Khodjent (now Khujand), Tajikistan

Also known as Khudzhand, Chodschent (the German name Jacobi used)

Renamed Leninabad/Leninobod in 1936 until 1991

Jacobi’s Stay in Khodjent: December 13 to 20, 1932

Lotte Jacobi, Bikhodzhal Hojiboyeva, the wife of Abdurakhim Khodzhibaev, the first Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Tajikistan, Khodjent (Khujand), Tajikistan, ca. December 13, 1932

Located in Sughd, the northernmost province in Tajikistan, Khodjent has been an important historic site for thousands of years due to its advantageous position on the Syr Darya (a river) at the western end of the fertile Ferghana Valley. This brought the city prosperity as an important stop on the Silk Road, which stretched between the Mediterranean and China. Khodjent is closer (around 100 miles) to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, than it is to the Tajik capital Dushanbe (190 miles). Indeed, Khodjent had been part of the Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) until the USSR redrew the boundaries of its Central Asian states. Khodjent was then transferred to Tajikistan in 1929, since an increased population was needed to make Tajikistan qualify as an SSR. As was typical of the stops on her trip, Jacobi once again arrived in a place when a new phase in its history was being written.

Many of the prominent leaders in Central Asian history figured in the history of Khodjent as well. When Cyrus the Great (ca. 600-530 BCE) expanded the Persian Achaemenid Empire eastward from the Ancient Near East toward the Indus River, he founded Cyropolis in 544 BCE close to, or perhaps where, Khujand is today. In 329 BCE, Cyropolis was one of the cities conquered by Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE); he likewise renamed it after himself (as he did in over 20 other places) as Alexandria Eschate, or Alexandria the Furthest (the furthest northeast in his empire). However, in 1220 Genghis Khan burned the city to the ground. Yet, Khodjent rose to become a prosperous outpost on the Silk Road once more.

Lotte Jacobi, Street Scene with Domed Brick Building in the Background, Khodjent (Khujand), Tajikistan, ca. December 13 to 20, 1932

Central Asia, including what is now Tajikistan, became part of the Russian Empire in 1866, and when it became part of the USSR in the 1920s. Khodjent was renamed Leninabad (also spelled Leninobod) in 1936 until 1991, when Tajikistan became an independent republic. When Jacobi arrived in Khodjent in November 1932, Tajikstan was a newly formed Soviet Socialist Republic (founded in 1929). With the collectivization of farms and increased industrial production that was part of the USSR’s First Five-Year Plan, there was an influx of Russians and Tajiks, the latter of whom had been forced to relocate from other areas of Tajikistan and Central Asia.

Lotte Jacobi, Women on a Street, Khodjent (now Khujand), Tajikistan, ca. December 13 to 20, 1932

Khodjent’s geographical position has been key to its prosperity over the centuries. Crops from the Ferghana Valley, especially cotton, became a primary export, and as part of the USSR, the collectivization of farms during the First Five-Year Plan increased cotton cultivation in the area. Unfortunately, this forced change to maximize cotton cultivation diminished the food crops that the local populace needed to survive, and many died of starvation.

Lotte Jacobi, Woman Working on a Machine in the Silk Factory, Khodjent (Khujand), Tajikistan, ca. December 12-13, 1932

Jacobi visited factories for two important industries in Khodjent: silk textiles and perfume. In the chapter of his book Changing Asia titled "Following Silk Downstream," Jacobi’s friend, the Czech journalist Egon Erwin Kisch, described recent changes in the silk industry he saw in Khodjent. “The last of the old hand-weavers live in the Old City of Khojent [sic.],” he wrote, while the silk factory “Red Weaver” was “a cooperative union, of 413 former home weavers” and “116 workers of both sexes” (120). Kisch also described in detail the new perfume factory, founded just two years before his visit (ca. 1930)--its annual production, new machinery, research lab, and the 3000-acre farm with flowers used to create essential oils (208). Kisch also wrote about the perfume factory in terms of social progress under the Soviet regime:

“Tajik men and women (the women unveiled; but when the whistle blows at the end of the working-day, on go the veils again!) handle with skill the refractometer from Jena, the mixing apparatus from Tashkent. A few years ago the same men were taking part in ‘bull-fights’ with a goat for bull; and the same women were making fuel out of sheep’s dung” (208).

Lotte Jacobi, A Worker Smelling Perfume in a Factory, Khodjent (now Khujand), Tajikistan, December 13, 1932

Jacobi recorded in her Daybook that in Khodjent, she made candid photographs of “streets and various types of people—contrasts” (Jacobi Dec. 12 and 13), as well as the historic district, with its crumbling mosque and fortification walls. In addition, as usual, she was taken to the typical kinds of sites—collective farms and factories (in this case, for silk and perfume)—that were meant to showcase local progress under the Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan. Today, Khujand is the second largest and most prosperous city in Tajikistan, and it continues to be a center for cotton and silk cultivation and textile manufacture.

Map & Cities

Contributor: Eleanor Hight

Works cited:

Abdullaev, Kamoludin. Historical Dictionary of Tajikistan. Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.

Gough, Maria. "Portrait Under Construction: Lotte Jacobi in Soviet Russia and Central Asia." October 173: 65-117.

Jacobi, Lotte. Daybook. Lotte Jacobi Archive, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, Box 33, Folder 1. 

Kassymbekova, Botakoz. Despite Cultures: Early Soviet Rule in Tajikistan. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016.

Kisch, Egon Erwin. Asien gründlich verändert. Berlin: Erich Reiss Verlag, 1932. English version: Changing Asia. Trans. Rita Reil. New York: Knopf, 1935.