I spent almost two months in Tajikistan. I spoke no Russian, the language that everyone can understand to some degree, so I worked with translators. Public transport is erratic and roads are bad, so getting around involved hiring a driver and car. I soon realised that I needed not one, but many translators, cars and drivers. To be able to meet a young couple getting married, a Gharmi shepherd, the owner of a billiard hall, to discover a stream at the bottom of a gorge, a ruined fort, a pear orchard, but also to get through road blocks, around KGB regulations and negotiate with local leaders, I had to be accompanied by the right people, with the right social talents and contacts. These people therefore had to originate from the regions that I was crossing
There are few or no hotels in the country but Tajiks are hospitable and generous to the extreme, so I stayed with my translators’ or drivers’ friends and family. As a result, I got to know most of the people in this book well. They fed me, protected me, helped me and sheltered me.
The Tajiks are amongst the world’s poorest people today and they live in very difficult conditions. Over 50,000 died during the five year Tajik civil war that lasted from 1992 to 1997. The fighting wasn’t defined so much by religious distinctions as by regional origins. In the towns, where people from all over the country lived together, neighbours were killing neighbours and families were torn apart.
Those that bore the brunt of the ethnic cleansing that ensued were the Pamiris and Gharmis who come from the country’s more isolated mountainous regions, traditionally left out of the decision making apparatus dominated by the northerners, the Khujandis. The Kulyabis and Dangharais, who were both supported by the northerners, and at times helped by the Uzbek air force and Russians, gained the upper hand and one of their leaders, Imomali Rahmanov, is currently President of the Republic of Tajikistan. Peace is still fragile. People have not forgotten and have definitely not forgiven. From what I saw and from the stories I heard, it looks like it would take little for fighting to start again.