Khiva, Khanate of

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The khanate of Khiva (Khwarazm) was established in 1511 on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, to the south of the Aral Sea and along the lower course of the Amu Darya River. The main ethnic groups living in the khanate were Uzbeks, Turkmen, Karakalpaks, Kazakhs, and Sarts, the latter being the original inhabitants of the region.

The first ruler of the khanate was Sultan Ilbars, who had a Shaybanid Uzbek connection. He founded the Yadigarids dynasty in Urgench, a city in the north of Khiva, today situated in Uzbekistan. In 1619, following a catastrophic drought, the capital of the khanate was moved to Khiva. By the late seventeenth century the effective reign of the Yadigarids began to decline, and their successive khans were left as protègès of influential Uzbek clans. During this period the unvarying assaults by Turkmen tribes, in addition to the endeavors at subjugation by Peter the Great of Russia in 1719, and by Nadir Shah of Persia in 1740, accelerated the process of disintegration of the khanate. In 1804, Inaq Iltuzer deposed the latest Yadigarid khan and established the Qungrats dynasty. Following their earlier unsuccessful attempts to conquer the khanate, the Russians eventually (1873) occupied Khiva and imposed a protectorate status on the khanate. The protectorate status lasted until 1920 when, with the aid of Red Army, the era of the khanate of Khiva came to an end and Khiva became the capital of the newborn Khwarezm People's Soviet Republic. In 1924 Khiva was incorporated into the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan.

In the khanate of Khiva, the khan was the absolute supreme ruler in all affairs. During the early period of its formation, the khanate was divided between the male associates of the ruling dynasties, each enjoying the military support of various leading tribes. However, following the establishment of Qungrats dynasty, the administrative hierarchy was systematically developed. Below the khan was the divan-begi or prime minister, who was followed by the kushbegi, who was in charge of military affairs, and finally the mehter, who ran the civil administration of the khanate. Furthermore, the khanate was divided into a capital and twenty districts, known as begliks; each beglik was governed by a hakim or local governor. The nomads' chieftains, usually bypassing the hakims, were directly accountable to the khan.

The khanate's judiciary system was based on shari a or Islamic jurisprudence and adat or customary values. The highest position belonged to the qazi-kalan or chief judge/prosecutor. Following qazi-kalan,there were qazis and then the qazi's agents or re˒is who were policing the civil as well as moral behavior of the population. The Khanate's tax-collectors, known for their corrupt behavior, were also subordinate to the qazis.

On the eve of the twentieth century, the population of the khanate of Khiva was estimated at 700,000. A majority of the people worked in agriculture, either as tenant farmers, share-croppers, or slaves. Cotton, wheat, and fruits were the main agricultural products. Cattle breeding was common among the Turkmen. The Sarts chiefly engaged in foreign trade, which was mainly with Russia and Iran.

During the Soviet era, the city of Khiva, like the other old khanate capitals, lost its political importance.

See alsoCentral Asian Culture and Islam .


Hambly, G. Central Asia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969.

Holdsworth, M. Turkestan in the Nineteenth Century: A Brief History of the Khanates of Bukhara, Kokand and Khiva. Oxford, U.K.: Central Asian Research Centre & St. Antony's College – Soviet Affairs Study Group, 1959.

Soucek, S. A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Touraj Atabaki