The civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1997), in addition to being costly and traumatic for the inhabitants of that country, posed serious questions for Iran and Russia as they grappled with momentous changes of their own. The way each dealt with Tajikistan mattered not only in terms of bilateral relations with that country, but also as an element of relations between Tehran and Moscow. By mid-1992, when the civil war began in newly independent Tajikistan, Iran was still in the process of adjusting to politics after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 and the end of its devastating war with Iraq in 1988. Post-Soviet Russia confronted a range of contentious issues relating to the nature and extent of domestic reforms, its general international orientation, and its relation to its fellow successor states. Both Iran and Russia also watched regional conflicts with unease, including the Gulf War of 1991, the continuing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Qarabagh, and the agony of Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the fall of the Najibullah regime in April 1992. Neither Iran nor Russia welcomed the efforts of other countries, including the United States and Turkey, to develop relations with the formerly Soviet republics of Central Asia. Iran found Russia useful as a source of weapons to replenish its depleted arsenal, while Russia welcomed the hard-currency sales to Iran. As Tajikistan’s civil war dragged on, until the peace accord of 1997, additional concerns, such as Russia’s sale of nuclear reactor technology to Iran, differences of opinion about access to the resources of the Caspian Sea, and both countries’ displeasure over the expansion of NATO, also affected the context in which Tehran and Moscow dealt with each other regarding Tajikistan. A range of opinions about what policy to follow toward Tajikistan existed in both countries, but not all of those opinions shaped the policies that Tehran or Moscow actually pursued. This essay will focus on the policies that prevailed, not the alternatives. Tajikistan’s turbulent politics in the 1990s is certainly an important topic in its own right, but that complex subject lies beyond the scope of this chapter. Iran and Russia each regarded Tajikistan with the expectation that it was en titled to exert influence there, as well as in anticipation of deference from the Tajiks. Both countries were confident that common bonds with the inhabitants made this possible and likely. The specific reasons differed, but the resulting

assumptions revealed an underlying similarity of attitudes. These had the potential to fuel a rivalry between Iran and Russia for influence in Tajikistan, but instead, despite occasional friction, the opposite happened. The two countries decided that their own interests were better served by cooperation to resolve the conflict in Tajikistan and work with the factions that came to power through the civil war. Ayatollah Khomeini claimed for Iran the role of spokesman for Muslims everywhere. As he wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev, in a letter published at the start of 1989, ‘We regard the Muslims of the world as the Muslims of our own country, and we always regard ourselves as partners in their fate.’1 In saying this, he did not call for the Muslims of the USSR to overthrow Moscow’s rule. Instead, he praised Gorbachev’s reforms and exhorted him to turn to Islam to replace the discredited Marxist ideology. In post-Khomeini Iran there were still occasional expressions of the claim that Iran should speak for all Muslims, as when Foreign Minister ‛Ali Akbar Vilayati asserted that the international Muslim community admired Iran’s foreign policy.2 However, ‛Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, generally avoided such ambitious claims. In an interview in April 1993 he remarked that unison among the world’s Muslims was a goal but not reality: ‘A degree of cooperation is possible if we do not become idealists, but this total unity, total solidarity, and total cooperation is one of our wishes that will take a long time to be realized.’3 Iranian nationalism and pride in Persian culture were intertwined with claims to leadership of Muslims elsewhere. This was visible in efforts to exert cultural leadership in the newly independent Central Asian states in general, not only in Tajikistan. Although the majority of Tajikistan’s population is Persian-speaking, in the rest of the region speakers of Turkic languages are in the majority. The vast majority of Central Asia’s indigenous inhabitants, regardless of language, are Sunni Muslims, not Shi‛i Muslims as in Iran. Yet Vilayati, speaking about the upsurge of nationalism in Central Asia a few weeks before the Soviet Union dissolved, said that the Central Asian republics

are striving with so much enthusiasm to return to their roots, since the essence of these roots is clearly cultural, and since the illustrious figures of the history of Islam, Iran, and civilization are the symbols of the revival of the national identity of these republics, we thought it would be appropriate for us to participate.4