This article explores two key moments of the contemporary history of Central Asia: in the 1950s, the Soviet politics of forced displacement of mountainous people down to cotton kolkhozes in the Ferghana valley; and in the 1990s, the exile of refugees from the Tajik civil war to Northern Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. From both a historical and sociological perspective, the article analyzes how the displaced population was received in the areas of destination. It sheds light on the concept of ethnicity, in the sense that these migrations were earlier most often analyzed in ethnic terms. This approach does not allow for the apprehension of a complex range of identities based on a nation, a region, a lineage, a religion or a language. The concept of ethnicity seems therefore to limit our understanding of the social dynamics of a region where identity appears to be multiple, changing and constantly renegotiated.