During the Soviet Union, people worshipped Lenin, Marx, Stalin and even their local communist leaders such as Frunze. When the Soviet Union collapsed each country needed to find new national heroes. The rest of the world does it, the Scandinavians have their Nordic Gods, Ireland has St Patrick and England has St George. In this blog we’ll look at Ismoil Somoni (also spelt Ismail Samani), a national hero of Tajikistan.
If you’ve read the other blogs in this series, you’ll get the idea – lots of things are named after each of the countries’ national heroes. In the case of Tajikistan, this might be one of the few countries in the world to name their currency after the county’s hero, the Tajik Somoni. The only other one I can think of is the Venezuelan Bolivar. He also has Tajikistan’s highest mountain named after him as well as a raft of the usuals such as streets, schools, hospitals, shops etc.
Tajiks are a bit of an odd one out in Central Asia – they’re not Turkic like the other main ethnicities, but are in fact ethnically the same as modern Iranians. Those of Iranian descent have long existed in Central Asia, although usually throughout history have ended up in other people’s empires and lands. Even today there is a huge Tajik (Iranian) minority in Uzbekistan. However it was Somoni who is considered to have given the Tajiks their first homeland, much of which is modern day Tajikistan.
Born in the Ferghana Valley, Somoni followed a pretty well-worn path. He came from a family of rulers, however it was his brother who ascended to the throne. Like all good ruthless military leaders of the time, he took the reins of power. Although unlike was the accepted norm at the time, Somoni left his brother alive and allowed him to remain a figurehead leader.
Expanding his power from Bukhara, he fought through modern day Afghanistan and eventually into northern Iran. One of the reasons for this expansion was to defend against the raids of Turks who wanted to re-establish Turkic Shia control over Central Asia. As long as Somoni reigned, Central Asia were to be Sunni Iranian controlled lands. Of course like all good stories of empire, Somoni’s descendants were unable to keep the Samanid Khanate around for long, with it rather quickly disintegrating.