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  • Central Asia between the Ottoman and the Soviet Worlds
  • Adeeb Khalid (bio)

On 1 September 1920, the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, accompanied by local militias, undertook what tsarist armies had consistently chosen to avoid. It stormed the gates of the city of Bukhara and overthrew the emir, Sayyid Alim Khan. The need to assuage British fears about Russian expansion had meant that when Russian armies conquered Transoxiana in the last third of the 19th century, they had left the rulers of Bukhara and Khiva on their thrones, ruling over much diminished territories and with their foreign relations under a Russian protectorate.1 Russian armies had occupied Bukhara in 1910, but only temporarily at the request of the emir in the aftermath of murderous sectarian clashes between the city's Sunni and Shi'i populations. The existence of the protectorate meant that Bukhara and Khiva remained beyond the reach of the Russian Revolution. While the rule of the khan of Khiva crumbled in the face of domestic insurgency, Alim Khan, ruling over the much larger realm of Bukhara, sought to maximize his independence from Russia. The fact that Turkestan was cut off by civil war from inner Russia until late 1919 helped him. By the summer of 1920, however, the Red Army had connected Turkestan back to Russia; and Mikhail Frunze, commanding the troops, grew increasingly impatient with the continued existence of the emirate. Against political opinion in Moscow, he prepared the invasion over the summer and carried it out in September. Largely for geopolitical reasons, Moscow chose not to incorporate Bukhara into Soviet [End Page 451] Turkestan after the conquest. Rather, the Red Army installed a "people's soviet republic"—a designation first dreamed up earlier that year when Khiva was similarly stormed—with the Bukharan Communist Party (BCP) as its vanguard.

The BCP had been re-formed for the occasion with the forced merger of an older BCP, founded in 1918 and consisting mostly of Turkestanis and Tatars with only tenuous connections to Bukhara, and the more numerous party of the Young Bukharans, a local opposition group increasingly radicalized after 1917 and organized in Soviet Turkestan. The Young Bukharans were notable for the fact that their traditions of Muslim reform tied them in meaningful ways to late Ottoman debates. Thus it came about that an offshoot of the Ottoman political world took root in the maelstrom of the Russian Revolution.

In this article I explore the ways in which post-Ottoman and early Soviet models of political and social action and of cultural transformation floated back and forth across the imperial boundaries before 1914. This was a period of great ferment in which models radicalized rapidly and became intertwined in unexpected ways. The Young Bukharan case represents in an especially acute form the predicament of Muslim reformers in the Russian Empire, who existed at the intersection of the Russian and Ottoman intellectual worlds. The collapse of the old order in both empires in 1917–18 set into motion a period of intense transformation in the political and cultural horizons of Muslim intellectuals of both empires. The Bolsheviks were always alert to the national and colonial dimensions of the Russian Revolution, and many Muslim intellectuals in the Russian Empire (and some in the Ottoman) found their model very attractive. At the same time, late Ottoman models of political and cultural reform of Muslim society, albeit interpreted in a radicalized form, continued to exert considerable influence on Muslims in both empires. The central concern of this paper is to examine the ways in which late Ottoman and early Soviet models intersected in Central Asia.

Models across Empires

Trade, education, Sufi initiation, and pilgrimages connected Muslim communities of the Russian empire to many parts of the broader Muslim world, from India through Arabia to Egypt. For the modernist reformers who began to emerge in the late 19th century, however, the most significant node of interest by far was the Ottoman Empire. The attraction of the Ottoman Empire for Muslim reformers lay not in some primordial religious or ethnic solidarities—as the much abused terms "pan-Islamism" and "pan-Turkism" imply—but rather in the fact that the Ottoman Empire was the...


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