Before the Soviet era, which began in Central Asia in the early
1920s, the area designated today as the Republic of Tajikistan
underwent a series of population changes that brought with them
political and cultural influences from the Turkic and Mongol peoples
of the Eurasian steppe, China, Iran, Russia, and other contiguous
regions. The Tajik people came fully under Russian rule, after
a series of military campaigns that began in the 1860s, at the
end of the nineteenth century.
Iranian (see Glossary) peoples, including ancestors of the modern
Tajiks, have inhabited Central Asia since at least the earliest
recorded history of the region, which began some 2,500 years ago.
Contemporary Tajiks are the descendants of ancient Eastern Iranian
inhabitants of Central Asia, in particular the Soghdians and the
Bactrians, and possibly other groups, with an admixture of Western
Iranian Persians (see Glossary) and non-Iranian peoples. The ethnic
contribution of various Turkic and Mongol peoples, who entered
Central Asia at later times, has not been determined precisely.
However, experts assume that some assimilation must have occurred
in both directions.
The origin of the name Tajik has been embroiled in
twentieth-century political disputes about whether Turkic or Iranian
peoples were the original inhabitants of Central Asia. The explanation
most favored by scholars is that the word evolved from the name
of a pre-Islamic (before the seventh century A.D.) Arab tribe.
Until the twentieth century, people in the region used two types
of distinction to identify themselves: way of life--either nomadic
or sedentary--and place of residence. By the late nineteenth century,
the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, who had lived in proximity for centuries
and often used each other's languages, did not perceive themselves
as two distinct nationalities. Consequently, such labels were
imposed artificially when Central Asia was divided into five Soviet
republics in the 1920s.
Data as of March 1996