History of Tajikistan

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The history of Tajikistan brings together extremely varied and diversified cultures such as the Greek, Persian and Turkish, thus shaping a country that has always been at the center of the world

The origins: Bactria, Sogdiana and the Greeks

The territories of today’s Tajikistan rise to what was once the ancient Sogdiana and Bactria, a place of incredible importance within the Persian world, as Zarathustra, the father of Zoroastrianism, lived and preached in this territory. Despite having the first cities dating back to the 4th millennium BC, these areas will develop exponentially once the Achaemenids and, subsequently, Alexander the Great arrived here. Sogdians and Bactrians will prove to be more difficult opponents than expected for the Macedonian leader who, not surprisingly, was forced to marry the famous Roxane, daughter of the noble Oxyartes, in order to ensure the loyalty of the locals. With the death of the great general, these territories will pass to the Seleucids but, starting from 250 BC, Diodotus I, then satrap of Bactria, rebelled, proclaiming the birth of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom.

Buddha in Greco-Bactrian art

His son, Diodotus II, will already be dethroned by Euthydemus I, then a satrap of Sogdiana, who even managed to make the Seleucids recognize independence through a marriage between a daughter of Antiochus III and his child, Demetrius I. The latter. he will expand the Hellenistic dominions in India by taking advantage of the political chaos between the Maurya Empire and Shunga, thus creating the first Greek-Indian kingdom. In a very short time this domain will definitively and permanently convert to Buddhism, creating one of the most particular and spectacular religious unions in the entire human history. Subsequently, this dynasty will be usurped by Eucratides I, who managed to expand the Greek dominions up to Herat but was killed by his own son. With the death of Eucratides and the Parthian Kingdom increasingly strong in the West, this dominion was short-lived and, from about 30 BC, the Yuezhi, together with the Tocharians, formed the Kushan Empire, destined to reign over these lands for at least 400 years. . It will be under this empire that the famous and lamented Buddhas of Bamiyan will be built in Afghanistan.

Arabs, Turks and Persians

The Kushans will then be annihilated by the Sassanids, who will be driven out by the Ephthalites, who in turn will be repulsed by the Göktürk, finally being pushed north by the Arabs, who will arrive in these lands in 651, starting military campaigns starting from 705. to the extraordinary military skills of Qutayba Ibn Muslim and the fragmentation of power that reigned over those territories, in just 10 years they will be able to annex all of Transoxiana. Initially the new sovereigns will leave a lot of autonomy to the local lords, ensuring their loyalty more than anything else but, with the arrival of the Abbasids, this region will be fully integrated into the fabric of caliphal power, becoming in effect part of the great state and thus seeing the resumption of trade with the Mediterranean.

The statue of Ismail Samani in the square of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan

In 819 an ancient dynasty of Persian origin, the Samanids, managed to put an end to a revolt against the Abbasid government, receiving as a reward the control of several strategic cities in the area, including: Samarkand, Fergana, Tashkent and Herat, subsequently giving life to an emirate that will prove decisive for Persian history. It will in fact be in this period that this culture will resume to flourish, giving us absolute masters such as Rudaki, Daqiqi or the famous Ferdowsi, who will compose the first version of the Shahnameh for the Samanids, still considered today among the greatest in Persian. In 999 the Karakhanid Khanate entered Bukhara, thus putting an end to this dynasty forever and bringing today’s Tajikistan into an extremely confused and fragile political situation that will only be resolved in 1218, the year in which the Mongols made their definitive entry into Asia. central.

Mongols and Shaybanids

Genghis Khan and the first invasion will actually have a mostly destructive effect on the region, but it enabled it to become the cradle of the next lords of the world. It is no coincidence that in 1336 in Kesh, in present-day Uzbekistan, Tamerlane was born, one of the few men able to throw terror on the entire globe. The great leader during each of his conquests had the habit of imprisoning and bringing to Samarkand the best artists and writers of the defeated countries, which in a very short time brought Central Asia back to being one of the centers of human knowledge. Once Tamerlane dies, however, his empire will soon be at the center of intense political tensions and problems, which facilitated the return of another dynasty linked to Genghis Khan: the Shaybanids.

Muhammad Shaybani Khan

These were so called as descendants of Shiban, 5th son of Joci, in turn son of Genghis Khan. Their first member, Abu’l-Khayr Khan, was born within what was left of the Golden Horde, managing in a short time to unite the tribes of Uzbeks placed in today’s Siberia, exploiting the weaknesses of the Timurids to bring his people near Samarkand. His grandson, Muhammad Shaybani, will complete his grandfather’s work, managing to drive Tamerlane’s descendants out of modern-day Uzbekistan forever, forcing Babur, who later founded the Mughal dynasty in India, to grant him his sister in marriage to witness surrender. His thirst for conquest, however, did not stop and this alarmed Shah Ismail I of Persia who in 1510 defeated him during the battle of Merv, wreaking havoc on the body of Muhammad for his entire empire. Although defeated, the dynasty remained in power until 1599, the year in which it was replaced by its Janidi relatives who will reign here until 1740. However, it should be noted that, in 1709, the Kokand Khanate was created, which maintained possession for a long time of the eastern part of today’s Tajikistan.

The Menghit and the arrival of the Russians

In 1740 Nader Shah will arrive in Bukhara, the great Afsharid ruler who in a very short time managed to subdue the last Janide ruler, opening the doors to a new and final dynasty: the Manghit. This Uzbek lineage was able to take advantage of the Shah’s death to develop more and more undisturbed in Bukhara, managing to create that it will only be troubled by the Russians starting from 1868. In fact, due to the American Civil War, they had lost the opportunity to buy cotton and, to make up for this, they decided to conquer Central Asia, a land that, from their point of view, would prove to be the perfect place for plant. In 1876 Russia also managed to appropriate the Kokand Khanate, thus incorporating within it all the territories that make up today’s Tajikistan.

Mohammed Alim Khan, the last emir of Bukhara

The arrival of the Russians aroused very little sympathy among the population who, in fact, starting from that moment, will organize continuous revolts just to try to regain freedom. It is no coincidence that Tajikistan, as well as all of Central Asia, will be the seat of the Basmachi movement, a group of mostly Turkish and Muslim bandits who, starting from the conscriptions of 1916, will be a real thorn in the side for the Tsar first and for the Bolsheviks then. These will be able to stop the revolt only in 1924 and this following long negotiations and concessions with the leaders of the movement.

Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic

Initially Tajikistan was a part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic but then, thanks above all to the work of Shirinsho Shotemur, one of the first great Tajik politicians, the country gained its own independence, managing to annex the Sughd region, in which it is now located. Khujand, the second largest city in the country.

Shirinsho Shotemur

The Soviet era will not be too lenient with Tajikistan which, in addition to suffering particularly the forced collectivization under Stalin, will be particularly tormented by the Communist Party which, through two different purges, will eliminate much of the local political apparatus replacing it with new Russian officials . Even with renewed industrialization and state policies, Tajikistan remained the poorest and least educated republic in the entire Soviet Union.


In 1991 the country became independent for the first time but immediately had to face a civil war of 5 years that brought an already exhausted country to its knees, causing 10 to 20% of its population to become refugees. The conflict was extremely bloody as the political quarrel was also added to an exacerbated rivalry between clans and regions, making it possible for the clash to develop on different levels. On the one hand, in fact, there was the historic local ruling class, coming mostly from the Sughd and Khatlon regions, while the rioters came mainly from the Gorno Badakhshan region and the area around the city of Gharm; on the other hand, the old political elite was extremely tied to their communist past, not reconciling themselves with the new and renewed Islamist and / or liberal ambitions that in fact poorly digested the election of Rahmon Nabiyev, already accused and convicted of corruption in 1985.

Emomali Rahmon

The first decisive moment occurred in 1992 when the new president was kidnapped at the airport and was forced, apparently with the gun to his head, to resign and give life to new elections, which took place that same year. These saw the winner Emomali Rahmon, current president of the country, who saw the center of his power precisely in the militias of Khulob, the most important city in the Khatlon region. With his rise to power, the conflict became even more heated, so much so that deportations and expulsions from the country were not so rare as real mass killings carried out against their political opponents. The mujahideen present in the opposition will then go to seek help from the Taliban neighbors, who will be happy to support their allies, however provoking Russian intervention in the country, which will send around 10,000 men here. The peace agreements will be signed in 1997, however the problems underlying the civil war have not yet been completely resolved, so much so that in 2016 President Rahmon cleared every absolutely illegal religious party in the country.

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