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"We are gathering the people behind us. The people are coming to us because we are honest and because they want to return to who they really are. What it really means to be Tajik is to be Muslim. The Soviets destroyed that with forced atheism and purged our language of its Arabic. Our model is the Turkish model. Our model is the Malaysian model. We want to create an Islamic party of government and not an Islamic state." But when I ask about policy, changes to the law, additions to the constitution, things suddenly become hazy. I get the feeling not that he is trying to hide something, but that he actually has no clear idea. But he is certain that there will be no violence. "A war of ideas is coming to Tajikistan." 

As I leave, my driver is still blasting out Russian turbo-trash from the car and winking suggestively at the veiled workers in the office. As he swerves dangerously through the back streets, throwing up dust behind us, he lets out a moan. "This used to be a Russian city. Lots of Russians and Ukrainians and we had a few Jews, but now it's boring. Girls getting veiled. Boys reading the Koran. Not as much fun as the good old Soviet times." 

Shokrjon Hakimov, a prominent democracy activist, waits for me at an outdoor café. He explains that what he considers a farcical election has barred him from being an MP, but he hasn't given up the fight. He gulps thick black coffee and shakes my hand with the sturdy grip of an ex-Soviet factory worker. He insists the country is not about to explode. 

"The fall of the Soviet Union might have been good for Europe but it was a disaster for Central Asia. The USSR developed the region but when they left we got monarchical dictators and civil war. Vast numbers died and GDP collapsed by 60 per cent. Everywhere you look, you will find lots of undiagnosed trauma, depression and mental illness. There are barely 100 psychiatrists here. This is a country where the president wants to sit in the palace for life and be replaced by his son. Religious extremism will take the place of our blocked democratic opposition." 

I leave Shokrjon wanting to insulate myself from the social desolation of it all in a cocoon of wi-fi, Facebook and email. Dusk is settling over the jagged snowcaps above Dushanbe as I try to withdraw money on the central Stalinist boulevard. A warm downpour begins, filling the slums with mud. As a thick wad of Monopoly-like Tajik money is ejected, I am surrounded. Three tiny beggar girls are standing around me, drenched, eyes exhausted. Then we are all suddenly sprayed by traffic passing through a crater. Black sports cars, prize possessions of either drug lords or ministers, jump the traffic lights. 

Minutes later, I enter what locals call "the foreigners' office". Playing horrendous pop music but with a strong wi-fi signal, the expat hang-out is where I meet the stern Tajik intellectual Parviz Mullojanov. With poise and carefully chosen words he elaborates on how these remote states have been turned into geo-political pivots. "The Tajik government understands its position between the great powers, thus enhancing its power. It has carefully balanced the West's need to secure the border with Afghanistan, China's rapidly rising power in the region and Russia's strategic interests to secure all three's support for the regime. For now, Tajikistan remains part of the Russian informational sphere. Russian music, television and books are popular. Anybody educated speaks the language. However, this is changing. Tajik is extremely close to Farsi and we are an Iranian people. It is inevitable that we are moving into an Iranian information sphere as closer ties develop." 

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Majorman
February 7th, 2013
8:02 PM
I am an American visiting Dushanbe. I wish I had time to search for the Yeti or even a snow leopard. Perhaps, I'll find a specimen at the zoo. Dushanbe has a bit of charm. Sure, poverty is prevalent but where in Central Asia is it not? I did think this was a funny commercial with proof of the Yeti's existence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvSA6Oea65o

tajik
July 26th, 2010
10:07 PM
Didn't you find the Yeti you were looking for inside Zoirov's room?

tajik
July 26th, 2010
7:07 PM
Why don't you write about both negative and positive sides? From where so much hate????

miles
July 26th, 2010
6:07 AM
I am an American that has lived in Tajikistan for three years. I live in a remote valley and have heard stories of the Yeti as well. I found your presentation of Tajikistan to be very interesting. It is a bit on the negative side, but maybe you are just saying things we all think.

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