Home News Reworking Tajikistan: Between a Soviet previous and a Tajik future

Reworking Tajikistan: Between a Soviet previous and a Tajik future


Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is altering quickly. In what was as soon as a Soviet metropolis recognized for its quiet tree-lined avenues, new highrise towers and grand administrative buildings are rising. It’s a unprecedented transformation happening as Tajikistan reimagines what it means to be an unbiased Central Asian republic with its personal nationwide identification. However some residents are questioning the value at which it comes: the demolition of town’s Soviet structure and with it, the lack of childhood houses and recollections to large-scale building.

It’s a subject debated on the pages of native newspapers, on social media and in native teahouses – pitting a shrinking however vocal class of Russian-speaking, middle-class natives of Soviet Dushanbe who oppose these modifications as a focused erasure of its historical past towards town’s Tajik-speaking majority, lots of whom moved right here from the countryside and think about the modifications within the capital as an indication of a nation coming into its personal.

Largely unheard between these two competing narratives, nevertheless, are the voices of town’s youth. Born in Dushanbe after 1991, as Tajikistan was rising as an unbiased nation for the primary time in its historical past, this technology is now caught between two visions of town.

However, not like their dad and mom who had been born and raised in Soviet Dushanbe and in contrast to town’s Tajik-speaking – usually non-native – majority, this younger technology largely views the continued transformation of their metropolis in additional nuanced phrases, contemplating it a pure, if chaotic, course of for the younger nation.

“In Tajikistan, we’re nonetheless making an attempt to determine who we’re culturally, who we’re socially,” explains Anisa Sabiri, a 29-year-old unbiased filmmaker and poet from Dushanbe.

“We’re observing the preliminary part of this course of in its tough type and that’s why [the architectural changes] might sound harmful and chaotic.”

Tajikistan’s nation-building challenge is an eclectic mixture of Achaeminid and Samanid symbology and of freshly-built faceless glassy high-rises round its capital Dushanbe [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

Demolishing Dushanbe

Initially probably the most outstanding proponents of preserving town’s Soviet previous, Sabiri printed a scathing op-ed within the native newspaper condemning the 2016 demolition of the Mayakovsky Theatre.

The low-key, utilitarian constructing that stood alongside the capital’s major avenue was in-built Soviet constructivist type in 1924 and initially served because the Home of Peasants. It was on its stage, on October 19, 1929, that the Tajik statesman Nusratullo Makhsum declared the creation of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic.

After Tajikistan gained independence in 1991, the constructing housed probably the most prolific and famed theatre troupe within the nation and served as a hub for most of the metropolis’s countercultural components. Throughout the five-year civil struggle that adopted independence, as quite a few competing regional and ideological factions struggled for energy over the newly unbiased state, the Mayakovsky Theatre troupe entertained authorities forces on the entrance line. Within the post-civil struggle years, the theatre served as one of many final remaining vestiges of Soviet tradition within the metropolis.

Town’s resolution to raze the historic constructing ignited an unprecedented however fruitless public outcry. Regardless of pleas to protect the constructing – from the theatre’s actors, on social media, and in petitions and open letters to the nation’s authorities – town went forward with its demolition plans within the autumn of 2016.

Tall dark-green building website fencing adorned with patriotic slogans and pictures of latest grand buildings is a ubiquitous sight in up to date Dushanbe [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

A string of high-profile demolitions quickly adopted throughout Dushanbe. There was the Jomi cinema, which when it was erected within the metropolis’s major sq. in 1956 was considered one of solely 5 panoramic cinemas within the Soviet Union. Then, in March 2017, town administration constructing – constructed within the Fifties in a method that mixed classical European and native structure – fell. In October of the identical 12 months, town tore down the energetic Shohmansur market, colloquially often called the Inexperienced Bazaar, within the southeast nook of town; its sellers who lengthy attracted overseas vacationers with vibrant shows of fruit and spices and joyful haggling had been compelled to relocate to a way more formal setting. A 12 months later, town determined to tear down the Inexperienced Theatre, a 1933 constructing that within the Forties had hosted theatre troupes evacuated from Leningrad and Moscow through the Nazi invasion; the constructing ultimately got here down final September.

With every demolition, the general public outcry grew quieter as folks misplaced hope of stopping the destruction. However it was reignited in February 2020 when the choice was made to raze the previous presidential palace, which had as soon as been the headquarters of the Tajik Communist Occasion. Inbuilt 1957 to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution, the almond-coloured neoclassical constructing – which had hosted worldwide communist icons like Raul Castro and Ho Chi Minh and Soviet dignitaries reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Boris Yeltsin – was perceived by many to be inextricably linked to the nation’s historical past. Now, the historic constructing is being torn down to create space for a brand new, Chinese language government-funded palace that would be the centrepiece of a brand new authorities advanced.

The work at building websites round Dushanbe doesn’t cease even through the evening, spreading noise and dirt across the metropolis’s as soon as quiet neighbourhoods [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

The Soviet previous

“The initiators of this resolution [to raze the former presidential palace] could need to do away with the Soviet previous. [But] eliminating the Soviet previous is ungrateful …,” Saidjafar Usmonzoda, the pinnacle of Tajikistan’s opposition Democratic Occasion, advised the information company Asia-Plus.

Historian, city activist and prolific journalist Gafur Shermatov, whose Fb submit bidding farewell to the previous presidential palace gathered tons of of likes, shares, and sorrowful feedback, agreed. “You will need to protect what we have already got, what got here to us from our good Soviet previous, one thing that accommodates historical past… However the buildings which have lately been thought-about monuments of structure are merely being demolished and this indifference to our recollections scares me,” Shermatov wrote on social media.

An lively social media person, 60-year-old Shermatov is probably the most vocal voice within the narrative that views the latest string of high-profile demolitions as an erasure of Dushanbe’s Soviet historical past.

However these in favour of the modifications argue that his perspective and people of others who oppose the demolitions replicate a eager for an idealised Soviet previous by which Russian-speaking natives of town held a extra outstanding cultural, financial and social function than ethnic Tajiks.

The statue of Vladimir Lenin that after stood in Dushanbe’s central park now hides among the many rubble within the yard of the constructing of the Artwork Fund of Tajikistan [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

Since publishing her 2016 op-ed, Sabiri’s views have advanced. “I had all the time been on one aspect of this dialogue – the aspect essential of the modifications within the metropolis. However these days, I’m understanding that I can’t be the only decide of the individuals who like these modifications,” she displays.

She has come to imagine that there are points of sophistication and privilege at play within the debate. “The representatives of [the] intelligentsia, or maybe of the Russian-speaking teams of inhabitants typically, view every little thing that has to do with the Tajik-speaking way of life as parochial, as underdeveloped. It’s time we began it in another way,” she says.

Aziza Kosimova, a 21-year-old social activist and outstanding voice advocating for the preservation of historic buildings, explains that almost all of town’s economically deprived residents are merely not able to be too involved concerning the destiny of its historic buildings. “Have a look at the social hierarchy; our residents haven’t any time to suppose [about the city’s transformation] as a result of one should have a greater life first. They barely make sufficient cash to get via as we speak,” she says.

Sabiri and Kosimova imagine a level of social, cultural, and financial privilege is important even to take part on this debate and that such privilege is rooted within the nation’s Soviet historical past. All the pieces in up to date Tajikistan, from its roads to its hydropower vegetation and its capital – which earlier than being declared capital of the newly-minted Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikistan in 1924 was a small village of roughly 6,000 folks – was constructed by Soviet Moscow, which despatched hundreds of Russian engineers and designers to develop the nation.

A brand new high-rise towers over a 1934 constructing that till 2015 housed the Nationwide Museum of Tajikistan and presently homes the Tajik Institute of Artwork and Design [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

This infrastructural modernisation was coupled with a cultural and social course of that pushed the Tajik language to the background, suppressed native spiritual and household practices, and emphasised the constructing of a brand new Soviet socialist nation on the expense of native nationalist sentiments. Over time, the method created a Russian-speaking educated class of city dwellers however marginalised rural residents of the nation, making a corresponding gulf in how residents view the Soviet period.

Kosimova displays on her mom’s expertise of travelling to the south of Tajikistan within the Nineteen Nineties and her personal latest related expertise of travelling throughout completely different areas of the nation: “We reside in a metropolis with universities, buses, and sizzling faucet water. However [rural] folks had none of [those urban conveniences]. Thus, there’s a big hole in our perceptions of dwelling environments.”

Within the six many years after Dushanbe turned the capital – present process a reputation change to Stalinabad in 1929 and reverting again in 1961 – it was a cosmopolitan metropolis with a inhabitants that mirrored the Soviet modernisation of the nation. In 1989, solely two-fifths of town’s 600,000 residents had been ethnic Tajiks; Russians comprised a 3rd of the inhabitants, Uzbeks one-tenth, and Tatars, Ukrainians, and Jews – one other 10 p.c. Russian was the lingua franca of town that additionally had massive diasporas of Germans, Koreans, Ossetians, and Armenians.

The 1978 statue of Sadriddin Ayni, the founding father of Tajik-Soviet literature and a nationwide hero of Tajikistan, overlooking the development of a brand new high-rise on the crossroads of the central Rudaki and Ayni avenues [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]


The autumn of the Soviet Union and the next civil struggle ignited a country-wide exodus of ethnic minorities and middle-class Tajiks. At the moment, virtually 80 p.c of Tajikistan’s inhabitants is ethnically Tajik. In a seek for higher financial and academic alternatives, predominantly Tajik rural populations are shifting to Dushanbe. Amidst this influx of rural residents and rising nationalism – with the Russian language shedding its significance, Russified final names discouraged for ethnic Tajiks, and sure traditions and phrases outlawed for being too overseas – the diminishing class of Soviet Dushanbe natives could really feel remoted and anxious about their place in up to date Tajik society.

“Town is altering; previous road names, houses, and courtyards are disappearing, and we are able to’t cease this course of. However it’s vital to recollect these outstanding folks of our Dushanbe as they’re preserved in city landscapes, buildings, occasions, traditions,” Shermatov told Asia-Plus.

Sabiri says she understands how painful these modifications are to her dad and mom’ technology, however that they’re a pure course of rooted within the decolonisation and de-Sovietisation of the nation.

“In Tajikistan, like in lots of different former Soviet republics, there’s a rising pattern of returning to our personal language. The sensation of disgrace for our nationality, for our identification, is disappearing,” she says.

“It’s a seek for identification, and it will get mirrored within the metropolis’s structure… I personally don’t just like the look of the brand new buildings however it’s only a matter of non-public style.”

Manzura Muinova, a 31-year-old architect and inside designer, agrees with Sabiri and calls Dushanbe “a metropolis in progress”.

The sky-blue constructing of the Vatan movie show isn’t simple to identify between the lately constructed high-rises. Designed by Petr Kuzmenko within the Fifties, the constructing is slated for demolition within the close to future [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

“I can’t say that it’s unhealthy, it’s merely a inventive search,” Muinova notes. “The Soviet architects who constructed Dushanbe had been all graduates of the Leningrad structure faculty. Their work adopted one basic pattern and there have been requirements. The present transformation is eclectic and is a search course of.”

Most of Soviet Dushanbe was designed by Stefan Lukic Anisimov, a graduate of the Leningrad structure faculty who was appointed as one of many chief architects of the Tajik Socialist Soviet Republic in 1936 and labored in Dushanbe for nearly 50 years till his dying. The buildings that gave Soviet Dushanbe its signature neoclassical look – the headquarters of the Tajik Communist Occasion, the Firdavsi Nationwide Library, the Nationwide Financial institution of Tajikistan, the Ministry of Finance constructing, the present parliament constructing, amongst others – had been all Anisimov’s creations and mirrored the stylistically unitary and centrally deliberate approach by which the Soviets approached city improvement.

Now Dushanbe’s redevelopment, regardless of the existence of a basic plan, seemingly doesn’t observe any order or type – one thing that each older and youthful residents decry. The rising variety of highrises with glass facades invokes comparisons with China’s fast-growing cities and with Dubai, some extent of delight for the Tajik-speaking residents of town who usually see the United Arab Emirates because the mannequin for improvement.

“This building growth makes me consider a youngster who’s making an attempt every little thing on whereas looking for their very own type,” Muinova concludes.

Sabiri agrees. “I don’t suppose these [architectural styles used in the new buildings] are Tajik. I believe once more it’s the problem of not understanding but what’s ours, what’s Tajik,” she displays.

Dushanbe, as soon as recognized for its quiet tree-lined streets and three-storey buildings, is now dotted with high-rise towers that seemingly don’t observe one centralised improvement plan [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

Saying ‘goodbye’

Whatever the accuracy of the comparisons to Urumqi or Dubai, town’s ongoing transformation arguably displays a geopolitical and cultural energy shift within the nation that not appears at Moscow and Saint Petersburg as function fashions however at China and the Gulf states as Beijing and Riyadh fund infrastructure tasks in Tajikistan.

“I don’t know concerning the ideological underpinnings [of the construction boom] however I believe one motivation is cash,” says Timur Temirkhanov, a 25-year-old journalist from Dushanbe. “They don’t care how the brand new buildings look. All that issues is to construct it to get cash out of it.”

Kosimova voices the identical concern, saying: “Why is there no system? As a result of it’s all about profiting.”

In 2019, the condominium constructing Kosimova grew up in was slated for demolition. The inconspicuous four-storey constructing was a major instance of a khrushchyovka – low-cost, concrete-panelled or brick condominium buildings developed everywhere in the Soviet Union through the early Nineteen Sixties. Grieving over the lack of her childhood dwelling and wanting to draw civil society’s consideration to the plight of households who had been shedding their residences, Kosimova got down to be taught extra concerning the metropolis’s building permits course of and found a decentralised system with ambiguous and ever-shifting guidelines.

“There’s no [proper permits] system controlling these personal [contractors] as a result of they pour hundreds of thousands of somoni into the federal government price range. And the development goes on. We’re constructing new Dubai and it’s all dandy,” Kosimova laments.

Neither the Division of Structure and City Improvement of Dushanbe nor the Committee for Structure and Development below the Authorities of Tajikistan responded to a request for remark for this text.

Over the previous 5 years, some residents of the central districts of Dushanbe have been experiencing compelled displacement from houses that had been destined for demolition and redevelopment. Whereas some residents have been capable of negotiate respectable offers with the builders, most have needed to settle for unfavourable phrases.

A brand new constructing with three 30-storey towers is presently below building in Dushanbe’s central sq. after the 1935 three-storey postal service constructing designed by Sergey Kutin was demolished [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

The case of the condominium constructing at 49 Bukhoro Avenue is an effective illustration of those developments: Erected by famend constructivist Soviet architect Pyotr Vaulin through the Stalin period, it was the primary three-storey constructing in Dushanbe and had all the time housed a few of the metropolis’s most well-known residents just like the Communist Occasion of Soviet Tajikistan’s First Secretary Dmitry Protopopov and Dmitry Bilibin, the architect of the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the pinnacle of the Structure Bureau. Due to its prime location – only a block east of town’s major avenue and proper throughout from one of many nation’s greatest universities – the constructing turned a goal for redevelopment. The residents suffered via a years-long authorized battle, focused electrical energy blackouts, and different types of harassment. Regardless of the publicity across the case, the residents in the end misplaced the constructing in February 2021. It’s presently being demolished.

Lots of Dushanbe’s settlements are slated to get replaced by condominium buildings unaffordable to a lot of the metropolis’s residents [Tahmina Inoyatova/Al Jazeera]

“In 10 years, town centre will likely be fully rebuilt with new glass buildings, motels, enterprise centres, and the previous historic buildings will likely be absolutely demolished as a result of they symbolize no financial worth,” says Temirkhanov. “After town centre reaches its building capability, improvement will unfold to town peripheries because the land worth on the outskirts will begin to improve.”

To make sense of the modifications in her quickly evolving hometown, Kosimova turned to social media. Her challenge, Youth in Dushanbe, goals to coach younger folks concerning the historical past and tradition of Dushanbe. Most of Kosimova’s work focuses on town’s final remaining iconic Soviet buildings, just like the 1929 powder-blue Lohuti Theatre – Soviet Tajikistan’s first theatre – and the Rohat Teahouse, a 1958 constructing which W Averell Harriman, John F Kennedy’s assistant secretary of state, known as “probably the most unique teahouse on the earth” throughout his 1959 go to.

“Youth in Dushanbe is my solution to say goodbye to town [of my youth],” Kosimova explains. “I’ll end the challenge, I’ll protect town. It’s a closure, a ritual for me.”