Western Asia in Turmoil and Rivalry between Iran and Turkey

By Poorsoltan, Keramat | Contemporary Review, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Western Asia in Turmoil and Rivalry between Iran and Turkey


Poorsoltan, Keramat, Contemporary Review


AFTER the collapse of the Soviet Union, some urgent issues that for long had stayed dormant are coming into full flare, and turning into potentially destructive forces. In this article, the focus will be on the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, and the rivalry between Iran and Turkey in their quest for regional supremacy. We may categorize the most troublesome issues in the region into two major groups: Ethnic, and ideological/political problems.

The region is facing three pressing ethnic issues: (i). Tajik-Pashtun-Uzbek rivalries in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, (ii). The Armenian-Azerbaijani territorial disputes, and (iii). The Kurdish independence movement.

First -- the Tajiks are a Farsi-speaking ethnic group living in the middle of the Turkic-speaking republics of Central Asia and Transcaucasia. Ethnically, they are closely related to the Tajiks of northern Afghanistan. For over half a century, Tajiks on both sides of the border had been relegated to the position of second rate citizens. In Tajikistan they were subordinate to their more powerful Uzbek countrymen, and in Afghanistan, the government was mostly run by Pashtuns. Now, in the void created by the elimination of the Soviet Union, and the collapse of the establishment in Afghanistan, Tajik nationalism is ascending in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

After the defeat of President Najibullah's regime in Afghanistan, the Hezb-e-Islami faction led by Hekmatyar has been trying very hard to re-establish Pashtun dominance over Afghan politics. However, geopolitical changes, such as the presence of an Islamic government in Iran, the downfall of the Soviet Union, as well as significant internal developments have made that comeback impossible. At the moment, Afghanistan's president, Rabbani, is a Tajik from the Badakhshan area of Tajikistan. Afghanistan's defence minister, Massoud, also is a Tajik. Moreover, the government in Afghanistan is based on a coalition of Uzbeks and Tajiks (northern ethnic groups) in addition to moderate Pashtuns (a southern ethnic group). Massoud who is aware of the aggressiveness of Uzbeks, has taken side with the Uzbek militia leader (Rashid Dostum) who had supported the previous regime. However, relations between Uzbeks and Tajiks are strained. In December 1992, Dustom's loyal forces that have consolidated their hold in the north, took up arms against President Rabbani who has refused. as agreed upon earlier, to step down from his position.

Uzbeks and Tajiks in Tajikistan are engaged not in a friendly cooperation, but in a confrontation. Tajiks are involved in two concurrent quarrels, one with former Communists -- a great number of them are Uzbeks -- over political and ideological issues, and the other, mainly over economic concerns, also with Uzbeks. While Tajiks mostly constitute the poor urban masses, northern Tajikistan (Khojend) is populated by Uzbeks who are the most prosperous and dynamic people in the area. In Uzbekistan Tajiks and Uzbeks have lived side by side for centuries in ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. However, in the absence of a strong central authority and an ideology to mend the differences of ethnic groups, Tajiks are increasingly becoming restive. For instance, Tajiks whose ancestors originally came from Bukhara, a city in Uzbekistan, openly demand the return of the city to Tajikistan. Extremists believe that a revival of Tajik culture is almost impossible without Bukhara and Samarkand. This kind of nationalistic aspiration is a reaction to the artificial boundaries created by Stalin. Before this 'Gerrymandering', the entire Central Asian region was simply known as Turkistan. Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, maintains that: 'If you want to pit one republic against another, you have to start talking about frontiers'.

In helping their people in Tajikistan, Afghanistan's Tajiks are infiltrating into Tajikistan. There are reports about setting up camps in Afghanistan for training guerrillas. …

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