The Russians claimed an area in Central Asia about half the size of the United States in around 20 years at a relatively low cost in terms of money and lives. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan were conquests of Nicholas I early in the 19th century. Uzbekistan was added by Alexander II (ruled 1855-81). Turkmenistan was added by Alexander III (ruled 1881-94) after another war with Persia. At one time Russians ruled more people that spoke Turkic languages than the Ottoman Turks.

By 1876 the entire territory comprising present-day Uzbekistan either had fallen under direct Russian rule or had become a protectorate of Russia. The treaties establishing the protectorates over Bukhara and Khiva gave Russia control of the foreign relations of these states and gave Russian merchants important concessions in foreign trade; the khanates retained control of their own internal affairs. Tashkent and Quqon fell directly under a Russian governor general. [Source: Library of Congress]

Historians wrote that the Russians did little to protect ordinary people in Central Asia from harsh policies of their cruel leaders. Rather they gave “carte blanche to the chiefs just as long as they remained loyal to their conquerors” and wined and dined and bribed them with “red velvet dressing gowns” and the “heavenly sherbet” of champagne.

Russia's Central Asia possessions were administered as single unit under the name Turkestan. Because Moscow was so far away they managed to maintain a fair degree of autonomy. The Russian presence also brought some stability to the region. In Central Asia, the Russians tended to keep to themselves while the various Central Asia states pretty went about life as they always had. Some local rulers remained in power. The Emir of Bukhara remained on his throne until 1921.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Between 1864 and 1884, systematic conquest was launched and successfully completed. Even facing the threat of ultimate annihilation, the rulers of Bukhara and Kokand could not overcome mutual antagonism. In 1867, the General-Governorship of Turkestan (GGT) was established, with its centre in Tashkent. It embodied all the territories of Kokand and Bukhara occupied until then by the Russian Army. In 1868, Kokand became a vassal of the Russian Empire and Bukhara ceded its northern cities of Khujand, Uroteppa, Panjakent, Samarkand and Qatta-Qurghon to the GGT and acknowledged its status as a Russian protectorate. Khiva followed suit in 1873 and the majority of petty principalities in eastern Bukhara (roughly corresponding with contemporary southern Tajikistan) were subjugated between 1870 and 1875. In 1876, Alexander II formally abolished the Khanate of Kokand, and in 1884, when the Turkmen city of Mary (Merv) surrendered, the whole of Turkestan was included in the Russian realm. In Hélène Carrère d’Encausse’s adroit phrasing, ‘despite initial anxieties as to the supposed strength of existing Muslim states and English opposition, the conquest of Central Asia had been, in the final analysis, rapid, and, on the whole, not very bloody, at least for Russia’. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In the period 1866–99, the Russian authorities were preoccupied with organising efficient government and development of the subjugated territories. By the end of the century Russian Turkestan comprised the GGT with five oblasts (administrative regions) and two protectorates: Bukhara and Khiva. Once again the Tajiks found themselves divided by administrative borders. The northern and eastern parts of present-day Tajikistan with the cities of Panjakent, Uroteppa (Istaravshon), Nau, Khujand, Isfara and Tashqurghon were included in the Samarkand and Ferghana oblasts, while the central and southern areas remained within the fold of Bukhara. In 1895, firm borders were established between Russian Turkestan and Afghanistan, which have survived until today. Rushan, Shughnan and part of Vakhan were acquired by Emir Abd al-Ahad of Bukhara in return for lands along the Panj River, which became part of Afghanistan. Russia retained garrisons in the Pamir vilayets of Bukhara and subsequently annexed them in 1905.”

Russian Occupation of Central Asia

After several unsuccessful attempts in earlier times, the Russian conquest and settlement of Central Asia began in earnest in the second half of the nineteenth century. Spurred by various economic and geopolitical factors, increasing numbers of Russians moved into Central Asia in this period.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

By 1860 the Central Asian principalities were ripe for conquest by the much more powerful Russian Empire. Imperial policy makers believed that these principalities had to be subdued because of their armed opposition to Russian expansion into the Kazak steppe, which already was underway to the north of Tajikistan. Some proponents of Russian expansion saw it as a way to compensate for losses elsewhere and to pressure Britain, Russia's perennial nemesis in the region, by playing on British concerns about threats to its position in India. The Russian military supported campaigns in Central Asia as a means of advancing careers and building personal fortunes. The region assumed much greater economic importance in the second half of the nineteenth century because of its potential as a supplier of cotton. *

An important step in the Russian conquest was the capture of Tashkent from the Quqon Khanate, part of which was annexed in 1866. The following year, Tashkent became the capital of the new Guberniya (Governorate General) of Turkestan, which included the districts of Khujand and Uroteppa (later part of Tajikistan). After a domestic uprising and Russian military occupation, Russia annexed the remainder of the Quqon Khanate in 1876.

The Bukhara Khanate fought Russian invaders during the same period, losing the Samarqand area in 1868. Russia chose not to annex the rest of Bukhara, fearing repercussions in the Muslim world and from Britain because Bukhara was a bastion of Islam and a place of strategic significance to British India. Instead, the tsar's government made a treaty with Bukhara, recognizing its existence but in effect subordinating it to Russia. Bukhara actually gained territory by this agreement, when the Russian administration granted the amir of Bukhara a district that included Dushanbe, now the capital of Tajikistan, in compensation for the territory that had been ceded to Russia. *

In the 1880s, the principality of Shughnon-Rushon in the western Pamir Mountains became a new object of contention between Britain and Russia when Afghanistan and Russia disputed territory there. An 1895 treaty assigned the disputed territory to Bukhara, and at the same time put the eastern Pamirs under Russian rule. *

Cotton and Russian Development of Central Asia

The American Civil War in the 1860s, cut off Russia's cotton supplies. This set in motion the development of Central Asia, which was regarded as a source of cheap labor, undeveloped agricultural land and raw materials. To gain a firmer hand in Central Asia, the Russian government began settling Russians and Cossacks in the region, setting up irrigation schemes operated by Russian farmers and establishing factories and railroads built by Russian workers.

Prior to the events of 1917, Russian rule had brought some industrial development in sectors directly connected with cotton. Although railroads and cotton-ginning machinery advanced, the Central Asian textile industry was slow to develop because the cotton crop was shipped to Russia for processing. As the tsarist government expanded the cultivation of cotton dramatically, it changed the balance between cotton and food production, creating some problems in food supply — although in the prerevolutionary period Central Asia remained largely self-sufficient in food. [Source: Library of Congress]

This situation was to change during the Soviet period when the Moscow government began a ruthless drive for national self-sufficiency in cotton. This policy converted almost the entire agricultural economy of Uzbekistan to cotton production, bringing a series of consequences whose negative impact still is felt today in Uzbekistan and other republics.

Russian Rule in Central Asia

Russian rule brought important changes in Central Asia, but many elements of the traditional way of life scarcely changed. In the part of what is now Tajikistan that was incorporated into the Guberniya of Turkestan, many ordinary inhabitants had limited contact with Russian officials or settlers before 1917. Rural administration there resembled the system that governed peasants in the European part of the Russian Empire after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Local administration in villages continued to follow long-established tradition, and prior to 1917 few Russians lived in the area of present-day Tajikistan. Russian authorities also left education in the region substantially the same between the 1870s and 1917. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Serious development began with the Trans-Caspian Railway which was started in 1879, following the Russian defeat of Khokand and reached Samarkand by 1888. Originally it served a military purpose of facilitating the Imperial Russian Army in actions against the local resistance to their rule. However, when Lord Curzon visited the railway, he remarked that he considered its significance went beyond local military control and threatened British interests in Asia. Later came waves of immigrants, mostly freed Russian and Ukrainian serfs, who settled in Kazakhstan. In Uzbekistan local people went to work raising cotton. Middle class Russians moved in and brought in middle class Russian life and established their own enclaves in the cities.

During the first few decades of Russian rule, the daily life of the Central Asians did not change greatly. The Russians substantially increased cotton production, but otherwise they interfered little with the indigenous people. Some Russian settlements were built next to the established cities of Tashkent and Samarqand, but the Russians did not mix with the indigenous populations. The era of Russian rule did produce important social and economic changes for some Central Asians as a new middle class developed and some peasants were affected by the increased emphasis on cotton cultivation. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, conditions began to change as new Russian railroads brought greater numbers of Russians into the area.

Education and Literacy in Central Asia Under the Russians

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The period of tsarist rule in Turkestan ushered in a number of significant social and demographic changes. In the territories of the GGT, usage of the Uzbek language progressively increased from its already dominant position as the language of the majority. In 1868, people in Samarkand spoke Tajik almost exclusively; by 1904 it had given way to mostly Uzbek. This dramatic shift was caused by the fact that the Russian administration utilised Turkic Kazakhs, Tatars and Bashkirs as interpreters and sometimes staff members. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The improvement in communications and education was conducive to the wider circulation of a normative Uzbek literary language rather than a handful of Uzbek dialects. Interestingly, of 415 students who completed their studies at the Tashkent Teachers’ Seminary in the 25 years from 1879 to 1904 there were only 65 natives; of these, 54 were Kazakhs or Kyrgyzs and not one was a Tajik. Given that Tajiks accounted for 9 per cent of the population of Turkestan in 189753 and were settled compactly in the Samarkand and Ferghana oblasts, there was a deliberate policy of Turkicisation on the part of the Russian administration, which was later complemented by Russification. In 1891, the governor-general instructed oblast governors that volost chairmen, qozis, village headmen and other native administrative officials use the Russian language in the course of their duties, and that a good command of Russian should be a criterion for selecting candidates to fill vacancies. After 1876, the Russian administration tried to introduce modern Russian-type schools with a single, officially proclaimed purpose: to train indigenous personnel devoted to the tsarist regime who subsequently ‘will be given the task of handling all issues pertaining to [the] local population that are not of political essence’.

“In the beginning of the twentieth century there existed three types of educational institutions in Turkestan: 1) the traditional maktab and madrasa; 2) the so-called ‘new method’ (usuli jadid) schools, which combined Islamic education with modern European elements; and 3) Russian-type schools. The tsarist government grew more and more suspicious of the pan-Turkic and pan-Islamic activities of the Jadid schools, run mostly by well-educated Tatars, but encouraged their spread in Bukhara where they could undermine the influence of the conservative clergy. On the whole, the achievements in the field of public education both in Bukhara and in Russian Turkestan were very modest; in 1917 literacy varied from 1 to 2 per cent—‘considerably worse than India at that time’; however, a small stratum of middle-class intellectuals came into being in Turkestan, whose views were not confined either to Islamic dogma or to the geographic boundaries of the Russian Empire. They formed the nuclei of future Tajik and Uzbek national intelligentsias who, decades later, would ‘invite [the] masses into history’.”

Early Russian Migrants to Central Asia

Sebastien Peyrouse of the Woodrow Wilson Institute wrote: “The presence of Russian colonists in Central Asia framed, followed, and often preceded the military and political conquest of this space. The first Russian populations settled in Central Asia in the 18th century. As was also the case with Russian expansion into Siberia, Cossacks, soldier-peasants integrated into the tsarist army, established the first fortifications and announced the establishment of colonial power in these new territories. Peasants fleeing serfdom and the central authorities followed, along with persecuted religious communities, mainly Protestants and members of the antireform Russian Orthodox sect known as the Old Believers. [Source: Sebastien Peyrouse, “Russian Minority in Central Asia: Migration, Politics, and Language”, Woodrow Wilson Institute, 2007 ^^]

“In the 18th century, Russians occupied lands extending to the border of present-day Kazakhstan: the basin of the Ural River, the regions of the Altai Mountains, and the banks of the Ishim, Tobol, and Upper Irtysh rivers. Thus, rural colonization ran parallel with military conquest, and was perceived to be under the control of the political authorities. Tightly controlled by the tsarist administration (the Commission of the Steppes), colonization accelerated in the latter half of the 19th century in tandem with the pace of political and social events in Russia: the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the land exhaustion of the 1880s, the great famine of 1891–1892, and the launch of the agrarian policies of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin in 1906. In 1896, the number of Russian colonists legally settled in Central Asia was estimated at 400,000. This number grew to 1.5 million in 1916, representing a third of the registered departures toward the Asian part of the Russian Empire.” ^^

Bukhara in the Russian Period

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The Russian Government deemed it feasible to preserve the Emirate of Bukhara intact for a number of reasons. First, it served as a buffer state covering a 1500 km border with Afghanistan. Second, the introduction of Russian administration to a country with a population of two million plus with centuries-long traditions of feudal unrest would be a costly affair with unclear results. Finally, Bukhara was a religious centre, renowned not only in Turkestan but also throughout the world Islamic community. At the end of the nineteenth century, its capital city of 80 000 people had 80 madrasas with up to 10 000 pupils, including students from India, Kashgar, Afghanistan, China and Russia, some 260 mosques and dozens of sacred places (mazors) associated with various Sufi saints. The religious establishment played an important role in local politics, and the appointment of Russian officials there would have alienated Muslims far beyond the borders of Turkestan. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

The relative isolation of Bukhara from the General-Governorship of Turkestan (GGT) in Tashkent led to a different pace of economic development in what is now Tajikistan. As Barthold has noted, the mining and manufacturing industries were in worse shape in the Khanates of Bukhara and Kokand in the beginning of the nineteenth century than under the Samanids in the tenth. The Russian conquest paved the way for the penetration of a capitalist market economy, which was facilitated by the construction of the trans-Caspian railway between 1881 and 1886 and the creation of a unified monetary and customs zone in Turkestan between 1892 and 1895. The area of what is today northern Tajikistan, however, found itself in a privileged position compared with the territories of southern Tajikistan belonging to Bukhara. The Russian industrialists and merchants treated the south predominantly as a commodity market and source of raw materials until the beginning of the twentieth century.

“The feudal land-tenure and taxation systems did not undergo any changes there; as a result, in the words of a Russian geographer, ‘the economic management of Bukhara is carried out in a predatory way and has deplorable consequences … The government sucks the blood of poor Bukharans and if some time Bukhara is attached to Russia, we will literally acquire a bunch of mendicant people.’ The cause of promoting Russian economic interests in Bukhara was largely left to private enterprise. It is symptomatic that the Russian Political Agency was not established there until 1885. On the contrary, the development of the Samarkand and Ferghana oblasts of the GGT was largely inspired by the Russian Government, and the construction of railroads and irrigation systems there was financed from the state budget or through government-owned banks. In 1886, new landmark legislation on the GGT was approved, providing for private landownership in Turkestan. The Russian authorities encouraged cotton-growing in Turkestan, and during 1883–89, introduced high-yield American varieties of cotton. Soon it became the main source of capital accumulation for Russian and local entrepreneurs: ‘hundreds of clerks, officers, other government employees and merchants rushed to grow cotton … The fathoms of raining gold, the dream of American wealth in Turkestan eclipsed everything else. They planted cotton everywhere a piece of irrigated land could be found.’34 By 1915, cotton plantations had occupied 60 to 95 per cent of arable lands in the Ferghana oblast;35 thenceforth, cotton monoculture prevailed in this area.

“The number of factories in the whole Emirate of Bukhara in 1917 — 2836 — was less than the corresponding figure for the single Khujand uezd (administrative subdivision) of the Samarkand oblast in the 1890s. Though the emir joined the ‘cotton rush’ in Central Asia, and even though by the end of the nineteenth century cotton accounted for 40 per cent of his country’s exports, it was not until 1916 that a cohesive program was devised with the participation of the Russian Stakheev Concern to rationalise production and sales of cotton and to irrigate new, vast lands for cotton-growing. Eastern Bukhara remained completely devoid of railroads, and pack animals were its main means of transportation.”

Rebellions in Central Asia Against Russian Rule

Rebellions against Russian rule occurred periodically. A holy war in Uzbekistan in 1897 and 1898 was put but down but sent shivers down the spin of many Russians, prompting a campaign to Russify urban Muslims. For the most part the revolts were put down easily, but they led to increased Russian vigilance in the region and increased Russian intrusions in the internal affairs of the khanates.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The native population of Central Asia rose up, protesting against poverty, infringement upon customs and religious feelings (the 1892 cholera riots in Tashkent), and forced conscription to labour battalions (the 1916 rebellion, which began in Khujand and then spread throughout Central Asia). All these uprisings, however, were ‘sporadic and limited in scope … and had no broader revolutionary significance for the Moslem masses or the Moslem leaders’. By no means were they inspired by an organised nationalist and/or anti-colonialist ideology. The tsarist regime fully succeeded in at least two important elements of its imperial policy in Central Asia: it managed to divide local peoples by artificial administrative and cultural boundaries, and it sealed off the whole region from the world outside. Even one of the severest critics of Russia, Lord Curzon, had to acknowledge ultimately the impregnable position of the Tsarist Empire in the region: ‘I admit that Russia has in her career of Central Asiatic conquest by devious, and often dishonourable, means achieved a successful and salutary end.’ Despite its position of power, the Russian tsarist administration did not attempt to introduce truly radical changes to Central Asian societies. The Soviet authorities, however, would have different plans, creating ‘socialist nations’ by applying an awesome arsenal of communist-style modernisation to the mosaic of traditional local identities.” [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Revolts Against Russian Rule in Bukhara

Between 1869 and 1913, uprisings against the amir of Bukhara erupted under local rulers in the eastern part of the khanate. The uprisings of 1910 and 1913 required Russian troops to restore order. A peasant revolt also occurred in eastern Bukhara in 1886. The failed Russian revolution of 1905 resonated very little among the indigenous populations of Central Asia. In the Duma (legislature) that was established in St. Petersburg as a consequence of the events of 1905, the indigenous inhabitants of Turkestan were allotted only six representatives. Subsequent to the second Duma in 1907, Central Asians were denied all representation. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The struggle against Russian imperial domination had its own peculiarities in Bukhara and the Tajik-populated territories of the GGT. First, they did not suffer from the influx of Russian peasant migrants who had seized 49.2 million ha of the best land from Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs by 1907. There were only 14 Russian settlements in northern Tajikistan (the Khujand uezd) in 1914; of these, 13 were located in the sparsely populated Hungry Steppe. Consequently, popular revolts there were caused by excessive taxation and exploitation rather than by land confiscations. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

When Kokand was subjugated, the tax burden upon local peasants was somewhat lightened, but by the early 1880s it had increased two to threefold60 and had become ‘between 50 and 150 percent higher than those levelled upon the none-too-liberally treated people of European Russia’. Russian industrial workers in Turkestan received wages almost twice as high as their native colleagues.These grievances underlay peasant riots in Khujand (1872, 1889 and 1906) and in Uroteppa (1875, 1907) and tumult amongst native coalminers in Panjakent (1885).

Periodic anti-feudal riots in Eastern Bukhara also gradually acquired an anti-Russian colouring, since Russian garrisons unfailingly helped government forces to suppress insurgencies. Interestingly, a huge peasant revolt headed by Abdul Vose that swept Baljuvon, Khovaling, Sary-Khosor and Kulob in 1885 and shattered the power of the emir63 was one of the reasons for the establishment of the Russian Political Agency in Bukhara, which could advise local authorities how to avoid such calamities in future. At first, rebellious peasants of Eastern Bukhara constantly asked the Russian representatives to save them from the arbitrariness of the Uzbek beks and the emir officials, but to no avail. Eventually Russian officers and travellers became the targets of a widespread form of spontaneous protest in Eastern Bukhara as well as in Turkestan: bandit attacks, assault and robbery. In the period 1899–1917, the number of such attacks registered more than a tenfold growth in Turkestan (from 50 to 547 annually).”


The only avenue for resistance to Russian rule became the Pan-Turkish movement, also known as Jadidism, which had arisen in the 1860s among intellectuals who sought to preserve indigenous Islamic Central Asian culture from Russian encroachment. By 1900 Jadidism had developed into the region's first major movement of political resistance. Until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the modern, secular ideas of Jadidism faced resistance from both the Russians and the Uzbek khans, who had differing reasons to fear the movement.

Russian influence was especially strong among certain young intellectuals who were the sons of the rich merchant classes. Educated in the local Muslim schools, in Russian universities, or in Istanbul, these men, who came to be known as the Jadidists, tried to learn from Russia and from modernizing movements in Istanbul and among the Tatars, and to use this knowledge to regain their country's independence. The Jadidists believed that their society, and even their religion, must be reformed and modernized for this goal to be achieved. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

By 1900 Jadidism took the form of a novel educational approach offered by reformers (jadid is the Arabic word for "new.") The Jadidists, who received support from Tajiks, Tatars, and Uzbeks, were modernizers and nationalists who viewed Central Asia as a whole. Their position was that the religious and cultural greatness of Islamic civilization had been degraded in the Central Asia of their day. The Tatars and Central Asians who shared these views established Jadidist schools in several cities in the Guberniya of Turkestan. Although the Jadidists were not necessarily anti-Russian, tsarist officials in Turkestan found their kind of education even more threatening than traditional Islamic teaching. By World War I, several cities in present-day Tajikistan had underground Jadidist organizations. *

In 1905 the unexpected victory of a new Asiatic power in the Russo-Japanese War and the eruption of revolution in Russia raised the hopes of reform factions that Russian rule could be overturned, and a modernization program initiated, in Central Asia. The democratic reforms that Russia promised in the wake of the revolution gradually faded, however, as the tsarist government restored authoritarian rule in the decade that followed 1905. Renewed tsarist repression and the reactionary politics of the rulers of Bukhara and Khiva forced the reformers underground or into exile. Nevertheless, some of the future leaders of Soviet Uzbekistan, including Abdur Rauf Fitrat and others, gained valuable revolutionary experience and were able to expand their ideological influence in this period. *

1916 Uprising in Central Asia

During World War I, Central Asian cattle and sheep was seized by the Russians to feed the tsarist armies and young men were conscripted for forced labor and didn't return. In the summer of 1916, a number of settlements in eastern Uzbekistan were the sites of violent demonstrations against a new Russian decree canceling the Central Asians' immunity to conscription for duty in World War I. [Source: Library of Congress, “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013]

In July 1916, the first violent reaction to the impending draft occurred when demonstrators attacked Russian soldiers in Khujand, in what would later be northern Tajikistan. By that time discontent with the effects of Russian rule had grown substantially. Central Asians complained especially of discriminatory taxation and price gouging by Russian merchants. Reprisals of increasing violence ensued, and the struggle spread from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyz and Kazak territory. There, Russian confiscation of grazing land already had created animosity not present in the Uzbek population, which was concerned mainly with preserving its rights.

The uprising in 1916 that was particularly fierce among Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, whose grazing lands were taken. There was looting, rioting and attacks. Although clashes continued in various parts of Central Asia through the end of the year, Russian troops quickly brought the Khujand region back under control. Hundreds, maybe thousands were killed during the uprising and the Russian crackdown. The following year, the Russian Revolution ended tsarist rule in Central Asia.

Impact of Russian Rule on Central Asia

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “From the second half of the nineteenth century, Central Asia was inexorably subjected to internal developments in the Russian Empire. The hectic, often controversial process of modernisation that commenced in Russia under Alexander II, continued under Stolypin and finally took the form of socialist revolution in 1917 could not have affected this region in a more dramatic way. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“While the Russian conquest, and the innovations that followed, resulted in the establishment of lasting peace and significant improvement in living standards in the region, it all came at a high price for the indigenous population. They acquired the status of second-grade people in their own land.2 The imperial regime’s administrative, legal, educational and land reforms, initiated in Turkestan under governor-general K. P. von Kaufman (1867–82), were aimed primarily at strengthening and maintaining Russian supremacy; all other goals were secondary. Once a certain degree of stability was achieved in the region and Turkestan became incorporated into the all-Russian economy, there was no compelling need for the tsarist government to press on with reforms, especially in the political field. During his tenure as chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Russian Empire (1907–11), P. A. Stolypin delivered a clear message that the Russians were not prepared to share their monopoly on power with the native population in Central Asia.

“Ultimately, however, the empire found it difficult to cope with the social forces it had inadvertently unleashed in Turkestan. First, the ever-growing class of local entrepreneurs, industrialists and intellectuals grew more and more vociferous in its demands for equal rights with Russians. Whereas in 1906 they had asked only for religious freedom, the return of expropriated lands and the creation of a Muslim religious administration in Tashkent, in 1916, for the first time, an explicit demand for independence and the establishment of a sovereign state of Turkestan was made public at the Congress of Nationalities in Lausanne. Second, Russian rule failed to weaken traditional institutions, such as adat (customary law), shari’a (Islamic law) or the patriarchal family; in fact, indigenous social control at the grassroots level gained from the Russian Government’s recognition of local men of authority as its representatives. While proclaiming allegiance to the tsar, many traditional leaders were disposed to pursue their own agenda in crisis periods and incite the masses against Russian rule, as happened in 1892 in Tashkent with qozi Muhitdin and ishon Abu-l-Qasim—‘hitherto notable amongst the natives for their loyal speeches and declarations’.

“The imperial government did not manage to create a solid social base amongst the indigenous population. Two worlds coexisted in Turkestan: one of Russian settlers and administrators, the other of the local inhabitants; interaction between the two was minimal.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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