Statistically, Tajikistan is the least urban of all the former Soviet republics (see table 3, Appendix). By the 1980s, the republic had nineteen cities and forty-nine "urban-type settlements" (the term used for populated places developed as part of Soviet planning). At the time of the first Soviet census, in 1926, when Tajikistan still was an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan, only 10 percent of its inhabitants lived in cities. By the 1959 census, urbanization had risen to 33 percent. This growth reflected not only the development of Tajikistan in its own right but the resettlement of people from other parts of the Soviet Union to occupy government, party, and military positions. It also reflected an influx of political deportees. Most of the immigrants went to Tajikistan's two largest cities, Dushanbe and Leninobod. During the period before 1960, some populated places also were reclassified as urban or incorporated into an existing city's boundaries, thus creating an impression of even greater urbanization.
The growth of the urban population continued for most of the postwar era. Between the 1959 and 1979 censuses, Tajikistan's urban population more than doubled, while the rural population increased almost as rapidly. However, by the 1970s the rate of rural population growth had begun to outstrip that of urban areas. After reaching a peak of 35 percent in the 1979 census, the proportion of the urban population declined.
According to the 1989 census, although Tajikistan's urban population increased by 26 percent in the 1980s, the proportion of urban inhabitants in the total population declined to 32.5 percent during that period. By the start of 1991, the republic's five largest cities, Dushanbe, Khujand, Kulob, Qurghonteppa, and Uroteppa, accounted for 17 percent of the total population of the republic. Beginning with the 1979 census, emigration from cities exceeded immigration into them. In the 1980s, urban immigration also came predominantly from within Tajikistan rather than from other Soviet republics, as had been the case in earlier decades. As other ethnic groups emigrated from Tajikistan more rapidly beginning in the late Soviet period, the percentage of Tajiks in the cities rose. Nevertheless, Tajiks in Tajikistan were one of the Soviet nationalities least likely to move from villages to cities. Those who did so were usually single men reacting to the scarcity of employment in rural areas.
Tajikistan's largest city, Dushanbe (which was called Stalinabad from 1929 to 1961), was a Soviet-era development. Badly battered in the Russian Civil War of 1918-21, the village experienced a population drop from more than 3,000 in 1920 to 283 by 1924, and few buildings remained intact. Nevertheless, in 1924 Dushanbe was chosen as the capital of the new Tajikistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Centrally planned development projects inaugurated in 1926, 1938, 1965, and 1983 established housing, government office buildings, cultural facilities, and sports and recreational facilities, as well as the municipal infrastructure. With the addition of about 100 factories, Dushanbe also became Tajikistan's industrial center. It is the headquarters of the republic's radio and television broadcasting facilities and film studio. Several institutions of higher education and scholarship are located there.
Soviet-era industrial development projects played a major role in the growth of cities on the sites of former villages. For example, Regar, which was established in 1952, is the center of Tajikistan's vital aluminum industry, as well as several factories dedicated to other activities. Norak and Yovon (Russian spelling Yavan--site of a large chemical plant), were developed as industrial centers near Dushanbe to play specific economic roles in the Soviet system.
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