The Yaghnobi people (Yaghnobi: yaγnōbī́t; Tajik: яғнобиҳо) 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.
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 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.
Red Army Helicopters were sent to valleys, ostensibly as there was an avalanche threat, to evacuate the population. Some Yaghnobis died of shock in helicopters as they were moved to the plains. They were then forced into hard-labor by Communist officials to work on the cotton plantations on the plains. Some Yaghnobis rebelled, with a few groups escaping back to the mountains, but Communists destroyed all kishlaks (villages) in the valleys to prevent any attempts to return. In an attempt finally to eradicate the group, Communists tried to annihilate the ancient Yaghnobi culture, by destroying Yaghnobi religious books, the oldest of which was 600 years old. Piskon, the biggest village on the Yaghnob River, was erased from the maps, and Yaghnobi ethnicity was officially abolished by the Soviet State. Through the change in climate and back-breaking work, several hundred Yaghnobis died of disease.
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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