History of Tajikistan

From Academic Kids


The current Tajik Republic hearkens back to the Samanid Empire (A.D. 875-999) that ruled what is now Tajikistan as well as territory to the south and west, as a role model and the name of their currency (Somoni). During their reign, the Samanids supported the revival of the written Persian language in the wake of the Arab Islamic conquest in the early 8th century and played an important role in preserving the culture of the pre-Islamic Persian-speaking world. They were the last Persian-speaking empire to rule Central Asia. Humans were permanently installed in Tajikistan from 4,000 BC.

After a series of attacks beginning in the 1860s during the Great Game, the Tajik people came under Russian rule. This rule waned briefly after the Russian Revolution of 1917 as the Bolsheviks consolidated their power and were embroiled in a civil war in other regions of the former Russian Empire. As the Bolsheviks attempted to regain Central Asia in the 1920s, an indigenous Central Asian resistance movement based in the Ferghana Valley, the Basmachi, attempted to resist but was eventually defeated in 1925. Tajikistan became fully established under Soviet control with the creation of Tajikistan as an autonomous Soviet socialist republic within Uzbekistan in 1924, and as one of the independent Soviet socialist republics in 1929.

It was the Tadzhik SSR from 1936 to 1991.

Tajikistan has experienced three changes in government and a civil war since it gained independence in 1991 when the USSR collapsed. A peace agreement among rival factions was signed in 1997, but implementation has progressed slowly. Nevertheless, a number of opposition political parties have been legalized and are participating in elections, suggesting that the country may be stabilizing politically. Russian-led peacekeeping troops are based throughout the country (apart from their officers, most of these troops are, in fact, Tajiks), and Russian-commanded border guards are stationed along the border with Afghanistan.


Ancient Tajik History

Tajik Ancestry (4000 BC-900 AD)

The Ancient Age of Tajik history began around 4000 BC. This period of Tajik history started with the migration of Proto-Indo-European (possibly the most distant ancestors of the Tajiks) from their native home which was possiblly to the north of Central Asia, to south Central Asia. Numerous and fascinating studies show that the Tajiks ancestors were the Scythians, Massagetae, Bactrians Sogdians, Marvians and Arians, who were living in Central Asia. At some time around 1750 BC, the Tajik ancestors emigrated to North India. Thereafter, they emigrated to the Iranian Plateau (c. 1250 BC) and to the northwest of Iran (c. 600 BC). This migration was crucial in formation of many Indo-European nations, languages, and civilizations that are currently living in Eurasia. It resulted in the settling of the Proto-Indo-European tribes in areas of Eurasia, some of whom were mentioned by Herodotus. Among them the Cimmerians who lived in steppes of the Ukraine and southern Russia around 2300 BC who eventually were replaced by Scythians from 800 BC onwards. The Scythians were probably the most widespread Indo-European ancestors in which domesticating the horse, invention of cart, and leather trousers played a great role. They were divided into many other smaller fractions who eventually became independent, thus laying foundation for many nations where they lived. Thus traces of the relations of all Indo-European nations can be found their languages. Eastern and other Scythians such as the Massagetae were amongst of the earliest Tajik ancestors who lived in Central Asia over four thousand years ago. The Massagetae are well known to history because of their conflict with the Persian Emperor Cyrus. Indeed, it was the female leader of the Massagetae, Tomyris, who killed the first and arguably greatest of the Persian kings, Cyrus the Great, in order to take revenge for the death of her son (sun?). By 100 BC the Massagetae had merged with other Eastern Scythians. The western Scythians started to be replaced by the Sarmatians and Alans in Europe around 400 BC. It needs to be noted that Sarmatian and Alans were descendants of western Scythians. Eventually, the Sarmatians and Alans were absorbed in creation of many nations in the West. In fact the Alans are the ancestors of the Ossetians who currently live in Ossetia in the Caucasus. They were all spoke dialects belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. The Eastern Scythians around 90 BC established a Kingdom in North India and around 100 AD, with the help of the Tocharians, established the Kushan Empire.

Pre-Islamic Tajikistan (600 BC-651 AD)

Sogdiana, Bactria, Merv and Khorezm were the four principal divisions of Ancient Central Asia inhabited by the ancestors of the present-day Tajiks. Tajiks are now found only in historic Bactria and Sogdiana. Merv is inhabited by the Turkoman and Khorezm by Karakalpaks, Uzbeks and Kazakhs. The Sogdians were famous for being tall, massive, and of a fair colour, possibly resembling the Scythians. Among them Bactria and Khorezm were kingdoms during different period of history unlike Sogdiana and Merv which were geographical locations and vassals of different kingdoms. Sogdiana was made up of the Zeravshan and Kashka-Darya river valleys. Currently, One of the surviving peoples of Sogdiana who speak a dialect of the Sogdian language are the Yaghnobis who live in Yaghnob area in the current Northern region of Tajikistan around the Zeravshan valley. Bactria was located in northern Afghanistan (present-day Afghan Turkestan) between the mountain range of the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (Oxus) River and some areas of current south Tajikistan. During different periods Bactria was a center of various Kingdoms or Empires, and is probably where Zoroastrianism originated. The "Avesta" the holy book of Zoroastrianism was written in the old-Bactrian dialect, also it is thought that Zoroaster was most likely born in Bactria. Khorezm was a powerful Kingdom during some periods of its history, and is located south-east of the Aral Sea in what archeological discoveries indicated used to be a very fertile area. Merv is located in the Amu-Darya basin south of Khorezm.

Greek Tajikistan (329 BC-90 BC)

After the Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great Bactria, Sogdiana and Merv being part of Persian Empire had to defend themselves from new invaders. In fact the Greeks faced very stiff resistance under the leadership of Sogdian ruler Spitamenes. Alexander the Macedonian managed to marry Roxanne, the daughter of a local ruler, and inherited the land(?). After the collapse of the Macedonian Empire Greek generals continued to rule for another 200 hundred years in what are known as the Graeco-Bactrian Kingdoms. During this time, from 90 BC to 30 BC, the Eastern Scythians destroyed the last Greek successor states and, together with the Tocharians, (to whom they were closely related) created a Kushan Empire around 30 AD.

Kushan Empire (30 BC-410 AD)

For another 400 hundred years till 410 AD the Kushan Empire would be a major power in the regionalong with Roman, Parthian (Iranian) Empire and Han Empire (China). At the end of the Kushan period the Empire became much smaller and will have to defend itself from powerful Sassanian Empire that replaced the Parthian Empire. The famous Kushan Shah Kanishka promoted Buddhism and during this time Buddhism was exported from Central Asia to China.

Here Come the Hephthalites (410 AD-565 AD)

who are considered to be another Scythian-related tribe although there is controversy about their name (which means 'White Hun') which normally refers to Mongolian-Turkish invaders. As later archeologists discovered many factor that proved that Hephthalites were a branch of Scythian. The Hephthalites were destroyed in 565 AD by a combination of Sassanid and Kök-Turk forces.

Western Turkish Rule (565 AD-710 AD)

The origin of the Kök-Turks is uncertain, but it seems likely that they had lived to the South of the Altai Mountains until the year 542 AD. Chinese sources suggest that they were descended from the Huns and located to the North of them .(The Huns being another proto-Turkish tribe?).

Arab Caliphate (710 AD-867 AD)

The Transoxiana principalities never formed a viable confederacy. Beginning in 651 AD, the Arabs organized periodic marauding raids deep into the territory of Transoxania, but it was not until the appointment of Ibn Qutaiba as Governor of Khorasan in 705 AD, during the reign of Walid I, that the Caliphate adopted the policy of annexing the lands beyond the Oxus. In 715 AD the task of annexation was accomplished. The entire region thus came under the control of the Caliph and of Islam, but the Arabs continued to rule through local Soghdian Kings and dihqans. The ascension of the Abbasids to rule the Caliphate (750 - 1258) opened a new era in the history of Central Asia. While their predecessors the Umayyads (661 - 750) were little more than leaders of a loose confederation of Arab tribes, the Abbasids set out to build a huge multi-ethnic centralized state that would emulate and perfect the Sassanian government machine. They gave the Near East and Transoxiana a unity, which they had been lacking since the time of Alexander the Great.

Modern History 900 AD - Present Time

Samanid Empire (900 AD-999 AD)

For many years before the Arab invasion Central Asia was divided into many different regions such as the Kingdom of Merv, Sogdiana, Bactria, Khorezm, Badakhshan: the only exception was Kushan Empire that was now reduced to parts of eastern Iran. Islam spread rapidly in Transoxiana. The new religion was received mostly by popular acclaim, for it promised greater social mobility and created favourable conditions for trade. With Islam there came Arabic that became the language of Abbasid court. It must also have stimulated the emergence of the Modern Persian language (Dari), in which the share of loan-words from Arabic fluctuated from 10 percent in the vocabulary of Rudaki (9th to 10th centuries) to 40 percent in the writings of Baihaqi (11th century). All in all, "the volume of Arabic lexicon, its share in the vocabulary of the Dari language remained exceptionally high until the first quarter of the nineteenth century." The Samanid dynasty, that ruled (819–1005) in Khorasan (Eastern Iran) and Transoxiana, was founded by Saman-Khuda . The Samanids were one of the first purely indigenous dynasties to rule in Persia following the Muslim Arab conquest. Not until the reign (892–907) of Saman-Khuda's great-grandson, Ismail I,. did Samanid power become extensive. In 900, Ismail defeated Saffarids in Khorasan (area of current Northwest Afghanistan and northeastern Iran), while his brother was the governor of Transoxiana. Thus, Samanid rule was acclaimed over the combined regions. The cities of Bukhara (the Samanid capital) and Samarkand became centres of art, science, and literature; industries included pottery making and bronze casting. After 950, Samanid power weakened, but was briefly revitalized under Nuh II, who ruled from 976 to 997. However, with the oncoming encroachment of Muslim Turks into the Abbasid Empire, the Samanids were effectively defeated; in 999, Bukhara fell under a combined force of Ghaznavids and Qarakhanids. Ismail II,d. 1005, the last ruler of the dynasty, briefly fought (1000–1005) to retain Samanid territory, until he was assassinated. Although short during this period art and science of the Tajiks flourished, and many scholars of this period are still very highly regarded, notably Ibn Sina (Avicenna). The modern state of Tajikistan considers that the Tajik name and identity, although in existence for thousands of years in this area, began its formation during the Samanid period. The attack of the Qarakhanid Turks ended the Samanids' reign and Samanid era civilization in 999 and dominance in Transoxiana passed on to Turkic rulers for nine centuries to come.

Ghaznavids (999-1218)

After the collapse of Samanid Dynasty Central Asia became the battleground of many Asian invaders who came from the north-east. (Seems a trifle inadequate, but I suppose we are dealing with the Tajiks here).

Mongol Empire (1218-1370)

Mongols swept through Central Asia invaded Khorezm and sacked the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, looting and massacring people everywhere. (Equally, Much more needed)

Timurid Empire (1370-1506)

Timur was born 8th April 1336 in Kesh near Samarkand. A Member of the Turkicized Barlas tribe, a Mongol subgroup that had settled in Transoxiana after taking part in Genghis Khan's son Chagatai's campaigns in that region. Timur began his life as a bandit leader. During this period, he received an arrow-wound in the leg, as a result of which he was nicknamed Timur-e Lang (in Dari) or Timur the Lame, corrupted in the West to Tamerlane. Although the last Timurid ruler of Herat, Badi az Zaman finally fell to the armies of the Uzbek Muhammad Shaibani Khan in 1506, the Timurid ruler of Ferghana, Zahir-ud-Din Babur, survived the collapse of dynasty and re-established the Timurid dynasty in India in 1526, where they became known as the Mughals.

Shaibanid dynasty (1506-1598)

The Shaibanid state was divided into appanages between all male members (sultans) of the dynasty, who would designate the supreme ruler (Khan), the oldest member of clan. The seat of Khan was first Samarkand, the capital of the Timurids, but some of the Khans preferred to remain in their former appanages. Thus Bukhara became the seat of the khan for the first time under Ubaid Allah Khan (r.1533-1539).

The Astrakhanid (Janid) dynasty (1598-1740)

The period of political expansion and economical prosperity was short-lived. Soon after the death of Abd Allah Khan the Shaibanid dynasty died out, to be replaced by the Janid or Astrakhanid (Ashtarkhanid) dynasty, another branch of the descendants of Jöchi whose founder was related through marriage to Abd Allah Khan.

Persia (1740-1756)

In 1740 the Janids' khanate was conquered by Nadir Shah, the ruler of Iran. The Janid khan Abu al Faiz retained his throne, becoming Nadir's vassal.

Manghit Dynasty (1756 AD-1920 AD)

After the death of Nadir Shah in 1747, the chief of the Manghit tribe, Muhammad Rahim Biy Azaliq, overcame his rivals from other tribes with the support of the urban population, consolidated his rule in the khanate, and was proclaimed khan in 1756. His successor, however, ruled in the name of puppet khans of Janid origin. The third Manghit ruler, Shah Murad (r.1785-1800), finally deposed the Janids and acceded to the throne himself. He did not assume the title of khan, preferring the title Amir, as did subsequent Manghit rulers, because they were not of Chingissid descent. The Bukharan khanate was smaller under the Manghits than under their predecessors; it lost important provinces to the south of Amu Darya and the Syr Darya basin, and Merv, conquered by Shah Murad in 1785 -1789, was lost in 1823. Under the Manghits the administration of the country was more centralized.

Russian Vassals (1868 AD - 1917 AD)

Conflict with Russia started in 1865, shortly after Russian conquest of Tashkent. Being more technologically advanced the Russians had little difficulty in conquering the regions inhabited by Tajiks, meeting fierce resistance only at Djizak, Ura-Tyube, and when their garrison at Samarkand was besieged in 1868 by forces from Shahr-e Sabz and the inhabitants of the city. The army of Bukhara was utterly defeated in three battles, and on 18 June 1868 Amir Muzaffar al Din (r.1860-1885) signed a peace treaty with the Governor-general of Russian Turkestan, Konstantin Petrovich Von Kaufman. Samarkand and the Upper Zeravshan were annexed by Russia and the country was opened to Russian merchants. The Amir retained his throne as a vassal of Russia and made up his territorial losses by establishing, with Russian help, control over Shahr-e Sabz, and the mountainous regions in the upper Zeravshan Valley in 1870 and by annexing the principalities of the western Pamir in 1895. At the end of August 1920 the last Amir, Sayyid Alim Khan, was overthrown as a result of the invasion of the khanate by Soviet troops, and on 6 October the Emirate was abolished and Bukharan People's Soviet Republic proclaimed.

Soviet Republic (1917 - 1991)

Tajiks in this period underwent the greatest catastrophe in their history. The Tajiks' lack of concern, especially their cosmopolitanism during this period, cost them dearly. They were deprived of the use of their language, of achieving an independent republic, and of their historical and cultural centers. The national-administrative divisions placed the ancient Tajik cities, Bukhara and Samarkand, outside the Tajikistan SSR when the borders were drawn in 1928. As citizens of the Uzbek SSR many Tajiks came under pressure to conform to their newly-ascribed 'Uzbek' identity, and under threat of exile or worse for nonconformity, many were forced to change their identity. Tajik schools were closed and, Tajiks were not appointed to leadership positions simply because of their ethnicity.

Tajikistan 1991-Present day

In short, Tajik identity has been once again challenged with breaking up of Civil War. There are different factors that caused the Civil War to break out but mentioned below are four factors that are generally accepted:

1. Tajikistan's lack of educational and economic base

2. Soviet Distribution of land during 1920's

3. The restriction of Regional and Religious self-expression during the Soviet period.

4. External Influences, especially from Afghanistan

Fortunately, the Tajiks have survived this blow of the history too and finally reached a much-needed stage of self-examination and relative prosperity. Nevertheless severe political problems remain, not least the fact that, having been run by Leninabaders (Khujandis) throughout the Soviet period, Tajikistan is now almost entirely controlled by Kulyabis, from the home region of President Rakhmonov.


In this article we found that the distant Iranic ancestors of the Tajiks in the ancient world were spread throughout the oasis region of Central Asia along the Amu-darya, Syr-Darya, Zeravshan and Murghab rivers. The current Tajiks may be the descendants of Central Asian proto-Indo-European tribes, namely the Sogdians, Khorezmians, Bactrians, Scythians, Massagetae and Hephtalites. And finally we find that Tajiks are now enjoying a precarious independence, and gradually becoming more aware of the Persian-speaking world around them, in Afghanistan and Iran. They are in the process of reviving their culture, art and science, history and of course to join other Indo-European (and, one hopes, Turkic) nations in building a multinational, democratic and progressive world.

Sources & Further Reading

V.V. Barthold "Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion" (London) 1967

Svat Soucek "A History of Inner Asia" (Cambridge) 2000

David Christian "A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia (Oxford) 1998

В.В. Бартольд "Работы по Исторической Географии" (Москва) 2002

de:Geschichte Tadschikistans


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