NATIONALITY OR RELIGION? Views of Central Asian Islam H. B. Paksoy, D. Phil. [Published in AACAR Bulletin (of the Association for the Advancement of Central Asian Research) Vol. VIII, No. 2, Fall, 1995] Part 1 of 4 During the past two and a half millennia, Central Asia was buffeted by several political and religious doctrines. Although the invasion of Alexander of Macedon (356-323 B. C.) did not leave an enduring imprint, the event itself might be taken as an early date marker. The later direct participation of Central Asia in world events did, and still continues to influence the political and cultural events in Europe as well as the rest of Asia.1 Locus and Labels Today, many authors use the designation "Muslim" in their analyses when referring to the territories or people of Central Asia. This is a relatively new phenomenon among a long string of classifications. Central Asia was was labelled "Tartary," or "Independent Tartary" by romantic European cartographers and travellers in the 15th-17th centuries, and the inhabitants were called "Tartar."2 Perhaps Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), by writing fiction about Timur (d. 1405), with a stretch of imagination calling him Tamburlane,3 is one popular source of this peccadillo. But Marlowe's and like-minded authors' writings also betray the inadequate information the Western world possessed on Central Asia despite their fascination with the area. What they did not know, the authors created.4 Only later would the Westerners begin to learn the Central Asian languages and dialects, in order to read what the Central Asians had written about themselves. With the Russian encroachments (East of the Urals, South of Siberia) after the turn of the 18th century, the designation began to be changed to "Kirghizia" and "Kirghiz,"5 a tribal confederation.6 After the Occupation by tsarist armies, when tsarist bureaucrats began to understand the language and dialects of the region in the 19th century, they commenced employing the terms "Turkistan," "Turk" and "Sart." However, the Imperial Russian bureaucratic designations inorodtsy (aliens) and "Muslim" were employed with the establishment of tsarist Military Governorships in Central Asia, especially after 1865.7 The designation Turkistan Military District has been in continuous use since the late 19th c. Meanwhile, portions of the population, on some of whom tsarist citizenship was imposed, were still regarded Turk, Tatar, Kirghiz, Sart; including those living to the West of the Urals (Tatars, Bashkurt), and either side of the Caucasus mountain ranges, including Azerbaijan.8 The Central Asians living around the Altai mountain range were assigned still other designations, despite what they called themselves. Moreover, those designations were changed at various junctures. As Denis Sinor points out in his introduction to Radloff's Proben,9 in the past 100 years, "New, artificial, names have been created and it is not always easy to establish equivalencies."10 This tendency applied to the labels of "languages" as well: Altai was known as Kara-Tatar, later changed to Oirot (doubly misleading, since Oirot is a Mongolian tribal sub-division), and back to Altai; Tuvinian was originally Soyon and Urinkhai and sometimes Shor; Khakass was called Abakan or Abakan-Tatar; Kachin and Sagay were jointly converted into Khakass; Uyghur first became Taranchi, and later Modern Uyghur; Kazakh was Kirghiz. It should be noted that in no Turk dialect is there any such differentiation as Turkic and Turkish. This distinction is a new introduction into the politics of nationalities, and exists in some Western languages, as well as Russian, with the latter referring to the Ottoman or Turkish republican domains and the former, to other Turks.11 With the advent of the glasnost (openness) in Moscow's thinking, the Russian chauvinism began to gain publicity once more. In a recent article on the potential dissolution of the USSR, a Russian nationalist included historically non-Russian lands (the Volga-Urals, Siberia, the Altai) in his picture of a "new Russia."12 The designation "Altai," as Ozbek and Kazakh, are primarily geographical, tribal or confederation names, not ethnonyms. Those appellations were mistakenly or deliberately turned into "ethnic"or "political" classifications by early explorers or intelligence agents arriving in those lands ahead of the Russian armies and bureaucrats. Early in the 8th century, the Turks themselves provided an account of their identity, political order and history. These were recorded on the scores of stelea, written in their unique alphabet and language, and erected in the region of Orkhon-Yenisey.13 This information is corroborated in earlier written sources, in the Byzantine and Chinese chronicles, the Turks' Western and Eastern neighbors, respectively. Most mountains, cities, lakes, deserts, rivers in this region, from early historical times until the Soviet period, carried names of Turkish origin.14 They are being restored in the late 1980s as demanded by the Central Asians. Turkish language and its many dialect groupings such as Orkhon, Kipchak, Uyghur, Chaghatay, constitute a very large portion of the Altaic family. The dialect currently spoken in the Altai region is related to old Orkhon and Uygur. Only since the Soviet language "reforms," especially of the 1930s, have the dialects been asserted to be "individual and unrelated Central Asian languages." They are mutually intelligible. After the dissolution of the Mongol empire, the Chinese (Manchu) asserted control over portions of the previous eastern Mongolian territories in the 18th c. (approx. 1757-1912), including a part of a larger Altai region, the "Tuva" area Altaian Turks became vassals of the Chinese. Tuva was designated a "country" for the benefit of the tsarist government, and in 1912, like Mongolia, gained independence from China. It became a Russian "protectorate" in 1914.15 During 1921, the Tuva People's Republic was created, much like the Mongolian Republic, theoretically not part of USSR. In 1944, Tuva People's Republic "asked" to join the Soviet Union. The Altaian Turks eventually were incorporated into the Russian Empire, in the Altai okrug, about the size of France and had a total population of 3.6 million, including many Russian settlers. administered directly by the tsarist Cabinet. The inhabitants were counted as inorodtsy (aliens). The number of settlers grew, displacing the native population from their land. During 1907-09 alone, 750,000 Russian settlers came to the Altai region, taking land that had been declared "excess." During the 19th c., the railroad had linked Altaian towns to Russian markets, thus strengthening the exclusive economic links with Russia. A Bolshevik-dominated soviet took power in the capital, Barnaul in 1920. Thus the greater part of Altai region was incorporated into the ever expanding USSR. These were and are part of the Nationalities Policies originally designed by the tsarist bureaucrats and put into use by Lenin and expanded by Stalin. By and large, these policies subsequently remained in force regardless of the changes in the CPSU leadership.16 Hence, the discussion centering on one appellation may not provide the full understanding of events in Central Asia. Religion --specifically Islam-- has its place in this society as in any other, in the realm of individual conscience or in mass politics. Whether or not religion reached the point of a universal identity for the Central Asians, submerging all other possible identities, has been a matter of prolonged debate. The tsarist era historian (of German origin) W. Barthold (1869-1930) declared that, when asked, a Central Asian would identify himself in a three step process: 1. local (i.e. name of village or tribal origin); 2. regional (Bukhara, Khorasan, etc); 3. religious (Muslim). Bennigsen reversed that order. Later observers emphasized a crucial fact: the identity of the questioner. The Central Asians may indeed have answered as outlined above, but due to considerations not immediately clear to the questioner. The Central Asian respondent did not know the true motivation for the outsiders' curiosity. Perhaps he was a tsarist colonial tax collector, Bolshevik political agent or military surveyor, none of whom was especially welcome. The Central Asian did not have to bare their souls to those "aliens." Bennigsen, recognizing this phenomenon and the tendency to "conceal the true self- identification" born out of concern for self-preservation, later called that practice (of giving variable responses according to the perceived identity of the questioner) "the tactical identity."17 The Soviet apparatus had other opinions concerning the identity issue, including the designation of "nationalities" in the smallest possible sizes. No small "nation" could block the creation of a new breed, the "Soviet person" (Sovetskii chelovek) devoid of past affiliations and allegiances.18 The Central Asians' own expressions of identity were contained in their own dialects in their local and regional media. These declarations are by no means a product of the Soviet period, for they go back centuries. Only recently have those examples reached the attention of the outside observers.19 Arrival of Islam in Central Asia Islam is the latest religion to reach Central Asia. The indigenous Tengri and Shamanism,20 which appears to have co- existed with Zoroastrianism, prevailed even after the arrival of other religions such as Buddhism and Manichaeanism.21 The introduction of Islam into Central Asia went through roughly three stages: force of arms and alms; the scholasticist madrasa; Sufism. But the first group to come into contact with Islam in Central Asia were not the Shamanistic or Buddhist Turks. It was the Zoroastrian Persians.22 Within 100 years of the death of the Prophet Muhammad, i.e. by 750, the Muslim Arabs had expanded their political state far beyond the Arab lands. Consequently, the Muslim community of believers, umma, began to encompass ethnicities beyond the Arabs themselves. The first non-Arabs to accept Islam in large numbers were the Persians, whose empire the Arab forces defeated in a series of battles between 637-651. Far more numerous than the Arabs, and with a tradition of kingship and bureaucracy going back for many centuries, the Persians altered the character of Islam in southwest Asia. As Richard N. Frye has put it, the influx of Persians into the umma "broke the equation that Arab equals Muslim." He calls this process the "internationalization" of Islam. The large number of Zoroastrians in the vast Sassanian bureaucracy (scribes, tax- gatherers, translators, civil and foreign service officials, etc) forced the Arabs eventually to allow them special "protected" status like those of the Christians and Jews, though the Zoroastrians were not people of any "book." Thus administrative practice --including the caliph's rule when it was moved to Baghdad from Damascus in 750-- bore an unmistakable Persian stamp. The language of bureaucracy was Persian, though the language of religion remained Arabic.23 From here, early in the 8th century, the Islamic forces sought to extend their sway into Transoxania, to the Iranian (Samanid Empire centered in Bukhara)24 and Turkish (Uygur, Karluk)25 Empires centered in their ancient cities.26 Beyond the cities were the Chinese. The campaigns began around 705 and led within ten years to the defeat or subduing of the major cities and empires of Transoxania. This was also the time when Bilge Kagan and Kul Tigin of the Orkhon-Yenisey stelea were rebuilding their empire.27 But the death of the leading Arab general in Transoxania and civil wars among the Muslims were coupled with the rise of Chinese power in Mongolia, ended the contests for Transoxania and gave the local rulers some respite.28 Fighting resumed by mid-century. The execution of a Turkish ruler in Tashkent led the people of the town to call for aid from the Arabs and perhaps also from the Karluk Turks.29 In July 751, the Chinese forces lost to these combined armies ending Chinese influence in Central Asia. According to Barthold, this day was decisive in determining that Central Asia would be Turkish rather than Chinese. The Chinese, however, were also diverted by an uprising in the center of their own domains and entirely lost Central Asia.30 Thereafter, the local rulers throughout Transoxania and the empires built there --both Persian and Turkish-- partially professed Islam, until the Mongol conquests of Chinggiz Khan and his armies in the 13th c. The members of the steppe societies remained beyond the Islamic lands, and entered into the Islamic world almost exclusively as individuals, as military bondsmen, or mamluks. The mamluks came to constitute an elite cavalry (later palace guard) in many Muslim states, Arab, Persian and Turkish, for no training in a sedentary empire could produce a horseman and warrior equal to the steppe nomad. There are cases in which a mamluk would seize power from a weak ruler and found his own dynasty. Such is the case of Alptigin, founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty (994-1186) that ruled from Ghazna in what is now Afghanistan.31 On the Western edges of Central Asia, other tribal confederations --such as the Karakalpak and the Khazar-- held power "in a checkerboard pattern," as Peter Golden points out, centuries prior to the arrival of Mongols. Some had been converted to Judaism, others to Christianity.32 Both groups have left Turkic language documents using a number of alphabets, the first one being unique to themselves.33 The European missionaries were active among them, and one such group translated an eulogy to Jesus Christ into their language.34 By means of the mamluk phenomenon and by conversion of Turkish empires and populations, a third major people began, slowly at first, to enter the Islamic community and to alter it in their turn. The language of the Turks became the third major language of the Islamic world by the 10-11th centuries --the language of the military and, in sizeable number of cases, of imperial rule:35 In the East, the Ghaznavids (dynasty r. 994- 1186) and Karakhanids (10th-11th c.);36 in the Center, Seljuks/Oghuz (1018-1237)37 and the Timurids (15th-16th c.)38; in the West, the Ottomans (13th-20th c.);39 the Golden Horde Khanates (14th-16th c.)40 to the Northwest. The famed North African origin traveller Ibn Battuta (1304-1368) indicates that Islam was found to be making inroads into Crimea by the 14th century.41 "From the 11th century onwards, the Islamic world became increasingly ruled by Turkish dynasties until eventually, rulers of Turkish origin were to be found in such distant places from their homeland as Algeria and Bengal" writes C. E. Bosworth.42 It was in the 11th c. that Kasgarli Mahmud wrote the Kitab Diwan Lugat at Turk, to teach Turkish to non-Turks, as he explained in his introduction.43 Ettuhfet uz zekiyye fil lugat it Turkiyye, a mamluk period Kipchak Turkish grammar and dictionary appears to have been written with the same intention, but a bit later.44 It was also under the patronage of the 11th c. Turkish Ghaznavid ruler Mahmud that the Persian poet Firdawsi compiled the surviving fragments of the old Persian epic and "resuscitated" Persian in his Shahnama.45 In the 13th century, the armies of Chinggiz Khan (d. 1227), his sons and generals "reinvigorated" Transoxania (and other places from China to the Volga and eventually Budapest) with steppe elements, both Mongol and Turk. The Rus were but one of their vassals. The new empire was religiously tolerant, as were its predecessors, with the khans (rulers) often having Christian or Muslim wives. The khans themselves adhered to their traditional beliefs, Shamanism and, according to at least one source, of Tengri, the monotheistic pre-Islamic religion of the Turks. Within one century after the conquests ceased, however, most of the successor states, except that in China under Kublai Khan, would also embrace Islam, and became markedly less tolerant of other religions. Although this conversion contributed to their own political decline, the process strengthened the Islamic and Turkish (for the Turkish element was greater in those armies that moved farthest west) patterns that had existed in Central Asia before the Chinggizid conquests.46 After the Mongol irruption, the older political entities began a long process of fusion. Timur and his dynasty arose after that period, uniting Central Asia under his rule. Timur, a Turk of the Barlas clan used Chinggizid legitimacy, even taking a Mongol wife. He and his successors ruled Central Asia and northern India from the 14th century until the end of the Moghul dynasty of India in the 18th century (his direct descendant Babur 1483-1530 founded the Moghul dynasty).47 The Ottomans, whom Timur defeated, underwent serious difficulties in reasserting their authority in their former territories.48 Thus the three major peoples to accept Islam were firmly established --Arabs, Persians and Turks-- and knowledge was preserved and literature created in all three languages. Scholarship in its many branches --philosophy, theology, law, medicine, astronomy and mathematics, poetry, manuals of statecraft-- were produced over the centuries by native Central Asian scholars who adhered to the new religion. Individuals such as Farabi (ca. 870-950)49, and Ibn-i Sina (d.1037)50 made original contributions and preserved knowledge of the ancient world when libraries were destroyed in warfare, including the Crusades.51 Others, for example, Ibn Turk (10th c.),52 Ulugbeg (d. 1449)53, Khorezmi (10th c.)54 contributed to the expansion of knowledge, especially mathematics. From their translations Europe was later able to recover that knowledge. The post-Mongol period reflected the flexible use of languages. Babur (1483-1530) wrote his memoirs, the celebrated Baburname55 in Turkish, while his cousin held his court in Herat56 and produced enduring works of both Persian and Turkish poetry. Meanwhile, Fuzuli (d. 1556) was creating some of the best examples of poetry of the period in Turkish.57 In the famous correspondence of 1514 between Shah Ismail (r. 1501-1524), the Turkish founder of the Safavid dynasty of Iran (dynasty r. 1501- 1736)58, and the Ottoman sultan Selim I (r. 1512-20), Selim wrote in Persian, while the Ismail wrote in his native Turkish. Selim would defeat Ismail later that year in the famous battle of Chaldiran in 1514 thereby preserving his hold over eastern Asia Minor. Political legitimacy in Central Asia always required mass communication. Perhaps the Shibaninama59 of the early 16th c. is a good example, seeking to convince the population that this ruler, Shiban of the Ozbeks, was every bit a good and capable ruler as those preceded him.60 This task, in an age before movable type, was accomplished through the medium of literature. Poetic anthologies, often in manuscript, were duplicated by copyists in palace libraries or by private savants. The contents of these collected treasures (or single poems) were committed to memory by individuals for later oral recitation. The "minds and hearts" campaigns were used more often than armed troops, for the poetry proved more effective than the sword in convincing the Central Asians. In this manner, the rulers also wished to preserve the history of their reigns. The impetus for communication also came from the people, wishing to safeguard their heritage. The Oghuz, also called the Turkmen,61 constituted the basis of the Seljuk empire.62 After the fall of the Seljuk empire, the Oghuz/Turkmen groups did not disappear. Abul-Ghazi Bahadur Khan (1603-1663), ruler of Khiva, was asked by his Turkmen subjects (which constituted a large portion of the population) to compile the authoritative genealogy of their common lineage from many extant written variants. He prepared two, under the titles Secere-i Terakime (probably completed in 1659) and Secere-i Turk.63 These genealogies are quite apart from the dastan genre. The two constitute parallel series of reference markers on the identity map. The dastans are the principal repository of ethnic identity, history, customs and the value systems of its owners and composers, which commemorates their struggles for freedom.64 The Oghuz Khan dastan, recounting the deeds and era of the eponymous Oghuz Khan was one of the fundamental dastans.65 Despite their non-Turkish titles, genealogies, histories, or political tracts belonging to the Turks were originally written in Turkish. An example of this phenomenon is Firdaws al-Iqbal,66 written in the Chaghatay dialect. This is is also true of Ali Shir Navai (1441-1501) and his Muhakemat al Lugateyn.67 Quite a few of those original Turkish works were translated into Persian and Arabic, and came to be known in the west from those languages rather than the original Turkish. Thus language alone was no sure indicator of ethnicity, for the educated came to be versed in the major languages of the Islamic world at --Arabic, Persian and later, Turkish. Yet, the differences among them remained. Many pre- Islamic values of each culture survived the transition to Islam and was preserved in the native language of each people. Islamic period works of various courts reflected the retention of traditional values. Among the "mirror for princes" works68 the earliest is the Turkish-Islamic work of statecraft, the 11th c. Kutadgu Bilig. It calls upon the king to be a just ruler, mindful of the needs of the people, and thereby echoes older traditions.69 Those Central Asians farthest from the border of Islamic lands were the last to adopt Islam and retained their traditional beliefs to the greatest degree. The Kazakh and Kirghiz of the steppe were converted to Islam only in the late 18th-early 19th centuries by Volga Tatars thanks to policies of Catherine II, of Russia (r. 1762-96), who apparently hoped that Islam would soften those populations and make them more receptive to the tsarist empire. She allowed the Tatars to represent her court in Transoxania trade. On the way, the merchants were encouraged to form settlements and convert nomads.70 The Kazakh and Kirghiz, even today, retain much of their pre-Islamic way of life including mastery of the horse, drinking kumiss71 and extensive personal independence of women so characteristic of steppe societies.72 Thus Arabs remained Arabs; Persians, Persians; and Turks remained Turks. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the non-Arabs would debate the real meaning of Islam for them and its role in their identities. The tension, even hostility, among them remained as well, and is documented by the slurs and stereotypes, and by frequent warfare (up to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s) despite the ideal and rhetoric and dreams of Islamic brotherhood and the indivisibility of the umma. Sufism Sufism, one of the forces responsible for spreading Islam, is the "mystical dimension of Islam," as the preeminent scholar of Sufism, Annemarie Schimmel called her classic work on the subject.73 In each of the topics referenced in this study, the Western reader relying only on English-language works, must be extremely cautious. This is true also on the subject of sufism. Over the centuries, excesses and indulgences also took place in the name of sufism. More than a few Western writers have described the entire complex phenomenon of Sufism on the basis of such exaggerated events. Schimmel remains the most reliable, and sympathetic, source available in English. Her approach takes account of sufism as an individual mystical quest and as the basis for organized brotherhoods called tariqa. Because the tariqa develop later in history than sufism itself, she addresses them toward the end of her volume.74 One of the earlier sufis was Ahmet Yesevi (lived and died in current day Kazakistan), wrote his major work Hikmet in Turkish in the 12th c.75 Meanwhile, the other key institution responsible for the diffusion of Islam, the madrasas (scholastic schools), declined in quality; failing to square themselves to the changing social and economic conditions around them.76 They had not clarified a method of comparing and contrasting their own methods against the state of evolving knowledge in the world. As one result, the rote system in use sapped the vitality of original thinking and calcified what remained.
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