Khodjent (now Khujand), Tajikistan

Also known as Khudzhand, Chodschent (the German name Jacobi used)

Renamed Leninabad/Leninobod in 1936 until 1991

Jacobi’s Stay in Khodjent: December 13 to 20, 1932

Located in Sughd, the northernmost province in Tajikistan, Khodjent has been an important historic site for thousands of years due to its advantageous position at the western end of the fertile Ferghana Valley. This brought the city prosperity as an important stop on the Silk Road, which stretched between the Mediterranean and China. Khodjent is closer (around 100 miles) to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, than it is to the Tajik capital Dushanbe (190 miles). Indeed, Khodjent had been part of the Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) until the USSR redrew the boundaries of its Central Asian states. Khodjent was then transferred to Tajikistan in 1929, since an increased population was needed to make Tajikistan qualify as an SSR. As was typical of the stops on her trip, Jacobi once again arrived in a place when a new phase in its history was being written.

Many of the prominent leaders in Central Asian history figured in the history of Khodjent as well. When Cyrus the Great (ca. 600-530 BCE) expanded the Persian Achaemenid Empire eastward from the Ancient Near East toward the Indus River, he founded Cyropolis in 544 BCE close to, or perhaps where, Khujand is today. In 329 BCE, Cyropolis was one of the cities conquered by Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE); he likewise renamed it after himself (as he did in over 20 other places) as Alexandria Eschate, or Alexandria the Furthest (the furthest northeast in his empire). However, in 1220 Genghis Khan burned the city to the ground. Yet, Khodjent rose to become a prosperous outpost on the Silk Road once more. Central Asia, including what is now Tajikistan, became part of the Russian Empire in 1866, and then the USSR in the 1920s. Khodjent was renamed Leninabad (also spelled Leninobod) in 1936 until 1991, when Tajikistan had become an independent republic. When Jacobi arrived in Khodjent in November 1932, Tajikstan was a newly formed Soviet Socialist Republic. With the collectivization of farms and increased industrial production that was part of the USSR’s First Five-Year Plan, there was an influx of Russians and Tajiks, the latter of whom had been forced to relocate from other areas of Tajikistan and Central Asia.

Khodjent’s geographical position has been key to its prosperity over the centuries. Crops from the Ferghana Valley, especially cotton, became a primary export, and as part of the USSR, the collectivization of farms during the First Five-Year Plan increased cotton cultivation in the area. Unfortunately, this forced change to maximize cotton cultivation diminished the food crops that the local populace needed to survive, and many died of starvation. The area was also important for silk cultivation and textile production. Today, Khujand is the second largest and most prosperous city in Tajikistan, and it continues to be a center for cotton and silk cultivation and textile manufacture.

Jacobi recorded in her Daybook that in Khodjent, she made candid photographs of “streets and various types of people—contrasts” (Jacobi Dec. 12 and 13), as well as the historic district, with its crumbling mosque and fortification walls. In addition, as usual, she was taken to the typical kinds of sites—collective farms and factories (in this case, for silk and perfume)—that were meant to showcase local progress under the Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan.

Contributor: Eleanor Hight

Works cited:

Abdullaev, Kamoludin. Historical Dictionary of Tajikistan. Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.

Gough, Maria. "Portrait Under Construction: Lotte Jacobi in Soviet Russia and Central Asia." October 173: 65-117.

Jacobi, Lotte. Daybook. Lotte Jacobi Archive, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, Box 33, Folder 1. 

Kassymbekova, Botakoz. Despite Cultures: Early Soviet Rule in Tajikistan. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016.