Somewhere between China, Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan are a group of countries almost unheard of or unknown by the average westerner. A product of the collapse of the Soviet Union, these central Asian states are a muddle of languages, ethnicities and incredibly complicated borders. That 1000 piece jigsaw doesn’t even come close!
One thing they do all have in common, however, is a name ending in “-stan”, which simply comes from the Persian for “land” or “country”, the equivalent of England or Ireland. The ‘Stans are about as exotic and near to real exploration as you can get in the modern world.
Our destination for this summer is the smallest and poorest of the ‘Stans, Tajikistan, named after the Tajik people who make up the vast majority of its population. The Tajiks speak a form of Persian and share close ties with Iranian and Afghan culture. After the rather hotchpotch border delineation of the republics making up the USSR, many ethnic Tajiks now live in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara are now part of Uzbekistan, something of a sore point for many Tajiks.
After the Tajiks’ declaration of independence in 1991, rival factions brought about a devastating civil war, which lasted until 1997. Over 100,000 were killed, and 1.2 million became refugees, huge numbers considering the current population of just 7.5 million. Until John’s visit in 2012, the country was more or less peaceful, and slowly recovering from the effects of the war. The sheer remoteness and money from drug trafficking lends power to local tribal leaders, who were behind pockets of violence last summer, as reported here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18965366.
The consequences of the violence included closing Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast to foreigners, meaning John could not reach his planned destination, unclimbed mountains in the Muzkol Pamir north west of the town of Murghab. (See previous blog post for much more about this adventure.)
Hence the reason for our trip this year, there is unfinished business in the esoteric peaks of central Asia. The security situation in Gorno-Badakhshan appears to have calmed down, and we are hopeful that it stays that way. However John’s trips never pass without some sort of civil unrest, and we must change flights in Istanbul, hopefully we will be able to go sightseeing without needing to don our climbing helmets!
More details on our itinerary and exciting objectives will follow shortly…