Adventure on the Great Pamir in Tajikistan Pamir TRAVEL

Tajikistan and Persian Empire

Persian Empire

From about 500 BC, most of Central Asia was under Persian control or influence. Bactria (today thought to be Balkh in Northern Afghanistan) on the banks of the Oxus (now known as the AMU Darya) was the center of Persian civilization in Eastern Iran. The Persians displaced the Scythian and Cimmerian nomadic TRIBES in the region. Afrosiab (now Samarkand) was the center of the region known as Sogdiana that covered what is today Southern Uzbekistan and much of Tajikistan. The cities of Samarkand and Boukhara, although today in the territory of Uzbekistan, are centers of Tajik/Persian culture.

Alexander the Great

Alexander of Macedonia defeated the armies of the Persian Emperor Darius II between 336-323 BC and brought about the fall of the Achaemenid Empire. Alexander subjugated Sogdiana but, in order to promote the pacification of the conquered peoples, married Roxane, daughter of a local chieftain. When Alexander died in 323 BC, the Macedonian Empire broke up. After a long period during which Bactria was ruled by Greko-Macedonian satraps and subjected to frequent invasions by nomadic Turkic hordes, the area fell under the control of the Yuchi from what is now the Gansu region in Western China (Kushan Empire) from the second century BC to the third century AD.

The Persian Sasanids (224-642 AD) destroyed the Kushan Empire and the region reverted to Persian control.

White Huns

In AD 400 a new wave of Central Asian nomads under the Hephthalites took control of the region. According to Procopius' History of the Wars, written in the mid 6th century, the Hephthalites or “White Huns”, “are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name: however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us. They are the only ones among the Huns who have white bodies....”If Procopius’ description is correct (and this is disputed by the accounts of other travellers), the relatively large number of inhabitants of Gorno-Badakhshan with blond hair and blue eyes may be related to this ethnic ancestry, although other theories link these features with Macedonian, Russian and even nomadic Saxon ethnic stock.

The Hephthalites were defeated in AD 565 by a coalition of Sasanids and Western Turks. The Sasanids took Bactria and the Western Turks ruled over Sogdiana.

Arab invasions

Soon after the death of the prophet Mohammed, Central Asia was invaded successively by the Arabs of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. The Arab conquests saw a flowering of Islamic thought, philosophy and mysticism and stemmed Chinese expansion in Central Asia. However, Persian influence remained strong in the region, and new Islamic Persian dynasties sprang up, of which the most important was that of the Samanids (875 to 999). The Samanid period, through the scientific work of al-Khwarazmi, Ibn-i Sina (Avicenna), al-Biruni and al-Razi (Razes) and the poetry of Firdausi and Rudaki, made a major contribution to the development of Persian language and culture in the region.

The defeat of the Samanids by the Turkic Ghaznavid dynasty in 999 marked the beginning of the decline in Persian influence in Central Asia. From the end of the first century AD, there had been sporadic westward movements of nomadic Turkic peoples from the area of what is now Mongolia: the massive military invasions under the leadership of Genghis Khan (Temujin - 1167?-1227) and Tamerlane (Timur-Lang - 1336?-1405) ended Persian dominance in the region. Largely due to the protection provided by the mountainous terrain, the peoples of what is now Tajikistan were better able to preserve their society and Persian culture. While the languages of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan all have Turkic roots, Tajikistan is the only former Soviet Republic with an Iranian language; music, dance and poetry in the Persian tradition play a major role in Tajik society.

Until the Soviet period, the region was part of the Emirate of Boukhara.


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