Tajikistan has a population density of 64 residents per km2, but as a result of the country’s topography it varies widely between different parts of the country. The middle and especially eastern parts of Tajikistan are predominantly sparsely populated. The country’s natural population growth has been very high during the post-war period. Since independence, however, the rate of growth has slowed sharply.
In 2019, 26 percent of the population lived in cities, of which the capital Dushanbe (788 700 residents, 2015) was dominant. Other cities include Chudzhand (172,700) and Kuljab (101,200).
According to Countryaah, Tajikistan is ethnically dominated by Tajiks, but for a long time there is also a significant Uzbek minority in the country. Russian and Soviet domination has helped many slaves settle in the country. Low natural growth and some emigration of Russians largely influenced the post-war period, and the Russians’ share of the total population declined slowly during the last decades of the Soviet period. The relocation increased in connection with the civil war in the early 1990s, when many others also fled the country.
At the 2000 census, the population groups were divided according to Tajik (79.9 percent), Uzbek (15.3 percent), Russians (1.1 percent), and Kyrgyz (1.1 percent). The rest is made up of minority minority groups. In Pamir there are a large number of smaller groups of people who speak different languages, which are distantly related to Tajik. They total 135,000 people and include groups such as Shughni, Rushanis, Wakhi, Bartangians, Yazgulyamians, Khufis, Ishkashimis and Yagnobis. A very large number of Tajik men work abroad, perhaps close to 1 million.
The official language is Tajik, spoken by just over 60% of the population. Russian is still of great importance as an administrative language, but is the native language of only a few percent. The largest minority language is Uzbek, which is spoken by about 23%.
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Tajikistan is a secular state with a constitution that guarantees religious freedom. The majority of Tajikistan’s population belongs to Sunni Islam, Hanafites. Several Sufi orders are active in the country. There is also a minority of Ismailites (3% of the population) in Gorno-Badakshan. There are also smaller groups of Russian Orthodox, Armenian-Apostolic and Baptist. In the capital Dushanbe there is a Russian Orthodox cathedral. Other religious minorities include Baha’is, Zoroastrians and Jews. Despite protests, the authorities destroyed the capital’s synagogue, its miqwe and a Kosher slaughterhouse in 2006. Due to emigration during the 1990s, all religious minorities have decreased dramatically in number. Authorities’ concern over radical Islamic groups has led to increased scrutiny, and several unregistered mosques, schools and other institutions have been closed in recent years. Girls are not allowed to wear hijab and headscarves in state schools.
After the years of bloody civil war that immediately followed independence – a war fueled by an intertwining of political, religious and ethnic-regional reasons, as well as by external interference, and costing between 30. 000 and 50. 000 dead – peace seems to have been achieved in 1997, with an agreement, made possible by the mediation of Moscow, between the post-communist government and the armed Islamic opposition. The high plateau of Pamir, which represents the southeastern part of the Tajikistan, wedged between Afghanistan and China (a little ‘less than half the area of the country, but with just 170. 000 residents, mostly sympathizers of the Islamic guerrilla), enjoys a special status with the name of the Autonomous Republic of Gorno-Badahšan (Kuhiston-i Badakhšon).
The population of Tajikistan, structurally young and with a high birth rate (27.9 ‰ in 1997), is growing in numbers: according to a 1998 estimate it has reached 6. 015. 000residents, of which the Tajiks, predominantly Sunni Muslim, represent just under two thirds (this proportion rises to nine tenths in Gorno-Badahšan, which is also characterized by the prevalence of the Ismaili current of Islam) and the Uzbeks about one fourth; then there are in the country some hundreds of thousands of Russians and small communities of Tatar and Kyrgyz people. Tajik, which is an Iranian language, has replaced Russian as the official language, and the Cyrillic alphabet has also been replaced by Arabic.
The capital Dushanbe, located in the west of the country, not far from the Uzbek border, has 528,600 residents (1993); second Tajik city is Hodžand (Khujand), which does not reach 200. 000 residents, while Horugh (Khorugh), capital of the autonomous Republic of Gorno-Badahšan, has just 15. 000.