Dushanbe is the capital and largest city of the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan. The city has changed names several times over the last century, like many cities in the former Soviet Central Asian nations. Until 1929 it was known as Dushambe, with the name being changed in 1929 to Stalinabad and being changed again to Dushanbe in 1961. The original name is said to be derived form the Persian word Dusanbe, meaning Monday, based on the area’s old custom of having its market days on Mondays.

Located in the Hisor valley, along the Dushanbe River, the city sits at an average elevation of 823 meters above sea level. Though there is evidence of previous settlements on the modern day location of Dushanbe, no specific mentions of the city are made until the 17th century. But the fact that Dushanbe sits astride the ancient Silk Road speaks strongly of a possibility that such a settlement may once have existed and declined until it was left to rot away with the shift to ocean based trade from the late 15th century onward.

The small city or, more correctly for the time, town of Dushanbe, in the 18th century, was located in lands that had long fallen under the sway of the beg of Hisor. The town slowly became a regional center of trade, though it most likely had significantly fewer than 10,000 people living within it at the time. The area was weakened in the early 1800’s by strife among the leaders of Hisor and the land’s northern neighbor Russia used the opportunity to grant Dushanbe to the Emir of Bukhara in 1868, this in return for lands taken form Bukhara by the Russian colonial machine.

By the time of the Russian Revolution, the areas of Hisor and Bukhara were almost completely within the sway of Russia, though Bukhara still had an emir and nominal symbolic control over the area. When the revolution broke out, the emir Sayyed Alem Khan would raise up his banner in revolt against the communist forces. But in August 1920, he was forced to flee to Dushanbe and make it his base from which to try to withstand the Russian advance from Tashkent. The city would fall to the Russian forces though on February 21, 1921 and the emir was forced to retreat into what is now Afghanistan.

This city would be subsequently sieged twice by local forces in 1921 and 1922, during which time they were given the name basmachi (literally meaning bandit) by the Russians, a name which though derogatory, quickly gained in popularity within the ranks of the local fighters. The siege which took place in 1922 would see the city captured again by basmachi forces. Unfortunately control of the area only lasted from February of that year until July, when the city was retaken by Russian forces. The net results of the back and forth fighting within the city was that the already meager population of circa 3,000 (1920) people would fall to just 283 people by 1924, with only about 40 buildings left standing within the city.

Though Dushanbe had been reduced to a virtual ghost town by the wars of the Russian Revolution, the city would in exchange be greatly improved during the Soviet period. When the Tadzhikistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created in 1924, Dushanbe became its capitol. During the period that passed from that declaration until May of 1925, Dushanbe was officially recognized as a city and two nearby towns, Sari Osiyo and Shohmansur were incorporated into its borders. But growth during this first period was slow; the city would see improvements only trickle in, with the first railroad connection being created in 1929. Most of the buildings built during this time were single story mud brick buildings and the administrative functions of the region only trickled into Dushanbe.

Following the 1929 split of the Tadzhikistan SSR, into the western Uzbekistan SSR and the eastern Tajikistan SSR, of which Dushanbe remained the capital, the city’s growth would slowly accelerate. From the 1930s onward, the city received many new municipal and public buildings and population growth began to pick up. The 1940s saw an increase in the average building size as the city grew to new heights, though most were only four story buildings at most. The 1970s would see Dushanbe take on a more modern looking skyline, with some high-rise buildings beginning to appear within the city. Today the city encompasses both banks of the Dushanbe River, as well as a bank of the nearby Luchob River, a great expansion from its 1920s location along solely the west bank of the Dushanbe.

During the original period of Soviet control Dushanbe, the economy was based around local product demand, with light industry and small scale production dominating the economic landscape of the city. World War II, and the Soviet shift of industries to the east, would bring a large increase in the number of jobs available in the city, as well as the number of industrial jobs, primarily though these jobs were ranged around the textiles and food processing industries. Today the city has a fairly robust industrial base, one that makes up nearly the majority of the industry in Tajikistan, based around light industries, such as industrial machinery, textiles and food processing, as well as small scale radio, television and film industries.

With the end of Soviet Russia, in the 1990s, Dushanbe found itself a part of a free Tajikistan, but this would not all be for the best. Civil strife dominated the city and the new nation during this period, and Dushanbe would be thrust into the middle of the strife. With the warring that broke out between rival groups, though this fighting has been mostly in the southern part of Tajikistan, the future of Dushanbe has become less than sure. These issues have resulted in a small net drop from the 1989 population of 604,000 and an increase in the percentage of Tajik population within the city. With the continued fighting in the south, more and more people from rural areas of the country have fled north to Dushanbe. So in what should be a time of plenty and of new beginnings for the city and for the nation of Tajikistan, Dushanbe is instead pushed into a period of uncertainty. As its people find themselves now in a strife filled and war torn nation that ranks among the poorest in the world.

Travel in Dushanbe. (2000). AsiaTravelling.Net. Retrieved September 26, 2005, from Asia Travelling.net http://www.asiatravelling.net/tajikistan/dushanbe/dushanbe_history.htm
Dushanbe. (2005). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 26, 2005, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9031598

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