Although the remains of a settlement dating to the 5th century BC have been found here, modern-day Dushanbe has little history beyond last century. As recently as 80 years ago, Dushanbe (then spelled Dushyambe) was a small, poor village known chiefly for its weekly bazaar (Dushanbe means Monday in Tajik).
In 1920 the last emir of Bukhara took refuge in Dushanbe, fleeing from the advancing Bolsheviks. He was forced to continue his flight early the next year as the Red Army added the Tajik settlement to the expanding Bolshevik empire. The Russian hold was shaken off for a spell when in 1922 Enver Pasha and his basmachi fighters liberated Dushanbe as part of their crusade to carve out a pan-Islamic empire, but following his death in a gun battle in southern Tajikistan, Bolshevik authority was quickly reasserted.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1929, Dushanbe was made capital of the new Soviet Tajik republic and renamed Stalinabad – a name it bore until the historical reinvention of the Khrushchev era. The region was developed as a cotton- and silk-processing centre and tens of thousands of people were relocated here, turning the rural village into a large, urban administrative and industrial centre. The city’s numbers were further swollen by Tajik émigrés from Bukhara and Samarkand, which had been given over to Uzbek rule.
After almost 70 uneventful years of relative peace, if not prosperity, 1990 saw festering nationalistic sentiments explode into rioting, triggered by rumoured plans to house Armenian refugees in Dushanbe. Twenty-two people died in clashes with the militia.
There were further demonstrations in the autumn of 1991, organised by opposition factions dissatisfied with the absence of political change in Tajikistan. The statue of Lenin that stood opposite the parliament building disappeared overnight, and young bearded men and veiled women took to the streets of Dushanbe, calling for an Islamic state.
During the civil war the city remained a capital of chaos. It was kept under a dusk-to-dawn curfew, with armed gangs controlling the roads in and out, and lawless brigands patrolling the streets. Shoot-outs between rival clans were common and most Russians fled the country. Random acts of violence continued through the 1990s (such as the storming of the Presidential Palace in 1997), but by 2002 the situation had stabilised enough to lift the citywide curfew. These days Dushanbe is savouring its peace and on the upswing.