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Tajik Name-Change Craze Targets Turkic Words

It's not just Turkic place-names that are being targeted. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon also wants to change the town of Chkalov's Slavic-sounding name to the Persian-rooted "Buston," meaning "Blooming Garden."

Having purged his country of most Russian, Soviet, and Arabic labels, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon is setting his sights on locations with names of Turkic origin.

In a move that for the most part targets places with Uzbek or Kyrgyz names, Rahmon has sent parliament a list of new names to consider for 10 locations across Tajikistan.

All are in keeping with his preference for pure Tajik names -- meaning those rooted in Persian, like the Tajik language itself, or that are patriotic in nature. Turkic-language Uzbek or Kyrgyz names obviously don't fit the bill.

In announcing the move on February 1, the president's office said the list includes towns and districts across the country, as well as an artificial lake near a major hydropower plant.

Some will have their former Persian names restored, some will be named after historic Tajik figures, and others will be given new Tajik names.

The town of Qairoqqum, an Uzbek name, for example, will be renamed Guliston, or City of Flowers. An artificial lake by the same name will simply be called the Tajik Sea.

The district of Ghonchi, a name with Turkic roots, will be named after Devashtich, a Sogdian ruler of the modern-day Tajik city of Panjakent in pre-Islamic Central Asia.

Jirgatol district will have its old, Turkic-rooted name, Lakhsh, restored. Jillikul district will have its Kyrgyz name replaced with Dusti, which means friendship in Tajik.

What's In A Name Anyway?

In the case of the district of Tavildara, according to Tajik media, the reasons behind the proposed change to its historical name, Sangvor, is not as simple as it seems.

At first glance the Arabic first half of the name -- Tavil -- would appear to go against the grain of Rahmon's more recent push against Arabic-sounding foreign names.

Just last month, for example, the Tajik parliament voted to ban Arabic-sounding names for newborns, and authorities compiled a handy list of mostly Tajik- and Persian-origin alternatives.

Tajik president Emomali Rahmon removed the Slavic "-ov" suffix from his name in 2007. (file photo)
Tajik president Emomali Rahmon removed the Slavic "-ov" suffix from his name in 2007. (file photo)

But if Tajik media are to be believed, it is the residents of Tavildara themselves who asked the government to rename the district so they could put sad memories behind them. The stronghold of the Islamic opposition during the Tajik civil war in the 1990s, Tavildara is often associated with deadly skirmishes and military operations.

The latest proposals, which must be approved by the upper house of parliament, also appear to be taking care of some unfinished business. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a wave of name changes in Tajikistan. Over the course of two decades, most locations that bore Russian or Soviet names were changed, and even Rahmon himself dropped the Slavic suffix "-ov" from his name in 2007.

Among the survivors is the town of Chkalov, which the president now suggests should be called Buston, or Blooming Garden.

The flowery name is a reflection of another facet of the Tajik name game -- opting for the appealing when possible.

Last year, while considering a ban on undesirable names for children, the Justice Ministry urged parents to give their babies beautiful and appropriate names.

The same goes for locations: last year, the southern village of Gurgkhurda, which means Eaten by Wolves, was renamed Chamanzor, or Lush Green Place.

The nearby village of Pustkhur, or Skin Eater, is now called Shohrukh, or Majestic Face.

The two were among more than 50 villages across Tajikistan renamed by authorities in July.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service and local media

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.