Posted by: Borderless Borderguard | June 6, 2008

ETHNICITY ≠ LANGUAGE: IN SEARCH OF IDENTITY, OR ON HOW TAJIKS BECAME UZBEKS

Part V

Sengupta argues that language ‘was never a barrier’: “Various Turkic groups lived in intense symbiosis with non-Turkic groups without fully assimilating with them” (ibid: 64). She further notes that in some areas “assimilation was inevitable” and that they intermixed with each other to the extent that it was difficult to discern any difference whatsoever (cf. ibid. 64). Further she cites S. K. Olimova and M. A. Olimov who claim that “Uzbeks and Tajiks were multilingual by norm” (Sengupta 2002: 64). Sengupta, however notes, that is was “the minority group that became bilingual” (ibid.). I would opt to believe Sengupta rather than the Olimovs. Having lived together with Uzbeks both in cities where Tajiks were non-existent and where Tajiks were predominated, I can confirm that it is mainly Tajiks that are bilingual, since they have to adapt to the Uzbek environment. Of course, there are more Uzbeks who speak Tajik than Germans or English, but it seems to be an overstatement to claim that Uzbeks are bilingual ‘by norm’ apart from Tajikistani Uzbeks, who are usually bilingual, again, because they are a minority. Most Tajiks from mountainous areas are neither bilingual nor multilingual. Most of them learn Uzbek only when they first go to the army, university, or if they have TV sets, they may understand Uzbek and even Russian. I think it is even an overstatement to confer that all Tajiks even in cities like Bukhara and Samarkand speak perfect Uzbek. I grew up in various towns of Uzbekistan, but then my family decided to move back home, to Samarkand, and there my Uzbek skills worsened, because it was almost unnecessary.

Another example shows clearly that censuses failed to identify correctly the ethnic and linguistic affiliations of peoples of Uzbekistan. The inhabitants of Qamishi village of Sukhrandarya region submitted a request to build schools for their children:

“Altogether 500 villagers (khajagi), we are all Tajik and Fars people and we do not have a school. The Volost Executive Committee wants to open a Turkish school, but since we are all Farsi (Tajik) speakers and according to the Directive of the Communist Party, every people can freely speak in its language, we request from the Soviet National Minorities that a Tajik school be opened in our village.” (Sengupta 2002: 114)

The response to this request stated the statistics, according to which all the population of the village was Uzbek, and there was no single Tajik speaker. Furthermore, if they wanted to discuss schools then those “must be about Uzbeki and not Tajiki” (cf. Sengupta ibid.). Situations like this resulted in high numbers of bilingual Tajiks, which, in my view, is their advantage. The only problem is that the knowledge of Tajik among Tajik speaker is deteriorating. Tajiks of my generation (even older) and younger possess only oral knowledge of the Tajik language. Because, officially, the Tajiks are so few in number, there seems to be no need to cultivate the language or have Tajik schools.

But in case of Bukhara, Bergne raises an interesting point, reminding that Bukhara was a large and famous city. One of the characteristic features of such cities is that they are attractive to people from the ‘countryside and beyond’, due to which the urban population was reported to be mixed. Not just they resided and shared the space of the city among each other, but also intermarriages were common. Only religion could prove a sound obstacle for intermarriages, whereas nationality, ethnicity or race were not seen as such (cf. Bergne 2007: 12).

As mentioned above, the terms which define Tajiks and Uzbeks are in no way homogenous and remain unclear. To make the story even more complicated, another identity was discovered, which was difficult to locate, and classify, that of ‘Sart’. Identities like Sart, provided a tough time for the Russian ethnographers to delineate ethnic groups on the basis of language use and self-determination.


Responses

  1. Salom, shumo chi khel?

    The Bergne book is OK as a history, but have you read John Schoeberlien’s Phd dissertation? It provides an excellent anthropological perspective on modern Uzbek and Tajik identity.

    I have the dissertation in PDF, let me know if you are interested in a copy.

  2. shut up


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