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Russian Language Fading Away In Dushanbe

Russian-language newspapers in Tajikistan, such as "Vecherny Dushanbe," have suffered from a lack of readership.
Russian-language newspapers in Tajikistan, such as "Vecherny Dushanbe," have suffered from a lack of readership.
A Tajik who grew up in Dushanbe but only recently returned after decades in Russia has noticed a change in the Tajik capital. Hardly anyone speaks Russian anymore.

As Konstantin Parshin at tells it:

Evidence is mostly anecdotal, but the linguistic changes are obvious to Tajiks who have been away for years. This past summer, for example, Ruslan Akhmedov wanted to sell an apartment he inherited, so returned to Dushanbe from a small Russian town where he's lived for most of his adult life. "I placed an ad in a local paper indicating my phone number," Akhmedov recalled. "Out of about thirty people who called me during the first couple of days, only three or four easily switched into Russian. With the others, I had to communicate in my primitive Tajik. Regrettably, I've almost forgotten the language."

Akhmedov says the once-multiethnic city has changed. "I left in 1995, in the heat of the civil war. I clearly remember my childhood at the end of the Soviet epoch," Akhmedov recalls. "In Dushanbe [we had] Germans, Koreans, Ossetians, Armenians, Jews. We were friendly. My classmates spoke their languages at home, but in the street and at school we all communicated in Russian; and that always brought us closer together."

While the Russian minority in Dushanbe and Tajikistan in general has dwindled since the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago, the country still maintains a direct tie in the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers it sends to Russia ever year. Russia has also begun to demand that migrant workers prove an ability to speak Russian.

So it would seem that many Tajiks would have an economic incentive to learn Russian. But with an education system in turmoil, the country has even had to import Russian-language teachers from Russia.

The loss of multilingualism in Tajikistan is just part of a wider trend across Central Asia, where formerly multicultural societies have not only lost their connection with Russian, but even with the languages of local minorities.

This adds to the strains between the newly independent states of the region, where attempts to build a pan-Eurasian identity or consensus of some kind fall victim not only to growing nationalism and struggles over resources, but a declining ability to communicate among most residents.

"We have lost our multiethnicity and multiculturalism, which were built on communication. This communication was maintained with the Russian language, which consolidated society," prominent theater director and author Barzu Abdurazakov tells

"I grew up in the small city of Shakhrinav [about 30 kilometers west of Dushanbe] among different ethnic groups. Then, I moved to the capital, where I was captured by its charming diversity. A hangover is coming now," Abdurazakov says. "Even vocal advocates of 'national identity' and 'ethnic purity' understand and regret the things we have lost during the years of independence -- the diversity, the culture, and intellect."

-- Dan Wisniewski

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