At the Service of the State. Soviet-Afghan War veterans in Tajikistan, 1979-1992

  • Markus Balazs Goransson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis focuses on Soviet-Afghan War veterans (shorthanded afgantsy) in Tajikistan, a small mountainous republic that shares with Afghanistan both a 1300-kilometre border and close linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. It seeks to write the veterans into socio-economic and political developments in Tajikistan in the late Soviet period and, in doing so, to explore the veterans’ involvement with institutions and discourses of state power in an era that saw considerable political change both in Tajikistan and in the Soviet Union more widely. Drawing on interviews with a large number of veterans and documentary sources that have not previously been subjected to academic study, it argues that, far from challenging the Tajikistanis’ attachment to Soviet state structures and discourses, service in the Afghan War reinforced this attachment in important ways. The dynamics of irregular warfare widened the cleavage between Tajik troops and Afghan civilians despite cultural and other links and brought Soviet soldiers into mutual dependency that crossed cultural boundaries. After their service, the afgantsy were made an object of official policy and drawn into state institutions that promoted a collective afgantsy identity enmeshed with state discourses. State bodies reactivated rhetoric that was familiar to the afgantsy from their adolescence and fostered a public identity that gave them collective agency in a situation of geographic and socio-cultural fragmentation. The state co-optation seems to have been effective and defined veteran activism even in the politically more pluralist perestroika era. The close connection between state and veterans set the stage for the latter’s political fragmentation in the early 1990s, when state decline robbed the afgantsy of organisational strength and discursive cohesion. The Afghan War, by and large, was not a radicalising force but had important conservative effects on soldiers who depended on official sponsorship for group cohesion, political recognition and material support
Date of Award22 Mar 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJenny Mathers (Supervisor) & Ayla Gol (Supervisor)

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