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Tajikistan: President Glorifies Alexander The Great

Prague, 18 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov has announced that Tajikistan will host next month a week-long international symposium entitled "Alexander the Great and Central Asian civilizations."

Rahmonov demonstrated his personal interest in the symposium by ordering law enforcement ministries to prepare security measures in Khujand, where the symposiums to be held. Khujand also is where Rahmonov was wounded in an assassination attempt in April 1997. The president also urged state mass-media to give the symposium thorough coverage. Rahmonov said he will attend to the symposium in person.

A government-appointed commission of scholars, writers and broadcasters, Ministry of Culture officials, and others is organizing the gathering.

The participants will discuss the meeting of Alexander's forces with Central Asian civilizations in the fourth century before Christ. Some historical accounts portray Alexander as a military genius and invader, others as a peaceful, wise man who built cities and castles.

Most scholars agree that ancient Central Asia was where Alexander the Great met military, political and personal defeat. In 329 B.C., after crushing the Persian empire of Darius, Alexander's legions met fierce resistance in Central Asia. Alexander was forced to build about 70 fortifications to save his soldiers.

Unable to invade Sogdia and Bactria militarily, Alexander chose another way. He signed a peace agreement and married the daughter of Ustrushana's (now Uroteppa) satrap, Roxana, and required his commanders similarly to intermarry with local people.

Thus, with guile not arms, Alexander extended his power over these regions. According to old writings, he built a city, Alexandria Eskhata (Far Alexandria), the ruins of which have been discovered near Khujand. Many of his forts became the sites of cities and towns.

The history of Alexander the Great is recounted in numerous Central Asian poems and legends. Poet Abulqosim Firdawsi described him as a son of an Persian shah, born of a Roman woman who had fled to Macedonia.

Tajik film makers plan a feature film about Alexander in Central Asia. Shahobiddin Dustov, head of the Saidon company, the symposium's main sponsor, said that recalling the life of Alexander will help Tajiks to think about their own place in ancient history and their position in the present. These recollections will help Tajiks to restore their national pride and international status, he said.

One added impetus for the Alexander the Great symposium is a Tajiks' reaction to their country's subordinate position in the Soviet years, when Moscow's heavy hand threw difficulties in the way of such enterprises.

Historian Usmonjon Gafforov says there is in Tajikistan today what he calls an "infatuation" with international celebrations and conferences. He says Tajikistan wants to improve its international image and ties. Holding international events emphasizes Tajikistan's renewed independence, he says. As Gafforov puts it: "It was very difficult to organize such a symposium in Soviet time. Everything was under Moscow's control. We needed permission of some people who did not know anything about our history and culture."

Next year, Tajikistan will celebrate the 1,100th anniversary of Samanid Dynasty, which is called the first Tajik state. Popular writings depict Ismoil Somoni, founder of the dynasty, as a magnificent hero. Observers say that a drive is under way to picture President Rahmanov as a modern heroic figure in the tradition of Somoni and Alexander the Great. Some Tajik artists and poets portray the president as a modern-day Somoni. One newspaper headlined an article about the symposium: "President Rahmonov Orders Alexander the Great To Return to Tajikistan."

Rahmonov's interest in Alexander the Great fuels such criticism.