Reviews

Properly introduced by its numerous editors as the first encyclopaedia ever published on the city and region of Kulab, in southern Tajikistan, this luxuriously published volume has come to light on the occasion of the official city’s jubilee celebrated amid a blaze of publicity during the year 2006.  Not the first volume of this kind devoted to one of the major cities of Tajikistan, the present work appears as an attempt to rival the more substantial encyclopaedia of the city of Khujand, in the north of the country (S. A. Abdullaev et al., eds., Khujand, Dushanbe: Glavnaia redaktsiia tadzhikskikh entsiklopedii [Khukumat Leninabadskoi oblasti], 1999, 928 p.), the model of all the following undertakings in this field as far as Tajikistan is concerned.  Contrary to the encyclopaedia of Khujand (and to an encyclopaedia of Dushanbe published in 2004), the present work devotes only a limited room to the history and social sciences of the city.  In the same way as in the Soviet period, the bulk of the work in constituted by innumerable biographical notices of officials—including the usual bunch of heroes of socialist labour—downloaded from a limited set of professional repertories.  Exceptions are made of sparse and rather short articles on varied aspects of the city’s evolution through time and space: neighbourhoods (‘Bazarbay’, ‘Bazar-i ‘Ali Bay’, ‘Bazar-i Kabk’, etc.; NB – if the Tebalay River is well mentioned, the ancient neighbourhood of the same name, still bearing testimony of the city’s spectacular development through the twentieth century, has been purely and simply obliterated); human groups of various size and nature (like the qawwals originating from Afghanistan, identified here as Gypsies though their self-perception is much more complex); professional and other occupations (husbandry of the ‘Kulab horse [asp-i kulabi]’, goldsmith’s trade [zargari], or traditional sports practiced in Khuttalan like the akkalbazi or chillakbazi); and of course an impressive number of holy places (mazars).  If the domain of official culture has been enlarged since the end of the Soviet period to new spheres like the veneration and public maintenance of Islamic (or Islamised) shrines, one must notice that a number of taboos have still been scrupulously respected here—like those concerning the local Islamic underground of the Soviet period.  At the same time, the extinction of the last fires of the civil war in a city that was, because of its inner divisions and specific culture of public violence, at the very origin of the conflict, has still added a layer of public silence on a collective memory deeply marked by strong and durable cleavages:  The reader can hardly find in the volume any mention of the warlords Baba Sangak (assassinated in 1996, now mentioned only through the street that bears his name) nor Ghafur ‘Siday’ Mirza (arrested in 2006, and whose empty ‘castle’ still adorns a crossroads in a central neighbourhood of the city).  Though still a prominent religious figure of Kulab, Mulla Haydar, one of the most eloquent supporters of the ‘Red’ faction during the civil war, has not yet found his way to immortality—nor his younger concurrent Hajji Mirza, a Pakistani-educated wa‘iz (preacher) listened to throughout Tajikistan, and currently established in the mosque formerly built by Ghafur Mirza in the city’s periphery.  It is perhaps through its silence that such a work, in which the academic intelligentsia seems to have played a rather limited role, and that enjoys a very poor circulation in the local population, provides a telling testimony on the state of collective memory, and on the energy locally displayed for maintaining in oblivion the most problematic chapters of a difficult recent past.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-1.3.C-107