Central Asia, Islam in

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Central Asia is a modern geographical designation covering an area of considerable political, ethnic, and linguistic diversity, but marked by a distinctive cultural synthesis rooted in the meeting of the civilization of Inner Asia with that of the Middle East and the Islamic world. In terms of contemporary political boundaries, it comprises the newly independent post-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as adjacent parts of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, of northern Afghanistan, of northeastern Iran, and of the Russian Federation.

The chief historical regions comprising Central Asia include Mawarannahr, often called Transoxiana or Transoxania, the traditional heartland; the Farghana valley; the Tarim basin, often called Chinese or East Turkistan and now forming the major part of the province of Xinjiang in the People's Republic of China; the Syr Darya valley, with its commercial oasis towns; the steppe regions to the north known since the eleventh century as the Dasht-e Qipchaq; the region of the Amu Darya delta to the south of the Aral Sea, known historically as Khwarazm; and Khurasan, typically regarded as the northeasternmost province of Iran, but more often closely linked with Transoxiana in political, ethnic, and economic terms.

From the Arab Conquest to the Mongol Invasion

The Arab conquest of Iran brought Muslim armies to Khurasan, and raids were conducted as far as Balkh and into Transoxania already during the 650s, as Arab governors based first in Basra in Iraq and later (from 667) in Marv began the dual policy of establishing garrison towns in some areas, with Arab families transplanted from Iraq, and elsewhere leaving local dynasts in power as tributary rulers. A new stage in the conquest of Central Asia began with the appointment, in 705, of Qutayba b. Muslim as the governor of Khurasan. Qutayba's ten-year career brought the military conquest of Bukhara and Samarkand as well as of Khwarazm, and the initiation of campaigns into Farghana and as far beyond the Syr Darya as Isfijab; it also saw important institutional developments, as Arab garrisons were established in Bukhara and Samarkand, troops were levied from the local population to serve with the Muslim armies, mosques were built in these cities, and measures were undertaken to induce conversion to Islam.

These patterns of Arab rule established under Qutayba proved more enduring than his conquests. Following his murder by mutinous troops in the Farghana valley in 715, Arab control in Transoxania was soon rolled back, and nearly a quarter-century passed before the Muslim armies were able to take the initiative again. Local rulers such as the Sogdian king Ghurak regained their independence and successfully fought the Arabs, but a new force from the steppe—the Turgesh confederation—posed a more serious threat to Arab control. The Turgesh were able to raid deep into Transoxania and eventually into Khurasan as well. The death of the Turgesh ruler in 737, however, led to the collapse of his confederation; Ghurak died the same year, and soon afterward a new Umayyad governor of Khurasan, Nasr b. Sayyar, was able, during the 740s, to reconquer central Transoxania, the Farghana valley, and parts of eastern Khurasan that had reverted to local rulers, and to lead successful campaigns as far as Tashkent.

Soon, however, the Abbasid revolution, a movement that took shape militarily in Khurasan, swept the Umayyads from power; Abbasid agitation there began even before the arrival of the famous Abu Muslim in 747, and both the Arab colonists in Khurasan and Transoxania and local converts to Islam played significant roles in the success of the Abbasid cause. Disaffection with Umayyad rule was particularly strong among the local converts, resentful of policies that relegated them to a subordinate status vis-à-vis the Arabs. Nevertheless, the series of religiously tinged revolts that broke out in Transoxania and Khurasan beginning in the late Umayyad era continued through the first decades of Abbasid rule. Abbasid control in Central Asia in fact remained tenuous until the revolt of Rafi˓b. Layth beginning in 806. This revolt posed such a serious threat that the caliph himself, Harun al-Rashid, was compelled to set out to deal with it. Following his death in 809, his son al-Ma˒mun, installed as governor in Marv, succeeded in suppressing it, and after his elevation as caliph in 813, al-Ma˒mun—still based in Marv—conducted a series of decisive campaigns against independent local rulers that may be regarded as the culmination of the Arab conquest of Central Asia.

Almost as soon as it was solidified, Abbasid control in Central Asia devolved upon local governors loyal to the caliph and at least nominally dependent upon him. One of the participants in al-Ma˒mun's suppression of the revolt of Rafi˓b. Layth was one Tahir b. Husayn, whom the caliph appointed governor of Khurasan in 821. The Tahirid dynasty ruled Khurasan and Transoxania until its destruction in 873 by the Saffarids of Sistan. Members of the Samanid family also took part in al-Ma˒mun's campaigns, and served the Tahirids as governors in Samarkand, Farghana, and Tashkent. Samanid dynasts expanded their power through campaigns deep into the steppe, and with the collapse of the Tahirids received caliphal recognition as the rightful governors of Transoxania. The real foundations of the dynasty's power were laid by Isma˓il Samani, who destroyed the Saffarids in 900 and established Bukhara as the center of his realm. The dramatic decline in the political importance of the Abbasid caliphs that preceded the Samanid era (900–999) left the Samanids the rulers of an essentially independent state based in Central Asia; their patronage of religious and cultural institutions made tenth-century Central Asia one of the most vibrant and influential parts of the Muslim world.

Well into the first half of the tenth century, the Samanids retained their ability to project their power into the steppe to the north and northeast of Transoxania, but the Samanid era also brought crucial developments in the political and cultural history of the Turks of Central Asia. The tenth century marks the beginning of the large-scale involvement of Turkic peoples in Islamic civilization. Before this time, Turks from Central Asia had already played an important role in Muslim history as military slaves active at the caliphal court in Baghdad as well as other, more westerly parts of the Muslim world. The institution of Turkic military slaves would remain an important avenue for the assimilation of Turkic (and other) peoples into Islamic civilization, and, beginning with the Ghaznavids, would yield a substantial number of ruling dynasties from India to Egypt. Ultimately more important for Central Asian history, however, was the large-scale conversion to Islam by Turkic peoples; this was happening along the frontiers of Samanid Central Asia, but the tenth century also saw the establishment of Islam in remoter regions of Turkic Inner Asia, far beyond the limits reached by Muslim armies. During the middle of the tenth century, a member of a Turkic dynasty based in East Turkistan, in the city of Kashghar, adopted Islam, evidently in the course of a power struggle with a rival member of the same dynasty. The narrative of his conversion, which was elaborated and celebrated from at least the eleventh century to the twentieth, identified him as Satuq Bughra Khan. The convert was successful, and the dynasty, which has come to be known as that of the Qarakhanids, soon expanded its territories to the west, moving against the Samanid frontiers in the Syr Darya basin and, with the conquest of Bukhara in 999, effectively putting an end to the Samanid state. In this case, however, religious frontiers had shifted substantially; the Turks from the steppe who conquered sedentary Central Asia were already Muslims, and the ulema of Bukhara are famously reported to have counseled the city's population that they were under no obligation to defend their Samanid rulers, insofar as the Qarakhanids were good Muslims.

The Qarakhanids are of tremendous importance as the initial custodians of the Turkic/Islamic cultural synthesis and sponsors of the first Islamic Turkic literature. Qarakhanid patronage yielded the Turkic Qutadghu bilig, a "mirror for princes" completed around 1070 by Yusuf of Balasaghun for a Qarakhanid ruler of Kashghar. The Qarakhanids are also important, however, simply as the holders of power in much of Central Asia, at the regional and local level, for over two centuries. Even as supreme power in Central Asia shifted to the Seljuks or the Qarakhitays or the Khwarazmshahs, local dynasties linked to the Qarakhanid tradition continued to rule in Samarkand, in parts of the Farghana valley, and in towns of the Syr Darya basin. The last known Qarakhanid dynast was removed by the Khwarazmshah Muhammad (target of the Mongol invasion) only in 1209.

Of even greater significance for the Islamic world at large was the third Muslim Turkic dynasty to appear in Central Asia during the Samanid era, that of the Seljuks. The Seljuk royal house emerged, in the latter tenth century, as tribal leaders among the Oghuz Turks who nomadized near the lower course of the Syr Darya, northeast of the Aral Sea. The narrative of Seljuk origins links their adoption of Islam to a power struggle, again with conversion signaling a break with their former overlord as well as an alliance against him with the Muslim people of the Syr Darya town of Jand. By the early eleventh century the Seljuks were involved in the military and political turmoil that accompanied the division of the Samanid realm between the Ghaznavids, in Khurasan, and the Qarakhanids, in Transoxania, and quickly dominated both regions, leaving the Qarakhanid dynasts as vassals but effectively crushing the Ghaznavid presence in Khurasan with their defeat of Mahmud's son and successor, Mas˓ud, in 1040 at Dandanqan, near Marv. Thereafter the Seljuks began their phenomenal sweep through Iran and the Middle East, seizing Baghdad by 1055 and defeating the Byzantines in Anatolia in 1071.

Seljuk success in Central Asia itself was less overwhelming than further west. By the first half of the twelfth century, Seljuk dynasts were plagued by the devastating raids, deep into Khurasan, of other groups of Oghuz ("Ghuzz") nomads who did not accept their rule, and the final blow to Seljuk power in the east came in 1141, when the sultan, Sanjar, was defeated in the Qatvan steppe, northeast of Samarkand, by the Qarakhitays. The latter, remnants of the Qitan people who had dominated northern China (as the Liao dynasty) since the early tenth century, had fled westward after their ouster from China in the 1120s and dominated the steppe regions of Central Asia down to the Mongol conquest. The non-Muslim Qarakhitays were for the most part absentee overlords with regard to Transoxania, and most regions remained in the hands of local elites, whether Qarakhanid dynasts or, as in the case of Bukhara, a prominent family of Hanafi jurists known as the Al-e Burhan.

The Qarakhitay defeat of the Seljuks provided an opportunity for expansion by a dynasty of local rulers based in Khwarazm, whose ancestors had assumed control there in the service of the Seljuks. These Khwarazmshahs, under nominal Qarakhitay suzerainty, extended their power into Khurasan and into the lower Syr Darya valley, and by the beginning of the thirteenth century had become the most powerful rulers in the eastern Islamic world. The ambitions of the Khwarazmshah Muhammad (r. 1200–1218) led him to clash with the Ghurid dynasty based south of the Hindu Kush, with the Abbasid caliph al-Nasir (who was intent on restoring the caliphate's political power), with his Qarakhitay over-lords, and finally with the new Inner Asian power, the Mongols under Genghis Khan. Muhammad's disastrous rebuff of the khan's diplomatic and commercial overtures led to the Mongol invasion that, from 1216 to 1223, devastated much of Transoxania and Khurasan and destroyed the Khwarazmian state.

The Mongol and Timurid Periods, 1220–1500

Mongol rule was established in Central Asia well before the subsequent Mongol campaign of 1256–1258, which destroyed the Abbasid caliphate and brought all of Iran and much of the Middle East under Mongol control. The impact of the Mongol conquest likewise endured much longer in Central Asia than elsewhere in the Muslim world, above all through the political principles established in the thirteenth century and maintained, in one form or another, down to the eighteenth. These principles made sovereignty a prerogative reserved solely for blood descendants of Genghis (Chinggis) Khan. They inaugurated a political tension—between Chinggisids with the theoretical right to rule, and powerful tribal chieftains with direct control over the nomadic military forces crucial to the Chinggisids's power—that would shape Central Asian political history down to the Russian conquest. The descendants of Genghis Khan alone could bear the sovereign title khan, and were known by the Turkic term oghlan (the "sons," par excellence). In the parts of the Mongol-ruled world that were Islamized, the princes of the blood who did not rise to supreme power (but always remained potential candidates for that role) were more often known by the Muslim term signaling sovereign authority, sultan. The tribal chieftains, by contrast, were known by the Turkic term bek or what came to be its Arabic equivalent, emir (with scions of the tribal elite referred to by the Arabo-Persian hybrid emir-zada, that is, "born of an emir," typically shortened to mirza).

As the Mongol empire split along regional lines in the middle of the thirteenth century, different parts of Central Asia fell to different ruling lineages stemming from the four sons of Genghis Khan. Khwarazm, parts of the lower Syr Darya basin, and much of the Dasht-e Qipchaq came to be regarded as part of the realm (ulus) of the descendants of Jochi (the "Golden Horde"), centered in the lower Volga valley, while much of Iran was in the hands of the Ilkhanid realm centered in Azerbaijan, that was ruled by descendants of Genghis Khan's grandson, Hulegu, who had led the campaign of 1256–1258. The heartland of Transoxania, as well as the Tarim basin, parts of Khurasan, and the eastern parts of the Dasht-i Qipchaq, were nominally part of the ulus of Genghis's son Chaghatay, though in fact, through much of the second half of the thirteenth century, this region was dominated by Qaydu, a descendant of Genghis's son and first successor Ogodey. Not until the early fourteenth century did the Chaghatayid lineage reassert itself, under the khans Esen Buqa and Kebek. In each of these western successor states of the Mongol empire, the process of Islamization was underway already in the thirteenth century, and by the second quarter of the fourteenth century khans from each of the Chinggisid dynasties ruling there—as well as members of the tribal aristocracy and ordinary nomads—had become Muslims.

By the 1330s, however, the Ilkhanid state was disintegrating, and real power in most of the Chaghatayid ulus had reverted to the tribal chieftains, who made and unmade khans to suit their own ends. It was in the western part of the Chaghatayid realm that Timur, an emir of the Barlas tribe based in southern Transoxania, rose to power during the 1360s; within a decade he had succeeded in consolidating his power over Transoxania and Khurasan and had begun the career of conquest that would make him master not only of Central Asia, but of Iran and much of the Middle East as well, culminating with campaigns as far east as Delhi and as far west as Ankara. Following Timur's death in 1405, his descendants were able to maintain control only over his Central Asian domains, in Transoxania, Iran, and Khurasan (where Herat soon emerged as a cosmopolitan center of cultural patronage). The Timurid state in Central Asia fractured soon after the death of Timur's son and successor Shahrukh in 1447, with separate branches of the Timurid lineage holding power in Khurasan and Transoxania.

The Uzbek Era, 1500–1865

Timur, though not a Chinggisid, clearly sought to evoke the legacy of Genghis Khan's conquests during his lifetime, and his successors likewise cultivated their Inner Asian heritage alongside their patronage of Islamic institutions. Nevertheless, the Timurids were regarded as usurpers by real Chinggisids, and the principal challenges to his rule in Central Asia, and to that of his descendants, came from the nomads of the Dasht-e Qipchaq, ruled by Chinggisids from the lineage of Jochi. By the time of Timur, the Turkic nomads of the eastern half of the Dasht-e Qipchaq, who belonged to what remained of the Jochid ulus (i.e., the "Golden Horde"), had come to be known by the designation Uzbek (ozbek); the origin of this appellation is obscure, but is ascribed by indigenous tradition to the impact of the adoption of Islam by Ozbek Khan of the Golden Horde (r. 1313–1341).

Timur himself faced invasions into his domains by nomadic armies from the northern steppe led by various Jochid rulers and tribal chieftains.Timur's efforts to secure stability and peace on his northern frontier were continued by his successors; Shahrukh succeeded in securing Khwarazm by 1413, but his son Ulugh Beg's meddling in Jöchid affairs led to his serious defeat by one would-be khan near Sighnaq in 1427. Shortly after this event, a young prince from the lineage of Shiban (the fifth son of Jochi), named Abu 'l-Khayr Khan, succeeded, with the aid of the powerful chieftains of the Manghit tribe, in establishing his power over most of the Uzbek tribes of the Dasht-e Qipchaq, and established a confederation strong enough to challenge the Timurids and influence internal Timurid politics.

The Qalmaqs. This first Uzbek confederation was shaken by attacks from the Qalmaqs (i.e., the Kalmyks or Oyrats, western Mongols) in the mid-fifteenth century, and collapsed after Abu 'l-Khayr Khan's death (c. 1469), but the founder's grandson, known as Muhammad Shibani Khan, succeeded in reformulating a substantial part of the coalition by the end of the fifteenth century. As internal dissension weakened the Timurid state in Transoxania, Shibani Khan succeeded in conquering Samarkand and Bukhara in 1500, consolidated his hold on Transoxania and seized Khwarazm by 1505. He moved across the Amu Darya to attack the Timurids in Khurasan soon after the death of the last powerful Timurid, Sultan Husayn Bayqara, seizing the Timurid capital, Herat, in 1507. His ambitions were cut short late in 1510 when he was defeated and killed in battle with the Safavid ruler Shah Isma˓il near Marv. The Safavid victory led to a virtually total withdrawal of Uzbek forces from Transoxania. Within two years, however, the Uzbeks, led by Muhammad Shibani Khan's nephew ˓Ubaydullah and other descendants of Abu 'l-Khayr Khan, had expelled the Safavid forces and their Timurid supporters (including Babur, who would found the Mogul empire of India) from Transoxania. Khurasan became a battleground between the Safavids and the Uzbeks, with Herat changing hands several times during the sixteenth century.

The Qazaqs. The Qazaqs with whom Muhammad Shibani Khan fought were of precisely the same ethnic stock as his Uzbek followers; the name qazaq ("freebooter") had been applied pejoratively to the components of Abu 'l-Khayr Khan's Uzbek confederation who broke with Abu 'l-Khayr and followed other Chinggisids out of his coalition. The essentially political, rather than ethnic, distinction between Qazaq and Uzbek remained somewhat fluid through the sixteenth century. After their Uzbek kinsmen moved with the Shibanids or other Chinggisids into Transoxania, Khwarazm, and Khurasan, the Qazaqs occupied the Dasht-e Qipchaq, and continued their large-scale, seasonal pastoral nomadic migrations. The Qazaqs too were ruled by Chinggisid sultans, and came to be divided into three loosely affiliated units (zhüz) known in the West as "hordes." The middle Syr Darya valley became the focus of frequent wars between the Qazaq Chinggisids and the Uzbek khans of Transoxania, with towns such as Tashkent, Sayram, and Turkistan held by the Qazaqs through much of the seventeenth century.

The ˓Arabshahids. In Khwarazm, meanwhile, a separate Chinggisid dynasty supported by Uzbek nomads from the Dasht-e Qipchaq took power following the ouster of the Safavid forces that occupied the region after the defeat of Muhammad Shibani Khan. This dynasty, often referred to as the ˓Arabshahids, extended its control to the south, into Khurasan, during the middle of the sixteenth century, and maintained power in Khwarazm to the early eighteenth century. One of its members, Abu 'l-Ghazi Khan (r. 1643–1663), is known for his harsh measures against the Turkmen nomads inhabiting the frontiers of the Khwarazmian oasis, for his reorganization of the Uzbek tribes of Khwarazm, and for the two historical works he wrote in Chaghatay Turkic.

The polity in Transoxania and, later, in parts of Khurasan that was reformulated by the kinsmen of Muhammad Shibani Khan following the defeat at Marv, was not a centralized state, much less an empire, but rather a collection of loosely linked appanages assigned to Chinggisid princes who took part in the conquest. There were thus separate and essentially co-equal Chinggisid sultans based in Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Balkh, and other appanages, with the senior member of the extended ruling clan recognized as khan. The equilibrium that maintained this decentralized system broke down in the 1550s, and gave way to bitter struggles among the princes that culminated in the gradual, and bloody, consolidation of power by ˓Abdallah Khan. The latter's success in eliminating rivals meant that when his son was murdered shortly after ˓Abdallah's own death in 1598, the tribal chieftains and urban elites of Transoxania were compelled to seek a Chinggisid khan from an altogether different Jochid lineage, one that had recently been dislodged from its hereditary realm along the lower Volga by the Russian conquest of the commercial emporium of Astrakhan. This dynasty, known variously as that of the Janids, the Ashtarkhanids, or the Toqay Timurids ruled Transoxania and Balkh until 1747.

Despite the stability seemingly implied by the long reigns of Ashtarkhanid rulers such as Imam Quli Khan (r. 1611–1642), ˓Abd al-˓Aziz Khan (r. 1645–1681), Subhan Quli Khan (r. 1681–1702), and Abu 'l-Fayz Khan (r. 1711–1747), this era saw the steady erosion of the khans's authority in favor of powerful tribal chieftains, and the steady diminution of the state itself. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the power of the Chinggisid khans had been seriously weakened both in Khwarazm and in Transoxania, to the benefit of the tribal aristocracy, and political instability was exacerbated by economic dislocation and external military threats. In particular, the renewed success of the Mongol Junghars (Oyrats) in the Dasht-e Qipchaq sent waves of Qazaq refugees into Transoxania in the 1720s, devastating the region's agricultural base and prompting in turn the flight of much of the sedentary population there into the Farghana valley and other areas. The Junghar threat also induced some Qazaq Chinggisids to seek protection from the Russian empire, and the formal submission of these khans later served as a pretext for the extension of Russian control over the Qazaq steppes.

The Afghan Turkmen. The political and military weakness of Central Asia was further underscored by the invasion of Nader Shah, the warlord of the Afshar tribe of Turkmens who seized power in Iran in 1728, driving out the Afghans who had put an end to the Safavid dynasty six years earlier. His conquest of Bukhara and Khwarazm in 1740 helped launch the final stage in the transition to the new dynasties of Uzbek tribal origin that would rule much of Central Asia into the second half of the nineteenth century. In Bukhara, a chieftain of the Manghit tribe who had formerly served the weak Ashtarkhanid ruler Abu ˓l-Fayz Khan had the latter ruler deposed and killed soon after Nader Shah's assassination in 1747. In Khwarazm, Nader Shah's conquest led to an extended period of profound disorder, culminating in the occupation of the capital, Khiva, by the Yomut tribe of Turkmens in 1768. In this case it was a chieftain of the Qonghrat tribe, who likewise had filled important state positions under the Chinggisid khans there, who succeeded in driving out the Yomuts and restoring order. The Manghit and Qonghrat dynasties thus established ruled Bukhara and Khiva, respectively, even after the Russian conquest, surviving as protectorates of the Russian state until 1920.

Nader Shah's career also set the stage for the emergence of Ahmad Shah Durrani (r. 1747–1773), the Afghan warlord who was able to seize the regions of Balkh and Herat to add to his base in Qandahar and Kabul, and thereby forged the basis for modern Afghanistan; the Manghits of Bukhara continued to contest the loss of Balkh, however, and permanent Afghan control of the region that became known as "Afghan Turkistan" was not secured until the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Khanate of Qoqand. In the Farghana valley, finally, another Uzbek tribal dynasty took shape in the first half of the eighteenth century, as chieftains of the Ming tribe made the town of Qoqand (or Khuqand) their base and extended their control throughout the valley; this region proved to be the most economically dynamic area of Central Asia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the Ming dynasty was able to exploit the valley's agricultural and commercial wealth to build a state that became the most powerful in Central Asia during the first half of the nineteenth century. Under ˓Alim Khan (r. 1798–1809) and his brother ˓Umar Khan (r. 1809–1822), the khanate of Qoqand expanded to the north, seizing Tashkent and the towns of the middle Syr Darya; further Qoqandian expansion into the Dasht-i Qipchaq brought both Qazaq and Qirghiz nomads under the khanate's control, and led inevitably to a confrontation with the Russian empire, which was expanding into the same regions from the north.

The khans of Qoqand were also closely involved in affairs of East Turkistan, where political structures had developed quite differently from those of western Central Asia in the Uzbek era. There, dynasts of the lineage of Chaghatay had withstood challenges from both the Timurids and the Uzbek Chinggisids to the west, and from the Mongol Junghars to the north, down to the late seventeenth century. Shifting political alignments involving rival branches of a family of Naqshbandi khwajas (descendants and Sufi successors of a sixteenth-century shaykh of Transoxania known as Makhdum-e A˓zam), which had been established in the region from the late sixteenth century, contributed to the conquest of the region by the Junghars in 1681, putting an end to the Chaghatayid dynasty. The Junghars installed Afaq Khwaja (d. 1694), leader of the Aqtaghliq ("White Mountain") khwaja faction, as their governor in Kashghar. Struggles between the khwaja factions continued after his death, leading the Junghars first to deport the leaders of both factions, and later to switch their support to the rival Qarataghliq ("Black Mountain") faction.

The Manchus. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, khwaja contenders were seeking support against the Junghars through the growing power of the Manchu empire (the Qing dynasty of China). The climactic struggle between the Manchus and the Junghars for domination of the Inner Asian heartland culminated in the total destruction of the Junghar state in 1758. The khwaja state too was destroyed, as the Manchus incorporated both the Tarim basin and the Junghar homeland into their empire (it would become known as the "New Province," Xinjiang, of China), but the khwaja lineages continued to stir up rebellions among the Muslims of the region, with the active support, beginning in the 1820s, of the khans of Qoqand based in the Farghana valley. A major uprising of Chinese Muslims from 1862 to 1876 kept the Qing dynasty occupied as the Qoqandian adventurer Ya qub Bek carved out his own state, with the support of an Aqtaghliq khwaja based in Kashghar. The suppression of the revolt led to the Qing reconquest of the Tarim basin by 1878. The Turkic Muslim population of East Turkistan was able to reassert its independence sporadically following the collapse of the Manchu dynasty in 1911, with several attempts to create an East Turkistan Republic during the 1930s and 1940s. The Chinese communist victory in 1949 led to the region's incorporation into the People's Republic of China as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The PRC's colonization policy brought a massive influx of Han Chinese that has reduced the Muslim component to approximately 60 percent of the region's population.

The Russian Conquest and the Soviet Era, 1865–1991

During the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, the rulers of the Uzbek tribal dynasties in the three khanates of western Central Asia—Bukhara, Khiva, and Qoqand—were succeeding where the Chinggisid khans had long failed: They crushed the power of the tribal chieftains, instituted military reforms that lessened their dependence on the tribal forces, created a more centralized bureaucratic apparatus for state administration, and concentrated far more power in their own hands than any Chinggisid khan had held for centuries. Despite this period of relative revitalization, however, the three Central Asian khanates were hopelessly outmatched militarily by the expanding Russian empire.

Russian commercial ties with Central Asia had developed extensively from the latter sixteenth century, as the conquest of the last successor states of the Golden Horde opened Siberia to Russian conquest. By the latter eighteenth century, Russian encroachment from the Volga-Ural valley and Siberia had reduced the Qazaqs to vassal status. The suppression of Qazaq revolts in the 1830s and 1840s brought Russian forces into the Syr Darya valley, where they attacked Qoqandian outposts already in the 1850s.

The outright military conquest of southern Central Asia followed the freeing of Russian military resources by the end of the Crimean War, and by the suppression of Muslim resistance in the North Caucasus. Russian troops moved against the towns of the middle Syr Darya valley in 1864, and seized Tashkent in 1865. Operations southwest of Tashkent brought confrontations with Bukharan troops, culminating in the Russian capture of Samarkand in 1868 and the establishment of a Russian protectorate over the khanate of Bukhara. A Russian force marched on Khiva in 1873 and forced a similar arrangement on the Qonghrat khan. Further defeats of Qoqandian forces brought the submission of that khanate as well, but repeated revolts and social unrest in the Farghana valley led Russian officials to dissolve the khanate of Qoqand in 1876 and bring its territories under direct Russian rule. The Turkmen nomads to the south of Khwarazm put up a stiffer resistance, surrendering to Russian control only after a massacre of Turkmen men, women, and children at Gok Tepe, near modern-day Ashgabat, in 1881. By 1895, negotiations between the Russian and British empires had defined the southern border of the Russian holdings in Central Asia, corresponding to the present-day borders of the Central Asian republics with Iran and Afghanistan.

Russian rule at first brought few changes to the daily lives of Central Asian Muslims, but growing contacts between Russians and Central Asians, as well as economic changes brought on by increased trade with Russia, led to the emergence of small native circles intent upon revitalizing local society through educational and cultural changes. Following the 1905 revolution in Russia, these groups—known as jadidists, a term applied to reformist Muslims throughout the Russian empire—became increasingly concerned with political issues, and it was from among them that the Russian Bolsheviks would find their first allies among the native population following the revolutions of 1917. These reformist circles were important for launching the reevaluation of communal identities and mores that would create the modern Soviet nations of Central Asia. The Bolshevik victory in the Civil War was followed, in Central Asia, by an administrative reorganization that reflected both practical concerns and Lenin's rhetoric about national self-determination. This "national delimitation" drew borders for the new people's republics, in part on the basis of older administrative units, but in part on the basis of ethnographic and linguistic surveys conducted by scholars and officials using a somewhat arbitrarily chosen set of ethnic and national designations. The basic work was done by 1924; changes in the hierarchical status of the units thus created, within the system of union republics, autonomous republics, and autonomous regions that comprised the ethnically defined structures of the USSR, continued until 1936, leaving five union republics—the Kazakh, Uzbek, Kirgiz, Tadzhik, and Turkmen republics (using the Russianized names that were official through the Soviet period)—in western Central Asia.

Soviet policy demanded the strict subordination of national identities to the construction of socialist society. However, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s local elites were able to develop considerable autonomy in republican affairs, and, within limits, to give expression to Sovietized national cultures. In the 1980s Soviet reformers sought to rein in the entrenched national bureaucracies, citing corruption and abuses of power in the republics. Increasingly vocal nationalist movements demanded the assertion of cultural and political rights, culminating in declarations of sovereignty by all of the Central Asian republics. With the failed coup attempt of August 1991 and the dissolution of the USSR later that year, each of the republics declared independence. By that time, however, the local communist elites had co-opted the nationalist movements and ensured their hold on power, now as nationalists rather than communists. The 1990s saw, in all the Central Asian republics, a rollback of political rights asserted during the last years of the Soviet regime, the often brutal stifling of political dissent, and the total monopolization of power by the former republican communist parties, now appropriately renamed. At the same time, the republican elites appeared to be committed to the enterprise of nation-building, understanding their power to be rooted in existing political structures rather than in any revolutionary transformation of the prevailing conceptions of communal identity, which those structures served to reify.

See alsoCentral Asian Culture and Islam ; Communism ; Reform: Muslim Communities of the Russian Empire .


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Devin DeWeese

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