DARVĀZ, until partition between czarist Russia and the Afghan kingdom in the last quarter of the 19th century a largely autonomous principality with territory on both sides of the upper course of the Āmū Daryā, known as the Panj. Today the portion of the former territory of Darvāz that lies north of the river has been incorporated into Tajikistan, whereas the former southern portion has been designated a district within the Afghan province of Badaḵšān.

Before partition Darvāz was bordered on the south by Badaḵšān, on the east by the semiautonomous states of Šeḡnān and Rōšān, which were generally subject to Badaḵšān; and on the north and west by the nearly impassable Darvāz chain, a western extension of the Pamirs (see CENTRAL ASIA i; Figure 3), which separated it from the khanate of Bukhara. This area is characterized by steep, narrow gorges and small sheltered hollows where fruit trees are grown. The larger valleys are also narrow, with steeply sloping sides. The amount of land available for cultivation is inadequate, and farmers must struggle in order to subsist (Holzwarth, p. 180). The population consists primarily of Tajiks, who adhere to the Sunnite branch of Islam, though in a few areas (e.g., the Wanj valley) the inhabitants are Ismaʿili Shiʿites. The language spoken is Persian.

The history of the region has been determined by its geographically central but politically peripheral position: On one hand, Darvāz has been the target of repeated incursions by foreign empire builders, but, on the other, its relative isolation, lack of mineral resources, and low agrarian yields have contributed to its continued marginal importance. The combination of these factors has ensured that throughout history foreign conquerors would be able to control the region only for short periods and that power would inevitably revert to native dynasties. This generally unbroken autonomy was apparent very early in the refusal of the local rulers to accept Alexander the Great as their overlord (Moḥammad-Nāder Khan, ed. Kūškekī, pp. 354-68). At the beginning of the 16th century Darvāz was caught up in the fierce struggle between the Uzbeks and the Timurids for control of Central Asia. Sovereignty over the region, as well as over the neighboring region of Badaḵšān, changed hands several times before the final victory of the Uzbeks in 913/1507 (Grevemeyer, pp. 28 ff.; Akhmedov, pp. 61, 73, 108-09). Nevertheless, it seems that such external control was only nominal and that the northern part of Darvāz remained completely independent (Kislyakov, pp. 88-89).

Around the middle of the 17th century the Uzbeks were driven out, and an independent dynasty, with the title shah-e Darvāz, was established, at the same time that the indigenous Yarid rulers took control of Badaḵšān, in 1067/1657; thereafter the rulers of Badaḵšān, with their capital in Fayżābād, were the primary rivals of the Darvāz shahs. Several times hostilities broke out between Darvāz and Badaḵšān over the region of Rāḡ, which lay between them (Grevemeyer, pp. 122-23), and Darvāz also laid claim to Šeḡnān (Semenov, pp. 6-7). The main cities of Darvāz were Ḵam and, farther north, the capital, Kalai Khumb (Qalʿa-ye Ḵomb), both on the banks of the Panj. The power of the rulers of Darvāz was based on a kind of patronage system organized within a framework of kinship and client relations. The ruler’s privileged followers were entitled to shares in the booty captured in successful raids and in revenues from the land and its population, as well as to exemption from taxes (Holzwarth, pp. 205-06). It was typical of the social milieu during these traditional periods that there was no institutionalized economic structure; nevertheless, the existence of large extended families did lead to an internal division of labor (Holzwarth, pp. 184-85). At the time of the conquest by czarist Russia in 1290/1873 Darvāz was annexed to the Russian vassal state of Bukhara. A number of subsequent boundary agreements among Russia, British India, and Afghanistan delineated zones of influence, which ultimately led to the partition of Darvāz in 1310/1893 and again in 1313/1895 (see BOUNDARIES iii). The portion of the region that lay south of the Panj was annexed to Afghanistan in compensation for the loss of Šeḡnān and Rōšān to Russia and its vassal Bukhara.



B. A. Akhmedov, Istoriya Balkha (XVI-pervaya polovina XVIII v.) (The history of Balḵ [16th to the first half of the 18th century]), Tashkent, 1982.

Gazetteer of Afghanistan I, p. 58.

J.-H. Grevemeyer, Herrschaft, Raub und Gegenseitigkeit. Die politische Geschichte Badakhshans 1500-1883, Wiesbaden, 1982.

W. Holzwarth, “Segmentation and Staatsbildung in Afghanistan. Traditionale sozio-politische Organisation in Badakhshan, Wakhan und Sheghnan,” in K. Greussing and J.-H. Grevemeyer, eds., Revolution in Iran und Afghanistan, Frankfurt, 1980, pp. 177-235.

N. A. Kislyakov, “Istoriya Karategina, Darvaza i Badakhshana” (The history of Qarātekīn, Darvāz, and Badaḵšān) in Materialy po istorii Tadzhikov i Tadzhikistana (Materials on the history of the Tajiks and Tajikistan), Dushanbe, 1945, pp. 71-133.

V. Minorsky, “Shughnān,” in EI1 IV, pp. 390-91.

Moḥammad-Nāder Khan, Rahnemā-ye Qaṭaḡan wa Badaḵšān, ed. Borhān-al-Dīn Kūškekī, Kabul, 1302/1923; ed. M. Sotūda, Tehran, 1367 Š./1988, pp. 228-35; tr. M. Reut as Qataghan et Badakhshân. Description du pays d’après l’inspection d’un ministre afghan en 1922, Paris, 1979, pp. 207-17.

A. A. Semenov, Istoriya Shugnana (The history of Šeḡnān), Tashkent, 1916.

Figure 3. Map of Badaḵšān in the mid-19th century, showing boundaries of Darvāz. After Grevemeyer, 1982, p.

(Jan-Heeren Grevemeyer)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: December 15, 1994