Russian Conquest of Central Asia

Russian Conquest of Central Asia
Russian Conquest of Central Asia

During the 19th century as European colonization continued to expand, czarist Russia launched a concentrated campaign to extend its own empire by annexing lands in central western Asia. In Central Asia, the Russians were particularly interested in the Uzbek oasis states of Kokand, Bukhara, and Khiva, all part of present-day Uzbekistan.

Although Bukhara and Khiva suffered devastating losses to their independence and cultures during the Russian conquest, Kokand ultimately paid the heaviest price when the Russians attempted to eradicate its existence.

While Russia was most interested in expanding its empire in order to compete with Western powers, the czar viewed Central Asia as a land of untapped resources with undeveloped potential as a major trading center. The invasion of the Muslim states of Central Asia also allowed the czar to add millions of new subjects to his already large citizenry. Until the mid-19th century, Central Asia had succeeded in repelling Russian advances.

However, as Russia’s military grew stronger and more sophisticated, Central Asia was powerless to defend itself from encroachment. For some 50 years after the annexation, the invaders unsuccessfully attempted to Russify the Muslims of Central Asia.

Despite this failure, the Russians succeeded in transforming Central Asian culture in a number of ways that included new economic and education systems and major overhauls of the communication and transportation sectors.

Czar Peter I launched an unsuccessful campaign to annex Bukhara and Khiva in the early 18th century in an effort to establish a trading route between Russia and India. When he sent armed troops to Khiva in 1717, the Khivans annihilated the entire expedition.

Succeeding czars determined that they were more likely to make inroads in Central Asia by practicing diplomacy and promoting trade relations. However, little progress was made. As a result, another unsuccessful military attack on Khiva was launched in 1839–40.

At the same time that Khiva was attempting to stave off Russian attack, Bukhara established a relatively amiable relationship with the monarch. In 1847 the Russians erected a fort at the mouth of the Sir Darya, paving the way for eventual annexation of the surrounding area.

The Russians spent the years between 1853 and 1864 plotting their strategy for annexing Central Asia, where the raw cotton that Russian textile factories so badly needed was readily available. The need for Asian cotton grew even more urgent when the American supply of cotton was halted by the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

By the time the Russians became a real presence in Central Asia, Bukhara and Khiva already had well-established cultures that dated back to the eighth century, and both were actively involved in trade. Both Muslim states were home to diverse ethnic groups and were relatively politically and socially stable.

Neither Bukhara nor Khiva had been exposed to Western thought and culture; therefore, neither khanate had developed the sense of nationalism that might have been used to unite the people against Russian invasion. After the annexation, the Russians allowed both Bukhara and Khiva a good deal of political autonomy. As a result, less modernizing and Russification occurred in these khanates than in other areas of Central Asia.

Bukhara was wealthier and more industrialized than Khiva, with a population that was predominately Muslim. The khanate was ruled by the emir, a hereditary monarch, although day-to-day affairs came under the province of a chief minister, a treasurer, and a tax collector.

Each province of Bukhara was ruled by its own emir. Outside of Bukhara, the emir was viewed as the most powerful ruler in the area, and he was notorious for furthering his own interests at the expense of others.

When Czar Alexander II ordered his forces to attack Bukhara in 1868, the khanate was in the midst of of internal strife. Tribal conflicts had accelerated, and the peasant class was ready to revolt in response to the levying of excessive taxes.

The Muslim clergy, who strongly resented the Russian presence in Bukhara called for a jihad (holy war). Although Emir Muzaffar al-Din repeatedly attempted to negotiate terms with the Russians that were favorable to Bukhara, he was unsuccessful. The emir ultimately negotiated a treaty that essentially established Bukhara as a Russian protectorate while allowing him to continue ruling the khanate.

The merchant class reaped the greatest benefits from the Russian presence in Bukhara because trade with the outside world opened up new avenues for amassing wealth. As this new cultural elite rose to power, the gulf between the peasants and the rest of the population expanded. Today, as one of the main cities of Uzbekistan, Bukhara is a major trading center and a popular tourist destination.

The population of Khiva was more ethnically diverse than Bukhara, with the Uzbeks making up 65 percent and the Turkomans 27 percent. Other minorities included the seminomadic Karakalpaks and the Kazakhs. The Khan of Khiva possessed powers similar to those of the emir of Bukhara, but in Khiva the government was highly centralized.

Early in 1839 Czar Nicholas I announced his decision to attack Khiva, although his forces were disguised as a scientific expedition to the Aral Sea. By the end of the year, the expedition could no longer be disguised, and the attack took place.

It was not until 1869, however, that the Russians managed to surround Khiva on three sides and begin the invasion. Russian forces encountered almost no resistance as they invaded Khiva on May 29, 1873. Three months later, the Khan signed a peace treaty.

Because Khiva, unlike Bukhara, had been conquered by invasion, the Kahn’s power to rule was much more restricted that that of the emir of Bukhara. The rich history of Khiva and the preservation of much of the original khanate have made the modern-day city a magnet for tourists from around the world.

The invasion of Kokand was accomplished in 1866, and the government acted as a Russian ally against neighboring Bukhara. At this point, Kokand was allowed to run its own affairs in much the same way that Bukhara was operating. However, in 1875, civil unrest within Kokand surfaced in response to increased taxes, political repression, and a rising sense of nationalism.

When tensions exploded into outright revolt in Ozgan in July 1875, all avenues of authority disintegrated. Khudayar Khan escaped to neighboring Tashkent and demanded Russian protection. His son, Nasrid-din Bek, ascended to the seat of power and quickly established relations with Russia. Nevertheless, on August 29, the Russians military arrived, putting an end to the possibility of Kokand’s independence.

On February 19, 1876, the Russians abolished the khanate of Kokand, replacing it with the region of Ferghana, which was placed under the authority of a military governor. Before the Russians arrived in Kokand, the khanate had been a significant trade and administrative center for the Ferghana Valley region.

After the annexation, Ferghana was established as the center of Russian Turkestan and became the major cotton-producing area of the Russian Empire. In the 21st century, Kokand has regained its status as a trading center, specializing in the manufacture of fertilizers, chemicals, machinery, and cotton and food products.