Bad Blood in Badakshan
May 19, 2022 7:44 AM   Subscribe

In the back end of Tajikistan seems like there is an ugly police action underway. Badakshan is the "other half" of Tajikisan, home of the Pamirians. They are ethnically distinct from the Tajiks and are Ismailis (followers of the Aga Khan) so they tend not to mix with the majority Tajiks so much, despite meddling since the 70s at least. So why is this ugly thing happening?
posted by Meatbomb (14 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Pamirs are really at the end of the world.

Hindu Kush to the south, Taklamakan Desert to the east, endless steppe to the north and west (Alexandria Eschaton founded at the extent of his empire), half the region is just a solid block of snow-capped mountains, mostly suitable for high altitude climbing expeditions.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:01 AM on May 19 [1 favorite]

this is tragic. I have long been fascinated by this part of the world and would love to see it, but its never seemed like that would be a high probability. the entire region is so fraught with the reverberations of post-soviet and other regional spasms...
posted by supermedusa at 10:03 AM on May 19

This is another case of indigenous, mostly one ethnic group. farmers/ herders, getting the shaft, after their tribal lands are subsumed by colonialists. There must be a lot of lithium, or rare earth metals, under them.
posted by Oyéah at 12:44 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

From my limited understanding this was all divvied up during the Great Game, this is just the bit that happened to be north of the Afghan salient on the map. The Pamirians are really interesting folks to me. They might be herders and farmers out in the hinterland, but as a culture they highly value education and get a lot of direct support from the Aga Khan. So all of the Universities here are packed with them, they tend to speak better English, etc. At least here in the capital the Pamiri women are much freer, they tend not to wear any form of hijab and have a much more confident and open body language. My wife explains that because they are not marriagable to Tajiks they do not need to be modest around these men.

I really hope to get to Badakshan but right now is obviously not the time.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:27 PM on May 19 [7 favorites]

Thank you for posting this!
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:31 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting. I have nothing to add but my stupid little wish for peace, everywhere.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 1:54 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]

You may know someone who has been to Tajikistan. Many US soldiers flew through there on their way to deployment in Afghanistan.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:29 PM on May 19

back in my uni days I shared residence with a Food & Nutrition student who observed the Ismaili faith (more of the Pakistan-through-Uganda-through Canada variant, for all I know about it). from what he shared it struck me as a sort of liminal space.. he mentioned how the larger faith denominations in Islam tended to look down on the Ismailis, like they were not "true believers." anyhow, we got along and I abided by his hygiene regimen in our apartment. this is no small feat when you live with a Food & Nutrition student, dear lord we used a lot of bleach. he watched in horror as I ate 3-day old rice from the fridge, but hey I'm alive.

otherwise, what Don.Kinsayder said
posted by elkevelvet at 6:24 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]

I was girding my loins to post something about en/exclaves in the SSRstans. Here's James Ker-Lindsay [14m] on how stone throwing escalated in April last year into border battles between Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan. The countries of post-Soviet central Asia are more or less defined by internal Soviet boundaries and these were defined more or less on ethnic grounds - Kazakhs in Kazakhstan etc. Tajikistan is very much the poor relation.
                                      Ethnic divs
               Pop  PerCap$ Dens/km2 Major Minor
Kazakhstan     19m $10,700    7       68% Russ  19%
Kyrgyz Rep      7m  $1,300   35       74% Uzbek 15%
Tajikistan     10m    $900   71       84% Uzbek  9%
Uzbekistan     35m  $2,000   78       84% Tajik  5%
Turkmenistan    6m  $7,100   12       82% Uzbek  9%
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:39 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

And yet, the part of Tajikistan that reaches up towards the Ferghana Valley is where most of the country's GDP comes from. Ethnic clashes in that weird jigsaw puzzle of boundaries and exclaves pop up now and again. Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups riot against each other there from time to time, only occasionally making news outside the region.

What I learned just now: while you can see on a map that Badakshan is roughly half the country by area, it's only about 3% of the country's population. By the numbers, this is a small community being harassed by a larger, dominant one. The religious differences alone are enough to make a conflict plausible, unfortunately.
posted by gimonca at 5:26 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

Ismailism has a colorful history and a fairly respectable intellectual tradition behind it. The role of Aga Khan is kind of interesting--he's a well-to-do leader of what's primarily a diaspora community. (The current person named Aga Khan is the latest hereditary imam--they weren't always named Aga Khan.)

It seems like their outsider status means they can't really rely on state support or big mainstream Islamic institutions to support them. I'd suspect neither the Saudis nor Iran would be interested in helping them (I could be wrong!). Since they're not Turkic, Erdogan probably wouldn't want to be involved either, like he is elsewhere in Central Asia.
posted by gimonca at 5:37 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

Badakshan is roughly half the country by area, it's only about 3% of the country's population

And in terms of geostrategy, it is all mountains, practically zero arable land, and accessible to the rest of the world via two crappy roadways, one north and one south.

If it were to be independent it would have almost no effect on the rest of Tajikistan. But either way it is totally dependent on air transport or those two crappy little roads for pretty much everything.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:36 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]

I’ve spend time in Tajikistan, including a few days in Khorog back in 2005(?) where I stayed with a lovely woman and her family who forcible fed me plov and dyed my eyebrows (long, weird story). I traveled along the border of Afghanistan, stopping to take portraits of the workers in the field. Everyone was very nice, and would share their most prized possessions with you even though they had so little (like offered tea and giving me sugar). Further along the Pamir highway (Khorog was the “big town” which is really quite small) I stayed with an English speaking woman in Murghab, which is basically just a collection of houses along a road. I used a public toilet in the town (wooden slats over a pit with cement walls but no roof). It felt like everyone in the Pamirs were farmers or just getting by. I felt like I really got a feel for the people because we stayed in their homes (there were no hotels even in Khorog when I went, certainly not further out).

It’s pretty bleak, high altitude, and so close to its influential neighbors, China and Afghanistan. There’s a lot of nothing in between small towns. Back then Russian soldiers manned strategic checkpoints, looking very stern. Most of the locals with any governmental power I dealt with had their had out for another few, permit, etc. interestingly, because they saw themselves as different than Dushanbe, and the permits I paid for in Dushanbe were considered not for GBAO (even though I had a GBAO permit arranged through a fixer in Dushanbe).

Still, I can’t see this happening without a lot of outside influence over the past decade. It’s a shame, because the way Central Asia was carved up after the USSR fell left a lot of ethnicities separated. It was told to me that a lot of the major tourist attractions in Uzbekistan are more closely ties with Tajik culture, but the border was drawn where it was drawn, although that’s the other side of the country. Tajikistan is seriously gorgeous, and with a secure nation and more tourist infrastructure they could definitely appeal to mountaineers and other sorts of activities. Aga Khan seemed to be financing a lot of things in Tajikistan back then, the name was on everything to the point that it seemed more influential the government. Reading the linked articles I see why now.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:24 PM on May 30

If it were to be independent it would have almost no effect on the rest of Tajikistan.

The region has a border with China, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan so likely it’s strategic (if even to create trade routes) to keep.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:26 PM on May 30

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