Monday, July 4, 2011

Passport Series: Tajikistan: Part 1: Country Background

This month’s Passport Series focuses on Tajikistan, thanks to your votes on Kiva’s Facebook page! Tajikistan is a country with a rich culture, ancient history and picturesque geography. Follow us throughout the month of July as we learn about Tajikistan’s background, their microfinance sector, and the lives of Kiva borrowers.

100 BC Fort, Wakhan Valley with Hindu Kush in background
Photo Credit: Sam Kendall KF12


Tajikistan’s longstanding history has been dated back to 4000BC! The country has great stories to share with the world. Interestingly: during Alexander the Great’s expedition, his most northern point was the town of Khujand in the north of Tajikistan. Present day Tajikistan was created in 1927 when the Soviet Union broke up the former Khanates of the region and created Republics based on shared languages and cultures. Tajikistan gained its independence in 1991 but shortly after, the country engaged in a Civil War taking place mainly in the southern regions. The conflict was between the former powers and democratic and Islamic forces. The violent Civil War did not cease until 2000 with the success of peaceful Presidential and Parliamentary elections.


Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook

Tajikistan is located in Central Asia with Kyrgyzstan to the Northeast, China to the East, Afghanistan to the South, and Uzbekistan to the Northwest. Tajikistan is the smallest nation in Central Asia and happens to hold most of its land high in the mountains! More than 50% of the country is at an elevation over 9,000 ft above sea level. Lower land areas are in the Northern Farghana Valley and in the Southwest. Due to this drastic landscape, only 7% of Tajikistan’s land is arable, which is a factor for its economic problems.

Tajikistan is home to the Pamir Mountains, some of the highest mountains in the world! Terrain is a major factor for the people of Tajikistan and infrastructure is limited. Getting between the capital Dushanbe, and the second largest city in the north, Khujand, is not easy. Travelers either fly or take an 8-10 hour car ride over two mountain passes.


Donkeys, just north of the capital city, Dushanbe
Photo Credit: Sam Kendall KF12

Tajikistan’s has one of the lowest per capita GDPs among former Soviet Union countries. Although the Civil War ended more than 10 years ago its current economic situation is still fragile because of it. Estimates differ, but roughly 25% of the population works abroad, mainly in Russia, sending back money to their loved ones in the form of remittances. Lack of employment opportunities in Tajikistan, have caused these millions of citizens to move abroad looking for job opportunities. Remittances have become a major part of the economy, representing between 30-50% of the country’s GDP. Tajikistan has seen economic growth in the last decade, but the recent global economic recession hit the country’s citizens hard - both domestically and abroad - causing remittances to fall by 34% in 2009. Check out a visual article by the BBC, In pictures: Remittances in Tajikistan.

Agriculture represents the traditional employment sector of Tajikistan, even though only 7% of the land is arable. This sector represents only 20% of the GDP but employs almost 50% of the workforce. Slow expansion of other industries continues the overall employment situation resulting in more than half the population living below the poverty line.

Farmer in Wakhan Valley, Hindu Kush background
Photo Credit: Donald Hart

People and Culture

Panjshanbe Market in Khujand
Photo Credit: Sam Kendall KF12

Tajikistan has a population of about 7,600,000 and is represented by many ethnic groups. Tajiks, those who speak the Tajik language, are the largest ethnic group. The other minority groups in Tajikistan are Uzbeks, Russians, and Kyrgyz. The people of the Pamir Mountains, who speak different languages than Tajik, are considered part of the Tajik group, even though some of their languages may predate Alexander the Great's invasion of the country. Most of the people of Tajikistan are Sunni Islam of the Hanafi School, which is the official religion of Tajikistan. However, in the eastern region near the Pamir Mountains, and along the Wakhan corridor, many people are a Shia sect called Ismailism. Russian Orthodox, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Catholicism are also practiced.

Photo Credit: Eva Nemirovsky, KF11

Most of Tajikistan is still very much a culture revolving around local markets and bazaars with everything from spices to shoes to stereos all selling within a short stroll. In the spring and summer months you will see fruit stands everywhere! Every city and town block is made vivid by their colors. Vendors sell tomatoes, bananas, cucumbers, peaches, cabbages, radishes, strawberries, raspberries, and watermelons. Almost every meal is accompanied with the Central Asian traditional bread, “Lepeshka”. Many Kiva borrowers are Lepeshka bakers and they sell their bread at local markets! To learn more about Tajikistan check out this Kiva Fellow's video!

Photo Credit: Sam Kendall KF12

Stay tuned as we continue to discover Tajikistan! More coverage on remittances and a recipe for the traditional Lepeshka bread to come!

Written by: Sam Kendall and Alyssa McGarry