internal affairs themselves. Our government directs the entire economic and cultural development of the country. The Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. cannot annul decisions or revoke orders of the Tajik government. Finally, the sovereignty of our Republic is guaranteed by the right to secede from the Federation, granted to us by the Constitution of the U.S.S.R.”

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Obviously, the reality was somewhat different. After all major spots of armed resistance in the territory of Tajikistan were quashed by the early 1930s, the Soviet authorities continued to erect, at an accelerated pace, a new social order there that reflected the pattern implemented elsewhere in the USSR. It was based on: 1) a single universalistic ideology, which proclaimed the building of communism as the supreme goal of the country’s development; 2) a single economic system, heavily centralised and planned; 3) the principles of ‘Soviet federalism’, whereby the borderlands were gradually deprived of their autonomy in favour of Moscow, behind the ostensibly federal structure of the state. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The year 1928 was a turning point in the history of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s ‘Revolution from Above’ meant that the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (VKP[b]), or, more precisely, its administrative apparatus, had evolved as the sole centre of power in Soviet society. The period of relative political and economic liberalism of the early 1920s was over. The party now sanctioned and supervised the activities of all other social institutions. Tajikistan presented no exception to the emerging Soviet mono-organisational order. At the time of the creation of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic in October 1929, the Communist Party of Tajikistan (CPT) was a formidable and well-organised force, with its 146 primary cells and 3848 members (up from 17 cells and 435 members five years before).

“Moscow, however, had its doubts in regards to the loyalty of local cadres, many of whom were National Communists—carryovers from the jadid movement, such as Abduqodir Muhiddinov, head of the Tajik Government between 1926 and 1928. Until 1934, the effective management of Tajikistan remained in the hands of the Central Asian Bureau of the VKP(b) Central Committee and its proxies, such as the Central Asian Economic Council, the Central Asian Planning Committee, or plenipotentiary representatives of the All-Union Commissariats. Statements of Soviet historians to the effect that ‘this measure in no sense limited the sovereignty of the republics of Central Asia and did not infringe upon the rights of autonomous republics and regions’ are hardly credible, if only for economic considerations: in 1931, 80 per cent of capital investments in Tajikistan were planned and implemented by the centre, bypassing local authorities.

Impact of Stalinist Purges on Tajikistan Politics

Like the CPSU branches elsewhere in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of Tajikistan suffered waves of purges directed by the central government in Moscow between 1927 and 1934. Conditions particular to Tajikistan were used to provide additional justification for the crackdown. Many Tajik communists were highly critical of the ferocity with which the collectivization of agriculture was implemented, and central party authorities were dissatisfied with the local communists' advocacy of the republic's interests, including attempts to gain more autonomy and shield local intellectuals. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

About 70 percent of the party membership in Tajikistan — nearly 10,000 people at all levels of the organization — was expelled between 1933 and 1935. Between 1932 and 1937, the proportion of Tajiks in the republic's party membership dropped from 53 to 45 percent as the purges escalated. Many of those expelled from party and state offices were replaced by Russians sent in by the central government. Another round of purges took place in 1937 and 1938, during the Great Terror orchestrated by Stalin. Subsequently Russians dominated party positions at all levels, including the top position of first secretary. Whatever their nationality, party officials representing Tajikistan, unlike those from some other Soviet republics, had little influence in nationwide politics throughout the existence of the Soviet Union.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Stalin’s strategy of creating government structures in Tajikistan that would be unquestionably faithful to him and to the Central Committee’s Secretariat did not differ from the design applied elsewhere in the USSR and envisaged three measures: a) elimination of old cadres; b) large-scale posting of reliable officials from the centre; and c) quick promotion of suitably indoctrinated locals. The Central Asian Bureau of the VKP(b) Central Committee passed a resolution ‘About the Work of the Tajik Party Organisation’ in 1931, which stressed in particular that ‘alongside … the purification of Soviet, economic, cooperative and other apparatuses from class-antagonistic and bureaucratic elements, it is necessary to carry out mass promotion of cadres from amidst workers, kolkhoz members … tested during struggle against the bai’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Purges of party members and other elites in Tajikistan commenced in 1933 with the removal of the first secretary of the CPT Central Committee, M. Huseinov; the chairman of the Central Executive Committee, N. Makhsum; and the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissariat, A. Hojibaev. Their arrests were made with the standard accusations of being ‘bourgeois nationalists’, ‘enemy agents’, ‘counter-revolutionary elements’ and ‘saboteurs’. In May 1934, a group of 79 high-ranking officials including A. Muhiddinov, then the chairman of the State Planning Committee of Tajikistan, was executed. It was reported that Muhiddinov had objected to the renaming of Dushanbe as Stalinobod. In the months that followed, dozens of Tajik intellectuals, amongst them renowned poets Ikromi, Hakim Karim, Ghani Abdullo, Zehni, Fitrat, Alikhush, Hamdi and Munzim, were imprisoned, exiled or put to death. Even Sadriddin Aini, the founding father of contemporary Tajik literature, invariably loyal to the Soviet regime, was labelled ‘pan-Turkist’, ‘pan-Islamist’, a ‘Bukharan adventurist’ and a ‘homeless Baha’i’, and only the intercession of Russian colleagues saved him from arrest in 1937.

“The number of victims of Stalin’s reprisals is still to be revealed; however, the fact that 7883 people sentenced in Tajikistan from the 1930s to the 1950s have been rehabilitated (half of them posthumously) may be a fair indication of the scale of terror in the republic. The new leadership in Tajikistan was subservient and tolerably literate; it feared and readily obeyed directives from Moscow, if only to survive. The case of Munavvar Shogadoev, the chairman of the Central Executive Committee (later Presidium of the Supreme Soviet) of Tajikistan between 1937 and 1950, provides an excellent example of the Stalinist appointee.He had an impeccable social background (son of peasants, day-labourer at a cotton mill) and scant education (three years of rabfak—crash educational courses—in Tashkent). Shogadoev joined the party in the late 1920s and was appointed head of a district party committee in his native mountainous region of Gharm in 1930, where he showed himself to be an exemplary executant, having managed to recruit hundreds of fellow highlanders to take part in irrigation projects in south-west Tajikistan. He had a poor command of Russian, but the establishment of Russian schools in Gharm was amongst his main priorities. Shogadoev fully demonstrated his organisational skills and dedication in the 1940s, when, as head of the republic’s legislative body, he sanctioned and supervised the forced resettlement of tens of thousands of people from his native Gharm to the Vakhsh Valley—a project that cost scores of human lives.

“The CPT, thoroughly purged and restaffed, became an organisation that could be entrusted with day-to-day management of the republic. The policy of nativisation was abandoned. Moreover, from 1930 to 1932 alone, 217 party officials were posted to Tajikistan from the centre. The figures below illustrate the process of the ‘adjustment’ of the republic’s party structures to the demands of Stalin’s era. Changes in the Membership and Ethnic Composition of the CPT, 1933–38: 1933: Total membership: 14,329; Tajiks: 52.9 percent; Uzbeks: 22.2 percent; Russians: 17.3percent; Others: 7.6 percent. 1938: Total membership: 4,715; Tajiks: 41.8 percent; Uzbeks: 16.4 percent; Russians: 25.4 percent; Others: 16.4 percent. [Source: Kommunisticheskaia partiia Tadzhikistana v tsifrakh za 60 let (Dushanbe: Irfon, 1984), pp. 27, 33]

Members of traditional elite groups, even those who had hailed the advent of Soviet power, were singled out for extermination. The wave of terror affected not only the representatives of institutionalised Islam and the old status hierarchies (such as sayids—descendants of the prophet Mohammad; khojas—descendants of the first four caliphs; turas—progenies of the Timurid rulers; pirs and ishons—dynastic leaders of Ismaili and Sunni communities; and mirs—chieftains and old landed aristocracy), it also destroyed the whole stratum of the Bukharan literati, who had carefully preserved and propagated old cultural values. This campaign swept Tajikistan in 1937—much later than in other Central Asian republics—but was waged with the same ferocity and yielded similar results. Contemporaries testified that in the city of Uroteppa (Istaravshon) the public baths were heated for a month by burning confiscated books and manuscripts of ecclesiastical works and classical poetry. Naturally, the subsequent formation of the Tajik intelligentsia largely rejected the old cultural tradition. It consisted mainly of newcomers from the peasantry, often the products of children’s homes and boarding schools to whom Soviet rule had given everything and for whom a totalitarian regime was a familiar and accustomed reality. The new intelligentsia was not only formed by the authorities, it was also tied to representatives of the structures of power by close, almost literally kinship bonds.

Ethnic Composition of the CPT Leadership

1958: A) CC members: Locals: 95 (79.8 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 24 (20.2 percent). B) CC candidate members: Locals: 51 (86.4 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 8 (13.6 percent). C) Members of the CPT Revision Commission: Locals: 32 (82.1 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 7 (17.9 percent). [Source: Documents of the eleventh, thirteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth congresses of the CPT]

1960: A) CC members: Locals: Locals: 96 (78.0 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 27 (22.0 percent). B) CC candidate members: Locals: 53 (79.1 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 14 (20.9 percent). C) Members of the CPT Revision Commission: Locals: 38 (84.4 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 7 (15.6 percent).

1976: A) CC members: Locals: Locals: 108 (78.3 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 30 (21.7 percent). B) CC candidate members: Locals: 45 (76.3 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 14 (23.7 percent). C) Members of the CPT Revision Commission: Locals: 33 (71.7 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 13 (28.3 percent).

1981: A) CC members: Locals: Locals: 108 (78.3 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 30 (21.7 percent). B) CC candidate members: Locals: 45 (73.8 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 16 (26.2 percent). C) Members of the CPT Revision Commission: Locals: 40 (85.1 percent); Russians and other non-locals: 7 (14.9 percent).

Politics in Post-Stalin Soviet Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Being on the nomenklatura list of the CPT Central Committee was a fair indication of belonging to the elite in Tajikistan; however, the governing elite (that is, according to S. F. Nadel, the group of political rulers who had decisive pre-eminence over other social and specialised elites) was somewhat smaller. Its membership ‘was synonymous for all practical purposes with the membership of the Central Committee of the Tadzhik Communist Party’. Ethnic Tajiks dominated the governing elite in Tajikistan in the postwar period. Prior to 1946, except for a short period in 1937, the republic’s party organisation was headed by people dispatched from Moscow,but after the removal of Dmitry Protopopov—a career CheKa and OGPU (both secret police organisations) and People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) officer who bore personal responsibility for the purges amongst local cadres and intelligentsia—this position remained invariably in the hands of a Tajik. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“With the end of Stalin’s era of uncontrolled despotism and terror and the emergence of more stable, institutionalised and reciprocal patterns of exchange amongst various units of the Soviet leadership (the process that T. H. Rigby has referred to as the emergence of a ‘self-stabilising oligarchy’), the indigenous elites in the national republics gradually increased their participation in the administration of their respective territories. The impressive economic growth and diversification, the continuous process of social mobilisation, and the expansion of education and culture necessitated and made possible the rise of ethno-territorial bureaucracies that ‘often sought to use feelings of local “ethnofidelity” to promote government policies, and, often enough, their personal political agendas’.

“Due to a number of systemic determinants (small population, low level of industrial development, and remoteness from the centre), Tajik political leaders constantly failed to establish strong personalised cliental relationships with top bureaucrats in Moscow. Perhaps Tursun Uljaboev, the CPT CC first secretary from 1956 to 1961, came close to acquiring status as Khrushchev’s protégé: he had been selected for promotion to the position of secretary of the CPSU CC, but anti-Khrushchev opposition in the Central Committee (F. R. Kozlov, G. I. Voronov and L. F. Ilichev) effectively removed Uljaboev from the political scene. Tajikistan retained only token representation in the Central Committee, the Supreme Soviet and the Council of Ministers of the USSR, and henceforth its elite had limited opportunities to lobby for resources. The importance of direct access to the All-Union top leadership in terms of distribution of funds to national republics can be illustrated by the following fact: over the period 1971–85, per capita investment in Uzbekistan was 1.75 times higher than in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan or Kyrgyzstan; irrigation works in Uzbekistan consumed 20.4 billion roubles of capital investments compared with the figure of 7.9 billion roubles for the three other republics combined, although the return from those investments in Uzbekistan was two to five times lower. Obviously, Sharaf Rashidov, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan (CPUz) CC, a candidate member of the Politburo and a crony of Leonid Brezhnev, was in a good position to persuade the centre to allocate additional funds to his republic.

Informal Political Exchange in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The concept of goal rationality as the source of the legitimation of authority in the USSR, put forward by T. H. Rigby, implied, amongst other things, that at all levels of the Soviet polity ‘the dominant rationale for evaluating social action is the achievement of prescribed tasks’. And while command mechanisms predominated in Soviet society, exchange continued to play a substantial role in coordinating social activity due to the sheer magnitude of the problems the country faced, and the physical inability of controlling institutions to offer quick and plausible solutions. Under circumstances in which the main mode of institutionalised exchange—contractual relations based on private property rights—was anathema, ‘grey’ and ‘black’ markets, corruption and other forms of informal exchange inevitably came to the fore. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“These phenomena were not necessarily detrimental to the Soviet system; in fact, some sociologists agree that they may have served as ‘a stabilising or conservative force in systems experiencing rapid change and institutional decay’, and they may have had ‘positive functions that were not adequately performed by formal institutions and legally devised arrangements’. The black market ‘was allowed to flourish precisely because much of the time it distributed goods and services more efficiently than the formal institutions of the state’. According to official statistics, in 1991 the black market accounted for 8 per cent of the USSR’s gross national product (GNP). There are reasons to believe that the figure for Central Asia, the region with strong traditions of entrepreneurial activity, was even higher. The fact that in the late 1970s an underground congress of criminal leaders adopted a resolution to charge illegal shops producing unregistered products a 15 per cent commission could be regarded as an indicator of the steady growth in the shadow economy.

“Olivier Roy argues that solidarity networks based on kinship and/or patronage allow a population to resist the interference of an authoritarian state, or to ‘compensate for the weakness or corruption of the state’. Schoeberlein-Engel notes, however, the role of patronage/kin networks in ‘corruption’: “Since virtually all property and resources are state-controlled, connections are essential in order to negotiate the extra-legal and unofficial mechanisms that regulate access to the resources necessary for any kind of economic activity: permission to sell goods on the market, provision of raw materials, access to vehicles or buildings—even simply freedom from the legal or illegal interference of ‘law enforcement’ authorities. All this requires an elaborate and effective network of mutual back-scratching relationships, which most readily develop within the family framework … However, as each person seeks to maximize the breadth and effectiveness of her network, it is often expedient to draw on criteria of connections that extend beyond the family to a larger community.

“This creates a tautological problem of ‘circular cause and consequence’: did state corruption force people into what is often termed ‘clan behaviour’? Or did pre-existing ‘clan behaviour’ create the corruption and the weakness of the state? It can be at least argued that the two are mutually reinforcing. Navruz Nekbakhtshoev points out the mutually reinforcing nature of the cycle, blaming it for the proliferation of ‘clan behaviours’. He argues that the corrupt behaviour by ‘members of clan networks’ creates shortages in the economy for others and therefore creates a situation in which those outside the dominant network replicate the behaviour of that dominant group and engage in the same ‘clan behaviours’ to compensate for the shortages that were created. Rafis Abazov, for his part, sees the patronage networks of the Soviet era in Tajikistan as not a completely new phenomenon, but rather as a continuation of ‘tribal and communal (i.e., mahallagaroyi) affiliations’. As an example of such behaviour, one woman from a village in Varzob attended university in Dushanbe in the 1960s and rose through the ranks of the party. Once in a position of some power, she used her position to favour her village in the allocation of state resources, much to the resentment of people in neighbouring villages.

Regionalism and Informal Political Exchange in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The ‘stability of the cadres’ during the Brezhnev era—when local officials remained in their regional positions for lengthy tenures—allowed patronage networks to thrive. Regional elites, serving long careers in the same locality, were able to strengthen their power bases and further strengthen personal allegiances and ‘localism’ (in Russian: mestnichestvo, in Tajik: mahallagaroyi). At the height of Soviet rule in the Tajik SSR, patronage networks, as well as other forms of ‘semi-legal and illegal exchange’, were commonplace. The characteristics of the centre–periphery relations in the Soviet Union allowed patronage to flourish. If local authorities could meet, or appear to meet, the goals of the prescribed economic plans, the violations on the ground would be ignored. Political patronage networks thus ‘diverted, undermined and used state power for their own end—facilitating benefits for the group’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Regional affiliations were an important aspect of this patronage. During the Soviet era these affiliations became a source of economic and political power for the elites and a source of political and economic resources for the masses. At the republic level this patronage relationship united the elites and their regional constituencies in the competition for the resources controlled by the state. And at the oblast level the first secretaries of the local party committees (obkoms) formed local patronage networks with the help of their power to distribute resources and appoint people to official positions within the province.Beyond enriching themselves, regional leaders used their powers of economic distribution and appointment to benefit their families, friends or persons who could provide some ‘reciprocal benefit’. This system ensured that the people and the elites both had strong incentives to be loyal to their ‘regions’.

“Despite the importance of regional identity, it should obviously not be mistaken as an all-determining factor for social and political behaviour. At the elite level, there are divergent interests and divisions within the ‘regionally based elite networks’ and links between elites from different regions with mutual interests. The various ‘regional identities and loyalties, while important, are not the only factor in the formation of elite networks’. Regional identities, despite their importance, should not be overstated. They are often ‘crosscut’ by other considerations. Regional identity is just one factor in the formation of high-level political power networks. Factors of ‘education, career and work experiences, self-interest, and personal relationships’ are also important in the formation of these ‘political networks with regional bases’. Kilavuz argues that these networks, while they may have a regional base, should not be considered ‘unitary actors’, as ‘[p]eople from the same region can be rivals, while people from different regions can be allies’. There are ‘sub-factions’ within a region that can both ‘ally with each other against a common competitor’ and ‘clash’ with each other. Matteo Fumagalli makes a similar point about the internal competition within the ‘regions’, a concept that he considers reification. The elites in a single region may have divergent interests, making it difficult to accurately predict political behaviour based on region of origin. And as the political environment changes, the nature of these regional bases may also change. Regional loyalty is not a ‘definite or reliable criterion’ as some politicians will cooperate with whomever has the strongest network and switch their allegiance when it is in their own private interest to do so. A client will be loyal to his patron (for example, a kolkhoz boss or an obkom secretary) as long as the patron continually provides the benefits and resources (‘providing employment, promotions, assistance, welfare, permits, access to important goods and services, land, etc’). Lawrence Markowitz also rejects the notion of unitary regional political blocs in Tajikistan. He instead stresses the political contestations within these ‘blocs’ as well as the individual crosscutting ties between the blocs.”

Abdumalik Abdullojonov: a Case of Using Communist-Style Connections to Rise

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “ In a situation in which lawfulness of means of achieving state goals was of secondary importance, those ‘who played by the informal rules could be assured of protection … The corrupt system was widely understood, and, for many years, quite stable’. In Tajikistan, informal political, parochial, kinship and criminal networks often overlapped and were inseparable from one another. The life and career of Abdumalik Abdullojonov, the prime minister of independent Tajikistan from 1992 to 1993, is especially illustrative in this sense. His rise began in 1983, when he divorced his Ossetian wife and married the daughter of the chief KGB officer responsible for the Nov district (now Spitamen). The bride’s mother happened to head the procurement authority of the same district. Almost immediately, the hitherto inconspicuous engineer was appointed director of the Nov bakery. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Connections within the KGB helped Abdullojonov shortly afterwards: acts of embezzlement were uncovered at the bakery, but he avoided jail and was even promoted to deputy minister of grain products of Tajikistan. At this juncture he started to build his own entourage. Abdullojonov pulled some of his former subordinates out of prison and placed them throughout the republic. More than one furtive director of a bakery found protection from deputy minister, later minister, Abdullojonov, in return for particular services. The most spectacular case involved Partov Davlatov—head of the grain procurement authority in the city of Tursunzoda. The Inspectorate of the Ministry of Finances produced a 946-page report in early 1991 in which Davlatov was accused of stealing thousands of tonnes of grain. Abdullojonov sacked Davlatov, only to appoint him to a similar position in the capital city of Dushanbe a few months later, after destroying all evidence of malfeasance. Davlatov instantaneously turned the Dushanbe baking combine into his personal enterprise, where all 400 employees were either his relatives or originated from his native village. Abdullojonov’s positions in the republic grew even stronger after the collapse of the Soviet Union when grain, which constitutes the basic (and sometimes the only) element of people’s rations in Tajikistan, became a scarce commodity and selling stolen grain on the black market became an exceptionally profitable occupation. With the absence of superior independent control authorities, it also became, in Partov Davlatov’s words, ‘a very easy occupation, since all leading officials in the Ministries of Grain Production and Finance and other agencies involved are actually our people’.

“At the beginning of 1992, Abdumalik Abdullojonov’s personal wealth was widely rumoured to exceed 2 billion roubles. He had loyal protégés in every corner of Tajikistan, and after becoming prime minister in September 1992, he worked feverishly to promote them to higher positions. Thus, Abdujalil Homidov, formerly director of the Nov bakery, was made chairman of the executive committee of the Leninobod region; Timur Mirzoev, a distant relation of Abdullojonov, received the post of mayor of Dushanbe; Farhod Mirpochoev, Abdullojonov’s nephew, became adviser to the Cabinet of Ministers, and so on. Much in line with the changing times, Abdullojonov was behind the creation of several private firms (Edland, Somoniyon, Tojikbonkbiznes, Timur-malik) that easily received export licences and lavish credits from the state. Even three years after Abdullojonov’s dismissal, so many people owed their positions and influence to him that he was seldom criticised for his deeds and still remained in the public service of his country, as Tajikistan’s ambassador to Turkmenistan. He eventually fell too far from grace, however, and fled into a comfortable exile in California.

“The example of Abdumalik Abdullojonov’s patronage network is not typical for Tajikistan, in the sense that it was constructed primarily along professional linkages and encompassed people of different nationalities and from different regions of Tajikistan who could relatively easily break away after their patron’s dismissal. This is exactly what happened to Abdujalil Homidov, who was in hostile opposition to Abdullojonov when the latter was running for president in 1994.

“It may be appropriate to outline the major attributes, or role expectations, of a member of Tajikistan’s governing elite under Soviet rule: 1) conformity with the set of rules and directives prescribed by Moscow; 2) commitment to the cause of the development of the republic; 3) development of personal political resources inside and outside Tajikistan; and 4) conflict avoidance, settlement of disputes with peers as unobtrusively as possible. As long as a national leader could strike the right balance between contradictory loyalties to the centre and to the republic, as long as he managed to build up and maintain networks of informal exchange without attracting too much attention from the centre’s control organs, and as long as he could successfully lobby for centralised allocations, his job would be secure and he would be in a position to make policies, especially in the cultural sphere, that stuck.”

‘Clans’ and Patronage Networks in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In their ideal state, patron–client webs in Tajikistan bear an imprint of kinship solidarity and are characterised by: a) less pronounced inequality and asymmetry in interaction amongst those involved; b) lifelong endurance; c) more diffused spheres of penetration—far beyond strictly professional activities; and d) relative closeness. These hierarchal structures could be, with some qualifications, referred to as clans, for they have some consonance with the attributes of a classic agnate clan: 1) common ancestry of the nucleus of the entity; 2) territorial unity (the clan coincides with the local group); 3) social integration inside the clan—in particular, the coopting of new members through marriage. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The importance and authority of the patriarchal authority figure within the ‘clans’, or rather extended families, are reflected in the fact that many of the ‘clan divisions’ are named after them. And far from being a new phenomenon, some of the elite families have been prominent since before the Soviet era, an example being the Arabovs of northern Tajikistan. Rural elites, in particular, engage in strategically sending younger members to urban areas to expand their network and its ability to access resources. The urban Tajik is often not an ‘isolated entity’, but rather in fact still a part of the rural networks. He/she has many connections to the ‘extended family or clan’ that is based in the village or region of origin. Family elders push an individual member towards a certain profession and expect that the city-dweller will provide benefits and resources to family members back in the village. And reciprocally, the city-dweller often seeks resources such as agricultural products from the extended rural family. Schoeberlein-Engel gives the same description of the urban family member providing resources from the city to rural relatives; however, he specifically names the ‘rural elite’ as engaging in this strategic behaviour of sending their children to the city for a university or technical education. He notes that many of them will return, but others will remain in the city in order for the extended family to access ‘scarce’ resources.

“Two ‘clans’ from different parts of Tajikistan featured prominently in the republic’s life in the postwar period. The Leninobod-Kanibodom clan had its base in the north of the republic and consisted of six major families: the Arabovs (Bukhara-Leninobod), the Yaqubovs (Leninobod), the Karimovs (Kanibodom), the Asrorovs (Leninobod), the Chuliubaevs (Leninobod) and the Bobojanovs (Leninobod-Dushanbe). The Arabov family, the stem of the clan, migrated to Khujand from Bukhara in the late nineteenth century. While not belonging to the prestigious status groups of sayids, its members traced their roots to the times of Arab rule, of which their family name was an indication. Jurabek Arabov was a successful entrepreneur and land developer under the tsarist regime and in 1917 managed to transfer all his capital to Germany. In 1925, he was executed by the OGPU, but legends about his unclaimed treasures linger in Tajikistan.

“Almost every locality in Tajikistan can boast one or more patronage networks. They may take the form of a purely cliental dyad, as in Abdumalik Abdullojonov’s case, or that of ‘clans’—kinship structures with primarily horizontal links and tacit obligations. They can run to the national level and beyond, but they can also be confined to a certain village or district. The point is that all these informal organisations have always played an important role in regulating life and channelling resources within the community in Tajikistan. S. N. Eisenstadt has made a general observation for the USSR that patron–client relations there, ‘just as in most modern democratic societies’, constituted ‘above all an addendum to the institutional centre of the society’. This notion was only partly true for Tajikistan with its still potent traditional society; the formalised exchange prevailed there so long as uniform institutionalised organisations executed effective social control, through coercion and meeting the basic needs of the majority of the populace.

Elite Families and Patronage Networks in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The Asrorovs, as an old family from Bukhara, enjoyed great respect and bestowed additional lustre on people connected with them. From the 1940s to the 1960s, Khol Yaqubov and Hilol Karimov joined them and subsequently played a significant role in expanding the power of the clan. Yaqubov was responsible for agricultural matters, sheep-breeding in particular, in the central committee, and Karimov was an influential member of the Tajik intelligentsia. He was the creator of the first textbooks of contemporary Tajik, and he and his relatives for decades dominated academia in Tajikistan. In a situation in which education remained a relatively rare commodity but presented a crucial element to social mobility, the ability to control admission to tertiary institutions inevitably gave certain groups within Tajikistan’s prestigious elite a valuable resource to offer in exchange for favours. A sociological poll conducted amongst school-leavers in the republic in May–June 1989 yielded results that generally confirm this postulate. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In later years, Hilol Karimov’s son, Jamshed Karimov, became the pivotal member of the clan. He was born in 1940, educated in Moscow and for a long time worked in the Tajik State University, where he acquired the degree of Doctor of Economics. In 1983, he was appointed the deputy chairman of the State Planning Committee of Tajikistan and in 1988 was promoted to head it, with the concomitant rank of deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers. During 1989–91, Jamshed Karimov held the important position of first secretary of Dushanbe gorkom. In 1992, he returned to the government as first deputy prime minister; in December 1994 he became prime minister and served in that position until February 1996. Several cabinet members owed their posts directly to Karimov—Shavkat Ismoilov, minister of justice, for one. It was Karimov’s support that allowed Ismoilov to retain his portfolio during the tumultuous period in early 1995 when President Rahmon was extremely dissatisfied with his performance. Entrepreneur Solaimon Chuliubaev and the commercial bank Sharq with which he was closely connected increased their operations dramatically thanks to the benevolent attitude of the prime minister’s office.

“According to information supplied by a member, the clan’s families met regularly to discuss household and business matters. There is no longer strict subordination to elders, but the oldest surviving Arabov—Mamadqul, son of Abduqodir—always presided over ceremonial gatherings despite his modest position as a director of documentary films. Junior members of the clan were encouraged to pursue careers in such relatively new fields as business and the diplomatic service. In the immediate post-independence era, some members had already found employment with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreign missions in Dushanbe—the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in particular.

“The second clan is of special interest because it has been developing in strict coordination with the sociopolitical processes in Tajikistan. Aqasharif Juraev, whose centenary was widely marked in 1995, was born in Darvoz (Qalai Khumb) and throughout his life remained an ardent propagandist of its traditional music and folklore culture. As an extraordinarily talented musician, he was amongst five or six Tajiks who were allowed to travel abroad from the 1940s to the 1960s. His tours of Iran in 1957 and of Afghanistan in 1959 attracted tens of thousands of admirers. Juraev was a friend of first secretary Tursun Uljaboev, who helped him and his big family to settle comfortably in Dushanbe. His son Qandil, a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan, was also an outspoken advocate of interests of the southern mountainous districts—for example, he vehemently opposed the abolition of the Gharm oblast in 1955.

Patronage Networks and Corruption in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: ““Informal exchange and its most obvious form—corruption—were tacitly recognised parts of political life in Tajikistan. In 1975, A. Schelochinin, procurator-general of Tajikistan, disclosed the details of a major fraud in the republic’s system of consumer goods retailers, which ostensibly ran ‘for decades’ and implicated Tajikistan’s minister of the food industry, a deputy minister of trade and 28 directors of shops and warehouses who ‘had developed their own standards of behaviour, their own morale and office ethics’. Those exposed usually received relatively mild penalties, unless Moscow directly ordered otherwise. Belonging to the nomenklatura on the one hand and to a patronage network on the other was the best guarantee against imprisonment. Over the period 1965–90 only nine officials were punished for official crimes in Tajikistan (two were removed from their posts and seven were incarcerated)—the lowest figure in all five Central Asian republics. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Bribery was instrumental in fulfilling economic plans. The Kommunist deplored the methods of a certain district party committee secretary, who ‘intercepted fertilisers and fodder designated for others. He acquired them using bribes collected from the kolkhozes of his district.’ There existed a fairly rational system of bribes along the following chain: director of a collective farm or industrial enterprise, raikom secretary, obkom secretary, minister or the CPT CC secretary. Eventually, it came to resemble a taxation system, since the accrued funds were spent mostly on economic development and social welfare. Promotions, mentions in the awards list or honorary titles were to be paid for separately.

“Another ingenious way of amassing shady money was based on manipulation of cotton procurement. Unlike their colleagues in Uzbekistan, officials in Tajikistan did not indulge in upward quantitative distortion. They preferred instead to decrease the fibre content in raw cotton (from the average of 34.4 per cent in 1962 to 29.4 and even 18 per cent in 1984), which gave them a robust additional revenue of 140 roubles per tonne gathered. Given the fact that in the 1980s the annual cotton crop in Tajikistan was in the vicinity of 900 000 t, there could be as much as 126 million roubles in unregistered profits from cotton sales a year (of which collective farms retained 50 per cent), amounting to approximately 8 per cent of the entire republican budget.

Regional Elite Competition in Soviet Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “As the ratio of the titular nationality serving in positions of power within the governments of the Uzbek and Tajik SSRs increased, it lessened the importance of cleavages between the titular nationality and non-titular groups such as the Russians and increased the importance of cleavages within the titular nationalities, therefore increasing the social and political significance of ‘regionalism’. Khujandis from Leninobod dominated the Tajik Communist Party and the government, but they did not hold positions of power exclusively, as the central Soviet government attempted to maintain a balance between the regions in regards to elite appointments. According to Davlat Khudonazarov, from 1956 to 1961, first secretary Tursunboy Uljaboev ‘balance[d] the representation of the regions’ and distributed resources equally before being removed on the pretext of falsifying cotton production figures, a very common practice at the time. The argument that Leninobod politically dominated Tajikistan is qualified by Shirin Akiner. She notes the much larger population, higher levels of education and political awareness, as well as the industrialised economy of Leninobod and argues that it would be natural that this area would produce the elite of the state. Matteo Fumagalli makes a similar argument, crediting the Leninobodi elite’s dominance in the Tajik SSR to ‘economic, socio-cultural and geographic factors’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“At the republic level, the Soviet government divided the state apparatus among the various factions, which produced competition for power and resources among the different region-based factions. The Leninobod/Khujand-based ‘faction’ came to dominate the Tajik government after World War II. The Khujandi elite maintained their dominant position by constantly changing the administrative status of the other regions. The elite from other regions were not able to develop a region-wide patronage network as they lost their province (oblast, viloyat) status and found their networks disrupted. There was, however, a level of power-sharing involving the Kulobi elites in a patronage relationship starting in the 1970s. Of course, the Kulobis were in the junior position. The various reasons given for the relationship are that it was a response to the Leninobodi elite being challenged by local competitors or even, as argued by Stephane Dudoignon, that is was a result of economic exchanges between the two involving cotton. Indeed, the creation of the South Tajik Territorial Manufacturing Complex resulted in the creation of stronger ties between Khujand and Kulob.

“As for the other groups, Akiner stresses that the power held by Leninobodis (mostly from Khujand) was not exclusive. She argues that positions in the higher levels of the Tajik government were often held by Russians, Pamiris and Gharmis as part of the power balancing of the elite; however, the positions held by Gharmis and Pamiris were generally not portfolios that held significant power, an example being the chairmanship of the Supreme Soviet (see further below). And during this time the Tajik SSR’s large Uzbek minority in the north had an informally protected status thanks to the Tajik Communist Party’s close links to Uzbekistan and the political domination of the Leninobodi faction that secured benefits for the north’s population, including the Uzbeks. The exceptions, according to Akiner, were the Kulobis, who, despite holding many high-ranking positions in the security forces and having started a patronage-network relationship with the Leninobodis in the 1970s, were generally marginalised at the national level. Akiner offers an alternative explanation for the exclusion of Kulobi elites from the national level: lack of interest in pursuing positions outside Kulob. Within Kulob the local elites had autonomy and development projects that were directly funded by the central Soviet government, as well as enjoying ‘status, wealth (often illegally acquired) and a social environment in which they were at ease’. As a result, there was not a need to pursue appointment at the Tajik SSR level. Still, some secondary positions below Khujandis in the bureaucracy in Dushanbe were given to Kulobis.

“Concerning the Gharmi elite, the position of chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan was ‘reserved’ for Gharmis; however, for almost the entire Soviet era it was a position of little power and influence that held no significant economic or bureaucratic decision-making authority. As a result, Gharmis had ‘relatively little stake’ in national-level power structures and a greater one in the ‘emergent market economy’ and in the national academy of sciences, which Barnett Rubin calls the ‘principle institution of national cultural identity’. The exclusion from government and economic institutions meant that Gharmis could not create any patronage networks on the scale that the Leninobodis and Kulobis could, at the national and provincial levels, respectively.

“Markowitz notes that the party positions at district (raikom) and province (obkom) levels became the focus of local power struggles. From these positions one could access resources from the centre and even work towards higher-level postings. As these positions were ‘aggressively sought after’, local political manoeuvring became ‘perhaps the most fluid and uncertain venue of political contestation within the Soviet state structure’. In Qurghonteppa the Leninobodi elite installed 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. The stability of the cadres under Brezhnev took away a tool for the Leninobodis to control southern Tajikistan: the regular turnover of local officials. As a result the Leninobodis used their national-level positions to distribute patronage and manage networks based on resources distributed from the national level. Using resources derived from their patronage relationships with the centre, local elites in Kulob and Qurghonteppa were able to maintain local patronage networks. By the late Soviet era the local elites in Qurghonteppa and Kulob were using the ‘informal economy’ as a power base, but still needed their relationships with the Leninobodi-dominated centre to protect this base from scrutiny.By the late 1980s Gharmi Tajiks, Kulobi Tajiks and Uzbeks were fighting over administrative positions in Qurghonteppa; however, this was a time when state capacity was steadily weakening—resulting in the inability of the government to effectively manage this competition.

“The political system in Tajikistan under Soviet rule was formed according to the basic principles of Moscow’s nationality policy, which in its turn was yet ‘another aspect of the all-out mobilisation of the population for state building and extensive economic growth. And, with the aid of repression … this worked about as well as the rest of the system during its decades of expansion under Stalin and Khrushchev.’ The Kremlin managed to create the administration in Tajikistan, which was largely nativised, reasonably efficient and thoroughly dependent on centralised decision-making. The bureaucratic structures of the Communist Party of Tajikistan constituted its centrepiece, and, from the republic level downwards, in the power triangle made by party committees, coercive organs and legislative bodies, the last played the least important role.

“The notion of ‘Russian hegemony’ in the Soviet multinational state could be misleading; there never was a deliberate policy of Russification in the political realm in the USSR. It is much more appropriate to speak about the policy of complete subjugation of national interests to the ‘hegemonistic strength of the sole true minority’ in the country—that is, the CPSU leadership. As a result, the Tajik political elite was afflicted by a dichotomy between allegiance to the central party institutions, to which it owed its privileged position in the first place, and its native cast and the specific cultural environment in which it had to operate. The particulars of compromise reached between these two opposing tendencies varied, but until the mid 1980s the general trend was towards the emergence of a cohesive self-regulated state bureaucracy in Tajikistan that was in a position to implement directives and redistribute resources sent from Moscow in a rather flexible manner, operating beyond the prescribed rules of administration. In Martha Brill Olcott’s characterisation: ‘the conditions of zastoi … were well suited to Central Asia’s party elite. They ruled like feudal overlords, free to steal and spend as they wished, once they had dispatched the required tribute to Moscow.’Patterns of informal understandings, semi-legal and illegal exchanges, and patronage networks were widespread; in the Brezhnev era, ‘the system of social relations based on the combination of the feeling of impunity, mafia-type solidarity and security from the so-called “common people” embraced the not so narrow circle of persons. It included not only obkom secretaries but academics, journalists and other intellectuals as well.’

“In Tajikistan, perhaps more than elsewhere in the USSR, the process of decision-making was concealed from public view; it was essentially crypto-politics, concentrated largely within the limits of the CPT Central Committee and its apparatus. Under Brezhnev the governing elite in Tajikistan transformed itself into a self-stabilising oligarchy that could retain its status even without resorting to blatant coercion. The overall sum of authority enjoyed by the communist state was impressive; it effectively coped with the problems of legitimation, compliance and distribution in Tajikistan. At the same time, as this chapter and the previous one showed, its success in penetrating a number of social institutions and containing rival identities and loyalties within society was much more modest; this was fraught with potential for political upheavals. This opportunity would arise along with the reforms implemented by Gorbachev.”

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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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