In the Central Asia of the 19th century, half of the area covered by present-day Turkmenistan, the whole of modern Uzbekistan, almost the whole of present-day Kirghizistan and the southern region of what is now Kazakhstan were occupied by the khanates of Khiva, Bukhara and Khokand.
Of the khanates that have continued to exist as cities, it is Khiva that has survived most effectively to the present day. Of Khokand's glorious past practically nothing now remains. In the years immediately before and after the Soviet Revolution, all the surviving buildings were burnt or demolished and now, no longer even a city, Khokand appears as a mere district on the maps of Uzbekistan. Khiva, on the other hand, partly due to its remote geopolitical situation on the edge of the desert, partly due to the Khiva authorities' recognition of their military weakness in the face of the besieging Russian armies and their decision to surrender in good time, suffered comparatively little damage and has thus been able to preserve a large part of its architectural heritage intact.
Of the three cities, Bukhara occupied a very special place on the Silk Road. It is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and is to be found mentioned in Chinese records of the 5th century A.D. Regarded as the holiest Islamic city in Central Asia, it once possessed nearly two hundred and fifty medressehs (theological colleges), although only the Miri Arab Medresseh and one or two others have survived. It was also famous for its handicrafts, and it is reported that on his conquest of the city, the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan carried off the craftsmen of the city to employ them in his own service. At the same time, he ordered all the citizens of Bukhara, excluding the women but with the ulema (the learned and religious elite) to the fore, to gather in the largest mosque in the city. Addressing the assembly, Genghis Khan declared: "You are not the beloved servants of God you claim to be. If God had loved you as you say, he would not have sent me to chastise you." This was followed by the most terrible massacre in the history of Bukhara, but despite this disaster the city lost nothing of its importance on the Silk Road.
The recovery of Bukhara dates from the 16th century. At one time, several migrants who had belonged to the Golden Horde and who had settled in Central Asia began to call themselves "Uzbeks" on the strength of their descent from Uzbek Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. The khanate of Bukhara was one of the khanates founded by Uzbek tribes. under the rule of Shahbani Khan after the descendants of Tamerlane had been driven out of Central Asia. In 1868, under the third, Mengit dynasty, the khanate of Bukhara, after having led an independent existence for over two hundred years, became a semi-autonomous region of Tzarist Russia. Like the other Central Asian provinces that had accepted Russian rule, such as Khiva and Khokand, Bukhara preserved its semi-independent status until the Bolshevik Revolution.
Russian sources indicate that the Bukhara khans made a considerable profit from the trade in Astrakhan and from their rents as landowners. The state treasury also lay completely at their disposal without their having to account to anyone for the use made of it. From the same source we learn that towards the middle of the 1890s the khan of
Bukhara, Emir Abdul Ahad, had 27 million gold roubles in the Russian Central Bank, 7 million in a number of private banks and large sums in German and Swiss banks. While the khans enjoyed such dazzling wealth the people themselves lived in poverty and destitution. Civil servants received no salaries from the state, deriving their income entirely from the money paid by the people for services rendered, but the amount paid was completely arbitrary, and depended more on the goodwill of the bureaucrat than on any code of rules or regulations. Besides the suffering caused by the despotism of the Emir, who shielded himself behind the Sharia or religious law, the destitution of the people was further exacerbated by the increasing amounts of water drawn from the Zarafshan river by the Russians who had migrated to this region after
Samarkand, part of the khanate of Bukhara, had been absorbed under Russian rule. The area became completely arid after the exhaustion of the limited supply of water, and the poverty of the people was further worsened by their inability to find sufficient water for their agriculture.
One of the most horrifying aspects of Bukhara was the manner in which the death penalty was implemented. The prisoner was taken to the Kalian Mosque in the centre of the city, and hurled from the top of the minaret, the highest building in Bukhara (45 m), commonly known as "death tower". The sentence was always carried out on the day the market was held in the square below and town criers would wander around the streets calling people to witness the event. Once the people had assembled in the square below the prisoner was brought to the place of execution and accounts of the crime committed and the sentence imposed were read out.
After the khanates came under Tzarist Russian rule permission was granted for the Sharia law to continue to be applied to non-Russian citizens. This decision led to Bokhara's occupying an important place in the Central Asian Islamic world, while the Sharia rules facilitated the imposition of Tzarist rule. It was in Bukhara that "Naksibendilik", the most influential of present-day Islamic sects, originated, and it is in the Kagan district of Bukhara that the graves of Sheikh Bahaettin Nakshi (1318-1389), the founder of the sect, and of his mother are to be found.
Mud was the main material used over the centuries in Central Asian architecture. It was employed in the walls surrounding the cities of Khokand, Bukhara and Khiva in the old days, annual repairs were carried out on the sections of the walls that had crumbled as a result of the seasonal rains. In Bokhara, the Khan resided in a citadel known as the "Ark", built of mudbrick and located on a hill. This characteristic, out-moded Central Asian building tradition soon collapsed when confronted with modern warfare techniques. In every Central Asian city besieged by the advancing Russian army the mudbrick walls were soon riddled with holes by intensive cannon fire and, in most cases, the ulema would surrender the city in order to avoid further bloodshed. Turkish stonework began with the entry of the Turkish tribes into Anatolia, but nothing resembling the stone buildings constructed in places such as Erzurum, Sivas and Konya during the Anatolian Seljuk period can be found in Central Asia.
The mudbrick walls played an important role in the conquest of the Khanate of Khiva by Tzarist Russia. While General Kaufmann, the commander of the Russian army, which had marched for days across the Karakum Desert to besiege the city, was planning a five-pronged attack with a force of 10,000 men, the Khan, seeing that they were surrounded on all four sides, accepted unconditional surrender and fled to some unknown destination. When the Russian army entered the city on 9 June 1873 the only western observer of the event was the twenty-nine year old American journalist MacGahan, who had accompanied the Russian army on its arduous trek across the desert.
"It was now about noon, and in ten minutes we were in sight of the renowned city. We did not see it until we were within less than a mile, owing to the masses of trees everywhere that completely hid it from our view. At last it broke upon us, amid the clouds of dust which we had raised. Great, heavy mud walls, high and battlemented with heavy round buttresses, and a ditch over which we could see the tops of trees, a few tall minarets, domes of mosques... As we passed through the long arched gateway we left the dust behind us, and, emerging from this, found the city before us... We began to see small groups of men in the lateral streets, in ragged tunics and long beards, with hats off, bowing timidly to us as we passed.... With what strange awe they must have gazed upon us as we passed, dust-covered and grimy after our march of 600 miles over the desert, which they had considered impassable. Grim, stem, silent and invincible, we must have appeared to them like some strange powerful beings of an unknown world... Then we came upon a crowd of Persian slaves, who received us with shouts, cries and tears of joy. They were wild with excitement. They had heard that wherever the Russians went slavery disappeared, and they did not doubt that it would be the case here...
One side of the square was taken up by the palace, a huge rambling structure, with mud-battlemented walls, about twenty feet high... At the south-eastern angle of the palace rose, beautiful and majestic, the sacred tower of Khiva. It was about thirty feet in diameter at the bottom. and tapered gradually to the top, a height of about 125 feet, where it had a diameter of fifteen feet... It was brightly coloured in blue, green,, purple and brown on a pure white ground, arranged in a variety of broad stripes and figures, the whole producing a most brilliant and beautiful effect. "
At night, on climbing the palace walls and surveying the city in the silence of the night, MacGahan felt himself back in the world of the Thousand and One Nights. On his return he lost his way on the palace walls and found himself looking down into the harem garden.
"Below there were ladies ranging from sweet young girls of fifteen to old toothless women, apparently one hundred and fifty. It was no easy task to descend from the wall but, finally finding a way down in the darkness -1 dared not strike matches because of the piles of gunpowder in the labyrinthine passages -1 finally found myself among a group of girls who seemed not to fear the presence of a strange man (otherwise I might well have lost my head). I was particularly struck by one of them. She came up to me without ever taking her eyes off me and knelt down at my feet. We spent the whole night drinking tea and eating sweetmeats, but all that I could learn of the dark-eyed beauty at my feet was that her name was Zuleika. She never moved away from my feet, and we continued for hours to gaze into each other's eyes, her own gaze seeming to be imploring my help."
To all this MacGahan adds the rueful confession: "I never in my life before so much regretted my ignorance of an unknown tongue."
Some days later, the Khan's aged uncle gathered together the women and young girls wandering around at a complete loss in the harem and took them off to an unknown destination. The Russians later allowed the Khiva Khan to return to his city.
Khiva, once an important slave market, now presents an appearance more in keeping with a film set than a small, living city. A competent film director could, without putting himself to too much trouble, easily shoot Hollywood films of the type popular in the 1940s and 1950s, such as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and the Thief of Baghdad. Present-day Khiva has now prepared itself for tourism, but in spite of the atmosphere that it has been the intention to create, the visitor roaming around in its streets cannot help being impressed by the absence of a soul that vanished long ago.
The Khokand khanate was the last khanate in Central Asia to lose its independence. This was first endangered by the Kirghiz and Kipchak uprisings that had their origin on its territory and was finally brought to an end by the Russian intervention. The first uprising in 1871 against Khudayar Khan, a ruler famed for his cruelty and tyrannical despotism, was quickly suppressed, but the khanate of Khokand lost much of its power and territory as a result of the interminable and bloody civil strife between the Sarts, Kipchaks, Uzbeks and Kirghiz. Khudayar Khan was deposed by the people and driven from the country, but some time later he was restored to the throne of Khokand following an agreement between the Russians and the khanate of Bokhara.
During his years of exile, Khudayar Khan was at first given a warm welcome by the Emir of Bukhara, but later he was obliged to live surrounded by restrictions and prohibitions, which forced him to contact no one. At the end the money secretly sent to him by his mother enabled Khudayar Khan to engage in the camel and caravan trade and to make a good deal of money, but on his return to the throne of Khokand his first thought was to wreak revenge on the people for the poverty he claimed to have suffered in exile. The new, very heavy taxes he imposed led to a second much more serious and widespread uprising in 1873.
This uprising lasted for over two years, slackening in the winter months and intensifying in the summer. This filled Khudayar Khan with a great fear and sense of insecurity which made him afraid to set foot outside his palace, and he forbade anyone, even his own wives and daughters, to enter his room without special permission. When the Russians announced that they were to allow the return to Khokand of Abdul Kerim, a claimant to the Khokand throne whom the Russians held as a bargaining chip against him, Khudayar saw no way out but to gather his treasury together and escape to Tashkent, which had recently come under Russian rule. Khudayar's eldest son Nasreddin later succeeded to his father's throne.
During the reign of Emir Shir Ali, regent Musluman Kul's son Haci Abdurrahman was secretly sent to Istanbul to ask the Ottoman Empire for assistance against Russian expansionist policy in Central Asia. At that time, however, the situation of the Ottoman Empire was not very encouraging. Sultan Abdul Aziz had just dismissed Mithat Pasha, the Sultan's privy expenses amounted to one tenth of the state treasury, the drought that had afflicted Anatolia since 1873 had been succeeded by a terrible famine and finally, in October 1875, the Sublime Porte announced to European and Galata bankers that it was unable to pay its debts.
The new Khan of Khokand was unable to preserve his position for very long, losing both his throne and his territory on his defeat in the war he had engaged with Tzarist Russia (1876). After that date, the Russians gave the new territories they had just won the name Ferghana. The only thing in Khokand to have survived from its past is the inner courtyard of the khan's palace. There are several reasons for Khokand having fallen into the state of dereliction in which it is to be found today. One of these is the sack of the city carried out during the basmachi uprising in which Enver Pasha was involved.
The basmachi uprisings, which had begun in the Ferghana Valley, an area which included Khokand, soon spread to other regions. The defeats inflicted by the Red armies of the new regime on the White armies of the Tzar in various parts of the country created an authority vacuum which the Red Army, in spite of its victory in the Civil War, was not strong enough to fill. In this state of affairs, there arose in Turkestan, and in the area covered by present-day Uzbekistan in particular, two distinct groups with quite different views of independence - the basmachi, or Muslim wing, and the Jedids, or intelligentsia. The basmachi uprising, which began in the Ferghana Valley, still one of the strongholds of Islam in Central Asia, quickly spread from Turkmenistan as far as Tajikistan. The uprising was finally suppressed by the Red Army.
As for the appearance of Khokand at the present day, one explanation given is that all the old buildings belonging to the city's past - medressehs, mosques, etc. - were demolished in retaliation for the uprising. Another view is that the old buildings, which had, in any case, been severely damaged in the course of the wars, simply fell into ruin and crumbled away.
To the main page