Localism has been a common characteristic of all post-Soviet Central Asian Republics. However, this trait emerged in different ways; the result has been almost similar. The phenomenon is stemmed in unbalanced developing process and deliberate unequal share of power between regional ethnic groups of Communist leadership.
In Tajikistan, the localism emerged with more complexity and has had more important consequences. In some opinions, a main root of Tajik Civil war of 1990s, had been localism which followed by religious and ethnic gaps. In essence, the war was between privileged and unprivileged areas[i]. Akbar Turjanzoda, prominent cleric and former deputy Prime Minister of Tajikistan, who is also known as an influential figure of peace process, in his book “Between water and Fire” emphasizes on a “balanced localism” and suggests the balance between representatives of different regions is the only solution for a peaceful country[ii]. After the Peace Accord, everyone expected to do so, however the balance never achieved.
In Soviet era, the Khujandis were the most influential group that enjoyed the power and wealth. Moscow-based leadership made this due to dual Uzbek-Tajik identity of the Khujandis, who were under influence of regional focal point, Tashkent. On the other hand, any possibility for anti-Russian integration in North was less than any other region in Tajikistan. Moreover, contemporary history of revolutionary groups, such as Basmachis, shaped basically in other regions. Furthermore, in separation of Tajikistan from Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1920s, the Khujandi elites made the most important role[iii]. These factors made the Khujandto become the prominent region in the Soviet Republic.
If we consider the identity based division of regions as Shavkat Kasymov did in his paper “Regional fragmentation in Tajikistan: The shift of powers between different identity groups[iv]”, we can categorize the Tajik regions into Khujandis, Kulobis, Gharmis and Pamiris. The geographical position of these 4 group is shown in Map-1.
Map-1: Geographical position of identity-based division of localism in Tajikistan[v]
However, after about 3 decades of geopolitical changes, more geographical features should be considered on Tajik localism. As you can see in Map-1, the identity based divisions do not cover all provinces of 1920s in Tajikistan. North, South, East and Center are the 4 contemporary key regions of the country which represent a political clan. Map-2shows the political map of independent Tajikistan.
Migration process is a factor that should be considered in second division, especially about capital, Dushanbe. The city is geographically included in Centre, but the political view is unknown due to migration flow[vi]. It is also true about those who were displaced from Gharm to Qurghonteppa for agricultural purposes during Soviet era.
Map-2: the political map of independent Tajikistan[vii]
The Southerners leading by Emomali Rahmonhave enjoyed the power in post-peace era. In all political arrangements, the localism has been affected roguishly. Danghara, Kulob and Farkhor from Khatlon province are the main power spots in South. The major powerful and influential structures within the state such as President, Defense, Internal and external affairs ministries and State committee for National Security are all occupied by elites from these regions. Interestingly, opposition believes that according to peace accord, the power-based ministries such as defense and internal affairs should have been allocated to opposition, but never done[viii]. Even the potential president of the country, the Chairman of National Assembly is from south. According to the country’s constitution, in case of death, resignation and incapability of the President, his duties prior to the beginning of assignment by the new President, shall be taken over by the Chairman of National Assembly[ix].
Although the Northerners’ share of power has been marginalized dramatically after the Soviet dissolution, they have still a better situation comprising to Center and East. According to the political traditions rooted in contemporary coalition during the civil war, the Prime Minister belongs to North. However, his power has been limited, and the authority shared with 3 deputies from south. The position is personally under the control of the President.
The Eastern Pamirs have even the smallest share of power, due to their different culture, language and especially religion. It seems that the Eastern elites trend to have more control to their homeland as an autonomous region, rather having national power positions. After 2018 conflicts, as a sign of appeasement, Rahmon appointed a figure close to Aga Khan, the religious leader of the Pamiris as provincial chief. But in National share of power, nothing considerable.
Understanding the share of Center is a bit more complicated. Today, the Islamist opposition is mainly from this part of the country. This clan is known to its religious identity. Sayid Abdulloh Nuri, the former leader and founder of Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and former United Tajik Opposition (UTO) is a well-known politician of this share. Other prominent political Islamist figures such as former deputy PM, Akbar Turjanzoda, and Muhiddin Kabiri also belong to this clan. While the first circles of IRPT had a Gharmi identity,a senior member of the party believes that they have moved beyond localism and as an example, the party introduced Muhammadalihayit, deputy chairman of the party, who was from South.
On the other hand, there are also small shares within the State. Chairman of the Assembly of Representatives belong to Center. There are also some ministries from cities like Hisor and Vahdat.
Muhammadjon Kabirov, a Tajik expert and senior member of IRPT believes that the current power sharing system in the country is even deceptive. First, there are always parallel state institutions which belong to Southerners such as Energy and electricity institutions. On the other hand, while the head of these structures have been granted to non-Southerners, the deputies and bodies of the ministries are mainly from South. Thirdly, these elites cannot and not let to apply their local identity in their share of power. And eventually, these points are while the state positions are not sold by money or allocated by political affiliations.
|Chairman of National Assembly||Rustam Emomali||Danghara|
|Prosecutor General||Yusuf Rahmon||Vose|
|Min. of Defense||SheraliMirzo||Hamadoni|
|Min. of Internal Affairs||Ramazon Rahimzoda||Kulob|
|Min. of Foreign Affairs||Sirojiddin Muhriddin||Temurmalik|
|Chmn., State Committee for National Security||Saymumin Yatimov||Farkhor|
|Mayor of Capital||RustamEmomali||Danghara|
|Min. of Education & Science||Muhammadyusuf Imamzoda||Temurmalik|
|Min. of Finance||Fayziddin Qahhorzoda||Vose|
|Min. of Industry & New Technologies||Zarobiddin Fayzullozoda||Danghara|
|Min. of Health & Social Protection||Jamoliddin Abdullozoda||Danghara|
|Min. of Agriculture||Amonullo Solimzoda||Danghara|
|Min. of Economic Development & Trade||Zavghi Zavghizoda||Hamadoni|
|North||Prime Minister||Qohir Rasulzoda||Ghafurov|
|Min. of Justice||Rustam Shohmurad||Konibodom|
|Min. of Labor, Migration, & Public Employment||Golru Jabbarzoda||Isfara|
|East||Min. of Culture||Zulfia Davlatzoda||Khorog|
|Min. of Transport||Khudoyor Khudoyorzoda||Rushon|
|Center||Chairman of the Assembly of Representatives||Muhammadtoer Zokirzoda||Rasht|
|Min. of Energy & Water Resources||Usmonali Usmonzoda||Vahdat|
Table1: Distribution of power in Tajikistan based on localism[x]
Localism and Shift in power
At the first shift in power in Tajikistan, the localism played a prominent role. In the post-Soviet era, th power was in hands of Northern pro-communists. At the same time that the central Gharmis and Easters were seeking a share in the country’s politics, the Southerners made a clever coalition with weakened North and simply came into power. At that time, when the opposition groups were mainly in unstable and disconnected regions of the country as well asAfghanistan, the political competition defined between North and South. In 1994, the Northern candidate, Abdumalik Abdullajanov lost the election to the Southern Emomali Rahmon (with 58%)[xi]. Then the war started, the peace achieved and due to the peace accord, 30 percent of the state’s power should have been allocated to opposition. However, step by step it tends to less than 5 percent.
There are evidences that the country is moving toward another shift in power. The amendments applied to the constitution in 2016 and paved the way for Rustam’s (Rahmon’s elder son) presidency. In the meanwhile, Rustam is experiencing different positions and rising up for a hard inter-family competition (maybe with his more experienced sister Ozoda) and a wider confrontation with potential and indeed opposition (Internal power groups and exiled opposition).
There is still a possibility that due to recent security issues and Corona Virus pandemic, Rahmon run for another term and keep the power by himself. Maybe he will learn from Nazarboyev’s experience. After achieving the leadership of country’s National Assembly by Rustam, it is more likely to happen. The situation allows Rahmon to leave the power anytime he wants and does surprise everyone.
Any of the mentioned scenarios happen to the shift in power, the localism’s affect is inevitable. As Rahmon raises his effective/ineffective authoritarianism with less legitimacy, he will try to change the regional balance in power in a kleptocratic space of the country’s politics. The change in Badakhshon and other changes of more politicians from Danghara were the first spark. But still no one guarantee that the unrests won’t happen again. We should also expect consolidating the ties with North by various means.Recent change in the Minstry of Labor, Migration and Public Employment, that a politician from North (GolruJabbarzoda) replaced a Southern Minister (Sumangul Taghoyzoda from Kulob) is a sign. Also Rahmon’s granddaughter married to a Northern family (grandson of the governor of the Sughd region)which was unprecedented in large presidential family[xii].
How the exiled opposition will play their role in a country increasingly closing, is a vague question at the moment. Forming the coalition such as “National Alliance” is unlikely to affect dramatically. However, the restricted figures inside the country, has a potential to fire the spark. That’s the reason that Rahmon will strictly keep control over these two potentials.
[i]For example HoonanPeimani in his book “Regional Security and the Future of Central Asia: The Competition of Iran, Turkey, and Russia” believes that; P. 28.
[ii]АкбарТӯрадчонзода, Миёниобуоташ, Саҳифа 5-6.
[iii]Talking to a Tajik expert, MuhammadaliBurhanov.
[iv]Kasymov, Shavkat, (2012), Regional fragmentation in Tajikistan: The shift of powers between different identity groups, Asian Geographer, 30:1, 1-20.
[v]The map is obtained from “Tajikistan: A Political and Social History” written by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, published by ANU E Press, P. 93.
[vi] Three Tajik experts suggested that Dushanbe does not represent any political clan.
[vii] The map is obtained from: https://geology.com/world/tajikistan-satellite-image.shtml.
[viii]Interview with MuhammadjonKabirov, Tajik expert and senior IRPT member.
[x] The data in table mainly obtained by official websites and in some cases by talking to Tajik experts.
[xii]Tajikistan: Marriage Folds Northern Elite Into Presidential Family, https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-marriage-folds-northern-elite-into-presidential-family.