Wednesday, June 04, 2008


By: Borderless Borderguard

Part I

“While all identities in pre Soviet Central Asia were weakly territorialized, the Tajiks were the least territorial. If nationalism is the political belief that ethnic and territorial boundaries should coincide, the Tajiks were uniquely unsuited for it. For Tajiks even more than for other Central Asians, the difficulty was not that borders were drawn incorrectly, but that no borders could have been ‘correct’ in any nationalist sense.” (Barnett R. Rubin in Sengupta 2002: 143)

As was mentioned above, the territory of Central Asia was supposed to be reorganised in the 1920s into nation-states, which would proceed along the self-determination principle of ethnic groups that call Central Asia home. The term nation-state might be an overstatement, as the states, which were being created were supposed to be part of a greater Soviet ‘Empire’ with the status of Soviet Socialist Republics, but having restrained sovereignty. Even if the Central Asian Soviet Republics had their own autonomous governments they weren’t totally sovereign in foreign affairs, as well as in many other policies where they largely depended on Moscow. According to Dadabaev, “all Central Asian republics were an integral part of a single state” (Dadabaev 2004).

Now when it comes to identifying ethnic groups and identities in Central Asia, the delimitation process proceeded under very suspicious circumstances. As Sengupta rightfully notes, “in 1924, the people of a region who had defined themselves in local terms through history, were transformed into Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Turkmen - names that would define their identities subsequently”, which was made on a linguistic basis (Sengupta 2002: 57-58). The ethnic composition of the Central Asian population wasn’t studied much before Soviet times. The Soviet regime literally created new ethnicities, identities and languages. As for instance, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbek languages were oral languages and didn’t have a written form, which was then developed by Soviet philologists and grammarians.

Central Asia is home to many various ethnic groups and even more diverse identities. Linguistically though, the population of the region can be divided into two major groups: Turkic speaking and Iranian speaking peoples, namely Ural Altaic and Indo-European languages, respectively. According to Sengupta “at the beginning of the Islamic period, Central Asia was still roughly divided into two well defined linguistic zones - Turkic, which included all the northern steppe regions - and Iranian which included the regions of the sedentary culture” (Sengupta 2002: 18). As Sengupta notes, “the indigenous population of the whole of Central Asia, both sedentary and nomadic, was Iranian and they still inhabited the region at the beginning of this era. However, by the sixth century the steppe belt had become completely Turkified and a similar process was about to begin in the sedentary zone…” (Sengupta 2002: 18).

Interestingly, the identity question usually touches upon the Turko-Persian differences in the region (cf. Sengupta 2002, Bergne 2007). Central Asia is mainly comprised of states and communities of Turkic peoples, or Turkic speaking peoples. The only non-Turkic indigenous population of the region is the Iranian people, the majority of which is known as Tajiks. Yet, there is a small minority of so called Pamiri Tajiks. Both speak Indo-European languages, which prior to Soviet rule where called Persian/Farsi and therefore not much differentiated. The Persian speaking Tajiks were mainly city dwellers or inhabited in mountainous regions in the southern parts of Central Asia. Different forms of Iranian languages were spoken and written in Central Asia for millennia, like Sogdian. In the most recent hundreds of years, though, the ruling elite comprised of various Turkic dynasties.

It is of utmost importance to note that the Turkic or Iranian speaking groups of people were not necessarily homogenous, and what is more important, the linguistic affiliation wasn’t necessarily the primary source of their identity. The way of life, the clan, or religion were more important signifiers of identity, rather than race, language or ethnicity, the latter being alien for the ‘Central Asians’. To support the argument, I refer to the words of Sengupta (2002:24) as she mentions the ‘fluidity of identities’ in Central Asia: “[T]he peoples of Central Asia expressed a variety of overlapping identities [...], the most basic of [which] was related to place or lineage - to region or ‘clan’ for the oasis dweller and to tribe and tribal confederation for the inhabitants of the steppes.” Sengupta further argues that the “groups of people lacked any significant awareness of themselves as culturally distinct groups” (ibid. 16). Her strongest point regarding national identity is that “self definitions in the region had never been determined in terms of ‘nationalities” (ibid. 58).

Part II

I will use the example of the analysis of the Bukhara censuses in 1926 provided by Bergne and Sengupta to illustrate how unclear the notions of ethnicity and identity were, and furthermore, how fluid and flexibly changed they were. I will further show how language use was confused and how non homogenous communities were forced to be claimed as such. Referring to Sengupta’s ‘fluid identities’, it must be stressed that multiple identities were the predominant characteristic of the Central Asian region (cf. Sengupta 2002).

Bukhara and Samarkand are two cities disputed between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Both cities are within Uzbek borders, and both of them are primarily Tajik-speaking. There are a number of other settlements within Uzbek territories, such as villages and towns, where Tajik inhabitants predominate. It is not difficult to find, especially in the mountainous area of Nurata, villages with only Tajik speaking inhabitants. The same is true to the oblasts (districts) of Syrdarya, Sukhandarya, Kashkadarya, Bukhara, Samarkand, Dzhizak, and the Fergana valley. But because these two cities, Samarkand and Bukhara, are among the most ancient and famous cities in the region (indeed, they are the second and third largest cities of Uzbekistan) and played an important role as centres of science, culture and religion at the Silk Road there is a bigger sense of loss on the part of Tajikistanis, and ‘defensiveness’ on the part of Uzbekistanis. These two are currently, together with Khiva, the biggest tourist destinations in the whole of Central Asia.

Both Sengupta and Bergne note that there were no accurate and reliable figures on the population of Bukhara and moreover of its ethnic composition before the late 1920s (cf. Sengupta 2002, Bergne 2007). According to Sengupta, the only source of information regarding the overall population of Bukhara was in form of travel accounts, where only approximate numbers ranging from 2 to 3.5 millions were mentioned. A survey after the October revolution revealed a number of 1,531,015 (cf. Sengupta 2002: 62).

The discrepancy between both, censuses as well as travel and ethnographers’ accounts is evident. Huge differences were observed by Sengupta between the outcomes of censuses in 1920 and in 1926. Such as in the 1920 census of the population of Turkestan the following ethnic groups were identified: 1) Kyrgyz 2) Sarte-i-Tajik 3) Turkmen 4) Russian. Obviously, no separate Uzbek ethnic group existed (ibid. 76). Whereas the censuses of 1926 in Bukhara gave different numbers, namely, out of 41,839 people, 27,823 called themselves Uzbeks and only 8646 called themselves Tajiks (cf. Sengupta 2002: 68). It is interesting that a non-existent ethnic group in the 1920s became the majority in the course of only six years. Important to note that every time numbers in Bukhara are mentioned both Sengupta and Bergne speak of a so called ‘misidentification’. Sengupta writes: “[F]rom different parts of the region came reports that the people were innocently misidentifying themselves and it would be difficult to assign ethnic distinctions on a clear basis” (ibid. 76). She further suggests “cases of deliberate misidentification for political reasons, particularly in the Tajik-Uzbek case” took place (ibid.). She also concludes that often “estimates were determined by political exigencies” (ibid.).

Both Sengupta and Bergne refer primarily to the field research conducted by a Russian ethnographer Sukharyova in Bukhara in the 1940s and 1950s. According to Sengupta, she also recorded the language in which the interviews were conducted. This made some most exciting findings possible: “While the majority of the population spoke Tajik, they identified themselves as Uzbeks” (ibid.). The works of O. A. Sukharyova, in the words of Sengupta illustrate that “delineating the population of the city as Uzbek or Tajik would be problematic given the fact that in most cases there was no congruence between language use and ethnic identity” (ibid. 66).

Sengupta argues that “incorrect identification of the ‘ethnic’ criteria” resulted in a number of occasions when thousands of Tajiks “declared themselves as Uzbeks in their identity papers and were therefore recorded as such in all demographic records” (ibid. 58). Bergne, too, points on this strange event. Moreover, many ethnographers seem to agree and repeat sentences like ‘a number of Tajiks declared/think of themselves as Uzbeks’. It is interesting that ethnographers already call them Tajiks, even if respondents identify themselves as Uzbeks. This sentence as such is strange. It shows that researchers are either biased or seem to know beforehand that the respondent is Tajik but calls himself Uzbek. Ethnographers obviously assumed respondents to be Tajik because they were Tajik-speaking. Sukharyova refers to ethnographic findings of other Russian scholars (such as P. Savalev and Khanikov) who agreed that the majority of the city’s population was Tajik but she admits that these “accounts define ethnic affinity on the basis of language” (ibid. 67).

Part III

At this point my personal observations seem to be of scholarly relevance.[1] I noticed that indeed many people who in their daily life identify themselves as Tajiks and speak Tajik might have an absolutely different identity when it comes to officialdom, i.e. passports, statistics. For instance, in my class at school and university all my Tajik fellows appeared to have passports where they were registered as ethnic Uzbeks. This was revealed when the teacher asked all the Uzbeks to raise their hands, then Russians and then followed Tajiks, where I was alone with my hand in the air. Some were utterly surprised and worried for me that I kept my ethnic identity unchanged, trying to convince me that I might have problems with the state. I don’t know if this might prove true, but the majority of Uzbekistan’s Tajiks are convinced that their official Tajik registry can cause harm and prove an obstacle on their career path and life in general. Very often, young Samarkandis aged 16 receive passports with an entry Uzbek, on the line for ethnicity. Tajiks applying for passports receive Uzbek ethnicity by default, even if they in their application identify themselves as Tajiks. This, however, is obviously the case only in Samarkand and Bukhara. My mother is a Samarkandi Tajik and my father a mountainous Tajik. He is Tajik officially, whereas my mother and all her relatives (cousins and aunts) in Samarkand are registered as ethnic Uzbeks.

Bergne shares some very interesting findings on ‘how Tajiks define[d] Tajiks’ back in 1920s. He shows how Pamiri Tajiks[2] distinguished between Tajiks, themselves, and the “Farsigu” (Persian Speakers). Linguistically this was a correct answer, since the Persian language belongs to the western branch of Iranian languages, which is distinct from eastern Iranian languages (such as Yaghnobi, Sogdian, Kurdish and so forth). Bergne’s conclusion on this matter is that mountain dwellers identify themselves as Tajiks whereas city and plain dwellers of, for instance, Samarkand and Bukhara “were more inclined to identify themselves in regional terms”, such as Samarkandi, Bukhor(o)i (Bergne 2007: 11). Tajiks of Bukhara who called themselves Uzbeks replied to Sukharyova’s question of who they considered to be Tajiks, as the “inhabitants of Tajikistan” or the “Fars” - “Persian speaking Shi’i immigrants from Iran or Merv”. Her conclusion in the words of Bergne was that “Muslim Tajik-speakers often thought they were Uzbeks, but, when asked to describe Tajiks, thought they were either immigrant mountaineers, or Shi’i “Fars”" (ibid. 13).

Sukharyova makes a fair point referring to the fact that the first census in Bukhara was conducted after the UzSSR and Tajik Autonomous Oblast being established. “As a result many understood the term ‘Tajik’ and ‘Uzbek’ to mean residents of Tajikistan or Uzbekistan and identified themselves accordingly” (Sengupta 2002: 68). In a number of occasions responses like “earlier we were Tajiks, now we are Uzbeks” (cf. ibid. 65) make it clear that, if it ethnicity ‘Uzbek’ and ‘Tajik’, then people are easily flexible with changing them. Sukharyova reported some of the confessions of respondents saying “we are Uzbeks, but our language is Tajik” and “prior to the revolution they identified themselves as Moslems, neither Tajik, nor Uzbek” (ibid.).

Some more confusing stories recorded by Sukharyova show that while some members of one and the same family identify themselves as Tajiks, others say they are Uzbeks. Sengupta cited such an example, where “the elder brother, 36 years of age considered himself a Tajik, whereas the younger brother 26 years of age, an Uzbek” (Sengupta 2002: 68). An additional factor of Sukharyova’s observation should be included at this point: whereas female members called themselves Tajik, male members opted to be Uzbek. Bergne writes about how Sukharyova tried to explain this phenomenon: “this division might be due to a masculine inclination to identify with the prestigious military caste in the former Bukharan emirate, which was mainly drawn from families of nomadic Uzbek background” (Bergne 2007: 12).


[1] I lived in various towns of Uzbekistan, but grew up in Samarkand and worked in Bukhara. I worked a lot with people, as well as with minority groups, such as Central Asian Roma

[2] Pamir is a chain of mountains in mostly Tajikistan, inhabited by Iranian people, who speak various Eastern-Iranian languages, which just like Tajik belong to the Indo-European family; the biggest difference between Pamiri Tajiks and Tajiks from elsewhere is religious - Tajiks are mainly Sunni Muslims, whereas Pamiri Tajiks are either Shi’i Muslims or Ismailis.


Part IV

The question remains what was the role of language in the whole delimitation process? It was recorded (by ethnographers, travellers, and officials) in what languages people spoke, widely either Turkic or Iranian (Persian or Eastern Iranian). For the Soviet bureaucracy language was an important signifier in determining ethnicities and drawing boundaries to separate them, Sengupta suggests (cf. Sengupta 2002). But how is this possible in a region where people live intermingled with each other and more than often are multilingual. The Central Asian territory witnessed many feudal states and empires where indigenous population spoke one language, the ruling elite spoke another, and the intelligentsia used a third language to exchange their thoughts. Namely in the 19th century, Persian was the administrative language in courts and among the urban folk, Turkish was the language of the Uzbek elite, who were multilingual, and the intelligentsia wrote in Persian and Arabic and later also in Turkish.

Regarding the role of language, many authors agree that the lingua franca in the region before the Soviet invasion for centuries was Persian and (academically) Arabic. Sengupta’s findings on language use, namely Persian and Turkic in the Bukhara emirate (18-20th century) are worth to mention here. It is however important to make it clear that the ruling elite in Bukhara consisted of Turkic speaking Uzbeks whereas the indigenous population was largely Persian speaking which was also the case in previous empires (of the Arabs, Mongols, Timurids, and Sheybanis):

“Tajiki was the official language of the Emirate. As the language of administration, it was spoken at the court by the Emir, and his mostly Iranian officials. All foreign correspondence was in Iranian as were all official decrees to the citizens. At the same time being a Turk, as the leader of the Turkish chieftains and tribesmen, the Emir addressed his chiefs of Ils (tribes) and Ulusses (appanages) in Turkish” (Sengupta 2002: 49).

Again, language in a multilingual region is not the indicator of ethnicity and can’t be used to delineate groups along linguistic or ethnic lines. Many scholars speak of so called Turkified Iranians and Persified Turks, the evident example of the latter is the Persian speaking Hazara people in Afghanistan, who are believed to be Persified Mongols i.e. having somewhat Mongol physical features they speak Dari/Persian.

Since this section is about Uzbeks and Tajiks the reader might ask about the differences between them. Uzbeks are one of the most, to my opinion, Persified (at least linguistically, but also culturally[1]) Turk people in the region, who preserved their language, but with an enormous influence of Persian language and settled down earlier than other nomads. As Sengupta writes about increasing influence of the Persian language on Central Asian Turkish languages: “Whereas Central Asian Karakhanid (11th century) contained 1.6 percent of Persian loanwords in its texts, early Chaghatay[2] (14th century) contained 26 percent and classical Chaghatay (15th century) 50-60 percent” (Sengupta 2002: 91).

According to Bergne’s findings, Andreev (in ‘The Ethnography of Tajiks’ 1925) studied physical and linguistic differences of Tajiks in the mountain areas and in plains. He and several other Russian military officers noted that Tajiks in the mountains looked more ‘European’ than the ones “who had succeeded in keeping their position in the plains” (Bergne 2007: 11). Further Bergne adds that Lt. Colonel Snesyarref of the Russsian General Staff in his description of Eastern Bukhara (1906) describes Tajik plainsmen as being “mixed with Turkic stock”, the latter remained unexplained and undescribed by Bergne. When it comes to differences in the way of life, Bergne notes that Tajiks are “mainly settled and engaged in agriculture” whereas Uzbeks “were still at least semi-nomadic and engaged in stock-raising” (ibid.).

What is understood as the Uzbek nation nowadays was constructed by the Soviets, according to Sengupta. “The designation Uzbek, for instance, is being used in the Soviet sense to mean nation, whereas previously it had been used to mean a tribal classification of a dominant dynastic tribal tier, the Shybanids. Similarly, prior to 1924 there was no single Uzbek language that was prevalent in the region” (Sengupta 2002: 104). Just as we have seen with the term Tajik, the ‘so called’ Tajiks themselves had various other criteria as whom to consider Tajik, on the basis of religion, or origin (location-wise). This again shows how unclear the terms were at those years of delimitation and are indeed still. But still is language a determinant of ethnic affinity?


[1] One of the examples of Persianisation of Uzbeks is elopement or bride-kidnapping which was popular among nomad Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Turkmen, and also among Tajik-speaking Roma of Central Asia. Kyrgyz and Kazakh believe it to be their cultural heritage and tradition, whereas among the sedentary population elopement is regarded as the worst offence and socially unacceptable. This attitude to elopement is largely shared by settled urban Uzbeks too. This assumption of mine doesn’t have any scientific proof whatsoever, but obviously this custom could be an interesting subject for future research.

[2] Chaghatay is one of the Turkic languages, claimed by Uzbeks to be ‘early Uzbek’. Sengupta reveals that “historically Turki was not a single language but a combination of dialects” (ibid. 90). Some pan-Turkist leaders, such as Gaspirali, strived to create one common Turki language, which could serve as a lingua franca among Turkic Moslems of the Russian Empire, but apparently he failed (cf. Sengupta 2002: ibid.).


Part V

Sengupta argues that language ‘was never a barrier’: “Various Turkic groups lived in intense symbiosis with non-Turkic groups without fully assimilating with them” (ibid: 64). She further notes that in some areas “assimilation was inevitable” and that they intermixed with each other to the extent that it was difficult to discern any difference whatsoever (cf. ibid. 64). Further she cites S. K. Olimova and M. A. Olimov who claim that “Uzbeks and Tajiks were multilingual by norm” (Sengupta 2002: 64). Sengupta, however notes, that is was “the minority group that became bilingual” (ibid.). I would opt to believe Sengupta rather than the Olimovs. Having lived together with Uzbeks both in cities where Tajiks were non-existent and where Tajiks were predominated, I can confirm that it is mainly Tajiks that are bilingual, since they have to adapt to the Uzbek environment. Of course, there are more Uzbeks who speak Tajik than Germans or English, but it seems to be an overstatement to claim that Uzbeks are bilingual ‘by norm’ apart from Tajikistani Uzbeks, who are usually bilingual, again, because they are a minority. Most Tajiks from mountainous areas are neither bilingual nor multilingual. Most of them learn Uzbek only when they first go to the army, university, or if they have TV sets, they may understand Uzbek and even Russian. I think it is even an overstatement to confer that all Tajiks even in cities like Bukhara and Samarkand speak perfect Uzbek. I grew up in various towns of Uzbekistan, but then my family decided to move back home, to Samarkand, and there my Uzbek skills worsened, because it was almost unnecessary.

Another example shows clearly that censuses failed to identify correctly the ethnic and linguistic affiliations of peoples of Uzbekistan. The inhabitants of Qamishi village of Sukhrandarya region submitted a request to build schools for their children:

“Altogether 500 villagers (khajagi), we are all Tajik and Fars people and we do not have a school. The Volost Executive Committee wants to open a Turkish school, but since we are all Farsi (Tajik) speakers and according to the Directive of the Communist Party, every people can freely speak in its language, we request from the Soviet National Minorities that a Tajik school be opened in our village.” (Sengupta 2002: 114)

The response to this request stated the statistics, according to which all the population of the village was Uzbek, and there was no single Tajik speaker. Furthermore, if they wanted to discuss schools then those “must be about Uzbeki and not Tajiki” (cf. Sengupta ibid.). Situations like this resulted in high numbers of bilingual Tajiks, which, in my view, is their advantage. The only problem is that the knowledge of Tajik among Tajik speaker is deteriorating. Tajiks of my generation (even older) and younger possess only oral knowledge of the Tajik language. Because, officially, the Tajiks are so few in number, there seems to be no need to cultivate the language or have Tajik schools.

But in case of Bukhara, Bergne raises an interesting point, reminding that Bukhara was a large and famous city. One of the characteristic features of such cities is that they are attractive to people from the ‘countryside and beyond’, due to which the urban population was reported to be mixed. Not just they resided and shared the space of the city among each other, but also intermarriages were common. Only religion could prove a sound obstacle for intermarriages, whereas nationality, ethnicity or race were not seen as such (cf. Bergne 2007: 12).

As mentioned above, the terms which define Tajiks and Uzbeks are in no way homogenous and remain unclear. To make the story even more complicated, another identity was discovered, which was difficult to locate, and classify, that of ‘Sart’. Identities like Sart, provided a tough time for the Russian ethnographers to delineate ethnic groups on the basis of language use and self-determination.

Part VI

Bergne, in his two page-long accounts on Sarts, shows how uncertain Russian ethnographers were regarding the origins of the Sarts. They were divided according to their assumptions. Noteworthy features of Sarts are: they are settled, urban dwellers and bilingual. Some called themselves Tajik, some Uzbek, but spoke both languages. But the term Sart remains unclear. Here is how Bergne describes Sart identity:

“In this Islamic Central Asian environment, where ethnicity was of little consequence, the process of assimilation between the later arrivals, the Uzbeks, and the Iranian/Persian/Turkic/Arab cocktail of peoples whom they found, produced in due course a composite identity of mixed ethnic make-up. In terms of language, its representatives were usually bi-lingual, but eventually preferred a Turkic language strongly influenced by Persian in both vocabulary but also in vocalisation. This composite identity became known as ‘Sart’” (Bergne 2007: 7).

Bergne in his endnotes (p. 136) writes about Bartold’s view on the origins of the word Sart. According to him, Sart is a Hindi word used by Mongols to refer to all Central Asians involved in trade. This, indeed, is a very vague description, given that Mongolia very often is seen as part of larger Central Asia. And who are ‘Central Asians’ for the Mongols?

From Bergne’s chapter ‘Central Asian Identities before 1917′ one can draw two conclusions. First, the term’s meaning changed throughout the time. As Bergne suggests, during the Timurid dynasty (14th century) Sart used to denote ‘Tajik’, or any non-Turkic peoples, i.e. Iranians. As the only non-Turks in the region were mainly Iranians: “[A]t the end of 14th century, the language and literature of the Sarts was described as being what wasn’t Turkish i.e. Iranian”. But what meant ‘Tajik’ during the Timurid period? Did it really mean the same as now? The term Tajik used to mean different notions in different times. It was generally meant to refer to the non-Turkic sedentary population of Central Asia, earlier it was used to mean Arabs.[1] In Tibet (China), all Persians are known to be called Tajiks, in the courts of India, Tajiks were the ones who spoke both Persian and Arabic. In this context, Bergne, probably, refers to ‘Tajik’ as to the Iranian sedentary population of Central Asia. He notes that a German traveller, J. Klaproth in the 19th century, mentions the Bukharan people referring to themselves as Tajiks, whereas Turks would call them Sart. In the nineteenth century the term Sart acquires somewhat “derogatory connotations”. According to Bergne, the word Sart derives from Turkish ‘‘sari it” i.e. “yellow dog” (cf. Bergne 2007: 7). My observation in this regard is that the word Sart is mainly used [in the 20th and 21st century] to refer to Uzbeks primarily by the Kyrgyz and Kazakh. As I have asked my Kyrgyz and Kazakh fellows on a number of occasions of what the term “Sart” means, they first were embarrassed, saying that was a very offensive word to call Uzbeks. Not all of them could really explain what literally the word means. But according to some of the responses Sart is referred to nomads who have dismounted their horses (the horse being an important symbol of nomadism) and settled down, by doing so they betrayed their life style.

The second conclusion is that several records of Russian orientalists show them having difficulties identifying ethnic affiliations of the peoples of Central Asia. The shared view in this respect was the fact that Sarts were a mixture of Turkic and Iranian people. But as who they were, more Uzbeks or Tajiks, this was largely disputed. Grobenkin, a Russian ethnographer classified them as Uzbeks due to their preferred use of Turkic languages. Andreev “identified them as a mix of various Turkic elements”. He also noted that “Uzbek-Sarts” live in all the settlements together with a small admixture of an assimilated Tajik element, who have lost the conception of any sort of division into tribes and no longer remember their ethnic origins, but who do not consider themselves to be ‘Turks’”. Skvartskij, however “called them Tajiks, albeit turkicised” and confessed that they deny being Tajiks and consider themselves to be Sarts. Bartol’d, one of the most cited scholars, called a Sart an “Uzbekised urban Tajik” (cf. ibid. 8). Zarubin, however makes it clear that “they do not really know what they are. They call themselves Turks. But their Turkmen and Kyrgyz neighbours call them “Sart” which word they also use for Tajiks” (ibid.).

Sarts, according to Sengupta, in Khorezm, Ferghana and Tashkent were primarily Turkic speaking, but sometimes bilingual. Whereas in Transoxiana they were called “Tajiks or Chagatais, and were Tajik speaking or bilingual” (ibid.20). She believes Sarts remained distinct from both Tajiks and Uzbeks (ibid.).

This uncertainty about ethnic/national identities of Central Asian people shows how difficult it was to separate these people along the ethno-linguistic line. Alisher Ilkhamov, according to Bergne, argues that “the traditional image of the “Sarts” did not accord with the social engineering embarked on by the new communist regime” (Bergne 2007: 8). By the 1920s though, the designation ‘Sart’ was replaced by ‘Uzbek’, and so they were all counted as Uzbeks in all censuses, regardless of, as Zarubin puts it, the “lack of clarity as to the term’s meaning” (cf. ibid. 9).


[1] On the word Tat, see for more information Sengupta 2002.

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