Fabio Belafatti (Vilnius University, Lithuania) “The ‘Nationalization’ of Historical Figures: The Construction of Nationalist Credentials Among the Post-communist Elite in Tajikistan”


Since the mid-2000s, and especially with the decision to declare 2006 the “Year of the Aryan Civilization”, the Tajik regime has been trying to construct a national discourse based on the idea that the Tajik nation belongs to an ethno-cultural “Aryan” civilization that pre-dates and stands above the other ethnic groups in Central Asia in terms of prestige. Depending on the media used by the regime to project and construct it, the idea of a distinctive Aryan identity can be taken as a synonym for “Tajik”, or be used in a broader sense, overlapping either with the concept of “Persian” or with that of “Indo-European”.

Historians, archaeologists, and intellectuals have been mobilized by the regime to legitimize and strengthen this idea through a process of historical simplification that constructs funding myths such as the “Persian-ness” of the Samanid Empire (819-999), disregarding elements such as the bilingualism of such polity, or its history of clashes with other Persian dynasties such as the Saffarids. The purpose is to identify a distinctively Central Asian, non-Iran-centred, yet Persian “ancestor state”, capable of competing with the Timurid Empire (the reference point of neighbouring Uzbekistan) in terms of prestige. The re-writing of history is then used to legitimize the claim to Samarqand and Bukhara as “Tajik cities”. While the cultural component dominates in the definition of Tajiks as “Aryan”, this paper argues that it is easy for an identity discourse, based on an idea of cultural superiority over the other civilizations of the region, to degenerate into a racial understanding of Tajik superiority. In any of its forms, it acquires an ethnic dimension that risks creating a gap between the Tajik-Persian-Indo-European majority and the country’s Turkic ethnic minorities.

This paper seeks to analyse the forms that this national ideology has assumed in contemporary Tajikistan, while addressing the questions of whether it has emerged purely as a result of post-Soviet ideological vacuum, as an alternative to religious-based identities, as an ideological “glue” to rally the country after the Civil War, or rather as a construction of an “unconscious” post-Colonial identity in a context where a debate over the colonial dimension of Soviet Tajik history has never really started. The paper uses previous scholarly literature (particularly Marlene Laruelle and John Heathershaw’s research on Tajik state ideology and state building) to assess Aryanist official publications and propaganda; it then carries out an iconographic analysis of the “ideologically-defined” urban landmarks in Dushanbe used for propaganda and the commemoration of historical figures; lastly, it presents the results of a quantitative research about the impact, penetration, and public acceptance of Aryanist ideas among a randomly-selected sample of Tajik citizens aged 18-35.