According to Russian Imperial sources, Sarts exceeded 800,000 people and comprised 26 percent of the population of Turkestan and 44 percent of the urban population of Central Asia in 1880. The term was the subject of lively debate in the late-nineteenth century when Russians colonized Central Asia. Vasily Bartold described the Sarts as settled peoples in Central Asia, Turkicized Old Iranian population, emerging from a conglomeration of Saka, Sogdian, Kwarazmian, and Kush-Bactrians.
The ancient Turkic word Sart, originally meaning "merchant," was used by Mongols and Turks by the thirteenth century to identify the Iranian population of Central Asia. In the sixteenth century, Uzbeks who conquered Central Asia used "Sart" to distinguish the sedentary population of Central Asia from the nomadic Turkic groups settling in the region. By the nineteenth century, the urban Sart population had merged cultural, linguistic, and ethnic elements from their Persian and Turko-Mongolian lineage. They remained distinct from Uzbeks even though their language belongs to the Chagatay-Turkic group. On the eve of the Russian Revolution, "Sart" was a self-denomination distinguished from Uzbeks and Tajiks despite the cultural synthesis in Turkestan.
Soviet nationality policies made the term obsolete. Following the first counting of the 1926 census, Sarts were listed as a questionable nationality. By the end of 1927, the majority of Sarts were designated as Uzbek and others were named Sart-Kalmyks. They were not considered Tajik because they were Turkic-speaking. Of the 2,880 Sart-Kalmyks listed in the 1926 census, there were 2,550 in Kirgiz ASSR, fewer than 250 in Uzbek SSR (all located in Andijan), and none in Tajik ASSR. By the 1937 census, the ethnic marker disappeared.
See also: central asia; islam; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist
Bregel, Yuri. (1978). "The Sarts in the Khanate of Khiva,"
Journal of Asian History 12 (2):120–151.
Schoeberlein, John. (1994). "Identity in Central Asia: Construction and contention in the conceptions of 'Özbek,' 'Tâjik,' 'Muslim,' 'Samarqandi' and other groups." Ph.D. diss. Harvard University.