Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Tajikistan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Tajikistan, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 27 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.

Tajiks comprise the largest ethnic group in the country, accounting for 79.9 per cent of the population. Other groups include Uzbeks (15.3 per cent), Russians (1.1 per cent) and Kyrgyz (1.1 per cent). The Tajik population includes Pamiris in the east, who speak eastern Iranian languages, are primarily Ismaili Shi'ites, and were in early Soviet times considered a separate ethnic group. Meanwhile, the majority of Tajiks in Tajikistan speak a south-western Iranian language (closer to Farsi). Most Tajiks (excluding Pamiris) are Sunni Muslims, although there are reports of a large increase in adherence to twelver Shi'a Islam under the influence of Iranian missionaries, both in the Pamir area and in Khatlon and Soghd provinces in the south and north of western Tajikistan. This is reportedly due partly to a crackdown on radical Sunni missionary activity by the authorities, and partly to attempts by the government to build links with Iran.

The Tajik community is also subdivided by place of origin. The president continues to uphold a tight power-sharing structure made up of his family and others from his home-town of Dangara and province of Khatlon. This political elite has a disproportionate influence in government affairs and better access to political power than other ethnic and regional groups. One particularly disadvantaged ethnic group are the Gharmi people, who are originally from the Rasht Valley in north-central Tajikistan, though many were forcibly relocated to the west of the country in Soviet times. Gharmi people tend to be more religiously conservative, and the province is the heartland of the (predominantly Sunni) Islamic Renaissance Party, the only legally registered religious party in Central Asia. Many Gharmis and Pamiris joined the opposition during Tajikistan's civil war in the 1990s, and in the 1997 peace agreement, several opposition field commanders were given administrative positions in the Rasht Valley.

This year saw several security incidents connected to armed Islamist groups, including the country's first recorded suicide bombing, a mass jail-break in August, and an ambush that led to the deaths of 25 soldiers in the Rasht Valley on 19 September. A two-month military operation against Islamist groups in Rasht Valley was followed by reports that the Defence Ministry plans to open permanent military training bases in the area. The effect of the military operation on the local Gharmi population is unclear, because independent journalists have not been granted access to the area, and telephone connections have been cut. Some reports suggest that ethnic Kyrgyz citizens of Tajikistan, most of whom live in the Jergetal area to the north of the Rasht Valley, may also have died in the violence.

Government concerns about the rise of non-state-controlled forms of Sunni and Shi'a Islam have led to actions against those who practise unauthorized forms of Islam. Students from Tajikistan studying abroad at Islamic universities and madrasas have been pressured by officials to return home. Officially, as of November, around 1,400 Tajik students were known to be studying abroad at Islamic universities and madrasas. However, some estimates put the number of Tajiks studying in Pakistan alone at 4,000. In the autumn, the authorities stopped dozens of students and scholars from boarding a Tehran-bound flight at the airport of the capital, Dushanbe. The government said it was responding to a lack of information about the purpose of the trip. Meanwhile, in October, authorities shut down 20 unregistered religious schools in Khatlon province alone. Also in October, Tajikistan's only 'Women's Mosque' burned down the day after officials from the central Religious Affairs Committee came to the mosque and ordered that the mosque should stop being used for prayers. The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) implied in a statement that they suspected arson.

Women and men who follow what are sometimes referred to as Arab (rather than Tajik) Islamic dress codes continue to come under pressure in Tajikistan. Since 2007, there has been a ban on the hijab in state institutions, some public places and shops. In August, a group of women from Khatlon province were told that they would lose their stalls at a local market if they continued to wear the hijab. In spite of these restrictions, there has reportedly been a sharp rise in women wearing the niqab. In October it was also reported that men with long beards were being detained for identification on suspicion of being followers of the radical Salafi school of Sunni Islam.

Parliamentary elections held in February saw the ruling People's Democratic Party return with a majority. The party that came second in the popular vote, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), only won two seats. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) stated that the elections failed to meet democratic standards. In the elections, the OSCE reports that the number of candidates from minority groups was marginal and that minority issues were not raised during the campaign. Political parties, however, distributed campaign materials in minority languages, such as Russian and Uzbek, in the northern Sughd region and in the capital Dushanbe. In areas with significant minority populations, ballots were printed in minority languages. No specific cases of discrimination on ethnic grounds related to the election process were observed or reported by OSCE observers.

Cross-border marriages between Tajiks and Uzbeks are common in border regions. However, strict and complex marital registration rules make it increasingly difficult for couples to register their marriages in Uzbekistan. Furthermore, immigration authorities only grant visas for up to five days, which makes movement between the two countries extremely difficult, as most citizens cannot afford the cost of applying for a longer, twelve-month visa.

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