Roses in the parks, along the sidewalks and highways were an unexpected introduction to the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe. A quiet, clean city with welcoming population, it was a small village in 1924 now has a population of 1.2 million. Dunshanbe means Monday in Tajik language. The Soviets incorporated this village and 3 others form a capital.
I begin with this unusual, beautiful introduction to Tajikistan: my guide and translator, Sitora Nabieva, singing the Tajikistan national anthem in Kohi Navruz Palace.
Three days to visit artisan masters began at the office of the Executive Director of the Union of Craftsmen of Tajikistan. With a delightful introduction and welcome, we were introduced to Khurshed Sattorov, Head of Fashion Design Studio and Nadia Imranova, Fashion Designer, both internationally known Tajik fashion designers. Both fashion designer’s employ women from rural communities to embroider, dye silk, and weave.
Tajikistan is a presidential republic, headed by Emomali Rahmon, president for life. On the day I arrived, Sitora noted that Tajikistan welcomed the 9 millionth citizen into their country, a country that is 93 percent mountainous with an abundance of water resources, minerals, and agricultural products.
The history of this area is complex with many invaders, empires, kings, and sultans. Tajikistan itself is a new country receiving its independence in 1991 after the break-up of the Soviet Union; its borders haven been drawn by Stalin when he divide Central Asia into countries. Tajikistan suffered a violent civil war between 1992 -1997 that might have seen another war-torn country like Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq. Fortunately for the Tajiks, an insightful leader, Emomali Rahmon, emerged and the country is on its feet, safe and developing. One of the most important points that my guide, Sitora, impressed upon me that the Tajik people are not nomads, they are settled peoples thus they have a great legacy in literature, science, and traditional crafts. Rather than trying to struggle through the history, here is a is a quick synopsis from Wikipedia:
“The territory that now constitutes Tajikistan was previously home to several ancient cultures, including the city of Sarazm of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, and was later home to kingdoms ruled by people of different faiths and cultures, including the Oxus civilisation, Andronova culture, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Islam. The area has been ruled by numerous empires and dynasties, including the Achaemenid Empire, Sassanian Empire, Hephthalite Empire, Samanid Empire, Mongol Empire, Timuride dynasty, Russian Empire, and subsequently the Soviet Union. Within the Soviet Union, the country’s modern borders were drawn by Stalin when it was apart of Uzbekistan as an autonomous republic before becoming a part of the Soviet Union in 1929.”
Exploring Dushanbe, it is hard to miss the golden arch and bubbling fountains of the Ismail Samani monument in the centre of town. Commemorating the 1,100 anniversary of the Samanid State, this monument honours the Persian Samanid, whose time in power was one of peace and plenty, with great flourishing of the arts and sciences.Last year I visited the Samanid Mausoleum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, where Isma’il Samani is buried.
Isma’il is known in history as a competent general and a strong ruler; many stories about him are written in Arabic and Persian sources.
Another monument in the extensive gardens is Rudaki, born in 858,in (Panjrud), a village located in the Smanid Empire is now Panjakent, located in modern-day Tajikistan. Biographers write that he was blind at birth yet he was the court poet to the Samanid ruler Nasr II (914-943) in Bukhara. Rudaki is the Tajikistan’s most revered poet. The setting of Rudaki’s statue in a rose garden is appropriate for this 9th-century ‘Adam of Poets’, whose poetry celebrated philosophical musing on the natural world.
My guide and translator, recites a poem of in song about when the king wanted to make Samarkand the seat of government and leave Bukhara, Rudaki wrote a poem that successfully changed the king’s mind and he kept his court in Bukhara.
While strolling through Dousti Square, and living up to the meaning of its name, friendliness, we met tourists from Uzbekistan from the Ferghana Valley and, of course, they are friendly and, of course, we join to share photos together.
Then off to the Art Foundation of Tajikistan, a foundation that supports and encourages the development and preservation of Tajikistan’s deep artistic legacy. Exhibitions and classes showcase today’s artisans and their dedication to keeping alive traditional Tajikistan crafts. Djamshed Djuraev, Master of Florentine Mosaics cleared his schedule to give us a ‘master class’ in his craft.
In an interview before the class, Djamshed explained the process: Florentine mosaics are cut pieces of stone fit together with each other in such a way that you can’t tell that the finished work is, in fact, made up of many little bits of semi-precious stone.With other mosaic styles the spaces between the tiles/pieces are quite obvious, indeed, are meant to be seen. In the technique of Florentine mosaics each piece of stone – often minute in size – is carved, shaped, filed, measured, and re-filed until it meets perfectly with its connecting piece. Below is part of the process .
Tajikistan has dedicated 2018 as the Year of Tourism Development and Folk Craft. So I could not have come at a better time to meet master artisans in so many fields of traditional crafts. There are many that I would like to write and will post especially on this subject. However, a mention here of the Ceramic Master, Sukhrob Saidov, who is a 10th generation potter and whose family originated in Bukhara. Tajik pride themselves in their hospitality to join for tea, fruits, and hot round, chewy bread. The hospitality and generous spirit to share what they have touched my heart.
Glass…I finally found evidence of glass production in Central Asia, at least up to southern Tajikistan. In the museums in Bukhara, glass was no where to be found but here in the Museum of Antiquities that displays ancient artefacts of the many cultures and religions that influenced the Silk Road, I found glass remnants.
Tomorrow I begin the journey along the Pamir Highway. Internet might be non existent so it may be over a week before I post again.
In the meantime, I will leave you with the Center piece of the Museum of Antiquities, a 5th century Reclining Buddha, unearthed from a Buddhist monastery complex in Amina Tepe in southern Tajikistan.