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Afghan Trading Networks  

Magnus Marsden and Benjamin D. Hopkins

Afghanistan has long been conventionally regarded as a remote space peripheral to the wider world. Yet scholarship produced in the 2nd decade of the 21st century suggests its multiple connections to a wide array of regions and settings. Such connections are especially visible when viewed through the lens of the trade networks originating from the territories of modern Afghanistan. Scholars have come to recognize that Afghan traders have long been active players in many contexts across Asia and beyond. Such traders and the networks they form play a critically important role in connecting different parts of Asia with one another, including South Asia and Eurasia, as well as East and West Asia. The connective role performed by Afghan caravanners and religious minorities in the trade between India and Central Asia are especially well documented by historians. Increasingly so too are the activities of Afghan merchants in Ottoman territories. The trading networks Afghan traders have participated in are historically dynamic. Their orientating values shift across time and space between various forms of religious, ethno-linguistic, and political identity. The capacity to adapt to changing circumstances is helpful in understanding the continuing relevance of Afghan traders to 21st-century forms of globalized capitalism, in contexts as varied as the former Soviet Union, China, and the Arabian Peninsula.


A Historical Sketch of Buddhism in Tibet  

Dan Smyer Yü and Sonam Wangmo

With the available historical Tibetan written records from late 8th century on and the existing scholarly works on Buddhism, this historical overview recounts how Buddhism was Tibetanized and how it became both the national religion of Tibet and a world religion spread to Inner Asia, East Asia, and other parts of the world. It also adds interpretive commentaries leading to more historical inquiries and suggestions for alternative historiographical approaches to the formation of Tibetan Buddhism, adopted from disciplines other than history of religion and Buddhist studies. An emphasis is placed on the significance of folk accounts that reveal “the geomythological reorientation” of Buddhist conversion in the historical Tibetan context not merely as an intellectual and doctrinal acceptance of Indian Buddhism but also as a symbiotic process in which Indian Buddhism and indigenous religious practices mutually transformed each other. The emergence of the different Buddhist schools in Tibet is also a result of the politics of the sect-specific powers throughout Tibetan history. It is thus essential to recognize the formation of the five schools also as a set of religio-political occurrences, particularly since the formation of Gelug (dGe lugs) School in the 15th century and later becoming a Gelug-based Tibetan polity in the 17th century. The Gelug School dominated Tibetan Buddhism, and successive Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet from the mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries. Given the regional and global status of Tibetan Buddhism, emphasis is placed on Tibetan Buddhism as a transregional religion in Inner Asia and later as a form of modern Buddhism since the middle of the 20th century. With these emphases, the historical overview presented here is intended to generate more scholarly discussions and inquiries into the history of Tibetan Buddhism in both monastic and lay spheres in and outside Tibet.


Ancient Steppe Nomad Societies  

Nikolay Kradin

Throughout more than two millennia, the extensive droughty areas in East Asia were occupied by pastoral nomads. A long history exists of hybridity between steppe and agricultural areas. The ancient nomads had a specific pastoral economy, a mobile lifestyle, a unique mentality that assumed unpretentiousness and stamina, cults of war, warrior horsemen, and heroized ancestors that were reflected, in turn, in both their verbal oeuvre (heroic epos) and their arts (animal style). They established vast empires that united many peoples. In the descriptions of settled civilizations, the peoples of the steppe are presented as aggressive barbarians. However, the pastoral nomads developed efficient mechanisms of adaptation to nature and circumjacent states. They had a complex internal structure and created different forms of social complexity—from heterarchical confederations to large nomadic empires. The different forms of identity in pastoral societies (gender, age, profession, rank) are presented in this article. Special attention is given to how ethnic identity is formed from small groups. The ethnic history of the ancient nomads of East Asia is described, particularly for such pastoral societies as the Xiongnu, the Wuhuan, the Xianbei, and the Rouran.


Asia in the Gunpowder Revolution  

Scott C. Levi

Contrary to long-held notions that gunpowder weapons technologies were devised in the West and gradually transmitted eastward into Asia, more recent scholarship indicates that innovations flowed in both directions. Scholars have also come to recognize that there was no uniformity in the ways that states implemented gunpowder weapons, and that multiple factors relating to environment, demographics, and cultural preferences informed decisions about when and how to embrace the new technology. The major Asian agrarian states of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (the so-called Gunpowder Empires) and the Ming and Qing dynasties in China implemented gunpowder weapons differently. The Ottomans were the most aggressive in this regard, the Mughals preferred a hybrid force, and the Safavids long favored cavalry. Chinese militaries employed hybrid forces to great effect, but in later years a lengthy peace during the Qing era slowed the implementation of new technologies. In Central Asia and other places where rulers could rely on large numbers of well-trained, fast-moving mounted archers and a nearly endless supply of horses, they found little reason to rush to embrace what for several centuries represented an expensive, slow, and unreliable technology.


Astrakhan and Orenburg: Russia’s Asian Trade in the 17th and 18th Centuries  

Matthew Romaniello

Astrakhan and Orenburg were the Russian Empire’s two “official” entrances from Asia in the early modern era. Russia’s “Asia” was conceived broadly as the expanse of Eurasia from the Ottoman Empire to the shores of the Pacific. Russia’s control of the Volga River, culminating in the conquest of Astrakhan on the shores of the Caspian Sea in the 16th century, was intended to open direct access for Russia’s merchants to reach Asia. Throughout the 17th century, trade with the Middle East and Central Asia increased, followed by an important breakthrough in relations with China culminating in the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. In the 18th century, Russia’s Asian trade increased; Astrakhan’s customs fees collected from Asian trade goods surpassed the revenue generated by Russia’s Baltic ports in the first half of the century. A growing trade with the Central Asian Khanates of Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand led to the creation of Orenburg as the entry point for overland trade from the steppe in 1753. In theory, the new outpost separated Russia’s “Asia” into separate zones for increased regulation: Astrakhan for goods arriving from the Caspian Sea, imported from Iran and India, and Orenburg for the increasing steppe traffic. This is not to suggest that increased regulation produced better control over Eurasia’s trade networks, but rather to reveal Russia’s significant investment in profiting from Asia’s trade as much as its competitors in Britain or the Netherlands did. While overland Eurasian trade remains plagued by a historiographical assumption of its decline in the 18th century, Astrakhan and Orenburg were vital centers of Eurasian commerce, revealing the robust overland trade that remained outside of West European observation.


Bukharan Trade Networks in Eurasia  

Erika Monahan

Bukharan trade networks functioned as significant conduits to the movement of goods and people throughout Eurasia. Evidence of trade activities of Bukharans in the early modern period extends from the northern shores of Russia, east to China, and south to the Caspian, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent. In the Russian Empire Bukharan merchants became a privileged diaspora community that played a significant role in commercial life of Siberia. In Siberia theyoften maintained commercial and religious ties with their Central Asian communities; they seemed in some cases to established close ties with the Siberian Tatar community as well. Bukharan merchants were not necessarily from the city of Bukhara per se, but rather, probably due to the prestige of Bukhara, the Russian imperial state applied the moniker Bukharan (Bukharetin–singular; Bukhartsy–plural) to merchants that hailed from a variety of Central Asian cities and towns. In Siberia, some Bukharans served the Russian imperial state not only as merchants but also in the service of Russian imperial commercial and diplomatic administration. They served the Russian imperial state in various roles, includingin the customs administration and diplomacy. Commercial and spiritual reasons brought this diaspora community to Siberia. While the Russian state courted Bukharan immigration to Siberia for the economic benefits they could bring, Bukharan immigration to Siberia predated the Russian conquest. Bukharans came as proselytizers to Islam at the behest of Siberian Khan Kuchum, if not earlier. State policy toward them reflected a larger state economic strategy of building and maintaining an expanding empire and the army necessary to the project through activist commercial policies. Bukharans played integral roles in Siberian life yet maintained a distinct Bukharan identity. While their integrated economic life resembled that of Russians enough to elicit strong pressures to rescind their tax advantages, Bukharans defended their rights before the state and before their neighbors with savvy and enjoyed various tax privileges into the early 19th century. Although Bukharans lost market share to the Armenians in Astrakhan and the establishment of direct Russian involvement in theRusso–China trade undermined their role in that trade, Bukharan trade networks continued to be an important part of Eurasian commerce. Bukharans may have increased the share of European wares in their trade portfolios, for example. . Meanwhile, Siberian and transit Bukharans continued to cooperate generations after Siberian Bukharans had been settled in the Russian Empire. In short, Bukharans provided simultaneously adaptive to their new homeland and changing market conditions while, at the same time, maintaining the mercurial distinctness of a mercantile diasporic community. Despite their long-standing roots and presence in the Russian Empire, the imperial state counted them as a distinct population as late as the empire-wide census of 1897. That Bukharans were only subsumed into the category of Tatars by the Soviet state testifies to their enduring presence as a distinct group in the Russian Empire.


Bukhara under the Mongols  

Michael Hope

In Muharram ah 617/March 1220 ce Chinggis Khan led his armies to Bukhara as part of a larger campaign against the Khwārazmshāh Empire (616–621/1220–1225). The city quickly surrendered and was rapidly integrated into the growing Mongol Empire. In the subsequent decades, Bukhara enjoyed a speedy recovery under the stewardship of a series of Mongol officials, who patronized religious institutions, repaired the damage caused by the invasion, and mitigated some of the excesses of the Mongol armies stationed in Transoxania. Yet this revival was stunted in the second half of the 13th century when the Mongol Empire was divided by war. During this period different factions contested control of Transoxania, and Bukhara became the target of periodic raids and attacks. A full rehabilitation of the city had to wait until after 716/1317–1318, when alliances between the Mongol military elites and the popular religious leaders of Bukhara facilitated a new period of stability that would last until the fall of the last effective khan, Qazān Sultan, in 746/1346. Bukhara’s status as an intellectual, economic, and political capital of Transoxania was diminished during the period of Mongol rule. Samarqand was designated as the administrative capital of Transoxania for much of this period, and the presence of Mongol forces in Nakhshab saw Bukhara subordinated to the itinerate court of the Chaghadaid-Mongol princes. Nevertheless, the city continued to be seen as an important center of religious scholarship, and its prestige was boosted by the fact that it served as the base for two of the leading Sufi movements of its time, the Kubrawiyya and the Naqshbandiyya.


Central Asia between Empires: New Research on the 18th and 19th Centuries  

James Pickett

Central Asia’s 18th and 19th centuries marked the definitive end of the nomadic empires that characterized the region’s geopolitics for over three millennia before the advent of colonialism. Although it is open to debate which polity was the last “empire of the steppe,” a strong case can be made for the Junghar confederacy, which contested the Qing Empire of China for dominance in Eurasia in the 17th and 18th centuries—ultimately unsuccessfully. The Junghars owed their early success to a combination of new gunpowder technology and nomadic military organization, and the fragmented city-states that emerged from Nadir Shah Afshar’s empire (1736–1747)—such as Bukhara, Khiva, and Khoqand—relied even more on musketeer infantry units composed of individuals without ties to the local Turkic military elite. The emergent fiscal-military states that characterized Central Asia on the eve of colonial conquest were thus quite novel in terms of structural power dynamics, yet thoroughly Turko-Perso-Islamic in terms of symbolism, law, and patrimonialism. This period also witnessed what was in many ways the apex of Persianate high culture, building on traditions with roots stretching back to the Timurid period and earlier. Sufism in all of its forms became mainstream. Intellectual elites were polymathic, simultaneously mastering jurisprudence, poetry, medicine, occult sciences, and more. Vernacularization, particularly in literary Central Asian Turki, deepened these currents and carried them to new audiences. The new city-state dynasties competed with one another to build up educational centers to support all of these cultural forms. Many of these cultural, social, and even political forms persisted under colonialism, even as the pace of change sped up. Some of the precolonial dynasties persevered under indirect colonial rule. Sufi brotherhoods and Islamic learning expanded, only to be snuffed out or transformed in the Soviet period. Only at the very end of the 19th century did colonial modernity—in the form of large-scale cotton cultivation, new understandings of national identity, print culture, and steam-propelled transport—begin to make significant inroads.


Central Asia in the Soviet Command Economy  

Isaac Scarborough

The five republics of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—spent the majority of the 20th century as part of the USSR and the Soviet command economy. Over this period, their economies grew significantly, as did the standard of living enjoyed by their populations. At the same time, the Soviet command economy, along with its particular application in Central Asia, created both significant barriers and long-term economic damage in the region. Local salaries and access to goods remained far below the Soviet average; agricultural production took precedence over industrialization and modernization; the combination of expansionist planning and resource extraction meant that over decades little was done to change the system even as ecological disaster loomed. When the Soviet command economy receded in 1991, it left an ambiguous detritus, one remembered as violently forced and perhaps unwanted.


The China-Russia Trade through Nerchinsk and Kiakhta  

Ilya Vinkovetsky

Direct bilateral trade between the Romanov and the Qing Empires began officially with the signing of the Nerchinsk treaty in 1689. State-sponsored caravans initiated in European Russia traveled the lengthy continental route from European Russia across Siberia and the Gobi, arriving in Beijing to conduct trade. But by the second quarter of the 18th century, caravan trade was disrupted by a new arrangement, initiated by the Qing, that in the long term proved more agreeable to both empires: the two sides agreed to demarcate their common border, enforce and patrol it more effectively, and establish a new trading post on the Mongol/Transbaikal frontier. Caravan trade was subsequently phased out, replaced by the more efficient trade at the border hub of Kiakhta, where virtually all of the China-Russia trade was conducted almost exclusively by barter. Strict barter regulations, which became a distinguishing characteristic of the “Kiakhta system,” remained in place into the 1850s. Trade at Kiakhta expanded in the 18th century, and in the 19th century, when growing volumes of tea replaced silk, rhubarb, tobacco, and luxury goods as the chief Chinese export, it boomed. In the early years of China-Russia trade, the Russians offered furs almost to the exclusion of any other exports. But as the populations of the fur-bearing animals plummeted, they diversified their offerings. Textiles and light manufacturing came to play an increasingly important role in the 19th century. The result was that Kiakhta trade stimulated manufacturing in Russia and tea-growing agricultural economy in China. Affecting fashions, tastes, and customs, the exchange of commodities (furs, tea, rhubarb, tobacco, cloth, etc.) led to important changes in Russian and Chinese societies and economies. Ongoing trade between the Qing and the Romanov empire-states, conducted on the Buryat/Mongol frontier, also supported colonization and development, stimulated imperial expansion, and had far-ranging ramifications for the indigenous peoples of the Transbaikal region, Mongolia, Siberia, and Central Asia. Geopolitical changes of the late 1850s, culminating in the 1860 treaties that overturned the rules of China-Russia trade, put an end to Kiakhta’s status as a funnel of transregional and global trade.


The Classical Silk Road: Trade and Connectivity across Central Asia, 100 BCE–1200 CE  

Valerie Hansen

The Silk Road refers to all the overland routes connecting the major oasis kingdoms of Central Asia including Dunhuang, Turfan, Khotan, and Samarkand to their neighbors: the Chinese landmass, the Mongolian grasslands, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian subcontinent. The best-known routes ran east-west, but the north-south routes to the nomadic states of the Asian grasslands were also important. In the popular view of the Silk Road, extensive camel caravans carried goods over long distances, but this was rarely the case. Usually peddlers carried mostly local goods short distances. Government shipments to provision armies profoundly affected the region’s economy, because they involved much larger quantities than in the peddler trade. Rulers regularly exchanged envoys who carried gifts, exchanges that continued even when private trade fell off. Whatever the reason for an individual’s trip, almost everyone—whether envoy, missionary, artist, craftsman, or refugee—bought and sold goods to pay for travel along the Silk Road. Silk was not the primary commodity traded on these routes. Goods traveling east included ammonium chloride, paper, silver, gold, glassware, and aromatics such as spices, incense, and fragrant woods. Goods traveling west out of China included bronze mirrors, other metal goods, and paper, in addition to silk. Between 300 and 1000 ce, the most important function of silk was as a currency, not as a trade good, although it remained an important export throughout the period. A vibrant series of cultural exchanges occurred alongside these commercial exchanges. Technologies, medicine, plants, music, and fashion all moved in both directions across Central Asia. Multiple religions also entered China during this time. The term Silk Road may not be the most accurate term for these commercial and cultural exchanges, but, despite its flaws, the term has secured a firm place in both scholarly works and the popular mind.


Commerce and the Agrarian Empires: Northern India  

Bhairabi Prasad Sahu

This article focuses on the shifts in the ways of seeing the history and historiography of the emergence of agrarian landscapes, manufacture of crafts, and trade and commerce in north India, during the mid-first millennium bce to the 13th century. Continued manifestation of settled agrarian localities, or janapadas, with its attendant concomitant processes, is visibly more noticeable from the middle of the first millennium ce onward, though their early beginnings can be traced back to the later Vedic times. The study of the janapadas or localities and regions, as distinguished from earlier regional studies, focusing on the trajectory of sociopolitical developments through time is a development dating to around the turn of the 21st century. It has much to do with the recognition of the fact that historical or cultural regions and modern state boundaries, which are the result of administrative decision-making, do not necessarily converge. Simultaneously, instead of engaging in macro-generalizations, historians have moved on to acknowledge that spaces in the past, as in the present, were differentiated, and there were uneven patterns of growth across regions and junctures. Consequently, since 1990 denser and richer narratives of the regions have been available. These constructions in terms of the patterns for early India have moved away from the earlier accounts of wider generalizations in time and space, colonization by Gangetic north India, and crisis. Alternatively, they look for change through continuities and try to problematize issues that were earlier subsumed under broader generalizations, and provide local and regional societies with the necessary agency. Rural settlements and rural society through the regions are receiving their due, and so are their networks of linkages with artisanal production, markets, merchants, and trade. The grades of peasants, markets, and merchants as well as their changing forms have attracted the notice of the historian. This in turn has compelled a shift in focus from being mostly absorbed with subcontinental history to situating it in its Asiatic and Indian Ocean background.


Commerce in Qing Central Asia, 1644–1864  

Kwangmin Kim

After a long decline beginning in the early 15th century, Sino-Central Asian trade witnessed an upward trend as of the late 17th century. The tea-horse trade between the Qing government and small Tibetan tribes in northwestern China was the first significant type of Sino-Central Asian trade during the Qing period. Despite the fact that the Qing largely discontinued this trade in the early 18th century, Central Asian and Chinese smugglers still carried on the tea trade. Meanwhile, the Zunghar Khanate forced the Qing to open tribute trade in the 1670s, expanding the venue for the Sino-Central Asian trade. The destruction of the khanate in the 1750s led to further expansion of the Sino-Central Asian trade, as the simultaneous expansion of the Qing and Russian Empires in Central Asia provided a stimulus. The Qing Empire’s initiatives to support its military in Xinjiang, including annual injections of silver into Xinjiang, provided a boost to the local agriculture and commerce there. The Russian expansion in Siberia along the Irtysh River and Russia’s decision to utilize Siberian towns as new bases for trade with China led to growth of trade between Xinjiang and Siberia. The long-standing pattern of Sino-Central Asian trade—the exchange of Central Asian horses and animals for Chinese tea and silk—remained dominant throughout the period. But Chinese rhubarb and Xinjiang jade emerged as new items of long-distance trade while the importance of staple goods in the overall trade increased steadily. The Chinese merchants emerged as the most dominant player in the trade, primarily due to their command of the supply of tea and rhubarb in the Central Asian market. Altishahri landlords and merchants made adjustments to advance their agricultural and commercial enterprises. Three groups of Central Asian merchants—Bukharans, Andijanis, and Kazakhs—thrived, as they facilitated the Sino-Russian trade.


Commercial Structures of Ancient Central Asia  

Xinru Liu

Transactions between ancient communities across the varied ecological zones of Central Asia produced a complex commercial structure. Pastoral nomads on the steppe and farmers in the oases traded to supplement their livelihoods. Domestication of horses on the Eurasian steppe around four thousand years ago was a driving force stimulating interactions between the horse riders and settled farmers. Conflicts between horse-riding nomadic powers on the steppe and Chinese empires initiated the silk-horse treaty trade, which lasted until the end of the Tang Dynasty. Domestication of camels around 3000 bce enabled transportation across deserts and thus linked the oases to one another and to the outside world. Especially after the invention of a new saddle for the Bactrian (two-humped) camel, the caravan trade flourished as the major means of commercial interchange in the Central Asian deserts during the 1st millennium ce. Sogdian city states around the Syr and Amu Rivers prospered through farming, and the Sogdians became the agents of trade among Chinese empires, Persian empires, South Asian states, and various Turkic empires on the steppe. After the Islamic conquest of Central Asia, the Sogdians gradually submitted to Islamic rule, transforming themselves into Muslim traders and continuing to play an essential role in linking Central Asia to the wider Eurasian commercial world. Means of transportation and means of communication provided the infrastructure for trade. Governments and major trading communities such as the Sogdians were active in building trading networks, and religious movements such as the spread of Buddhism facilitated the formation of commercial networks.


Constructing Nations in Soviet Central Asia  

Adeeb Khalid

The political map of Soviet Central Asia was radically transformed in 1924. The three existing republics of Turkestan, Bukhara, and Khorezm were dissolved and replaced by a series of republics that each bore the name of a national group. This so-called national-territorial delimitation was initiated by Moscow but carried out by Central Asian cadres. The process moved quite fast and was completed in a matter of months. Yet, this process of creating new republics was neither the beginning, nor the end of nation construction in Central Asia. Nation construction is an ongoing process that cannot be conflated with merely the creation of new boundaries. The idea of the nation had arrived in Central Asia well before the revolution. Central Asian intellectuals had begun to reimagine their communities as nations. The Russian revolution of 1917 transformed the limits of the possible as it heightened national mobilization. Multiple national projects were underway in 1924, and these informed the positions different parties took in the debates of that year, which tended to be quite acrimonious. While authorities in Moscow had to approve the decisions, the debates were driven by Central Asian cadres. The creation of the republics nationalize territory in Soviet Central Asia, but it did not in itself produce fully formed nations. That was a long process facilitated by the existence of the republics and the “passportization” of national identity by the Soviet state. The breakup of the Soviet Union provided another impetus to nation building, as the post-Soviet states have used nationhood as the core of their legitimacy.


The Early Silk Road(s)  

Armin Selbitschka

Much has been said and written about the “Silk Road” since Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen coined the phrase in 1877. Fostered by spectacular discoveries by so-called explorers such as Sir Aurel Stein, Paul Pelliot, Sven Hedin, and others, the Silk Road soon became the subject of countless articles, books, museum exhibitions, and even legends. In times when almost any location—virtual or real—is but one mouse click away, the catchphrase Silk Road has not lost any of its original appeal. On the contrary, the term is almost constantly present in all kinds of media. Yet, it is never quite clear what exactly the Silk Road concept really entails. When was it established? Was it even formally established? What was its purpose? Was there but one function? And, more importantly, how useful is it as an analytical concept in the first place? These are the main questions this article seeks to answer. Its arguments are based on an analysis of the earliest available sources: archaeological finds from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, indigenous documents written in Kharosthi script, and early Chinese historiography. The article will argue that the history of the early Silk Road (and its so-called prehistory) was considerably more complex than generally claimed. For instance, we can certainly not pinpoint a fixed date on which the Silk Road was established; neither were the intercontinental land routes primarily traveled (and populated) by traders. China’s initial forays into Central Asia in the 2nd century bce were politically motivated and had little to do with silk trade. The exchange of the famed fabric was at best a corollary of political interactions between the Western and Eastern Han Empires and powerful steppe nomads such as the Xiongnu. The latter extorted copious amounts of luxury goods from the former and redistributed them throughout Central Asia and Eurasia. Thus, this article claims that the Silk Road as an analytical concept does not do justice to the intricacies of prehistorical and historical realities. It therefore introduces the concept of movement as a heuristic tool to analyze cross-cultural interactions.


Earth, Water, Air, and Fire: Toward an Ecological History of Premodern Inner Eurasia  

John L. Brooke and Henry Misa

The histories of humanity and nature are deeply entangled across Inner Eurasia. Great expanses of steppe and mountain connected peoples at the far ends of the landmass and sustained unique civilizational zones of nomadic and settled societies. These are regions profoundly shaped by some of the most complex climatic regimes and by one of the most devastating disease vectors in the world. Viewed in the longue durée of the Holocene, the premodern prehistory and history of Inner Eurasia takes on new dimensions when reviewed in the context of the latest work being done in environmental, climate, and genetic science.


The Emirate of Bukhara  

Andreas Wilde

In the 19th century, the Emirate of Bukhara was one of three independent Uzbek principalities known as khanates. Ruled by the Manghit amīrs, Bukhara was the biggest and most important of the southern Central Asian polities and one of the major power centers in the wider region. To the readers of 19th-century European travelogues, Bukhara was known for the despotism of its rulers notorious for their cruelty and strange tastes. From a geopolitical point of view, the Bukharan Emirate was part of an anarchic transition space between Central and South Asia made up of half a dozen petty principalities without centralized power structures. While the bulk of the 19th- and 20th-century secondary sources stress the despotism of its amīrs and its isolation in view of the declining caravan trade on the Central Asian caravan routes, Bukhara and other urban centers such as Samarqand and Qarshi were embedded in transregional religious and trading networks. As a crossroads of commerce and an important religious center, Bukhara in particular and other Transoxanian towns as well attracted flows of goods and people from all directions and was well connected to other places and areas such as Siberia, China, India, and Persia. In the second half of the 19th century, the Emirate of Bukhara and its neighbors north of the Āmū Daryā River came into the focus of Russia. After a series of military defeats in 1868, Bukhara was turned into a Russian protectorate, which finally became a People’s Republic after the Bolshevik conquest in 1920. This political entity was absorbed into the emerging Soviet Union in 1924.


Environmental Approaches to Soviet Central Asia  

Sarah Cameron

The vast region known as “Soviet Central Asia” encompassed the territory of five Soviet republics, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Because of the region’s environmental features, particularly its aridity, historically there had been a close linkage between people and the environment in this region. But the Soviet regime set out to radically reshape this relationship, focusing on the fields of agriculture and animal husbandry, large-scale water engineering, nuclear and biological weapons testing, and medicine and public health. By focusing on the environmental impact of these policies, scholars can see how Moscow’s efforts brought many benefits to the region. Cotton production boomed, and Moscow declared the eradication of malaria. But they also left horrific scars. Josef Stalin’s program of agricultural collectivization devastated Kazakhstan, resulting in the death of more than 1.5 million people. The Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest bodies of water, began to shrink dramatically during the Soviet era, a development due in large part to Moscow’s efforts to divert the waters that fed the sea to cotton production.


Ethnic Conflict in Modern Central Asia  

Sergey Abashin

Pre-modern Central Asia saw a lot of violence and wars that had religious underpinnings or originated from genealogical claims. The colonial and Soviet reforms brought about reconsideration of cultural diversity in the logic of ethnic division. In the 20th century, reference to ethnicity became the main language of spontaneous violence escalation and explanation. With the weakening of Soviet rule, the region saw a series of heated conflicts. The most massive of them were the 1989 pogroms against Meskhi Turks in Uzbekistan and the 1990 clashes in Kyrgyzstan that took the shape of ethnic confrontation between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. Lesser disturbances also emerged in the borderlands and in mixed-ethnicity villages. After the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s saw an increase in social and religious violence in Central Asia. However, despite the violence being different in character, Central Asia had already gained a reputation of a very conflict-ridden region precisely in the ethnic sense. Many experts and politicians listed manifold potential ethnic conflicts about to break out in the region. In 2010, one of these predictions came true in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where a clash erupted between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. These expert assessments were also borne out by occasional conflicts over land and water arising between communities that live in the border areas. Nevertheless, the label of ethnic conflict does not always explain the reasons for violence. The conflicts in Central Asia arise and develop as a variety of local actions, which have different sequences, logic, and motivation. These actions are performed by very different agents—people, groups, and institutes that have their own interests and dispositions. Social and political slogans sound during the events, while the line of confrontation lies between local communities and particular groups of people, not between “nations” or “ethnic groups.” The label of ethnic conflict simplifies all these entanglements; there is usually a political interest or a certain intellectual tradition behind it, which essentializes and historicizes the reasons for aggression.