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 2 of 4

Tsarist Expansion 

     The tsarist state had been expanding across Asia
since the conquest of the Volga in the 1550s by Ivan IV
"the Terrible" (r. 1530-1583). In the 19th century, it
began its southward expansion toward Transoxania from
forts on the steppe. In the south, the British East India
Company had established itself at the end of the 18th
century in India, destroying independent princedoms in
the South and the last of the Moghuls in the North. In
post 17th century Central Asia, the earlier powerful land
empires that held sway had been mortally wounded by
internal and external forces-- struggles, even civil
wars, for the thrones were fought for by an overabundance
of heirs and other claimants; and the shift to maritime
trade routes drew commerce to the coasts. After the
fallof the Timurid empires in Central Asia and the later
Safavid dynasty in Iran, the area from the
Tigris-Euphrates to the Altai mountains broke into a
number of relatively small (compared to the empires that
preceded them) states. In the 18th century, the political
landscape was marred by warfare among these states. Their
economic decline continued. 
     This decline of the landed empires of Asia coincided
with European expansion and accumulation of colonies. The
Russians, perhaps the most expansionist of powers and
Central Asia's nearest neighbor, was drawn to Central
Asia by the lure of reputed riches in cities along the
former Silk Road and the prestige of colonial holdings.
An arch of forts built across the steppe south of Siberia
during the 18th century was one step in the process of
expansion. Catherine "the Great" not only used the Tatars
to spread Russian influence in Transoxanian, but in an
equally subtle policy, established a "Muslim Spiritual
Board" in Orenburg. Ostensibly an instrument of "Muslim
self-government," the Board operated according to strict
state regulations. Under Nicholas II (1825-1855), two
more would be established in Tbilisi for Sunni and Shi'i
     Russian expansion in Asia would be further spurred
in the 19th century by military defeats in other
theaters. The most humiliating defeat was the Crimean War
(1853-56) in which European states successfully blocked
Russian pretensions in the eastern Mediterranean,
including the tsar's claims for privileged access to the
Holy Land as "protector" of the Orthodox in Ottoman 
domains (a claim first made by Catherine in the
Treaty of Kuchuk Kaynarja [1774]). The now fragmented
Central Asian states, proved more vulnerable targets than
European rivals. The tsarist military occupation of
Central Asia was done between the 1865 invasion of
Tashkent and the massacre of the Turkmen at Gok-Tepe in
1881. Millions of Central Asians (and enormous amount of
territory containing untold amount of natural resources)
were added to the empire. The Central Asians comprised
just under 20% of the population according to the 1897
     In the wake of conquest, direct military rule was
imposed (except in Khiva and Bukhara, which became
protectorates for a spell78), Christian missionary
activity strove to shape education, literature and
publishing. One tsarist missionary was ingratiating
himself to the Tashkent ulema with:
     You cannot understand how I feel. Islam is the most 
     perfect religion on this world. What makes me most 
     depressed is that some of the youth of Turkistan are
     inclined towards Russian schools. They are studying
     in such schools. This causes them to lose their
     religious feelings. They are shaving their beards and
     mustaches, wearing Russian style clothes, neckties and
     boots.  As a result, I can see that they are becoming
     Christians.  This makes me melancholy. 
     This remorseful Christian was the advisor to the
tsarist Military Governor in Tashkent, and his known
activities suggest the existence of items other than
Christianity or Islam on his operational agenda. He was
attempting to prevent the Central Asians from learning
tsarist methods of control, to forestall the time when the
Central Asians could take a more knowledgeable stand
against tsarist colonialism.79 
     Perhaps, the tsarist policies showed remarkable
similarity to Roman policies in Britain. During the First
century A. D., the Roman statesman and historian Tacitus
     Once they [Britons] owed obedience to kings; now
     they are distracted between the warring factions of 
     rival chiefs. Indeed, nothing helped us more in fighting 
     against their very powerful nations than their 
     inability to cooperate. It is but seldom that two or
     three states unite to repel a common danger; thus, 
     fighting in separate groups, all are conquered....
     Not only were the nearest parts of Britain gradually 
     organized into a province, but a colony of veterans 
     also was founded. Certain domains were presented to 
     King Cogidumnus, who maintained his unswerving
     loyalty down to our own times --an example of the long- 
     established Roman custom of employing even kings to 
     make others slaves.... 80  
     Agricola had to deal with people living in 
     isolation and ignorance, and therefore prone to
     fight; and his object was to accustom them to a life of
     peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. He
     therefore gave private encouragement and official assistance
     to the building of temples, public squares, and good 
     houses. He praised the energetic and scolded the
     slack; and competition for honour proved as effective as 
     compulsion. Furthermore, he educated the sons of the
     chiefs in the liberal arts, and expressed a
     preference for British ability as compared with the trained
     skills of the Gauls. The result was that instead  of
     loathing the Latin language they became eager to speak it 
     effectively. In the same way, our national dress
     came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen.
     And so the population was gradually led into the 
     demoralizing temptations of arcades, baths, and 
     sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke
     of such novelties as 'civilization,' when in fact they 
     were only a feature of their enslavement.81 
     Combination of cooptation by selective rewards,
demoralization by pressure and corruption by comfort was
practiced by the Russians. Later Russian peasants were
settled in Central Asia to wage demographic battle. A
strategically important railroad leading to the Far East
was begun, employing many Russian workers who reinforced
Russian presence and would be fertile ground for socialist
agitation (some 200,000 Chinese laborers also working on
this project were later armed by the Bolsheviks against
all National Liberation Movements in Central Asia). The
Russian state extracted natural resources, and
imposed cotton cultivation to compensate for the loss of
the U.S. cotton supply in the 1860s. Russia's growing
textile and munitions industries acquired new source of
cotton;82 Central Asia lost its food crops. In the 20th
century, after a century of irrigation and the pesticides
required to fulfill repeated Soviet Five Year Plans,
Central Asia would lose the Aral Sea.  After the first
shock of conquest, Central Asian resistance to the
Russians began. Initially it was limited to the literary
field. Soon, armed struggle also began.83 
The Great Game 

     The "Great Game," the Anglo-Russian competition for
land and influence across Asia, was played in two adjacent
arenas. The main arena was Turkistan-Afghanistan, where
tsarist armies moved south to annex the former as the
British tried to keep them north of the latter, in defense
of British India. Second, but in some respects more
complex, was the Caucasus-Iran threater. Caucasia was the
place where the Great Game met the Eastern Question, the
multipower struggle over the eastern Mediterranean and
the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The Russian conquest of
the Caucasus entailed two Russo-Iranian wars (1806-1813
and 1826-1828) and one Russo-Ottoman war (1828-1829).
Russian power was now closer to the Mediterranean (and
therefore Suez, a gateway to India) and to India's
neighbor Iran. Perhaps more worrying for the British,
the Russo-Iranian Treaty of Turkmanchai (1828) granted
Russia concessions in Iran: Russian goods imported into
Iran would be exempt from internal tariffs; Russian
subjects would not be subject to Iranian law; only Russia
could maintain a fleet on the Caspian. The latter
potentially enabled Russian forces to land on the
southeast Caspian shore, closer to Herat (Afghanistan), a
possible stepping-stone to an invasion of India, or so
the British feared. England thereafter strove to gain a
foothold in Iran as both she and Russia competed for
legal and economic concessions there as a means to exert
political influence.84 The Great Game also had a Far
Eastern component manifested in its advances against
China and a series of unequal treaties signed with
Chinese rulers after 1858.85
       Later in the 19th century, competition for
colonies and for influence in Central Asia grew sharper.
Political deadlocks in Europe often led the Powers to
carry their rivalry to Asia or Africa. Russian gains in
the Russo-Turkish war of 1875-1877 alarmed Europe which
feared a Power imbalance, but especially Britain, always
concerned over lines of communication with India.The
resulting Congress of Berlin (1878), hosted by German
Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, deprived Russia of the
fruits of her victories and also awarded the island of
Cyprus to the British, assuring British dominance in the
eastern Mediterranean.  Though this arrangement by Bismarck
and British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli soothed
British nerves, it angered the Russians, seriously
damaging German-Russian relations. To the Russians,
expansion in Central Asia promised more certain returns on
Russian "investments."  
     During the 1890s, the British and Russians
negotiated the Russian-Afghan border, established Afghanistan 
as an official "buffer" under English influence in 1907-1909
and thereby called a halt to the Great Game, at least for
the time being.86  Perhaps Britain had been pushed to the
limit of tolerance and Russia knew that in a direct
military conflict, victory could not be assured.  Certainly
both Powers feared the rise of Germany, mainly in Europe
and on the seas, but also in the scramble for African
colonies and because Germany was entering the Great Game.
German interests envisioned a railroad from Berlin to
Beijing, through the length of the Ottoman Empire and
Central Asia.  Due to the political and military
conditions on the ground, the project was scaled down,
and the railroad turned south towards Baghdad --remained
entirely within the Ottoman Empire. 
     The Great Game was not limited even to these
political, diplomatic and economic moves. European states
systematically acquired, stored and studied knowledge of
the "Orient" in the proliferating state-sponsored
Oriental Institutes.87 European Orientalists, in service
of their governments, laid the foundation for policies
like Christian proselytization in education and
publishing, but also elaborated justifications for
Europeans' "civilizing" the peoples of Central Asia.
Among these was the notion of "Pan-Turkism."88 
"Pan" Movements 

     "Pan-Turkism" or "Pan-Turanism" was ostensibly a
movement by Turks to establish hegemony over the world, or
at least Eurasia. In fact, this "Pan" movement has no
historical ideological precedent among Turks and has been
documented to be a creation of the Westerners. Around the
time of the occupation of Tashkent by Russian troops in
1865, the doctrine called or "Pan-Turkism" appeared in a
work by Hungarian Orientalist Arminius Vambery.
The premise of this notion was that since the overwhelming
majority of the Central Asians spoke (and still speak)
dialects of Turkish, share the same historical origins
and history, "they could form a political entity
stretching from the Altai Mountains in Eastern Asia to the
Bosphorus," where the capital of the Ottoman Empire was
located.89 This pseudo-doctrine was then attributed to
the Turks themselves, and the Russians and Europeans
claimed it was a revival of Chinggiz Khan's conquests, a
threat not only to Russia, but the whole of Western
civilization.90  In this tactic, attributing aggressive
designs to the target, seemed to justify any action
against Central Asia, a new "crusade" in the name of
     After the Germans joined the Great Game, to
undermine British control in Central Asia, Germans
manipulated both "Pan- Turkism" and "Pan-Islamism."91 The
Pan-Islamic Movement was an anti-colonial political
movement of the late 19th century, and must be
distinguished from the "orthodox" Islamic unity of all
believers, the umma.  Jamal Ad-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897)
established the movement in its political form, striving
to achieve the political unity of Muslims to fight
against colonialism and the colonial powers. It was
popular among Indian Muslims and in north Africa. 
However, the movement also served the colonial powers
well.  Painted as a reverse-Crusade --without necessarily
using the terminology, but through graphic allusions--
the Colonial powers could mobilize both Western public
opinion and secret international alliances to fight the
"emerging threat."  The Germans, after the death of
al-Afghani, sought to make that threat as real as
possible for the British in India.92  The manipulation of
both "Pan"s would not die with the old century. 
The early 20th Century 
     In 1905-1906 the defeat of the tsarist Russians by
the Japanese began a new chapter against the Russian
colonial rule in Central Asia. Since the tsarist military
occupation of Central Asia, one of the inflexible Russian
policies was the imposition of limits on printed material
in Central Asian dialects by Central Asian authorship.
Beginning with 1906, this long-standing ban against
Turkish dialect publications were circumvented by
the Central Asians through various ruses.93  Thereafter,
there was a veritable explosion of periodicals and
monographic publishing. According to one catalog, in one
territory, more than one thousand different books were 
issued in less than ten years.94 This activity was to be 
ended by the Red Army's occupation of Central Asia. Soviet
censorship took on an additional face, employing new and
revised methods.95  
     Before all the elected Central Asian Delegates could
reach St. Petersburg, the First Duma (1906) was abrogated
by tsar Nicholas II.96  A number of the assembled Central
Asian Delegates signed the 1906 Vyborg Manifesto,
protesting the Duma's dissolution. The meeting was
carefully planned, with a touch of cloak-and-dagger to
escape the tsarist secret police.97 The act itself marked
a new resistance to the Russians, but the basic issues
were already articulated on the pages of the bilingual
Tercuman newspaper, published by Ismail Bey Gaspirali in
     The Second Duma (1907) was abrogated within three
months, and the new electoral law of 1907 utterly
disenfrenchised Central Asia. They had no representatives
in the Third and the Fourth Dumas. The memory of the
occupation and resentment of the occupiers' repressive
policies were fresh in the minds of the Central Asians,
when the tsarist decree of 25 June 1916 ordered the first
non-voluntary recruitment of Central Asians into the army
during the First World War.  The Central Asian reaction
marked the beginning of the Turkistan National Liberation
Movement.  Russians were to call this struggle "Basmachi,"
in order to denigrate it.  The resentment was enhanced by
historical memories: Central Asian empires antedated the
first mention of the word Rus in the chronicles,99 and
some had counted the Russians among their subjects. 
     The Turkistan National Liberation Movement was a
reaction not only to conscription, but to the tsarist
conquest itself and the policies employed by the tsarist
state in that region. Zeki Velidi Togan (1890-1970) was
for over half a century a professor of history [and
shared similar objectives with his contemporary
colleagues Czech Thomas Masaryk (1850-1937) and Ukrainian
Michael Hrushevsky (1866-1934)].  A Central Asian himself
and a principal leader of the 1916 Turkistan National
Liberation Movement, Togan described the sources and
causes of the movement as follows:   
     Basmachi is derived from baskinji, meaning attacker,
     which was first applied to bands of brigands. During
     tsarist times, these bands existed when independence was
     lost and Russian domination began in Turkmenistan,
     Bashkurdistan and the Crimea. Bashkurts [in Russian language
     sources: "Bashkir"] called them ayyar, by the Khorasan term.
     In Crimea and, borrowed from there, in Ukraine,
     haydamak100  was used. Among Bashkurts such heroes as
     Buranbay became famous; in Crimea, there was [a leader
     named] Halim; and in Samarkand, Namaz. These did not bother
     the local native population but sacked the Russians and the
     Russian flour- mills, distributing their booty to the
     population.  In Ferghana, these elements were not extinct at
     the beginning of 1916. 
     .... after the proliferation of cotton planting in
     Ferghana the economic conditions deteriorated further. This
     increased brigandage. Among the earlier Basmachi, as was the
     case in Turkey, the spiritual leader of the Uzbek and
     Turkmen bands was Koroglu. Basmachi of Bukhara, Samarkand,
     Jizzakh and Turkmen gathered at nights to read Koroglu and
     other dastans.101  What has the external appearance of
     brigandage is actuality a reflection and representation of
     the thoughts and spirit of a wide segment of the populace.
     Akchuraoglu Yusuf Bey reminds us that during the
     independence movements of the Serbians, the hoduk; the
     kleft; and palikarya of the Greeks comprised half
     nationalist revolutionaries and half brigands. The majority
     and the most influential of the Basmachi groups founded
     after 1918 did not at all follow the Koroglu tradition, but
     were composed of serious village leadership and sometimes
     the educated. Despite that, all were labelled Basmachi.
     Consequently, in Turkistan, these groups are regarded as
     partisans; more especially representing the guerilla groups
     fighting against the colonial power.
     Nowadays, in the Uzbek and Kazakh press, one reads
     about Chinese, Algerian and Indian Basmachi.102 
     The Roman historian Tacitus also records the
resistance of the Britons to the Romans, in the words of the
     We [Britons] gain nothing by submission except
     heavier burdens for willing shoulders. We used to have one
     king at a time; now two are set over us --the governor to
     wreak his fury on our life-blood; the procurator, on
     our property. Whether our masters quarrel with each 
     other or agree together, our bondage is equally 
     ruinous. The governor has centurions to execute his 
     will; the procurator, slaves; and both of them add 
     insults to violence. Nothing is any longer safe from
     their greed and lust. In war it is at least a braver
     man who takes the spoil; as things stand with us, it
     is most cowards and shirkers that seize our homes,
     kidnap our children, and conscript our men  --as though it 
     were only for our country that we would not face
     death.  What a mere handful of our invaders are, if we
     reckon up our own numbers! Such thoughts prompted the
     Germans to throw off the yoke; and they have only a river,
     not the ocean, to shield them. We have country, wives,
     and parents to fight for; the Romans have nothing but
     greed and self-indulgence. Back they will go, as their 
     deified Julius [Caesar] went back, if we will but 
     emulate the valour of our fathers. We must not be 
     scared by the loss of one or two battles; success
     may give an army more dash, but the greater
     staying-power comes from defeat....  For ourselves, we have
     already taken the most difficult step; we have begun to
     plan.  And in an enterprise like this there is more danger
     in being caught planning than in taking the plunge.103 
     Comparing Roman Britons to Russian held Turkistan,
it appears that the Russians have not been as successful
as the Romans and the Central Asians were also aware of
their predicament.  
     One of the first actions of the Turkistan National
Liberation movement was to establish educational
societies, and prepare for the founding of universities.
Though precedent existed in US, Europe, Togan states that
the Central Asians were not acting on such Western
examples104, as the tsarist censorship kept the Western
works out of reach.  The Central Asians were simply
recalling their own past from their own sources, and
wished to proceed with the educational reforms.
Even though considerable amount of those manuscript
sources were forcibly collected by the Russians and
transported out of Central Asia.105
     The Turkistan Extraordinary Conference of December
1917 announced the formation of Autonomous Turkistan,
with Kokand as its capital. Bashkurdistan had declared
territorial autonomy in January of 1918; the Tatars also
took matters in hand in forming their autonomous region.
Also in spring 1918, the Azerbaijan Republic and others
came into being in the empire's former colonies. It
seemed as if the Russian yoke had ended and freedom
reigned. However, since the overthrow of the tsar
(February 1917), local soviets were established, again by
Russian settlers, railroad workers and soldiers, for 
Russians to rule over the Central Asians. These soviets 
were increasingly encouraged by Lenin and the Bolsheviks,
especially after the October 1917 coup.  
     Soviets were often headed by professional
revolutionaries arriving from Moscow. Generous promises
were made to the Central Asians, including indemnities
for all property expropriated earlier. It proved to be a
time-buying ploy.  As Togan demonstrated, the soviets had
no intention of allowing the much- touted "self-rule" in
Central Asia.  This became clear when the Bolshevik forces
burned Kokand on March 1918, and again massacred the
population. The struggle not only had to continue, but
became harsher. After a final series of conferences with
Lenin, Stalin and the Central Committee of the Bolshevik
Party, Togan realized that the aims of the Bolsheviks
were not different than those of their predecessors.
Organizing a secret committee, Togan set about forming
the basis of the united resistance, the leadership of
which moved south to Samarkand and environs.  A new,
large- scale, coordinated stage of organizing the
Turkistan National Liberation Movement commenced.106 
     From 1918 into the 1920s Central Asia declared and
exercised independence. Despite the Red Army's reconquest,
several areas continued to hold out into the late 1920s
and even the 1930s. The Turkistan National Liberation
Movement was shaped directly by the attempt of the
Bolsheviks to reconquer Turkistan. It must also be seen,
however, as a culmination of a long process of Russian
intrusion into Central Asia as reflected in the "Eastern
Question" and what Kipling dubbed the "Great Game in
The Soviet Era 

     Bolshevik take-over of Central Asia occurred, like
the tsarist conquest, in stages. Bolsheviks employed a
combination of internal and external armed force,
deception, promises and political pressure, as documented
by Richard Pipes.107   Brutal conquest took another form in
the Stalinist liquidations.  With forced settlement of
nomads and a man-made famine, caused by collectivization,
millions of Central Asians perished.  This is not unlike
the Ukrainian experience.108  
     Only after defeating prolonged resistance and
establishing military, political and economic control
could the Communist regime consolidate its power by
social and cultural policies, including the
anti-religious campaigns of 1920s and 1930s.  They
embellished the cultural imperialism policies of the
tsarists and used a firmer hand.  The Central Asians
fighting Bolsheviks in the 1920s saw in their Russian
adversaries the sons of 19th century military
expansionists and missionaries as well as the "godless"
Marxists they proclaimed themselves to be. Echoing
tsarist claims to a "civilizing" mission in Central Asia,
and the Bolsheviks said they were "liberating" colonial
peoples. In efforts to attribute an aggressive,
expansionist character to Central Asia and their
defensive unity, both imperial and Bolshevik Russians
portrayed the Central Asians as a threat. The nature of
this threat was still said to be "Pan-Turkism" and
     Despite its European origins and apart from its
European goals, the Pan-Turkism notion took root among
some Central Asian emigres (in Central Asia, the idea has
had few adherents), as a means to remove the Russians
from their homelands.  Yet, accusations of "Pan-Turkism"
were employed freely in the Soviet Union (and outside),
not against political action, but cultural movements or
scholarly works on the common origins and language of the
Turks.109  The latter studies are irksome to Moscow, for
they refute the Russian position that the dialects are
separate and distinct languages, a claim that the regime
has exerted much effort to propagate.110  Even the
distinction Turkic and Turkish is alien to the Turks
themselves, who before the arrival of the Russians,
communicated unhindered, apparently oblivious to the fact
that they were speaking "totally separate and distinct
     The most articulate and thus dangerous opponent to
Russian hegemony under the new "Communist" label was Mir
Said Sultangaliev (1880-1939?).111 


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