One of the most striking outcomes of the Gorbachev period was the formation of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). The IRP was officially set up in 1991. It grew out of a desire to protect the Islamic identity of the Soviet Union’s Muslims during the 1980s. As such, the party gained a great deal of publicity both within the Soviet Union and amongst policy makers and academics in the West. Initially the party had some noteworthy ideas, such as raising the Islamic awareness and understanding among the Muslims of the Soviet Union, as well as representing them and co-ordinating a united stance towards the Communist regime. However, the party fragmented since it had regional branches for each republic of the USSR. The IRP in Tajikistan has received a great deal of attention, primarily because of the Tajik civil war (1992 – 1997). Mistakenly, many labeled the party as ‘fundamentalist’. The IRP used Islam as a vehicle to mobilize regional and clan support in the Tajik civil war, and not to try and establish and Islamic polity.
The IRP began as an educational group, not a political party, hence it had limited aims and objectives. The IRP leader in Tajikistan, Akbar Turajanzode, frequently stated that the IRP was not seeking the establishment of an Islamic polity, but a secular democracy. Thus the IRP has not tried to ‘Islamize’ Tajikistan. The IRP’s initial importance stemmed from emphasizing that Islam was more important than regional or national affiliations. However the IRP’s development of regional structures undermined this. In Tajikistan, the IRP has been co-opted into the regime and fundamentally weakened by this. It has fragmented over its standing in the present Tajik coalition government. The same has happened in other countries such as Jordan, where the state actively seeks to co-opt such movements in order to weaken them and ensure they pose no threat to the regime or the status quo.