[lg policy] Uzbekistan: Tajik Language Under Pressure in Ancient Samarkand
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Thu Nov 7 15:29:25 UTC 2013
Uzbekistan: Tajik Language Under Pressure in Ancient Samarkand
November 5, 2013 - 1:13pm, by Murat
- Uzbekistan <http://www.eurasianet.org/resource/uzbekistan> 
- EurasiaNet's Weekly Digest<http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/3279>
- Language Policy <http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/3374> 
- Tajiks in Uzbekistan <http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/4289> 
November 5, 2013 - 1:12pm
Back in the days of the fabled Silk Road, Samarkand was a byword for
cross-cultural exchange. For hundreds of years, Tajik served as a lingua
franca in this flourishing center of Persian civilization, situated in
present-day Uzbekistan. But now, Uzbek authorities seem intent on ripping
up the city’s Tajik roots.
By law, Uzbek is Uzbekistan's exclusive nation-wide state language.
Government policy requires the use of Uzbek in all dealings with officials,
in street signage, and in business and education. Russian is still spoken
widely, however, and enjoys ambiguous legal status as “the language of
interethnic communication." In the autonomous Karakalpakstan
, Karakalpak is a state language alongside Uzbek.
In Samarkand <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62576> , where many people
speak Tajik as their mother tongue, the language – a relative of modern
Persian – has no official status. The government does not publish figures
showing the number of ethnic Tajiks in Samarkand, but the state statistics
agency says that countrywide they comprise about 5 percent of the total
population of 30 million.
Figures published in the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan in 2002 suggest that
around a fifth of the country's ethnic Tajiks live in Samarkand Region. The
atlas claims that the number of ethnic Tajiks is likely higher because some
prefer to register themselves as ethnic Uzbeks, suggesting a pragmatic
attitude that can help social and economic advancement, as well as a weak
sense of ethnic and cultural identity among Uzbekistan's minorities. "The
first reason seems more plausible because the status of titular ethnic
group promises far more benefits than the status of ethnic minority," the
atlas said. [Editor’s note: the Ethnic Atlas was published by the Open
Society Foundations’ Uzbekistan office, which was shut by Uzbek authorities
in 2004. EurasiaNet.org operates under OSF’s auspices].
Another factor impacting the use of Tajik in Uzbekistan is diplomatic
tension between Tashkent and Dushanbe. Since the breakup of the Soviet
Union in 1991, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have had perhaps the region's most
acrimonious relations, soured by disputes over
, energy <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65180>and the treatment of
minorities. Relations are so bad that Tajiks in Uzbekistan and Uzbeks in
Tajikistan have been accused of spying <http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66140>
on behalf of the other country. This acrimonious atmosphere also keeps
families apart, with burdensome visa procedures hampering travel across the
relatively new international border.
The problem dates back to 1924 when, upon the Soviet Union’s creation,
Uzbeks and Tajiks were lumped into one administrative entity, the Uzbek
Soviet Socialist Republic. That body contained a Tajik autonomous republic.
In 1929, the areas of modern-day Tajikistan were split off to form the
Tajik SSR, but the Uzbek SSR retained the traditionally Tajik-speaking
regions of Samarkand and Bukhara.
It clearly irks Tajik President Imomali Rahmon that these once-illustrious
centers of Tajik culture sit in Uzbekistan: in 2009, Rakhmon reportedly
told journalists that he had threatened President Islam Karimov that he
would take Samarkand and Bukhara back.
Stalin’s ruthless tendency to engage in ethnic, cultural and linguistic
gerrymandering was not unique to Central Asia, of course, but it helps
explain Uzbekistan’s official reluctance to accept Tajik. Even during the
Soviet era, authorities in Moscow and Tashkent promoted Russian and Uzbek
at the expense of Tajik. Efforts to turn Samarkand into an Uzbek-speaking
city have merely intensified during the two decades since Uzbekistan gained
independence in 1991.
"Who will nurture the Tajik language in Samarkand?" a local ethnic Tajik
businessman asked rhetorically. “The state language is Uzbek."
While Tajik remained the language of choice for many Samarkand residents
during the Soviet era, migration and state policy are steadily changing the
city’s linguistic landscape. These days, there are hardly any signs written
in Tajik, and there are limited opportunities for residents to educate
their children or access media in their mother tongue, local Tajiks
The number of schools with instruction in Tajik has been reduced to one
mixed Tajik-Uzbek language primary school, an official from the Samarkand
city Education Department told EurasiaNet.org. In Samarkand District, which
includes the city’s suburbs (but not the city), there are four purely
Tajik-language schools and 19 mixed Tajik-Uzbek schools, according to the
regional Education Department.
Official figures for Tajik-language education in Samarkand and the
surrounding region are not available, but an overall countrywide trend
shows that the number of schools in minority languages is declining: There
were 282 Tajik and mixed Tajik-Uzbek schools in Uzbekistan in 2004, down
from 318 in 2001, according to the Moscow-based Federal Center for
The regional education department official told EurasiaNet.org that that
minority Tajiks these days prefer for their children to receive an
Uzbek-language education as it helps them get ahead. "Now, no one sends
their kids to Tajik-language schools. Parents themselves prefer to send
children to Uzbek- or Russian-language schools,” the official said, echoing
an argument heard insouthern Kyrgyzstan<http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66647>
, where Uzbeks increasingly see the need for their children to learn
Samarkand State University also offers courses in Tajik in a range of
subjects, from philology to physics, although few students are said to opt
for them. "We have a department of Tajik philology. Everything is in Tajik
there," a university registrar told EurasiaNet.org. "We have Tajik-language
groups in the departments of physics, Tajik philology, math and biology.
[...] But these groups are not big."
Education materials are another issue. Prior to Uzbekistan’s independence,
Tajik-language schools were supplied with textbooks printed in Tajikistan.
After 1991, Uzbekistan started publishing textbooks that conformed to its
own curricula, leading to shortages in minority languages. "Books are
published in Uzbekistan, rather than imported from Tajikistan because of
the different school programs," the Samarkand city Education Official said.
Tajik increasingly exists in something of a vacuum in Uzbekistan, risking
fossilization, according to Alex Ulko, a linguist and commentator on
cultural affairs in Samarkand. It will likely survive, but not develop as a
modern language, as Tajik is in neighboring Tajikistan.
Tashkent’s official position toward the language “is pretty strict,” but
“inefficient,” Ulko told EurasiaNet.org. Minority languages “|are allowed
to function where and when necessary, as long as it is informally,” he said.
Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specializing in Central
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