Tajikistan region Early Home of Zoroastrianism

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Introduction to the Tajikistan Region

Tajikistan has very interesting connections to Zoroastrianism and the history of the early Zoroastrians. Tajikistan is a land-locked Central Asian state with a population of about seven million people. It is home to the Pamir mountains, also called the roof of the world. Ninety percent of Tajikistan is covered with mountains that contain 8,000 glaciers. The glaciers are the source of many Central Asian rivers. Tajikistan’s location is to Asia what Switzerland is to Europe. However, while Tajikistan has great potential, gracious people and spectacular vistas, Tajikistan is presently the poorest country in Central Asia, its glaciers are retreating due to global warming, and its forests have been denuded. 

The people of the region state that Zoroastrianism is native to their area. Some Tajiks feel that Zoroastrianism’s home was ancient Sugd (northern Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan, i.e. ancient Sughdha. See second map below. Sughdha is the second Vendidad nation*). Other Tajiks consider Zoroastrianism to be a Pamiri (eastern Tajikistan) religion, and yet others say it is a Bactrian / Balkh / Bakhdi (the fourth Vendidad nation) religion. 

* The Vendidad, a book of the Zoroastrian scriptures – the Avesta, lists sixteen ancient nations starting with Airyana Vaeja, the land of the Aryans, the place where Zarathushtra lived and proclaimed the Zoroastrian religion. While the location of Airyana Vaeja remains a mystery, the next three nations listed are all in and around the Tajikistan area. They are identified and numbered in the second map below. 

Sugd (Sughdha) and Balkh (Bakhdi) are the second and fourth nations listed in the Vendidad – likely the second and fourth nations to receive Zoroastrianism. Airyana Vaeja, the first nation listed, was probably a neighbour of Sughdha and Bakhdi, making the rest of Tajikistan and the Pamirs strong candidates for the location of Airyana Vaeja. 

Fact Sheets on Tajikistan: » CIA   » Infoplease   » US State Dept.   » Ismaili.net 

Click on the maps below to open a larger map.

Central Asia map
Airyana Vaeja locale

Meaning of the Name Tajikistan

The name Tajik and Tajikistan are relatively modern names. There is dissention about the origins of the name Tajik and theories abound. One theory is that the name Tajik comes from the Persian word for crown, taj. Taji would therefore mean people from the crown (of the world). 

The word stan means place or home in Persian. Tajikistan, therefore means the home or place of the Tajik.

Iranian / Aryan Heritage

Tajik family celebrating Nowruz
Tajik family celebrating Nowruz

The Tajiks proudly proclaim their Iranian / Aryan heritage and claim either Tajikistan or neighbouring Balkh as the birthplace of Zarathushtra. Within Tajikistan, the Pamiri people claim to be a separate Iranian / Aryan people.

Language & Culture

While the languages of the surrounding states on three sides: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have Turkic roots, the language of Tajikistan is, like the language of its neighbour to the south, Afghanistan, similar to Persian. 

The connection with Iranian culture goes further. Tajikistan’s music, dance and poetry – all have Iranian roots.

Anthropology

The anthropological characteristics of a large number of the Tajiks are Indo-Iranian. The photograph to the right shows a Tajik family celebrating Nowruz. The photograph can very well be mistaken for a photograph of a family in Iran. Intermingled are other ethnic groups that are predominant in neighbouring states.

Scull Caps / Toki / Kallapush

Ishkashim Scull Cap
Ishkashim Scull Cap

Scull caps are a necessary part of a person’s attire in cold climates. In Tajikistan, however, the scull cap takes on added meaning. The Tajik work toki could have become topee, meaning hat in India. 

The people of Tajikistan wear skull-caps with Zoroastrian and Indo-Iranian symbols woven into the design, symbols such as fire and even the swastika. The woman in the header at the top of the page is wearing a decorative scull cap. Scull caps were a common part of Zoroastrian daily attire as well as religious attire. 

The scull cap is a regional and community identifier for the wearer. For instance, the people of the Pamirs wear round and flat caps and people of different religious sects within the same region may also wear group-specific scull caps. The scull caps worn by Zoroastrians in India and Iran have also at times been used as a group identifier.

Tajikistan Flag’s Zoroastrian Symbolism

Tajikistan flag
Tajikistan flag

Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmonov, has promoted Tajikistan’s awareness of its Zoroastrian and Aryan roots in his book The Tajiks In The Mirror of History. This awareness has lead to the incorporation of Zoroastrian symbolism in it flag. 

The seven stars in the center of the flag represent the seven Amesha Spentas. The crown (taj in Persian and Tajik) represents both the name of the people and country as well as the Samanid crown. 

While the green, white and red have other professed meanings, red and white are traditional colours connected with Zoroastrianism (see page 4) while green represents nature and creation.

Silk Roads

Silk Road
The Silk Road Between China and Syria

The Silk Roads are not a single road, but a network of ancient roads that extended for 7,000 miles or 10,000 km. connecting Asia Minor through Iran with China’s old capital at Changan (now Xian). The Silk Roads run though Tajikistan where they divide, one branch going north of the Pamirs and the other south. 

The Iranian or Aryans have traditionally been involved with trade between the east and west. They developed trade between the nations to the east and west of them. Their involvement in trading made them familiar with these lands and when the time came for them to migrate, fanning out west and south along the roads.

The Silk Road running through Kyzyl Art ashuu (pass) in the Pamirs
The Silk Road running through Kyzyl Art ashuu (pass) in the Pamirs,
the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
Customs shacks can be seen down the road
The snow capped mountain is an unnamed, 5’459 m high peak

Deserts and Lush Valleys

The photograph of the silk road above is an example of the arid desert-like regions of Tajikistan. The country also has lush green valleys.

Lush green valley in Tajikistan
Lush green valley in Tajikistan

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