Life Story


I, Kamoludin (Kamol) Abdullaev, was born in 1950 in the village of Shulmak, Gharm, located in the mountainous central part of Tajikistan. I was raised in Khorugh (Badakhshan, or Pamir in the east of Tajikistan), and lived in northern Tajikistan in the city of Khuajnd for two years. Since 1962, I am now a Dushanbеnian. My father Najmiddin (1917-82) and my mother Fatimakhon (1921-86) were from Konibodom, and this is my “small homeland”.

Konibodom is an ancient “Silk Road” city on the left bank of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) river in the Tajik part of the fertile Ferghana Valley. The region was best known for apricots and almonds, from which its name City of Almonds, or Almond Bounty, is derived. Konibodom, under its old name Kand dates back at least to the seventh century A.D. In 9-10th centuries it was part of the Samanid Empire. In 1842 Konibodom witnessed a brutal skirmish between forces of Emir Nasrullah of Bukhara and Kokand Khan Madali, the result of which thousands of Konibodomis were killed and their property looted by the Bukharan invaders. Russian rule over Konibodom and other parts of the Khanate was established in the mid-1870s. In the spring of 1875, a popular rebellion comprised of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz broke out in the Kokand Khanate against Khudayar Khan, who later escaped to Tashkent and sought Russian protection. Khudayar’s son Nasreddin assumed the throne on 26 June and declared “holy war” (jihad) against the Russians. On 22 August 1875, in a battle at Mahram (a large village between Khujand and Konibidom), a coalition of 10,000 Kokandis led by the charismatic leader Abdurahman Oftobachi was defeated by Russian General von Kaufman’s army. In this battle, almost 2,000 Muslims were killed, while the Russians, armed with modern weapons including light artillery, lost only five soldiers. On 29 August 1875, the Russians occupied Kokand and Governor-General of Russian Turkistan K. P. Von Kaufman imposed upon the Khan an agreement that put an end to the Khanate’s independence. The rebels continued their resistance, however, until they were defeated in November 1875. In January 1876 Pulat Khan, the last Khan of Kokand (Nasreddin had surrendered to the Russians in early October), was executed by the Russians. On 19 February 1876 the Kokand Khanate was abolished and replaced by the province of Ferghana, ruled by the Russian military governor Colonel M.D. Skobelev.

When Russian forces captured Konibodom in 1875, it had eight madrasas (college-level schools) and 105 maktabs (public schools). The city of Konibodom was home to the best calligraphers of the Kokand Khanate.
In the pre-World War I period, Konibodom experienced rapid economic grow. In 1905 a Russian school was opened to train local Tajiks in Konibodom. In the following years the Russians opened a railway station Mel’nikovo and the Central Asian Oil Company (Sredneaziatskoye Neftianoe Tovarischestvo, or SANTO) was set up between Isfara and Konibodom. In 1917 SANTO was a colony populated by 1,010 Russian workers and engineers. At that time the population of Konibodom stood at about 30,000 people.

Since the spring of 1918 Konibodom was part of Ferghana oblast’ (province)of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Republic. During 1918-1923 Konibodom was in the center of the anti-Soviet Basmachi (Muslim guerilla) movement. In 1924, after the national delimitation of Central Asia, this city became part of Kokand district of Ferghana province of Uzbekistan. In April 1925 the Konibodomis succeeded in acquiring a status of the Tajik autonomous region within Uzbekistan. In 1929 Konibodom and other Tajik districts of Ferghana valley joined the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Republic, facilitating the latter’s upgrade into the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic.

Najmiddin Abdullaev, Madrid 1978

I came from the family of a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of Tajikistan. Born in Konibodom in October 1917, my father Najmiddin Khuja Abdullaev graduated from the Stalinabad Pedagogical Institute (now the Dushanbe Pedagogical Institute) in 1940 with a degree in chemistry. In 1941-44 Lieutenant of the Soviet Army Najmiddin Abdullaev took part in the Great Patriotic War (World War II), during which time he joined the Communist Party. He was wounded twice and in 1944 returned to Tajikistan. He taught chemistry in colleges and schools in Stalinabad (Dushanbe) before he was taken to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan in 1946. He then started his rapid career as a Communist Party leader. In 1947-48 he worked first secretary of Oktyabrskiy district (current Bokhtar) Committee of Communist party in the southern Tajikistan. In 1952 he graduated from the one-year course of First Secretaries of Provinces and Republics Communist Party’s Central Committees in Moscow. From 1949-1962 he headed the Gharm and the Leninabad provinces’ Communist party organizations (in the capacity of the first secretary of obkom). For a short period of time in 1955 he was deputy minister of culture. For his achievements in World War II and post-war recovery of the economy, he was awarded several Soviet medals and orders, including “Order of Lenin” – the top Soviet award, “Znak Pocheta” and “Orden Otechestvennoj Vojny 2-i Stepeni”. One of the streets of the city of Gharm bears his name.
Najmiddin Abdullaev’s professional career was not smooth. He both benefited and suffered from Soviet power and involvement with the Communist party. His rapid professional rise abruptly ended in 1963 (at the age of 46) by first secretary of the Central Committee of the CPT Jabbor Rasulov, on false charges of “incorrect selection of cadre”. From 1964-1978 he worked deputy director general of “Tajikneft” Oil Company. He never criticized the Communists, but at the same time he never suggested that I join the party and instead strongly supported me to become a politically unbiased independent scholar.

Fatimakhon. Vakhsh Valley, 1948

My mother Fatimakhon was from the Tajik family of a rich Kokandi, tura Mannonkhon (d.1921). In 1940 she graduated from the typist college in Stalinobod, but dedicated her life to educating her six children. I am proud of my family. My brother Bahodur is a Major General and professional diplomat; he participated in all rounds of the Inter-Tajik peace talks in 1994-97. This Tajik peace process is documented in the Accord book (see Publications). In 2002-2005 he was the Tajik ambassador to China. My older sister Mavluda is a retired rector (president) of the Institute of Languages. My other sisters have all been successful in their respective careers: Mahbuba as a medical doctor; Saodat, an ecologist; and Matluba, who is a lawyer. All of them live in Tajikistan. I am married and my wife, Makhmudova Lola, is an oncolophtalmologist surgeon. My son Mannon (born in 1985) is the designer of this web page and daughter Kamila (1987) is currently a medical school student. I like music (classic, folk, New Age, rock), tennis (my wife Lola is a former tennis champion of Tajikistan), reading and travel. I have traveled extensively throughout the USA, Great Britain, Bosnia, Turkey, Holland, Norway, France, Canada, Poland and Egypt. I speak Russian, Tajik and English fluently. My Farsi is good and Uzbeki is fair.

Family Stories
Almost all Tajik genealogy trees and family stories trace their origin in religious sphere and my family is not exception to this rule.

My grandfather (on my father’s side), Abdullo Khuja Ishan (1868-1940), and his father Pasha Khuja Ishan (1840-1922?) came from the family of Ishans of City of Almonds and neighboring Isfara. “Ishan” is a Sufi-related title that means a religious authority, a master of dedicated disciples (murids). As I previously mentioned, my mother’s ancestors were tura of Kokand. The meaning of this title is uncertain; some relate it to both high feudal rank and religious hierarchs close to Kokand Khan’s court. What is known for sure is that this title (tura) was more prestigious than ishan, giving my father ground to proudly underline his belonging to the “proletariat”. In the 1930s this sounded like very practical reasoning, indeed. And this is true, as there were no rich people who mercilessly exploited dehqans (peasants) in my Konibodom.

Family stories tell of my mother’s ancestors originating from Bukhara. For some reason (perhaps a conflict with the government and/or the desire to spread Islam to the peripheries of the region) a famous religious family, supposedly Sufi, left Bukhara for different parts of the region. One of them settled in Uroteppa (Istravshan), another in Tashkent. One of the brothers settled in the city of Turkestan (current southern Kazakhstan). The name of this gentleman was Uzbek Khuja (born in the beginning of the 19th century) and he acquired the title of Shaikhul Islam. Turkistan in the 19th century was in the orbit of Khuqand (Kokand) Khanate and majority of its population was comprised of Uzbek and Tajik merchants and clergy. Nobody in my family knows the real meaning of the title “Shaikhul Islam”. In academy it is known as a representative of the group of Khojas (religious hierarchs) in the city of Turkistan. The person who was given this title served as a chief guardian of the Yasavi Shrine. Yasi is the old name of the city of Turkistan (since 16 AD) and Ahmad Yasavi was a Sufi master (pir-i Turkiston) who lived in 12 AD. Turkestan was known as one of Central Asia’s Sufi (Yasavi, Naqshbandiya) centers. Among Konibodomis, Uzbek Khuja was popular as Bobo-i Shaikhul Islom. So I can deduce that my bobo (grandfather) was among the guardians of the Yasavi Shrine, known as the second Mecca for Muslims of Central Asia. This shrine is pictured on the banknotes of independent Kazakhstan.

I don’t think Uzbek Khoja was Uzbek by ‘nationality’. Our avlod (clan, extended family) has been totally Tajik. In the 19th century, words like Tajik and Uzbek had different meanings than what we understand them to mean today. In 16-17 AD ‘Uzbek’ meant ‘nomad’. My ancestors were not nomads, but were Persian-speaking city dwellers – educators, teachers, traders and clerics. It is most likely that the name “Uzbek” appeared in my family tree because in that time Central Asia Sufi brotherhoods (and a top hero of my family story among them) instructed and expanded spiritual affairs mostly among Turkic nomad and Uzbek semi-nomadic tribes. My great-great-grandfather Bobo-i Shaikhul Islom had nine wives (I must confess!) in Kokand, Konibodom, Khujand, and Uroteppa (today’s Istravshan). Through my maternal line, I came from the daughter of his sixth wife, a native of Uroteppa. Bobo-i Shaikhul Islom and this nice woman (sadly I don’t know her name) gave birth to a pretty girl and named her Saidakhon (1857-1942), my great-grandmother. Just before the Russian colonization, Saidakhon married Burikhon binni Tura Khuja (1855-1916), who was also from a religious and educated family (and remote relative of Shaikhul Islom). In our avlod, the charisma of Bobo-i Shaikhul Islom passed from one generation to another, well through the mid-20th century.

Family stories portray Bobo-i Shaikhul Islam in opposition to the Kokand Khan, protesting against violations of Islamic principles and corruption of the government. Indeed, this contest on how to uphold Islamic principles has been strong both in medieval and modern times in Central Asia, especially among Sufis. Today it remains a tradition of informal populist religious leaders to criticize authorities and gather followers in a bid to restore the “Islamic State”. Returning to my story, my mother’s ancestors were withdrawn from the court and given estate in Konibodom area (55 km from Kokand) as well as other parts of Central Asia. Burikhon binni Tura Khuja (the father of my grandmother, a son-in law of Shaikhul Islom) was the mudarris (professor and dean) of the Mirrajab Dodkho madrasa (religious high school, college) in Konibodom, which by the end of 19th century had more than 100 students and possessed enough estate in the form of vaqf -donations of private persons and authorities to a religious institution. After Burikhon Domullo’s (domullo-learned person, professor) death in 1916, this post was passed to his son Ubaidullo Domullo (1888-1944), brother of my grandmother. In 1922-1924 the madrasa was transformed to a new-method, secular (Jadidia, or modernist) school named “Dorut-at Tadris” and Ubaidullo Domullo taught geography and mathematics there. At the end of the 1920s the school ceased to exist, and the Jadid’s and most of the learned persons either joined the Soviets or dispersed and were lost in emigration and Stalin camps. After decades of neglect, in the late 1940s Mirrajab Dodkho madrasa was turned into the School of Mechanization (i.e. courses of tractor drivers). Today Mirrajab Dodkho madrasa is a city museum of Konibodom.

My mother’s parents, Mannonkhon Tura (1877-1922) and Adolatkhon (1879-1953), met during the 1917 Revolution, to use Soviet vocabulary, as upper middle class landed gentry and representatives of local religious authority. Mannonkhon Tura died from typhus in Jizzakh (Samarqand area) in 1922, which he caught while collecting rent from his lessees, “choriakkoron” or peasants who paid a quarter (choriak) of annual harvest to the landlord. Being deprived from private estate by the Soviet power, my mother’s family nevertheless enjoyed the status of a respected family in Almond Bounty. During the 1920s famine, they adopted and saved the lives of several neglected street children. I know one of them – Khusein Aka, an Uzbek from Kokand. Later he became a chief doctor of the city clinics of Kokand. In 1937, Mannonkhon’s son and my uncle (my mother’s older brother) Khuja Khon (1905-1941) was arrested as an “enemy of the people” and jailed in the Stalin camp situated in Komi Republic (north of the European part of Russia). In 1941 Khuja Khon was sent to the front and lost his life during first battles against Nazi Germany in Western Russia.

Kamil Yarmatov in the first Tajik Movie “Emigrant”, 1934 (Tajikfilm)

My wife’s family is also from the well-known Konibodomis. Lola’s great-great-grandfather Muhammad Karim Kurbashi (kurbashi was a military rank), who headed the Mahram (a big village hear Konibodom) military garrison under the Kokand Khan and showed fierce resistance to the Russian invaders, particularly at the above mentioned battle under command of Abdurahman Oftobachi in 1875. One of the grandsons of Karim Kurbashi, Kamil Yarmatov (1903-1978) was widely known in Central Asia and USSR as a famous filmmaker, and a founder of the Tajik and Uzbek cinematography. He made his first film “The Emigrant” in 1934, which was the first Tajik movie ever produced. It tells a story of a young Tajik who fled to Afghanistan during first years of Soviet rule. Coincidently, I did my research on the same theme – the history of Central Asian emigration to Afghanistan. In 1923 Kamil Yarmatov left for Moscow to study at the All Union Institute of Cinematography. During his life, Kamil Yarmatov made historical films, many of which are saturated with a flavor of revolutionary romantic. The story of Kamil Yarmatov’s family is documented in his memoirs entitled “Vozvrashenie” (The Return) published in Moscow and Tashkent in Russian. The national film studio of Soviet Uzbekistan bore his name.

Cultural Self-identification
All my ancestors were Tajiks, at least Tajik speakers, yet for some of them Uzbeki was their second language. For centuries Almond Bounty has been populated exclusively by Tajiks, while part of surrounding villages (as well as few blocks in the city of Konibodom) by Uzbeks. I assume my ancestors (at least the last six generations) came from the Tajik-speaking sedentary populace of the Ferghana valley oasis. I am a Sunni Muslim. Extremely secular, I do not go to maschit (mosque), did not perform pilgrimage, and (shame on me!) consume alcohol (preferably wine and beer). It is pity to say, but Russian and, since the 1990s, English have played a more important role in my life then my native Tajik language.
Although I have never lived in Almond Bounty for more then one month, I am emotionally attached to this place. I also love the Pamir Mountains, where I grew up. I am a Muslim and a Tajik; I like Tajikistan, its people. I am part of this country. I live in the plains, while my heart is in the mountains and with those who like mountains.

Professional Career
I graduated from the Tajik State University, with a degree history in 1972. Professor Mansur Babakhanov encouraged me to become a historian. In 1972-74 I served in the Soviet Army as Lieutenant of infantry in Trans-Baikal (Siberia) Military Okrug, on the border point where China, Russia and Mongolia meet.

My professional career started in 1975, in the Institute of History of Tajikistan Academy of Sciences. It was a center of historical study of Tajikistan and Tajiks; I was lucky to work closely with colleagues and pupils of the famous Russian orientalists Semenov and Andreeev. My first advisor was Rahim Masov. He recommended that I choose a theme addressing Central Asian periodicals as a historical source on the history of the elimination of the Basmachi movement. Since 1975 my focus has been this theme, which broadly speaking encompasses “National and Muslim Movement during the Early Soviet Period”. My candidate thesis called “The Soviet Turkestan’s Newspapers as a Historical Source on the History of the Elimination of Basmachism” was written and defended in the Institute of the History of the USSR of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Moscow) from 1976-83. In my dissertation, I explored the newspapers of the Soviets, the Communist party, and the Red army, published in the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1918-1924 in Russian as well as local (mostly Turkic) languages. Later, in 1989 my candidate thesis was published as a book called “Oruzhiem Peachatnogo Slova” (With the Weapon of the Printed Word) in Dushanbe. In Soviet times the subject of my research fell under the rubric “The Establishment of Soviet Power and Civil War in Central Asia”. It was less a subject of scholarly investigation than a form of political history in which those who opposed the Soviet regime were labeled counter-revolutionaries whose influence needed to be eradicated. Ideological institutions in general, and historiographical ones in particular, were obliged to interpret the past in accordance with state indoctrination. Soviet historians, including me, utilized a good deal of paper “struggling” and “fighting” against various Basmachis, bays, feudal, and other class enemies of the state in their narratives. Very often we did that work sincerely. By doing so, however, we sought new approaches, without leaving the conservative and defensive framework of the official historiography. In the late perestroika years, in the end of the 1980s, I changed approach to my theme. What exactly forced me to alter my viewpoint? It was, briefly put, the changing political climate and access to new historical sources and literature that made new narratives possible.

Since 1992 I have been combining research and practice of conflict resolution as a policy analyst in nongovernmental research organizations and independent consultant. In 1992-1994, I co-operated with the Russian Center for Strategic Research and International Studies in monitoring and analyzing the bloody conflict in Tajikistan. At the same time I took part in the inter-Tajik dialogue organized in the framework of Dartmouth Conference by the U.S. based Kettering Foundation. In 1994-1996 I cooperated with the Central Asia Research and Development Center (CARDC) of the George Washington University and have performed as it’s representative in Tajikistan since August 1995. On April 1996 I joined the International Advisory Council of the Toda Institute for Peace and Policy Research, which was founded in Tokyo on February 11, 1996 to promote a dialogue of civilizations for the world citizenship. From 1997-1999 I worked as a project officer at the Aga Khan Humanities Project of Central Asia, and I have been an independent scholar since 2001. I have also maintained close ties with the department of history at the Tajik National University, where I have a position of honored research fellow.

Born in the USSR, I enjoyed both the Soviet-time educational opportunities and first post-Soviet international exchange programs. The US government-sponsored programs have enormously aided my professional career. In 1994, when I was 44, I traveled to America for the first time in my life as a visiting Fulbright Scholar of the George Washington University. In 1995 I continued my research as visiting fellow of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. While in DC, I enjoyed the friendly support of my colleagues Professor Muriel Atkin, Quadir Amiryar (GWU), David Nalle of the Central Asia Monitor, as well as other colleagues and friends. In October 1996 I was a visiting fellow of the Central Asia Research Forum of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University and collected very valuable historical materials in the India Office Library and in the Public Record Office. The friendly support of Professor Shirin Akiner (SOAS) made my work in London possible and effective. As a result of the above grants, I completed my research on the political and social history of civil war and emigration in Central Asia in the early Soviet period and prepared a manuscript titled: Ot Sintsiana do Khorasana. Istoria Sredneaziatskoi Emigratsii 20 veka. (From Xingjiang to Khurasan: The 20th Century Central Asia’s Emigration) to be published soon in Russian. In the spring of 2002, “Historical Dictionary of Tajikistan” was written in co-authorship with Dr. Shahram Akbarzadeh of the La Trobe University, which has been published in U.S. In 2008-2009 I wrote a second edition of this book. In 2000-2001, together with my colleague Catherine Barnes of Conciliation Resources (London) we published Accord 10- Politics of Compromise: The Tajikistan Peace Process in English and Russian. In 2002 we performed strategic conflict assessment for DFID, UK together with another colleague Sabina Freizer. The findings of this project were published in two books in English and Russian in 2003 called What Peace Five Years After the Signing of the Tajik Peace Agreement? Strategic Conflict Assessment and Peace Building Framework, Tajikistan (Brussels: The UK Government Global Conflict Prevention Pool, December 2003).

In 2001 I received a Sumitomo Global Bank fellowship under the Central Asia Initiative at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. I spent 2001-2002 academic year at Yale University. Since 2003 I have been teaching various courses on Central Asia, Caucasus and Afghanistan at the Ohio State University as a visiting professor. Also, in 2005 and 2009 I was invited to Allegheny College (PA) and University of Toronto, Canada.

From 2010 to 2011 I was Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress. It provides the analysis, training and tools that prevent and end conflicts, promotes stability and professionalizes the field of peacebuilding.