Against the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of Pamir the environmental devastation resulting from negligence and misguided policies of the communist era abound. It seems that at least in Central Asia communism did not die a lonely death.
The conquest of Bashkiria in the trans-Ural region lasted nearly two centuries, 1552-1740, as the terrain including the eastern portion of the Russian Plain, the western slopes of the Ural range, the southern section of these mountains and part of the Western Siberian Lowland were eventually reduced to the present-day autonomous republic of Bashkiria
Following the conquest of the Astrakhan khanate by the troops of Czar Ivan the Terrible in 1556 the Russians followed a two tier policy. On the one hand, through direct attacks and annexation, they incorporated vast areas into the Czarist territory in the trans-Ural, while at the same time they carried out preparatory work for future conquests disguised as diplomatic or trade missions in Central Asia.
Suffice is to say, that like Imam Shamil in Caucasia, Central Asia made its own contributions to the cause of freedom and added the names of its own sons to the archives of history like Junaid of Khiva, Amin of Ferghana, Kur-Shirmat, Ibrahim Beg and other leaders of the so-called "Basmachi Revolt" whose heroic legacy of resistance continued well into the 1920s. But their efforts were in a way a culmination of the Muslim nationalist movements that stemmed from the Tatars and the Azeri Turks earlier in the century.
The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 proved to be as much the climax of Russian empire-building as the beginning of its end. The bloody chapter of the Czarist tyranny that the Soviets elevated to its tragic heights was doomed to fail. History was to prove, once again, that rulers and ideologies come and go, but nations last, and in this instance Homo Sovietecus would eventually succumb to Homo Islamicus in the heartland of Asia.
Murmurs in the Heartland of Asia … Freedom on the Horizon
Half a Millennium of Religious Intolerance:
Russian-Muslim Conflicts in Central Asia
By Zaman S. Stanizai
Political Editor, Asian Affairs – The Minaret
The Russians are leaving! The Russians are leaving?
Murmured a 65 year old Tajik with the appearance of an 85 years old in whose face one could read the signs of disbelief, relief, frustration and hope. Unlike the hopes and dreams of many of his ancestors wishing that one day the Russian settlers would be leaving the Tajik homeland in droves, he merely whispered to himself the often repeated phrase of these days: The Russians are leaving! The Russians are leaving? But in spite of the many thousands of Russians who have left Tajikistan in the past few years, in spite of the fact that communism, "the irreversible revolutionary ideology of the toiling masses," has been reversed, and in spite of the fact that there is no more a USSR, an air of uncertainty still looms over the city streets and dusty town of Central Asia.
Czarist and communist oppression have left deep scares in the psyche of the people as well as in the beautiful landscape of the high mountains of Central Asia. Against the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of Pamir the environmental devastation resulting from negligence and misguided policies of the communist era abound. It seems that at least in Central Asia communism did not die a lonely death. The Aral Sea is drying, adjacent valleys, once lush with life, are dying, soil salinity threatens vegetation, toxic waste dumping in and around Lake Balkhash has added to the long list of endangered species and has sent others to oblivion, abandoned radio-active sites of the Soviet military-industrial complex have increased unidentifiable diseases especially among women and children.
But in view of the long traditions of survival in the face of natural calamities, ruthless invasions, and mass migrations, the damage caused by the legacy of communism seem temporary. Too temporary, in deed. Events of the recent past in Central Asia may not be indicative of a hopeful prospect, but every cloud has a silver lining, even in the blue skies of Central Asia.
Another grim reminder of a bygone era is the presence of many out of place Russian settlers around Tajikistan and the other Central Asian republics. The hopes of the early generation Tajiks for freedom did not materialize with the fall of the Russian Empire as the Bolsheviks reneged on their promise. Could it be different this time around? Not if Russian settlers are still in command of the economy, politics, and the military; and certainly not if Moscow still plays king maker by supporting and protecting ardent communists in the government against the democratic resistance.
In the eyes of many Central Asians, in a broader historical context, geography has been public enemy number one. Geographic isolation gave Central Asia only a temporary relief and sanctuary from early European colonialism, but this inaccessibility did not prevent Russia's designs on the region.
Russia's eastward expansion beyond Caucasia and trans-Ural left the semi-nomadic people in the northern part and the urban centers in the southern part of Central Asia exposed and unaided in the face of merciless Russian attacks. Unlike the western Tatar borders that were defined by the natural borders of the Crimean Peninsula, or the impassability of the Caucasus mountains that hindered Russian invasions, or the Ural mountains that temporarily restrained Russian advances on the Bashkirs, the Central Asian plateau, without such geographic barriers, was all together a different matter.
The conquest of Bashkiria in the trans-Ural region lasted nearly two centuries, 1552-1740, as the terrain including the eastern portion of the Russian Plain, the western slopes of the Ural range, the southern section of these mountains and part of the Western Siberian Lowland were eventually reduced to the present-day autonomous republic of Bashkiria (Donnelly 1968: 6). In pursue of fur and other resources Russian enterprisers such as the Stroganovs, sought land grants in the Ural region. Local Bashkirs objected to the occupation of their lands and in 1572, Bashkirs, Mari, Udmurts, Ostiaks (Khanti), and Nogays opposed the building of the Stroganov settlements along the Kama (Miller 1937: 221). The Bashkirs along with the Nogays in opposition to the building of the towns of Ufa and Samara in their territories attacked Russian frontier settlements in 1587 (Russkaia istorichskaia biblioteka… 1872-1927: 2, 283). Again during the disorders of the Time of Trouble the Bashkirs took the opportunity to rise against the Muscovites. Tatars, Chuvashes, Mari, Udmurts, and others joined them. The whole eastern frontier flamed into war against the Russians as towns and settlements were besieged and burned (Materialy BASSR… 1846-72: 6, 261).
Following the conquest of the Astrakhan khanate by the troops of Czar Ivan the Terrible in 1556 the Russians followed a two tier policy. On the one hand, through direct attacks and annexation, they incorporated vast areas into the Czarist territory in the trans-Ural, while at the same time they carried out preparatory work for future conquests disguised as diplomatic or trade missions in Central Asia. Several such missions went to Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarkand in 1565 which were reciprocated by the Central Asian states (Rywkin, 1982: 3).
During the reign of Czar Peter the Great two opportunities availed themselves to Russia's design on Central Asia. One was a rumor of the discovery of gold deposits in the Amu Darya on the border of modern Afghanistan and the second was an odd request for Russian protection by Shah Niaz of Khiva, who was involved in an endless war with his rivals (Rywkin 1982: 4). Peter responded to the request in 1717 by sending an expedition under the command of Prince A. Bekovich-Cherkasskii. These attempts, however, came to a temporary halt with the death of Peter in 1725.
The most important project after the death of Peter the Great was the Orenburg Expedition under State Councillor Kirillov for the establishment of the garrison town of Orenburg as a Russian military outpost at the junction of the Or and Ural rivers. This is considered as "one of the most outstanding events in the Russian history, ranking in importance not far behind the conquest of Kazan" (Kolarz 1955: 256).
Russia's expansion resumed following its victory over Napoleon under Czar Alexander. In 1822 the khanate of the Middle Horde was abolished and their territory was divided into units with a mixed Russian-native administration. The Lesser Horde in the Kazakh Steppe met the same fate in 1824 triggering a second anti-Russian revolt in 1827-29 by Kaip Gallia Ishim, son of a former khan of the Lesser Horde who accepted the sovereignty of the khan of Kokand. Several revolts by the Middle Horde in 1832-36 and by the Bukeev Horde in 1836-38 followed. Following a Russian ban on Kazakh cultivation of their lands and restriction on traditionally nomad cattle breeders and the confiscation of their lands by the Cossacks, a large scale revolt in northern Kazakhstan in 1838 kept the area in turmoil until the middle the 19th century.
Russian attempts to establish diplomatic and commercial ties with the three major states in Central Asia, Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand, continued. In 1803 an armed caravan under Lieutenant Gaverdovskii tried to reach Bukhara or even Kabul from Siberia, but, on encountering Kazakh resistance, turned back. (Rywkin 1982: 8) Subsequently several Russian missions reached Central Asia. In 1819 Captain Muraviev reached Khiva (Khalfin 1974: 18), and in 1820 a Greek in the Russian service, Negri, reached Bukhara.
Russian expansionist policy entered a new stage with the appointment of Perovskii as governor of Orenburg in 1833. Two years latter Jan Witkewicz was sent by the Russian government to Bukhara and from there to Afghanistan where he stayed from 1837 to 1839 to counteract British intrigues. Russian and British meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan lead to the 1839 British invasion of Afghanistan and the First Anglo-Afghan War, resulting in a humiliating defeat and expulsion of the British in 1842.
The Russians used the British invasion of Afghanistan as a pretext and General Perovskii was given orders to move on Khiva, with a 6,000-man expeditionary force that included Bashkirs and Kazakhs as auxiliary troops along with their 12,000 camels (Rywkin 1982: 8-9). Like the British who lost 17,500 of their troops with 2,000 camels in January 1842 (Ghobar 1967: 560-61), the Russians also failed in their invasion of Khiva and lost over a thousand men and almost all the camels in the desert (Rywkin 1982: 9).
Although both Russia and Britain had a difficult start, neither gave up their colonial ambitions. Britain continued its penetration of Afghanistan while new Russian missions went to Bukhara and Khiva. Meanwhile, despite numerous attempts by Russian merchants, commerce between Russia and the khanates remained in the hands of Central Asian merchants, as the Russians encountered too many obstacles in dealing directly with the Muslims (Rozhkova 1963: 139).
In the mid-seventeen century most of Central Asia consisted of three khanates: Bukhara with the Zarafshan Valley and the historic cities of Bukhara and Samarkand in its heartland; Khiva, consisting of Karakalpaks, Turkmen, Kazakhs, and Uzbeks to the west; and Kokand occupying the vast territories between the Syr Darya and the Chinese Sinkiang Province. Avoiding direct hostilities with Bukhara and Khiva, the Russians "started a series of local operations at the Kokand borders. Moving south along the Syr Darya River toward the Kirghiz mountains. They took Tokmak and Pishpek in 1860, Djulek and Yany Kurgan in 1861, Turkestan City, Aulie-Ata, and finally Chimkent in 1864. In Kokand Khudayar Khan's betrayal resulted in the proclamation of his son, Nasreddin as the khan of Kokand leading to an unsuccessful revolt against the Russians. Subsequently Makhram, Ferghana Valley, Namangan, Adnijan, Kokand, and Marghelan were lost to the Russians as the whole of Kokand khanate was annexed in 1876 (Rywkin 1982: 11-13).
The resistance in Khiva met a similar fate. After the massacre of the defenders of Geok-Tepe with their families in January of 1881 by 11,000 Russian troops under Skobelev, events continued a rapid down turn as in 1884 the last strongholds of native resistance, the Turkmen oasis of Marv and Tedjen recognized Russian authority (Rywkin 1982: 14).
In addition to its military objectives Czarist Russia's policy toward Central Asia was based on three strong economic factors, namely markets, cotton, and surplus land.
Central Asian markets had long been targets of Russian trade expansion. They were even more so with the advent of industrialization where Russia was in a more advantageous position vis-à-vis its Central Asian trade partners.
Cotton was a different matter. Following the American Civil War and the rapid increase in the price of cotton, Russia which imported 96% of its cotton needed an alternative source of cotton supply and Central Asia was a prime target. This reorientation reduced Russian dependency on foreign cotton to 48.7% in 1914 by which time the area under cotton cultivation grew from 13,000 hectares in 1886 to 597,200 hectares (Arkhipov 1930: 86-87). This situation reduced the acreage of land for grain cultivation and created an economic dependency in Central Asia much desired by Russia since now grain had to be imported from Russia.
The situation worsened with the rapid increase in the number of Russian settlers in Central Asia. A commission sent to Turkestan in 1902 found that large areas of land in the steppe of Semireche were "not needed" by the natives and could qualify as surplus land. It was also understood that Russian farms required much more land than native farms because Russian peasants used extensive methods of agriculture and planted mainly grains (Kaufman 1903: I vii).
The taking over of "surplus lands" was most often done under harsh administrative pressure and resulted in forcing the natives out of their own land. Not only nomads, but even settled Kazakhs and Kirghiz were faced with these measures. The taking over of "surplus lands" was again accelerated after a visit to the area by Prime Minister P. A. Stolypin in 1910. It is estimated that between forty and forty-five million hectares of Kazakh land were taken over prior to the Revolution. The main areas of seized land were western, northern, and eastern Kazakhstan and, after 1905 Semireche and Syr Darya as well. The land expropriation resulted in yearly famines among the Muslims between 1910 and 1913 (Asfendiarov 1936: 184).
That the Kazakhs are a minority in their own republic today while the Russians run the state apparatus is the result of such Czarist policies that have continued uninterrupted under the communists.
During World War I the Czarist government, badly in need of manpower, began to draft Central Asian Muslims into labor units. A revolt flared in Kazakhstan under the leadership of Amangeldy Imanov, Abdu Gafar Dzhmabosyn, and Kasym Ospan. The revolt spread to the Dzhizak District of Samarkand and to the Ferghana Valley. The total number of rebels may have reached 50,000 by October. In November they almost took the town of Turgai, but failed and returned to the steppes (Brainin 1936: 50). General Kuropatkin's orders as a punitive measure were to expel all the natives who took part in the revolt from their land into eastern Kyrghizia and their lands were to be opened to immediate Russian settlement. The resettlement decision was carried out while the revolt was still in progress. As a result a quarter of a million Kazakhs and Kirghiz fled to Chinese Turkestan or died of famine (Asfendiarov 1936: 77 ff., 101-5).
The Uzbeks, Turkemen, Kirghiz, and Tajik encountered similar atrocities in the hands of Russians details of which are beyond the scope of this article. Suffice is to say, that like Imam Shamil in Caucasia, Central Asia made its own contributions to the cause of freedom and added the names of its own sons to the archives of history like Junaid of Khiva, Amin of Ferghana, Kur-Shirmat, Ibrahim Beg and other leaders of the so-called "Basmachi Revolt" whose heroic legacy of resistance continued well into the 1920s. But their efforts were in a way a culmination of the Muslim nationalist movements that stemmed from the Tatars and the Azeri Turks earlier in the century. The leaders of this movements known as jadids were Abdurauf Fitrat, Munnever Quari, and Faizullah Khodzhaev as organizers of the "Young Bukharans," an anti-Russian movement aspired by the "Young Turks" of the Ottoman Empire.
In its attempt to expand further south, the first direct Russian attack against Afghanistan occurred in the Panjdeh Province in 1885, a feat that was to be repeated nearly a century later with much greater military force, diplomatic intensity, ideological fervor, and even greater consequence for Russia. The invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 proved to be as much the climax of Russian empire-building as the beginning of its end. The bloody chapter of the Czarist tyranny that the Soviets elevated to its tragic heights was doomed to fail. History was to prove, once again, that rulers and ideologies come and go, but nations last, and in this instance Homo Sovietecus would eventually succumb to Homo Islamicus in the heartland of Asia.
To read other segments of ‘Half a Millennium of Religious Intolerance in Caucasia and Beyond’ (Click here)
Arkhipov, N. V. 1930. Sredneaziatski respubliki. Moscow-Leningrad: Gosizdat.
Asfendiarov, S. D. 1936. Natsional'no-osvoboditel'noe vosstanie 1916 g, v Kazakhstane. Alma-Ata-Moscow: Kazakhskoe Kraevoe izd.
*Avtorkhanov, "Chechens and Ingush," and his Narodoubistvo v SSSR (Genocide in the USSR), Kommunist (February 1991): 101-12.
*Baddeley, John F. 1908. The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus. London
*Bennigsen Broxup, Marie. 1994. "The 'Internal' Muslim Factor in the Politics of Russia: Tatarstan and the North Caucasus", Central Asia and the Caucasus after the Soviet Union: Domestic and International Dynamics. Gainesville: University Press of Florida (Edited by Mohiaddin Mesbahi.)
Brainin, S. 1936. Amangedly Imanov. Alma-Ata-Moscow: Kazakhskoe Kraevoe izd.
Donnelly, Alton S., 1968. The Russian Conquest of Bashkiria 1552-1740: A Case Study in Imperialism. New Haven and London, Yale University Press.
*Fisher, Alan, 1978. The Crimean Tatars. Stanford, Ca. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University
*Gammer, Moshe, 1994. Muslim Resistance to the Tsar: Shamir and the Conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan. London: Frank Cass.
Ghobar, Mir Ghulam Mohammad, 1967. Afghanistan dar Masir -i- Tarikh. Kabul: Government Press.
Kaufman, A. A. 1903. K voprosu a russkoi kolonizatsii Turkestanskogo kraia. St. Petersburg: MZi G.L.
Khalfin, N. A., 1974. Rossiia i khanstva sredenei Azii Moscow: Nauka.
Kolarz, Walter. 1955. Russia and Her Colonies. New York: F. A. Praeger.
*Krasnyi Arkhiv (1941), No. 2 (105), 'K Biografii Shamilia', pp.115-39.
Materialy BASSR Dopolnenie k aktam istoricheskim (12 vols. St. Petersburg, 1846-72.
Miller, G. F. 1937. Istoriia Sibiri (2 vols. Moscow and Leningrad).
*Orlov, D. 'Chastnoe Pis'mo o Vziatii Shamilia' , Russkii Arkhiv (1896), No. 6, cc. 1045-63.
Rozhkova, M. K. 1963. Ekonomickeskie sviazi Rossii so Srednei Aziei 40-60-e gody XIX veka. Moscow: Akademiia nauk SSSR.
Russkaia istorichskaia biblioteka (39 vols. St. Petersburg, 1872-1927), 2, 283)
Rywkin, Michael, 1982. Moscow's Muslim Challenge: Soviet Central Asia. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc.
*Wallbank, T. Walter, et al. 1984. History and Life: The World and Its People (3rd Edition) Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company.
*Werth, Alexander, 1964. Russia at War, 1941-1945. New York.