Jerge-Tal, Where Kyrgyz And Tajik Cultures Collide
Published 31 July 2014
In the Jerge-Tal region of Tajikistan, high in the Pamir Mountains, the descendants of Kyrgyz nomads have settled and established a unique community. The residents of Jerge-Tal easily switch between Kyrgyz, a Turkic language, and Tajik, closely related to Persian. Though they have ties to two cultures, the inhabitants of the region are isolated by their remote location and the frequent closure of the roads leading to Kyrgyzstan amid ongoing border disputes. (Photos by Janyl Jusupjan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service)
Aldakul Tairov, 75, grows and sells trees with the help of his children and grandchildren. Although he stopped studying after elementary school, he has an aptitude for languages, speaks Kyrgyz in the literary style, and writes poetry, songs, and pamphlets. His father was reknowned as a player of buzkashi, a sport in which horsemen try to carry a goat carcass toward a goal.
Amirbekova Zuura was born in Kyrgyzstan but moved to Jerge-Tal after she married. She and her relatives tend other villagers' cows and make qurut, or dried cheese kurd, which they divide between the cows' owners and their own family.
Nawruz is proud to be a member of the Kipchak, a once-powerful tribe in Central Asia. His six siblings have left Jerge-Tal and moved to Kyrgyzstan, where his father and half-siblings live. Nawruz also wants to move to Kyrgyzstan, but his wife, who barely speaks Kyrgyz, is reluctant to go.
Shabnam, a Tajik mother of four, is married to an ethnic Kyrgyz man and speaks Kyrgyz fluently. Her husband, the head of a local bank, is one of few Kyrgyz in a leadership position in the district. Their family lived in Kyrgyzstan for a year but decided to return to Jerge-Tal.
A boy stands outside a yurt. Many adult men travel for seasonal work in Kyrgyzstan or Russia, leaving women and older children to perform household duties, childcare, and agriculture work.
This man has a Tajik mother and a Kyrgyz father. When asked about his ethnic identity, he responded, “We don’t ask about nationality. We are chalysh (mixed). We are all brothers and sisters."
These children say their village used to be called Dombrachy, Kyrgyz for "drummer," but was renamed Guzar in Tajik. But they also pointed to a sign on the opposite side of the street, where the name Guzar is crossed out, indicating the edge of the village. The children claimed that the sign meant that the village hadn't been renamed after all.
A woman pauses while returning from the Tandy-Kol hot springs, believed to have healing qualities. The springs are so hot that locals can cook eggs in the water in seven minutes.
Ubajdulla, born in Jerge-Tal, now lives in Samara, Russia, where he works in construction. In Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, he asked for help in finding a Kyrgyz friend with whom he served in the Soviet army.
Mafiza moved to Kyrgyzstan during Tajikistan's war of the 1990s. Her family had to start from scratch, but she believes their flight from Tajikistan was the best decision for the future of her nine children. Mafiza misses her home in Jerge-Tal and often cooks the cuisine of her native region.
Mirzoholil Kairmov is a writer and journalist. Born in Jerge-Tal, he has lived in Bishkek for many years, and translates Tajik and Persian literature into Kyrgyz.
Nusrotullo Khasanov is a former governor of Jerge-Tal who has served in the Tajik parliament. During Tajikistan's civil war, his house in Jerge-Tal was burned down. He cooperated closely with then-speaker of parliament and current President Emomali Rahmon to deliver emergency aid to his home region as Islamic militants tried to seize it. He also helped improve the road to Kyrgyzstan, which became a lifeline for refugees fleeing the fighting. He now resides in the Tajik capital.
Sharbinoz spends her summers at a pasture along the Kok-Suu river. Her brother works in construction in Kyrgyzstan. Sitting in a summer tent next to a Kyrgyz felt yurt, Sharbinoz sings lullabies to her nephew in Tajik. She says she wants to go back to town to be with her friends.
Mahmarajap, 84, was born just months after his father fled Jerge-Tal, fearing possible political repression. Three years ago, he learned that his father Raimkul died in 1960 in Afghanistan’s Pamir region, where he had found refuge, remarried, and had four children. Most of Mahmarajap’s children now live in Kyrgyzstan. With the money they send, he is a building a new house with space for a shop.
Asila lives in Duvana, the closest village to the Kyrgyz border, where villagers are dependent on cross-border trade. Her family keeps bees. Asila attended a school with Kyrgyz teachers who were sent to support the Kyrgyz community in this Tajik region. Since Tajikistan won its independence, the region's cultural ties with Kyrgyzstan have weakened.
Khamid Boronov is a veteran educator and the founder of a one-room museum about Jerge-Tal with some 3,000 archeological and historical items he has collected. He opened the museum in a secondary school in 1993 at the start of Tajikistan's five-year civil war. Local authorities recently approved funds for a dedicated museum building. Boronov also writes the biographies of prominent people in the region, to which he adds his own poetry.