Battered by a five-year civil war at the onset of its independence, Tajikistan has struggled with poverty and instability in the two decades since it became its own state.
The country remains strongly dependent on Russia, both for its economy and to help counter security problems. In particular, Tajikistan depends on Moscow to help fight drug smuggling from neighbouring Afghanistan and an emerging radical Islam movement.
Tajikistan is also expanding its ties with China: Beijing has extended credits and has helped to build roads, tunnels and power infrastructure. Chinese firms are investing in oil and gas exploration and in gold mining.
President: Emomali Rahmon
Emomali Rahmon, a former cotton farm boss, was elected to president in 1994. He was re-elected in 1999 for a seven-year term - and won a third term in 2006, in an election international observers decried as neither free nor fair. He secured a fourth term in 2013.
Rakhmon played a vital role in Tajikistan's civil war, helping the pro-Communist effort to remove Islamist rebels from Dushanbe in the early 1990s.
After years of civil war and violence, some stability returned to Tajikistan. The president has a firm grip on power, but the country remains poor and underdeveloped.
The media environment has become less free in recent years, with the authorities obstructing critical reporting.
Websites and social media have been routinely blocked. Opposition websites operate from abroad.
Television is the most popular medium. The state broadcaster is the main player in the sector.
Some key dates in Tajikistan's history:
13th century - Genghis Khan conquers Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia, which becomes part of the Mongol Empire.
1860-1900 - Tajikistan is divided, with the north coming under Tsarist Russian rule while the south is annexed by the Emirate of Bukhara.
1921 - Northern Tajikistan becomes part of the Bolshevik-designated Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), which also included Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, part of northern Turkmenistan and southern Kazakhstan. In 1929, Tajik ASSR becomes a Soviet Socialist Republic, separate from Uzbekistan.
1991- Supreme Soviet declares Tajikistan independent from the Soviet Union; Rahmon Nabiyev, a Communist leader, wins Tajikistan's first direct presidential election with 57% of the vote. But in 1992 anti-government demonstrations in the country escalate into a civil war that lasts for five years.