Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

At one point during my fieldwork in Tajikistan, a baby boy died in the family with whom I was living. Shortly after the sad incident, his mother explained to me that children of a young age were nariste—sinless and pure—beings. She told me that she believed her son had been transformed into a colorful bird and was now winging his way through paradise. In commemoration of him, I dedicate this book to all nariste who play, shout, and cry along the Pamir Highway and make the region a lively place of beauty....

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Note on People, Places, and Languages

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pp. xiii-xvi

The names given for all my interlocutors who appear in this book are pseudonyms. I have, however, used real names for well-known public figures. The names of places are real, too. Where they exist, I used the English version of place names. In all other cases, I applied versions that are officially used in the respective local contexts.
The way I address my anonymized interlocutors in this book corresponds to the concrete interactional contexts that I encountered during my fieldwork. In an environment in which several languages meet...

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Prologue. The Moon and the Highway

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pp. xvii-xx

In 2010, during a stay in Murghab, Tajikistan’s easternmost district, my host and friend Nursultan gave me a stack of booklets on Islam. The passage above comes from one of these booklets, entitled Science and Facts Give Evidence: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger.” The story of the alleged conversion of Neil Armstrong, American astronaut and first man to walk on the moon, at a conference in Egypt is popular throughout the region. On the one hand, the story’s reference is emotionally close to the way people in Murghab and other settlements...

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Introduction. Traveling into Thin Air

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pp. 1-16

In 2007, while working for a development project and living in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, I made many friends who traced their origins back to the mountain valleys in the east of the country. The mountains my friends referred to as their homeland, the Pamirs, are located in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO)1 and span the borderlands where Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China meet. GornoBadakhshan is often perceived as an isolated backwater from a Dushanbe...

Part I. Modern Places

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pp. 17-18

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Chapter 1. Modernity and the Road

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pp. 19-35

Nursultan has spent a large part of his life in the army. Back in the Soviet era, he opted for a professional military career and was educated in a military academy in Russia. When civil war broke out in Tajikistan in 1992, he was thankful for having made that choice. By becoming a border guard (pogranichnik), back then a highly popular profession in the Pamirs, Nursultan followed in the footsteps of his father, who had also served at the Afghan border. Surrounded by Afghanistan,...

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Chapter 2. Making Murghab

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pp. 36-66

At the very beginning of my fieldwork, on a summer day in 2008, Murghabi friends put me in touch with Nuraly, an elderly Kyrgyz man who was supposed to be “knowledgeable about local history” (tarikh bilgen adam). Later that day, I went down to the bazaar to look for his mud-brick house in one of the narrow alleys. A short while later I found myself in Nuraly’s living room, sitting on the floor, drinking tea and chatting to a man who had lived through most of the twentieth century in Murghab. While I...

Part II. Sites of Engagement

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pp. 67-68

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Chapter 3. Nasha−Vasha: Ours and Yours

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pp. 69-89

Time is a matter of frequent discussion along the Pamir Highway. Whoever enters a private house or an office not only has to wonder whether the typically Chinese wall clock is accurate, but to also reflect on the particular system of time it follows. While in Khorog most clocks are adjusted to the time of the capital Dushanbe, people in the district of Murghab tend to be divided between those who adhere to the official Tajikistani time and those who insist on the existence of a Murghabi time (Murgab saaty)...

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Chapter 4. Muslims on the Roof of the World

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pp. 90-117

During a lunch at Alikhon’s house in 2013, his mother, a woman in her late fifties, told me that while “we still prayed to the previous imam in Murghab, people abroad were praying to the Imam of our Time [Imomi zamon].” She continued: “I saw his picture for the first time in a magazine somebody had brought along in the ’80s. We were really late in knowing what was going on outside.” Alikhon’s mother is a devout Ismaili and, according to her family, has been that way since long before public displays...

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Chapter 5. The Golden Gate of Tajikistan

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pp. 118-147

Along the Pamir Highway and in other places in Gorno-Badakhshan, painted signs in Tajik and sometimes in Russian read, Badakhshon darvozai tilloii Tojikiston—“Badakhshan is the golden gate of Tajikistan.” As a political slogan, the golden gate metaphor has been around since the beginning of my fieldwork in the region and was, as presidential speeches demonstrate, sanctioned by the government. For instance, in a speech in Khorog in July 2008, Emomali Rahmon used the expression while...

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Epilogue

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pp. 148-154

Over the years of my research in Tajikistan and Central Asia more generally, I have interacted with people from places along the Pamir Highway in cities outside their home villages, the country, and the region. I met students from Alichor in Osh and Dushanbe, men and women from Murghab working in Bishkek, and people from villages at the Chinese border in Europe. In the course of our encounters, many of them mentioned that their classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and friends in these...

Notes

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pp. 155-172

References

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pp. 173-204

Index

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pp. 205-216

Back Cover

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