A state-owned newspaper in Uzbekistan for the ethnic Tajik community has published an unusual letter from a teacher complaining about the lack of Tajik-speaking teachers in the country’s schools.
The letter, written by Sirojiddin Esanboyev, a resident of Bostanliq, a district some 70 kilometers from Tashkent that is home to a sizable Tajik community, was published in Ovozi Tojik (“Tajik Voice”) and addressed to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Registering complaints about such a potentially sensitive topic under the late President Islam Karimov would have been inconceivable. RFE/RL’s Tajik service suggests it is the first time in 25 years that the Tajik community has made a public show of raising the issue of education in their native tongue.
Esanboyev suggested in his plea that the authorities explore ways to train up more personnel to work in Tajik-language schools. As the letter notes, Tajik-speaking specialists were previously trained by Tashkent Regional Pedagogical Institute, based in Angren, but that institution was shut down in 2014.
“If this problem is not solved, then perhaps Tajik schools will have to close,” Esanboyev wrote.
According to government figures, there are currently around 250 schools in Uzbekistan teaching in Tajik, serving the roughly 5 percent of the population that is identified officially as Tajik. The demographic issue is a fraught one, however, since considering that the historic cities of Samarkand and Bukhara are historically Tajik, the real size of the minority is probably much greater. When it comes to listing ethnicity in one’s passport — a mandatory field — many may simply write “Uzbek” for sake of ease. Another complication is that in the case of children of mixed ethnicity, Uzbek is invariably preferred as a claimed identity.
Other minority groups that have varying degrees of access to education in their native language are the Russian, Kazakh, Turkmen, Kyrgyz and Karakalpak communities.
The legal right to receive an education in one’s language is enshrined in law, but there is something noteworthy that somebody should have actually made a public show of demanding this requirement be respected. Discussion of ethnicity politics was one of many areas de facto deemed taboo under Karimov.
But Mirziyoyev has come to power promising a new era of cordiality with regional neighbors, including with Tajikistan, with which Uzbekistan has enjoyed frosty relations since independence. Mirziyoyev is set to visit Tajikistan in March for a landmark visit that could, among many other things yield positive results for the ethnic Tajik community in Uzbekistan. Esanboyev said in his letter that he hoped the issue of education would come up during talks between Mirziyoyev and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.
Ovozi Tojik is a government-owned newspaper financed from the state budget, so publication of Esanboyev’s letter bears the imprimatur of official approval. The newspaper has a circulation of around 5,000 in its hard copy and also has a website, ovozitojik.uz. There are other Tajik-language newspaper in the regions, such as Ovozi Samarkand.