Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Tajikistan : Uzbeks

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Tajikistan : Uzbeks, 2008, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
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.


The Uzbeks speak an eastern Turkic language which is closest to Uyghur. They are predominantly Sunni Muslim of the Hanafi school and descended from Turkic-Mongol invaders with strong Iranian influences. The proportion of ethnic Uzbeks in Tajikistan has decreased since independence from around 25 per cent of the population (23.9% according to the National Census of 1989) to over 15 per cent according to the 2000 national census which is disputed by some observers. They are concentrated in Sough province, in the eastern Ferghana Valley, with other concentrations in Hissar (west of Dushanbe) and in the Kurgan-Tyube region. There is also a substantial Uzbek community in Khatlon province in the southwest.

Historical context

Large groups of Turkic tribes started to move in this part of Central Asia following the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century. Tribes arriving in the 15th and 16th centuries were to coalesce into what would become known as 'Uzbeks', forming for a while their own state ('Uzbekistan') which would break up into three parts and eventually be absorbed into the Russian empire during the mid to late 19th Century.

Until 1924, most settled Turkic populations were known as Sarts by Russian authorities, and only those speaking Kipchak dialects were called 'Uzbeks'. The current existence of an Uzbek minority in Tajikistan is directly linked to the creation in 1929 of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic after detaching the previously autonomous province from the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic which would become independent states after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. It was also in 1924 that the Soviets abolished the term 'Sart' and that all of the settled Turkic speakers would be known as Uzbeks.

Before the civil war ethnic Tajiks in the areas occupied by Uzbeks were heavily Turkicized, and bilingualism and intermarriage were widespread. Uzbeks were allied to the ruling groups in Tajikistan, and were therefore suspected by the opposition to be supporters of Nabiyev. Tajiks who supported the opposition believed Uzbeks of Kulob to be guilty of 'ethnic cleansing'.

Because of Tajik emigration in some areas bordering Uzbekistan, there were virtually no Tajiks left. However, Uzbeks perceived the share of power they obtained as a result of the post-war settlement as small compared to their expected reward for supporting the current regime, and were increasingly dissatisfied with Kulobi domination.

Relations were especially strained in the Vakhsh valley, where Uzbeks and Tajiks from different areas were resettled because of the hydroelectric power project development. Tensions arose when Uzbeks intimidated Tajik returnees and were themselves intimidated by ruling Kulobis. A disarmament campaign launched by the government in 1994 officially related to all citizens but in reality was directed mainly against Uzbeks.

Relations between Presidents Rahmonov and Karimov of Uzbekistan, who originally backed the authorities in Dushanbe, have deteriorated over the issue of ethnic Uzbeks in Tajikistan and Rahmonov's unwillingness to negotiate a compromise with the political opposition. These tensions resulted in an attempted coup led by two former pro-regime warlords, ethnic Uzbeks, in January 1996. Ibodullo Boimatov, the former mayor of Tursunzade, and Major-General Mahmud Hudoberdiev from Kurgan-Tyube demanded changes in central and local government, rebelling against the predominance of Rahmonov's clan.

Tensions between Uzbeks and the government reached crisis point after an unsuccessful insurrection in the Leninabad region by Major-General Hudoberdiev in 1998 raised the spectre of secessionist tendencies in the region linked to ethnicity. Uzbeks suffered reprisals including killings, and many fled Dushanbe for Leninabad or Uzbekistan.

Current issues

Tensions between Uzbeks and Tajiks have increased further in November 2006 after a Tajik border guard shot and killed an Uzbek counterpart. In the recriminations that followed, a Tajik military court began the trial of two Uzbeks accused of killing the head of the Ministry of Defence's Military Institute who are alleged to have killed the Tajik general because of his refusal to continue collaborating with the fugitive Major-General Hudoberdiev, an ethnic Uzbek, who is said to have attempted an insurrection in 1998.

It also appears that the government may have started at the end of 2006 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 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.

The lack of educational materials in Uzbek, the increasing obstacles to Uzbek-medium education and even moves by authorities to convert schools which use Uzbek as medium of instruction into Tajik medium schools continue to be issues that concern this minority, as does their near exclusion from the higher echelons of political life and public administration. Though there are legal provisions for the use of Uzbek election materials and to some degree in education - not always effectively applied - there is no provision for the use of Uzbek or other minority languages between state authorities and the public.

The use of the Uzbek language remains almost absent from public broadcasts, despite this minority being the largest of the country, and this was specifically noted with regret by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its 2004 Concluding Observations and Recommendations.

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