The primary goal of my anthropological study of Ismaili identity in Tajikistan’s pamir region (gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province, gBao) is to investigate how social and economic transformations have been experienced among the local population. In particular, this research attempts to assess the impact of change on the culture and identity of the people in the gBao in the face of successive influential modernization projects: the Soviet one, the neoliberal development one, and the nation-state. the analyses are conducted with respect to the province’s autonomous status, historically within the Soviet Union, currently within the independent nation-state.

© Małgorzata Maria Biczyk

I am specifically concerned with the pamir Ismailis who adhere to the Shia branch of Islam.
The tajik pamir is a promising region for study, and yet has been underexplored in the anthropological literature. the other name used in my research, Badakhshan, refers to a province of the republic of tajikistan, administratively designated as the gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province (in Russian, Gorno Badakhshansa Avtonomna Oblast, GBAO; in Tajik, Viloyati Mukhtori Kūhistoni Badakhshon,VMKB). This province is part of the wider historical region of Badakhshan, situated among the mountain ranges of pamir and Hindukush (western Himalaya), between china, afghanistan and tajikistan. as such, it has recently gained the attention of researchers, as well as tourists drawn to its dramatic and relatively pristine landscape. the gBao was created as an administrative unit in 1925, and as mentioned my proposed research provides an opportunity to examine the correlation between, on the one hand, modernization based on various development practices and, on the other, the construction of meaning and the defining of boundaries of identity. this correlation between the ‘global’ modernization models and the ‘local’ patterns of living is of great interest to me, especially from the point of view of local cultural dynamics and transformations of identity.

Throughout my thesis I also discuss the effects of Soviet modernization and autonomy status on the construction of collective identities. I seek to compare different modernization patterns imposed on the pamiri people during the last century. Thus, my research aims to understand both how the local people adapt to changes and how they resist them. Above, today constitutes an autonomous region of the republic of tajikistan. It is inhabited mostly by the Pamiri Shia groups, Sunni Tajiks, and Kyrgyz; the most widely spoken languages, next to the nominal tajik, belong to the east Iranian language group. pamir Ismailis represent only a small fraction of the gBao population, although their fellow Shia believers can be found in more than twenty-five countries worldwide. My research is based on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the GBAO and Afghan Badakhshan among the Shogni-rushoni speaking population.the soaring mountain ranges of the pamir, combined with seventy years of communism, have created persistent conditions of cultural and economic isolation in the region. only after the collapse of the Soviet union did the local people gain international attention, beginning with the aga khan development network (akdn). prince aga khan Iv – the founder of akdn and, at the same time, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili group – has influenced many spheres of social and economic life in the gBao through his network of organizations.

Małgorzata Maria Biczyk, M.A., Doktorandin

Abteilung Integration und Konflikt, Max-Planck Institut für ethnologische Forschung


Photo 1: Shogni girls dancing at a folk festival. The color red is worn to signify celebratory
occasions, such as weddings and traditional ceremonies. © Malgorzata Maria Biczyk
Photo 2:  © Malgorzata Maria Biczyk