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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Tajikistan : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date January 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Tajikistan : Overview, January 2008, available at: [accessed 5 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Updated January 2008


The Republic of Tajikistan is a small landlocked republic in south-east Central Asia. The terrain is mountainous, with the northern part of the country (Khujand) cut off from the rest of the republic. Tajikistan borders Uzbekistan to the north and west, Kyrgyzstan to the north-east, the People's Republic of China to the east and Afghanistan to the south. Its territory includes the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan in the Pamiri Mountains. Partially because of its size and mountainous aspects of much of the country, it never received large numbers of Slavic settlers as other parts of Central Asia.


Main languages: Tajik, Russian, Uzbek, Yagnobi, Pamiri languages

Main religions: Islam (Sunni, Ismai'li), Orthodox Christianity

Minority groups include Uzbeks 15.3%, Russians 1.1%, and Kyrgyz 1.1% (National Census, 2000).

The Tajiks are an Iranian people who speak a variety of Persian, an Indo-Aryan language. Most of them are Sunni Muslims and they make up about 80 percent of the population of Tajikistan according to an official 2000 census. The country is home to over eighty ethnic groups, most notably Uzbeks, Russians, Tatars, Kyrgyz and Ukrainians. Pamiri Tajiks arguably also constitute a minority group. A small minority in the southern province of Kurgan Tyube consider themselves Arab by descent, although they speak Tajik.


The land that is now Tajikistan has for more than 6,000 years been the site of human habitation. Its proximity to Iran has meant that for much of its more recent history it was within the sphere of the Persian empire. While Russia's proximity has meant it has had contacts with this part of Asia for centuries, it was in the 19th century, between 1873 and 1876, that it conquered the khanates Khokand, Bukhara, and Khiva, and in so doing prepared the ground for the eventual creation of what is today Tajikistan. In 1895, the British and the Russians agreed to use the Amu Darya River as the border between the Russian and British Empires, and this became the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. In 1924, it became the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, a part of Uzbekistan. In 1929, it received the status of a constituent republic of the USSR as the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic.

Tajikistan declared independence in September 1991 and established a presidential republic. Rahmon Nabiyev, a former first secretary of the Tajikistan Communist Party, was elected president obtaining 57 per cent of the vote. His main rival, Davlat Khudonazarov, representing various democratic and Islamic parties, received 30 per cent. The important factor in Nabiyev's victory was the backing by the Khujand northern clans and the Uzbek and Russian minorities, who feared that the country might be transformed into a Tajik ethnic and Muslim state.

Civil war

Aggravation of the economic situation and Nabiyev's unwillingness to enter a meaningful power-sharing arrangement with the opposition, as well as the latter's inability to accept defeat, led to political deadlock. Riots started in April-May 1992 and resulted in armed clashes in Dushanbe, the capital. The civil war, which erupted in summer and autumn 1992, claimed up to 100,000 dead and a million refugees. The civil war saw mobilization of supporters along regional, ethnic and clan lines in the struggle to resolve the ideological conflict between Islam and secularism and the political question of who would rule the country.

President Nabiyev was forced to resign on 7 September 1992, but this failed to stop the war in the south. In November 1992 the Tajikistan Parliament accepted Nabiyev's resignation, abolished the presidency and elected Imomali Rahmonov as parliamentary chairman, the highest executive post. CIS peacekeeping forces for Tajikistan were created. In December the 'opposition-led' government fell, and Rahmonov took office. Uzbek and Russian military support ensured that the new government stayed in power. These developments finalized the first round of power redistribution in Tajikistan, when a Khujand-Kulob alliance was installed in power again, with Kulobis, from President Rahmonov's region, on top. Ethnic and social fragmentation increased. The mandate of the CIS peacekeeping troops was extended into 1996. Following important military gains by the opposition, a UN-brokered peace agreement was signed by Tajik President Rakhmonov and Islamic opposition leader Sayed Abdullo Nouri in December 1996. As well as an end to fighting, the agreement called for a general amnesty, a prisoner exchange and the repatriation of refugees. The December agreement was designed to become the cornerstone for the creation of a national reconciliation commission in 1997.

Post-conflict developments

While disarmament occurred in 1999 and parliamentary elections were held in 2000, some areas of the country remain under the control of former guerrillas despite President Rahkmonov largely consolidating power. There have been assassinations in recent years of a number of high-ranking officials, including a peace accords negotiator and a Minister of Culture. Overall, democratic institutions and the rule of law have not had been strengthened in the short period since peace has been achieved, and the rate of reconstruction very slow while people remain seriously impoverished.

Independent journalists and human rights activists have been harassed and worse, especially after 2005 as government officials appear to have reacted nervously to the 2005 revolution in Kyrgyzstan. Key media outlets have additionally in 2005 and 2006 been closed due to state persecution.

Parliamentary elections in 2005 were generally deemed not to have been free and fair and to meet international standards, though they appear to have been an improvement on the 2000 elections. The 2006 presidential election were also considered not to be fair, though it was peaceful.


Tajikistan's recovery after almost a decade of civil war which destroyed much of the country's infrastructure and created severe humanitarian and refugee problems has been slow and painful. It is still not complete. While some stability has returned to the country in more recent years, Tajikistan remains an authoritarian state dominated by President Rahmonov and his entourage. There is a multiparty political system, but the development of the rule of law and democratic progress remains slow.

Despite the absence of comprehensive human rights legislation, the international treaties dealing with human rights ratified by Tajikistan can be applied directly by the country's tribunals, but are seldom invoked partially because of the weakness and poor status of judicial institutions, as well as a low level of awareness of the availability of these rights. Freedom of expression is protected under the country's legal system, but independent media and journalists while present in Tajikistan, are subjected to pressure and harassment, and may have problems with obtaining or keeping licences. Some journalists who offend authorities have disappeared, been beaten or arrested worse.

Non-governmental organisations – including those representing minorities – must be registered, and this process may take years, in particular in the case of international NGOs. Domestic NGOs are generally not interfered with, at least until 2005, leading to a dramatic increase in registered NGOs since 2000, especially when registration fees were later slashed.

Though the civil war has ended, tensions remain high in some parts of the country.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

The situation in Tajikistan is similar in many respects to that of its neighbours. The titular ethnic group, while a majority, faces the legacy of the dominance of the Russian language in many aspects of political and economic life. Since independence, Tajiks have attempted to assert their dominance by linguistic and other preferences that tend to discriminate against and exclude minorities, often leading to resentment or even an exodus. While they were close to a quarter of the population at the time of independence, many Uzbeks fled during the period of the civil war. They remain the largest minority at over 15 percent of the population according to a 2000 census, and are concentrated in areas usually associated with opposition to the government. This has led to a general distrust of Uzbeks, and in turn discriminatory treatment towards them in many institutions of the state. Once again, oppressive measures have been presented as necessary in the name of the fight against 'terror' and 'separatism'. The degree of under-representation of minorities in public life is startling: only two members of Parliament are Uzbeks, despite this minority's very substantial numbers.

The civil war that broke out in the country after 1992 has meant a massive departure of some 400,000 Russians – and some Uzbeks – so that today the former constitute less than 3 per cent of the population. Russian is not an official language, but a language of 'inter-ethnic communication' under the Constitution. Despite constitutional provisions that initially appear to guarantee the use of minority languages, and despite the large percentage of minorities in the country, in particular Uzbeks, minorities are largely excluded from employment in public service. The limited use of the Uzbek language by state authorities in particular is probably discriminatory, although in the field of education the use of the Uzbek language is more prevalent, partially because of the Education Act which contains a provision which recognises a right to education in the language of national minorities. Where feasible There are however continued reports that state authorities ordering some Uzbek- and Turkmen-medium schools to teach in the Tajik language. An additional difficulty faced by the larger minorities is the requirement from 2000 that all minority schools follow the approved national curriculum and use educational materials. While previously these schools could use materials in their language from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc., this option was officially removed while approved materials from central educational authorities in the minority languages were either non-existent or unavailable.

The situation of religious minorities is relatively better in Tajikistan than in some of its neighbours. While religious groups must register, there are no reports of denial of registration of religious minorities, and Tajikistan permits the formation of political parties of a religious character, something no other country in the region permits. However Tajik lawmakers may be set to reverse this trend: a new draft religion law introduced in January 2006 and in the process of domestic review, was due to be sent to Parliament in late 2007. The law, entitled "On Freedom of Conscience, on Religious Associations and Other [Religious] Organizations", would replace the current law on religion and add restrictions, such as increasing to 400 the number of petition signatures required to form a religious association; prohibiting religious education in private houses; prohibiting proselytizing; prohibiting religious associations from participating in political activities; and prohibiting political parties from having a religion-based ideology (which would effectively disallow the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, a political party with two members in the lower house of the national Parliament). In June 2007 representatives of 22 minority religious groups signed an open letter to the President and Parliament expressing concern that the draft law would effectively outlaw minority religious groups in the country.

The fight against Islamic fundamentalism has led the government to ban one group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, though most outside observers describe it as a non-violent organization. Most of its activists who have been imprisoned since 2000 are members of the Uzbek minority.

While on the surface there are a number of rights guaranteed to minorities under the country's Constitution and legislative provisions, implementation remains unclear and uncertain for minorities, leading the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to request additional information from Tajik authorities, especially as to the actual use of minority languages in education, the media and other areas. There were however some positive steps, such as voting ballots being available in Uzbek and Russian for the 2005 parliamentary elections, and in Uzbek, Russian and Kyrgyz for the 2006 presidential elections (in addition to Tajik).

After the Kyrgyzstan revolution in 2005, central authorities began to restrict the activities of human rights defenders and NGOs, sometimes accusing them to seeking the overthrow of the government or distorting its policies, with a large number of them being closed down in Sogd province, officially because of problems linked to their registration or procedural matters.

There were reports in 2007 that the government had begun a 'transmigration' programme to bring Tajiks into strategic areas traditionally inhabited by members of the Uzbek minority. Tajik authorities started resettling some 1,000 Tajik families in November 2006 to a western region mainly populated by Uzbeks. Observers and members of the Uzbek minority claim that central authorities are trying to dilute the Uzbek percentage in a key industrial area. This raises issues of discrimination in relation to land rights and usage, among others.

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