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Tajikistan: Soviet-Era Monuments Quietly Disappearing

A statue of Lenin in Dushanbe City Park (RFE/RL) May 11, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- From Tajikistan's capital city, Dushanbe, to remote districts and villages, authorities are busy removing Soviet-era statues, replacing some with monuments celebrating the Tajik nation.

The removal of monuments has attracted little attention -- unlike in Estonia, where the recent relocation of a Soviet war memorial from the center of the capital, Tallinn, provoked violent protests and diplomatic furor. But in contrast to Estonia, World War II memorials in Tajikistan have been left untouched.

In the southern Tajik city of Kulob, authorities have decided to remove statues of two Red Army commanders, Efim Shatalov and Nikolay Tomin. Those two Russian generals came to Tajikistan in the 1920s to fight locals and foreigners who opposed the creation of a Soviet government in the region.

Ahmad Ibrohimov, a Kulob resident and an informed observer of social affairs, told RFE/RL that most local residents make no issue of the removal of such memorials -- they simply accept it as reflective of historical change.

"The statues of Tomin, Shatalov, and many others have been removed because they have run their historical courses," Ibrohimov said. "This is not vandalism or breaking the law -- but, incidentally, it should not be seen as any kind of heroic act, either."

Of the many monuments removed from Tajikistan since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the greatest number were of Vladimir Lenin, the first head of the Soviet Union. Other Soviet leaders and commanders, like Mikhail Frunze or Cheslav Putovsky, have also quietly disappeared.

Many Soviet monuments have been removed because "they have run their historical courses."

Many of those statues were replaced by memorials dedicated to historic Tajiks, including poets and scientists. Some were simply replaced by fountains.

In at least a few cases, statues have been removed, only to reappear inexplicably in the same location a few months later.

But all across the country, authorities have left untouched the many memorials to World War II -- or the Great Patriotic War, as Tajiks and many other former Soviet citizens call it.

It appears that few even notice them, much less question their existence.

Salomat, a Dushanbe resident, expresses the kind of apathy with which many appear to regard such public adornments. She says she cares little whether the public is honoring Russian revolutionaries or 11th-century Persian scholars like Avicenna, also known as Abu Ali Sina.

"It makes no difference to me. It's up to the government to remove or keep the them. To me, it makes no difference whether it's Lenin's monument or Avicenna's," she said.

A routine change

Many Tajiks seem to regard the removal of the old statues and the unveiling of new ones as a normal component of major political change.

Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a Lenin statue on Dushanbe's main square was demolished during an antigovernment demonstration.

When civil war broke out in 1992, statues of National Front commanders were erected in areas where majorities backed the central government. But they were removed just as quickly once the warring sides signed a comprehensive peace accord to end the fighting in 1997.

In Tajikistan's eastern Rasht Valley, where support was strongest for the largely Islamic opposition during the civil war, local warlords demolished nearly all monuments, Russian and Tajik alike.

Muzaffar Azizi, the head of the Culture Ministry's Department of Culture and Protection of Architectural Monuments, says warlords in Rasht acted thoughtlessly when they attacked monuments like the one to the 1930s government leader Nusratullah Makhsum, or the Hoit Mother Memorial, dedicated to the victims of a 1949 earthquake.

"In the Rasht district, the statue of Nusratulloh Makhsum was blown up," Azizi said. "The opposition even blew up the Hoit Mother Memorial, which had nothing to do with politics -- that was built in the memory of victims of a tragedy."

Identity issues

More recently, Tajik national identity and debate over so-called Aryan descent have become increasingly popular in official speeches and in the media. As a result, dozens of new monuments to historic personalities have sprouted up in Tajik cities and towns.

A huge monument to Ismoil Somoni, a 10th-century Tajik king, has replaced the Lenin statue in Dushanbe's central square.

But Lenin statues still stand in many places across Tajikistan. Authorities have suggested that they, too, will eventually be removed.

Their sheer numbers suggest that discarding all of Tajikistan's Soviet-era monuments -- apart from those dedicated to World War II -- could take some time.

(RFE/RL correspondent Sayof Dostiev contributed to this story from Dushanbe)

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.