Culture and the Arts

Tajikistan Table of Contents

As they did during the Soviet era, educated Tajiks define their cultural heritage broadly, laying claim to the rich legacy of the supraethnic culture of Central Asia and other parts of the Islamic world from the eastern Mediterranean to India. Soviet rule institutionalized Western art forms, publishing, and mass media, some elements of which subsequently attracted spontaneous support in the republic. However, since the beginning of Soviet rule in the 1920s, the media and the arts always have been subject to political constraints.


Despite long-standing Soviet efforts to differentiate between the Persian speakers of Central Asia and those elsewhere, Tajiks in Tajikistan describe all of the major literary works written in Persian until the twentieth century as Tajik, regardless of the ethnicity and native region of the author. In Soviet times, such claims were not merely a matter of chauvinism but a strategy to permit Tajiks some contact with a culture that was artificially divided by state borders. Nevertheless, very little Persian literature was published in Cyrillic transcription in the Soviet era.

Three writers dominated the first generation of Soviet Tajik literature. Sadriddin Aini (1878-1954), a Jadidist writer and educator who turned communist, began as a poet but wrote primarily prose in the Soviet era. His works include three major novels dealing with social issues in the region and memoirs that depict life in the Bukhoro Khanate. Aini became the first president of Tajikistan's Academy of Sciences.

Abu'l-Qasem Lahuti (1887-1957; in Tajik, Abdulqosim Lohuti) was an Iranian poet who emigrated to the Soviet Union for political reasons and eventually settled in Tajikistan. He wrote both lyric poetry and "socialist realist" verse. Another poet, Mirzo Tursunzoda (1911-77), collected Tajik oral literature, wrote poetry of his own about social change in Tajikistan, and turned out various works on popular political themes of the moment. Since the generation that included those three writers, Tajikistan has produced numerous poets, novelists, short story writers, and playwrights.

Cultural Institutions

By the mid-1980s, more than 1,600 libraries were operating in Tajikistan. Of particular importance is the Firdavsi State Library, which houses a significant collection of Oriental manuscripts. In 1990 Tajikistan had twenty-seven museums, the fewest of any Soviet republic. Among the most notable are the Behzed Museum of History, Regional Studies, and Art, and the Ethnographic Museum of the Academy of Sciences, both in Dushanbe. There are also significant museums of history and regional studies in several of the republic's other cities. The republic had fourteen theaters in 1990. Only the three Baltic republics, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan--all with smaller populations--had fewer. The republic's film studio, since 1958 called Tadzhikfil'm, opened in Dushanbe in 1930. By the mid-1980s, it was producing seven or eight feature films and thirty documentaries per year for cinemas and television.

The Soviet era saw the introduction of opera and ballet to Tajikistan, as well as the organization of Tajik-style song and dance troupes. Dushanbe's opera and ballet theater was the first large public building in the city; its construction began in 1939. Dushanbe also has theaters devoted to Tajik and Russian drama, as well as a drama school. There are theaters for music, musical comedy, and drama in several other Tajik cities as well.

Films are shown in theaters in Tajikistan's cities and in villages on an irregular basis. In the last decade of Soviet rule and in the early 1990s, video and audio cassettes became increasingly popular sources of entertainment, as well as a means of disseminating information outside government control. The political turmoil and economic problems of Tajikistan in the 1990s took a severe toll on the country's cultural life and on the elite that fostered it.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress