Tajik historical development is intertwined with that of the other sedentary people of Central Asia, especially the Uzbeks. Before the coming of the Turks to the area and their eventual sedentarization, Iranian groups dominated the urban oases. Islam eventually became universally accepted and Turkic conquerors adjusted their religious and literary culture to that of the local inhabitants whom they ruled. Local (Tajik) administrators continued to dominate in public life under Turkic tribally affiliated rulers. This hybrid Turko-Iranian culture dominated the important oases towns, especially Bukhara and Samarkand. Bilingualism—Tajik and (Turkic) Chagatay or Uzbek—was widespread both on the literate and nonliterate level through the early twentieth century. Most Tajik areas fell under the Bukharan and Khokand khanates until the latter was destroyed by czarist forces in 1876 and incorporated into the Turkestan governor-generalship. Resistance to czarist, then Bolshevik rule gained strength in Tajik areas where Basmachi bands of Uzbeks and Tajiks were finally stamped out only in 1932. With the division of Soviet Central Asia along ethnolinguistic lines in 1924, a Tajik Autonomous SSR was set aside within the Uzbek SSR and this, by 1929, became a full-fledged Tajik SSR. Most of the educated and elite Tajiks lived in Bukhara and Samarkand and made the transition to Dushanbe and other Tajik territory with reluctance. Both the status and the size of the Tajik population in these two cities are sources of conflict; many Tajiks feel that these cities, together with Khiva, as traditional Tajik centers of culture, should be part of Tajikistan.
Disentangling a distinct Tajik culture from the Uzbek culture around it—and from non-Soviet Persian culture—became the focus of cultural activity during the Stalinist period. Separate Tajik institutions, organized on the All-Union model, labored to use valley dialects, history, and especially archaeology to create a Tajik history delinked from Islam and distinct from other Central Asian culture. Thawing of Soviet-Iranian relations led to ever-closer Iranian-Tajik cultural relations; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979) saw increasing Tajik tutelage of Afghans in Kabul as well as in Dushanbe. Important in this international cultural linking have been Russians and Russianized Tajiks. The Uzbek-Tajik bilingual pattern has been replaced by a Tajik-Russian one. Tension is growing today between the Tajiks and Uzbeks, owing in part to attempts by the latter to increase their power in Tajikistan.