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Application of the term
The Tajiks are among the oldest inhabitants of the region, and can trace their roots back to the original Iranian peoples that settled Central Asia in ancient times, such as the Bactrians, Sogdians, and Parthians. Their ancestors inhabited Central Asia (including Afghanistan and western China) at the beginning of history. The term "Tajik" is generally applied to the Persian-speaking peoples of Iranian origin living in the lands east of Iran. Although other Persian-speaking groups live in Central Asia, such as the Hazara, Qizilbash , and Aimaq, they are distinguished from the Tajiks in that they are of non-Iranian origin, and only adopted the Persian language over the last millennium. The so-called "Mountain Tajiks" or Pamiris of the Badakhshan region in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, as well as the group usually known as "Tajik" in China's western Xinjiang region are actually a collection of over a dozen small East Iranian ethnic groups that are related to, but distinct from, the Tajiks themselves.
Origin of the term
The origin of the term "Tajik" is somewhat unclear. Today, most historians believe that the word "Tajik" is an old Turkish expression referring to all Persian-speaking peoples of the region who are of Iranian origin. The word did not exist before the Turkic conquest of Central Asia. Even Persians in Iran who live in the Turkish-speaking parts of the country call themselvs "Tajik". Therefore, Tajik can be considered a synonym for Persian .
Tajiks are the principal ethnic group in most of Tajikistan, as well as in northeastern Afghanistan and the Afghan cities of Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Herat. Tajiks also dominate the populations of the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand in Uzbekistan, and are found in large numbers in the Surkhandarya region of southern Uzbekistan, and in the eastern part of that country, along its border with Tajikistan. Historically, the ancestors of the Tajiks lived in a much larger territory in Central Asia, but were largely displaced as waves of Turkic invaders moved into the region from the north and east. Today, Tajiks comprise around 66% of the population of Tajikistan, and between 25-30% of the population of Afghanistan. While official statistics in Uzbekistan state the Tajik community as comprising 5% of the nation's total population, it is widely believed that they make up 15 to 30 percent of the country's population.
The great majority of Tajiks follow the Sunni form of Islam, although small Ismaili and Jafari Shia minorities also exist in scattered pockets. In Afghanistan, Tajiks who follow Jafari Shiism are called Farsi. The popular forms of Islam practiced by the Tajiks often bear the influence of Zoroastrianism and pre-Zoroastrian cults that were followed before the advent of Islam to Central Asia. Additionally, large Tajik-speaking Jewish communities have existed since ancient times in the cities of Samarqand and Bukhara, and in smaller numbers in Herat, Kabul, and other Tajik centers. Over the 20th century, the majority of these Tajik-speaking Jews emigrated to Israel and the United States, although many of these emigrants maintain ties with their homeland. Despite the advent of Christian missionaries to Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Tajik Christian population is virtually non-existent.
Physically, the Tajiks belong to the Mediterranean subgroup of the Caucasian race. While the average Tajik has dark hair and eyes with medium to fair skin, light hair and eyes are quite common, particularly in mountainous regions such as Badakhshan where intermarriage with other ethnic groups is less common.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war in Afghanistan both gave rise to a resurgence in Tajik nationalism across the region. Tajikistan in particular has been a focal point for this movement, and the government there has made a conscious effort to revive the legacy of the Samanid empire, the first Tajik-dominated state in the region after the Arab conquest.
External links and references
- Uzbekistan: Ethnic Composition And Discrimination
- Khorasan: History Of The Tajik Nation
- "Central Asian Jews." from The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire.
- Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980
- Jawad, Nassim, Afghanistan: A Nation of Minorities, London: Minority Rights Group, 1992, ISBN 0946690766.
- World Almanac and Book of Facts 2003, ISBN 0886878829.
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