I have mentioned Marat Akchurin’s wonderful Red Odyssey: A Journey Through the Soviet Republics before, and I thought I’d quote this passage from his visit to Tajikistan in 1990, as the whole Soviet mess was in the process of falling apart; it resonates with the material I’ve been posting from Terry Martin’s book:
We tried to pay the counterman for the green tea that we had drunk, but he refused to take money, saying that he considered us to be his guests.
“If you had an opportunity to address Americans, what would you tell them?” I asked him.
“Americans?” he asked again in surprise. “Let them learn Tadzhik. It’s a very simple and beautiful language. Maybe they will make use of it one day!”
Safar and I went out and decided to go to the bookstore and then walk to my hotel.
“Is Tadzhik very different from Farsi?” I asked Safar. “Are they just dialects of one language?”
“Tadzhik is Persian-Farsi transliterated with Russian letters,” Safar replied. “But nothing good ever came of it. They took away the old alphabet and thus cut the Tadzhik people off from their ancient history and culture. This monstrously sly Bolshevik act did terrible damage to the national culture of the Tadzhik people. Why? Because letters are culture-producing for a Tadzhik. Can you imagine Pushkin writing in Russian but with Arabic ligatures? That would be crazy, wouldn’t it? But this nightmarish experiment was conducted in the U.S.S.R. on many peoples, Tadzhiks among them. I believe that it was a cunning policy.”
“What’s so cunning about this policy, tell me!” I snorted. Many Soviet and Western intellectuals are keen on ascribing refined cunning and slyness to the Bolsheviks, although they most often were led by nothing more than ordinary cruelty that resulted from their own lack of culture and purely proletarian hatred for the cultures of other peoples that are incomprehensible to them.
“Why? The formal reason they gave was that the Arabic alphabet is difficult to learn. But as a former teacher of Persian-Farsi in the Moscow Literary Institute, I am entitled to say that my students—Russians, Latvians, Georgians—learned the alphabet in just two weeks. And this language wasn’t native for any of them. Why then is it more difficult for Tadzhiks, whose ancestors were using this alphabet for ten generations? No, all this talk about the Arabic alphabet being too difficult for Tadzhiks is a blatant lie. So it turned out that in just seventy years Tadzhiks have lost their letters, their cultural legacy, and their cities.”
“What about Dushanbe? Or Leninabad? Are you going to give it back its ancient name of Khodzhend?”
“In Dushanbe Russians make up the majority of the population. In Leninabad Uzbeks are the most numerous ethnic group. As far as the restoration of its historical name is concerned, it’s true that the people are demanding the return of the former name. When it was renamed into yet another ‘Lenin’s city,’ for that’s what Leninabad means in Tadzhik, it was done on the pretext that it was ‘by request of the working people.’ In fact, as you know, no working people requested it. The Bolsheviks just impertinently renamed Khodzhend Leninabad and Dushanbe Stalinabad. Well, Stalin was dumped, but so far we can’t do anything with Lenin. The party functionaries stand firm on this point.”
Of course, Khojand was renamed the following year (and most of the Russians fled the new country).