When the Bolsheviks (early Communists) came to power in Russia during the October Revolution in 1917, their leaders had more important things to worry about than Central Asia. For the part, Central Asians hated the Bolsheviks—who condemned all religions, and viewed Islam as particularly backward—more than the tsarist Russians.

The indigenous inhabitants of Turkestan for the most part played no role in the overthrow of the Russian monarchy in March 1917 or in the seizure of power by the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) in November of that year. But the impact of those upheavals soon was felt in all parts of Central Asia. After the fall of the monarchy, Russia's Provisional Government abolished the office of governor-general of Turkestan and established in its place a nine-member Turkestan Committee, in which Russians had the majority and provided the leadership. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The Provisional Government, which ruled Russia between March and November 1917, was unwilling to address the specific concerns of Central Asian reformers, including regional autonomy. Central Asians received no seats in Russia's short-lived Constituent Assembly. The events of 1917 finally alienated both conservatives and radicals from the revolution. *

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer of Australia National University wrote: “In Central Asia the Bolsheviks at first had to rely heavily on local ‘national communists’—essentially radical reformist intellectuals. In 1920, there were four communist parties in the region: the Russian Communist Party, the Turkestan Communist Party, the Bukharan Communist Party, and the Khorezmian Communist Party. The relationship amongst them was not without problems. At times national communists directly confronted the centre, as in January 1920, when Turar Ryskulov, the chairman of the Regional Muslim Bureau of the Russian Communist Party, put forward the ideas of forming a Turkic Republic that would embody not only Turkestan but Bukhara and Khiva as well, and a united Turkic Communist Party to govern it. Even more blatant manifestations of dissent occurred in Bukhara, where a number of high-ranking party and state officials, including the chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Bukharan People’s Republic, Usman Khojaev, defected to forces of the rebel commander Enver Pasha in late 1921. Moscow applied a three-pronged policy to tighten its grip over Central Asian communist organisations: it dispatched experienced Bolshevik cadres to the region; it recruited new indigenous personnel from circles other than the traditional intelligentsia; and finally, by recurrent purges, it removed ‘class alien’ elements from the party structures. In May 1922, the Central Asian Bureau of the Russian Communist Party was organised and assumed control over all existing communist structures. From that time, decisions made in Moscow could not be altered by local party organisations, which in fact were gradually transformed into mere executants of directives from the Russian Communist Party Central Committee. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov, Christian Bleuer, Australia National University ]

Central Asia in 1917

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: By 1917, “the tsarist regime was no longer in a position to ameliorate economic difficulties in Turkestan, nor could it resort to intimidation in order to maintain the status quo, for its army and police were in complete disarray. The Russian Empire entered 1917 with its economy, armed forces and moral foundations badly shaken by the continuing war in Europe. Turkestan was no exception to the generally catastrophic state of affairs in the Romanovs’ realm. The political situation had become highly volatile in the general-governorship by 1917. [Source:“Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Both Russians and the indigenous population of Turkestan welcomed the abdication of Nicholas II and the establishment of the Provisional Government on 27 February 1917. The Russians anticipated a quick end to the war and an easing of the economic crisis; the locals hoped to achieve the right to self-determination. Arguably, the short period of spring to autumn 1917 was a time of an unheard-of level of freedom in Russia, and particularly in Turkestan. More than 70 political parties and organisations were operative throughout the former empire, including a variety of reformist (jadid) and conservative Muslim groups, united in Shurai Islamiya (the Islamic Council) and Jamiyati Ulama (the Assembly of the Clergy) respectively. In May 1917, the First All-Russian Muslim Congress was held in Moscow. The majority of its 800 delegates, one-third of whom represented Central Asia, voted in favour of federation with Russia, with territorial self-rule for each nationality.

“The Russian Provisional Government, dominated by constitutional democrats, socialist revolutionaries and Mensheviks, was reluctant to share power with local elites in Turkestan. It retained the anti-native attitudes of the tsarist regime and, moreover, preserved the old administrative structures. Governor-General Kuropatkin issued a decree in March 1917 that stipulated that the proportion of Russians in local legislative bodies must not be lower than 50 per cent. One month later, an official of the Executive Committee of the Provisional Government made a comment to the effect that ‘the revolution has been waged by Russians; that is why the power is in our hands in Central Asia’.

Bolsheviks and Central Asia

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In 1917, only the Bolsheviks appeared to have a positive solution to the nationality question. Their Seventh All-Russian Conference in April confirmed the right of nations to self-determination, but made it conditional with the supreme interests of the proletariat’s struggle for socialism, thus creating a space for political manoeuvre. A sizeable part of the native intelligentsia in Turkestan found the Bolshevik doctrine attractive, since it promised equality with Russians and an accelerated pace of social progress. As Alexandre Bennigsen has noted, ‘their Marxism was vague, if not unlearned. Their aims were twofold: reformist vis-á-vis traditional Islam and nationalist vis-á-vis the creation of independent Muslim polities free from Russian domination.’ The Bolsheviks, in turn, regarded Muslim socialists as a useful means of spreading the party’s influence in Central Asia. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The second half of 1917 was characterised by a further decline of authority in Turkestan. Organs of the Provisional Government coexisted and competed with various self-proclaimed Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies whilst the bulk of the indigenous population stood aloof from the political struggle. In the end it was precisely Bolshevik and left-wing socialist revolutionary influence in the army that secured victory over the Provisional Government throughout Turkestan in October 1917.

“Nationalist elements in Turkestan were too weak and fragmented to challenge Russian supremacy, and inevitably had to decide which side to support in the Russian Civil War. The idea of preserving the old state of affairs did not appeal to them, and finally the bulk of the national intelligentsia either joined the Turkestan Communist Party (TCP) or at least remained neutral in respect to its activities.”

Jadidists in the Bolshevik Revolution

An opportunity for the Jadidists presented itself in 1917 with the outbreak of the February and October revolutions in Russia. In February the revolutionary events in Russia's capital, Petrograd (St. Petersburg), were quickly repeated in Tashkent, where the tsarist administration of the governor general was overthrown. In its place, a dual system was established, combining a provisional government with direct Soviet power and completely excluding the native Muslim population from power. Indigenous leaders, including some of the Jadidists, attempted to set up an autonomous government in the city of Kokand (Quqon) in the Fergana Valley (See Below).

However, the majority of Jadidists, including leaders such as Fitrat and Faizulla Khojayev, cast their lot with the communists. In 1920 Khojayev, who became first secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, assisted communist forces in the capture of Bukhara and Khiva. After the emir of Bukhara had joined the Basmachi movement, Khojayev became president of the newly established Soviet Bukhoran People's Republic. A People's Republic of Khorazm also was set up in what had been Khiva.

Short-Lived Central Asian State

In 1917, an independent state was launched in Kokand (Quqon) by nationalists inspired in part by the Young Turks in Turkey. In 1909 the "Young Turks," a secret society made up of young liberals, began a revolt to replace the Ottoman sultan with a constitutional government. The Kokand state was crushed five months after it was launched by the Red Army. Some 5,000 Kokanders were massacred.

In 1917 the soviets (local revolutionary assemblies including soldiers and workers) that sprang up in Russian areas of Turkestan and Bukhara were composed overwhelmingly of Russians. In November 1917, a regional congress of soviets in Tashkent declared a revolutionary regime and voted by a wide margin to continue the policies of the Provisional Government. Thus, Central Asians again were denied political representation. Eventually, local communists established a figurehead soviet for Central Asians. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Having been denied access to the revolutionary organs of power, Central Asian reformers and conservatives formed their own organizations, as well as an umbrella group, the National Center. Although the groups cooperated on some issues of common interest, considerable animosity and occasional violence marked their relations. One group of Central Asian Muslims declared an autonomous state in southern Central Asia centered in the city of Kokand.

The counterrevolution against the Bolsheviks was organized in the Tashkent jail by a shadowy White Russian agent named Paul Nazaroff. In December 1918, this led to the seizure of some territory by White Russians loyal to the tsar. The rebellion was put down after a few weeks. At the beginning of 1919, the Tashkent Soviet declared the Kokand group counterrevolutionary and seized the city, killing at least 5,000 civilians. *

Establishment of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “After the Red Guards quashed the short-lived Kokand Autonomy in February 1918 and the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (TASSR) was promulgated on 1 May 1918, Soviet power became the single most important force in the region. All alternative political organisations, including Shurai Islamiya and Jamiyati Ulama, were disbanded, and even Muslim soviets (Musovdepy) were merged with district Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (Raisovdepy) because, according to the TASSR Government, there could not be ‘division between Russians and Muslims in Soviet Turkestan’. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

The adoption in October 1918 of the TASSR Constitution, which emulated Soviet Russia’s basic laws, and placed its defence, foreign affairs, communications, transport, industry and finances under Moscow’s jurisdiction, underlined the process of Turkestan’s integration into the Soviet realm. It received further impetus with the end of fighting in mainland Russia in 1920; henceforth the vast territories of Turkestan, which included northern Tajikistan, shared all major perturbations of the communist experiment in full measure. The patterns of War Communism, wholesale nationalisation, the New Economic Policy (NEP), industrialisation and collectivisation in Khujand and Isfara did not differ much from those in Tambov or Donetsk.

Bukhara Versus the Soviets

Meanwhile, in 1918 the Tashkent Soviet had been defeated soundly in its effort to overthrow the amir of Bukhara, who was seen by the communists and the Central Asian reformers alike as an obstacle to their respective programs. The attempted coup provoked a campaign of repression by the amir, and the defeat forced the Russian authorities in Tashkent to recognize a sovereign Bukhoran state in place of a Russian protectorate. [Source: Library of Congress]

The two revolutions of 1917 had a very modest impact on the Bukharan Emirate. The last emir of Bukhara was ordered to submit to the Bolsheviks. He refused and instead killed the Red emissaries that brought the news and declared a holy war. After some skirmishes occurred a truce was called in the spring of 1918. This gave the Red Army time to get reinforcements and rearm and for the emir to form an alliance with the Whites.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Soviets were organised exclusively in Russian settlements there, and generally kept a low profile. In November 1917, there were only three Bolsheviks in Bukhara. Emir Alim Khan’s main concern was the increasing activism of the jadid movement, which demanded liberal reforms, particularly in the sphere of education. In April 1917, the most active jadids were arrested and flogged, and their leaders—most notably, Fayzulla Khojaev—sought asylum in New Bukhara and Turkestan. With the triumph of the Bolsheviks in Turkestan came an opportunity for the jadids to implement their reformist program. In September 1918, some 200 radical jadids created the Bukharan Communist Party (BCP); two years later its membership exceeded five thousand. Fayzulla Khojaev, though not a member of the BCP, was included in the Turkestan Commission (Turkkomissiia)—the plenipotentiary body established by the Russian Communist Party and the Russian Government in March 1919 to supervise and coordinate all party and state activities in the region. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The first attempt to overthrow the emir and install jadid authority in Bukhara took place in February 1918 when F. I. Kolesov, chairman of the Turkestan Government and an ardent Bolshevik, arrived in Bukhara with 500 Red Guards from Tashkent only to find that Fayzulla Khojaev’s promise of mass popular revolt against Alim Khan was a bluff. He had to retreat, and for more than two years, Bukhara was allowed to live in relative peace. Whenever the question of sending additional troops and resources to Turkestan was raised, Lenin invariably opposed it: ‘Your demands for personnel are exorbitant. This is ridiculous or worse than ridiculous if you imagine that Turkestan is more important than the Centre or Ukraine … In my opinion, Frunze asks for too much. We should capture Ukraine first, let Turkestan wait and get by somehow.’”

Fall of the Last Emir of Bukhara

Fighting was resumed in the spring of 1919. Under the leadership of Commander Mikhail Frunze, the Red Army quickly got the upper hand. In 1920, Bukhara fell and the last emir of Bukhara fled to Afghanistan with his "dancing boys" and what treasures he could carry, but not his harem.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “On 28 August, forces of the Turkestan Front under the command of Mikhail Frunze attacked the Bukharan Emirate, and by 2 September had taken control of its capital city and northern and central districts. An easy victory was guaranteed not only by the technical superiority of the Red Army; as had happened many times before, the constituent principalities showed little desire to fight side-by-side with the emir. Only the city of Bukhara offered fierce resistance. Alim Khan fled to Dushanbe. On 6 October 1920, the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic was proclaimed, and Fayzulla Khojaev became the head of its jadid-dominated government. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The deposed emir failed to gather any considerable forces around him in Dushanbe. His position was thoroughly weakened by intermittent clashes between local warlords; in December 1920, the strongmen of Qarotegin rebelled against him. Consequently, the Soviet Hisor Expeditionary Corps, formed in November 1920 to gain control over Eastern Bukhara, managed to resolve this task by the spring of 1921. Alim Khan fled to Afghanistan, and the Extraordinary Dictatorial Commission was set up in Eastern Bukhara to act as a supreme administrative organ on behalf of the Bukhara People’s Republic. Similarly, the Military-Political Trio was empowered by the TASSR to rule in the Pamirs.”

Impact of the Russian Civil War on Central Asia

An acute food shortage struck Turkestan in 1918-19, the result of the civil war, scarcities of grain caused by communist cotton-cultivation and price-setting policies, and the Tashkent Soviet's disinclination to provide famine relief to indigenous Central Asians. No authoritative estimate of famine deaths is available, but Central Asian nationalists put the number above 1 million. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the fall of 1919, the collapse of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in western Siberia enabled General Mikhail Frunze to lead Red Army forces into Central Asia and gradually occupy the entire region. In 1920 the Red Army occupied Bukhara and drove out the amir, declaring an independent people's republic but remaining as an occupation force. Turkestan, including the northern part of present-day Tajikistan, was officially incorporated into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1921. *

By 1921 the Russian communists had won the Russian Civil War and established the first Soviet republics in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belorussia (present-day Belarus), Georgia, and Ukraine. At this point, the communists reduced the party's token Central Asian leadership to figurehead positions and expelled a large number of the Central Asian rank and file. In 1922 the Communist Party of Bukhara was incorporated into the Russian Communist Party, which soon became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Thereafter, most major government offices in Bukhara were filled by appointees sent from Moscow, many of them Tatars, and many Central Asians were purged from the party and the government. In 1924 Bukhara was converted from a people's republic to a Soviet socialist republic. *

Basmachi Revolt

Following the suppression of autonomy in Kokand, Jadidists and other loosely connected factions began what was called the Basmachi revolt against Soviet rule, which by 1922 had survived the civil war and was asserting greater power over most of Central Asia. This indigenous resistance movement proved the last barrier to assimilation of Central Asia into the Soviet Union. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the 1920s, more than 20,000 people fought Soviet rule in Central Asia. The Russians applied a derogatory term, Basmachi (which originally meant brigand), to the groups. Although the resistance did not apply that term to itself, it nonetheless entered common usage. The several Basmachi groups had conflicting agendas and seldom coordinated their actions. After arising in the Fergana Valley, the movement became a rallying ground for opponents of Russian or Bolshevik rule from all parts of the region. Peasant unrest already existed in the area because of wartime hardships and the demands of the amir and the soviets. The Red Army's harsh treatment of local inhabitants in 1921 drove more people into the resistance camp. However, the Basmachi movement became more divided and more conservative as it gained numerically.

For more than a decade, Basmachi guerrilla fighters fiercely resisted the establishment of Soviet rule in parts of Central Asia. During 1918–19, basmachi forces in the Ferghana Valley, including northern Tajikistan, numbered 7000 fighters, but by the spring of 1920 their ranks had swollen fourfold.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The interpretation of the basmachi as mere gangs of ‘counter-revolutionary feudal elements’ who favoured ‘political banditism in combination with criminal activities’ cannot hold, for the movement at its height had an undoubtedly mass character and pursued definite political goals, centred mainly on the preservation of the old economic and social orders. It even managed to form a provisional government in Ferghana in August 1919. It is equally hard to corroborate the notion that ‘the struggle between the Basmachi and the Soviet Russian troops was not between Communists and anti-Communists, as in Russia, but between Russians and Moslems’. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The Ferghana Provisional Government was formed as a result of an alliance between an eminent basmachi leader, Madamin Bek, and a former tsarist officer, Monstrov, commander of the Russian Peasant Army—an alliance that ‘enjoyed support from merchants and townspeople of both nationalities’ and survived ‘both Monstrov’s death in January 1920 and Madamin’s surrender in March of the same year’. On the other hand, in late 1920 indigenous conscripts made up almost 33 per cent of the regiments of the Turkestan Front that fought the basmachi. At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that the main conflict stemmed from protests by the predominantly peasant society of Turkestan against any attempts at radically reforming existing economic patterns and concomitant rules of social behaviour. Ideological, religious and nationalist considerations were of secondary importance in this context. The successes and defeats of Soviet power in its struggle with the basmachi were directly linked to its agrarian policies.”

Enver Pasha and the Basmachi Revolt

The Basmachi achieved some unity under the leadership of Enver Pasha, a Turkish adventurer with ambitions to lead the new secular government of Turkey, but Enver was killed in battle in early 1922. Describing himself as the "Commander in Chief of all the Armies of Islam, Enver won financial support from the exiled emir of Bukhara and the emir of Afghanistan and recruited 20,000 fighters for his holy war.

Enver Pasha was a junior officer in the Ottoman army and the leader of a successful coup against the Ottoman government. In 1921, he showed up in Bukhara and led the Uzbeks in a fight against the Bolsheviks Enver was the most well known of the Young Turks in Ottoman Turkey. He was colorful figure who became the Minister of War at the age of 31 in 1914, married a niece of the Ottoman sultan, and moved into Dolmabaçhe palace, the home of the sultan. Like Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, he tried to preserve the Ottoman Empire by liberalizing it, and succeeded only in bringing about its end and breaking it apart. Enver was also partly responsible for Turkey siding with Germany in World War I, and after the war the was forced to flee Turkey for Moscow.

In Moscow, Enver befriended Lenin. The two men made a deal. Enver would help Lenin secure Central Asia and claim some British-held territories in South Asia in return for Bolshevik help in setting up a state headed by Enver in what was left of the Turkish empire. Enver left Moscow in November 1921 for Bukhara, presumably to prepare an army loyal to the Bolsheviks. Once in Central Asia, Enver reneged on his promise with Lenin and set about trying to establish a state in Uzbekistan. He united Turkic and Tajik guerrillas, known as the “basmachi” (“bandits”), who were fighting the Red Army.

Enver had a string of early successes. He captured Dushanbe and much of the former state Bukhara but refused to accept a Bolshevik offer to negotiate. Infuriated, the Bolsheviks sent a 100,000 man army to crush his rebel force, and offered concessions to the local people that drew away his supporters and fighters. Enver died in a battle on August 4, 1922, nine months after his revolt began, some say with a saber drawn, leading a charge into a Red Army machine gun nest.

The revolt continued after Enver’s death. During the Soviet era any mention of Enver was taboo. Since the break up of the Soviet Union he has been resurrected somewhat as a hero.

Basmachi Revolt in Eastern Bukhara (Tajikistan)

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The situation in Eastern Bukhara (modern-day southern Tajikistan) had distinctive features. The euphoria caused by the collapse of the emirate quickly gave way to popular resentment of marauding Red Army units and the new dictatorial organs that they supported. In the summer of 1921, the local population began to create paramilitary formations and demand the withdrawal of the Red Army. Unlike in Ferghana, these formations acted exclusively as self-defence forces, and very seldom operated outside their parochial territories. Each of them was headed by a local strongman: a former bek, mullah, tribal chief or village elder. They offered resistance both to the Soviet authorities and to Alim Khan’s guerrilla units. In Turkestan in 1922, the Soviet state had been able to enforce social control through established agencies, such as the ramified communist organisation, numerous garrisons linked by railroad and the hierarchy of elected soviets that began to replace revkoms in 1919; but Eastern Bukhara was completely devoid of those attributes. The nominal incorporation of some strongmen into the Soviet structures by no means meant the strengthening of Soviet power in Eastern Bukhara. By the end of 1921, in the absence of an overarching state authority, the whole country had slipped into anarchy and violence. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

In Eastern Bukhara, Ibrahim Bek and other basmachi leaders relied upon the remnants of the Bukharan Government as well as local kinship and patronage networks. Enver Pasha’s guerrillas, who were operating from Afghanistan with the emir’s blessing and with British money and supplies. Ibrahim Bek, a chief of the Uzbek Loqay tribe, raided adjacent Tajik districts, and periodically assaulted both Soviet and Enver Pasha’s troops. In mountainous districts, such as Mastchoh, Darvoz and Qarotegin, villagers blocked and fortified narrow roads, and ambushed all strangers, irrespective of their origin or party affiliation. In lowlands where people could not effectively resist more or less large armed units, they either met the stronger party’s demands for supplies and booty or joined its ranks to avenge their relatives. Most commonly, they migrated abroad: 206 800 people, one-fourth of Eastern Bukhara’s population, left their homes, predominantly in south-western and western districts, during 1920–26. All in all, the situation in Eastern Bukhara in that period bears a striking resemblance to that in Tajikistan in 1992. In both cases it was not the state (the Soviet or the emir’s) that offered the populace a viable strategy for survival, but rather an assortment of local strongmen who were in a position to guarantee (or deny) livelihoods, and to organise defence.

“Red Army commanders indiscriminately labelled all their adversaries basmachi; Enver Pasha’s soldiers called themselves mujahideen; but the local population itself employed neither of these terms in reference to their militias. Instead of ideological, political or religious markers, they used the name of a specific warlord for identification purposes: Fuzail Makhsum in Gharm, Dilovarsho in Darvoz, Yuldosh Sohibnazar in Hisor, Asror Khan in Mastchoh, and so on.38 In late 1922, there were 250 self-defence paramilitary groups in Eastern Bukhara. They comprised 5000 people,39 recognised no supreme authority, and fought ferociously against any intruder.40 The thoroughly reinforced Red Army regiments had destroyed the emir’s forces in Eastern Bukhara by the summer of 1923, but the task of subduing local strongmen proved far more difficult.”

End of the Basmachi Revolt

The Baschmachi continued fighting a guerilla war until the 1930s. But except for remote pockets of resistance, guerrilla fighting in Tajikistan ended by 1925. The defeat of the Basmachis caused as many as 200,000 people, including noncombatants, to flee eastern Bukhara in the first half of the 1920s. A few thousand subsequently returned over the next several years.

The Basmachi revolt eventually was crushed as the civil war in Russia ended and the communists drew away large portions of the Central Asian population with promises of local political autonomy and the potential economic autonomy of Soviet leader Vladimir I. Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP).

The communists used a combination of military force and conciliation to defeat the Basmachis. The military approach ultimately favored the communist side, which was much better armed. The Red Army forces included Tatars and Central Asians, who enabled the invading force to appear at least partly indigenous. Conciliatory measures (grants of food, tax relief, the promise of land reform, the reversal of anti-Islamic policies launched during the Civil War, and the promise of an end to agricultural controls) prompted some Basmachis to reconcile themselves to the new order.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The Soviet authorities began to realise that they could not succeed by purely military methods, and opted for some social and economic concessions. The Sixth Congress of the Turkestan Communist Party (in August 1921) stressed that the abolition of mandatory food requisitions, cessation of looting by the Red Army, a broad propaganda campaign, nativisation of the local administrative bodies, and the especially cautious implementation of land reform, which ‘absolutely did not affect peasants of average wealth [seredniaki]’, had been instrumental in undermining the basmachi movement. The arrival of reinforcements from Russia and the endorsement of a general amnesty enabled the Soviet authorities to deal a final blow to the basmachi in Turkestan in 1922, when from February to October, 119 of 200 basmachi groups dissolved or surrendered,30 and the rest were annihilated or moved elsewhere. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“During the anti-basmachi campaign here the influx of civil authorities, and the use of village self-defence units and irregular troops, some of whom were former basmachi, resulted in the disruption of local power networks. Another factor disrupting local power structures was the Soviet and basmachi use of famine relief as a tool in their respective struggles, with the Soviets distributing food ‘according to political criteria’ and the basmachi also using the redistribution of food as a reward for communities that were loyal to them. In the struggle between the basmachi and the Soviets in Eastern Bukhara, ‘the population’s allegiance depended on the ability of different actors in satisfying its most basic needs’.”

End of the Basmachi Revolt in Eastern Bukhara

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In February 1922, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party decreed that in order to cope with the basmachi in Bukhara it was imperative ‘to make concessions to the local population, particularly to return the confiscated vaqf lands, restore traditional courts and pardon moderate elements of the basmachi’. In 1923, Eastern Bukhara became exempt from land tax and received substantial credits and shipments of consumer goods from Russia. In November 1923, selective land and water reform was carried out in the Loqay district, which benefited the majority of the local inhabitants at the expense of the late emir’s estate. Soon after, a conference of Loqay ulama issued a judgment to the effect that, on the one hand, Soviet power was not in contradiction with Islamic norms, and on the other hand the basmachi could not be regarded as defenders of the faith. [Source: “Tajikistan” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Two well-organised campaigns that combined military, political and economic measures brought Eastern Bukhara under Soviet control during 1925 and 1926. This region was spared the horrible excesses that accompanied the strengthening of communist rule in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Still, any serious crisis, such as the bad harvest in 1925 or the attempt at mass collectivisation in 1929, would cause the resurgence of armed resistance. In Eastern Bukhara, ‘although Soviet in name, the local authority structure remained unchanged from the pre-revolutionary period, traditional leaders merely assuming the new Soviet titles’. This situation precluded the implementation of socialist reforms in southern Tajikistan, but at the same time negated any possibility of an all-out anti-Soviet uprising.

“Fuzail Makhsum in 1929 and Ibrahim Bek in 1931 managed to assemble only 150 to 200 warriors in what are considered the two last outbursts of the basmachi movement in Tajikistan. A certain Sufi dignitary summed up the hopelessness of their enterprise when he appealed to Makhsum: ‘Fuzail, don’t fight against the Red Army, because you have neither a state, nor arms. How can you possibly fight such a big and strong power … If you die in this war you will die an ass. You are not going to become a shahid.’46 The pacification of Eastern Bukhara was nearing its end, and the period of Soviet transformation and adjustment was about to commence.”

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

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.