Tajikistan Children's Literature - 2004 ASPS Conference Paper





Program of the Second Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, Yerevan, Armenia, 2-5 April 2004

Tajikistan Children's literature - Abstract

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Tajikistan Children's Literature - ASPS Conference Paper


       Persianate Childrens Literature in Tajikistan

 N. Abd El-Sadek, Department of Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Edinburgh 

My interest and curiosity about the childrens literature of Tajikistan started when I read an article about the Encyclopedia Iranica in Iranian Studies by Ahmad Karimi Hakkak called Iranica Heirloom, which commented on the entry for childrens literature as follows:

Since this entry deals only with the evolution of childrens literature in Iran, it would have been advisable to mention this limitation in the title. This is particularly significant since we know that in Soviet Tajikistan a lively tradition of imaginative readings created exclusively for children existed for almost 70 years. Certainly, this body of childrens literature in the Persian-speaking world deserves to be included in some form.

The Russian literary journal, Detskaya Literatura, (Childrens Literature) No.3, March 1981 issue was entirely dedicated to Tajiki literature and art for children in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the formation of the USSR. This issue gathers together articles by and about all the great names in Soviet Tajikistan childrens writing. Many of these writers were poets, and poetry is a favorite form of expression until today in Tajikistan. A selection of classics for children from ancient to modern writers, a collection in 5 vols., called the Anthology of Childrens Literature, was published in Dushanbe by Maorif in 1982. In the Soviet Era, exhibitions were organized by the Illustrators Union of Tajikistan, Etefaqi Rossamon Tojikiston, but presently no exhibitions are showing the work of childrens illustrators.

Maorif and Irfon were the main publishers involved with producing childrens books, many in Tajiki, and their translation departments produced translated works for children from all over the world, while Afsana and Istiqbol were the first publishing houses in Tajikistan dealing especially with childrens literature.

A Russian publisher for children and youth, Molodaya Gvardia (Gordi Javonon/Youth Guard), translated and published many books from Tajikistan during the Soviet era. The State provided a high level of support for both writers and illustrators, helping and encouraging them to publish their works. Books in Farsi, Uzbeki, English, Russian and Tajiki were all published during this time. Religion during this period was seen as a private matter. Books were available for religious teaching, but these were not widely available in the bookstores. Despite the atheistic philosophy of communism, the twenty five laws of communism were easily accepted by the people as they were very close to the laws of the Quran; rules of guidance such as dont lie, kill or steal, practice brotherly behavior, work for the common good and so on were all familiar and acceptable to people. During the 1980s, the situation became more relaxed and there was not so much fear associated with the practice and teaching of religion.

Tajikistan history and mythology was taught during the Soviet era. Traditional stories were encouraged. Animal and fairy stories were always popular. Moreover, translations from all over the Soviet Union and other countries were available in Russian translation, and some in Tajiki. Tajiki writers were translated into Russian and found a readership throughout the Soviet Union, often having their books published in Moscow for wider distribution. The history of Tajikistan and Soviet countries was taught in Tajiki. Subjects such as Economics and Politics were taught in Russian. Russian language was also taught as a main curricular subject, and every child had to speak and read Russian. All the adults in Tajikistan today and most of the children still speak Russian, and consider it an essential link with the outside world. Of the two TV channels available on terrestrial TV in Tajikistan, one is a Russian language station. The National Tajik channel also carries news and some films and other programming in Russian, as well as Uzbeki news bulletins. Many people leave Tajikistan to work in Russia or other neighboring countries, and of the 6.2 million total population of Tajikistan it is said that around 3.5 million will be working outside the country at any given time. (These figures were obtained from Mr. Ozar Saidov, International Organization for Migration, Dushanbe, July 2003).

From the end of the Soviet era research on folklore virtually stopped and books for children were not published due to lack of funds. The civil war made the situation worse. Many periodicals stopped and other publishing was suspended. In 1994, the civil war ended and things got going again but lack of finances meant that progress was slow. Writers disagree about whether politics and war are subjects to be included in childrens books, but 20,000 young people were martyred in the war, so there is no escaping the reality that childrens lives are affected by these forces.

Books were imported from Iran to fill the gap, and a lively tradition of oral literature was revived, with writers visiting villages to give readings of their work to children, and children telling each other stories and writing their own. Unlike in Iran, colloquial language is not used in modern childrens stories or poetry, only literary language which is very close to Farsi, but colloquial language is found in folklore and lullabies.

The Shahnameh has always been popular and is found in everyones house. It has existed in both Cyrillic and Farsi form in Soviet times and up to the present. It still continues to exert a great influence on literature and writers. An example of this influence is the use of the Shahnameh as a vocabulary source to compose new words and expressions for a computer glossary in Tajiki. This enables computer teachers to avoid using foreign English imports, as other countries such as France are doing. However, the majority of the present generation of youth do not know the Shahnameh stories as well as their parents did, and some may only know the names of the heroes, without being aware of their deeds.

Poetry in Tajikistan has found a partner in such an unlikely subject as mathematics. Jura Hashimis Az Yak Yak to Lak Lak is a good example of poetry being used to teach numbers. Following in this tradition a mathematics teacher, Abdurazzoqi Razzoq, has also produced memorable poetry on the subject of numbers.

In Dushanbe there are a number of libraries. The library of the Academy of Sciences is an extensive academic research library, with various special collections. There is the Ferdowsi State Library, mostly used by readers over 14 or 15 years old, which opened in 1933, and Lahoti City Library, which opened in the same year, both of which contain childrens books in their various departments, but which do not have special childrens sections. There is also a National Childrens Library, directed by Mr. Avghonov.

There is also a library at the Raizani Farhangiye (Nemayandeye Farhangiye) Jumhuriye Islamiye Iran (Cultural Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran) in Dushanbe. Free lessons are available at the center for children who want to study Farsi and childrens books are freely available for borrowing in the library. Coloring books are available from the center for use by teachers with the under tens and Farsi books for children are also available from Al-Hoda Bookshop in Dushanbe. Three years ago the teaching of Farsi was introduced into the school curriculum for Tajiki language schools. From the age of around 10 years, from 3rd to 9th grade, junior and high school students study Farsi alphabet and culture for 2-3 hours per week. Other schools specialize in English or Russian languages and these do not have Farsi in their curriculum.

There are several NGOs working in Tajikistan, some more closely involved with children than others. Of these, Istiqbol stands out as one of the longest running organizations involved in childrens publications. Originally a magazine by the name of Mashal this organization is inextricably tied with the name of Khanum Latofat Kinjaeva, who was born in the center of Gonchi District on 8th June 1950. She started writing poems when she was 15 years old and published them in newspapers, graduating with honors in 1972 from the Department of Journalism of the National University of Tajikistan. From 1972, she spent 10 years working for the Committee for Radio and Television where she was editor of radio programs for Radio Tajik and department chairman and has since written a number of books for children. Istiqbol became an NGO after the war. Khanum Latofat is presently chief editor of its monthly magazine Istiqbol. The magazine is for older children, although Mashal was for readers aged 7-15 years. Khanum Latofat has been involved with Istiqbol since it was known as Mashal. In 1981, she started in the Dept. of Literature and Culture, and then became editor of Mashal.

Mashal started in 1952 and continued production throughout the war as a monthly until 1993. During this period 100,000 to 300,000 copies were printed but later this dropped to 3-7000 and only two or three issues a year were produced. From 1994, it was produced in a smaller format with 80 pages. From 2003, it has been produced monthly.

Another NGO, Bonyadi Kudakoni Oshioni Baland, has been active in working with children. Its president, Masud Turson Zadeh, along with Mr. Tolebrozi, and Babilon-T Corporation started a computer-training project in 2000. Instruction covers use of computers, Windows, Word, Access, Excel, graphics, database in Visual Basic, and website design using HTML/CSS source code. The NGO provided 10 computers, 10 were donated by CADA (Central Asian Development Agency), and new premises have recently been found for an Information Technology School, which will house the project. The internet provider and site host is Babilon-T, which has also promised employment for all successful students. The students receive four years of instruction from the age of 13 until they graduate from high school in 11th grade. After three months, approximately 48 hours of tuition in HTML, the students put their skills to use in the production of a website. The website producers are all around 15 years old: three girls and ten boys from various high schools in Dushanbe.

Oshioni Baland presently has two branches of special projects. One is the computer training project and the other is the Markazi Adiboni Javon (Young Writers Center), The Center, founded in January 2001, is in Maktab No. 53 and its director is Kirom Ostonzoda, who has been active in the field of teaching language and literature in middle school in the city of Dushanbe from 1961 until the present time. He founded a circle of young writers with the name of Gunchahoyi Umid in September 1997, and helped its members to publish their writing in the series Gunchahoyi Umid: Sherhoyi Navqalamon, comprising Gunchahoyi Umid (Blossoms of Hope), by various authors, 1999, Akhtar (Star), by Majidzodayi Rustam Somonfar, aged 12, 2000, and Nakhati Mehr (Breeze of Love), by various authors, 2001, all published by Nodir in Dushanbe. The collections of poems were written by young Persian-speaking writers from Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.

During the 1990s, 6-7000 people from Afghanistan were in Tajikistan with a passport and visa. From 1996 to 2001, the number of refugees was around 5000, including children. By 2003 1000-1500 people were remaining, many having left for Russia, Europe or other places to look for work.

In Dushanbe there were three maktabs for Afghani refugees: Ariyona, Esteqlal and Somonion. The three had a total of 5-600 pupils. In 2003, only Somonion Maktab was still in operation under the directorship of Ustad. Daneshju, with 300 pupils from 1st to 11th grade. These were free schools; course books were brought from Afghanistan and printed in Tajikistan. In addition to this, Afghani children attend Tajik schools throughout Dushanbe, and to a lesser degree, in other areas, but the number has reduced since the downfall of the Taliban.

In Tajikistan, very few artists are involved in illustrating childrens books and magazines as, compared with Iran, there are very few publications in need of illustrators. Zarina Akramdukht and Abdurashid Khalil are two of this small number of artists. Zarina received a 4year Art College Diploma in 1986, followed by a 5year degree from the Department of Tajiki Philology of the University of Dushanbe. She studied pen drawing, oils, and color cartoons. She worked as illustrator for the newspaper Uzra Anbuz from 1990 to 1992, doing black and white illustration and cartoons. Between 1992 and 1997 she was busy raising her two daughters and one son. From 1997 until today, she has been working at Chashma. In addition, she worked at Gulgul in 2001 for a year, but she left, as it was only black and white work. Abdurashid Khalil, Zarinas husband is also an illustrator. He does oil portraits, and contributes illustrations to Chashma. They illustrated the ACTED, (European Commission Aid Office) leaflet written for children on thyroid problems and how to avoid them. Zarina also writes childrens stories and some of her work has appeared in Zangula ( Two of which have been in the 2003 Nos. 1 & 4).

The biography Adiboni Tojikiston published in Dushanbe by Adib in 2003 includes all the well-known childrens writers of Tajikistan; some of the writers fgeatured in it whose work I have described in my thesis are Jura Hashimi, Azizi Aziz, Ravshan Yormohammad, Habib Imodi, and Yusufjon Ahmadzoda.

Jonon Karim Bobokalonova is involved in the compilation of the textbook Adabiyoti Bachagon (Childrens Literature) and has written many articles over the years on childrens literature. Her first works were published in the early 1950s. Her first thesis at higher doctorate level (in Russian), The Works of Mirsaid Mirshakar for Children in the Faculty of Eastern Studies of the Arts Academy of St. Petersburg in1958, is the only existing doctoral thesis to date on the subject of a childrens writer in Tajikistan.

Childrens own writing in Tajikistan is published in a number of magazines and newspapers. These vary in editorial policy, content and readership, with input from both adults and children, or sections of childrens writings contained within professional childrens magazines and weeklies, as well as in publications for adults.

There are four magazines of note produced for children in Tajikistan today:

Istiqbol started in 1952, 2) Chashma1986, 3) Oftobak 2003 in Tajiki, and 4) Rodnik 1986, in Russian.

In addition there are 5 newspapers:

1) Zangula 1998, 2) Anbaz 1932, 3) Gulgul 2001, 4) Anushirvan 2002, and 5) Aladdin 2000, in Russian.

It is only 70 years since the use of Farsi script was discontinued in Tajikistan. In order to access the history and literature of their ancestors, the Tajik people need to be able to read the Farsi alphabet. After the fall of the Soviet Union a wave of sentiment resulted in an attempt to reintroduce Farsi script for the writing of Tajiki language, which I have called the Niagan Movement.

The Faculty of Philology of the National State University of Tajikistan (Daneshgahi Daulati Melli Tajikistan) promoted the use of Farsi script and produced a text for university level students to use for learning the Farsi alphabet. Javods Khudomuz, 1991 says: This manual is for the use of National University and Interfaculty Groups. Firuza Rajab & Firuz Hikmat are the authors of Khudomuzi Zaboni Forsi, (Dushanbe: Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1995) which is also intended for older readers, although a section at the back contains pictures suitable for use in teaching children. This section contains drawings of fruit, vegetables, utensils, furniture and vehicles labeled in Farsi. The rest of the book contains a number of reading texts which are useful for distinguishing Tajiki and Farsi vocabulary.

Although Farsi is taught in schools there seems to be no single official school text in use. Teachers prepare their own materials using one of a number of books as reference. Some of these come from Iran and some are made by various writers for teaching children. The president of the Academy of Sciences of Pedagogy, Dr. Mahmadollo Lotfolloyev produced Alefbaye Farsi, which was printed in Iran. This has been use in Tajikistan for some 4-5 years by teachers of Farsi. Three years ago Farsi became an official curricular subject from 4th Grade in National Maktabs teaching in Tajiki. Other maktabs specializing in Farsi or English or German start classes in these languages from 1st Grade.

Tajiki only ceased to be written in the Farsi alphabet in 1929, when Latin letters were substituted for a period of ten years. In 1939/1940 the change to Cyrillic was made and by 1941 everything was produced in Cyrillic.

School books were produced for Tajiki language in the 1980s with color illustrations, stories, poems. Some were translated from Russian into Tajiki. The paper came from outside and the printing was done outside during this period with a good quality result compared to todays publications.

As can be seen from the above findings, there is indeed a very rich and varied tradition of childrens literature in Tajikistan, not only in terms of subjects, but also in languages and scripts, political and religious systems, and in the reflection of social changes taking place in the country during different periods of its history. It is to be hoped that more studies will be undertaken in this area and that conditions will improve within Tajikistan for the renewal of a literary tradition which has already survived through so many changes.

Second Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, Yerevan, Armenia, 2-5 April 2004

Program of the Second Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, Yerevan, Armenia, 2-5 April 2004

Tajikistan Children's literature- Abstract

Netlangs Tajikistan


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