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 3 of 4


     If a revolution succeeds in England, the proleteriat
     will continue oppressing the colonies and pursuing
     the policy of the existing bourgeois government; for it
     is interested in the exploitation of these colonies. In
     order to prevent the oppression of the toiler of the
     East we must unite the Muslim masses in a communist 
     movement that will be our own and autonomous.112 
     Sultangaliev used the English example as a thin
cloak for his true thoughts against the ideology and
practise of the RCP(b)113.  One had only to substitute the
word "Russian," to understand the meaning of the
statement.  Having served as the deputy Commissar of
Nationalities, as Stalin's assistant, Sultangaliev was
well aware of Bolshevik methods and means of control. He,
like many other non-Russians in the RCP(b), had seen the
direction of the Bolshevik revolution: Russian
domination. The  only path to salvation was to form a
separate party and political union to fight for
     Sultangaliev was briefly arrested in 1923 and Stalin
denounced his former deputy: 
      ....I accused [Sultangaliev] of creating an 
     organization of the Validov114 type... nevertheless,
     a week later, he sent... a secret letter... to
     establish contact with the Basmachi and their leader 
     Sultangaliev was purged and disappeared in 1928,
along with other adherents of the movement.  But even the
existence of the idea presented by Sultangaliev was
causing nightmares for Stalin.  Frequent exhortations
againt Sultangalievism among nationalities, especially
Central Asians were made: 
     The ideological and organizational destruction of 
     Sultangalievism does not yet mean that our offensive
     against nationalism must come to an end.  The Tatar 
     Obkom invites all members of the Communist party to 
     hunt down Sultangalievists, to reinforce the
     struggle against all kinds of national manifestations 
     among backward masses, and to unmask the still numerous 
     bearers of Sultangalievism in our party and Soviet 
     Of course, the bogey-man Pan-Turkism and
Pan-Islamism were once more put on display, this time
even in more contradictory terms such as "Pan-Turkic
Nationalism."   Under the guise of slogans such as
"internationalism," "brotherhood of nationalities,"
"coming closer," and "merging of nationalities," the
policies beneficial to the Russians were pursued by the  
Soviet leadership in Moscow.  The purges decimated the
ranks of the educated Central Asians. A Russian dominated
bureaucracy attempted to destroy Central Asian history,
subvert their indigenous literature, exploit the Central
Asian natural resources.  While doing so, the regime
destroyed the pristine environment.  Not all of these
crimes are yet known in the West, but more are gaining
Central Asian issues under Gorbachev117 

     Only recently have the results of decades of
political, economic, social, cultural, environmental
abuse been aired.  The Bolsheviks castigated tsarist 
use of Turkistan as a colony, but followed in their
predecessors footsteps extracting cotton and raw
materials for Soviet industry despite cost to the local
population or environment.  The cotton, irrigation,
fertilizer "triad" has caused monstrous ecological and
human health damage.  Due to the overuse of chemical
fertilizers and growth stimulants, infant mortality has
jumped.  Mothers were warned not to nurse their babies
because their own milk is polluted. Shortened life
expectancy plagues all Central Asian republics. 
     In 1987 almost one-third of all fish in the Volga
basin died from pesticide poisoning. In many regions,
pesticides are now turning-up in the water supply.
According to Goskompriroda [State commissariat for the
environment] more than 10,000 hectares of land contain
concentrations of DDT above sanitary norms, some two to
eight times the established norm. In one case, students
were sent to the field to gather the onion crop. They
were poisoned from handling the onions. It was discovered
that the crop and the soil contained 120 times the norm
prescribed for pesticides.  The farm's director maintained
that the students were suffering from exhaustion
--apparently at the behest of local party officials 
worried about "alarming" the public.  
     Komsomolskaya Pravda reported in April 1990 that 43
persons,including 37 children, were hospitalized in
Uzbekistan after eating a meal of mushrooms which turned
out to be toxic. Two of the children died. The mushrooms
were of an edible variety, but they were contaminated
with "...toxic chemicals, pesticides, and other muck"
which had leached into the soil after heavy rains stated
the paper. 
     Perhaps the most dramatic result has been the
destruction ofthe Aral Sea, well known thanks to mass
media coverage.  Several US universities have either
conducted conferences on the subject,or are planning to
do so.118  The waters of the Aral Sea have been used to
irrigate cotton, the reason for its disappearance. This
has profound effects. In addition to the destruction of
the sea's fish (and fishing industry), salt driven by
winds from the dry sea bed has destroyed vegetation as
far away as Chimkent [Green City], 450 miles to the east.
Plague, claimed Radio Moscow in May, threatens the region.
A television marathon in Kazakhstan (which bordered the
sea on the north) raised almost 40 million rubles for a
fund to help the people whose health and livelihoods have
been destroyed by the drying up of the Aral Sea. 
     Kazakistan has other environmental damage as well.
In 1990, a Danish television documentary stated that
inhabitants of a village in Kazakhstan's Semipalatinsk
Oblast were used as guinea-pigs during an atmospheric
nuclear test in 1953. The documentary, summarized by the
French News Service (AFP), included an interview with a
Kazakh man who had been one of the 40 guinea- pigs made
to stay behind when other villagers were evacuated before
the test. According to the report, all 40 contracted
cancer, and 34 have already died from the disease. This
report would not be news to the inhabitants of
Semipalatinsk  --the effects of the August 1953 test have
been frequently described in great detail in the Kazakh
     Even after the testing has stopped, the effects will
linger.  A recent news report indicated that out of the
total population of Kazakhstan, seven million now suffer
from some form of cancer.  During 1990 a private
philanthropic fund was established to provide medical
assistance to children affected by nuclear testing in
Semipalatinsk.  The people who suffer from the ills of
this state-caused disaster are spending their own money
to find a cure. 
     Economic policies inflicting less overt damage
involve trade between Moscow and the individual republics.
In the case of Kazakhstan, the Kazak trade deficit is
over one billion "trade rubles."  This, despite the large
exports of varying commodities from Kazakhstan to the
Russian republic. The primary reason is that Moscow sets
the prices and the republics have to sell their produce
at artificially low prices, well below those of the
world market.  On the other hand, they must pay much more
for their imports from Moscow usually at market prices.
The republics never had control over the transactions;
Gosplan (the Central State Planning Office) decided who
manufactured what, where and when, including investment
for construction of facilities.  The same maybe said of
every Central Asian republic. 
     The economic issues are linked to fundamental
matters of national identity and culture.  Following again
the tsarist precedent, the Soviet regime retained sharply
divided education (technical education is in Russian),
linguistic and attempted social and biological
russification campaigns, low investment in Central Asia,
and settlement of Russian workers as the "price" of new
factory construction.  The terminology has been changed,
but the substance has not.119   Among the legacies of
Moscow's rule was the death and destruction of forced
collectivization, and against this protest has been
     A group of writers who made up an advisory council
to the Kazakh literary weekly Qazaq Edebiyeti have called
for the erection of a monument to the Kazakhs who died in
the collectivization campaign in the 1930s.  According to
their appeal, published on the front page of Qazaq
Edebiyeti April 13, 2.5 million Kazakhs perished under
Stalin. The writers would like the memorial to be
completed by 1992, the sixtieth anniversary of the
collectivization-caused famine.  
Anarchy in Central Asia?120 

     Central Asians' long standing demands can be
summed-up in two broad categories: 1) the end of
centrally ordered quotas, ranging from
out-of-region-origin cadre appointments to colonial- 
style forced cotton production, and settlement of
non-native populations;  2) an end to environmental
pollution from nuclear tests to pesticide poisoning.
Central Asians, like other non- Russians, have been
interested in economic justice and greater autonomy in
their internal affairs.  But accurate information on
Central Asia not readily available to Western journalists
or policymakers.  Moscow has been able to use that
ignorance to play on various Western fears and
prejudices, raising the specter of political chaos,
nuclear proliferation and, the successor to the
Pan-Islamic threat, Islamic Fundamentalism. 
     First, the "Treaty Principle of the Soviet
Federation," raised by Gorbachev at the 28th Party
Congress, was not abandoned after the coup attempt of
August 1991.  Treaty bonds are still said to have "the
enormous advantages of the new Soviet federation," which
would foil the plans of "all kinds of separatists,
chauvinists, and nationalists" who are trying to "deal a
decisive blow to perestroika which threatens their
far-reaching aims."121   Whatever the nominal power
relations in a new union treaty, the old economic
realities would preserve Central Asia's de facto colonial
position vis-a-vis Russian industry.  Moreover, the
"economic logic" of continued ties to Russia would make
it that much more difficult to alter the pattern, and
Central Asia would have to go on supplying raw materials
for still higher priced Russian manufactures constructed
under the Soviet regime. 
     Second is Moscow's "Revival of Islam" offensive.
After the Bolshevik revolution, the Oriental Institute
was gradually Bolshevized and attached to the USSR
Academy of Sciences.  It was reorganized many times
between the late 1920s and late 1950s. The "Muslim
Spiritual Boards" were revived in 1941, seemingly along
the very same lines as under the tsars.  The new Islamic
ulama is trained by the state. 
     Both tsarist and Soviet regimes have blamed "Islam"
for anti- colonial actions by the Central Asians against
Russian conquest, colonization, economic exploitation,
political discrimination, and russification.  Many
repressions by the center have been carried out to
suppress alleged Islamic movements, "Pan-Islamism" in the
last century, "Islamic fundamentalism" today.  The "usual
suspects" are targets: "zealots, fanatics, feudal
remnants..."   Gorbachev used these accusations the day
before ordering troops to open fire in Baku in January
1990.  More recently, a "senior member" of the Oriental
Institute (Leningrad) has spoken of the danger of an
"Islamic Explosion." The speaker stated that the
"European- centered approach to Islam" had caused the USSR
to pursue incorrect policies in Central Asia.   He
advocated the rejection of that approach in favor of one
that treats Islam on its own terms.122  
     The Orientalist's words may have been meant to
incite a debate within the Western scholarly community
concerning perestroika in academe.  The wish in the Soviet
Oriental Institute may have been to keep the Western
specialists too busy to pay attention to these demands
Central Asia shares with other nationalities.  This
treatment of Islam is not only not new, it continues to
err in the same way as before --attributing all of the
grievances of the Central Asians to Islam, as if Moscow's
understanding of Islam can help the government make
better cotton policies.   Is it lack of understanding Islam
that led to the destruction of the Aral Sea?  
     Further, by the continuing attribution of unrest to
Islam, the government signals the West that no action is
too drastic to quell it.  If Western analysts grasped more
clearly that national autonomy or political liberty were
at the root of Central Asian discontent, Western
governments might look upon it with a very different eye,
one less tolerant of Moscow's use of force.   Along
the same lines, Moscow employs a "Sociological Approach."
The anti-religious campaigns that started in the 1920s by
the Bezbozhnik (Godless) League later became the task of
the "Institutes of Scientific Atheism." The next step now
appears to be embodied in the Institutes of Sociology,
fathoming the depths of the society, attempting to
conduct an opinion poll to determine the hold of Islam in
Central Asia.  A Soviet journal reportedly published one
such survey, which revealed, contrary to the official
line, that the USSR had not become a land of convinced
atheists; Religious beliefs are not declining every year;
Religion is not confined to more "backward groups"
--women, the elderly.123  
     What probably began as a means of keeping
responsible committees informed, may now be a public
relations tool as well.   Under the authority of a
"Scientific Institute," the results can be disseminated
and endorsed to form the bases of future actions.  It 
can also serve as the seal of approval from the
"intelligentsia," supporting the actions of the Center. 
     A recent program announced by several US scholarly
societies and associations aims to develop Soviet
Sociological Research Projects.   One hopes that such an
endeavor would develop to remove the abuses of such
"opinion poll taking." 
     An especially popular, if unimaginative, tool of the
Soviet government is "Corruption Charges."   Since the
Andropov period, several cycles of corruption charges
have been brought against the Central Asians.   Throughout 
the USSR, there are no doubt genuine cases of
corruption as defined in a democratic society: influence
peddling, embezzlement, bribe taking, skimming money from
the cotton crop.   On the other hand, some of these charges
appear trumped- up to root out Central Asian efforts to
gain some measure of local control over their own
economy.  What is labelled corruption by the Center, can be
directly aimed at independently minded Central Asian
elites.   During the Gorbachev period, a similar crackdown
was undertaken.124   The Special Prosecutors were later
accused of using "inhuman methods to extract confessions"
from the suspects.   Soon afterward, the former Prosecutors
themselves came under investigation for their excesses. 
     Gorbachev also attributed the problems in
Transcaucasia  to "representatives of the shadow
economy," i.e. the sort of entrepreneurship which
perestroika purported to allow.  This not only cast
aspersions on the nature of his economic "restructuring,"
but also suggested that he nurtured a different vision
of perestroika for Central Asians than for Russians or
     Failing verbal dissuasion and political pressure,
Gorbachev has been as willing as his predecessors to use
force. He coupled it with justification, another tactic
for international opinion that may be called "The Stick"
(or, the Praise for the Armed Forces"). The use of lethal
force during January 1990 in Azerbaijan, in the city of
Baku was also meant as a demonstration to Central Asia.
Similar brutality was used against Kazakhs in 1986,125
and Georgians in 1989, though it was worse in Baku where
two hundred or more were killed by the Red Army. Later,
Gorbachev warmly praised the armed forces for keeping
order and warned the Soviet media not to engage in
anti- Army propaganda. The message was clear: if you do
not accept our political solutions, we shall use
Leninist-Stalinist muscle, no matter what the new
vocabulary. The citizens of the Baltic Republics, along
with those Central Asians have been experiencing this
     Moscow seems to create conditions in which it can
use force.  The decision to "announce," or "leak the news"
of the settlement of Armenians in Tajikistan antagonized
the housing- poor Tajiks. It is inconceivable that Moscow
would not have anticipated a Tajik response.  The media,
predictably, report on "a Muslim population's violence."
Such manipulation was by no means isolated.   The retired
KGB General Oleg Kalugin stated that the KGB probably had
a role in inciting the anti-Armenian violence in Baku:
"Naturally, it is their job to stir up everyone against
everyone else."   Kalugin sharply criticized the Moscow
leadership for withholding information on the KGB's
involvement in Sumgait and in Tbilisi.126   In this light,
perhaps the events connected with the Kirghiz-Ozbek,
Georgian-Ossetian, Ozbek-Meskhetian127 confrontations of
1989-1990, and the Kazakh-Russian "incident" of 1986,
ought to be reexamined as well.128   Even the center's
support for creating of "hostage" pockets in ethnically
uniform populations seems aimed at diluting homogenous
areas capable of mounting national movements and to incite
inter- ethnic enmity.129 
     If "the Stick" was applied to Central Asia, "the
Carrot" is used elsewhere. The invitation to the West to
believe that the USSR has been trying very hard to become
just a Western democracy was yet another aspect of the
image manipulation.   Anyone in the West expressing doubts
as to the genuineness of the Soviet efforts was dubbed "a
grave digger of perestroika."   Further, Soviet spokesmen
stated that they "are confident that West would decide
against those individuals."130   To fortify the image of
efforts being expended to make the transition to a
Western type democracy, a number of other public
relations demarches were also undertaken.  Authorities
grant exit visas to Jews, and hold talks with the Iranian
government on border crossing points for the Azerbaijan
Turks. These, of course, addressed the humanitarian
issues raised in the West with respect to reuniting
divided families. 
     Whether or not the Center was expecting "Anarchy in
Central Asia," Moscow clearly anticipated Western
impatience with "turmoil," especially if it threatens to
upset the status- quo.   This appears to be true even when
the elements of the existing government, which
assaulted human rights throughout its existence,
attempted to seize power in a coup and the challenge is
mounted by a population seeking to regain its
independence.   Nonetheless, current democracies seem to
prefer dealing with one great power they know than
numerous new and small powers.   The view is similar to
those when the Bolshevik regime was in its infancy but
Great Powers at Versailles refused to recognize
independence of most tsarist colonies except Poland and
the Baltic. Such refusal policies are more easily justified 
when those groups seeking independence can be dismissed as
"fanatical" or at least "anti- democratic;" even if the
challenged power is not democraticor democratically
     As if to help his Western counterparts support him
and the empire   --and in case Moscow decides to use force
as in Azerbaijan--   Gorbachev provides justification for
their fears and his use of force.   Russian spokesmen
continue to claim in the 1990s that they "civilized"
Central Asia, protected and fed it.   Western observers
seem rarely to ask how Russia "civilized" a demonstrably
older civilization than itself, from whom Russia protects
Central Asia, or how the Central Asians managed to feed
themselves before the arrival of the Russians and their
cotton agenda.  
Perspective on the "Post-openness" prospects 

     President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945, in his
famed 5 October 1937 "Quarantine speech," stated: 
     ...Those who cherish their freedom and recognize and
     respect the equal right of their neighbors to be
     free and live in peace, must work together for the
     triumph of law and moral principles in order that peace, 
     justice and confidence may prevail in the world.
     There must be a return to a belief in the pledged word, in
     the value of a signed treaty. There must be
     recognition of the fact that national morality is a vital as
     private morality....  It ought to be inconceivable that in
     this modern era, and in the face of experience, any nation
     could be so foolish and ruthless as to run the risk of
     plunging the whole world into war by invading and violating,
     in contravention of solemn treaties, the territory of 
     other nations that have done them no real harm and
     are too weak to protect themselves adequately.131 
     World War II began two years after this speech.  It
would not be a credible assertion today to claim that the
Central Asians are preparing to attack the Russian
Federation.   But the Russians are behaving just as Hitler
did in the period when F. D. Roosevelt gave his speech:
demanding more land. 
     The coup attempt of August 1991 might represent a
new turn in Russian politics.   Whether this turn is
towards true democracy with its full implication of
freedom, or a turn towards yet another kind of Russian
domination, it is too early to surmise.   Some
pronouncements from the "center," immediately after the  
failure of the hardliner's coup attempt, began talking of
"border adjustments" in favor of the Russian Federation
should the republics opt to secede.   Those "adjustments"
are precisely in the areas where the Russians have earlier
expropriated lands from other nationalities; for example,
in Kazakistan.132   A "border agreement" was soon signed
between the Russian Federation and Kazakistan.   The
Bolshevik leadership, too, had signed a variety of
agreements with the Bashkurts and other Central Asian
polities in the 1920s but shortly afterward disregarded
them as "so much paper."133   It was also the USSR that
signed the United Nations Charter in 1945, and the very
next day demanded land from another UN Charter Member, the
Turkish Republic; precisely in the areas covered in the
1921 border treaty signed between the two states.134   The
idea is still not abondoned in Moscow, or the Russian
circles, and public policy speeches are being delivered
on the subject.135   In fact, the newly constituted Russian
Rapid Deployment Forces are also seen as the instruments
of this policy, in preparation for anticipated action.
The ostensible reason, of course, is going to be the
"protection of Russians" in "those" territories.  This is
clearly seen in the behavior of the 14th Russian/CIS Army
in Moldova during 1991 and 1992.  
     Russians have no significant experience with
democracy.  Many Russian thinkers and groups have fought
democracy at every turn.136   Slavophiles and even some
Westernizers of the 19th century tsarist empire preferred
an "organic link" of autocrat and subjects to the
artificial guarantees of constitutions and the rule of
law.  Though the tsar declared Chaadaev insane to
discredit his "dangerous" notions,137 it was society that
produced the People's Will terrorists, the Union of the
Russian People,138 Lenin, and Stalin and Dzerzhinsky,139
who despite their actual ethnic origins, sprang from the
ruling Russian society.   Konstantin Pobedenostsev, legal
scholar, head of Holy Synod and tutor to Alexander III
and Nicholas II, wrote of "The Falsehood of
Democracy."140 The lack of a Russian legal consciousness
or sense of legality has been analyzed.141   It was an
environment in which private initiative was always
suspect.  What caused the citizen to heed the commands of
the state was not a sense of citizenship, or civil
consciousness, but compulsion, often coercion by the
state.   After the fall of the tsarist regime and its
Okhrana, that body's place was taken by the Bolshevik
Cheka, and its successors.  
     Two days "at the barricades" during August 1991,
around the Russian Federation Parliament, is not likely
to transform and "democratize" the deeply autocratic
experiences of the Russian tradition.   Yeltsin's
proclamation that Russia had "saved democracy for Russia
and the world" gave no hope that "democratic Russia"
--should it ever materialize-- forsaw any place for non-
Russian democracy. 
     After the failed coup of August 1991, the Central
Asians have again taken to organizing and publicly
articulating their wide ranging grievances. To restrict
our view of Central Asia's troubles to the economic realm
alone is to overlook the essential threat to their
conscious existence as a people.   Overt demonstrations
against economic policy or political administration
have been possible only rarely.   But Russian and Soviet
cultural policies have affected the way the Central
Asians could see themselves and describe their custom and
past for future generations.  Recovery of the true sources
of history and regeneration of the true identity has been
in progress, continuing a conflict in the cultural realm
that Central Asia conducted againts tsarist policy a
century ago.   Political and cultural responses are
different aspects of the same struggle for greater control
over their own lives and land.   Whether the
former Communists leadership of Central Asian polities
have also reformed themselves overnight, as they have
stated, remains to be seen. 
     At the moment Boris Yeltsin, career communist, is
now regarded as the "Savior" of democracy in Russia, and
as its guide. "A nation's guides are those who can awaken
their people from their witless slumber of ignorance....
The Savior of every tribe shall come."142   If the awaited
savior causes harm to other "tribes" in the process,
knowingly or not, there can be vast repercussions.   This
is also true of the former Communist leadership in
Central Asia.  "Four freedoms" are enshrined in the United
Nations Charter.   If the "Four Freedoms" cease to apply
uniformly, they may cease to exist alltogether.   

October 1991 

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