The History of a National Catastrophe

Rahim Masov

Edited and Translated
Iraj Bashiri

The University of Minnesota
Department of Slavic and Central Asian Languages and Literatures

© Iraj Bashiri, 1996

Tajiks Within the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkistan (ASSRT)

The establishment of the ASSRT and the Russian Federation was a historical event of great proportion, especially in relation to the resolution of the nationality problems in Central Asia. In this context, it dealt heavy blows both against the forces that envisaged the creation of a "Great Turkistan" by unifying all the Turks to be led by Turkey and against those who sought independence from Russia.

There is, however, a discrepancy between the facts and the historical perspective given to the events. For instance, events of the time are documented as though in the Republic of Turkistan the "Tajiks had been given a choice in self-identification" and that that choice had not only been amenable to the promotion of their culture but that it had prepared them for the political arena. The facts do not support this contention; in fact, we believe that there is no foundation for any such claims. Neither is it true that after the establishment of the ASSRT the representatives of the local nationalities participated, in large numbers, in the administration of the Republic and that the minorities were allowed to publish books, newspapers, and the like in their native languages. To the contrary, the oldest people of Central Asia, the Tajiks, did not benefit at all from the social and administrative measures passed by the ASSRT. This was not the fault of the Pan-Turkist element alone; some of the leaders of the ASSRT were equally guilty. They believed that the local people were not intelligent enough to participate in the government, administration, and cultural development of the republic.

In the Reports of the Central Executive Committee of the Union and of the Turkistan Central Executive Committee to the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Union, U. A. Apin explains the situation in Turkistan as follows, "In the beginning, lacking precise Party policies, the local inhabitants were not admitted into the Soviet administrative positions and the Red Army, even though they had prepared themselves, were skillful, and had proven their dedication to the cause of the common good. This kind of treatment brings Muslims to the conclusion that the European nationals (i.e., the Soviet staff managed by the Russians-R.M.) wish to rule over the local inhabitants as they had done in the past." 1

This type of local distrust of the government was harmful. On the ethnic side, it led to regionalism and Pan-Turkism while on the religious side it led to Pan-Islamism. Both currents were fraught with danger for the Tajiks. The main danger was the defection of some Tajik leaders who, to safe-guard their positions, joined the Pan-Turkists.

When the Tajiks entered the self-identification phase of the process, the same individuals continued on their perilous path and made even more damaging mistakes. For example, in the 5th Tajikistan meeting, a People's Commissariat was formed in order to put the Soviet principles of autonomy into action, to ensure the security of peoples' interests, and to attract the mass of the workers to the soviets. Then, on January 16, 1919, the government of the Turkistan Republic announced a new law entitled: "About the Commissariat of the Country Regarding the Problem of Nationalities," for public information. Signed by the Turkistan Central Executive Committee, the law clearly stated that, "They [the minorities] can have their representatives both in the branches dealing with the nationality problems and in the national commissariat dealing with the nationality issues." Following that law, in the Commissariat dealing with the nationalities in the Turkistan Republic, in 1919, the following sections were established: "Uzbek, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Tatar, Fars, Ukrainian, Jewish, and local Jewish." 2 As can be seen, a Tajik section was not established, even though, the Tajik population in many of the cities and regions of Turkistan exceeded the population of the above-mentioned nationalities. The sentiment of the Tajiks and the mood of the time is expressed by Degtiarinka who says, "Although the number of the Tajiks in the Republic of Turkistan exceeded that of the Turkmens, Armenians, Jews, and others (in some cities and regions exceeded even the Uzbeks-R. M.), they were not assigned a section of their own. This brings us to the conclusion that Pan-Turkism and regionalism were still at work and that they prevented the Tajiks from self-determination. 3 Some researchers believe that this discrimination against the Tajiks was because "the national sections of the People's Commissariat of Nationalities (narkomnats), without presenting any trustworthy documentation, denied the existence of the Tajiks as a nation in Turkistan." 4 Others claim that perhaps the Soviet or Party leaders had not been informed that the Tajiks inhabited this land, alongside the above-mentioned nationalities. Needless to say, both claims border on the ridiculous. Even before the Revolution, Russian as well as foreign authors had written extensively about the Tajiks, their history, and their rich cultural heritage. As early as 1921, G. Safarov, one of the great Soviet and Party officials of Soviet Turkistan, who was later repressed, wrote the following about the Tajiks in his Colonial Revolution (The Turkistan Experience), "Among the present-day inhabitants of Turkistan only the Tajiks belong to the ancient Aryan race. Currently, they inhabit the upper reaches of the Zarafshan, the Samarqand region, the Kuhistan valleys, the slopes of the Quqand mountains, Namangan, Margilan, and parts of the Andijan region of Ferghana. They also live in the mountains of Nurata and in the regions of Jizzakh and Katta-Kurgan. The Chinese recognize the inhabitants of the Transcaspia-Khiva, Ferghana, and Sughd-as speakers of Tajiki ("tiagi" in their language)..." 5 Claims that the Turkistan Commissariat might have lacked any knowledge about the existence of the oldest people of Central Asia, the Tajiks, would be meaningless and ridiculous. It would have been absolutely impossible to remain ignorant of the identity of not only the oldest settlers of the region, but of the fact that the region owed its cultural development, progressive use of land, and its urban life to its Tajik inhabitants.

It is sufficient to concentrate on the statements of one of the scholars who says, "... although the Tajiks are the founders of almost all the irrigation systems and are the people who have given life to the villages of Turkistan, presently, they are a dispersed people. Having been driven from their homeland, they are incapable of forming an independent political existence." 6

In the article of the young anthropologist, R. Rahimov, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the learned scholar of Central Asian affairs, I. I. Zarubin, 7 the various locations, cities, and regions where the Tajiks had lived before the national-administrative divisions and thereafter are documented. He states, "According to Zarubin, historically, the Uzbeks have come into being as a result of the coming together of the tribes that form the Kazakhs. After the Uzbeks settled in Transoxania, their lives underwent great changes. In their own manner, in various places, they accepted the Turkish tribes that preceded them and had become intermixed with the Turkish and Iranian tribes of the region..." 8 The author is very correct in stating that, "the coming of the Uzbeks to settle in the region quickened the pace of the Turkicization of the Iranian peoples of the area." 9 Continuing to base his analysis on Zarubin's account, he adds, "Before the coming of the Uzbeks, the Turkish-speaking Iranians of the region were called Uzbek and Kazakh. Some are still being referred to as such. To distinguish themselves from the newcomers, these Uzbeks and Kazakhs tried to establish themselves as Sarts, but failed." 10

Analyzing the formation of the cities of Central Asia, Zarubin states, "In 1915, the Tajik population of the heavily populated city of Samarqand was 59,991 and the Uzbek population was 819." 11 In 1920, in the same place, there lived 44,573 Tajiks and 3,311 Uzbeks. 12 The reason for the decrease in the Tajik population compared to the 1915 census was that the 1917-1918 famine in Samarqand killed a large number of Tajiks. And the increase in the number of the Uzbek-speaking inhabitants can be attributed to the fact that many Tajiks became Uzbek and that many Sarts and others chose the same option." 13 In addition, the following measures played a significant role in bringing about the change: the formation of the Republic of Turkistan; the forced integration of the Tajiks through discriminatory processes of census taking; granting of key positions to Uzbeks; and the translation of administrative records, educational materials, the news, and the documents of the other organs into Uzbeki and Turkish languages.

In R. R. Rahimov's article, Zarubin's ethnographic conclusions are compared with similar data analyzed by other researchers. The results present a fascinating picture: during the few years of the existence of the Republic of Turkistan, the number of Tajiks is alarmingly reduced. For instance, L. F. Kastanko's conclusion, presented by Zarubin, indicates that, "At the end of the past century the main population of Samarqand was Tajik." 14 N. I. Virskii's data also support Kastanko's statement. His sociological table, dealing with the Zarafshan rural district, provides the population for Samarqand at 35,326 (33,622 Tajiks), in 1876. The remaining population consists of Persians, Indians, Central Asian Jews, and Uzbeks. The first general Russian census of 1897, too, indicates that the Tajiks were predominant in the Samarqand region (60. 58% men 66. 58% women), Uzbeks (13. 59% men, 13. 55% women). These statistics, however, are totally obliterated by the results of a new census published in 1926. According to that, the Tajik population of the city of Samarqand is 10,716, and the Uzbek population is 43,304. 15 From this we can conclude that the establishment of the ASSRT provided the foundation for a racial cleansing of the Tajiks to be accomplished through the process of national-administrative divisions-an attempt at corresponding the ethnic identity of the inhabitants with the name of a region. The very appellation, the "Republic of Turkistan," meant that the Turks were the only inhabitants of Central Asia. The leaders of the republic and the officials reporting to the Russians in the Center, were either plagued with amnesia or, knowingly, chose to ignore the advice of learned historians. Even though it was stated repeatedly that the Tajiks were the oldest people of Central Asia and that Tajik self-identification and achievement of independence were of great importance, in the intense struggle between the Pan-Turkists (who sought to establish an independent Turkistan at any cost) and the Soviet and Russian Party officials (who wished to keep Turkistan in the RSFSR), the future prosperity of the Tajik people was compromised.

In the third Muslim Conference of the Communist Party of Russia (b), on the subject of "Autonomy and Centralization," T. Riskulov 16 stated, "Now the communist Turks must correct the mistakes of history, including those of the people of Turkistan. The representatives of the Turkistan workers, the real revolutionaries, must form a unique communist solidarity under the red banner." But, the Pan-Turkists who gathered at the Turkistan Bureau of Muslim Affairs, using revolutionary slogans, promoted the old Pan-Turkist agenda. The representatives of the Bashkird and Tatar intellectuals who worked in Soviet and Party organizations and the Ottoman Turks who were in key positions in the Red Army and the educational establishments also lent their support. When the Pan-Turkists became certain that the Turkish people of Central Asia would not achieve independence without the aid of the Soviet Union, they used the government that had been established by the Red Army as an instrument for furthering the self-identification of the Muslim Turks of Central Asia.

The Soviet government of Turkistan did not implement the process of self-identification of the peoples of Central Asia which had begun during the rule of the Tsars. Indeed, it stopped the process. Consequently, it failed to do justice to the case of the oppressed people, notably the Tajiks. Of course, the main objective of the Turkish-speaking intellectuals-the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyzes, Turkmens, and a certain group of Tajik intellectuals contaminated with Pan-Turkism-was to use Islam to establish an independent Turkish kingdom. The main promoters of this trend were the local young bourgeois and the jadids." This nationalist view, in reality, a Pan-Turkist notion, was promoted by a group of Turkish officers led by Afandiev. These officers originally had been Ottoman Prisoners of War, captured by Russia and sent to Turkistan, where they monopolized the educational system. After a while, the educational systems of the People's Republics of Bukhara and Khwarazm also fell into their hands. In the resolution of the Third Muslim Conference of the country on Autonomy and Centralization, we encounter the following statement, "For the benefit of the creation of an international Union among the workers and oppressed people, the attempt to break up the Turks into the smaller nations of Tatars, Kyrgyzes, Bashkirds, Uzbeks, and the like should be neutralized. Instead, an attempt should be made at the unification of all Turks and the attraction of others who are not included in the RSFSR around a Soviet Turkish republic. If all this is not possible, an attempt should be made to establish separate Turkish kingdoms based on territoriality." 17

The Pan-Turkists had their own interpretation for Karl Marx' slogan, "Proletariats of the world Unite!" In their version, the slogan "international union of all the workers of all countries" and "the oppressed peoples of the world" were changed to "a union of all the Turks." But, in reality, the members of this union shared only two things: the Turkish language and the Islamic faith. 18

Instead of furthering the cause of socialism in Turkistan and attracting the peoples of the republic to the changes introduced by the Revolution, the Pan-Turkists used Pan-Islamism as a means for establishing Pan-Turkism. They intended to revive the socialist "Utopia" of Pan-Turkism, something that was very distant from the interests of the peoples of Central Asia in general, let alone the Tajiks in particular. Indeed, the Turks themselves, especially the Tatars and the Bashkirds, could be harmed by the process. This kind of national policy was detrimental to the national and cultural benefits as well as the political process of self-identification of all the people, including the Uzbeks, Kyrgyzes, and Turkmens, but especially the Tajiks. The Pan-Turkists labeled the historical division of the Turks into Tatars, Kyrgyzes, Turkmens, Bashkirds, and Kazakhs as artificial and regarded all the efforts of the Tatars, Kyrgyzes, and Uzbeks for achieving national identity to be erroneous. In their minds only one nation was worth fighting for-an independent nation composed of Turkish-speaking peoples. 19

In the field of education, especially during the formation of the schools, the special features of the Uzbeki, Turkmeni, and Kyrgyzi languages were ignored. As for Tajiki, its very existence was denied! The Turkicization of the schools was achieved by mixing Turkish and Tatari words. This process could be implemented in this manner because the whole educational reform movement was spearheaded by the Turks and the Tatars. The Turkicization of the schools was implemented within the borders of the republic of Turkistan, even in regions and cities where the inhabitants were not Turks. In addition, when Afandiev was the People's Commissar for Education, he introduced Turkish military marches as well as Turkish songs and drills into all the schools. He also appointed Turk teachers from among the Turkish officers, officially abandoned the use of the new script, and openly persuaded students to involve themselves in religious activities. 20

The 3rd Muslim Conference of the country and the 5th Conference of the Communist Party of Russia (b) resolved that the Republic of Turkistan be recognized as the republic of the Turkish peoples and that the Turkistan Communist Party be recognized as the Communist Party of the Turks. The promoters of this insane idea intended to make the underdeveloped Turkistan, which historically and practically was the home of the Tajiks, the new center of culture for the Turks of the RSFSR. The intent of this action was to alienate the Tajiks and separate Turkistan from Russia. The latter motive became better defined when the struggle began between the Turks and the Russians, whom Afandiev regarded as the real enemy. With this in mind, Afandiev proposed that the government of Turkistan be empowered to administer the republic's "foreign relations" independently. 21

Subsequent events, like the decentralizing efforts of the national union of soviets and Turkish autonomy, reflect the Pan-Turkists' use of the new opportunities to revive and implement their own separatist plans. As the historical experience clearly indicates, all this was happening during an era of revolution and reconstruction. In the past, this happened at the time of the overthrow of the Russian Empire; now it was taking place during the process of democratization in the Soviet Union. The only difference is that this time Pan-Turkism was making its move under the guise of Pan-Islamism, threatening the security of all those who did not have a Turkish affiliation.

From the creation of the ASSRT and throughout its existence, no changes were made to the lifestyle of the Tajiks. This was particularly striking with regard to the appointment of the cadres, formation of self-governing units of Tajiks, establishment of schools, selection of faculty and staff for higher educational establishments, and creation of facilities for the publication of newspapers. This to the point that famous Russian and Soviet Orientalists as well as others knowledgeable about the past history of Central Asia expressed concern about the future of the Tajiks as a people. In 1925, V. V. Barthold wrote, "When the constitution of Turkistan was ratified in 1920, only the Kyrgyzes, Uzbeks, and Turkmens were recognized as 'original residents,' while the most ancient people of the land, the Tajiks, were ignored. History will show the contribution of the 1924 divisions to the revival of the national culture of the Tajiks." 22

All Party and Soviet governmental officials who worked with the local leaders were contaminated with Pan-Turkist ideology. Efforts expended on the formation of the "unified Turkish nation," the "Communist Party of Turkistan," and the military arrangements in Turkistan all spoke clearly of those intentions. The Turk Commission, the Turk Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of the Soviet Union, and, later, the Middle Asia Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of the Soviet Union were unable to stem this wave of regionalism. Eventually, the policy of assimilating the ethnic groups in Central Asia was directed at the Tajiks. They did not consider the fact that many manuscripts and diverse sources in the world of Orientalistics testify that the Tajiks are the oldest people of Central Asia and that, as a people, they had created a unique culture and had retained their language and ethnic distinction.

Ignoring the fact that statistically the Tajiks were the second largest group in the ASSRT, on 14 July, 1918, the Turkistan Central Executive Committee issued the following decree, "Along with Russian, the official language should be the prominent local languages (Uzbeki and Kyrgyzi)." In the report of the commission on devising administrative apparata, issued on 14 September, 1924, it is emphasized that there exist many nationalities in Turkistan and that it is necessary that administration be conducted in the three main languages of Uzbeki, Kyrgyzi, and Turkmeni. 23

This anti-Tajik policy was in opposition not only to known historical facts but to common sense as well. It was obvious to everyone that the Tajiki language had been, and had remained, the language of the eastern peoples for centuries. Before the national-administrative divisions, Tajiki had served as the official language of successive dynasties and governments in Central Asia. Without a knowledge of Tajiki, it would have been difficult to educate the Turks, including those representatives who now denied the existence of Tajiki, about their own cultural heritage. Tajiki is the key to almost all the spiritual treasures of Central Asian peoples. Nevertheless, during the existence of the Turkistan Republic, in its various forms, the economic and cultural interests of the Tajiks were infringed upon. The Turkistan papers openly advocated the killing of Tajiks and the forcing of the Tajiks to accept Uzbek identity.

For instance, in 1924, Turkistan published "In the Land of the Tajiks," in which it was stated, "Efforts at utilizing this language (i.e., Tajiki-R.M.) has the following meanings: 1) seeking distance from life, an effort which history does not approve; 2) acceptance of it, i.e., the Tajiki language, is tantamount to acceptance of a useless and extra element. That is why it is advisable that the Tajiks employ the Uzbeki language and dismiss their 'special language.' Fate has solved their social problem." 24 This is an extremely frightening piece but, at the same time, it is a clear and sobering reflection of its time.

The mainstay of peoples and nations is their language. The elimination of the language brings about the elimination of its speakers as well. That is why, perhaps, at the present time, too, language has become a primary issue. All the Union and independent republics have accepted language laws and are including languages among their organs of government. The issue of national languages and their future development in our national struggle occupy a prominent place in our country.

In the ASSRT, during the years of its existence, efforts at the introduction and expansion of socialist principles among the Tajiks were hindered by the artificial methods of the Pan-Turkists and by the opposition of the chauvinist-nationalists. If, in the other republics, this time marked the beginning of the elimination of economic and cultural inequalities, for the Tajiks it was a time of struggle for survival and for the restoration of their civil rights.

Even though at that time the Tajik population of Turkistan was 1.3 million, in a report by the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Central Asian Bureau of the Communist Party (b) of the Union, I. A. Zelinskii, states that except for Gorno-Badakhshan-western Pamir 25 -the very existence of the Tajiks is denied. 26

It is worth noting that while the 290,000 Turkmens who lived in Tajikistan had been granted the right to publish books and newspapers and to open Turkmeni schools, the Tajiks were deprived of all that. This was the result of the hidden agenda of the Pan-Turkists. Their hostility against the Tajiks reached the highest ranks of Party and Soviet leadership. The proof is the circular of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (b) of Russia, issued on 12 August, 1920, which directs the Communist Party apparata of Turkistan to improve its communist and soviet relations with the local population of the republic. Furthermore, it leaves out the people actually being oppressed. The circular states, "The local inhabitants of Turkistan are the Uzbeks, Kyrgyzes, and Turkmens. The Soviet government must rely on the working masses among these people." 27

The policies of the Pan-Turkists and the Great-Uzbek and anti-Tajik chauvinists yielded devastating results for the Tajiks. Seeing how lucrative jobs went to the Turks and how Uzbeki became the official language of instruction, the majority of the Tajiks panicked. Furthermore, safeguarding themselves and their children against a dim future, they registered themselves as Uzbeks. The 1920 census shows that the number of the Tajiks in Turkistan, in comparison to the previous census, had been reduced by one third. The number of the Uzbeks had increased correspondingly.

In the effort of the Turkicization of the Tajiks of the ASSRT and the other regions of Central Asia, the most zealous were those who had studied in Istanbul, resided in Turkey, or who had willy-nilly found themselves in Central Asia. Most of them were in the educational and in the national military institutions. Academic Z. Sh. Rajabov, explaining the training processes of the instructional cadres in northern Tajikistan, writes, "In the teacher-training courses in Samarqand, alongside the experienced Russian, Tajik and Uzbek teachers, Turkish Prisoners of War also taught. Many of these teachers included extra curricular, Pan-Turkist ideas in their lesson plans. That is why after completing the teacher-training college, we spoke in broken Turkish with our students." 28 In fact, at one point, it became necessary for the future academician Z. Sh. Rajabov to speak at a meeting in Khujand. He had to read to a Tajik audience a text that had been prepared for him by his teacher, in Turkish.

This is how, in the ASSRT, one of the first Soviet Socialist republics in Central Asia, the process of self-identification among the Tajiks did not take place. On the contrary, compared with the pre-revolutionary times, the Tajiks' rights were, to a great extent, infringed upon. Revolutionary changes and, later, the socialist principles prescribed by the Soviet government in economics, politics, and culture proceeded very slowly in Tajik-inhabited areas. During the existence of that republic its leaders, none of whom was Tajik, shared the same objective: the creation of an independent Turkish government. Their main motto was, "Turkistan for the Turks."

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