KHUJAND (Ḵojand), a city in northwestern Tajikistan located on the middle course of the Syr Daryā River, about 150 km south of Tashkent and near the entrance to the Farḡāna valley.

History. The origins of Khujand are obscure, but archeological evidence indicates the existence of an urban center there as early as in the 6th to 5th century BCE (Negmatov, 1986, pp. 3-5). Alexander the Great appears to have built a city, called Alexandria, near or encompassing the site of the present city during his campaigns in the region in 329-327 BCE (Gafurov, I, p. 128). Mention of Khujand is made in Sogdian (Lurje, p. 202), and the city is referred to in Arabic and Persian sources (Balāḏori, p. 413). Some of these sources call the city Ḵojanda, and the Syr Daryā River in the region is named Nahr-e Ḵojand (river of Khujand; see Negmatov, 1956, pp. 103-9). Chinese annals of the 14th century refer to the city as Hu-chan, and a map of the same period identifies it as Hu-jan (Bretschneider, pp. 54-55). In 1936 the name of the city was officially changed to Leninabad, and, then, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating, the historical name was restored as a result of municipal reforms in 1990 (Khudzhand.́ Éntsiklopediya, p. 28).

Precise information about the early history of Khujand is scanty, but it is evident that the city belonged to various states. It was part of the Hephthalite realm in the 5th century CE, and after the defeat of the Hephthalites by the armies of the Western Turkish Kaghanate in 563-67 it fell under the latter’s control until the Arab conquest of Transoxania in the early 8th century. The first raid on Khujand by Arab forces occurred in 680 and was repulsed. But they came again, and in 713 an onerous truce was imposed on the city (Yuldashev, p. 102). The Arab siege and capture of Khujand in 722 for the second time (the city probably rebelled between 713 and 722), was followed by pillaging and the slaughter of several thousand defenders, and this brought Khujand under the rule of the Caliphate until the beginning of the 9th century (Ṭabari, III, pp. 1442-46; Gafurov, I, pp. 418-27). Little is known about Khujand under Arab rule, but a brief report from 726 notes that its inhabitants were suffering from hunger and weariness (Yuldashev, p. 103).

Under the Samanids (819-1005), Khujand experienced an economic and cultural revival and became one of the principal cities of their realm. Its favorable position at the crossroads of important Central Asian commercial routes—to Samarqand in the northwest, to Čāč (Ar. Šāš, modern Tashkent) in the north, and to the Farḡāna valley in the east—and nearby vineyards, gardens, and mines stimulated economic development and a growth of population. The artisan trades flourished, the transportation of goods up and down the Syr Darya grew, and the smelting of ores, brought to the city both overland and by river, became an important occupation (Madzhi, pp. 130-31). Administratively the city seems to have been independent with governors of its own bearing the title malek. Information provided by Arab and Persian geographers of the time is often contradictory. Abu Esḥāq Ebrāhim Eṣṭaḵri places Khujand within the borders of Farḡāna (Eṣṭaḵri, p. 295), as does Ebn Ḥawqal who adds that it nonetheless formed a separate district (Ebn Ḥawqal, tr. Kraemers and Wiet, II, p. 391). Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh (p. 26) and Yaʿqubi (p. 294), on the other hand, place it under the jurisdiction of Samarqand, while Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh also reports (p. 39) that under the Tahirids (821-91), in the middle of the 9th century, Khujand formed a separate tax district. Perhaps it is best to accept Barthold’s conclusion that while at times attached to Farḡāna, Khujand nonetheless constituted an independent administrative entity in the 10th century (Barthold, p. 164).

The city of Khujand was composed of three major parts: the citadel (kohandež), where the prison was located; the oldest, inner part of the city (šahrestān), which contained the principal mosque and was surrounded by a wall; and the outer, artisan and commercial part (rebāṭ), also protected by a wall where the palace was located (Ebn Ḥowqal, pp. 391-93, 395, 397; Eṣṭaḵri, pp. 333 and 335). The houses of the city were built close to one another, and many had gardens and vineyards, although there were none in the center; an irrigation canal was laid through the middle of the city. A large population is suggested by the import of grain from Farḡāna and elsewhere, because the local farmers could not satisfy the city’s needs (Barthold, p. 165). Moqaddasi says (p. 272) that Khujand was a city of joy and that it was the object of praise by poets and wise men. Opposite the city on the northern bank of the Syr Daryā were the stopping places used by merchants arriving from Čāč and Farḡāna. Little is known of the city’s history in the 11th and 12th centuries, though Khujand appears to have maintained its political and economic importance under the Qara-khanids (992-1212, see ILAK-KHANIDS). During this period, Khujand was an important minting center that produced abundant quantities of dirhams between 1013 and 1021, and later also some copper coins (fels; tels, tulus; see Fedorov, pp. 156-74; Kotchnev, pp. 61-69).

The Mongols under Čengiz Khan (d. 1227) captured Khujand in 1220 after valiant resistance by its inhabitants led by Timur Malek (Joveyni, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 92-94; Barthold, pp. 417-18). Subsequently, during the reigns of Batu (r. 1227-56) and Berke (r. 1257-67) the city was under the direct control of the Golden Horde. Frequent raids and general disorder brought about the collapse of the city’s economy, but after the introduction of an extensive monetary reform by the local governor, Masʿud-beg (d. 1289), in 1271, a modest recovery ensued (Gafurov, I, pp. 617-18).

In the 14th century Khujand faced new challenges as power in Central Asia devolved upon the leaders of powerful Turco-Mongolian tribes. One of the strongest of these groupings was that of the Jalāyer who controlled the northern part of the Ulus Chaghatay and in the middle of the century had their seat in Khujand. The city was the scene of occasional power struggles among Jalāyer factions, as in 1364-65, when Amir Bahrām Jalāyer, with the aid of two of Timur’s (1336-1405) personal followers, seized the city. After Timur’s death the Jalāyer moved their center from Khujand to Otrār (Manz, pp. 27, 35, 52, 158). With the formation of the Timurid empire (1370-1507), Khujand became a separate administrative district and benefited from the extensive economic links the Timurid state fostered (Istoriya Leninabada, pp. 104-06). When Bābor (r. 1526-30), as the ruler of the principality of Farḡāna, was competing with other Timurids for the dynasty’s legacy and was seeking to capture Samarqand for ten years (1494-1504), he used Khujand as a base for operations (Bābor, tr. Beveridge, I, pp. 89-92). Bābor left a sympathetic description of the city in his autobiography, praising its pomegranates, as well as its hunting grounds abundant in gazelles, deer, pheasants, and rabbits, but warning against its malarial climate and poverty (Bābor, tr. Beveridge, I, pp. 7-8, 97).

Between the 16th and the mid-19th century, Khujand was subjected to a diversity of overlords, some of whom brought stability and prosperity and others destruction and hardship. Moḥammad Šaybāni (r. 1500-12), the Uzbek khan and founder of a new dynasty, seized Khujand in 1503 (Tawāriḵ-e gozida–Noṣrat-nama, p. 324), but the era of the Shaybanids (1500-99) seems to have favored the city’s growth. The period of the 18th and early 19th centuries, on the other hand, was a time of trials. The city was constantly the object of dispute between the Emirate of Bukhara (1753-1920) and the Khanate of Kokand (1798-1876), because of its economic strength and strategic position, and it had also to fend off attacks by Jungar-Oirats (Qalmuqs), notably their great raid of 1723, which helped to change the demography of the city’s surroundings by forcing many Qazaqs, Qara-qalpaqs, and Uzbeks to migrate there, joining tribes already in the area (Boḵāri, tr. Semenov, pp. 35 and 55). Tribal conflicts in the surrounding region were a constant threat to the city’s social stability and economic prosperity (Šeberḡāni, pp. 94 and 124).

In 1842 Khujand accepted the suzerainty of Kokand. During these difficult centuries the city seems to have maintained its autonomy for longer or shorter periods (Istoriya Leninabada, pp. 124-29; Gafurov, II, pp. 91-100). In the early 16th century Bābor noted that “some persons” did not consider Khujand as part of Farḡāna (Bābor, tr. Beveridge, I, p. 17), and in the beginning of the 18th century Mir Moḥammad-Amin Boḵāri referred to Khujand as a separate district (welāyat; Boḵāri, p. 38). In the early 19th century at the head of the city stood a ḥākem, who was confirmed by the ruler of Bukhara or Kokand and who relied heavily on the local clergy for drafting laws and administering justice.

The capture of Khujand by the Russian army in 1866 set the city on a new path of development (Bokiev, pp. 45-156). It was a singular prize, for it had grown significantly in the previous century into one of the most important cities of Central Asia and in territory yielded to neither Kokand nor Bukhara (Spravochnaya knizhka Samarkandskoĭ oblasti na 1893g., p. 143). At first, in 1868, it was incorporated into the Turkestan Oblast’ and then, in 1887, it became a part of the new Samarqand Oblast’. The economy was especially affected by the links to Russia, and newly built factories began to compete with the traditional artisan production. Commerce, concentrated in the city’s great market complexes of Chorshanbe and Panjshanbe (čāršanba/čahāršanba and panjšanba), expanded as the city was gradually drawn into the Russian market, and the demand for local agricultural goods, notably cotton, grew. The population also increased, and, in response, social institutions such as caravanserais, teahouses, and public baths multiplied as did the number of mosques. The general appearance of the city was altered by the “Russian Quarter” (maḥalla-ye rushā) or the “New City” (šahr-e now) which gradually expanded with its European-style buildings, parks, and broad streets, all of which contrasted sharply with the traditional Eastern part of the city (Khudzhand.Éntsiklopediya, p. 651; Materialy po istorii gorodov Tadzhikistana, pp. 167-87).

Even more decisive for the modernization of Khujand than the period of tsarist rule were the October Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent seven decades of Soviet administration. The Revolution in Khujand followed the general pattern of events elsewhere in Central Asia (Dzhalilov and Kadyrov, pp. 37-56). Russian Bolsheviks took the lead in organizing a council of deputies of workers and soldiers and in seizing power, while the role of local Muslims in these events was secondary. The new regime set about at once to eliminate the opposition, notably Muslim organizations which were hostile to the Bolsheviks and were trying to preserve local autonomy. A new municipal administration was in place by the middle of 1918. At first, despite its overwhelmingly Tajik population, Khujand was assigned to the Uzbek SSR in 1924, but in 1929 it was included in the Tajik ASSR which became the Tajik SSR later that year. Economic and social changes were gradual but relentless, as the city industrialized and urbanized and was integrated into the main currents of Soviet material and cultural life. Khujand became more cosmopolitan with increasing numbers of Russians and other Europeans settling there and with Soviet, and especially Russian, influences affecting education and intellectual life at the expense of old traditions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought not only independence but also political instability and civil war to Tajikistan, especially in the south, but Khujand escaped the most severe consequences of the crisis. In 1995 a new municipal government (ḥokumat) was installed, and the city embarked on its third great social and economic experiment since the middle of the 19th century, this time the one inspired by individualism and market capitalism (KhudzhandÉntsiklopediya, pp. 28-30, 36-39).

Demography. The data on the population of Khujand before the second half of the 19th century are fragmentary and inexact, but narrative sources indicate that Tajiks formed a solid majority in all quarters of the city. There were also inhabitants of Turkic origin and small groups of Arabs and Bukharan Jews (see BUKHARA vii). Incorporation into the Russian Empire encouraged Russians, Lithuanians, Armenians, and Germans, among others, to settle there, but their numbers remained modest until after World War I. The overall population rose from 14,125 in 1870 to 39,000 in 1917. The October Revolution and Civil War (1917-21) in Russia and economic and social reorganization in the 1920s kept the population at about 40,000. Ethnically, the population remained overwhelmingly Tajik. In 1926, of Khujand’s 37,382 inhabitants, 84.6 percent were Tajik, followed by 12.6 percent of Uzbeks and only 1.9 percent of Russians (Bushkov, 1986, p. 180). Subsequent economic growth, especially industrialization, attracted newcomers from many parts of the Soviet Union, but the census figure of 45,528 for the year of 1939 seems high, in view of the economic and political turmoil of the preceding decade. The increase in the number of Russians is striking: 12,460 compared to 26,522 Tajiks and 2,035 Uzbeks. As economic development accelerated after World War II the population rose from 77,500 in 1959 to 103,000 in 1970 and to 170,000 by the end of the 1980s. Then, events of the 1990s led to an exodus of Russian-speakers, and by 1999 the population of the city had decreased to 160,000 (131,000 Tajiks, 14,000 Russians, and 5,500 Uzbeks; Khudzhand. Éntskiklopediya, pp. 13-16).

Economy. Before the middle of the 19th century the artisan industry formed the basis of Khujand’s economic life. The typical artisan was a small independent producer who owned his own shop and tools and worked by himself, using the raw materials from the surrounding area, including turquoise from mines to the north of the city (Bābor, tr. Beveridge, I, p. 8). But as a money economy expanded and the demands of the market grew, social differentiation became more pronounced, separating the owners of shops from their hired workers. Artisans usually sold their goods themselves at regular bazaars in the city, but as production increased, local merchants took their wares to other cities along the routes of regional and long-distance trade, including the Syr-Darya and centuries-old trade routes to China, India, and other countries on the Silk Road. Agriculture also played a crucial role in the city’s economy, as urban residents cultivated their own land within the city limits and depended on farmers in the surrounding countryside, and sometimes from more distant places, to supply them with additional foodstuffs and raw materials. Nomads entered into regular commerce with city-dwellers, exchanging animal and other products for artisan goods (Istoriya Leninabada, pp. 129-49).

Expanding relations with Russia brought certain fundamental changes in the city’s economic structure (Khudzhand.́ Éntsiklopediia, pp. 40-42). The penetration of Russian capital led to the establishment of the first factories, but, initially, these initiatives proved unsuccessful; silk-processing factories, which opened in 1867 and 1873, soon closed because of unprofitability. More promising was cotton ginning; the first factory opened in 1891 with 45 workers and was followed by others as cotton growing in the countryside steadily expanded. Yet, despite such endeavors, artisans continued to supply the bulk of processed goods, and in 1914 artisans and their families represented 40 percent of the population of the city (Mirbabaev, 1995, pp. 89-98). A general stimulus to economic development was the expansion of credit carried out by branches of Russian central banks, which invested especially in cotton and silk production and fruit processing. The construction of the Samarqand-Andizhan railroad, which passed through Khujand in 1897, enabled merchants to extend their trade in local manufactures and artisan and agricultural goods to new, more distant markets. By about 1900, 54 percent of all exports were going to Russia, and nearly 20 percent of the city’s population was engaged in commerce.

The transformation of Khujand’s economy got underway in earnest with the inauguration of centralized planning and direction and the emphasis on industrialization during the Soviet era. Between the 1930s, when large modern manufacturing plants began to be established, and 1990, when some 30 large enterprises were in operation, the city became a major and highly diversified industrial center (Istoriya Leninabada, pp. 260-71, 283-87, 336-40, 385-96, 431-78). Economically, it bore no resemblance to the city of 1917 with its several thousands of small artisan shops and six small factories employing no more than 200 workers.

The collapse of the Soviet Union thoroughly disrupted the economy of Khujand, which had become dependent on other parts of the Soviet Union, especially Russia, for markets for local goods and for imports of all sorts of essential items from machine tools to raw materials. Production declined drastically, state investments in social programs dried up, and the standard of living of the populace fell. Signs of recovery were evident by 1996. The growth of a market economy was signaled by the privatization of industry, transport, and trade, by the establishment of joint ventures with foreign companies, and by the financing of various enterprises by the National Bank of Tajikistan and by new commercial banks (Khudzhand.́ Éntsiklopediia, pp. 30-34).

Culture. Throughout its history Khujand was an important center of scholarship, education, and literary activity, all of which reflected common trends in cultural and intellectual life in urban Central Asia as a whole. Khujand was also home to notable architectural monuments. Besides the citadel, there were the mausoleums of Shaikh Moṣleḥ-al-Din Ḵojandi, a leading poet of the late 12th and early 13th century, and of Ḥażrat-e Bābā, a renowned religious figure of the city of the 14th century (Negmatov and Khmel’nitskiĭ, pp. 3-17). Numerous mosques were also of great architectural interest, notably the mosques of Dār-e Šekof (built in the 1670s) and of Shaikh Kamāl-al-Din Ḵojandi (end of the 17th century). In the 18th century, Āqbūta, the independent beg of Khujand, built massive fortifications around the city, probably in order to protect the inhabitants from attacks by surrounding nomadic tribes. Khujand produced scholars in many fields, especially astronomers and mathematicians. Notable among them was Abu Maḥmud Ḥāmed b. al-Ḵeżr al-Ḵojandi (d. 390/1000), who was known for several treatises on mathematics and astronomy, but was most famous for his astronomical instruments (among them the famous Faḵri sextant) and observations made at the observatory in Rayy under the patronage of the Buyid ruler Faḵr-al-Dowla (r. 366-87/976-97; see Bayraktar, pp. 273-75; Samsó, pp. 46-47). In the 11th and 12th centuries a formidable group of learned men in science, poetry, and art—the ḵānadān-e ḵojandiān (‘the family of the Khujandis’)—brought fame to the city, even though political circumstances, apparently, forced them to leave Khujand and grace foreign cities instead, especially Isfahan (Istoriya Leninabada, pp. 98-99). The founder of this dynasty of scholars, Abu Bakr Moḥammad b. Ṯābet Ḵojandi (d. 1090), lived for a time in Isfahan, where he taught at a madrasa and attracted a considerable following among scholars. He also resided in Merv, where he found influential patrons at the court of the Saljuqs, among them the grand vizier Neẓām-al-Molk (d. 1092), with whom he had a special relationship (Asadulloev, p. 329).

As elsewhere in the Muslim world, education in Khujand was closely linked to the Muslim religion from medieval times to well into the Soviet period. Two types of schools functioned during this time: the maktab and the madrasa. The maktab—the main elementary school—was maintained by private individuals, and classes were taught by the imam or other literate persons from the quarter. Since the maktabs rarely had buildings of their own, they used the neighborhood mosques, while those intended primarily for girls usually held classes at the home of the teacher. Students were expected to learn by heart the Arabic alphabet, passages from the Qurʾān, and Muslim rites and practices in a course of study that might last for five or six years. Khujand was well known for its madrasas, where students, mainly from the well-to-do families of the city and surroundings, were trained to be theologians and interpreters of the shariʿa. In the middle of the 19th century the largest was the Šāhi madrasa with fifty students and two teachers. Many madrasas drew their main support from donations (waqf), which provided only modest incomes until the latter decades of the 19th century, when the development of the cotton industry enhanced the value of land and produced more generous support (Mirbabaev, 1986, pp. 65-74).

The Russian presence after 1866 brought modest changes in education. New Russian and “Russian-native” schools were opened and attracted students from upper-class local families who wanted their children to have a more secular education and ignored the admonitions of the Muslim clergy to avoid European schools. The first Russian-native school in Khujand was opened in 1885 and offered instruction in the Russian language and literature, arithmetic, and reading. Although the number of students was small (45 in 1897, rising to 114 in 1915), such schools spread a knowledge of Russian and opened the way for the penetration of European ideas and models among an influential elite that was to play an active role in the modernization of Khujand (Materialy po istorii gorodov Tadzhikistana, pp. 209-17: Mirbabaev, 1995, pp. 148-49). Nonetheless, traditional Muslim schools grew in number. In 1872 there were 75 maktabs with 1,415 students, including girls, and in 1897 there were 47 madrasas with 639 students. Yet, overall, only a small portion of the city’s inhabitants benefited from formal education. The general Russian census of 1897 indicates that only 8 percent of the population was literate (12.89 percent of men; 2.8 percent of women). This state of things encouraged reformers among Muslim intellectuals in Khujand, as elsewhere in Central Asia, the so-called Jadids (renovators or reformers), to demand changes in the curriculum of maktabs and madrasas with the purpose of having young people better prepared to meet the challenges of the modern world. Efforts to reform the traditional system of education in Khujand began in the 1880s, and the first of the Jadids’ “new method” (oṣul-e jadid) schools in the city was opened in 1912 (Mirbabaev, 1995, pp. 144-46). Although they continued to teach Islam, emphasis was placed on arithmetic, geography, history, and reading by the phonetic, rather than the syllabic, method used in the maktabs (Khalid, pp. 160-76).

The seven decades of Soviet rule brought fundamental changes to education in Khujand. Since the primary purpose of schools now was to contribute to the building of a new social and economic order—Communism, the authorities were determined to eliminate Muslim schools. In the 1927-28 school year, 42 old-method schools with 587 students were still functioning, but in 1933 the last of them were closed. School officials also had to train new teachers and produce new textbooks, and the Higher Pedagogical Institute was established in 1932 (after 1991 it became the Khujand State University; Abdullaev and Khaĭdarov, pp. 7-60). By the late 1930s some success was evident, as illiteracy had been largely overcome. In subsequent decades the educational system in Khujand, as in the Soviet Union generally, promoted economic and social modernization. In order to mobilize and train young people to carry out this task, institutions of all kinds were established, which included a network of secondary schools emphasizing science and industry, medicine and music and which prepared future students of the Khujand branch of the Tajik Polytechnic University. All these institutions aimed at creating a well-educated workforce and managerial class and an intellectual elite that would be fully integrated into the secular, internationalist Soviet order. They had some success, especially among the elite, but events after 1991 revealed the tenacity of a Tajik and a Muslim consciousness as well as a strong sense of regionalism that pitted Khujand and its region against other areas to the east and south (Roy, pp. 11-23).

Literature provides an accurate measure of the mental climate in Khujand through the centuries. Poetry was the favorite means of expression, and among local poets of renown between the Middle Ages and 1917 were Kamāl-al-Din Ḵojandi (1318/23-1400), who was famous for his ḡazals and the musicality of his verse. According to tradition, he and Ḥāfeẓ admired each other’s work, and Kamāl Ḵojandi influenced a number of 15th-century poets, including ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Jāmi (d. 1492). A later admirer of his was Tāš-Ḵᵛāja Asiri (1864-1915), an artisan and folk poet who praised modern, secular culture and technology and was contemptuous of the Muslim clergy and the “obscurantism” they promoted (Hodizoda, et al., pp. 400-7).

The creation of the Soviet Union was decisive for the development of Tajik literature. Soviet authorities treated literature primarily as an instrument for the building of a Communist society, and thus they imposed certain themes—the collectivization of agriculture, industrialization, and hostility to old customs and mentalities, especially religion—and held up Russian Soviet literature as a model. Yet, throughout this long period Tajik poets and novelists experimented with both content and form, particularly after World War II, when they moved from revolutionary struggle and socialist construction to character studies and contemporary social and ethical questions (Nabiev, 1987; Rajabi, 1997). Of the older generation of writers from Khujand, Raḥim Jalil (1909-89) helped to create the historical-revolutionary novel as a separate genre in Tajik fiction, as in his trilogy Shurob (1956-67), which chronicles the struggles of miners in northern Tajikistan to install a new social and economic order (Shukurov, pp. 268-80). By contrast, the 1990s represented a turning point for Tajik literature, as writers in Khujand and elsewhere in Tajikistan were freed from earlier ideological constraints on their creativity and sought their place within rapidly changing Central Asian and Islamic worlds.




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March 20, 2009

(Keith Hitchins)

Originally Published: April 20, 2009

Last Updated: April 20, 2009