Introduction to the Pamirs and GBAO
Hermann Kreutzmann

The special status of the autonomous oblast of Gorno-Badakhshan is strongly linked to the events of the "Great Game" between Russia and Great Britain in the Pamirs. Superpowers in the region in the final decades of the 19th century, these two countries formed a so-called Pamir Boundary Commission in 1895 to define the Pamiri borders of the Russian Empire, the buffer zone of Wakhan and the nearest region where both partners and enemies would meet. The Pamirs, a remote and economically not particularly valuable region, thus became a frontier outpost of strategic importance and a target for arriving and departing refugees.
After the 1917 October Revolution the Pamir region was incorporated into the Turkestan ASSR as the Vilajat Gorno-Badakhshan in 1923. Two years later, the Western and Eastern Pamirs were combined to form a special Pamir region and renamed during a congress in Khorog (Nov. 1925) as the Gorno-Badakhshanskaja Avtonomnaja Oblast' (GBAO). The area of GBAO was then expanded, and by October 1932 five rajon had been established: Ishkashim, Murghab, Roshan, Shughnan and Kala-i Khum. A sixth rayon, Vanj, was included in 1938.
The ideology of autonomy attributed a special status to certain regions under the Soviet system, mainly to those identified as being inhabited by ethnic minorities or nationalities. Autonomy incorporated restrictions, for example for travel and migration, etc., but it also conferred a number of privileges. These were directed to autonomous regions in order to support the improvement of literacy, nutrition, health status, etc. Socio-economic development in "mountainous Badakhshan" during the Soviet period helped GBAO to become an outstanding region in comparison with its neighbours, such as Afghan Badakhshan. A higher than average number of academics, intellectuals, professionals and technicians originated from GBAO.
After independence and the end of the Cold War GBAO's special autonomous status remained in force, although the majority of restrictions and privileges were abolished. Having an area of 63 710 km2, present-day GBAO covers 45% of the area of the Republic of Tajikistan, yet the sparsely populated mountain oblast accommodates only 3 % of the country's population.
The oblast is roughly separated into two parts: the Western and Eastern Pamirs. In the Western parts we find deeply incised valleys and the villages of Pamiri mountain farmers who in the main belong to Eastern Iranian language groups. Nearly every valley features its own language. All rivers flow westwards to the Panj or Amu Darya.
The Eastern part, administratively named Murghab rayon, has a plateau-like landscape. Predominantly Kirghiz livestock herders live here, speaking a Turkic language. With an area of 38442 km² and a population of about 16000, the Eastern Pamirs are particularly sparsely populated. The language divide between East and West is enhanced by the division of denominational groups between Ismaili and Sunni Muslims. In addition, traditional economic practices are different in the two areas, with mountain farming in the West and nomadism in the East.
The only urban centre is Khorog at the confluence of the Shakdara and Gunt rivers, while most settlements are located in the narrow and steep valleys. Murghab is the administrative and economic centre of the Eastern Pamirs. Road connections exist through the Pamir Highway (Osh-Murghab-Khorog), and from Khorog via Kala-i Khum towards Dushanbe crossing the Saghirdasht Pass (only seasonally open), or on a new all-weather route along the Amu Darya via Kulyab. The valleys are accessible to motorized vehicles on secondary roads, and the same applies for the grazing grounds in the Eastern Pamirs.

History of Murghab town and the Pamir highway
Hermann Kreutzmann

Murghab's place in history originates from the actions of early Russian military explorers who founded an outpost in the Pamirs named Shah Jan in 1891. Two years later this was renamed Pamirski Post (3640m) and became one of the hotspots from which the so-called "Great Game" between Russia and Great Britain then operated.
The military and administrative headquarters of the Russian troops, the town remained a stronghold for more than a century. Pamirski Post also became known as a market for Russian goods and for traders from Kashgar and Osh.
The 1917 October Revolution in Russia was felt with some delay in the Pamirs. Murghab lost its function as an international trade centre by 1930, when government regulations restricted trade with China and introduced a separate supply system. All links with China and Afghanistan were subsequently severed for six decades.
Murghab gained in importance in 1934, when the magistrale between Osh and Khorog, one of the early major roads in the Inner Asian mountain belt, was completed. The development of Murghab as a centre of the Eastern Pamirs took off in the aftermath of the completion of the Pamir Highway. Infrastructure development, including of agriculture, services and supplies, schools and hospitals, etc., linked the Eastern Pamirs with Soviet society and increased the development gap with neighbouring regions.
At independence, Murghab had grown to be the principal centre of the Eastern Pamirs. The end of Soviet subsidies and the withdrawal of the Russian military have led to a severe decline in living conditions and an increase in unemployment and migration. On the other hand, the reopening of a private bazaar and permission for individual trade have allowed new opportunities for entrepreneurship within the state and across borders.
Businessmen from Murghab now engage in annual trade fairs with their Kirghiz neighbours in Afghanistan, regularly visit the bazaars of Osh, and expect prosperity from the newly established road connection with Tashkurghan in China across the Kulma Pass.