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The People of Tajikistan, Ethnic Groups and Languages

Yaghnobi, Fergana Valley, Tajik language, Turkic language, Pamirs

Tajiks constitute the largest ethnic group in Tajikistan, making up about 65 percent of the population. The peoples who live in Gorno-Badakhshan, located in the Pamirs, are classified as Tajiks, although their languages and customs are distinct. The largest minority group in the country is the Uzbeks, who constitute nearly 25 percent of the population. Uzbeks live primarily in the Fergana Valley and in the vicinities of Kulob in south central Tajikistan and Tursunzoda in western Tajikistan. The next largest minority group is Russians, although they began leaving the country in large numbers in 1989. By the mid-1990s Russians represented only 3 percent of the population, as at least half of the Russian population had emigrated to Russia. Other ethnic groups include Tatars, Kyrgyz, Ukrainians, Turkmens (or Turkomans), and Koreans.

Tajiks descend from the Aryans, an ancient people who spoke Indo-European languages. This differentiates them from the other Central Asian peoples, who are of Turkic descent. The official state language is Tajik (or Tojiki), an Indo-Iranian language that is another form of modern Persian. The Tajik language originally developed in a modified Arabic script. However, the Soviet government forced the Tajiks to adopt a modified Latin (Roman) alphabet in the 1930, and then a modified Cyrillic script (the script of the Russian language) in 1940. These changes were part of a program to increase literacy and to foster loyalty to the Soviet regime by isolating the Tajiks from the written works of their own heritage and kindred peoples outside the USSR. In a move toward greater sovereignty under the Soviet system, the government of Tajikistan declared Tajik to be the official state language in 1989 and called for a gradual transition back to the Arabic alphabet. There were further proposals to adopt the Arabic alphabet in 1992, but with the rise of the neo-Soviet government later that year, this change was never implemented.

The peoples of Gorno-Badakhshan speak several Iranian languages of a group called Pamiri, which is quite distinct from Tajik. A small community of Yaghnobs, who are also classified as Tajik, speak Yaghnobi, another Iranian language. Tajikistanís minority groups tend to speak their own native languages. Uzbeks speak a Turkic language, as do other indigenous Central Asian peoples.

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