Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast

Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO)

The Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast is the official name of the Tajik half of the region of Badakhshan, the other half being in Afghanistan to the south. It is divided from Afghanistan through the Pyanj River in the south and borders China in the East as well as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the North and West. The region (oblast) is almost completely mountainous, holding essentially no fertile land. The region consists of the largest mountains in the Pamir and Tien Shan ranges up to 7,500m (26,000ft). The most popular and well-developed route in the region”Pamir Highway“, running from Osh in Kyrgyzstan to Dushanbe. Yet this route is mostly unpaved and difficult to travel. To enter or leave GBAO one must cross this highway that has multiple passes of 3,000-5,000m. 


The ancient residents of the GBAO belonged to Proto-Iranian cultures and were for a time ruled by the Scythians. The armies of Alexander the Great tried conquering Badakhshan around 250 B.C, and though their reign was short-lived, they built many forts and towns, which can still be visited. Heir of his soldiers settled in the area, and residents of the Wakhan and Pyanj valleys proudly claim Greek lineage to this day. GBAO was later a member of many empires, including the Arab caliphate (which introduced Islam) and the Samanids Empire. It forms the historical basis of the modern Tajik State. The region was one of the last to be conquered by the Russian Empire during the Great Game time, in 1895. It was a vassal of Russia until invaded by Soviet troops in 1920.

In 1925, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast was officially formed. In 1929 fused with the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. Some changed in the high mountain areas during Soviet rule, though many ethnic Pamiris were forcibly relocated to southwest Tajikistan. The province was heavily involved in the Tajik civil war of 1992-1997, during which it declared independence, suffering terrible losses. You can still see the signs of the conflict, like destroyed tanks along the Pamir Highway. As a result, the province was given nearly absolute autonomy, to end the war and stop the breakup of Tajikistan. However, today the area is completely peaceful and there is no conflict between GBAO and Dushanbe.


The people living in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast are known as Pamiri. Pamir people are ethnically and culturally close to the Tajik people. They speak many different dialects of the Persian language. Although the province makes up 45% of the land area of Tajikistan, it represents only 3% of the population (about 200,000). The people density is also extremely low at one person per 2.5sq km. Economic activity is mostly related to livestock herding and mining. Most Pamiris and Kyrgyz here live a sustenance lifestyle. It is entirely autonomous from the central Tajikistan government, having its police, military, and tax systems. Its capital is Khorog. 


Pamiris belong to the Persian ethnic group linked to the Tajiks. From whom they believe themselves separate, partially this is due to their mountainous lifestyle. Besides, there is a large mix of people and ethnic diversity for centuries, an endless number of civilizations and empires have been wandering and trading along these roads, commonly known as the Silk Road. Although essentially Pamiris are primarily Sunni Muslims, whereas most Tajiks are Shi’a Muslims. You might also notice the large group of Kyrgyz, not Tajiks, an ethnic group with heavy Mongolian features, while Tajiks are closer to Iranians and Afghans. Pamiris language is Tajik which is a dialect of Persian. Their culture is quite similar to that of Tajiks, sharing the same basic cuisine and domestic life.

Natural Environment

The natural environment of GBAO is within the most extreme mountainous in the world. Almost the entire region sets in a very high altitude, with few areas below 3,000m (10,000ft). Magnificent mountain peaks and ranges mount over dry valleys and plateaus. British explorers give the name of “rooftop of the world” due to its high altitude incredible landscape. Extensive and impressive glaciers sharpen down steep slopes, producing wild rivers that roar through narrow canyons. There almost no forests because most of the region is above the tree line. Just grasses and small shrubs survive in the highlands. The highest peaks lie in the Pamir mountains including Ismoil Somoni peak 7,495m and Lenin peak 7,135m.  

The most impressive river is the powerful Pyanj runs here. It starts from the Chinese border to the Aral Sea, crosses through a deep canyon, and separating the Tajik border with Afghanistan. The two well-known lakes lie here, gigantic salty lake Karakol and stunningly gorgeous like Sarezkol. Many mineral hot springs dot the countryside, some with developed infrastructure. 

Page last updated 14.01.2021

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