Special Reports

Last updated: 3 october, 2009 - 11:55 GMT

Tajikstan reclaimed

Abdumavlon Mirzoahmedov and his grandchildren, Hulkar and Farrukh

Abdumavlon Mirzoahmedov was part of Tajikistan's independence movement during the communist era. He is now a well-known scientist and lecturer at Khujand State University.

Twenty years ago, he was an active player in Tajikistan’s struggle to gain independence from the Soviet Union.

Khujand is the capital of northern Tajikistan and the second-largest city in the country.

It is also one of Tajikistan’s oldest towns, founded on the banks of the Syr-Darya by Alexander the Great as his easternmost outpost, Alexandria Eskhate.

In 1986 Khujand – or Leninabad as it was then named – celebrated its 2500th anniversary.

Three years later when the wall fell in Berlin, Abdumavlon, and many of his fellow activists, began campaigning to replace the Soviet names of their cities with the ancient or original names, as well as giving the Tajik language an official status.

Almost a year later, Leninabad once again became Khujand.

However, many elderly Tajiks still refer to the city as Leninabad. Abdumavlon's young grandchildren ask him why this difference exists.

This conversation between Abdumavlon and his grandchildren is part of a series of eight cross-generational interviews from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Romania, Tajikistan and Cuba.

Grandad, why do some people call our city Khujand and some Leninabad?

This is quite a long and old story, dear. Our city had many names in the past. When Alexander the Great lived here it was called Alexandria Eschate. Many hundreds of years later, in the 7th century, it was renamed Khujand.

Lenin statue in Khujand

Lenin's statue in Khujand

Then, when Tajikistan became part of the Soviet Union, the city was renamed after Vladimir Lenin, a hero of the Soviet era and leader of the Bolshevik, or communist, movement.

My guess is that local leaders wanted to please the officials in Moscow.

Still, today many of the older generation refer to Khujand as Leninabad, perhaps out of habit. However, the younger generation, who don't know about Lenin or the Soviets, stick to Khujand.

Grandad, if Lenin was a good hero, why did they change the name of the city back to Khujand? What was the reason?

Lenin was very powerful and he was idolised here. But, in 1986 we celebrated Khujand’s 2500th anniversary. The communists were quite ignorant of our nation’s aspirations.

At the time, one of the leaders of the local communist party, ordered a large billboard stating 'Leninabad – 2500 years old', which may sound silly and we can laugh about it now, but 1986 it was not laughing matter for anyone. It was Khujand, not Leninabad that was 2500 years old!

I was quite angry, but at the time we could not do anything.

But later, in 1989, myself and several writers, scientists and well known personalities started a campaign to regain the city's medieval name - and we succeeded!

For the very first time in Soviet history a city which was named after Lenin was changed back to its original name.

This was one of the biggest steps towards our ultimate goal – full independence from the Soviet Union.

However, not everyone was happy to change its name back to Khujand, and at that time communist leaders were powerful and all mighty. But it is difficult to rewrite history, however powerful you might be.

Statue of medieval leader in Khujand

Statue of a medieval warrior in Khujand

Grandad, in our history lessons we are taught that Khujand was saved by Timur Malik who fought against Gengis Khan. But our city has Lenin’s statue not Timur Malik’s. My generation knows nothing about Lenin.

You are right. Look how big that statue of Lenin is! You can see him from almost every corner of our city. I was actually helping the builders when they erected the statue.

I am sure millions were spent to build Lenin’s statue, which was one of the biggest of the Soviet Union. I don’t think that we should remove Lenin’s statue, it’s there and it is part of our history.

President Rahmon recently asked a team of scientists to find Temur Malik's grave and to look at his remains to build his statue. I hope soon we will have Timur Malik’s statue as well.

Grandad, I still don’t understand. Khujand is an ancient city. Why didn't people do something when the communists first wanted to change the name? Not everyone was communist, right?

The Soviet Union was one of the most powerful and largest countries in the world. Communists wanted and believed that their heroes and leaders should be 'immortalised' so they started to rename many cities all over the Soviet Union. For instance, our capital city Dushanbe was called Stalinobod, after Stalin who was brutal dictator. People were powerless to resist.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.