The Yaghnobi people (Yaghnobi: yaγnōbī́t; Tajik: яғнобиҳо, yağnobiho/jaƣnoʙiho) are an ethnic minority in Tajikistan. They inhabit Tajikistan's Sughd province in the valleys of the Yaghnob, Qul and Varzob rivers. The Yaghnobis are considered to be descendants of the Sogdian-speaking peoples who once inhabited most of Central Asia beyond the Amu Darya River in what was ancient Sogdia.
They speak the Yaghnobi language, a living Eastern Iranian language (the other living members being Pashto, Ossetic and the Pamir languages). Yaghnobi is spoken in the upper valley of the Yaghnob River in the Zarafshan area of Tajikistan by the Yaghnobi people. It is considered to be a direct descendant of Sogdian and has often been called Neo-Sogdian in academic literature.
The 1926 and 1939 census data gives the number of Yaghnobi language speakers as approximately 1,800. In 1955, M. Bogolyubov estimated the number of Yaghnobi native speakers as more than 2,000. In 1972, A. Khromov estimated 1,509 native speakers in the Yaghnob valley and about 900 elsewhere. The estimated number of Yaghnobi people is approximately 25,000.
Their traditional occupations were agriculture, growing produce such as barley, wheat, and legumes as well as breeding cattle, oxen and asses. There were traditional handicrafts including weaving which was mostly done by the men. The women worked on molding the earthenware crockery.
The Yaghnobi people originated from the Sogdians, a people dominant in the area until the Muslim conquests in the 8th century when Sogdiana was defeated. In that period Yaghnobis settled in the high valleys. The Yaghnobi people are Sunni Muslims, and some elements of pre-Islamic religion (probably, Zoroastrianism) are still preserved.
The Yaghnobi NRY portrait is one dominated by the presence of Haplogroup R – its origins remain unclear – and of R1a1, a sublineage associated with Central Asia/South Asia and evidently related to the Kurgan Culture in East Europe or to early Iranian expansion into the area c. 3000 BC. The next most important Y-DNA contribution to the Yaghnobi is that of haplogroup J2, associated with the spread of agriculture in, and Demic diffusion, from the neolithic Near East.
Until the 20th century the Yaghnobis lived through their natural economy and some still do, as the area they originally inhabited is still remote from roads and electrical lines. The first contact with Soviet Union in the 1930s during the Great Purge, led to many Yaghnobis being exiled, but perhaps the most traumatic events were the forced resettlement in 1957 and 1970, from the Yaghnob mountains to the semi-desert lowlands of Tajikistan.
In the 1970s, Red Army helicopters were sent to valleys to evacuate the population, ostensibly because Yaghnobi kishlaks (villages) were considered at risk from avalanches. Some Yaghnobis reportedly died of shock in helicopters as they were moved to the plains. Many were then forced to work at cotton plantations on the plains. As a result of overwork and the change in environment and lifestyle, several hundred Yaghnobis died of disease. While some Yaghnobis rebelled and returned to the mountains, the Soviet government demolished the empty, and the largest village on the Yaghnob River, Piskon, was removed from official maps. Officials also destroyed Yaghnobi religious books, the oldest of which was 600 years old. Yaghnobi ethnicity was officially abolished by the Soviet government. Piskon, the biggest village on the Yaghnob River, was erased from the maps.
Since 1983, families have begun to return to the Yaghnob Valley. The majority of those that remain on the plains tend to be assimilated with the Tajiks, as their children study in school in the Tajik language. The returnees live through the natural economy, and the majority remain without roads and electricity.
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