Review: “A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East” – Richard Foltz

Tajikistan is a country I am very interested in; I own and have read many books about Tajikistan. If I can save enough money, I plan to drive the Pamir Highway from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in a year or two, subject to COVID restrictions.

I didn’t have very high expectations when I began reading Richard Foltz’s “A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East.” Most of the books I have read about Tajikistan leave much to be desired. Frank Bliss’ “Social and Economic Change in the Pamirs (Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan)” is an anthropological study of the Pamiri people inhabiting the mountains GBAO and not Tajikistan. Dilip Hiro’s “Inside Central Asia,” Shirin Akiner’s “Tajikistan: The Trials of Independence,” and to a lesser extent Artemy Kalinovsky’s “Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan” are too heavily laden with pro-imperialist propaganda to be taken seriously as academic studies. Tim Epkenhans’ “The Origins of the Civil War in Tajikistan: Nationalism, Islamism, and Violent Conflict in Post-Soviet Space” only examines the Tajik Civil War (1992-1997) through the perspective of the Tajiks themselves. Epkenhans’ book doesn’t offer the reader much about the general history of the Tajiks or Tajikistan. Paul Bergne’s “The Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic” is broader in its analysis than the previously described works since, as the title suggests, the book examines the origins of Tajikistan. Bergne’s analysis, however, is heavily distorted by his anti-Soviet bias. Bergne lacks the originality and objectivity of Arne Haugen, Arsene Saparov, Adrienne Lynn Edgar, and Adeeb Khalid. The only book I had read about Tajikistan that offered a genuinely scholarly analysis and general history of Tajikistan worthy of recommendation was “Tajikistan: A Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer. Although not as radical as Haugen and Khalid, Nourzhanov and Bleuer’s study of Tajikistan can rightly be classified as among the post-Cold War “revisionist” studies of Central Asia that challenge many anti-Soviet myths about Soviet nationalities policy.

As it turned out, my low expectations were unjustified; Foltz’s book is a scholarly masterpiece. Foltz is an outstanding Iranologist whose passion for the peoples and history of Iran radiates through the pages of his book. Foltz provides an excellent overview of the origins of the Tajik language and culture without oversaturating the book with anthropological data like Bliss does. Foltz is anti-Soviet, but not to such an extent that he loses his scholarly objectivity in the book like Hiro, Akiner, and other scholars do. Indeed, Foltz has read the works of “revisionist” scholars like Khalid, and his book should be considered “revisionist” in its own right. Finally, Foltz provides an excellent overview of modern Tajikistan’s origins and struggles, including the Tajik Civil War, the authoritarian regime of Emomali Rahmon, and Tajikistan’s troubled economy.

An absolutely fantastic book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s