The Tajiks are the direct descendants of the Iranian peoples whose continuous presence in Central Asia and northern Afghanistan is attested from the middle of the 1st millennium bc. The ancestors of the Tajiks constituted the core of the ancient population of Khwārezm (Khorezm) and Bactria, which formed part of Transoxania (Sogdiana). They were included in the empires of Persia and Alexander the Great, and they intermingled with such later invaders as the Kushāns and Hepthalites in the 1st–6th centuries ad. Over the course of time, the eastern Iranian dialect that was used by the ancient Tajiks eventually gave way to Farsi, a western dialect spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.
The Arab conquest of Central Asia that began in the mid-7th century brought Islam to the region. But tribal feuds weakened the Arabs, and, with the rise of the Sāmānids (819–999), the Tajiks came under the rule of an Iranian dynasty. The first Turkic invaders (from the northeast) seized this area of Transoxania in 999, and, because both conquered and conquerors were Muslim, in time many Tajiks—especially those in the valleys of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya—became Turkicized. This resulted in the transformation of a formerly purely Iranian land into “Turkistan.” The name Tajik, originally given to the Arabs by the local population, came to be applied by Turkic invaders and overlords to those elements of the sedentary population that continued to speak Iranian languages.
Until the mid-18th century the Tajiks were part of the emirate of Bukhara, but then the Afghans conquered lands south and southwest of the Amu Darya with their Tajik population, including the city of Balkh, an ancient Tajik cultural centre.
Russian conquests in Central Asia in the 1860s and ’70s brought a number of Tajiks in the Zeravshan and Fergana valleys under the direct government of Russia, while the emirate of Bukhara in effect became a Russian protectorate in 1868.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, a considerable proportion of the Tajik people was included in the Turkestan A.S.S.R. established in April 1918. In August 1920 the Revolution was extended to the khanate of Bukhara, which embraced most of the territory occupied by modern Tajikistan; the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic was declared in October 1920, and early in 1921 the Soviet army captured Dushanbe and Kŭlob (Kulyab). Tajikistan was the scene of the Basmachi revolt in 1922–23, and rebel bands under Ibrahim Bek operated in eastern Bukhara until 1931. The Tajik A.S.S.R. was created as part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.) in 1925; in January 1925 a Special Pamirs region was created out of the Kyrgyz and Tajik parts of the Pamirs, and in December 1925 this region was renamed the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region. In 1929 the status of the Tajik A.S.S.R. was raised to that of a Soviet socialist republic. The change in status marked the first time that the Tajik people had their own state, albeit not a fully independent one, as it was still part of the Soviet Union.
As a full-fledged member of the Soviet Union, the underdeveloped, mountainous Tajik S.S.R. underwent a spectacular social and economic transformation. A sense of nationhood was instilled in the Tajik people—particularly by B.G. Gafurov, the leader of Tajikistan’s Communist Party from 1946 to 1956 and a historian respected in the West. Dams were constructed for electric power generation and irrigation, and industry was developed in the Vakhsh River valley. Soviet health care and education were gradually introduced in the republic. The village of Dushanbe (known as Stalinabad from 1929 to 1961) was transformed into a modern capital city boasting the Tajik State University (1951) and the Tajik Academy of Sciences (1948). Such progress notwithstanding, Tajikistan remained the poorest republic of the Soviet Union.
As a member of USSR the Tajik Republic transformed into an agrarian-industrial country for a short period of time. Tajikistan became the main source of fine-fibre cotton for the USSR. A working class formed in the republic, as well as a national intelligentsia, and the first higher education institutions came into existence. It is also worth noting that Tajikistan’s contribution in the fight against fascism in World War II was of some importance. More than 190,000 envoys fought in battlefronts of the war and more than 60,000 worked at military plants of Siberia and other cities of Russia. Fifty four envoys of the republic were awarded the highest military award as Heros of the Soviet Union. After the war ended the economy of Tajikistan grew to a new level. Production of row cotton continued to increase. Tajikistan as part of USSR took the first place on productivity of cotton and third on gross yield.
Industry was well developed due to construction of some big hydro-power stations among one of which was Nurek, which is the biggest in Central Asia.
In September 1991 with the break-up of the Soviet Union a new state emerged on the world map – the independent democratic republic of Tajikistan. In 1992 critical political conflict on the ground of regional-clan conflicts burst out which led to civil war. Protracted negotiations between Tajiks under aegis of UN starting in April 1994 concluded by signing the Treaty for Peace and Reconciliation in Tajikistan on June 27, 1997 by the President of Tajikistan E.Rahmon and A. Nuri, the leader of the United Tajik Opposition in Moscow.
Today Tajikistan is an independent democratic state which is recognized by 117 countries worldwide. The country is a full member of the UN and some other international organizations.