Accepted Paper:

Socio-Economics, Power and the Dynamics of Pamiri Identity  


Jonathan Zaharin

Paper long abstract:

There is a large amount of debate about whether or not Pamiris are Tajiks or a separate people group. While Afghan Pamiris for the most part either actively embrace or passively accept the Tajik label, Tajikistani Pamiris under the age of forty frequently conceptualize themselves belonging to a collective Pamiri group apart from Tajiks despite the lack of mutual intelligibility between some Pamiri languages. Instead of trying to decide if Pamiris are Tajiks or not I explore why Pamiris in both Afghanistan and Tajikistan perceive their identities in the different ways they do. Just as the term 'Tajik' was unheard of in Central Asia before the coming of Islam in the 600s and 700s, the notion of Pamiris being separate from Tajiks was unheard of before the Bolshevik revolution. Instead of being primordially conceived, the notion of Pamiris being a unique ethno-national group apart from Tajiks was popularized in the 1960s and 70s and experienced increased crystallization after the Tajik Civil War and the 2012 Gorno-Badakhshan Clashes. While the history of conflict played an important role in Pamiris conceptualizing themselves as 'ethnically' distinct from Tajiks, this may have never happened if it were not for the sectarian divisions existing between Sunni Tajiks and Ismaili Pamiris to begin with. My research shows that in Tajikistan, Ismailism plays an important role in determining who is and who is not Pamiri on a regional and even village-to-village basis. Furthermore there is very strong evidence suggesting that the need to form a group of adequate size is instrumental in Pamiris conceptualizing themselves belonging to a common ethnicity despite the lack of mutual intelligibility between their languages. Furthermore like in other parts of Central Asia patriarchy and the rule of patrilineal descent play a role in defining who is Pamiri on an individual basis. Given that both the 'Pamiri' and 'Tajik' groups along with all other human groups are completely socially constructed entities, it is inappropriate to approach the issue from a primordialist perspective. Instead as this study of Pamiri identity illustrates, socioeconomic and sociocultural factors have been instrumental in determining the radically different ways Pamiris conceptualize their identities in Afghanistan and Tajikistan today.

Panel ANT-08
Values and Heritage