On the edge of empires : the Hisor Valley of Tajikistan
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After the fall of the Soviet Union, fifteen new states became independent. Of these, Tajikistan was easily among the most artificial, not because of its population, but because of its position tucked away on the western side of the Pamir Mountains with none of the historically Tajik cities included within its borders. The country suffered through a brutal civil war that lasted until 1997, then the people had to begin the long process of adjusting to their new reality as an entity apart from the Soviet Union on which they had become so dependent. This process has caused Tajiks to undergo many adaptations in their society, culture, and economy. Many of these changes involve painful economic choices that underscore the de-modernization and loss of support previously provided by the central government in Moscow. The fieldwork for this study centered around a single valley, the Hisor Valley of southern Tajikistan which extends from the capital of Dushanbe westward to the border with Uzbekistan. Starting with agriculture, easily the most important economic activity within the Valley, the largest employer, and the central part of most of the inhabitants' lives, and encompassing the extensive irrigation systems, inclusive of both older pre-Soviet systems and Soviet era construction, I shall show how changes in land tenure, environment, pastoralist activities, and machinery loss have affected the lives of Tajiks and their society. From this beginning, I shall show the new visions and ideas the people and the country as a whole display vis-à-vis civil society, the Tajik language, the place of Islam, and the geopolitical situation of Tajikistan. Since September 11, 2001, this region has taken on new meaning for the rest of the world and particularly the United States. Awareness of this society on the northern border of Afghanistan, that shares many of the same ethnic and cultural complexities of that country, will better aid academics and non-academics alike in navigating the new challenges facing not just these countries, but the world at large. Though slightly less divided ethnically than Afghanistan, Tajikistan still is a Muslim nation on the brink of economic ruin, and as such presents a model of a nation state that could again turn down the same path as Afghanistan into chaos and warfare as well as an area that could fall prey to Islamic extremism if the situation is not turned around. Understanding the reality for the people of the country is the first step towards realizing the work that is needed so desperately in comprehending not only the beauty of Central Asia, and by extension the Middle East, but also the importance it has today to the world at large.