A series of interviews with Dushanbinci.
Bobomulloev moved with his family to Dushanbe in 1997 from a village outside of Panjakent. He’s now a researcher at the Institute of History, Architecture and Ethnography after A. Donish.
I agree that some of the buildings must be kept. Some of them have unique historical significance — like the Ferdowsi Library, the Parliament, the president’s office. Or when they tore down the obelisk [next to the Jomi Cinema]. I used to pass that obelisk every day — it had a Soviet symbol on it. They removed it because they said since there was another one behind Somoni statue, this one wasn’t necessary any more. But I disagree. This was a reminder of our Soviet past.
But about the apartment buildings — I’m not so sure. There are certainly buildings that need to come down — buildings that are in really terrible disrepair.
What about the apartment buildings across from Rudaki Park?
What’s so special about those buildings? You tell me.
The fact that people live in them.
I don’t see why we should preserve some buildings just because people have lived there for twenty or thirty years.
Didn’t you say [at an urban development conference] on Saturday that a building’s historical significance and its social significance are linked?
The Soviet buildings — they were all modeled after buildings in Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. They’re copies. We need to come up with an architectural style that’s authentic, that’s our own.
I like when there’s a mix of old and new buildings — like the TCell tower behind the Ministry of Culture, or the new buildings behind the Academy of Sciences.
About the destruction of the Mayakovsky Theater. First of all, have you seen this new theater they’re getting? It will be giant; thousands of people are working on it. Anyone will be able to perform anything they want. I went to Mayakovsky Theater several times as a child, for New Year’s shows. Back then there were Russians managing it and acting in shows…I always had the impression they looked down on us.
I hear often that there’s not enough space around Dushanbe to expand the city, so that’s why all this reconstruction is taking place in the urban center.
Where do you hear that? I’ve never heard that. Muqimov, Samadov. Muqimov was on my thesis defense committee and I’ve never heard him say that. Just go look at Google Earth. There’s plenty of space to expand the city towards Hissor [to the west]. There’s even a plan in the works to add a new city district, so there would be five city districts. I don’t know when it will happen, maybe ten years.
Don’t you feel like the new buildings are kind of Dubai-esque?
Not at all! Where did you get that idea? Well, like Dushanbe Plaza is based off of a building in Dubai. Have you been to Dubai? The buildings there are glass and metal. Haven’t you seen Kokhi Navruz? How could you say that’s like something in Dubai? That’s authentically Tajik architecture. Kokhi Navruz is authentically Tajik.
Something that really upsets me is when I read on Russian websites and forums things like, “What are you doing demolishing the Soviet buildings in Dushanbe? We built those for you. We gave them to you. Now you’re just going to tear them down? Aren’t you grateful?”
I am thankful for the Soviets. For the Soviets, not the Russians, mind you. I am thankful for what they built here, what they taught us. They held education in the highest regard. If you travel anywhere in the country, you travel on Soviet roads. They built hospitals and libraries and schools. They helped modernize the country.
But Soviet is different than Russian. Some people equate the two; that’s just not accurate. And if you look at the history of the Tajik people, 99% of it is our own; 1% is Soviet. However, 90% of the history of the Tajik Republic is Soviet; 10% is our independence. So it’s important to think about the Soviet time, to reflect on the legacy they left us with — to examine the positives and the negatives. But we also need to start making our own way. We need to start asking ourselves, What does it mean to be Tajik?
I don’t think it’s necessary for you to feel grateful to the Soviets. After all, they colonized Tajikistan. And didn’t a lot of those advancements come at the price of Tajik culture?
To a certain extent. Sure, the Tajik language wasn’t taught as much then. Tajik history was largely forgotten. But you have to understand that the USSR was a project that sought to unite many different nationalities. There had to be a common language. There must be a language of doing business — whether that’s Russian or English. And maybe for the people sitting in Moscow, the loss of Tajik language and culture didn’t seem so important. Because they were trying to build something greater.
This wasn’t classic colonialism. Cultural colonialism — yes, you may be right. But to call the Soviet Union colonialist full stop… [at a loss for words]
[We speak generally about newly-sworn-in President Donald Trump and democracy in the US.]
My English is so weak…and it doesn’t help that there are thousands of new words entering the language every year. How can a person keep up? I like that about English, though, that it grows organically. Some people say that we need to take all the Russian words out of Tajik. First of all, what are the Russian words that are in Tajik? Words like television, respublika? I’m pretty sure those are Latin words. And secondly, this is an organic growth of the language. This is how people talk. Why should we try to come up with all these new “Tajik” words that no one can remember anyways? If you go to Iran, half the words are Arabic or English. They’d hear me talking and say, “Look at that Hofiz-i Shirozi straight out of the 11th century!”
Architecture and cities are similar. Why should we try to force something on the city? Cities are, most importantly, organic. They grow and develop based on people’s interactions, based on commerce.
I agree with you that one function of the city is to spread a culture’s norms and values among the population. Look at village life: it’s backwards, traditional. People come to the city and they become civilized. They gain access to education. Life in the city is about opportunities. Opportunities for educational and economic advancement.
What do you think about the order banning tandurs in courtyards?
From one angle, I think this is stupid. (In English.) On the other hand, I can see why the officials in City Hall might think that the tandurs tarnish the city’s image. Maybe they think that foreigners, tourists will come to Dushanbe and see the tandurs and think how backward we are. But then again
There was a tandur in the courtyard of my apartment (by the bridge to the airport). Everyone in the building used it to make bread and sambusa. It was essential to the people in our building. And it grew naturally out of people’s needs. For that reason, I oppose the demolition of the tandurs. This is a part of our culture, and it’s an organic addition to the city.
However, I am in favor of the demolition of the garages. In the Soviet time, there were never garages. These sprang up during the Civil War for people to hide their belongings, and for families to store their belongings when too many people were in one apartment. In the Soviet time, courtyards were beautiful and well-kept with sporting equipment and football fields. Then during the Civil War, people ripped all that out and built garages. Now, the garages are being demolished again. In our neighborhood, they’ve replaced them with football fields — just like how it used to be in Soviet times. Ten or so new football fields in our neighborhood; it’s great. They’re full of kids and teenagers playing football.