Review: “Tajikistan: A Political and Social History” – Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer’s “Tajikistan: A Political and Social History” offers the most comprehensive analysis of the history of Tajikistan that I have ever read.

The main purpose of the book is to understand the causes of the Tajik Civil War (1992-97), one of the deadliest conflicts in the former USSR. More specifically, Nourzhanov and Bleuer are interested in why Tajikistan experienced near total societal collapse immediately after independence but not other post-Soviet Central Asian states, such as Uzbekistan. As a Central Asian scholar, I own and have read several books about Tajikistan and the Tajik Civil War. What really impressed me about this book was the authors’ methodology; Nourzhanov and Bleuer take a dialectical approach in their analysis of Tajikistan and the Tajik Civil War. Nothing examined in the book — the War, the establishment of the Tajik SSR and Soviet nationalities policy, etc. — is examined as a singular event but rather as a constantly evolving process. This approach, in my opinion, makes it possible for Nourzhanov and Bleuer to avoid making the same mistakes as other scholars. In “Tajikistan: The Trials of Independence” and “Inside Central Asia”, Shirin Akiner and Dilip Hiro, respectively, fall into the trap of Cold War anti-communism. They’re unable to understand Tajikistan as anything but ‘proof’ of evil Soviet machinations. Tim Epkenhans’s “The Origins of the Civil War in Tajikistan: Nationalism, Islamism, and Violent Conflict in Post-Soviet Space” is better, but his focus is on the subjective aspects of the Tajik Civil War, thus he isn’t able to contextualize the War to the same extent as Nourzhanov and Bleuer.

I’d recommend this as the ‘go-to’ book for anyone interested in Tajikistan!

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