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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tajikistan's President Changes His Name

Amid a series of idiosyncratic decrees aimed at removing traces of Soviet influence, Tajikistan's president has announced that he has dropped the Slavic "ov" from the end of his surname and that, henceforth, the same must be done for all babies born to Tajik parents.

Most Tajiks added a Slavic ending to their surnames when the country came under Soviet rule.

The president, Emomali Rakhmon -- formerly Rakhmonov -- said names should be according to "historical traditions," and he also urged parents to drop from birth certificates Slavic patronymics that commonly end with "ovich" or "ovna."

Rakhmon this week also banned certain school holidays and traditions associated with the Soviet period, including a holiday known as Den Bukvarya, or ABC Book Day, when toddlers gather in a circle to read aloud, and graduation festivals when teenagers celebrate their last day at school by singing, dancing and partying all night.

Rakhmon said he was concerned about the "pompous" and "excessive luxury" of school festivities, his press service said.

Rakhmon, who has long criticized rich Tajiks for displaying their wealth by carrying expensive cell phones and wearing gold teeth, also ordered all university students to leave cell phones and cars at home, saying they distracted from academic study.

The Tajik leader will technically remain "Rakhmonov" until he registers his name officially with the justice authorities, but the presidential web site and the state news agency Khovar have already switched to his new name.

The changes are unlikely to concern Russia, since it is Tajikistan's key regional ally and trading partner. While cultivating warm relations with Moscow, Tajikistan, which speaks a dialect of Farsi, has also sought to revive its Tajik identity and pre-Soviet traditions, with Rakhmon advocating closer cultural ties with Iran and Afghanistan.

Rakhmon won a third seven-year term in November in a presidential election widely dismissed as a farce. But Tajikistan's political culture has not produced the sort of bizarre, ethnocentric governing style that developed in nearby Turkmenistan, where Saparmurat Niyazov, the dictatorial leader also known as Turkmenbashi (Father of All Turkmens), died three months ago.

Tajiks reached by telephone in Dushanbe, the capital, said the president's decrees had little popular support but had engendered confusion and mild annoyance.

"It doesn't matter to me to say the truth, I'm not thinking about it," said Shamsiyna Ofaridyeza, 30, an accountant in Dushanbe who is five months pregnant. "But if the president says we have to use Tajik names, then I'll change my baby's name. What else can I do?"

Ofaridyeza and her husband have Tajik surnames made to sound more Russian.

Ofaridyeza was more supportive of the ban on students driving cars and carrying cell phones. "Students are not studying," she said.

"They are too busy sitting on their cars showing off. But you know, we are a democratic people, and everyone should be able to name his baby what he wants."

NYT, Reuters, AP