The first commercial batches of dolls in Tajik national dress have arrived in shops and bazaars across the country in time for the New Year's shopping season, part of an intensified government effort against overt displays of conservative Islam.
Retailers said state consumer-goods and -services agency raids of toy shops in late November drove home the point, and included warnings against the sale of Barbie or other dolls in Islamic head scarves.
Wary of what they describe as a threat from religious extremism, authorities in predominantly Muslim Tajikistan have long banned the Islamic hijab in schools and workplaces as alien to local culture.
More recently, they have tightened controls on Islamic institutions and public displays of faith, including men's beards, baby names, and how women tie their scarves.
In the weeks before the November inspections, U.S.-based toy manufacturer Mattel announced that in 2018 it would introduce a version of its globally recognized Barbie doll in conservative Islamic clothing, known as the hijab, inspired by U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
"We have been told to place orders with our Chinese partners for dolls wearing traditional Tajik costumes," Saodat Doniyorova, who imports toys wholesale from neighboring China, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service.
'Promoting Tajik Culture'
Doniyorova and other private merchants talked about the raids by Tojik-Standart, a state agency regulating consumer goods and services.
"The officials instructed us not to import the Barbie dolls wearing the hijab," Doniyorova said on December 17.
With the widespread support of state-appointed religious figures, the government in Dushanbe promotes Tajik traditional outfits for women.
An official at Tojik-Standart confirmed that the state agency has "advised" the retailers not to import dolls in head scarves and instead place orders with manufacturers for dolls in Tajik traditional costumes.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to brief media, the source said the move was aimed at supporting the government's policies and promoting Tajik culture.
"The promotion of traditional clothes is the policy of our government," the official told RFE/RL on December 17.
"Toys are meant to play a role in children's moral development," the source said. "We prefer to import dolls with traditional clothes to promote our own culture."
The official said "there was not yet a final decision" on a possible official ban on the Barbie in the hijab, "as no one has yet approached us to discuss their import."
Strict Dress Codes
Meanwhile, toy sellers in Dushanbe, Kulob, and other cities said the dolls in Tajik costumes are proving popular with customers as people shop ahead of New Year's celebrations.
"The toys are selling well," says Ismoil Qurbonov, who sells toys in the Sakhovat bazaar in the southern town of Kulob. He added that dolls in the national costume and other dolls were similarly priced.
The Tajik national outfit for women consists of a dress and long pants. The length and width of the dress and the sleeves vary depending on the style.
The new dolls in Tajik toy shops boast several types of Tajik traditional costumes, representing different regions of Central Asia's smallest post-Soviet republic. They sport traditional hats over long, braided hair.
Men in Tajikistan are discouraged from growing long beards, while most of workplaces have introduced strict dress codes, both for male and female employees.
Male employees must adhere to a European-style dress code, while women can choose between Western-style or Tajik traditional outfits.