Friday, November 11, 2011

Dushanbe in my last Stan

It's 11/11/11 and I'm in Tajikistan ( I have now visited all of the world's seven countries with "stan" in the name -- five which were in the former Soviet Union (Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) and which are largely unknown to Westerners. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the other two. In my opinion the two most interesting are Uzbekistan with its ancient and beautiful Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, and Afghanistan which I visited in the mid-1970s and which included a trip through the infamous Salang Tunnel that passes under the Hindu Kush Range between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those were the days when Afghanistan was a hippie paradise and before the Afghans drove out the Russians, It was long before the US got involved in the Afghanistan War.  There are many other stans in Central Asia that aren't countries, but regions. (  For more on Uzbekistan see my posting on the Silk Road dated May 13, 2010. 

With regards to Tajikistan, you don't need to put it on your list of "places to see before you die" and I probably wouldn't have paid my own way here.  However the high mountains surrounding Dushanbe are beautiful and remind me a lot of the Salt Lake Valley at home. And like Salt Lake, Dushanbe also gets winter air inversions that cause pollution buildup until storms come along and blow it out. 

The majority of Tajiks are Muslims who don't seem to take their religion as seriously as in some parts of the Islamic world, perhaps because they were under the Russian atheist thumb for so many years.  The country also has a very visable minority Ismaili population who follow the Agha Kahn and who recently completed a new Ismaili Cultural Center in  Dushanbe (   Tajiks are very traditional with peasant women and girls wearing colorful homemade dresses. Ethnically, they belong to the Iranian group of peoples and the Tajik language is a derivative of Persian (   The architecture and the automobiles in Dushanbe are vintage Soviet and are nothing you will soon see neoclassical versions of.

Tajikistan recently celebrated 20 years of independence from the Soviets and the US recognized the new government from the beginning.  It was a difficult time for our first diplomats due to a civil war which was started shortly after independence by minorities who felt underrepresented in the new government  (  The few American diplomats lived quite uncomfortably in a large walled residence that the USG had initially purchased to be the embassy.  In 2006, a new embassy compound was completed to provide offices for a much larger staff, representing several US agencies.  Relations are cordial and the Tajiks I met were generally very friendly towards Americans and other Westerners.

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