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Language and Culture of the Baloch in Turkmenistan

Vyacheslav V. Moshkalo, Dept. of Iranian Languages, Institute of


Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

Introduction

In the Republic of Turkmenistan a small national minority lives little known to others
than a narrow circle of scientists and specialists. This national minority is the Baloch.
The Baloch are a people which have a strong sense of unity, sharing a common origin,
history, language, traditions and religion. The Baloch of Turkmenistan are a part of this
people which was divided by the peculiar will of history mainly between three
countries: Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Outside these countries there are rather small
Balochi communities in India, East Africa and Oman. The Baloch are scattered over a
vast territory. The Turkmenian Baloch live in the very north of this vast territory. Only
Baloch in the diaspora, e.g. in Northern Europe live farther to the north.

The Baloch in Turkmenistan

The first Baloch migrants in Russia appeared in the region of Mari in Turkistan, i.e.
in the territory which nowadays belongs to the Republic of Turkmenistan. The
statistical report on Turkmenistan for 1917 - 1920 mentions 936 Baloch living in the
Bayram-Ali district. The Baloch of Turkmenistan mostly came from Afghanistan, from
the Chakhansur district located in the province of Nimruz, in the Sistan area of
Afghanistan. Apart from them there were also a small group of Baloch who migrated to
Turkistan from Iran (from Khurasan). In these migrations there were also some Brahuis
who came together with the Baloch.1
In the 1920s separate groups of the Baloch belonging to different Balochi tribes were
united by Kerim Khan. This Baloch chief was an extraordinary personality. He was a
poor shepherd from the beginning but managed to make a career and to become a
famous, even legendary chief of the Baloch in Turkmenistan. The Baloch of
Turkmenistan, united under his power, at the beginning supported the Soviet power and
being very brave warriors, they helped the Soviet authorities in their struggle against the
Basmachis (counterrevolutionary movement in Turkistan, which lasted actively from
1920 till the mid-30s). At the end of the 20s, because of disagreement with the Soviet
authorities, Kerim Khan together with the majority of his people left Turkmenistan for
Iran or Afghanistan. Nobody knows where he went. I tried to find it out during my trips

1 See also Axenov's article in the present volume.


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to Turkmenistan, but in vain. Kerim Khan's traces should be looked for outside
Turkmenistan, either in Iran or in Afghanistan. It would be very interesting to find out
what happened to him and his people afterwards.
At the present time the Baloch of Turkmenistan live mainly in the districts of
Bayram-Ali and Iolotan of the region of Mari (Mariyskiy velayat). According to the
data of the 1959 census in the USSR, 7 800 Baloch lived in the Soviet Socialist
Republic of Turkmenistan, in the valley of the Murghab river, in the districts of
Bayram-Ali, Turkmen-Kala and Iolotan, and 94,9 % of them considered Balochi to be
their mother tongue. In the 1970 census there were 12 600 Baloch in Turkmenistan, and
91,8 % regarded Balochi as their native language. In the 1979 census there were 18 997
Baloch in Turkmenistan, and 18 633 persons (98,1 %) stated that Balochi was their
native language. There are in 1997 probably approximately 38 000 - 40 000 Baloch in
Turkmenistan, although some give a higher estimation of around 50 000 or even more.
The very strong loyalty among the Baloch to their mother tongue is quite remarkable,
and can at least to a certain degree be explained by their rural way of life. A thorough
investigation of the socio-economic conditions under which this strong retention of the
Balochi language has been possible would be very interesting to carry out.
The Turkmenian Baloch believe themselves to be a part of the big ethnos. For a long
time, however, they were separated from the other Baloch by the "Iron Curtain", and
had practically no contacts with the Baloch of the other countries. In 1934 the Soviet
border with Iran and Afghanistan was closed and this event became a source of many
personal tragedies and disasters. It was unexpected, and those who were in Iran or
Afghanistan making their earnings or visiting relatives could not return to their families.
Thus, parents were separated from children, brothers from sisters etc. It was impossible
for them to unite again. The only reason for that was the "Iron Curtain" along all the
Soviet borders. It was only at the end of the 1980s, with the beginning of Gorbachov's
perestroika and after the disintegration of the USSR that many Turkmenian Baloch got
the opportunity to visit Iran and Afghanistan in order to find their lost relatives and
reunite with them after long years of separation.
The history of the Baloch is the history of constant migrations over vast territories.
However, the lack of a written literary tradition and written sources makes it difficult to
study, not the legendary, but the real history of the Baloch. The Baloch never had an
independent state of their own in the proper sense of the word. The Kalat State could
not be considered a truly independent Baloch state. In spite of the fact that the Kalat
State united many Baloch tribes, it did not exist long and it could not play a prominent
part for the Baloch culture nor for the establishment of a tradition of writing in the
Balochi language.
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From a political point of view, throughout history the Baloch were generally
subdued by the power of stronger and better organized conquerors, and as usual, they
did not pay attention to the Balochi language and culture. Anyway, in spite of all the
complications and peculiarities in the destiny of the Baloch, they have managed not
only to create an enchanting, rich and original culture, but also from many points of
view very interesting and unique literary specimens. To my profound regret, these have
not up till now been described or studied to the extent that they deserve to be. The
masterpieces of the Balochi literature have not to any large extent been translated into
the main world languages.
From this point of view the Turkmenian Baloch are not an exception. They are even
in a worse position in comparison with the others. Not very much has been done to
study their language and culture, even though some studies on the Balochi language and
Balochi culture were made in Moscow and Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg)
during the Soviet period. When it comes to the oral literature of the Turkmenian
Baloch, for example, I. I. Zarubin collected and published a number of folk tales with
translations into Russian.2 It is, however, striking enough that in the twentieth century
not a single book or monograph has been published in Turkmenistan about the Baloch.
It should be said that the disintegration of the USSR has brought for the Baloch of
Turkmenistan more losses and disillusions than joys and achievements, especially in
such fields as education, culture and science. Moscow was always for the Turkmenian
Baloch the force which helped them to stand against the domination of the Turkmens,
and in spite of all the difficulties, they had some opportunities for education (there were
special quotas in different institutes for the Baloch students) and cultural progress. After
the disintegration of the USSR, Moscow ceased to be the centre for Turkmenistan, and
nowadays the Turkmen central government does little for the national minorities living
there.3

Attempts at developing the Balochi language in Turkmenistan

The first alphabet used by the Turkmenian Baloch was based on the Roman script. An
attempt to turn Balochi into a written language was made in the 1930s. A few books
and a newspaper in Roman script were published in Mari and Ashkhabad. There was a
mother tongue education programme for the Turkmenian Baloch. But after switching to
Cyrillic script for minor languages of Turkistan, due to lack of special national policy
towards the minorities, financial problems and the switch of education at all levels to
Russian and Turkmen etc., Balochi was not further developed as a written language.

2 Zarubin, Beludžkie skazki, I-II, see bibliography.


3 Apart from the Baloch there are e.g. about 100 000 Kurds in Turkmenistan.
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During my trips to Turkmenistan I met several old men who could still use that Balochi
Roman script of the 30s.
Fifty years later, at the end of the 1980s, an enthusiast for his mother tongue, a
modest school teacher named Mammad Sherdil, together with his friends worked out an
alphabet for Balochi based upon Cyrillic script. They managed to publish several text
books in Balochi for primary schools and obtain the permission from the authorities to
start an experiment with mother tongue education in one or two schools. Besides that,
Mammad Sherdil and Saidquli Mammadnur initiated the publishing of one full page in
Balochi twice a week in the Turkmenian newspaper of the district called Taze durmush
(New Life).4
These attempts coincide with the period of "perestroika" and disintegration of the
USSR. An independent Republic of Turkmenistan has since then appeared on the
political scene. Thereby a new life began also for the Turkmenian Baloch. But this new
life is characterized by neglect of the Baloch and their cultural life. It should be
mentioned that the Baloch in Turkmenistan never have had any political, social, or even
cultural organizations which could defend their rights and draw the attention of the
authorities to their needs.
It seems that the Turkmenian Baloch are in great need of help from international
organizations and cooperation with Balochi scientific and cultural organizations in other
countries. Nowadays, as far as I know, there are no relations either on state level or on
the level of organizations. I know only of one incident in the past when there was an
attempt at establishing relations between the Turkmenian Baloch and the Baloch of
Pakistan. In the mid 1980s the Union of the Soviet Societies for Friendship and Cultural
Relations with Foreign Countries invited the Balochistan Provincial Assembly speaker
MEr Muhammad Akram Baloch to Moscow. The USSR - Pakistan Friendship Society
organized a trip to Turkmenistan for him. In Ashkhabad he met Baloch students and
took part in one of their traditional gatherings. In addition, he visited the town of Tejen,
where only few Baloch families live nowadays. He was, however, unable to visit the
Mari region where practically all the Turkmenian Baloch are concentrated. After that
there were no contacts on such a high level. MEr Muhammad Akram Baloch's notes
about this trip were published in one of M ht k balo 's editions.5

Notes on the Balochi dialect spoken in Turkmenistan

The Baloch of Turkmenistan speak a dialect of the Balochi language which is very
close to the dialect of the Afghan Balochi. The dialect of the Turkmenian Baloch

4See Axenov's article in the present volume for more details.


5Note also that there are several articles on the Baloch in Turkmenistan in the May 1957 issue of M ht k
balo .
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belongs to the Western Group of Balochi dialects, to the RakhshFnE dialects. The dialect
of the Turkmenian Baloch possesses a number of phonetical and grammatical
characteristics, which are specific to this dialect. Professor Ivan I. Zarubin was the first
scientist who paid attention to these characteristics. Zarubin was a pioneer of Balochi
studies in Russia. In Turkmenistan he selected a group of young talented people and
took them to Petersburg to be educated there.
There are no aspirated plosives at all in this dialect. There are no fricatives /H/ and
/I/ either. The fricatives /f/, /J/ and /x/ are to be found only in late loanwords. The
pharyngeal fricative /h/ is never pronounced, e.g. Asan (Hasan).
The indicative mood of the verb in Balochi has got a rich system of tense forms
which are united by a common modal meaning (i.e. a real action in the present, past or
future), and are opposed to each other on the one hand by aspect and temporal meaning
and on the other hand by person and singular/plural forms. The number of these tense
forms are different in the different dialects of Balochi. The simplest system of the
tenses (with less number of innovated forms) is presented in the dialect of the Baloch of
Turkmenistan. There are only five tense forms to be found in this dialect:

1) Present-future tense (man k r-a kan n 'I work', man-a ra n 'I go')
2) Preterite (simple past) (man k r kurtun 'I worked', man šutun 'I went')
3) Past continuous (man k r-a kurtun 'I was working', man-a šutun 'I was going')
4) Present perfect (man k r kurtá un 'I have worked', man šutá un 'I have gone')
5) Past perfect (man k r kurt-átun 'I had worked', man šut-átun 'I had gone')

There is another indicative tense system in most other Balochi dialects, where there are
no preterite versus past continuous forms. On the other hand continuous forms are
formed with auxiliary verbs, e.g. man rawag -y-un 'I am going' and man rawag -y-atun
'I was going' (RakhshFnE Balochi).6 However, also in the dialect of Zahidan, Iran, this
preterite - past continuous distinction is retained.7
Temporal meaning of the verbal forms is closely connected with aspect, or manner,
of the verbal action. In general, judging by the material I have studied, the tendency to
further distinctions of aspectual and temporal relation in the indicative is very
characteristic to Balochi dialects, especially by means of new descriptive forms such as
the present continuous and past continuous tense forms in RakhshFnE dialects. This
process has progressed more in RakhshFnE than in any other Balochi dialect group. This
may be one of the reasons why RakhshFnE is of increasing importance as a literary

6 For a thorough description of the tense forms occurring in a variety of RakhshFnE spoken in Pakistan,
see Barker-Mengal, vol. I.
7 Information obtained from Carina Jahani.
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vehicle nowadays and why it also potentially could develop into a standard literary
language of the Baloch in the future.
The great importance of a standard literary language cannot be underestimated for
the Baloch. The need of a universally accepted standard to be employed by all Baloch is
urgently felt. The Baloch intelligentsia, intellectuals and literary men are indeed
concentrating more and more effort on this important problem.
In the dialect of the Turkmenian Baloch there is a special inclusive pronoun m šm
'we and you'.8 It is declined in the following way:

Nominative: m šm
Genitive: m šmay
Accusative/dative: m šm r

A three case system governs the declension of nouns and pronouns in this dialect. The
oblique case which is usual for the agent in the ergative construction is not used in the
Turkmenian Balochi dialect, because there is no ergative construction left there. Past
transitive verbs are constructed actively: man tr d stun 'I saw you', br s- sar andent
'his brother nodded his head', mur d wat kit b pa amm w nt- 'Murad read his book
to us', dušman dast-u-p d n baštant 'the enemies tied his hands and feet' etc.
The ergative construction has been eliminated from the dialect, but there are still
traces of it. The enclitic pronoun (or suffixed pronoun) of the 3rd person singular -¬ is
very often used with transitive (and even sometimes with intransitive) verbs: gušt-
'he/she said', kurt- 'he/she did' šut- 'he/she went', jist- 'he/she ran away', zarb k ham
dawle ki m s- gušt kurt- 'Zarbik did the way her mother told her' etc. It should be
pointed out that enclitic (suffixed) pronouns are not commonly used in the dialect of
Turkmenian Balochi as in most Balochi dialects. (Cf. Persian where they are very
common.)
The vocabulary of the Turkmenian Balochi dialect has not been studied properly up
till now. But it is indisputable that the main Balochi lexicon is of Iranian origin, as in all
Balochi dialects. Certainly there are a large number of loanwords. The largest number
of loanwords definitely come from Persian and Arabic (through Persian). The Baloch of
Turkmenistan also borrowed some words form Russian and Turkmen during the Soviet
period of their history. It is difficult to estimate the number of loanwords, because up
till now there is no comprehensive Balochi dictionary. However, based on Zarubin's
collection of Balochi folk tales, Josef Elfenbein compiled A Vocabulary of Marw
Baluchi, where he also gives etymological information for most of the entries.

8 Also found in other Northern RakhshFnE dialects.


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