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The Origins of the Civil War in Tajikistan

Nationalism, Islamism, and Violent Conflict in Post-Soviet Space

Tim Epkenhans

In May 1992 political and social tensions in the former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan escalated to a devastating civil war, which killed approximately 40,000-100,000 people and displaced more than one million. The enormous challenge of the Soviet Union’s disintegration compounded by inner-elite conflicts, ideological disputes and state failure triggered a downward spiral to one of the worst violent conflicts in the post-Soviet space. This book explains the causes of the Civil War in Tajikistan with a historical narrative recognizing long term structural causes of the conflict originating in the Soviet transformation of Central Asia since the 1920s as well as short-term causes triggered by Perestroika or Glasnost and the rapid dismantling of the Soviet Union. For the first time, a major publication on the Tajik Civil War addresses the many contested events, their sequences and how individuals and groups shaped the dynamics of events or responded to them. The book scrutinizes the role of regionalism, political Islam, masculinities and violent non-state actors in the momentous years between Perestroika and independence drawing on rich autobiographical accounts written by key actors of the unfolding conflict. Paired with complementary sources such as the media coverage and interviews, these autobiographies provide insights how Tajik politicians, field commanders and intellectuals perceived and rationalized the outbreak of the Civil War within the complex context of post-Soviet decolonization, Islamic revival and nationalist renaissance. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 414Size: 6 1/4 x 9 3/8
978-1-4985-3278-5 • Hardback • October 2016 • $110.00 • (£75.00)
978-1-4985-3279-2 • eBook • October 2016 • $104.00 • (£70.00)
Tim Epkenhans is professor of Islamic studies at the University of Freiburg.
Chapter 1: Prelude: A Post-Colonial Moment in Late Soviet Tajikistan
Chapter 2: Narrating a House Divided: Regionalism Revisited
Chapter 3: “Bloody Bahman”
Chapter 4: Independence
Chapter 5: Islam
Chapter 6: Tensions Rising: The Tale of Two Squares (March & April 1992)
Chapter 7: Men of Disorder: Masculinity, Crime and Violent Conflict
Chapter 8: Civil War
Chapter 9: The 16th Session of the Supreme Soviet
This remarkable and strikingly original text offers a profound contribution to the study of post-Soviet Tajikistan and has the potential to be one of the major published works in Central Asian studies of recent years. Composed largely from the memoirs of the conflicting protagonists (as well as drawing on some archival and press sources and oral histories), Epkenhans’s narrative offers a rich and detailed account of the origins of the civil war and the first six months of its duration. As a work of historical scholarship, it is without precedent. To my knowledge, these sources have not previously been critically and systematically investigated in any published text in any language. Moreover, no previous research monograph has been devoted to an analysis of the origins of the war at all. The text is composed with regard to theoretical consideration, cultural context, and historical method. It therefore stands as the first-ever account of the civil war that impartially, reliably, and effectively demonstrates its complex causes. As such, it will be the account of the origins of the civil war and can genuinely claim to be a unique contribution to the literature.
John Heathershaw, University of Exeter

The Origins of the Civil War in Tajikistan is a magnificent piece of scholarship. Epkenhans deserves high praise for his contribution to the cultivation of Tajik social memory. His work deserves to be read alongside Dudoignon, Matveeva, and Roy as one of the seminal accounts of the structural factors—and human choices—that produced Tajikistan’s tragic civil war. Epkenhans is balanced in his analytic judgements, and the empirical material presented has been cultivated with unusual care. The result is the most useful kind of history: identifying and documenting, in plain speech, the critical junctures that have had such monumental consequences for the lives of millions of Tajiks today.
Jesse Driscoll, University of California, San Diego

Tim Epkenhans weaves together a multitude of strands—historical, structural, political, personal, and contingent—to make sense of a little known yet fascinating conflict: the Tajik Civil War. Comprehensive in scope, captivating, and eye-opening, this is an essential resource for those interested in Central Asia, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the rise of Islamism, and the complex dynamics of civil conflict—particularly conflict escalation and the emergence of processes endogenous to the conflict itself.
Stathis N. Kalyvas, Yale University