The Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS) 2012 annual conference that finished today at the Indiana University (Bloomington) was fantastic in terms of the profile of scholars that attended the event, quality of research presented, and range of perspectives represented.
But there is one thing that I found troubling about this year’s conference: the absence of a Tajikistani perspective and voice. Out of the eight papers focusing directly on Tajikistan – and many more papers dealing with Tajikistan less directly – only one paper was presented by a Tajikistani (which happens to be me). Out of the about 180 participants, only one was Tajikistani (me again). I am not suggesting that the non-Tajikistani scholars doing research on the country are less competent in doing so or anything of the sort. However, I am really concerned about Tajikistanis playing no role in how the country is represented, talked and argued about in the western (effectively, global) academia.
In contrast, scholars from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia’s Tatarstan, and China’s Xinjiang attended the conference and presented really interesting papers.
So why is Tajikistan absent from all of this? Does it have to do with the costs involved in attending such conferences? This is unlikely given that the Open Society Institute (OSI) is eager to offer travel grants to scholars in the country. Is this about Tajikistani scholars not speaking English and not being able to do research and write papers in the way that western academia would find acceptable? Maybe, but there are so many young people from Tajikistan who did their Master’s degrees in the West, in India, and Japan. Where are they? Is this perhaps about the lack of networks and connections as a result of which Tajikistani scholars simply do not know about such conferences being held? Or is it about lack of interest? Or all of the above?
Iran’s recent economic expansion in Tajikistan appears to be part of Tehran’s broader strategy to strengthen its influence in the country. In addition to pledging to invest more in the Tajik economy, Tehran has reiterated its calls for Dushanbe to foster closer cultural cooperation and announced plans to build universities and hospitals in the Tajik capital.
Iran has traditionally emphasized civilization and linguistic bonds as the foundation for a “special relationship” with Tajikistan. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously referred to Iran and Tajikistan as “one spirit in two bodies,” and Tehran has long pushed for the expansion of cultural ties with Dushanbe. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s trip to Tehran on March 27-28, to celebrate Novruz with the Iranian leader for the second year running indicates the Tajik leadership’s willingness to embrace closer cultural links (www.president.tj, March 27).