The Uzbek state that conquered the region in the sixteenth century divided into several khanates that ruled until the Russian Empire began taking over Central Asia in the mid-nineteenth century. Part of modern-day Tajikistan was included in the Russian Governorate General of Turkestan (in existence 1867–1917). [Source: Library of Congress, January 2007, **]

During this period, Tajikistan felt the influence of economic changes such as the introduction of cotton and of political forces such as the Jadadist reform movement and the bloody revolt against Russian conscription that began in 1916.

Tajikistan in the 19th Century

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In the mid nineteenth century the territory of present-day Tajikistan was divided between the emirs of Bukhara and the khans of Kokand, while Khujand, Uroteppa (Istaravshon) and Qarotegin (Rasht) remained disputed territories where dominance constantly shifted from one side to another. A number of eastern mountain vilayets (provinces), such as Bukhara’s Darvoz and Kokand’s Shughnan, Vakhan and Rushan, were virtually independent (they sent only occasional gifts to the emir or khan) and unpredictable in their political alignments, thus often presenting a liability rather than an asset for Bukhara and Kokand. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In addition, Bukhara was engaged in permanent squabbles with Afghanistan over Balkh, Hisor, Kulob and the Pamir districts, and both Bukhara and Kokand had aspirations in Chinese Turkestan. On top of internal rivalries amongst constituent units and ongoing external conflicts, the khanates were cursed by a precarious dichotomy between the ancient oasis sites with their intensive agriculture, trade and urban life, on the one hand, and on the other autonomous groups of nomads who did not acknowledge the government’s authority and exploited (or robbed) nearby towns at their discretion. The entry of Russia would eventually sweep aside these patterns of conflict.”

Russian Conquest of Tajikistan

In the late 18th century, Tsarist Russia took advantage of the turmoil in southern Xinjiang to occupy Ili (present-day Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in northernmost Xinjiang, China) and intensified its scheme to take control of the Pamirs of China by repeatedly sending in "expeditions" to pave the way for armed expansion there. Although some armed resistance occurred, Tajik society remained largely unchanged during this initial colonial period.

The western part of what is now Tajikistan was part of the Bukhara emirate. When the Bukhara emirate was annexed by Russia in the 19th century so to was western Tajikistan. The region was ruled as the Turkestan governor-generalship

Eastern Tajikistan is covered by the Pamir mountains. It was largely an unexplored no man’s land with few people other than some nomads and herders that wandered the highland pastures in the summer. It was unclaimed by China, Afghanistan and the Bukhara emirate. Much of activity involving spies and explorers working Russia, Britain and China in the Great Game was to gain control over the Pamirs and eastern Tajikistan. The Russians ultimately prevailed.

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.

In 1895, Britain and Russia attempted to capture Puli (present-day Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, Xinjiang, China). Together with Chinese troops, Tajiks in present-day Xinjiang, China defended the Chinese border. At the same time, Tajik herdsmen volunteered to move to areas south of Puli, where they settled for land reclamation and animal husbandry while guarding the frontiers. [Source: China.org china.org ]

The Tajikistan border was regarded as the southern frontier of the Russian empire. Soldiers were stationed here to hold off Afghan, Iranian and Muslim incursions and influence.

Tajikistan Under Russian Rule

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 *]

An important event of the 1870s was Russia's initial expansion of cotton cultivation in the region, including the areas of the Fergana Valley and the Bukhara Khanate that later became part of Tajikistan. The pattern of switching land from grain cultivation to cotton cultivation, which intensified during the Soviet period, was established at this time. The first cotton-processing plant was established in eastern Bukhara during World War I. *

Eastern Bukhara (Southern Tajikistan) Under the Russians

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The territory of Eastern Bukhara corresponds with the modern-day area that would see the worst of the civil war in Tajikistan, specifically Qurghonteppa, the Vakhsh River region and Kulob. These lands were, throughout all historical periods, the isolated periphery of empires or under the control of various autonomous local powers, but never home to any strong entity that could project power outside the region. After the collapse of the Timurids, the region was under fluctuating levels of influence of the Shaybanid, Janid and Manghit Uzbek dynasties. In the first half of the eighteenth century, as the Bukhara Emirate started to lose authority in the area, the Yuz Uzbeks took control of the Vakhsh Valley and Qubodiyon from their base in Hisor. And at times during the eighteenth century the Vakhsh would come under the control of Kunduz to the south, or Kulob and Baljuvon in the east. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In 1870 the Bukharan Emirate, now under a certain level of tsarist control that would last two years, expanded its control over Qurghonteppa and Qubodiyon with Russian assistance. Qurghonteppa, along with other eastern areas, became a sub-province of Hisor, and the wider region of modern-day southern Tajikistan came to be referred to as Eastern Bukhara. The Bukharan Emirate, allowed by the Russians to keep its bureaucratic structures and emir, attempted to create a bureaucratic structure that would incorporate local political, financial, judicial and religious structures at three levels of government, from top to bottom. This is in line with the tsarist enactment in 1867 of an administrative and territorial reorganisation whereby civil and military powers were exclusively the domain of the military administration while ‘all local affairs were relinquished to the traditional hierarchies’; however, the reality of Bukharan power was not quite so orderly. Hélène Carrère d’Encausse describes a state where many regions were ‘living in a situation of almost total independence or constant rebellion’. The Bukharan Emirate had little semblance of territorial integrity... Eastern Bukhara remained completely devoid of railroads, and pack animals were its main means of transportation.

“Geographic factors of distance, isolation and mountainous terrain gave the Eastern Bukharan lands a high level of autonomy. Anita Sengupta notes that ‘complete control almost entirely eluded the Emirs and people preserved their family community structures’. She goes on to note the lack of stability, with ‘a constant process of flux where assimilation of certain parts was constantly accompanied by the threat of secession by others’. B. I. Iskandarov similarly argues that Bukhara’s failure to unite its eastern domains under centralised rule allowed small, autonomous local social units to prosper. Especially relevant to Tajiks from the mountainous regions, the people here were able, thanks to their geographic location, to sidestep the emirs’ attempts at centralised rule. In Eastern Bukhara, in the eyes of the traditional communities and their leaders, any centralising agent constituted a potential menace. The non-Uzbek peasants and beks treated the emir as an alien ruler and oppressor.”

Revolts Against Russian Rule in Bukhara

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: Political and Social History” 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).”

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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