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‘Singing the Tale of Our Pain': Tajikistan's Migration Phenomenon Finds a Home in Music

Screenshot from Nigina Amonqulova – Yori Musofir (2015). Music Video uploaded onto YouTube January 3, 2016.

In jobless Tajikistan, leaving your loved ones behind to take up menial work in Russia is almost a rite of passage. Local pop music, in turn, has become an important medium to reflect on the social transformations triggered by the mass exodus of young men from the former Soviet country.

Намехоҳам аз ватан дур, зиндагӣ мекунад маҷбур,

Макун гиря модарҷонам, қисмати мо чӣ талху шӯр.

Аз ошиқам ҷудо кардӣ, дилам пур аз ғамҳо кардӣ,

Маро тани танҳо кардӣ, ба дардҳо мубтало кардӣ,

Оҳ ғарибӣ!

No desire to leave homeland, but have to,

Don’t cry, dear mother, our fate is that bitter.

I am separated from friends, and love,

My heart full of sadness, I’m lonely and sick.

Tajikistan is home to more than eight million people. It is estimated that more than half of all working age males seek jobs abroad, overwhelmingly in Russia.

According to World Bank data, migrant remittances equate to a greater proportion of Tajikistan's economy (26.9%) than any other economy in the world, bar those of Central Asian neighbour Kyrgyzstan (30.4%) and Nepal (31.3%).

The factors pushing citizens away from the majority-Muslim country are manifold. It is the poorest of the 15 republics that gained independence from the former Soviet Union. Corruption is rampant and public services are in turmoil. For those able to find work, wages are low and often outpaced by inflation.

Ҳар куҷо шодаму шодон, ба ёди Ватанам,

Ҳар куҷо ташнаву ношод, ба ёди Ватанам

Wherever I am happy and joyful, I think of homeland,

Wherever I am thirsty and sad, I think of homeland.

This upbeat music video put together by the International Organisation for Migration and the Tajik government calls on migrants enjoying success abroad to contribute to their homeland's development.

The clip includes footage (from 2.50) of long-serving Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon meeting with compatriots in Moscow.

The reality of most migrants’ lives is far less colourful than the video above suggests.

Working conditions in Russia and other host countries are often poor, with corruption, racism and exploitation at the core of everyday life.

On average, more than one Tajik labour migrant returns home in a coffin every day.

Теппае гӯри бародар, теппае гӯри падар,

Байни он ду теппа бошад ҷойи як гӯри дигар.

Гар бимирам дар ғарибӣ, Тоҷикистонам баред

Father’s grave on one side and brother’s on the other side,

Is there space for one more grave?

Find it! If I die in gharibi, take my body home, to Tajikistan!

For Tajiks, one of Central Asia's longest-settled peoples, the psychological burden of leaving home is impossible to describe.

It is captured in the Tajik word “gharibi”, which represents a mix of misery, loneliness, humiliation and hunger experienced in an unfamiliar place.

Афсӯс, ки дар ин дашту биёбон мурдан,

Дур аз ватану, ҷудо аз хешон мурдан,

So sad to die in this wilderness,

Far from home, far from loved ones.

Saying goodbye to the homeland for good?

It is arguably family members left behind by Tajikistan's Russia-bound migrants that suffer most, however.

Sometimes, men leave for Russia before their wives give birth. In these cases, a child's only connection to his or her father might be through conversations on a messanging app.

For spouses, there is the very real fear of abandonment. Migrants sometimes take new wives in Russia, and occasionally divorce their first wives via SMS messages.

Азизи дури ман, ёри ғарибам, зи оғӯши биҳишт сахт бенасибам,

Мабодо, ки фаромӯшам намоӣ, бигирад тахти бахт ҳамроҳ рақибам.

Love of my heart, who is far from me, leaving me without the embrace of paradise,

I fear your short memory, and that a rival might sit on the throne of my happiness.

While professional pop artists have capitalised on the migration theme to boost their profiles, YouTube is also awash with migration-themed songs performed by migrants themselves.

Як-ду сухане ки дар дилум буд, буромадан,

Чӣ азобойе мекашанд берун ай ватан.

Ҳози боша да фикрум, чида да мулки ғарибум,

Чӣ кор мекунум ма ай шумо дур да и макон,

Чиба дар барум нестед ҳози шумо, очаҷон

I have a few words to say,

Singing the tale of our pain,

Why am I here, in an alien place, far from my mother?

Common to many songs is a call to return to the homeland.

Муҳоҷирбачаи саргардони тоҷик, Наврӯз мерасад,

Дар базми ватан оё, ҷойи ту холист.

Suffering Tajik migrant, Nowruz [the spring equinox] is upon us,

Come to celebrate it at home, you are being missed!

The numbers suggest many migrants are growing less optimistic about the idea of returning home and building a life in Tajikistan.

In 2017 alone roughly 30,000 Tajiks received Russian passports as they look to make their moves north permanent.

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