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Grave Concern: Tajikistan Tamps Down On Tombstone Sizes

Tajikistan’s government has long attempted to micromanage its citizens’ dress and behavior. Now it has set its sights on ornate gravestones. (illustrative photo)
Tajikistan’s government has long attempted to micromanage its citizens’ dress and behavior. Now it has set its sights on ornate gravestones. (illustrative photo)

From the length of their beards and dresses to the amount of food they're allowed to prepare, Tajiks have seen their government take numerous steps to regulate their private lives.

Now, Tajikistan is trying to control how its citizens are memorialized after they die.

Tajik officials are conducting public outreach about restrictions on the size of tombstones in the Central Asian country's cemeteries, an official with the government's Committee on Religious Affairs and Regulation of National Traditions told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on August 25.

He said that the measure is aimed at reining in displays of the wealth of the deceased and his or her relatives.

"Awareness-raising activities are under way among the population," the official said.

The regulations limiting the size of tombstones were first unveiled in a little-noticed February 2017 statement in the state-controlled Jumhuriyat newspaper. But they appear to have only garnered broad public attention after an August 25 report on the rules by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been in power since 1992.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been in power since 1992.

In the Jumhuriyat announcement by Abdukarim Mustafozoda, an official with the government’s religious affairs committee, said headstones should be no more than 1.5 meters long, 1 meter wide, and 50 centimeters tall.

The official who spoke to RFE/RL’s Tajik Service said these measurements were "established by government decree," adding that local authorities and branches of the religious affairs committee had been tasked with putting the decree into practice.

"No penalty has been introduced yet for violating the policy," the official said.

Under President Emomali Rahmon, an authoritarian leader who has been in power since 1992, the Tajik government has enacted a raft of measures micromanaging the dress and behavior of citizens.

Last year, the government released new measures forbidding bereaved family members from loud wailing at funerals, a traditional manner of mourning in Tajikistan, primarily among women.

Authorities have also placed restrictions on how much families are allowed to spend on funerals, weddings, and other private events. One family in southern Tajikistan last year had food for a wedding confiscated by officials who said a "wasteful" amount had been prepared.

Wary of what they portray as a threat from religious extremism, Tajik authorities have tightened restrictions over Islamic institutions and public displays of faith in the mainly Muslim country that are often seen as indicators of religiosity, including men's beards, baby names, and how women tie their scarves.

The tombstone regulations, however, hew toward the traditional austerity of Islamic grave markers.

In announcing the rules last year, Mustafozoda wrote that Tajik cemeteries have become a place for people to show off their wealth and try to outdo one another by erecting extravagant headstones for their relatives.

"This trend is not only wrong, it's also against Islam.... This wastefulness and unnecessary display of wealth is creating an unhealthy competition among people," he wrote.

Several members of Rahmon’s family and relatives occupy important official positions or control major businesses in Tajikistan, and he has been widely criticized for widespread corruption and cracking down on dissent.

Written by senior correspondent Carl Schreck based on reporting by Mullorajab Yusufzoda of RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.
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    Mullorajab Yusufzoda

    Mullorajab Yusufzoda is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.