The total population of Tajiks worldwide is estimated to be around 20 million. Tajiks are found in 11 countries. The largest concentration of Tajiks is in Afghanistan, where they make up between 20 and 25 per cent (over 8 million) of the population. The second-largest concentration of the community is in Tajikistan, where they account for over 80 per cent of the population (6.4 million). The population of Tajiks in Uzbekistan is 1.4 million. There are an estimated 357,000 Tajiks in Iran and about 230,000 in Pakistan, the majority of whom are refugees from Afghanistan. The population of Tajiks in the Russian Federation is around 200,000. There are 47,500 Tajiks in Kyrgyzstan, 26,000 in Kazakhstan and 5,000 in Turkmenistan. Around 40,000 Muslims living in Xinjiang in northwestern China are designated as Tajik. There is a sizeable Tajik diaspora in the United States (52,000), Canada (15,800) and Ukraine (4,200).
Tajiks form the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. They are also known as Farsi (Persian), Farsiwan (Persian-speaking) and Dihqan (farmer). Following the Russian conquest of Central Asia in the closing decades of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century, thousands of Tajiks fled their homeland and settled in Afghanistan. In the late 1990s the Northern Alliance, which fought against the Taliban government, was dominated by Tajik leaders. Tajiks are largely concentrated in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Ghazni.
Tajiks in Soviet Union
In the Soviet Union, ethnic identifications were significant influenced by imperial, political and ideological considerations. Stalin created ethnic identities – ‘national identities’ in the Soviet terminology – to weaken the possibility of resistance to Soviet hegemony by Muslim groups. Thus Turkmen, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek and Tajik were designated as distinct and separate nationalities. Many of these communities were forced to leave their homeland and migrate to other parts of Central Asia. In accordance with the Soviet policy of Russification, Turkic and Persian languages in schools were replaced by Russian.
The Yaghnobi Muslims and speakers of the Pamiri languages (which belong to the Eastern Persian dialects), who are ethnically distinct from Tajiks, were designated as separate nationalities in the 1920s. However, after 1937, these groups were registered as Tajiks. This legacy of the Soviet era has been carried over in Tajikistan, where the Yaghnobi, Wakhi and Shughni people are considered as people of Tajik ethnicity.
During the Soviet era, the Uzbek Communist Party launched the “Uzbekization” campaign, in which Tajiks living in Uzbekistan were required to either register themselves as Uzbek in the population census and in their passports or to leave for Tajikistan. Many Tajik families chose to change their ethnic identity – at least officially – in order to stay back in Uzbekistan. After independence, those Tajiks who were forced to change their ethnicity during the Soviet era reverted to their original Tajik identity. Today Tajiks form the majority of the population in the cities of Bukhara and Samarqand in Uzbekistan.
Tajik in China
The People’s Republic of China has designated 56 ethnic minorities as ‘nationalities.’ Of these nationalities, which account for 105 million people, ten are Muslim. The major Muslim nationalities are Hui (9.8 million), Uighur (8.4 million), Kazakh (1.25 million), Dongxiang (514,000), Kyrgyz (144,000), Uzbek (125,000), Salar (105,000), Tajik (41,000) and Tatar (5,000).
Tajik Muslims, who are locally known as ‘Mountain Tajiks,’ ( 塔吉克族 ) are concentrated in the Tasqorgan district of Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. In reality, however, the Tajik Muslims of Xinjiang are not Tajik but belong to a separate ethnicity. They are a part of the Pamiri People who speak Pamiri languages (one of the Eastern dialects of Persian), mostly Sarikoli. The Pamiri people are also found in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province in Afghanistan. The Pamiri people in Xinjiang are adherents of the Shii creed and follow the Aga Khan.
Though the Tajik people are of Iranian origin and speak variants of Persian, there are considerable phenotypical and linguistic diversities among Tajik groups. Approximately 10% of Tajiks are said to have blond hair, which is more prevalent in the Pamir region and in Zarafshan.
The language spoken by Tajiks in Tajikistan and Iran is known as Tajiki and as Dari in Afghanistan. Tajiki assimilated a number of loan words from Russian during the Soviet era. In Afghanistan and Iran, Tajiki and Dari are written in the Perso-Arabic script. In the Soviet Union, Tajiki was written in the Perso-Arabic script until the late 1920s. The 1929 coat of arms of the Tajik Republic in the Soviet Union bears the republic's name in the Perso-Arabic script. In 1930 the Perso-Arabic script of Tajiki was replaced by the Cyrillic script.
The Central Asian Emirate of Bukhara had a sizeable Jewish population. The Jews of Bukhara and Samarqand spoke Tajiki.
After independence there has been a move to reintroduce the Perso-Arabic script of Tajiki, but it has not been officially endorsed by the ruling regime in Tajikistan.