Representations of Armed Women in Soviet and Post-Soviet Tajikistan: Describing and Restricting Women’s Agency
In both Soviet and post-Soviet Tajikistan, representations of armed women are a key propaganda topic for the regime, as it allows the production and imposition of gender roles, including norms of femininity. This article analyses the representations of armed women presented in both the state press and state-funded research in Soviet and post-Soviet Tajikistan. The analysis reveals the making of the Soviet periphery and questions the continuities and ruptures between Soviet and post-Soviet regimes. Part one analyses how Tajikistani armed women were represented in the collective memories of the Great Patriotic War, revealing gender hierarchies and hierarchies between Soviet centre and periphery. In the second part of the article, I analyse how representations of armed women changed in the post-Soviet regime. In the post-conflict context, women are mainly celebrated by the nationalist state for their peaceful attitude and “pure” behaviour. Whilst Tajikistani women are encouraged to join the police forces by the government, the state press dedicated to women promotes a double burden for women: to be a woman in uniform and to be a mother.
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- 1 K. J. Cottam, Soviet Airwomen in Combat in World War II, Manhattan, KS, Military Affairs/ Aerospace (...)
- 2 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors: Latvian Women of the Red Army in Post-War Historical Memory”, (...)
- 3 S. Keller, “Trapped between State and Society: Women's Liberation and Islam in Soviet Uzbekistan, 1 (...)
- 4 A. L. Edgar, “Marriage, Modernity, and the ‘Friendship of Nations’: Interethnic Intimacy in Post-Wa (...)
1There is a small but growing body of academic literature on Russian women in the Soviet Army1. With exceptions2, however, the question of non-Russian women fighters in the Soviet military still remains unexplored. The “gendering” of Central Asian Soviet history is a recent but emerging phenomenon, which focuses particularly on the 1920s and the 1930s3. Research on other periods of the Soviet regime4 (Edgar 2007) does not deal with Central Asian women’s participation to the Red Army. Consequently we observe a double omission of Tajik—and more generally Central Asian—women in the recent literature on women soldiers in the Red Army and on gender in Central Asian history.
- 5 J. Cleuziou, L. Direnberger, “Gender and Nation In Post-Soviet Central Asia: From National Narrativ (...)
2However, research findings on Russian women soldiers cannot apply directly to the Tajik case, or more generally to the Soviet periphery. As the scholars of Central Asia mentioned above have shown, the Soviet treatment of the women’s question and its consequences on women were of particular importance in Central Asia. There was a specific construction of “the women’s question” concerning Central Asian societies in the Soviet regime which raises the question of how Tajik armed women were represented in the Soviet narratives and collective memories of the Great Patriotic War. In post-Soviet Central Asia, conservative gender norms are promoted by states characterized by nationalist ideologies, which articulate the making of a national femininity with the rhetoric of “authentic”, “ancient” and/or “national” traditions. However this does not mean that references to the Soviet literature disappear, nor that some institutional practices concerning the “women’s question” are not inherited from the Soviet regime5.
3This article analyses the representations of armed women presented in state press and state-funded research in Soviet and post-Soviet Tajikistan. The analysis reveals the making of the Soviet periphery and questions the continuities and ruptures between Soviet and post-Soviet regimes. In the Soviet and post-Soviet context, representations of armed women (in the army, in the air forces and in the police forces) is a key propaganda trope for the regime, as it allows the production and imposition of gender hierarchies.
4I will focus first on the largest number of representations of armed women in the Soviet Tajik state propaganda: Tajikistani women who participated in the Great Patriotic War. In order to analyse these soviet and local images, my analyses are based on two different sources:
(1) the magazine Zanoni Sovieti Tojikiston [Women of Soviet Tajikistan]. Created in 1932, this magazine dedicated to women was first published in 1932. The publication stopped during the Second World War and resumed in 1951, with a print run of 1 000 copies. In 1955 the magazine changed its name to Zanoni Tojikiston [Women of Tajikistan] and had a print run of 130 000 copies until the collapse of Soviet Union.
- 6 M. Ghafforova, Ba hayiot tatbiq shudani ideyia ozodi zanon, Stalinobod [Khudjand], Nashriyioti davl (...)
(2) Soviet research on women published in Tajikistan in Tajik language after the Second World War. Indeed, after the Second World War, the number of Tajikistani women in the Academy of Sciences and in the University increased in Tajikistan, and Soviet scholars such as M. Ghafforova, R. Nabieva, L. Nazarova, A. Kamolova, G. Mukhtorova published studies on the Tajikistani women’s participation to the Great Patriotic War.6
5In the post-war national narratives, women in the Red army are celebrated on the one hand as active participants in the war and as equal to men on the battlefields. But on the other hand, the promotion of the role of women in society is structured on gender and hierarchies between the soviet centre and its periphery.
- 7 The Civil War pitted ex-Soviet forces against the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) composed of Islamic (...)
- 8 L. Direnberger, “Genre, religion et nation au sein des associations de prévention de la violence do (...)
6In the second part of the article, I will analyse how representations of armed women in the post-Soviet regime changed. The Civil War (1992-1997)7 is a turning point in the representations of gender norms, which focus on the vulnerability of women and on the masculine duty of those defending the nation. The regime installed by ex-Soviet forces supports a new national order characterised by the promotion of conservative gendered norms8. The national ideology promoted by the state searches for an “authentic” identity, embodied in “a return to authentic Tajik traditions”. For instance, “International Women’s Day” became “Mother’s Day” referring to the celebration of Motherhood in the pre-Islamic period, about 2000 years ago.
- 9 L. Kirschenbaum, “World War II in Soviet and Post-Soviet Memory”, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review(...)
7Memories of the Second World War have a crucial place in the production of national, supranational, local, collective and individual identities in the Soviet and post-Soviet regimes9. Researchers have analysed the production of collective memories of the Second World War in order to outline political configurations in the Soviet regime. They have addressed power relations between different nationalities in the collective, state-dominated memories of the Great Patriotic War. On the one hand, some researchers assert that after the russocentrism of the Stalin era, supra-ethnic and socialist themes were dominant in the war cult:
- 10 J. Brundstedt, “Building a Pan-Soviet Past: The Soviet War Cult and the Turn Away from Ethnic Parti (...)
“Soviet war remembrance is better described as a serious, though failed, official effort to move away from the promotion of sub-state ethnic identities, and toward an overriding attachment to the transcendent ‘Soviet’ narod [‘soviet’ people]”.10
- 11 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors….”, op. cit. p 997.
8On the other hand, other researchers observe that non-Russian soldiers were seldom mentioned in the dominant Soviet narrative, “heroism was clearly a socially ascribed characteristic of Russians rather than Latvians, Georgians, Armenians, or other small nationalities”11 (Eglitis and Zelce 2013: 997). Russo-centrism was predominant in the general discourse, whereas propaganda targeting specific national audiences paid more attention to national heroism. Russian heroism was considered as a general Soviet State narrative, whereas non-Russian heroism was restricted to a specific audience.
- 12 R. Pennington, Wings…, op. cit.
- 13 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors….”, op. cit. p 996.
- 14 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors….”, op. cit. p 996.
9Researchers who analysed the gendered construction of the Second World War state memory agree on its being a male-centred memory. Central Soviet narratives of the battlefronts of World War II are based on the narrative of male war heroes12. As “unruly actors, violating normative gender expectations”13 women warriors have been neglected for decades by the dominant narrative of Soviet history. However Russian women soldiers were rehabilitated in the central narrative of the Great Patriotic War during the Brezhnev period. But this rehabilitation focused mainly on Russian women, and women of ethnic minorities remained largely invisible. However, as Eglitis and Zelce observed in the Latvian case14, central Soviet narratives differed from the narratives produced at the level of a Soviet Socialist Republic: Researchers, writers and journalists produced a collective national memory of Tajikistani female warriors in the institutions of the RSS of Tajikistan.
- 15 Unknown author, “Bistupanjsolagii yakumin jangi imperialistii jahon”, Bo rohi lenini, #7, 1939, p.3
- 16 Unknown author, “Dukhtaroni qahramoni khalqhoi qahramon”, Bo rohi lenini, #8, 1938, p.3.
- 17 C. Cardi, G. Pruvost, “Introduction générale. Penser la violence des femmes : enjeux politiques et (...)
10Articles published in Tajikistan before 1941 tackled the issue of women in the army. In the magazine Bo Rohi Lenin [Following Lenin] published in Tajik and printed in Tajikistan, an article dealt with the participation of female Chinese soldiers in the war against Japan during the First World War15. An article dedicated to “the heroic daughters of the heroic people” mentioned three well-known women fighter pilots: Captain Vera Fedorovna Lomakova, Captain Polina Denisovna and Lieutenant Maria Mikhailovna-Raskova, who were celebrated for their success as fighter pilots16. In these articles, armed women were presented as a very positive element for the revolutionary armies and the narratives on role of women in the army are not based on the making of sexual difference – women’s participation to the frontline is not justified because of some specific attributes that women would have. These two elements can be seen as an exception regarding the history of the representation of women’s violence in Europe17. In the wake of these pre-War representations, Tajikistani women were depicted as active and efficient participants of the Great Patriotic War in the post-war magazines and studies published in Tajikistan from the 1950s to the collapse of USSR.
11First, these publications dedicated to women emphasised women’s desire to join the Red Army on the battlefield:
- 18 L. Sechkina, “Dar muboriza baroi ozodii vatani mahbubamon”, Zanoni Tojikiston Sovieti, #5, 1954.
“In the first days of war 19 women among 200 volunteered in the Military Office of Stalinobod [Dushanbe] and 200 went to the Military Office. Women wrote in their letter of commitment that they wanted to be sent to the frontline. The telegrapher from Stalinobod T.B. Belozarova wrote in her letter: ‘During the civil war my brother and my sister were worker and peasant volunteers in the Red Army. They fought on the frontline. Now it’s my turn. I want to be sent to the frontline in order to protect my Homeland against the vile fascists. (…) She said goodbye to her husband and her brother and asked to join the front as riflemen and telegraphist.”18
- 19 N. C. Sanginov, “Kornamoihoi zanoni tojik dar solhoi jangi buzurgi vatani”, Zanoni Tojikistan, #3, (...)
- 20 R. Nabieva, Zanoni Tojikiston, Dushanbe, Irfon, 1986.
- 21 C. Nazarova, Zanoni … op. cit. p 12.
- 22 R. Nabieva, Zanoni, op. cit. p 15.
12In another article entitled “Tajik women workers during the Great Patriotic War”, written by N. C. Sanginov, we learn that 53 of the 153 workers in a silk-weaving mill who volunteered were women19. According to Nabieva’s study, the day after the declaration of war, 700 Tajiks, among them 200 women, reported to the recruitment office of Red Army in Dushanbe and at the end of July 1941, 57 women had registered among the 724 volunteers20. Until the 1st of August 1941, 435 women among 1400 had registered as volunteers in the Leninobod region [actual Khujand]21. Tajikistani researchers describe an intense female mobilization: “Since the first day of the war, thousands and thousands of devoted girls requested to be sent to the front”22.
- 23 C. Nazarova, Zanoni … op. cit. p 10.
13Second, Soviet studies also raise the issue of Tajikistani women’s participation in military training in the Komsomol [Youth Organisation of Communist Party]. Nazarova reports that in the Stalinobod District [current Dushanbe] 14,765 Komsomol were trained, and among them 10 410 girls: 350 women were trained to become snipers, 1420 as machine-gunners, 270 to operate transmissions systems, 435 as telegraphists and 3750 were trained to fire arms23 (Nazarova 1980: 10).
- 24 L. Sechkina, “Dar muboriza baroi ozodii vatani mahbubamon”, ibid.
- 25 Ibrohim Shukurov, “Zanoni tojiki dar solhoi jangi vatan”, Zanoni Tojikiston, #2, 1963, p.8-9.
- 26 R. Nabieva, Zanoni, op. cit. p 15.
14Third, Tajikistani women were represented on the battlefield: Soviet research and women’s press paid tribute to women officer’s efforts, bravery and sacrifice. In an article entitled “In the struggle for the freedom of our beloved Homeland”, Sechkina mentioned “daughters and women of Tajikistan” in communication, transport and medical units, such as Sofia Niyiozova (doctor), Shahri Haïdarova, (non identified military position, but trained in Tajikistan as a medic), T. V. Belozarova (telegrapher), E. Zinakulova, (telegrapher)24. Research and press dedicated to women referred also to women’s participation in combat units. Two women in particular were mentioned for their exploits. The first one is Nina Lobkovskaia25, a young woman from Dushanbe and a sniper who killed 89 persons. The second one is Oigul Muhammadzhonova, a fighter pilot with 93 recorded flights in wartime, who was awarded the Lenin Order for her participation to the Great Patriotic War26.
15Tajikistani researchers insisted on the equality between men and women on the battlefield:
- 27 Ibid.
“Enemies of the proletarian humanity, the German fascists invaded the territories of our Homeland. We, students at the pedagogic Institute, want to join a medical unit. Then we will see that on the battlefront equals [women] fight with the enemy just like their male counterparts”.27
- 28 G. Mukhtorova, Zanoni… op. cit. p 9.
16The frontlines represented a space where equality between men and female could be achieved. Moreover, Nazi Germany was considered as an aggressor who threatened not only the integrity of Soviet territory but also the rights of Tajik women - rights that were recently obtained with the Sovietization of Central Asia. Soviet researchers wrote that Hitlerian troops had humiliated women in occupied countries, and in this regard Tajik women fought for the protection of women’s rights28. This part of the Soviet local narratives produced by Soviet local researchers insisted on equality between Tajik women and Tajik men, on Tajik women’s agency and Tajik women’s capacity to defend their rights.
- 29 Ibid.
17The expression mainly used to celebrate the heroism of Tajikistani Women was “daughters and women of Tajikistan”, which covered different nationalities without distinction: Tajik, Russian, Uzbek, Kirghiz, etc. Nevertheless, name and geographical origins show that non-Russian women from Tajikistan fought during the war, such as Zhonbibi Quvvamova from the Shirgatol region, Sobitova from the Vakhsh region, Shahri Haidarov from the Konibodom region29.
18These post-war Soviet narratives on women’s participation to the battlefields promoted women’s agency. Tajikistani women published historical studies and press articles dedicated to women’s heroism, bravery and courage. Contrary to different national and state representations of armed women, women’s participation to the armed conflict was not considered deviance but as a positive factor in the defence of the Fatherland, even after the end of the conflict. The Great Patriotic War was a privileged historical moment for Soviet propaganda to create a Soviet collective identity in the USSR, and to celebrate individual and collective efforts to the construction of the Soviet regime. As efficient and brave soldiers, women were recognized as active builders of the Soviet regime. Through the battlefields, they also promoted a space of equality between men and women. In these narratives, women were depicted as the defenders of their own rights. Whereas men are usually represented as women’s protectors against the aggressors, Soviet local narratives represented armed Tajikistani women protecting their rights by themselves.
- 30 L. Sechkina, , Farzandoni Sharafmandi Tojikiston, Dushanbe, Irfon 1968.
19Articles on women’s participation to the Great Patriotic War can be found only in studies and magazines dedicated to women and/or written by women. In the books and articles dedicated to the Great Patriotic War, male soldiers and war heroes benefit from more attention and from a different treatment. For instance, numerous letters of male soldier’s sent from the front to their family were published in the official press, studies, memorial books. Their portrays were also drawn by specialists of the 1941-1945 period such as Sechkina in a book entitled Farzandoni Sharafmandi Tojikiston [Honorable Children of Tajikistan] published in 196830. In this book, the experience of the battlefield remains a male experience: women are very briefly mentioned and there is a privileged access to men’s life before, during and after the war in Soviet propaganda.
- 31 Unknown author, Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang, Dushanbe, Irfon, 1985.
- 32 Karim Qayam, “Baroi khoki vatan”, Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang, op.cit., pp. 42-50.
20The Soviet war literature published in Tajikistan and in Tajik language also reflects this male-centred representation of the battlefields and the hierarchisation of gendered role in the Great patriotic War. A collective book entitled Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang [Memories of War Years] published in 1985 eight novels about the experiences of Tajik people during the war31. Some of the novels are dedicated to the success of the military offensives in Ukraine, Poland, the Caucasus and the Baltic region, to the celebration of valour in the face of the enemy and to the comradeship on the battlefield (“General” written by Y. Nalski, “Cherai shinos” by M. Rajabov, “Vakhtai dil” by Kh. Faisiev). These novels describe also the very positive consequences of their efforts to free the people oppressed by fascist regimes, and the post-war prosperity of people liberated by the Red Army. Only one novel mentions a woman at the front near Vilnius: Surayo Sadriddinova, a worker in a sewing factory named after Krupskaya in the Leninobod city [now Khujand]. Contrary to the narratives dealing with men soldiers, her specialisation and her activities on the frontline are not described32.
- 33 Hoji Sodiq, “Dukhtarkhond”, in Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang, op.cit, pp.3-20.
21Others novels are dedicated to the relatives of the soldiers and to the consequences of their enrolment on the life of their families. If women are almost excluded from the experiences of the battlefield, they are represented as active workers. For instance, the short story entitled “Dukhtarkhond” written by Hoji Sodiq relates the story of Sakhovat, who lost her husband at war. She worked in a cotton kolkhoz and because the two last male brigadier where sent to the front, she was appointed to this position. She adopted a little girl and supported alone a daughter. She is not depicted as passive woman in mourning but as an active worker and mother33. At the same time, women’s participation to the society is spatially recast in the domestic sphere by the duty of motherhood, which is inseparable of the role of worker in this narrative and in Soviet ideology in general.
22Secondly, narratives of women’s agency (through the representations of armed women) and narratives on equality between women and men were restricted in order to support the Soviet ideology. Soviet articles and studies remained silent about inequalities between men and women and about the violence against women perpetrated in the Red Army by their fellow soldiers: only the enemy could be described as an oppressor violating women’s rights. Women’s rights, women’s liberation and equality between men and women were mobilized to support an ideology based on hierarchisation between Soviet society and other societies. As women’s right were used to legitimate Soviet supremacy, Tajikistani women couldn’t raise the issue of the inequalities they faced under the Soviet regime as women and as women of the periphery.
23Representations of armed women in the collective and state memories of the Great Patriotic War thus reveals a strong paradox in the Soviet ideology: women’s agency was a part of the discourses promoted by the Soviet regime but, in the same time, the representation of women’s agency was both circumscribed and mobilized in order to illustrate the Soviet supremacy - which prevented women from raising the issue of gender inequality.
- 34 L. Direnberger, “Genre, religion et nation….” op. cit.; L. Direnberger, Le genre de la nation en Ir (...)
- 35 Sh. Tadjbakhsh, “Women and War in Tajikistan”, Central Asia Monitor, #1, 1994, pp. 25-29.
24The Civil War is a turning point for the gendered representation of armed conflicts in Tajikistan34. On both sides—ex-Soviet forces and United Tajik Opposition—women are victimized. They are represented as the victims of a war between brothers, or a war between sons. Women’s rape adds more fuel to the anger of revanchists. Men are called to protect women’s honor [nomus], which embodies Tajik national honor [nomusi Tojik]35. In this war narrative, male warriors have to protect helpless women and children. This change in gender norms is even more drastic in the state promotion of national identity after the civil war. No longer armed, women are described only as the victims of civil war and as those in charge of children and elders, as we can read in a book by President E. Rahmon published in 1997:
- 36 E. Rahmon, Mavqei zan dar jomea, Dushanbe, Sharqi Ozod, 1997, p 4.
“In addition to all the suffering and pain, the difficult task of education, of household supplies, of family care in war-torn regions lies on women’s shoulders”.36
25The state narrative focuses on the women’s suffering and women’s care of the family. Women are celebrated for their capacity to endure patiently a tragic situation, almost in resignation, and definitively not for entering into the political and/or armed conflict. Since they are not involved in the armed forces, they embody mediators between the male fighters:
- 37 Ibid.
“As an example of their force, I just would like recall a situation: in the hardest moments of the resistance [in the Civil War], all Tajik women without fear of conflicting forces extinguished the fire of rage and anger with advice and discourse of happiness and sincerity”.37
- 38 Qutbiya Ne’matullo, “Sukhan az jang meguyad”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, #5, 2009, p.4-5.
26Women symbolize peace, non-violence, and they are useful in the reconciliation between male warriors. In this context, representations of armed women almost disappear. Some exceptions can be found in the state magazine dedicated to women, Bonuvoni Tojikiston [Women of Tajikistan], funded by the President of Tajikistan, published in 5 000 - 10 000 copies. For example, in honour of the 9th of May, the Day of Victory, Bonuvoni Tojikiston published an interview with a veteran, In’omjon Qurbonova: the picture of the 85 year old woman with her medals appeared on the front page38.
27Qurbonova recounts that she was part of a group of young girl from Khujand who wrote a letter to be enrolled in the Red Army. The 7th of May 1942 the army called her up with other girls such as Ujaoi Khojaeva, Sabohat Aliboeva, Jannatoi Rahimova. They learned aviation for three months in a military school. Her first mission was in the Caucasus in the ranks of the 300th Division. She also fought for the defence of Rostov and Stalingrad, and in the battles for Kaliningrad and Poland. When she was sent to Berlin the day on which the war ended, she had a parachute crash. She recovered at a military hospital and returned to her parent’s home. After the war, she studied law and became a lawyer. She relates a judicial error that occurred during the Soviet period: a woman was arrested for the murder of her husband. She was sent to jail for months and when Qurbonova read her judicial file, she found out many deficiencies. The woman was freed as a result of Qurbonova initiatives, but the lawyer says that as consequence of her unfair arrest, this woman had psychological problems for the rest of her life. The veteran concludes that in all periods, women’s rights were abused and women’s rights were less protected than men’s rights.
- 39 Qutbiya [last name not mentioned], “Kini barodar sitond”, Bonuvoni Tojikistan, #5, 2010, p.8-9.
28This article is an exception on two main points. First, this veteran relates in details her military training and her participation in different fields of battle. Secondly, she denounces a miscarriage of justice that she qualifies as a case of violence against women during the Soviet regime, and calls for an attention to women’s rights in all periods. In 2010, another interview was published with 86 years old Tamara Tikhonovna: the veteran spent 10 months on the battlefield in Ukraine and in Poland in 1944 and says that she killed 12 German soldiers39.
- 40 I. Q. Qalandarov, Kitobi khotira 1941-1945, Dushanbe, unknown edition, 2003.
29But these articles published in Women of Tajikistan are at odds with the dominant national ideology promoted by the state. The representation of Tajikistani women soldiers of the Great Patriotic War almost disappeared from the national narratives. For instance The Book of memory 1941-1945 published by the Executive State Organ of the City of Dushanbe features more than a thousand pages about soldiers of the Great Patriotic War in alphabetic order: in this long list, no woman is mentioned40. Moreover national memories of the Great Patriotic War are focused exclusively on male heroes in the school textbooks; images of president decorating veterans represent only men.
30In the post-soviet regime, women are celebrated for their beauty and their charm. In 2010 a special ceremony named “Shakomai gesu” was organised by the Committee of Women and Family as a ‘Festivali jumhuriavi’ [Republican Festival]. Its aim was to celebrate the “beauty and charm” of Tajik women “in honour of twenty years of independence of the Republic of Tajikistan” and with the President’s presence. Women exhibited silk or atlas ‘traditional’ dresses and showed the different technics of hair care and braids; they participated in ‘traditional’ or ‘national’ dances and songs. The feminine model promoted by the state national ideology is thus the carrier of national traditions, with her body dedicated to beauty and charm. In state ceremonies, which include parades and official shows like the Vahdati Melli [National Union], soldiers are men and dancers are women. Men are promoted as the protectors of the Nation and the president appears as the women’ protector:
- 41 Speech for the Women’s Day, Jumhuriat, 8 March 2007, # 27.
“Concerning the present and future of the State and of the Tajik nation, I took the sacred decision - because of the pure white milk of the mother, which is the most precious and important good of life - to take responsibility for equality [between men and women]”41.
- 42 A. Buisson, “Ismoil 1er et la dynastie des Samanides, des mythes fondateurs”, Le Courrier des Pays (...)
- 43 L. Direnberger, Le genre de la nation…, op. cit.
31This extract of president’s discourse sums up three main characteristics of representations of gender norms supported by the state national ideology. First political leadership is a male responsibility. The father of the Nation is Ismoil Somoni42, the leader of the nation is Emomali Rahmon and the heroes of the Nation, most of them political leaders and/or famous intellectuals from the Soviet period, are six men (including the president). In the gender order of the national ideology, men lead and women benefit from this male leadership, who protect them43.
- 44 The implementation of presidential quota does not guarantee the achievement of the official goal. T (...)
32Secondly, the president is depicted as the leader of the Nation: he solves social and political problems all by himself. In the school textbooks, official history concerning the Civil War is focused on his personal and crucial involvement in the resolution of conflicts. In the same way, equality between women and men is a presidential issue – with the creation of presidential quotas and presidential fellowships for women. Presidential quotas were implemented in 1997 in a presidential decree entitled “On the issue of girls’ admissions to the Universities of the Republic of Tajikistan with the presidential quotas for the 2001-2005 period”. Before the Tajik parliament, Emomali Rahmon attested that thanks to this quota, more than 7 500 girls studied at the University44. The President has also created presidential fellowships (“grantoi presidenti”) that financially support women who want to open a small business. The president states his commitment to the amelioration of women’s conditions, and women are expected to be thankful to a president who seems to be the main, even the lone, supporter of equality between men and women.
33Third, being a mother is considered the most important role for a woman, for the sake of the nation’s development. The president addressed the speech quoted supra on Women’s Day to the “dear mothers, sisters and children” and he justified his interest in the gender equality by women’s maternal functions (the “pure white milk of the mother”). In the national ideology promoted by the state, women’s role is above all a mother’s role. The President promotes motherhood as a national duty for women with a variety of symbols. In 2009 a presidential decree transformed the 8th of March into Mothers’ Day. Motherhood is described as the basis of Tajik national culture:
- 45 President’s speech.Jumhuriyat, 7 March 2009.
“Today, with the independence of our state, it is necessary that national commemorations revive the original Day of the Mother, that they celebrate again the noble past and show with glory that our Nation is based on a civilization which from the beginning respected the woman-mother”.45
34This so-called ancient commemoration of “woman-mother” (“zan-modar”) is presented as an exception, which is supposed to characterize the national Tajik identity. According to the President:
- 46 President’s speech.Jumhuriyat, ibid.
“In history, there are very few peoples who belong to such an ancient culture that has such respect for women. We have very noble national customs and the celebration of woman-mother is officially a part of [our] national identity”.46
35The state magazine dedicated to women, Bonuvoni Tojikiston supports this interpretation of Mother’s Day:
- 47 “Mujdagiron yo jashni zanoni pokdamon”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, #3, 2010, p 3.
“Aryan People created this celebration for virtuous women. (…) Our people offer this favour to women as a symbol of respect for women. (….) He [Aburaihon Behruni] wrote “Isfandormaz is the guardian angel on Earth and protects virtuous and pure women, who love their husband and are dedicated. (…) It has to be said that such an old ceremony that celebrates women does not exist in any other history”.47
- 48 L. Kopciewicz, “Oeillet rouge et tulipe rouge. La forte polarisation idéologique du 8 mars en Polog (...)
36The 8th of March was a Soviet ceremony celebrating the International Day of Woman. In some post-Soviet states such as Poland, celebration of the International Women’s Day is not a state ceremony anymore, but it belongs to the private sphere48. In Tajikistan the state remains deeply involved in this celebration, but the ceremony is deprived of its original Soviet content. References to pre-Islamic civilization as the basis of Mother’s celebration enable a valorization of non-Soviet references to women’s issues. This promotion contrasts with the valorisation by the regime of male Soviet leaders or intellectuals as “national heroes”. These different historical references contribute to the presentation of men as political leaders and intellectuals, as active participants in the nation building, while women are seen as mothers and as the bearers of traditions.
37Thus, the state national ideology supports very conservative gendered norms, based on the necessity for women to be protected, and on the essentialization of women’s role in society. It promotes a hierarchy of roles and competences, between those described as masculine (political leadership, intellectual engagement, defence of the nation) and those described as feminine (motherhood, care and perpetuation of national traditions).
- 49 E. Rahmon, Mavqei zan dar jomea, Dushanbe, Sharqi Ozod, 1997.
- 50 Unknown author, “Zan ofiati zindagist”, Firuza, #8, 2008.
- 51 F. Muel-Dreyfus, Vichy et l'éternel féminin: contribution à une sociologie politique de l'ordre des (...)
38In this context, nonetheless, the government supports women in the Ministry of Interior and in the police forces. Indeed, as the mother’s role is linked to the notion of “purity” in state national ideology, women have a special role to play in the construction of the nation. In his book published in 1997, Emomali Rahmon wonders how a mother who creates life could be engaged in smuggling or drug trafficking?”49. In 2008 the president congratulated the 1 500 women who work at the Ministry of Interior in the departments for fighting crime and for the security of the society. He supports all the endeavours to recruit women in this Ministry50. Like in other contexts concerning women’s participation in politics51, women’s participation in the Ministry of the Interior is seen as regeneration, re-enchantment and “politic laundering” because of their supposed “natural” characteristics. In the Tajik case, women are called by the nationalist state in the Ministry of Interior in order to affirm his politics in terms of transparency.
39But women and men do not have equal access to the highest leadership positions in the police force. For the celebration of the 85 years of the Tajik Police, an article entitled “To wear a uniform like a man”, published in Bonuvoni Tojikiston, deals with the inequality between men and women in the police force. Even if the number of women in the police forces increases, few of them have leadership positions such as Colonel Sharifa Usmonova, at the Department of Migration in the Ministry of Interior and Colonel Zavqia Azimova, director of the Hospital of the Ministry of Interior. In an interview, Aziza Davlatshoh, director of the women’s department of the Ministry of Interior, explains that women have difficulties in reaching positions of power:
- 52 Abdurahim Umariyion, “Nizomipush boshand hamshu mardon”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, 2010, #2, p.20-21.
“The Department of Internal Affairs attracts more and more women, but it’s not satisfying because when I went to Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for missions, I compared situations and I observed that there are many more women in the police force in Afghanistan than in Tajikistan. There are even three women who have the honoured title of general; we don’t have this situation here. But we are not hopeless. When I speak to the people in charge in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, I speak about thousands of women’s achievements. (…) We hope that with this advice the number of women in general and especially in leadership positions will increase because Tajik mothers are able to solve important problems”.52
40This interview shows at the same time ruptures and continuities with the state ideology. In terms of rupture, Aziza Davlatshoh testifies to inequality between women and men whereas the president only congratulates women for their participation in police forces without saying a word about the gendered unequal access to leadership positions. A woman denounces discrimination in the institutions of the Republic of Tajikistan in this state magazine dedicated to women. She also disclaims the “exceptional” treatment of the Tajik civilization towards women, saying that in Afghanistan women suffer from less discrimination in the police forces than in Tajikistan. In terms of continuities, she justifies the role of women in the police forces by the characteristics attributed to motherhood. In another article in Bonuvoni Tojikiston, she attests that women represent the majority of members of Academia for Ministry of Interior and adds:
- 53 “Ba joii kurtai atlas”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, 2009, #2, p 21.
“In the resolution of most cases of family conflict, which is a part of our job, to be a woman is a necessity because they have more knowledge, more confidence and more attention to victims (…) To have a mother’s heart, it’s better”.53
41This promotion of motherhood can also be found in the interview conducted by a journalist for Bonuvoni Tojikiston below:
“- How should a women who is a director [of a Criminal Unit] act?
- Fulfilling the obligations of one's role is not related to the sex of the person who leads. To provide justice in the society, we should have better knowledge, capacities of innovation, endurance, language competences, capacity of analyse, bravery and humanity. Strong nerves and iron will are also necessary.
- Wouldn’t you think that it would be a job for a man? This position of responsibility doesn’t impact your family life?
- 54 Saida Qurbonova “Bonue ki risolaash afv ast”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, 2011, #8, p.5.
- Yes, I am an oriental woman. At home, I’m not the director of the Criminal Unit. A woman has to be beautiful, pure and sweet inside and outside. A woman has always to be a woman, whatever her position and social status. That’s why I have a position of responsibility, but I am also a mother, and the free time I have, I dedicate it to my family and my grand-child”.54
- 55 Motherhood is mobilized by other women in other spaces, in particular by some women NGO leaders, in (...)
42This interview illustrates all the paradox of the positions of women officers. The interviewee asserts that a job should be done regardless of the sex of the person, but she makes a clear distinction between the private and public spheres concerning women’s roles. At the same time, she says that a woman has to embody characteristics attributed to “oriental” women (beauty, purity, sweetness) in both spaces “outside” and “inside”. Motherhood—considered as procreation but also as care for children and grandchildren—is described as a social duty for women. Such as other women working in the state institutions, she justifies her professional position proving that she assumes her role as a “mother” at home. Contrary to other uses of the “motherhood” by some women in Tajikistan55, they support here the separation of the public and private spheres, and the gendered hierarchy it implies (women have to bear domestic tasks and the education of children) and remain silent concerning the inequalities between men and women in the states institutions.
43To conclude, different treatments of representations of women in arms in Tajikistan reveal power hierarchies. The differences of treatment contribute to the making of the Soviet periphery and gender hierarchies: narratives on women’s agency of Tajikistani women through the representations of armed women in Soviet army could be found in the local press and in studies published in Tajik language in Tajikistan, but not in the central Soviet ideology. Tajikistani women’s participation to the battlefield remains a peripheral issue raised by local researchers, particularly in the literature specifically dedicated to Tajikistani women in the USSR.
44Compared with the Soviet production, post-soviet representations of Tajikistani on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War is restricted to very few articles in state magazine dedicated to women whereas the Second World War remains an important element in the national ideology of Tajikistan. In the post-conflict context, women are mainly celebrated by the nationalist state for their peaceful attitude and “pure” behaviour. Whilst Tajikistani women are encouraged to join the police forces by the government, the state press dedicated to women promotes the double burden for women: to be a woman in uniform and to be a mother responsible for the care of children and for the domestic tasks.
1 K. J. Cottam, Soviet Airwomen in Combat in World War II, Manhattan, KS, Military Affairs/ Aerospace Historian Publishing, 1983; S. Conze, B. Fieseler, “Soviet Women as Comrades-in-Arms: A Blind Spot in the History of the War” in R. W. Thurston, B. Bonwetsch (Eds) The People’s War: Responses to World War II in the Soviet Union, Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2000, pp. 211-234; R. Pennington, Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2001; A. Krylova, Women in Combat: A History of Violence on the Eastern Front, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010; R. D. Markwick, E. Charon-Cardona, Women on the Frontline in the Second World War, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
2 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors: Latvian Women of the Red Army in Post-War Historical Memory”, Nationalities Papers: The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity, Vol. 41, #6, 2013, pp. 987-1007.
3 S. Keller, “Trapped between State and Society: Women's Liberation and Islam in Soviet Uzbekistan, 1926-1941”, Journal of Women's History, Vol. 10, #1, 1998, pp. 20-44; P. Michaels, “Ethnicity, Patriotism, and Womanhood: Kazakhstan and the 1936 Ban on Abortion,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 27, #2, 2001, pp. 307-333; D. Northtrop, Veiled Empire. Gender & power in Stalinist Central Asia, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2004; A. L. Edgar, “Bolshevism, Patriarchy, and the Nation: the Soviet ‘Emancipation’ of Muslim Women in pan-Islamic Perspective,” Slavic Review, Vol. 65, #2, 2006, pp. 252-272; M. Kamp, The New Woman in Uzbekistan. Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling under Communism, Seattle/London, University of Washington Press, 2006; D. Kandiyoti, “The Politics of Gender and the Soviet Paradox: Neither Colonized, nor Modern”, Central Asian Survey, Vol. 26, #4, 2007, pp.601-623. C. Harris, Control and Subversion: Gender Relations in Tajikistan, Sterling, Pluto Press, 2004.
4 A. L. Edgar, “Marriage, Modernity, and the ‘Friendship of Nations’: Interethnic Intimacy in Post-War Central Asia in Comparative Perspective”, Central Asian Survey, Vol. 26, #4, 2007, pp. 581-599.
5 J. Cleuziou, L. Direnberger, “Gender and Nation In Post-Soviet Central Asia: From National Narratives To Women’s Practices”, Nationalities Papers, vol. 2, #44, 2016, pp. 195-206.
6 M. Ghafforova, Ba hayiot tatbiq shudani ideyia ozodi zanon, Stalinobod [Khudjand], Nashriyioti davlati Todjikiston, 1960 ; A. Kamolova, Roli zanoni tojikiston dar hayioti jamiatiyu siyiosi respublika, Dushanbe, Donish, 1984; G. Mukhtorova, Zanoni tojikiston ba front, Dushanbe,Irfon, 1990; R. Nabieva, Oktobri A’zam va ozodchavii zanoni Todjikiston, Dushanbe, Djam’iati “Donish”, 1977; C. Nazarova, Zanoni Osiyoi Miyona dar solhoi jangi buzurgi vatani, Dushanbe, Irfon, 1980.
7 The Civil War pitted ex-Soviet forces against the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) composed of Islamic and democratic forces. This political configuration was also structured by regional stratifications – Khujand and Kulab, bastion of ex-soviet forces, opposed to Gharm Region and Badakhshan, which are characterized by their strong support to the Islamic and Democratic forces (S. Dudoignon, G. Jahangiri, “Le Tadjikistan existe-t-il ? Destins politiques d’une ‘nation imparfaite’”, Cahiers d’études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien, #18, July-December 1994, pp. 5-12).
8 L. Direnberger, “Genre, religion et nation au sein des associations de prévention de la violence domestique au Tadjikistan”, Sociétés contemporaines, Vol.2, #94, 2014, pp. 69-92.
9 L. Kirschenbaum, “World War II in Soviet and Post-Soviet Memory”, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, #38, 2011, pp.97-103.
10 J. Brundstedt, “Building a Pan-Soviet Past: The Soviet War Cult and the Turn Away from Ethnic Particularism”, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, #38, 2011, p 151.
11 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors….”, op. cit. p 997.
12 R. Pennington, Wings…, op. cit.
13 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors….”, op. cit. p 996.
14 D. Eglitis, V. Zelče, “Unruly Actors….”, op. cit. p 996.
15 Unknown author, “Bistupanjsolagii yakumin jangi imperialistii jahon”, Bo rohi lenini, #7, 1939, p.3.
16 Unknown author, “Dukhtaroni qahramoni khalqhoi qahramon”, Bo rohi lenini, #8, 1938, p.3.
17 C. Cardi, G. Pruvost, “Introduction générale. Penser la violence des femmes : enjeux politiques et épistémologiques”, in C. Cardi, G. Pruvost (Eds) Penser la violence des femmes, Paris, La Découverte, 2012, pp. 13-64.
18 L. Sechkina, “Dar muboriza baroi ozodii vatani mahbubamon”, Zanoni Tojikiston Sovieti, #5, 1954.
19 N. C. Sanginov, “Kornamoihoi zanoni tojik dar solhoi jangi buzurgi vatani”, Zanoni Tojikistan, #3, 1959, p.8.
20 R. Nabieva, Zanoni Tojikiston, Dushanbe, Irfon, 1986.
21 C. Nazarova, Zanoni … op. cit. p 12.
22 R. Nabieva, Zanoni, op. cit. p 15.
23 C. Nazarova, Zanoni … op. cit. p 10.
24 L. Sechkina, “Dar muboriza baroi ozodii vatani mahbubamon”, ibid.
25 Ibrohim Shukurov, “Zanoni tojiki dar solhoi jangi vatan”, Zanoni Tojikiston, #2, 1963, p.8-9.
26 R. Nabieva, Zanoni, op. cit. p 15.
28 G. Mukhtorova, Zanoni… op. cit. p 9.
30 L. Sechkina, , Farzandoni Sharafmandi Tojikiston, Dushanbe, Irfon 1968.
31 Unknown author, Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang, Dushanbe, Irfon, 1985.
32 Karim Qayam, “Baroi khoki vatan”, Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang, op.cit., pp. 42-50.
33 Hoji Sodiq, “Dukhtarkhond”, in Khotirahoi Solhoi Jang, op.cit, pp.3-20.
34 L. Direnberger, “Genre, religion et nation….” op. cit.; L. Direnberger, Le genre de la nation en Iran et au Tadjikistan. (Re)constructions et contestations des hétéronationalisme, PhD dissertation, Université Paris Diderot, unpublished, defended on 11 January 2014.
35 Sh. Tadjbakhsh, “Women and War in Tajikistan”, Central Asia Monitor, #1, 1994, pp. 25-29.
36 E. Rahmon, Mavqei zan dar jomea, Dushanbe, Sharqi Ozod, 1997, p 4.
38 Qutbiya Ne’matullo, “Sukhan az jang meguyad”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, #5, 2009, p.4-5.
39 Qutbiya [last name not mentioned], “Kini barodar sitond”, Bonuvoni Tojikistan, #5, 2010, p.8-9.
40 I. Q. Qalandarov, Kitobi khotira 1941-1945, Dushanbe, unknown edition, 2003.
41 Speech for the Women’s Day, Jumhuriat, 8 March 2007, # 27.
42 A. Buisson, “Ismoil 1er et la dynastie des Samanides, des mythes fondateurs”, Le Courrier des Pays de l’Est, #1067, 2008, pp. 28-33.
43 L. Direnberger, Le genre de la nation…, op. cit.
44 The implementation of presidential quota does not guarantee the achievement of the official goal. The amount of the fellowship (120 somonis/month in 2012) is very low and students’ living conditions are really hard. Rural young women fear the deterioration and the insecurity of state dormitories (I. Silova, “Traveling Policies: Hijacked in Central Asia”, European Educational Research Journal, Vol. 4, #1, 2005). Moreover corruption is an endemic phenomenon in state institutions, and in certain region the attribution of a quota depends on the proximity with the regime, or is illegally exchanged for money by the person in charge of its implementation at the local level (L. Direnberger, Le genre de la nation…, op. cit).
45 President’s speech.Jumhuriyat, 7 March 2009.
46 President’s speech.Jumhuriyat, ibid.
47 “Mujdagiron yo jashni zanoni pokdamon”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, #3, 2010, p 3.
48 L. Kopciewicz, “Oeillet rouge et tulipe rouge. La forte polarisation idéologique du 8 mars en Pologne”», Sciences de la société, #70, 2007, pp.139-147.
49 E. Rahmon, Mavqei zan dar jomea, Dushanbe, Sharqi Ozod, 1997.
50 Unknown author, “Zan ofiati zindagist”, Firuza, #8, 2008.
51 F. Muel-Dreyfus, Vichy et l'éternel féminin: contribution à une sociologie politique de l'ordre des corps, Paris, Seuil, 1996 ; C. Achin, L. Bargel, D. Dulong, E. Fassin (Eds), Sexes, genre et politique, Paris, Economica, 2007, p. 38.
52 Abdurahim Umariyion, “Nizomipush boshand hamshu mardon”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, 2010, #2, p.20-21.
53 “Ba joii kurtai atlas”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, 2009, #2, p 21.
54 Saida Qurbonova “Bonue ki risolaash afv ast”, Bonuvoni Tojikiston, 2011, #8, p.5.
55 Motherhood is mobilized by other women in other spaces, in particular by some women NGO leaders, in order to demand women’s rights and condemn inequalities between men and women (L. Direnberger, Le genre de la nation, op. cit.).Top of page
Lucia Direnberger, « Representations of Armed Women in Soviet and Post-Soviet Tajikistan: Describing and Restricting Women’s Agency », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 17 | 2016, Online since 04 May 2016, connection on 22 February 2017. URL : http://pipss.revues.org/4249Top of page
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