Some of Tajikistan’s myth-building is out of this world, but it has really taken that literally this time.
Khovar state news agency reported on September 1 — to mark the post-Soviet-wide “Day of Knowledge” holiday no less — that a "minor planet" in the solar system has been named after Tajikistan.
This rare honor was bestowed upon the country by something called the International Astrophysicists Union for contributions made by Tajikistan’s scientists to astrophysics and the study of the heavens, Khovar reported.
A certificate confirming that the planet is definitely real and that it has certainly been named after Tajikistan was handed to President Emomali Rakhmon by the president of the Academy of Sciences, Farhod Rahimi.
Where is the planet? Khovar gives pretty specific coordinates: 250 million kilometers from earth and 436 million kilometers from the sun.
Tajikistan — the planet not the country — orbits the sun once every five years, which is coincidentally equivalent to the term of the country’s parliament. The two Tajikistans are currently at peak proximity, so Tajik scientists are eagerly peering through their telescopes to work out what’s up there, Khovar reported:
“Tajik scientists are studying its physical and chemical composition, as well as the processes taking place on this planet.”
There are some unexplained aspects to this story, however.
For instance, the International Astrophysicists Union, if it indeed exists, appears to have no online presence. And were it a real organization, it would be rather odd for it to be getting into the business of naming planets, since that might be considered more strictly the domain of astronomers. As it happens, there is something called the International Astronomical Union, but its website is unrevealing about any recent planetary discoveries related to Tajikistan.
This all leads to the inexorable suspicion that this planet news may have been invented as a feeble attempt to boost Tajikistan’s reputation within its own borders (and on the planet of Tajikistan perhaps). Which is sad since the country can boast of a proud and ancient history in the science of astronomy. But as this 2009 paper by two specialists from the Institute of Astrophysics at Tajikistan’s Academy of Sciences explains, the post-Soviet era was cruel to the country’s modern scientific achievements:
“The system of education strongly suffered in the years of social-political instability and civil war (1992-1997) and the economic crisis. A massive exile of specialists took place, and also many specialists-astronomers became teachers or went to work in industries. This has negatively affected astronomical research, the quality of preparation of experts and the astronomical education in Tajikistan.”
Tajikistan has not been above grasping accolades from obscure organizations before, although they have typically had the good grace to exist. Sort of.
In 2011, the European Council on International Relations (not to be confused with the European Council on Foreign Relations) awarded Rahmon the title of “Leader of the 21st Century.” That award was given, among other things, for Rahmon’s tireless effort in “combating corruption and promoting respect for human dignity, clean governance and free media and supporting the construction of the edifice of democracy in Tajikistan."
With the benefit of hindsight, one might surmise the European Council on International Relations was referring to the planet.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.