Tajikistan lies in the Pamir-Alay mountain range near Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and western China. This former Soviet country has a rich history and stunning natural beauty as well as a vibrant culture that has its roots in Russian, Persian, and Silk Road traditions.
Capital and Major Cities
Capital: Dushanbe, population 724,000 (2010)
Major Cities: Khujand, 165,000; Kulob, 150,00; Qurgonteppe, 75,500; Istaravshan, 60,200
The Republic of Tajikistan is nominally a republic with an elected government. However, the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan is so dominant as to render it in effect a single-party state. Voters have choices without options, so to speak.
The current president is Emomali Rahmon, who has been in office since 1994. He appoints the prime minister, presently Oqil Oqilov (since 1999).
Tajikistan has a bicameral parliament called the Majlisi Oli, consisting of a 33-member upper house, the National Assembly or Majilisi Milli, and a 63-member lower house, the Assembly of Representatives or Majlisi Namoyandagon. The lower house is supposed to be elected by the people of Tajikistan, but the ruling party always holds a significant majority of the seats.
The total population of Tajikistan is about 8 million. Approximately 80% are ethnic Tajiks, a Persian-speaking people (unlike the Turkic-language speakers in the other former Soviet republics of Central Asia). Another 15.3% are Uzbek, approximately 1% each are Russian and Kyrgyz, and there are tiny minorities of Pashtuns, Germans, and other groups.
Tajikistan is a linguistically complex country. The official language is Tajik, which is a form of Farsi (Persian). Russian is still in common use, as well.
In addition, the ethnic minority groups speak their own languages, including Uzbek, Pashto, and Kyrgyz. Finally, small populations in the remote mountains speak languages distinct from Tajik, but belonging to the Southeastern Iranian language group. These include Shughni, spoken in eastern Tajikistan, and Yaghnobi, spoken by just 12,000 people around the city of Zarafshan in the Kyzylkum (Red Sands) Desert.
The official state religion of Tajikistan is Sunni Islam, specifically, that of the Hanafi school. However, the Tajik Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government is secular.
Approximately 95% of Tajiki citizens are Sunni Muslims, while another 3% are Shia. Russian Orthodox, Jewish, and Zoroastrian citizens make up the remaining two percent.
Tajikistan covers an area of 143,100 kilometers squared (55,213 square miles) in the mountainous southeast of Central Asia. Landlocked, it borders on Uzbekistan to the west and north, Kyrgyzstan to the north, China to the east, and Afghanistan to the south.
Much of Tajikistan sits in the Pamir Mountains; in fact, over half of the country is at elevations higher than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Though dominated by mountains, Tajikistan does include some lower land, including the famous Fergana Valley in the north.
The lowest point is the Syr Darya River valley, at 300 meters (984 feet). The highest point is Ismoil Somoni Peak, at 7,495 meters (24,590 feet). Seven other peaks also top out at over 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).
Tajikistan has a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. It is semiarid, receiving more precipitation than some of its Central Asian neighbors due to its higher elevations. Conditions turn polar in the peaks of the Pamir mountains, of course.
The highest temperature ever recorded was at Nizhniy Pyandzh, with 48°C (118.4°F). The lowest was -63°C (-81°F) in the eastern Pamirs.
Tajikistan is one of the poorest of the former Soviet republics, with an estimated GDP of $2,100 US. Officially the unemployment rate is only 2.2%, but more than 1 million Tajiki citizens work in Russia, compared with a domestic labor force of just 2.1 million. About 53% of the population lives below the poverty line.
About 50% of the labor force works in agriculture; Tajikistan's major export crop is cotton, and most cotton production is controlled by the government. Farms also produce grapes and other fruit, grain, and livestock. Tajikistan has become a major depot for Afghan drugs like heroin and raw opium on their way to Russia, which provides significant illegal income.
The currency of Tajikistan is the somoni. As of July 2012, the exchange rate was $1 US = 4.76 somoni.