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Dushanbe is not a real city. It isn't a real capital and Tajikistan is not a real country. The northern neighbour of Afghanistan is a failure with a flag, shiny passports and a gang of savvy criminals that calls itself a government. This buffer between the empires fell apart a long time ago. 


Downtown Dushanbe: A hodge-podge of mosques, telephone poles and tiny whitewashed homes

The city has leafy boulevards laid out in an almost utopian socialist grid. The streets are quiet but on balmy Asian nights the streets come alive with drug mega-barons racing their SUVs, blaring out rap music and tossing a few coins at the impoverished police officers — teenagers in uniform — if anybody gets in their way. These boulevards are a Soviet mirage, a Potemkin city which was initially named after a dictator — Stalinabad. It became Dushanbe in 1961 as part of Khruschev's de-Stalinisation.

Dushanbe is a hodge-podge of dirt tracks, sodden sewage holes, tiny whitewashed homes with corrugated-iron roofs. It swarms with under-fives, their veiled mothers, jobless dads, chickens and a nocturnal orchestra of wild dogs. Dushanbe is a slum for more than 650,000 people and the capital of a country where 70 per cent live in abject rural poverty. Tajikistan has soaring birth-rates, rising illiteracy, fraudulent elections, de-urbanisation and a 1,200km border with Afghanistan.

Rakhmatillo Zoirov has vacant pale eyes. His slacks are fraying. He lives in a dilapidated, garbage-strewn row of flats overlooking a desolate motorway. Repairmen have been absent since the fall of communism and children play gangsters in courtyards of broken glass. No one takes schooling here seriously. Zoirov is the only opposition politician publically to criticise the dictatorial leader Emomali Rakhmon. 

"We have a corrupt authoritarian regime." Zoirov's voice sounds dulled, sensing his cause is lost. "More than 50 per cent of the labour force has fled the country for work in Russia, the countryside is sliding back in time and this regime has no answers about how to tackle chronic unemployment, collapsed public services and a flood of drugs money." 

His office is in a dusty apartment adorned with an old map of Tajikistan. A placard displaying Europe's starry flag is pinned to the chipped paintwork on the wall. His organisation, the 12,000-member Social Democratic Party, is on Western life-support. "This economic situation cannot hold for more than three years. But the peasants are so passive." I ask about the corrosive penury of his fellow citizens — Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. "Poverty is this regime's policy. If people are poor and the enterprising leave for Russia, this country is easier to control." 

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Majorman
February 7th, 2013
8:02 PM
I am an American visiting Dushanbe. I wish I had time to search for the Yeti or even a snow leopard. Perhaps, I'll find a specimen at the zoo. Dushanbe has a bit of charm. Sure, poverty is prevalent but where in Central Asia is it not? I did think this was a funny commercial with proof of the Yeti's existence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvSA6Oea65o

tajik
July 26th, 2010
10:07 PM
Didn't you find the Yeti you were looking for inside Zoirov's room?

tajik
July 26th, 2010
7:07 PM
Why don't you write about both negative and positive sides? From where so much hate????

miles
July 26th, 2010
6:07 AM
I am an American that has lived in Tajikistan for three years. I live in a remote valley and have heard stories of the Yeti as well. I found your presentation of Tajikistan to be very interesting. It is a bit on the negative side, but maybe you are just saying things we all think.

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