Tajiks (Persian: تاجيک Tājīk) are a Persian-speaking peoples who are mostly found in what is now Tajikistan, including in parts of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, some Tajiks escaped to live in neighboring Iran and Pakistan. Most Tajiks are Sunni Muslims, but a few in remote mountain areas follow Shia Islam.
The Tajiks are some what similar to Iranians in appearance and culture, they make up almost 80% of Tajikistan's total population. In the early 21st century there were about 7 million Tajiks in Tajikistan and more than 14 million in Uzbekistan. There were over 17 million in Afghanistan. Another 49,000 lived in the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in China.
The name Tajik being used for this group of people was first began in the early 20th century by the Russians. Before that, they were mostly recognized as Sarts. The name Tajik refers to the traditionally sedentary people who speak a form of Persian language called Tajiki in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and who speak the modern Dari in Afghanistan.
It is generally accepted that the origin of the word Tajik is Middle Persian Tāzīk "Arab" (New Persian: Tazi), or an Iranian (Sogdian or Parthian) cognate word. Some Turks of Central Asia adopted a variant of this Iranian word, Täžik, to designate the Persian Muslims in the Oxus basin and Khorasan, who were the Turks' rivals.
Historians believe that some of the Tajiks may be connected to ancient Aryans who lived in the region for thousands of years. They were the heirs and transmitters of the Central Asian sedentary culture that diffused in prehistoric times from the Iranian plateau into an area extending roughly from the Caspian Sea to the borders of China. The Aryans constituted the core of the ancient population of Khwarezm, Sogdiana and Bactria, which formed part of Transoxania. They were included in the empires of Persia and Alexander the Great, and they mixed with later invaders like the Mauryans, Kushans and Hepthalites. Over the course of time, the language that was used by these ancient people eventually gave way to Farsi, a western dialect spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
The Tajik people have a rich cultural heritage. Their homeland which was once called Khorasan, was a prosperous and important province because it was the seat of many local rulers. Khorasan enjoyed its peak of urban civilization in the period of Abbasids, before the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, and was one of the most significant areas in the Muslim-Persian world, a big learning centre where the New Persian literature flourished. Persian cities like Herat, Balkh, Marv, Samarkand, Bukhara and others were centres of science and culture out of which came some of the most famous Islamic scholars. Many poets rose in Khorasan, including Rudaki, Rumi, and scientists such as Avicenna, Al-Farabi, Al-Biruni, Al-Khwarizmi, and many others who have made important contributions in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics, geography, and geology.
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- Oxford English Dictionary: Origin of the word "Tajik": from Persian Tājik 'a Persian, someone who is neither an Arab nor a Turk'.
- "medicine." Britannica Elementary Library. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010.
- Music of Afghanistan: professional musicians in the city of Herat By John Baily
- TAJIK i. THE ETHNONYM: ORIGINS AND APPLICATION, Encyclopædia Iranica, Last Updated: July 20, 2009, www.iranica.com
- "Tajik." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010.